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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Forget 1978, This is More Like '88

During the latter stages of the horrific 5-16 September swoon by the Red Sox, there have been a lot of comparisons made between this year's team and Don Zimmer's '78 ballclub -- which looked like a juggernaut in June and July, and then blew a 14.5-game lead and the AL East to the Yankees in a one-game playoff.

A closer look at the facts, however, suggests that the current freefalling Sox are actually performing more like another Boston team of recent vintage: the "Morgan Magic" bunch of 1988. Most fans who remember turntables and cassette decks know that the Sox won 12 straight games and 19 of 20 after Walpole lifer Joe Morgan replaced John McNamara as manager that summer. Led by Clemens and Hurst on the mound and Burks, Greenwell, and Evans at the plate, Boston went from a lackluster 43-42 record and fourth place at the time of Morgan's ascension to 62-43 and a tie for first.

This, however, was where the hot streak ended. The '88 Sox went just 27-30 the rest of the season, and limped to the finish line with a 4-8 mark over the season's last 12 games -- including six losses in their final seven contests. They nearly blew a 6.5-game AL East lead thanks to the swoon, and although they did win the division (by one game over Detroit), they were swept four straight in the ALCS that followed by the Oakland A's of Canseco, McGwire, and Stewart. There were no major injuries to blame; Boston just forgot how to win.

So while it's true that the 1978 Red Sox had the more dramatic fall from mid-season glory -- they were 60-28 with a .682 winning percentage and an 8.5-game lead in mid-July, and then played barely .500 ball the rest of the way -- they were far from their coldest down the stretch. In fact, Boston was the hottest team in baseball over the last two weeks of the regular season, winning 14 of 15 and its last eight straight to force the winner-take-all playoff game with the Yankees. Bucky Dent and Co. ended the momentum there, but certainly there was no crawl to the finish like the current Sox or the '88 club endured.

What does it all mean? Will this year's Sox manage to make the playoffs in spite of their sloppy stretch drive, and then play like it's June or July come the postseason? Or will Fenway stay silent until it's time to ice it down for hockey? The next few days will provide the answers. 

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