On Wednesday night, the Yankees rudely reinforced what Red Sox fans have known for some time: The collection of players with "Boston" on their chests as the season wound down was barely a major league team.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross led a group of reinforcements that was doing the best it could as the Red Sox fought through a short-staffed lineup all the way to the final game. The Yankees, meanwhile, were just reaching their peak, with Robinson Cano batting at a .600 clip in the final stretch run of the regular season.
But few people were wrapped up in Game 162 on Wednesday night, even as the Yankees needed a win to take the American League East and start their way toward championship No. 28.
Most of America's eyes were on another sporting event: the debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The debate lived up to expectations, setting new benchmarks in Twitter activity and total TV viewership, but it wasn't just the momentous nature that had people impressed. Romney came out swinging, landing the barbs and body blows he needed to try to keep Obama from furthering his lead on turning an incumbency into a second term.
Few eyes were flicking back and forth between Red Sox-Yankees and the presidential debate, but for those that were, it wasn't just one bad baseball season ending while a campaign suddenly heated up. The end to Boston's season, and Romney's frenetic bid to get his chance at the White House, had plenty of overtones for what has happened to the Red Sox this season and what needs to happen going forward.
The Red Sox ended 2011 in a major slump, overshadowing the many accomplishments they had in store heading into a championship-hopeful season. The calm, steady hand of manager Terry Francona seemed unable to guide the team anymore. So, the club somewhat cleaned house after the year ended, but it focused most of its attention on changing its top leader, moving on from Francona and instead enlisting the fiery Bobby Valentine to take his place.
That ended badly, with Valentine officially being jettisoned from the Sox just hours after the final loss. But now, a year since Francona first left and days since Valentine's time ended poorly, the moral of the story remains: Calm and steady may not always be completely effective, and it may have its setbacks, but in Boston, it may be better to keep a tried and true leadership style than flip the tables for something new.
In the same way, Romney is coming onto the national stage with punch and gusto, saying he can turn America around and restore it to its former glory after a time of regression. But, much like the Red Sox learned this year by going in the opposite direction rather than finding a Francona-like manager to calmly move the team back onto the right course, rash decisions can hobble a team even worse than a somewhat effective leader could by staying and pushing the group through the hard times.
Francona will not be returning to the Sox, as he's now managing the Indians after a year in ESPN's broadcast booth. And whether Obama's steady yet placid hand or Romney's new bravado is what America needs is another issue entirely (with much more than personality involved in the choice). But the results of 2012 have told the Red Sox much of what they needed to know in charting a new future for the team.
Francona may not have been the right person for the team as 2011 ended, but someone with a similar personality and tactics may be best for the attention-inundated Sox moving forward. Someone who has been in Boston before and knows the pressure and expectations firsthand, like the highly praised John Farrell, may make sense.
But what the Red Sox at least know is who won't make sense. Another Valentine won't do the trick.
For all of Valentine's mishaps in Boston, he did do one immeasurable favor to the Sox by showing them that, instead of swinging in the other direction and trying something entirely new, what they had with Francona was mostly on course. The Red Sox got to spend 2012 seeing baseball from a new perspective, as did Francona — and now both sides can move into their future, fully appreciating each other for what they had while trying to build a new beginning.
Obama will get his grief for what has happened in his four years in office, and whether he's done enough to turn the country around. Some will argue that he's kept untold worse from happening, while others will say anyone else could have been more effective as a president.
But if Obama's presidency does happen to be metaphorically connected to the Red Sox season in any way, know this: Romney may speak a big game now and be able to shake things up, but beware. If he starts talking about how he managed in Japan and rides his bike around town, voters may want to take the tried and true guy in the running, not flip for a new candidate just because the incumbent hasn't been quite perfect.
In that way, 2012 has cemented Francona's legacy more than anything else could.