BOSTON — History has been staring the Red Sox right in the face since Wednesday, when they defeated the Houston Astros, 1-0.
On the lower section of the fabled Green Monster in leftfield, right between the CVS and W.B. Mason signage, the American League East standings are updated daily, by hand in a grand tradition befitting a grand old cathedral of a ballpark. Wednesday’s victory was Boston’s 100th, putting a number on the board in the win column that has not appeared since 1946 and has occurred only four times in the franchise’s long history.
Yet the Red Sox haven’t blinked. “This franchise has done anything and everything and it’s a blessing to be part of history,” said centerfielder Mookie Betts, one of Boston’s two legitimate MVP candidates. “But it’s just a number of wins. It’s kind of irrelevant once the postseason starts.”
Ah, yes, the postseason. With the Red Sox having won three World Series titles in the previous 14 seasons and on the verge of winning a third straight AL East title — with a chance to clinch against the Yankees this week in the Bronx — the bar has been raised for what defines a successful season in Boston.
The Sox don’t want the season to be a mere footnote to history like the 2001 Seattle Mariners, whose major league-record 116 regular-season victories is oft-forgotten because they did not win the World Series.
“We didn’t come into the season thinking about winning a hundred,” first-year manager Alex Cora said. “We have bigger goals. We’re still trying to accomplish some of them in the regular season. If we do that, we’ll have a real chance in October. There will come a time in the offseason when I can sit back and hopefully reflect on the bigger things.”
If Boston’s ultimate goal of winning another World Series is achieved, it will cap a season of remarkable achievements. Saturday’s 5-3 victory over the Mets left the Red Sox (102-47) on pace for 110 wins (actually 110.9). If they can go 4-9 in their final 13 games, they will break the franchise’s single-season record of 105 wins set in 1912.
“It is gratifying not only for me but for the group,” Cora said. “They’ve been consistent the whole year. They haven’t been caught up in records or leads or whatever they have accomplished.”
Two Red Sox players certainly could do just that. Betts, the peerless leadoff hitter, and J.D. Martinez, the slugger extraordinaire, are staging their own match race to the MVP finish line.
“It’s very special to see two guys going out there and putting us in a good position to win every day,” catcher/utility player Blake Swihart said.
“It’s pretty cool,” Betts added. “It takes all of us to win all these games. You can’t just single out two guys.”
American League MVP voters will do just that, and it will be a challenging task. Betts entered Saturday’s game leading MLB in wins above replacement (9.8) and batting average (.339) and was second in runs (117), on-base percentage (.431), slugging percentage (.624) and OPS (1.055). He had 28 stolen bases and 29 home runs. The only other Red Sox player ever to have a 30-30 season was a guy you may have forgotten: Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011.
“What Mookie has done from the leadoff spot has been impactful,” Cora said. “It’s something that we visualized before the season. That’s what we were looking for. A guy that can get on base, hit for power, run the bases. He’s been amazing.”
So has Martinez, who signed a five-year, $110-million free-agent contract in February. He entered Saturday’s game leading the majors in RBIs (122), slugging percentage (.633) and total bases (337) and was tied for first in hits (176). He was second in average (.331) to Betts and home runs (41) to Oakland’s Khris Davis (42), which puts him seriously in the hunt for the AL and major-league Triple Crown.
“J.D. is the kind of hitter everybody wants to be — hit the ball in the air — because of where we’re at in the game today,” Cora said. “But at the same time, people have to realize that with a man on third and less than two out, he’ll hit a single up the middle or hit a ground ball to the right side and drive in the run.”
Martinez and Betts are staring history in the face, too, but Cora said it hasn’t fazed them. “They’re special; they’re great kids,” he said. “You see the numbers and they’re MVP-caliber players on the field, but they are that off the field, too, as far as preparation and talking baseball.”
There’s a lot to talk about with this Red Sox team, starting with those triple-digits on the Green Monster they are all trying to ignore.
MLB’S WINNINGEST TEAMS
Team Wins Games
1906 Cubs 116 132
2001 Mariners 116 162
1998 Yankees 114 162
1954 Indians 111 154
*2018 Red Sox 110 162
1909 Pirates 110 152
1927 Yankees 110 154