Friday, December 17, 2004

Shut Up and Count Your Money

Subtitle: I Ain't Goin' Out Like No Punk, Bitch

Today brings the shocking news that Pedro Martinez is taking shots at his former employers on his way to Metville. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm a bit disappointed. Say whatever you want, Petey, but you weren't Schilling's equal last year. You weren't his equal during the regular season, you were clearly not his equal in guts and will during the post-season, and you weren't his equal in terms of standing up and facing your off-field responsibilities like a man.

Whit, enjoy the Pedro Experience over the next 4 years. You'll learn to love it even more than you hate it, but I promise you'll do both.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Nasty Case of the Spins

So many topics, so little time. The Hot Stove runneth amok here in MLC Land, with the good, the bad, and the putrid mingling in a winter brew more potent than anything cooked up by the good people at the Boston Brewing Co. Here's a stream-of-consciousness look at things from the upwind side of the MLC team:

Comings and Goings: Pedro's gone to the Mets in a whirlwind of chicanery and gamesmanship, despite Whitney's fervent pleadings. As much as I loved watching him, and remain enraptured by his electric talent, 4 years and $52 million is simply more than he's worth at this point in his career, and I wish him well and thank Theo for not getting sucked into Petey's emotional headgames. I truly hope that he pitches well for Whitney's 9, because everybody should get to experience Pedro at his best, but I think his best years are behind him.

As Petey closed one door on the Sox, David Wells opened another and waddled into Fenway as the Sox No. 3 starter (at least I hope he's No. 3, because if he's higher up in the rotation it could be a long season - not a Pittsburgh-long season, but a long season nonetheless.). I've always enjoyed Wells' persona, and he'd appear to be a good fit on the Idiots. It's a relatively low-risk signing, so I'm on board.

Finally, Edgar Renteria joins the Sox courtesy of a 4 year, $40 million deal. Part of me wonders why Orlando Cabrera for $2m a year less wouldn't be just as good, but I can live with Renteria - especially if his signing means that Hanley Ramirez winds up in a package that yields Tim Hudson or A.J. Burnett, as rumored.

Great Moments in Film History: I watched HBO's hastily revised (Reverse of the) Curse of the Bambino last night. For the first time in 18 years, I watched that ball go through Bill Buckner's legs with a smile on my face. Everything that happened before 2004 only served to make this feel so goddamn sweet. And once again, it got really dusty in my house during the ALCS and World Series footage.

And Finally: Whitney's already spent significant righteous anger on this topic, but Linda Cropp has exposed herself as the worst kind of opportunistic weathervane of a politician. She's also embarrassed a city with a stunning display of legislative duplicity. We could argue all day about the merits of public versus private financing for sports facilities, and I'd be inclined to agree that full public funding isn't necessarily the best plan. However, Ms. Cropp publicly endorsed the deal that the city had reached with Major League Baseball, whooping it up from the podium alongside Mayor Anthony Williams on the day the deal was announced, and for her to cut the legs out from under the deal at the very last moment is despicable. She seems to be both conniving and not very bright (or at least not very savvy about how things work in the real world), which is a dangerous combination - and a deadly mix for baseball in Washington.
An Open Letter to Linda Cropp

Dear Linda,
End the charade. By now it's obvious to anyone who's been following your preposterous actions since the first time you pulled the rug out from under us that your sole motivation for this rigmarole is to try to earn the mayor's seat the next time around. We know, we know. You want to be the one that saved D.C. from baseball's deadly deal, yet saved baseball from MLB's fickle fingers. Hey, baseball-naysayers: I never voted for baseball! Hey, baseball-people: I never voted against baseball! Here's what you're really doing: pissing everyone off. Just stop it.

Apparently it's eluded you that it took a supremely herculean effort, plus an inordinate amount of good luck, and oh yeah, this exact sweetheart deal to get Major League Baseball to agree to come here. By using the authority the citizens of D.C. entrusted you with to hold the council hostage to your whims is abominable, to use an appropriately seasonal term. Tinkering with the deal with but a couple of weeks remaining is playing with fire, and pretty moronic to boot. Your perennial presence two steps behind the rest of the integral players has illustrated your ineptitude in your current role. To carry on with this behavior is irresponsible; to do so in the name of protecting your city's people when selfish motivations lurk behind that thin veil is reprehensible. We'd rather see Mayor McCheese in power than you. We'd rather see . . . we'd almost rather see Marion Barry reclaim his office than you.

