Such was the case early last week when the Red Sox were forced to endure an extra-inning game that began Sunday night at 8:10 p.m., before taking a flight from Boston to Minnesota for a game the very next night. The team landed in Minneapolis not long before 6 a.m., got a tiny bit of shuteye and then sauntered back to the park for a 6:10 p.m. (CDT) game.
On the surface, it seemed enough to make the heartiest man weep, but that’s not what the players chose to do. Instead, they shook off some early cobwebs to pound out 17 hits in an 8-6 victory over the Twins.
It was as if the overnight charade never occurred. For the Red Sox, that ability to overpower fatigue and look as rested as a daycare after nap time comes with experience. They have had multiple instances of mid-morning arrivals this season, including an instance May 10 when they saw the sun rise in Toronto after a late game the night before in Fenway Park, as well as an arrival close to 7 a.m. in Baltimore the morning after that 16-inning marathon in Tampa Bay.
Both of those days required games to be played that night. And when games need to be played, preparation needs to be made hours in advance. There is no waiting around until an hour before first pitch and cabbing it over with the fellas.
"I don’t think anybody cares what time we get in," manager Terry Francona said after the win in Minnesota. "We’ve got to play. We’ve actually done this a few times now. We don’t hit outside, try to conserve our energy for the game, and our guys have done a good job of doing that."
That they have. Although that game in Toronto turned into an extra-inning loss, Francona’s bunch scored 15 runs in that game in Baltimore one night after playing until almost 3 a.m. in Florida.
Despite the success, going short on sleep is never a good thing.
"Sleep is an invariant biological need," according to Dr. Robert Thomas, sleep expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Reduced or disrupted sleep results in adverse consequences to attention, memory, mood, metabolic function, and cardiovascular control."
Dr. Thomas adds that studies have shown that even those who feel they can tolerate very little sleep eventually pay the price. "In relation to performance, in healthy individuals, sleep loss is associated with impaired fine motor skills, balance, decision making, and emotional responses-all relevant to professional sports. Sleep loss effects are cumulative over time."
There was an instance in 2010 when a flight out of New York after a late game against the Yankees was delayed because an equipment truck had difficulties getting to the airport. The sun was coming up at Logan Airport when the plane landed. Just a handful of hours later the Red Sox defeated the Twins at Fenway Park, part of a quick two-game sweep that kicked off a 29-12 stretch during which very few guys were ever caught yawning.
Darnell McDonald, who had a pair of hits and a stolen base in that sweep of Minnesota, recalled at the time how critical it is to find time to close your eyes.
"You’ve got to know what works for you and what doesn't as far as getting enough sleep, not getting sleep and how much you need so that you’re all prepared for the next day," McDonald said at the time.
Sometimes, that's easier said than done. But if there is one team that has proven it can overcome intense fatigue, it’s the Red Sox, whose playing style, high-profile schedule and (in 2011) persistent rain delays can combine to make sleep a rarity.