HOUSTON -- This date in history, July 23, 1967: The Boston Red Sox sweep a doubleheader from the Indians in Cleveland to run their winning streak to 10 games, and an estimated 10,000 fans showed up at Logan Airport to hail the return of their heroes.
This date in history, July 23, 2015: The Red Sox end their first winless trip in 64 years, one that began with a walkoff home run by Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels in the Big A and ended with a walkoff home run by Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros in the Big OJ. After spending a sleepless night in Houston, the Sox, losers of eight in a row, will return home to Logan Airport, where they can expect to be greeted by a few seagulls, a couple of security cops, a confused group of Bulgarian tourists and the bus drivers assigned to take them to Fenway Park for a game Friday night against the Detroit Tigers.
It was two weeks ago Friday that the Red Sox began a series with the New York Yankees, audacious enough to think that despite their losing record and flawed roster, they could become relevant again in the American League East. Now, after their longest losing streak of the season, including all seven games they played on alien turf following the All-Star break, the Sox return home, shorn of pretense, drained of dignity and faced with impending deconstruction.
Fenway Park might be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but no such protection exists for those wearing the uniform of the worst team in the American League, which is not harsh judgment but statement of fact. Twelve games under .500 at 42-54, the Sox have the worst record in the league. They are now 12 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, with 10 weeks of meaningless baseball still ahead of them.
Summer has seldom seemed shorter in these parts. Even in the Age of Valentine, the Sox were a .500 team after 96 games and could at least aspire to matter. The only thing these Red Sox -- the first Sox team to lose every game of a trip of at least this length since the 1951 club lost their last eight games of the season -- will be competing for are prime tee times in October.
Far more important than how Rick Porcello will fare when he faces his former team, the Tigers, on Friday night in the Fens, is how many names will change between now and the July 31 trading deadline. The irony of Thursday night's 5-4 loss to the Astros is that the guy who played best for the Sox -- Mike Napoli, who homered and doubled twice -- exponentially increased his chances of being shipped out.
Napoli, who is in the final months of his $16 million contract, wants to stay in Boston, but with the Sox needing to move either Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval to first base next season (if Sandoval goes to first, Ramirez could play third, a position with which he at least has familiarity), there is no place for a 33-year-old who has been fighting a season-long slump.
With seven hits in 18 at-bats on this trip, including Thursday's rare show of power, Napoli might attract a team in need of a right-handed at-bat, provided the Red Sox are willing to eat much of the roughly $5.5 million still owed. He understands his days are likely numbered.
"It's out of my control," Napoli said. "Whatever happens is going to happen. I'm a Boston Red Sock [sic] right now. I come here and prepare, try to win."
Napoli has been in the postseason five times since 2007, including World Series in 2011 with the Texas Rangers and 2013 with the Red Sox. Though he will not admit it until it happens, he almost certainly would welcome the chance to win again, regardless of how much he loves Boston. He can still live in Copley Square in the offseason if he so chooses.
"It's part of the business," he said. "I can't control any of that. Just come here, work hard, try to do the best I can. I'm just trying to get myself right. I want to win. This was a tough loss tonight."
At least someone might want Napoli. The same can't be said for many players with looming expiration dates on their time in Boston. Reliever Alexi Ogando [phonetic pronunciation, Oh gone D'oh] has given up home runs in four of his last five outings, five in that span and 10 overall, the most of any big league reliever. John Farrell had to bring in Junichi Tazawa in the seventh and leave Craig Breslow in to pitch the ninth because he can no longer trust Justin Masterson, and Noe Ramirez is strictly mop-up material. And Breslow is well past the day he can pitch with a game on the line.
Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Alejandro De Aza and Allen Craig are all candidates to be cleared out. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo should either be promoted or traded by the 31st. Time to see what Henry Owens can do. Bring back Matt Barnes for another go-round. And by all means, bring in some help from the outside. It's obviously needed.
Will moves be made?
"That's probably a better question for the front office," Breslow said. "I don't know. We'll all find out together."