Is it time to panic in Boston and Flushing?

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If fans of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets seem like they might be a little more on edge than usual lately, they probably are, because both of their squads are on the verge of coughing up the comfortable division lead that each had held for the better part of the season.

Boston enters play on Wednesday with a two-game lead in the loss column on the New York Yankees in the American League East with 10 games to play, one fewer than their rivals. The Mets, meanwhile, are also two up in the loss column on the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East, but have 12 games remaining, with Philly having one less to play.

This should be old hat to Red Sox fans, though. Having their hopes dashed by, of all teams, the New York Yankees, is a common occurrence. But that was all supposed to have ended when the "Curse of the Bambino" was apparently reversed with the Red Sox' 2004 World Series championship.

Who would have thought, though, back on May 29 following a loss to Toronto which dropped the Yankees eight games below .500 at 21-29 and 14 1/2 games back of the division lead, that they would be sitting here with a week and half left in the regular season not only with a shot at their 10th consecutive AL East crown, but a realistic chance at the best overall record in baseball.

Terry Francona
Terry Francona is hoping that his team doesn't blow the division lead to the Yankees once again.
I will tell you who: Red Sox fans.

Like I said before, they are preconditioned for failure. That is why they are so tight today. They remember what happened in 1949 when the Red Sox needed to win just one of the last two games of the season to win the pennant, but lost both games to the Yankees. They remember Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone and all the other countless times they came up short against the Yankees.

And remember, chances are both of these teams are going to be in the playoffs this season anyway thanks to the wild card. Since the Yankees won 10 of 18 from them this season, all they have to do is tie the Red Sox and they will win the division.

I have heard people in Boston say it's no big deal. Division, wild card, whatever. It does not matter. They just have to make the playoffs. In most cases I would agree. As the great Bill Parcells used to say "all you have to do is make the tournament". In this case though, that's garbage. If you don't think losing the division to the Yankees is not going to weigh on the minds of the Red Sox as the postseason begins, you are crazy.

The Yankees have not once talked about the wild card. Their focus has been on the division the entire way. Maybe that is why they have nine straight under their belt.

If Boston's looking for someone to blame, look no further than Eric Gagne. How great has that trade been? Gagne not only coughed up Tuesday night's game, but he has been absolutely abysmal since being acquired from the Texas Rangers for a handful of prospects at the trade deadline. In his 15 appearances with the Red Sox, Gagne is 1-2 with three blown saves and is pitching to a 9.00 ERA.

Boston has dropped four of its last five and will finish its series with a game in Toronto before going to St. Petersburg to face Tampa Bay for three. The Red Sox will then close their season at home with two games against Oakland and a four-game set to wrap up the campaign against Minnesota.

The Yankees finish up a series with Baltimore, then host four games against Toronto, before visiting the Devil Rays for three. They will then close the regular season with three games at Camden Yards.

While Boston fans have zero faith in their team holding off the Yankees, the same can be said of the fans in Philadelphia who have been let down so many times in the past that they are having a hard time getting behind the Phillies as they close in on the Mets.

The Phillies, though, look like the hungrier team right now. They scratch and claw and fight their way to win each night. I don't know how they are winning, but they are. They have won eight straight from the Mets and are on the verge of doing something that no team has ever done and that is overcome a seven- game disadvantage with 17 games to go.

New York will finish its series in Washington, then head to Florida for four games with the Marlins. The Mets close their schedule at home with visits from Washington (3), St. Louis (1) and Florida (3).

The Phillies, meanwhile, close out their set with the Cardinals, then will travel to Washington for four games with the Nationals. Atlanta will then visit the City of Brotherly Love for three games, before the Phils wrap up their season at home with a three-game set against Washington.

If they do pass the Mets, they could head into the postseason with one of the worst pitching staffs ever assembled, not including Cole Hamels, of course. Kyle Lohse, Kyle Kendrick, Adam Eaton, J.D. Durbin...are you kidding me?

I was on the fence for NL MVP for awhile, but now there is no question. Jimmy Rollins is the clear-cut choice. He is having not just a good season, but a historic one. I've always heard that big players play big in big games. Well how about Rollins in 18 games against the Mets this season: .346, 6 HR, 15 RBI, 15 runs and 8 stolen bases.

And don't forget how much heat Rollins took in the spring when he declared the Phillies the team to beat in the NL East. I know I certainly gave him some heat for it. But you know what? An injury or two less to that starting staff and the Phils probably would have had a playoff berth clinched by now.

How about the Mets? Ugh. What a way to lose your grip on the division. Not only do you get smoked by the team chasing you, at home no less, but you go into Washington and lose two straight to the hapless Nationals.

Whether they hold on or not, I have a feeling Willie Randolph is going to be searching for a job in the winter. Everyone wondered why it took him so long to finally land a job, maybe now we know why. He has no idea what he is doing.

The Mets are such an arrogant bunch for a team that has done nothing. They are a hard team to root for. Paul Lo Duca is a moron, all he does is talk. Carlos Beltran plays like he could care less. Jose Reyes has been invisible since the All-Star break. Maybe he should have conserved some energy instead of doing all that dancing in May.

Don't forget the baseball gods owe the city of Philadelphia one. Back in 1964 the Phillies held a a 6 1/2-game lead on the Cincinnati Reds with 12 games remaining in the season. But a 10-game losing streak, the first seven of which came at home, dropped them to third place behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Reds. The Phillies, though, managed to win their last two games of the season and held out hope of a tie with the Cardinals and Reds. The Cardinals had also stumbled, losing the first two in their final series to the Mets.

Had the Cardinals lost their final game, the resulting three-way tie would have forced an unprecedented "round-robin" playoff for the league title. That did not materialize though, as the Cardinals salvaged that last game against the Mets, to take the pennant and saddle fans in Philadelphia with more heartbreak.

With a ton of questions swirling around the Eagles, maybe it's time Philadelphia becomes a baseball town again. Either way, we should be looking at an exciting finish.

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Chris Ruddick
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