All along you have said you wouldn't stand in the way of baseball returning to the District. Hear my noise, woman, everything you've done thus far has gone a long way towards jeopardizing what other people have worked so hard for, and you are teetering on the brink of costing us all this baseball team. If you do so, you will have let down a city, and you will achieve more fame than you've ever dared to dream about -- the notoriety of being "the stupid lady that lost the Expos."

MLC Head Writer #1

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An 11th Hour Plea

Perhaps I didn't write in a vehement enough manner. Maybe "pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease don't sign him" isn't clear enough. And just in case this site isn't in Omar Minaya's favorites file, here's hoping one of the other 10,000 websites bemoaning/criticizing/scoffing at the potential four years of guaranteed Pedro might make the Mets think twice. What a scenario that'd be -- at this point, the Sox have washed their hands of Pedro, and if the Mets back out, there'd be a tail between two legs in Pedro's house. Deep down the Sox are probably thrilled to be able to part ways with Pedro in a manner where they come out as the good guys. Martinez, with his back-and-forth playing the Mets and Sox off each other, has come off as utterly shady. "It's only business, nothing personal," Pedro Martinez and Sal Tessio commiserate. And if only -- if only -- Omar Minaya would back away at the 11th hour, we'd hear this exchange:

Pedro: "Can you get me off the hook, Theo? For old times' sake?"
Theo: "Can't do it, Petey."

And then Martinez gets forced into a black sedan and winds up in the baseball equivalent of sleeping with the fishes, sleeping with the Devil Rays.

Monday, November 29, 2004

No, No, Pee-dro

All of the feelings I had for Sammy Sosa hold true for Pedro Martinez as well. I think he's due for a significant downward turn, he's not much fun for fans, many teammates, and especially management, and he's going to cost a pretty penny. Why would he be even worse than Sosa? He'll command a multi-year obligation, and Cliff Floyd won't go in the transaction. Of course, at the end of the day, much like Sammy, Pedro will improve this very bad team. You just have to wonder if there are people out there who can improve the team without bringing so much baggage.

In other words, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease don't sign him. I never liked him when he was a Red Soxer, despite admiring his talent (most obvious at least a few years ago). It will be piling on for Rob's Red Sox to leave misery in the dust, then dump high-dollar, waning-talent players on the Mets. "Bad to worse" has been the anti-Millar mantra of the Mets for quite some time now.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Whither Pedro?

Various media outlets are reporting that the Mets and Pedro met this week to discuss the right-hander's interest in coming back to the National League. Certainly could make for some interesting exchanges on this blog next season.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Giving Thanks

Even as our sporting landscape is scarred by all manner of misguided machismo, misplaced emphasis on looking tough instead of playing hard and fair, and a vastly imbalanced sense of importance, I view it all with sanded edges and softened hues, wearing as I am the rose-colored glasses of complete Sox-addled bliss. The joy of October 27, 2004 remains fresh and new, and continues to influence my worldview on a daily basis.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Eve, I offer thanks to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The list of legends is long, and I'll certainly miss somebody who matters - the fact is, nobody associated with this team will ever have to buy their own meal in Boston again - but here goes:

Derek Lowe - Derek Freaking Lowe - got the win in each of the clinching games this postseason, and he gave up 4 hits in his final 13 innings of playoff work, against the Yankees and Cardinals. He was nails in the 2003 playoffs, and he was galvanized steel this year. He may never pitch in Boston again, but I'll root for him wherever he goes.

Curt Schilling came to Boston for 1 reason, and he delivered. Enough has already been written by better men and women than I about his guts on the mound. He has risen to deity status in Boston, and he deserves it.

Pedro Martinez made his first World Series start memorable, and he capped one of the most magnificent eras by any pitcher in history. Like Lowe, he may be gone next season, but the echoes of his brilliance will linger until long after I've passed.

Dave Roberts - yeah, that's right, Dave Roberts - made this all possible. If he doesn't steal 2nd base in the 9th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS, the Sox get swept by the Yankees. He's as valuable as any other player on this team.

David Ortiz might be my favorite Red Sox player at this moment, a perfect combination of jaw-dropping power, timely performance, and joie de vivre.

Manny Ramirez was the World Series MVP, but more importantly shook off the indignity of being placed on waivers in the winter and worked his ass off to ingratiate himself with the fans of Boston. From his flag-waving entrance after he gained his U.S. citizenship, to his sublime hitting and mostly valiant (if sometimes comically misguided) efforts in the field and on the bases, Manny made massive strides in 2004.

