This is a serious and solemn occasion, I say, with a large smile on my face.
It is time for me to declare the Boston Red Sox dead.
Because it seems to be just about the only chance they have of staying alive.
So, in hopes they'll continue to contend throughout this final month of the season, I'm saying that, six games behind the Yankees and Rays, and seven back of both in the loss column, with just 31 left to play, Boston's playoff chances are virtually nil.
Why am I saying this?
Because I've been stunningly wrong about such things before, and hope to be again.
There was this bit of brilliant prescience, written by Yours Truly (or, more accurately, Yours Erroneously) in 2004:
"BOSTON -- Johnny Damon may look like a prophet, but his words have proven false. It is not, as he said, the Red Sox who are a bunch of idiots. What they are is a bunch of chokes. The idiots are all those fools who truly believed this would be the year the perennially disappointing Sox -- who haven't won a World Series since 1918, nor even a pennant since 1986 -- would finally beat the 26-time, world-champion Yankees, who now are on the brink of playing for a 27th title. Only a bunch of idiots would continue to put their faith in this chronically overpaid and underachieving aggregation of ill-kempt characters, this wild-and-crazy bunch of hirsute fun lovers who gleefully pop open champagne bottles to celebrate finishing second for the seventh straight season. Sure, they're loose. They're also losers. The Red Sox embarrassed themselves last night, giving up more runs than any team in any game in the history of the American League Championship Series."
We all know how that ALCS turned out, don't we.
I should have learned my lesson in 1999, when I'd written this column, two games into Boston's five-game, ALDS series with the Indians:
"CLEVELAND -- Forget all about what Yogi Berra said. He was, after all, a Yankee. When you've won so many world championships, it truly never is over 'til it's over. But these are the Red Sox we're talking about. So it was over before it even started. Officially, of course, Boston's American League semifinal series with the Indians is not yet over. Cleveland still must go through the formality of winning the third game of this best-of-five playoff set. Realistically, however, it's over. Finished. Done."
The reality, however, turned out to be a thrilling comeback by the Red Sox, who rallied to win the next three games and advance to the ALCS.
Having poked fun at myself, please allow me a few words in self-defense.
When the Sox were clobbered in Cleveland, 11-1, and fell behind in that '99 ALDS, 2-0, it was their 18th loss in their last 19 postseason games. At that point, the prospect of winning three in a row seemed highly unlikely.
As for what happened in 2004, well, such a thing had never happened before in baseball. No team in MLB history ever had lost a postseason series when leading, 3-0.
After that, I vowed never again write off the Red Sox.
Unless, of course, I thought it might help them to do so.
Because I confess that I have lost some of my journalistic neutrality, yielded some of my arm's-length observance, regarding this 2010 Red Sox team, which has continued to battle, despite being constantly riddled by injuries, suffering one seemingly debilitating blow after another.
They've had every excuse to pack it on, but have refused to fold.
And you've got to love them for it.
Manager Terry Francona has those two World Series championship rings from 2004 and 2007, but I don't know if he's ever done a better job of managing than in this frustrating season.
Which is why Sunday night's loss to the Rays in St. Pete was so disappointing.
After two young, unheralded players -- Yamaico Navarro and Daniel Nava -- delivered the run-scoring hits that gave Boston a 3-1 lead, veteran right-hander John Lackey, who earlier this season had inked a five-year, $82.5-million contract, quickly coughed it up, giving up a two-run homer to Carl Crawford, then putting the eventual winning run on base before being yanked from the game.
Lackey's pitching line for the night was 9 hits and 5 runs in 6 1/3 innings. He has given up more hits this season than any pitcher in the American League, and now sports an ERA of 4.60.
It was largely because of him, and Josh Beckett -- who in April signed a four-year, $68-million contract extension, but has won a total of just four games since, and has an embarrassingly high ERA of 6.50 -- that the Red Sox were expected to contend for the division title.
Now, it appears they've all but fallen out of contention for the wild-card berth.
So I'm saying it's over.
Bring on the fat lady to sing "Sweet Caroline."
Just remember, I've been wrong before.
And, hopefully, will be again.