Bitter Medicine: New England No Stranger to Painful Losses

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Following Tuesday night’s epic loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Red Sox Nation and Boston sports fandom as a whole is wrestling with the concept of painful losses and trying to put Tuesday’s debacle into perspective (though Wednesday’s comeback of our own does make that bitter pill a bit easier to swallow).

Surely there have been more embarrassing losses (right?). And there have been those that have stung a whole lot more. So where does this one rank in the grand scheme of things?

Surely losing a nine-run lead to the Orioles after the seventh inning is shameful, and those Sox fans in attendance were no doubt fashioning the napkins from Boog’s Barbecue into masks to hide their shame, but in reality, it’s a regular-season loss to a division opponent. Not, say, a last minute loss in the Super Bowl after constructing a perfect season and standing mere seconds away from inscribing your name in the history books for all time.

It’s no Plaxico Burress touchdown catch, is what I’m saying.

So painful and embarrassing was that Super Bowl loss that you’ll still find people in New England who claim that the NFL canceled the Super Bowl in 2007. I’ve been among them from time to time. The loss was further compounded by Tom Brady’s injury in the first week of the 2008 season, knocking our Golden Boy quarterback with redemption on his mind out of commission for the rest of the season. Thoughts of vengeance and the burning desire to stick it to Don Shula and Mercury Morris had to be put on hold. Until now. We haven’t forgotten that loss (those of us that choose to remember it in the first place). And we’re not likely to anytime soon. That one smarts.

Then there are the legendary Red Sox losses. Chief among them the 2003 Game 7 ALCS loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. I suspect I could live to be a thousand years old and no loss would approach that one in the realm of knife-twisting pain. And yes, the pain was somewhat mitigated by the way 2004 turned out, but at the time, it didn’t seem there was a salve in the world strong enough to take the sting out of that one.

The second Aaron Boone’s bat made contact with Tim Wakefield’s fateful knuckleball, living rooms and bars around New England collapsed themselves like a black hole. There was crying. There was cursing. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth. And then some. It was worse than the 2007 Super Bowl because the Giants, while from New York, surely, were not the Red Sox’ hated rival for generations. There was no hammer and nail analogy between those two teams for decades. But in 2003, the Sox, the best team in their history, made it to within inches of the Promised Land and fell short.

Again.

To the Yankees.

Again.

Time and a turning of the competitive tables have served to ease the pain, but Red Sox fans won’t forget how much that one hurt.

Lest we forget about the Black and Gold, the Bruins haven’t been without their share of heartache and heartbreak. Most of it has come at the hands of the rival Montreal Canadiens. Their 2009 conference quarterfinals sweep of the Habs was especially sweet because of the torment the Canadiens have rained down on our boys for years. Most notably in 2002 when the eighth seeded Canadiens overcame a 14-point gap in the standings to take down the No. 1-seeded Bruins team.

Bruins then-captain Joe Thornton was rendered virtually ineffective by torn rib cartilage and the Canadiens were riding high on Saku Koivu’s return from battling cancer. Things got ugly, as hockey games between rivals are often wont to do, and Boston was dispatched unceremoniously in a 2-1 Montreal victory.

The series was just the latest in the crushing defeats at the hands of the hated Habs. Hockey fans, being a prideful bunch, did not take it well. Especially not when the Canadiens once again beat the Bruins in 7 games in the 2008 quarterfinals, this time with Montreal holding the 1-seed and Boston sporting the eighth. Of course, in this instance, things worked out logically with the top seed prevailing. There was more hockey heartache in Boston.

So while Tuesday night’s Red Sox loss was painful, it was really more embarrassing than anything. The Orioles are not decades-long hated rivals like the Yankees or the Canadiens. They’re not even a hot-at-the-right-time Giants team begging the universe for another shot at the perfect Patriots. They’re just a mostly-hapless baseball team that caught the Sox napping. Which is not to disparage the Orioles – I’m a big fan of Baltimore and enjoy their park and their fans immensely and I do genuinely wish they could field a more competitive team to further balance the power in the AL East.

But let’s face it, in recent years, the boys from Baltimore have not been much of a match for the Red Sox – or anybody, really. Which is why Tuesday night’s loss veers into paper-bag-over-the-head territory. The Sox should really know better.

Though I suppose what’s great about baseball is that, in all but the rarest of circumstances (like 2003’s Game 7), there is a near immediate opportunity for redemption. For righting the ship, if you will. The Sox showed that by staging a comeback of their own against the very same Orioles on Wednesday afternoon. So while it doesn’t take all the sting out of the epic choke job the Sox pulled on Tuesday night, it does help somewhat.

That’s the thing about sports, there’s always another day, another game, another chance. The Sox and Bruins have historically made good with their second chances. Here’s hoping the Patriots are next.

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