Even in victory, empty Fenway reminds just how far Red Sox have to go

Red Sox

The Red Sox are 21-19 through 40 games.

Ceddanne Rafaela tags Washington’s Jacob Young for the final out of Sunday’s victory at Fenway Park. Steven Senne/Associated Press


One of my best friends from college married one of my wife’s best friends from college. I think about this a lot, both because it makes me happy and because it reminds how many little things have to happen for literally anything to happen.

My wife and I went to different schools, and didn’t know each other until deep in our college years, only meeting through mutual friends. The unlikelihood of that, then topped by it happening again on a secondary level, requires the sort of calculations they built supercomputers for.

I mention it to you because our friends’ first date was a Red Sox Mother’s Day game — 2009, one they only each attended because my wife had extra tickets when ESPN claimed the game for Sunday Night Baseball.

Another touch of cosmic kismet. We’re almost to as many as it takes for the Red Sox to score a run these days, but I digress.

The Sox of May 10, 2009, were, as their descendants were Sunday, a supporting player. There the similarities end: Those Bruins, down 3-1 to Carolina then, showed some grit with a blowout win at home.

A roar went up in the eighth inning at Fenway as news trickled in from afar — Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis hit a Celtics playoff buzzer beater in Orlando. (The same Davis who last week found out he’s going to federal prison.)

Soon after, the Sox delighted a ballpark stuffed to the gills. An eighth-inning run, via doubles from David Ortiz and Jason Bay, proved to be enough when Jonathan Papelbon — after putting Rays on the corners with nobody out — struck out three straight swinging.

Mother’s Day games have a bit of a history here, but this year’s won’t get much montage space. Played before an announced 29,250 — the fourth-smallest crowd in 19 home dates, but the worst for a weekend day game — it was cold, it was windy, and it was a mess. Won by the Sox, at least, on a caught stealing that was Washington’s fifth out on the bases in the game.

Were that not enough charity, Victor Robles straight dropped a fly ball in the second inning, a huge part of the frame in which Boston scored all its runs. Those coming via a bloop-shot double and a wild pitch, the Sox are in a run where they’re 5 for 48 with runners in scoring position the last five games.

“It was ugly,” manager Alex Cora told reporters. “But it’s a big league win.”

And these are both big-league teams in the yawning middle — between the eight at the top with a .600 winning percentage and the six at the bottom with a .400 or worse. We say it a lot, and we’ll say it again here: Someone from this mess will end up making a mess of trouble in October.

I am struck, however, by a different conversation. There are a lot of reasons Fenway Park was noticeably empty on Sunday, and perhaps the biggest among them is attending a game that is still priced as a 2009-type experience. When Jeff Bailey was at first base, as he was that Mother’s Day Sunday, was the exception, not the rule.

If you woke up Sunday morning with an itch to go to Fenway, you couldn’t have done so for much less than $50 after ticketing fees. Monster standing room, my new personal barometer, was safely into the triple digits — priced, again, as you would a weekend game when the weather and team were better.

The Sox sit fourth in American League attendance heading into this week’s four with the Rays, averaging a shade more than 31,000 per game. That’s more or less where they always land relatively, unable to catch teams with a larger capacity even in the best times.

Last year’s team was fifth in the AL (and 12th overall) at 32,989 — about two percent up from the 2022 low for the current ownership. Warmer weather will likely get them back in that ballpark, though it relies on Cora’s team continuing to find a way through its injuries and its flaws.

It relies on series like this one against Tampa. In that morass with the Red Sox at 20-21, they got right with five straight wins the beginning of last week, and were still talking up gained momentum Sunday after the Yankees hit them hard.

“I thought we played really well,’’ manager Kevin Cash told reporters. “I feel like we’re heading into the road trip a better team than we were when we came [home].’’

They certainly hit well, which offers some pause as they approach a Red Sox team winning on pitching and defense alone. Cora’s daily shuffle finally saw Jarren Duran moved from leadoff, with Romy Gonzalez starting up top against lefty MacKenzie Gore, then replaced by Wilyer Abreu.

This is where they are. This is who they are. Even in the midst of a pleasant surprise start from which the pleasant part is the way they’re playing themselves to the middle of the pack.

The states of our teams are cyclical, and where they fit in the landscape changes. The Celtics and Bruins are in their “charge whatever you can” era, filled up nightly as championship contenders often are. (The next intrigue will be how the latter’s consumers adapt to that window starting to creak shut.)

The Patriots have only eight home dates to worry about, and still live in the afterglow of a golden generation. Those don’t last forever, but theirs still has some runway with a new coach tied to the olden days and a new quarterback.

The Red Sox? The glory days are only history, and no matter how hopeful the Portland Sea Dogs look, the bridge to get to the next core still feels long. The regular email from the ticket office went out Monday morning, flogging Memorial Day weekend against the Brewers — sunglasses giveaway on the Saturday! — and two of this year’s 17 “cultural and identity celebrations.”

They aren’t a new idea. They aren’t, inherently, a bad idea. They are, however, what you have to do when ESPN isn’t the only one uninterested in what you’re putting on the field.

The NBA Finals has the potential to run until June 23, another outrage for another day. Then, if not before, the stage goes almost exclusively to the Red Sox.

Here’s hoping it’s a happy marriage.

#victory #empty #Fenway #reminds #Red #Sox

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