The Red Sox lived by the bat this season. In the American League, you can do that -- in the regular season. But when you get to October, you are going to run into teams that can pitch with the best of them. And then those 9-8 victories, those 10-9 victories, and yes, those 11-9 victories can no longer be expected to occur.
The Red Sox went from being the sweepers in the 2004 World Series to the swept in the 2005 AL Division Series. Why? Three reasons: Pitching. Pitching. Pitching.
The Red Sox got a Game 1 starting performance from Matt Clement that could generously be described as wildly inadequate. In Game 2, they went with their most proven postseason starter, David Wells, and his performance was less sturdy than that of first-time postseason starter Mark Buehrle. True, Tony Graffanino's error opened the door to serious difficulties, but Graffanino didn't give up the three-run homer to Tadahito Iguchi.
Tim Wakefield, who led the Red Sox in victories this season with 16, was chased in the sixth inning of Game 3 on Friday. He did not produce a bad performance, but he also did not produce a performance that was going to win at this level.
There were reasons for the pitching shortage. Curt Schilling missed much of the season, and even upon returning was not quite Schilling. Closer Keith Foulke, a tower of strength -- particularly in the postseason -- in 2004, was ineffective and eventually sidelined for keeps with knee surgery. These are valid excuses, verifiable alibis for the drop-off in the quality of Red Sox pitching.
But when people started talking about Boston's ability to come back from a two-game deficit in this Series, because they had come from further back than that in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the discussion missed the point. There was no Pedro Martinez to help fashion a miracle comeback and no Derek Lowe, either. The Red Sox could come back last October because, in the final analysis, they had more quality pitching than the Yankees did. This was not the same Red Sox team. It did not have as much pitching as the 2004 champions.
The Red Sox pitching allowed the White Sox to take the lead relatively early in two of three games. This is a different, and better Chicago team when it plays with a lead, being able to utilize the small ball elements of which manager Ozzie Guillen is so fond.
The White Sox were the betting underdogs, but, given the history of what wins in the postseason -- pitching -- they shouldn't have had that status. In the end, they did everything well.
"They pitched, hit and ran the bases better than us," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They outplayed us. That's why they won."
Francona said that he spoke briefly to his team after Friday night's 5-3 loss -- and Boston's season -- was in the books.
"I just actually thanked them," the manager said. "We certainly tried. That's the whole idea, regardless of whatever happens or what happens in front of you, or what happens in the rearview mirror, our goal is to win, and we didn't. They gave everything we have, and we gave everything. It just wasn't enough."
There was nothing wrong with the effort produced by the Red Sox. Many of these players were the ones who defeated the Yankees and the Cardinals and history last October. There would be disappointment this October, but there was certainly no shame involved.
The problem for the Red Sox was pitching, as in not enough, either in terms of quality or quantity. It is the one shortcoming that cannot be compensated for when postseason baseball is played. It is why the Red Sox defense of their championship will not extend any deeper than three games into this October.