Now it is very different. It is the Fall of Saigon. It is potentially one of those apocalyptic, cataclysmic falls that marked the eight-plus decades of frustration and near-misses before the Red Sox finally threw off the 800-pound gorilla and won the World Series in 2004. It might be time to panic; for the first time since the world changed when Johnny Damon and the Idiots pulled off the biblical comeback of 2004.
The 2011 Red Sox have lost nine of 11 and 11 of 14. They have seen their wild-card lead dwindle to a mere two games. Tampa Bay took three of four from the Sox at Fenway over the weekend, and the Rays are closer than they've been at any time since June 30.
Suddenly, there is fear and loathing again in Sox Nation. It feels a little like 1948, 1974 and (gulp) 1978. We thought this would never happen again after the ghosts were purged in 2004, but the 2011 Red Sox are on the threshold of the greatest September collapse in baseball history.
That's right, boys and girls. This could be worst of the worst. The Red Sox led the Rays by nine games on the morning of Sept. 3, and no team in baseball history has failed to make the postseason after holding a nine-game lead in September.
Memorable Pennant Race Collapses
So this could be worse than the '51 Dodgers, worse than the '64 Phillies and worse than the 1978 Red Sox.
Ah, the '78 Sox. Those were the guys who led the Yankees by 14 games on July 20, then wound up tied for first and lost a one-game playoff to the Bronx Bombers when Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer over the Green Monster.
Those were the days when we expected the Sox to choke. The leaves would fall, and the Sox would fall -- simultaneously. The Red Sox were the Manila Folders, guaranteed to disappoint.
Everything changed in 2004. The Red Sox established themselves as champions. They were clutch. No more Boston baseball agita.
There was no fear of collapse when the 2011 Sox established themselves as the best team in baseball from May through August. They were simply living up to expectations after GM Theo Epstein went out and acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in the offseason. Josh Beckett talked about the '11 Sox being a 100-win team, and the Boston Herald touted them as "Best Team Ever.''
It was all going according to plan until things fell apart shortly after Labor Day.
Now the Rays are surging. They look better than the Red Sox. Tampa Bay went 12-6 vs. Boston this year, winning eight of the last nine meetings. Tampa Bay won seven of nine in Fenway Park. The Sox hit only .189 against Tampa Bay pitching, the lowest batting average by any Boston team against a single opponent since 1901. The Rays outscored the Sox 56-24 in their last nine meetings. Tampa Bay stole 11 bases in four games against the sloppy Sox this weekend.
The Red Sox are unraveling. Boston's rotation has been shredded. The Sox can't get six quality innings and on Monday will start rookie Kyle Weiland and meatball artist John Lackey in a day-night doubleheader against the Orioles. Oft-injured, rarely-seen Erik Bedard starts tomorrow -- his first appearance since Sept. 3. Suspect Bedard has won one game since Theo picked him up at the trading deadline.
Meanwhile, it looks like the Sox might have to make do without their cleanup hitter, Kevin Youkilis. Youk has a sports hernia and did not play the last three games against the Rays. Mike Aviles might be Boston's third baseman the rest of the way. Right field is also a black hole.
The offseason acquisitions are flat. Crawford has been an outright bust, submitting the softest .250 in baseball history. Gonzalez has been a consistent .340 hitter but has had little impact since the All-Star Game and been a virtual no-show against the Rays, Yankees and Tigers. He's got some great numbers, but '67 Yaz he is not.
Beating the Orioles should be easy. The Sox face the Zer-O's seven times over the final 10 games. But now there is new pressure. The O's have nothing to lose, and Sox manager Terry Francona's job could be on the line against Baltimore over the next week and a half.
The odds are still in Boston's favor. The Rays have to play the Yankees seven times. The Sox are still in a good position.
But we never thought it would come to this. Again. The first day of fall is Friday, and the Red Sox are choking.
Just like in the Bad Old Days.