Bradford: Why this one game means so much to so many

Rob Bradford
October 07, 2017 - 9:55 pm

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

This is more than just about extending the season. It's beyond that. Sunday's Game 3 is as much of a crossroads as this organization has seen in some time.

Yes, we've seen this win-or-get-swept scenario before. There was the 2009 loss to the Angels at Fenway. Then, of course, we had David Ortiz's last game a year ago. This seems different. This has the feeling of something that could lead to what is sometimes an uncomfortable Boston professional sports staple: finger-pointing.

If the Red Sox lose, particularly in the fashion we witnessed in Houston, you can forget the "we'll get 'em next year" sentimentality. 

Should one game result in such a decision-maker? Probably not. But it will.

As Dustin Pedroia noted after Game 2, the Red Sox got their ass kicked. And when that happens  -- particularly on the biggest stage -- circling the wagons becomes near impossible. It doesn't matter how good the other team is or was. Or how many regular season games were won. Accountability will be much more than just plane tickets home.

The bouncing from the '09 playoffs just simply seemed like an aberration considering the success of the previous two seasons. Still, it offered enough discomfort for the Red Sox to sign Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, John Lackey and Mike Cameron. And after last year the reaction was to do whatever it took to get that starting pitcher (Chris Sale) that wouldn't lead to the ALDS failures in Cleveland.

Fans accepted that tweaks were needed in both cases. This one has a different feel to it.

John Farrell isn't the reason the Red Sox lost the first two games. He hasn't had a good series, that much is true. But he hasn't been the difference. Yet, here's the problem: When a team underperforms to this level at this time of year, the Terry Francona/Claude Julien conversation will be immediately surfaced. We can applaud Farrell for guiding a team to another division title, while watching probably the most resilient club the Red Sox have possessed in some time. Keep losing like this and it might not matter. 

Don't think for a minute that the lead story will be these players not coming as advertised. No, the index fingers will be pointed at the guy who didn't throw a ball or swing a bat. Where a week ago Dave Dombrowski was praising his manager for a "great job," the "fire Farrell" narrative in and outside of the clubhouse might finally take root where it counts the most.

Win Game 3? The conversation is likely right back to where we found it a week ago in among the champagne showers. That's how this works.

Also understand that the impact of a loss stretches well beyond the manager. 

You think this notion that living life without a middle-of-the-order presence and the occasional home run is going to continue to fly? This gritty, gutty, don't-be-afraid-to-be-thrown-out-taking-the-extra-base offense was never going to keep up with Houston, Cleveland or New York. Maybe Game 3 proves us wrong. But, to this point, the agony of watching the Red Sox desperately clinging to the hope of a string of singles, occasional double and maybe a stolen base here or there, knowing the Astros were waiting around the corner with another home run, hasn't led to postseason optimism.

And when the manager is praising the guy, Hanley Ramirez, who is supposed to be that slugger by saying he seemed more "engaged" in Game 1, that's a problem. It's even more of an issue when there isn't much hope that player is going to actually help you keep up with the big bats on the other side of the diamond. If the Red Sox' offense remains dormant in Game 3, with Hanley serving as more of the problem than the solution, that's another about-face this game might be forced Dombrowski to make.

Until they prove otherwise, the Red Sox need more than the guys -- Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Dustin Pedroia and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- who are considered the staples. Maybe that proof is coming. Flying back from Houston, it was hard to envision it was going to magically emerge.

There is also is this team's make-up.

This has not been a bad clubhouse. They like each other. But the cut-the-crap quotient seems low, and that would seem to be a problem. This is where a manager can't always be the solution. This is where multiple corners of the room have to make sure the ass-kickings lead to production and not finger-pointing. Maybe there are enough guys in there who will relay the importance of accountability. Pedroia, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale and some others I know have enacted that approach. Still, lose this one and these are the things that will undoubtedly be questioned.

And how about the swing this game could have in terms of these starting pitchers. It's not so much about Doug Fister. If he wins, it continues a great story. Lose and it's a trivia question five years from now. The winners from a win can be the other guys, the ones who have already failed in their postseaon starts. Porcello would certainly get his shot at redemption in a Game 4, with Sale waiting right behind him.

It was Fister who had the quote of the day Saturday, dropping a "there's nothing to lose, with everything to lose." He's half right.