May got off to a strange start in Red Sox Nation.
It all began with the one-game sweep of the Yankees, a game highlighted by a cross-country dash by catcher Doug Mirabelli, who returned to Boston just in time to get behind the plate (with no cup — he didn’t have time to find one) as former teammate Johnny Damon saluted a wildly booing crowd.
It continued with a controversial rainout, a game postponed after a 30-plus minute delay. In fairness to the Red Sox, it wasn’t actually raining when the gates opened Tuesday evening, but that’s little solace to fans who spent $30 or more on parking before even walking through those very gates.
When the rain settled (there wasn’t much dust to be found on Tuesday) it was announced the make-up date for that lost game will be in August.
That sets up an improbable five-game series with the Yankees beginning Friday, Aug. 18.
You can already circle the end of that month as a make-or-break run for the Sox. The team will play three full weeks without a day off, a run that begins with a doubleheader against the Yankees.
Beginning that day, the Sox will play 22 games in 21 days, all but five of them against teams that came into the weekend with a winning record (three of those games are against the Angels, who will undoubtedly be well above .500 by August.) Here’s how the late-summer schedule now works:
•Aug. 18-21 Five games vs. Yankees (home)
•Aug. 22-24 Three games vs. Angels (away)
•Aug. 25-27 Three games vs. Mariners (away)
•Aug. 28-30 Three games vs. A’s (away)
•Aug. 31-Sept. 3 Four games vs. Blue Jays (home)
•Sept. 4-6 Three games vs. White Sox (home)
•Sept. 7 First day off in three weeks
That’s a remarkable stretch by any standards. Not a single day off for three weeks, and an added game at the start for good measure. Fourteen of the 21 games are against teams that made the playoffs in 2005, including three with the World Champs to wrap it all up.
Last season, the Red Sox faced an even tougher stretch.
When a rained out game with the White Sox was rescheduled for Labor Day, Boston went from Aug. 23 to Sept. 21 without a day off. For 29 days — nearly a full month — the Sox played every night. The Red Sox started that stretch with a four-game lead in the AL East, and were in second place by the time they reached a much-needed off-day on Sept. 22.
It took them the rest of the season — until the 162nd game — to clinch a playoff spot.
Playing 22 games in 21 days will push the Sox pitching depth to its limit — especially when you consider that the first 16 games of that stretch will be played before the roster expands in September.
Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, and Abe Alvarez could become vital members of the stretch drive when September finally hits.
So as you watch these games in May unfold, remember one thing. It may be early in the season, but the Sox need to stockpile as many wins as possible if they’re going to play the August/September grind with a bit of a cushion.
They’ll have to grind it out over that late-summer stretch. And, as usual, it’s a stretch that begins with the Yankees.
Lewiston native Tom Caron covers the Red Sox for NESN.