Red Sox and their fans remain calm
Vail, CO Colorado
BOSTON ” Manny Ramirez had just struck out to end the game when the Fenway Park sound system began playing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
The answer from Boston’s demanding fans would have to wait one more day. The Red Sox were off Thursday, preparing for a weekend series against the Angels and pondering their diminished lead in the AL East.
At the ballpark and on the radio call-in shows, the Red Sox ” and the hard-charging New York Yankees ” were prime issues.
“If you listen to sports talk, the tone of the city changes daily. I’m pretty confident,” Dan Donahue said in a standing-room section at Fenway on Wednesday.
Ramirez fanned with two runners on base for the final out, ending Boston’s 6-5 loss to Tampa Bay.
But with Boston’s season-high, 14 1/2-game lead over the Yankees on May 29 down to five games on Thursday morning, there was some squirming among Red Sox supporters.
“The nervousness is familiar. I’m comfortable with the nervousness,” said Donahue’s friend, Athena Lentini. “I wasn’t used to being up 14 1/2 games.”
Until the Red Sox ended an 86-year championship drought by winning the 2004 World Series, their fans were fatalistic ” something was bound to go wrong no matter how promising the prospects seemed.
This season, everything seemed so right.
The Red Sox have an outstanding rotation and an exceptional bullpen. Their hitting has been pretty good despite subpar power seasons from Ramirez and David Ortiz. And they have been in sole possession of first place since April 18.
Less than six weeks later, they led second-place Baltimore by 11 1/2 games. The Yankees were tied for last place with Tampa Bay 14 1/2 games behind.
But less than three months later, the Yankees were just four behind after completing a three-game sweep Sunday in Cleveland.
“I don’t think our attitude has changed,” Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. “I think we’re focusing on each series, If you win the first two games of the series, you definitely want to sweep, but if we keep winning two out of three, we’re going to be just fine.”
The Red Sox did that against Tampa Bay and are a respectable 19-14 since the All-Star break. But the Yankees are 25-10 in that stretch thanks to a powerful offense.
Has that surge put pressure on the Red Sox?
“I don’t really know,” Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte said. “It depends on how much attention they’re paying to us.”
The schedule favors the Red Sox.
Going into the Yankees’ opener of a four-game home series against Detroit on Thursday night, New York and Boston each had 42 games left.
For the Yankees, 20 were at home and 27 were against teams with winning records. For the Red Sox, 21 were at home and only 16 against winning teams.
And Thursday’s game began a grueling 14-game stretch for New York ” four games against Detroit, three at the Los Angeles Angels, four in Detroit and three against Boston. The Red Sox have only six games against above-.500 teams in their next 14.
“There’s no soft touch here, even though the record may indicate there should be,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
A sign of how quickly things can change came Tuesday night when Boston scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to beat Tampa Bay 2-1. Lowell tied it with a homer and “the whole complexion of the game changes,” manager Terry Francona said.
One night later, Boston’s rally from a 6-0 deficit just fell short. In New York the Yankees scored three in the ninth to tie Baltimore but lost in the 10th, 6-3.
“I like our team,” Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. “We just have to continue to take steps and worry about this clubhouse and the way we play and not what else goes on.”
Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena played locally at Northeastern and spent the last month of last season with the Red Sox.
“This is an incredibly intense crowd,” he said. “Whether things are going well or going bad, they care so much for the Red Sox and it almost seems like it’s do or die for the fans.”
In mid-September the fans will see the Yankees again, one final regular season visit that could be critical to the AL East race or insignificant.
“I don’t really pay any attention to the Red Sox,” Pettitte said. “All I care about is this team and us making the playoffs. If they’re worried about us, they shouldn’t be.”
For now, the Red Sox are focusing on the Angels.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep this momentum of fighting through games and carry it through the whole weekend,” Varitek said.
And that would make Red Sox fans very happy.
“I’m totally relaxed because I feel they have a really strong team and there’s a lot of time left,” said Carolyn Drucker, who said her family has had season tickets for more than 30 years. “Even if they’re close with the Yankees or behind a game, it will be OK. If they were behind five games, I’d be nervous.”
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in New York contributed to this report.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.