BOSTON -- The 1912 Red Sox won 105 regular-season games, more than any other team in Boston history, but they did not accomplish it with the flair that the 2018 team has done it with this season while also playing a youthful brand of baseball.
Led by 32-year-old player-manager Jake Stahl, the 1912 Red Sox won the American League by 14 games. They relied on a young roster that included future Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Harry Hopper, both 24, and a 22-year-old "Smoky" Joe Wood. They went on to stun the New York Giants in a seven-game World Series showdown that crowned the inaugural first season at Fenway Park. That was also the year Speaker cemented his superstar status, hitting .383, stealing 52 bags and hitting 10 home runs.
The 2018 edition of the Red Sox have an 11½-game lead in the AL East over the New York Yankees, with a magic number of two to clinch the division with 12 games left this season. This seems to be the year that 25-year-old Mookie Betts will cement his superstar status. He's a front-runner for AL MVP, leading the majors in batting average (.337) and WAR (10.0), ranking second in runs scored (118), OBP (.431) and OPS (1.049), and third in slugging (.619).
But that's where comparisons should end. The 1912 Red Sox hit a team total of 29 home runs in the dead ball era and scored a total of 799 runs over their 154-game season. Their competition was also limited to the seven other AL teams in the American League, long before baseball's integration.
The 2018 Red Sox have dominated with a formidable offense, leading the majors in almost every single category, helped by home-run-powerhouse J.D. Martinez. But with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers in the infield, and Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi in the outfield, the Sox are doing it with something few playoff-bound Red Sox teams have had: a core of young, homegrown talent. A platform for success not just this year, but for years to come. And those four players might have a long future ahead of them playing for rookie manager Alex Cora.
"The next couple of years we're going to be good due to the fact we're kind of young, team-controlled, type of things. And you definitely sometimes think about the possibilities [in the] next couple of years," Betts said.
The 2018 Red Sox have had more than 500 games played by homegrown position players age 25-and-under this season. The most games they got from players that age or younger in any of their prior three World Series years (2004, 2007 and 2013) was the 257 games played by homegrown players 25-and-under in 2007. And while the current group of four shared little time together throughout the Red Sox affiliates, they have all dreamt of the special brand of success that comes from being part of a homegrown core.
Betts was already an established MVP-caliber performer in his fourth full season, but, as noted, he's taken his game at the plate up a notch. Bogaerts is slugging a career-best .519, generating 76 extra-base hits while nearing 100 RBIs. Benintendi has improved his average, OBP and slugging in his second full season in the majors. And despite losing time to hamstring and shoulder injuries in his first full season as a 21-year-old, Devers has provided further hints of his big-time power potential with 17 homers.
"Hopefully we will play many years together," said Bogaerts, who at age 25 is just barely the oldest of the four. "I did not play with Devers (in the minors), (him) being the youngest one, or with 'Benny.' I never played with Mookie -- I was in Low-A and he came in for a tryout, and I saw him right before he signed. I knew he'd be good, short hands and quick to the ball, but never these PlayStation numbers! But now we're together."
"We have a lot of homegrown guys and we came up kind of at different times," Betts said. "But we all came through the organization so we all have something in common. You look to the guy next to you and know that he's been through the exact same stuff you've been through. It's special in the sense that we've all been through the same thing and we're all here now."
"It's pretty special," Benintendi said. "We've been pretty fortunate coming up in this organization. And with young guys like Mookie and Bogey, now it feels like they have been around so long. There's no egos. It's been fun."
The 2017 Red Sox postseason lineup featured seven homegrown players, their highest total since 1988. Seven homegrown hitters may be headed to the 2018 postseason roster: outfielders Betts, Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. plus catchers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart from the draft, and Bogaerts and Devers as international signings.
And while free-agency signings like Martínez, David Price and Mitch Moreland, and trades for Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel have also been essential, the fact that so many of the Red Sox young homegrown players are producing at elite levels has helped put the team where it is today -- and could keep it atop the AL East for years to come.
The 2018 Red Sox notched their 100th win of the season in their 146th game, the earliest they have ever gotten to the century mark. They'll set a new franchise record for wins in a season when they get to victory No. 106. And they are on pace for 111 wins, the most since the Seattle Mariners matched the major league record of 116 in 2001. If they get there, they'd be just the seventh team in MLB history to win 110 games or more in a season.
"I was trying to think, I don't even remember us losing three in a row," Benintendi said with a laugh. It almost certainly says something about baseball's long season that he'd forgotten Boston's three three-game losing streaks. They're the only team in baseball that hasn't lost four in a row this season.
A big part of what has kept them even-keeled is Cora, their first-year manager. After the infielder's 14-year playing career ended in 2011, Cora worked as an analyst for ESPN until he spent the 2017 season as the Astros' bench coach during their run to winning last year's World Series. Just 42 years old, he has provided a relatable, upbeat stability grounded in his experiences on the field, in the clubhouse and dealing with the media.
"If he's nervous (as a rookie manager), he's definitely not showing it," Betts said of the new skipper at the start of the season. "He is very calm, even when games are tight; there is no panic or anything like that. Everything is positive, everything is more relaxed, when you see someone relaxed that way it is contagious for everyone."
"He knows baseball," Bogaerts said. "And he played the infield, so he really knows what he's talking about and can relate to us. And he speaks Spanish and English, so he can communicate with us directly. He really is more like a big brother to us. And he cares, that's the best part."
"He's been through this same type of pressure," catcher Sandy Leon added. "It wasn't as a manager, but he really learned to be very communicative in these types of situations. He's been the same since spring training; nothing has changed, always the same confidence, the same routine, very communicative."
Which has helped bring us to a point where it isn't crazy to start thinking it's possible that come November we may be calling the 2018 Red Sox the best Boston baseball team ever -- and that their key quartet of young stars invites the expectation that the Red Sox could just be getting started.
"We know that we have a special group right now, but I think we'll be able to see it more down the road or maybe not even until we're done playing," Benintendi said.
Modern free agency makes it difficult for contending teams to replicate the long success that the New York Yankees' "Core Four" -- Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada -- had playing and winning together. Acknowledging that the manager arrived after the players in this case, there's a chance that this quartet, playing for him, could make up Boston's answer to the Baby Bombers -- a "Cora Four" to build a new AL East dynasty upon.
"We all would want to play together until we retire!" Bogaerts said. "But the game is different. The potential is here, and hopefully we can continue to get to the playoffs every year. But first we got to get there and give ourselves a chance."
"Win or lose, there is no panic or pressure here," Benintendi said. "We're under a microscope all the time but I think I have learned that you can control only what you can control, which is your level of effort and that you're having fun."
"I think we have been able to succeed because, despite your age, nobody treats you differently (here)," Devers observed. "You don't put more pressure on yourself. And that makes us a young team with a lot of confidence in ourselves."
"We still have a little ways to go as far as our ultimate goal," Betts said. "We have this great season, and we get in the playoffs... then anything can happen. But once the season finishes we can step back and say we had a hell of a season. But it's not about thinking about a 'special season.' That's why we are successful, because the Red Sox prepare us for one game instead of the big picture."