Solid, stoic, Billy Mueller was 1 of a handful of glue guys that came to the park every day and did their jobs. His season-long mastery of Mariano Rivera first gave the Sox hope that they could beat the Yankee relief ace when he took him deep in July, then made that hope real in Game 4 of the ALCS. Mueller had 2 of the most important hits of the entire season.

Keith Foulke performed to expectations in the regular season, and then simply lifted the team on his back in the ALCS and World Series. History will regard his 2004 postseason as legendary.
Mike Timlin and Alan Embree sort of work as a pair - tough-as-rawhide hired guns who never backed down from any challenge, fastballs blazing and chaw packed firmly between their cheeks and gums.

Tim Wakefield had to spend all of last winter replaying the memory of Aaron Boone's homerun in his mind. One of my favorite moments of the 2004 post-season was Wake's cathartic moments on the Yankee Stadium mound after the Sox completed their comeback.

Mark Bellhorn made me and a million other Sox fans idiots in the last 2 games of the ALCS and the first game of the World Series, hitting important homeruns in each contest. His swing may have holes bigger than Ortiz' backside, but his patience symbolized the whole team's highly successful approach, and he quietly produced some of the biggest hits of the post-season.

Orlando Cabrera, we hardly knew ya, but we did enjoy your grace in the shortstop hole, and that post-season hitting streak was pretty cool, too.

The 2004 Sox have lots of important parts, but Jason Varitek was the heart and soul, even before he slapped Alex Rodriguez around in the season-turning game in July.

Pokey Reese made one of the season's remarkable plays, robbing teammate-to-be Dave Roberts of a double on a rising line drive during interleague play. He also fielded the game-ending grounder to kick off the celebration after Game 7 of the ALCS.

Trot Nixon is part of this team's foundation, even though he didn't contribute as much in 2004 as I'm sure he would have liked.

If it's not Ortiz, Johnny Damon is my favorite Sox player. He's definitely my daughter's favorite; her Christmas list includes a "pink Johnny Damon hat". He may be the freest of the free spirits on this team - an attitude that allowed this group the latitude to play loose and easy even backed up against a wall of historic proportions.

Kevin Millar is a cheesy, rah-rah, team guy - and the world should have more people just like him. From Cowboy Up to Hell's Coming with Me, Millar's legacy is secure in Boston - he'll be the guy serving as Grand Marshal of parades in the Greater Boston area for the next 50 years.

Doug Mientkiewicz will always be the guy who caught the final out of the 2004 World Series. And he'll always be a guy who put aside his ego to be part of this magnificent team.

Bronson Arroyo had the worst haircut on the team with the worst hair in history. He also had "balls the size of Saturn" according to teammate Curt Schilling, taking the ball every 5th day on a supremely talented team, and ending the season with the 9th-best ERA in the American League.

Theo Epstein has the rest of his life to bask in this accomplishment - it's all downhill from here. And, to be sure, I don't think he's gonna rest on these laurels even for a moment.

Nomar Garciaparra - boy, do I wish you could have been on the field when these guys won it all. I understand why you weren't, and honestly don't think they would have won it all if you'd stayed in Boston, but it would have been cool to see you in the middle of that pigpile.

To all the rest of the 2004 Red Sox - Kevin Youkilis, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Myers, Curtis Leskanic, Doug Mirabelli, Gabe Kapler, et al: thank you, a thousand times, thank you.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Just For the Record

Last week, when Wally Backman's woes were exposed and Arizona dumped him in favor of Bob Melvin (last seen going down with the Mariner ship, losing 30 more games than the year prior), I felt bad for Backman. The more I see and read about it, the worse I feel for the guy. He's had some problems, but he's also had some bum luck -- none worse than during his untimely 5-day stint as D-back skipper. I can't help feel that his past, which isn't any worse than, say, Bobby Cox's, shouldn't be affecting his managerial status. It'd be great if the Mets could cut him a break and get his career back on track, but their AAA and AA posts are filled with solid managers: John Stearns and Ken Oberkfell, respectively. Maybe a bench coach in New York? Anything?

I have a funny (funny meaning bad) feeling that sometime in 2005, when Cool Willie will be calmly overseeing the Mets' slow demise in much the same way Grandpa Art, did, I'll be wishing we had a fiery, scrappy skipper to light a fire under the underachievers' asses. Someone like Wally Backman.

