Mental toughness is essential to almost everything in life, but it directly applies to sports. Especially baseball.
Any team can have as much talent as money can buy, but even talent can’t win games or championships.
Mental toughness is the X-factor.
For the Boston Red Sox, they have a lot of talent. The only problem is it’s all on offense, which in turn leaves a gaping hole in a large facet of their game: starting pitching.
That hole is already starting to show itself. But so is the mental toughness.
In the second game of the season for the Red Sox, against the Cleveland Indians, Clay Buchholz gave up an early four runs, including a three-run home run in the first inning.
Brock Holt answered with a two-run homer in the next inning, making it 4-2 Indians. Buchholz then gave up another run the following inning to make it 5-2 Indians.
The Red Sox answered the call in a big way in the bottom of the sixth by scoring four runs, which put them in the lead, 6-5. They came back from a deficit most wouldn’t come back from and took the lead. Even though they lost that game 7-6, it’s still incredible that they came back from such a deficit this early into the season.
The very next game, on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays, in front of 50,000 screaming Jays fans, Josh Donaldson hit a grand slam off of Joe Kelly in the bottom of the fourth to give the Blue Jays a commanding 7-2 lead.
In response, Holt lined a grand slam over the wall in right field to get the Red Sox back in the game, putting his team within one run of tying the game at 7-6. The Sox would tack on two more runs in the seventh to tie and take the lead and eventually win, 8-7.
In the following game, the Red Sox were again down early, 2-0 to be exact. They came back to make it 3-2. The Jays then made it 4-3. And what do you think happened next? The Sox came back to win 8-4.
The point of me writing the “play-by-play” for three of the first four games of the regular season for the Red Sox is not to simply inform you of the result. It’s to illustrate how mentally tough this team is just four games into a 162-game regular season.
It’s going to become the norm: Buchholz, Kelly, Rick Porcello, or Steven Wright start for the Red Sox, they give up runs early and/or a lot more runs, the offense has to score the runs back and eventually take the lead, and then the bullpen has to shut the other team’s offense down.
Red Sox bullpen 1st in opp BA (.100) and 1st in AL in opponent OPS (.353) and WHIP (0.69). @RedSox
— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) April 10, 2016
The starting pitching behind David Price is not going to be good. That’s as close to a fact as anything can get.
However, for the offense and the bullpen, this is going to help them tremendously, both in the short-term and the long-haul. It’s going to become commonplace for the Red Sox offense to have to come back from say a 6-3 or a 4-1 deficit.
Talent does not tie the game in those situations — mental toughness does.
Look at all of the past five World Series winners:
- 2015: Kansas City Royals
- 2014: San Francisco Giants
- 2013: Boston Red Sox
- 2012: San Francisco Giants
- 2011: St. Louis Cardinals
What those five teams all have in common is that they were not the most talented teams, and they were all losing or thought to be “down and out” at some point.
For the Royals, talent doesn’t allow them to come back from a 6-2 deficit against the Houston Astros in an elimination game at Minute Maid Park. Mental toughness does.
For the Giants, Madison Bumgarner‘s talent doesn’t allow him to dominate as much as he did in the 2014 postseason, especially in the World Series. Mental toughness does. Talent also doesn’t come back from 2-0 down against the Cincinnati Reds in the 2012 NLDS. Mental toughness does.
For the Red Sox, talent doesn’t beat the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. Mental toughness does.
For the Cardinals, David Freese‘s talent doesn’t allow him to tie the game and then win it in an elimination game in the World Series. Mental toughness does.
The Red Sox are already showing a lot of promise with their offense and their bullpen with regard to mental toughness. But it will be pivotal for them to get used to using it on a daily basis.
This Red Sox team is going to be forced to be mentally tough — they have no other option.
So once October comes, coming back when the stakes are at their highest will just be another day on the job for the Red Sox.