In Fenway Park they paint the corners, hammer the Green Monster, and seal the infield like caulking around a window. On the road the pitchers moan at the shrinking strike zone, the hitters flail at the low outside breaking ball, and the infielders watch the ball shoot through the hole they vacated. They lose their swagger; they start to stagger. They fall behind and stay behind. They lock up the home team in extra innnings, then watch the best bullpen in baseball bow to pitching pretenders. At home they steal home; on the road they get picked off before they can make a run at second.
How does a road trip turn champions into chumps? The ancient Greeks thought the ground they walked on exuded power. “Antaeus was a giant of Libya, the son of Poseidon and Gaia, whose wife was Tinjis.
He was extremely strong as long as he remained in contact with the
ground (his mother earth), but once lifted into the air he became as
weak as water. ” Herakles, after losing a weekend series to Antaeus by throwing him to the ground, had the sense to hurl him into the air, where he was defenseless. Thus Herakles discovered home field advantage. The West Division of the American League has made a similar discovery.
Mediocre teams lose their nerve on the road. Bad teams give games away on the road. Championship teams are supposed to bring their “A” game on the road. Crowds fill up the home seats, because they know every game will be contested, when a champion comes to town. Champions are supposed to raise the level of play, to make the home team earn their runs or hustle to beat the outfield throw. They give no quarter to turf or domes or rambling foul ground. They come to play every day.
The Red Sox have not looked like champions on the road. They run the counts high and walk runners into scoring position. They set records for wild pitches. They flail at the low outside breaking ball (Lowell and Varitek) and bite at the high inside fastball (Ortiz and Drew). They lose ground balls in their gloves and overthrow first base. And they begin to whine about balls and strikes from both the mound and the batter’s box. These are signs of a defeated team.
If the Red Sox were a second division team, we would have to take it all in stride. But they are so dominant in Fenway, they set our expectations high. When they tread the high infield grass and guard the Monster, they breathe a resilience that makes them a threat in every game. They march in set-up men, relievers, defensive replacements, platooning outfielders that intimidate the mortal teams. Everyone contributes with confidence. No one gives quarter.
If the Red Sox are a team designed to win with a giant wall in left field, they are not champions. If they need a green backdrop to recognize balls and strikes, they are not going deep in the playoffs. If artificial turf turns them into helpless giants like Antaeus, they are going to fall to the shrewd and powerful Herakles.
The Sox are better than that, but they’ll have to prove it. Let’s see the Sox swagger in the domes of Seattle and Minnesota. Let’s see the fire in the eye on the West Coast swing and inter-league play. There’s no magic in the northeast soil.