Make no doubt about it, cutting Boston's lead from 14 and a half games to a game and a half over four months is an impressive achievement. Many teams have folded the tents after a poor start and Joe Torre deserves a mountain of credit for keeping his team focused on winning and not dwelling on the negatives of the first two months. Having a chance at a tenth straight division title isn't something that anyone could have imagined at that point so Torre, the players and the whole organization deserve a round of applause regardless of how it all turns out.
But if it does turn out that they climb the last patch of the mountain and overtake the Red Sox everyone should spare the hyperbole that compares this to the all-time great comebacks. Whether or not the Sox hold onto the top spot in the East they will be playing meaningful games in October just like they were in 2004 when the Yankees won the division. The Wild Card has changed the face of baseball pennant races too much for a team to be overly ashamed of losing a division lead when they still make the playoffs. Even if the Red Sox hold onto their slim lead they could still wind up with the third best record among division winners, it's a three-way tie this morning, and play as the road team in their first series. That's not so different from where they'd find themselves as the Wild Card, in fact it's exactly the same place.
This "collapse" should mean something to the Sox because they have been playing quite poorly and because their two top hitters are ailing. Manny Ramirez hasn't played since August 28th and David Ortiz has a sore knee that may keep him out of the lineup on Friday. Also worthy of some hand-wringing is the routinely crap Eric Gagne, the tired arm of Hideki Okajima and last night's gopher ball served up by Jonathan Papelbon in the 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays. That's two straight wash-outs for their closer and that's not going to help anyone sleep at night.
It means more to the fans, though, since the Red Sox are virtually assured of that playoff spot and have proven that being the fourth team in doesn't much matter so long as you're in. For the fans it's something to razz each other about and that's good fun. You need no more evidence of that then the reaction of Yankee fans in the ninth inning of last night's 2-1 win. Mariano Rivera was struggling to get through the ninth but the fans were cheering wildly when Russ Adams' grand slam was posted on the board and they realized the Yankees were just one loss behind their eternal rivals. Fans determine, by and large, how important something in sports is and they've spoken their mind about the significance of winning the division.
Putting it into the same conversation as 1978 or the 1995 Angels or the 1964 Phillies, though, is ridiculous. None of those losers remained eligible for a World Series title and at the end of the day that's the only thing that matters.