Expectations can be a wonderful thing. Expectations can also be a yoke of crushing weight.
This year's version of the Red Sox had some of the heaviest weight to bear of any team in sports.
The regular season was just supposed to be an extended warmup for the postseason. They were supposed to step on the field and waltz their way to 100 wins and a third ring in less than a decade.
Then they started off with a record of 0-6. Put away the waltzing shoes.
The first week, Boston's starting pitching looked nothing like the force they were expected to be. The offense looked even less like a team that was going to steamroll their way to some new finger bling.
More than one quarter of the season was in the books before they hit .500. In their last 10 games, they are 8-2 with seven wins in a row, capped by a 15-5 shellacking of the Cubs.
The Red Sox sit at 24-20, a measly half-game behind the surprising Rays.
This is how they were supposed to look right out of the gate.
During their struggles, with guys like Carl Crawford going 0-for-everything, Kevin Youkilis struggling, the starting pitching tossing batting practice during games to all of a sudden winning seven in a row, one thing stayed the same: Terry Francona.
He never lost his cool, he never called anyone out and he never panicked. Right now, the Boston manager is one of the best in baseball. He knows how to get the most from his superstars and his shiny new call-ups from Pawtucket.
It's supposed to be easy with a huge payroll, it's supposed to be a cake walk all the way to October. The 0-6 start should prove otherwise.
During the train wreck that was the opening week of the season, he stayed with his starting nine. He knew better than to panic and make wholesale lineup changes. He did jiggle the batting order a bit and he started a bench player here and there, getting results is his job.
He is as loyal to his players as any manager in baseball, but he also isn't afraid to drop a new $142 million outfielder to the bottom of the order. His players know he's just looking for results.
That's why the $142 million outfielder didn't grouse or make an issue of batting at the bottom.
Francona never pointed a finger during the horrid start to the season, except in general terms. Even when he did have a comment on a bad outing he told us he believed his team was better than they were playing and that he knew they would play better.
He was right.
Let's hope he is right for the Red Sox for many more years.
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