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So far, so good

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Dick
Flavin

So far, so good.

There you have it, my unvarnished, tell-it-like-it-is opinion of the 2018 edition of the Boston Red Sox. After almost 80 percent of the regular season has been completed, the Red Sox are on track to win the American League East championship with the most victories in team history. Mookie Betts is having an MVP season, unless, that is, he is beaten out by J.D. Martinez, who is way better than anyone could have hoped. Chris Sale is Chris Sale, in other words, the best pitcher in the league. Everyone else is pulling his weight. Alex Cora has a firm hand on the tiller. What could go wrong?

Don't ask.

Plenty could go wrong. Anyone remember 2011? The Red Sox went steaming into September with a nine game lead, well on their way to a one hundred plus win season.

There was even talk in the media that the 2011 Sox might be the greatest team in baseball history, eclipsing even the 1927 New York Yankees. Remember?

Then -- it still brings a tear to the eye just thinking about it -- they didn't even make the playoffs! The team went seven and twenty in September. There were stories about beer and take-out chicken in the clubhouse during games. The wreckage cost the manager his job. It sent the general manager scurrying to Chicago. The meltdown was encapsulated in the final play of the season, when a line drive somehow eluded the grasp of the immortal Carl Crawford, who used to torture the Red Sox while wearing a Tampa Bay uniform -- then tortured us even more while wearing a Red Sox uniform.

The lesson is this: it ain't over til it's over. And the 2018 season ain't over by a longshot.

It's not that anyone's predicting a stink bomb like 2011, but there is still a way to go. Besides, it's fruitless to rate teams until the season, and especially the post-season, are completed.

The 2004 Red Sox were a great team, one for the ages. But they didn't even win the American League East that year. Nobody would have rated them as great while the dog days of August were playing out. They were the wild-card team, but what they did in the postseason, particularly their comeback from an 0 and 3 deficit against the Yankees, cemented their greatness.

The 2001 Seattle Mariners are another story. They had 116 wins versus only 46 losses, 70 games over .500. Imagine that! But they didn't even make it to the World Series, having been bumped off by the dreaded Yankees in five games in the ALCS. The 1906 Cubs also had 116 victories and they lost only 36 times. They did make it to the series because there were no playoffs in those days, but they lost to their cross-town rivals, the White Sox in six games. Great teams win championships. By that standard the 2001 Mariners and the 1906 Cubs, co-holders of the all-time record for most victories in a season, were not great.

The most talented teams are not always the great ones. No one ever accused the 2013 Red Sox of being more talented than that year's edition of the Detroit Tigers, who had both Justin Verlander and Max Sherzer in the starting rotation and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder still at the top of their game, to say nothing of Torii Hunter in the outfield. But the Red Sox had the better team and the hot hand. And they won.

So it's still too early to tell what the final ranking of these Red Sox will be, but, as I so bravely pointed out at the outset, so far, so good.

This edition of the Red Sox has been terrific -- so far. They know how to play, they know how to win, and they are great fun to watch. It was only last February that there was great wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth when the Yankees landed Giancarlo Stanton and his huge salary while the Red Sox had to wait until March before signing J.D. Martinez. "There's no comparison between the two," the doomsayers were wailing. They were right, but they bet on the wrong horse. Martinez has led the majors all season in home runs and runs batted in and has been challenging for the lead in batting average. Stanton has been good but nowhere near that good.

And, of course, there is Mookie. It's a joy just to watch him play and to see the joy that he gets from the game. He hits, he runs, he fields, he throws. My God, he's good -- check that -- he's great.

Alex Cora hasn't had any major crises to deal with, but isn't that the sign of a good manager, someone who can put fires out before they cause any damage? He's the leader of a happy team with everyone pulling in the same direction, and he deserves credit for that.

Whoever thought that the Sox would be in the position they are in without the services of Dustin Pedroia? Not me, I'll admit. The Red Sox have managed to procure an adequate replacement in Ian Kinsler, but I worry about Pedroia, who has been such a warrior over the years. He's been able to play in only three games all season, he's not going to play in any more, and that's not the worst of it. He underwent cartilage restoration surgery after the 2017 season, the same type of surgery that Stephen Wright underwent back in May, 2017. It's fifteen months since Wright's procedure and he still suffers from knee inflammation similar to that which plagues Pedroia. Fifteen months is a long time. It leads one to wonder if either Pedroia or Wright will ever be the same again.

Other than that, enjoy the ride.

The late Clark Booth, whose graceful words illuminated these pages, was unique among television journalists in that he eschewed the limelight. We all knew that he was a great reporter and that he wrote better than any of us. We envied his talent and admired his work ethic, but we never resented him because he never drew attention to himself. He let his work speak for itself, and how eloquently it did. Requiescat in pace.

Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.

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