The long, cruel winter is over. The maple sap is running. The Swan Boats soon will grace the Public Garden. And Boston’s beloved Red Sox, forever the symbol of spring’s renewal in New England, will open their home schedule Friday at Fenway Park as the preseason favorites to win the World Series.
Yet there is panic in the Fens. There are rumblings, for the first time since the glory days of 2004, about crestfallen Sox fans virtually rushing to the rails of the Tobin Bridge. Some diehards even have begun to fear the lavishly paid 2011 Sox are destined to turn their City of Champions once again into Loserville.
In a failure of historic proportions, the Sox Thursday frittered away yet another game — a 1-0 loss to the Indians in Cleveland — and extended their season-opening losing streak to six games. Their start is the worst act of futility for a Sox club since a war-depleted team opened 0-8 in 1945.
“This is pretty much a slap in the face,” said sports psychologist Harvey Dulberg, a Brookline-based Sox fan. “People are shocked and frustrated.”
All but inept so far in every phase of the game, the Sox add to their burden Friday when they begin a three-game showdown with their ancient nemeses, the Yankees.
“I’ve never seen so much panic this early in the season,” said Gregory M. Agami ’93, a Sox fan who graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and launched a website, http://www.coolstandings.com, in part to calculate the odds of the team’s epic failures before their cathartic championship in 2004.
The hand-wringing reaches all the way to the front office. Sox chairman Tom Werner said he was “stepping off the ledge” to voice his displeasure with his team’s “collective breakdown” during its lost journey through Texas and Cleveland.
“Nobody can be happy about the way we’ve started,” Werner said. “I don’t want to overreact to this, but this is obviously a disappointing start.”
The worst-case scenario would be losing three more games this weekend, a possibility even Werner could not help considering. Even though he believes the Sox could recover from it, he is devising a plan to purge the effects of such a calamity.
“On Monday, if we get swept by the Yankees,” he said, tongue in cheek, “I’m going to sacrifice a goat.”
As it is, the 0-6 Sox have the worst chance of making the playoffs (14.1 percent) among the teams in their division, according to Agami’s site.
“It’s definitely a rough start,” Agami said, “but it’s still too early to give up on them.”
All the early signs, however, point to Terry Francona’s crew committing baseball malpractice. The team’s refortified lineup has gone punchless, hitting at an anemic .181 clip overall and .159 with runners in scoring position. The pitchers, from John Lackey with his 22.09 earned run average to Dennys “Wild Thing” Reyes, have posted a combined 7.13 ERA, the worst in the majors.
Early fielding miscues and base-running blunders have all but consumed the Sox. The most glaring unfolded Thursday with Darnell McDonald’s game-ending recklessness on the base paths as the team spoiled a superb performance by starter Jon Lester in cold, foggy conditions more fit for a Shakespearean tragedy than baseball.
Malpractice, indeed. But not enough to warrant a class-action case, according to Harvard legal maven Alan Dershowitz. A Sox diehard, Dershowitz suggested the team has been merely toying with the opposition.
“The current Sox roster is so strong that they had to give the other teams a ‘handicap,’” Dershowitz wrote in an e-mail. “Now they’re ready to start in earnest.”
Baseball is a game of statistics, though, and some of the numbers may be disconcerting to Sox fans. No team in major league history has won the World Series after opening a season with six straight losses. In fact, no American League team has reached the playoffs after opening a season 0-6.
Fear not, counseled Thomas M. Menino. The mayor, who this week helped the Sox revise their liquor license to permit the sale of mixed drinks throughout the ballpark, did not seem concerned about the possibility of angry fans getting hopped up on highballs.
He said he will attend the game with the view that it’s far too early to panic.
“This was only the preliminary round,” Menino said of the team’s squandered trip to Texas and Cleveland. “Now the Yankees begin our championship season.”
In the mayor’s view, the Sox “used these first games as a warm-up to see what worked and what didn’t work.”
What didn’t work: Jarrod Saltalamacchia batting .071, Kevin Youkilis .105, Jacoby Ellsbury .167, and the new $142 million left fielder, Carl Crawford, batting .174 and scoring one run in six games. Also, the Sox have suffered from generally ineffective performances both from their $47 million starting rotation and a newly reloaded bullpen.
But things could be worse. The 1988 Orioles opened the season 0-21 en route to 107 losses. And the Sox of ’45, with Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky at war, dropped those first eight games before finishing with 83 losses.
On a brighter note, the team’s principal owner, John Henry, envisions happier days ahead. He said the team, in addition to starting poorly, faces enormous expectations. So far, he suggested, the Sox have experienced the vagaries of baseball being “a game of inches, streaks, and luck.”
“I believe we will fight our way up the standings over the next 156 games,” Henry said. “But as I said before the season began, it will not be easy.”
It’s springtime in New England.