It just seems wrong, that's all.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Olney an Idiot Could Write Such Things

I just don't get this fellow. Buster Olney, last blasting the bad Mets trades of 2004 for all of the wrong reasons, is back at missing the point more often than Mets hitters miss the ball. Buster naysays the Sosa dealings -- and again, people, I am a Sosa-basher -- for all of the wrong reasons. This guy could make an present-day argument that the world is round and use a rationale that'd make me contest his stance.

His headline-pun reason that this deal is bad news is that Sammy Sosa, in his current strikeout-prone, defensively-challenged slugger state, is reminiscent of Dave Kingman circa 1982. That'd be Dave "Kong" Kingman, last referenced in this space as a favorite Met for ridiculous feats both good and bad. He was a prodigious slugger who knocked in 37 homers whilst whiffing 156 times in '82 as the lowly Mets finished 27 games out, good for last place in the NL East. Olney notes the similarities and finishes his thought: "you don't win with Dave Kingmans."

First of all, quit knocking Sky King Kingman. The man rocketed 442 home runs in his time, many of them of the tape-measure variety; of his peers, only Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, and Dave Winfield hit more. In his first full season in the bigs, at age 23 with the Giants, he had the .225/29/83 beginnings of the pattern. In his final year, 1986 across the Bay in Oakland, he registered .210/35/94 numbers, which wasn't exactly petering out, I might add. He played fewer than five full seasons with the Mets and is still entrenched at 4th on their all-time HR list -- and nobody's likely to pass him by any time soon, even in this rabbit-ball era. His mammoth swings missed more often than hit, but this guy was as entertaining as they come, giving the fans a little something for their money to boot. And if Buster is trying to blame the 1982 debacle on Dave Kingman, dear lord, he needs to re-think it.

Your 1982 New York Mets (65-97)

Take a quick look -- this is a franchise four years from winning the World Series, but you'd never, ever, ever know it. Only Wally, Mookie, and Messy Jesse were there four years later. (Frank Cashen, Baseball Einstein.) Kong had 37 taters, the team had 97. (The World Series Brewers of Thomas, Oglivie, Cooper, et al had 216.) The rotation was Charlie Puleo, Pete Falcone, Craig Swan, Pat Zachry, and a pre-splitter Mike Scott. Neil Allen, famous only as the trade bait in the Keith Hernandez deal, was the closer. They had several future managers/execs on the club in the likes of Ron Gardenhire, Bruce Bochy, John Stearns, Ed Lynch, Mike Jorgensen, and of course, Wally Backman, just not many people who could hit, throw, or catch a ball all that well. So don't say, "You don't win with Dave Kingmans," say "You don't win with Dave Kingman and a roster full of ineptitude." Just lay off.

But yeah, Kong struck out a lot and was a defensive liability. And the Mets' lineup really needs no more free-swingers. And the Shea outfield is harder to patrol than Wrigley's. And yes, Sosa's offensive numbers are eroding while his glove skills are lacking, but he's hardly in Kingman-land yet. His average hasn't dipped below .250 since 1991, while Kingman rarely topped that mark. Just as importantly, what Olney fails to pick up on is that the Mets are trading Cliff Floyd for Sosa. (Floyd is mentioned in the first paragraph and then ignored completely.) Clifford Floyd is a solid ballplayer and is considered a good teammate, but when the mere mention of the word "hobbled" brings his name to mind at least as much as Kathy Bates', that's not good. He's toughed out a number of injuries and still spent a ton of time on the Disabled List. And when he's played? He's been no Sammy Sosa. His 22 at-bats per homer last year didn't approach Sosa's 13.7, his 0.46 BB/K ratio was nearly the same as Sammy's 0.42, and his .814 OPS falls short of Sammy's .849. Meanwhile, his LF play was just as ugly as the RF play Olney describes from Sosa, except that Sosa's fielding numbers were better.

Cliff Floyd's upside is far from Sosa territory, too. He's hit 31 home runs once, and driven in 100 once. He's a .280 lifetime hitter, while Sammy's a .277 guy. Sammy's fallen off, but Clifford Floyd has never neared what displayed pre-Mets. Floyd makes a third of what Sosa makes, but (a) he's under contract for an extra year, (b) he's talked openly about retiring because of his injuries, and (c) the Cubs are reportedly going to throw some cash into the deal. And those factors, added to the comparison of these two players, makes this an appealing trade. Perhaps both of these guys jusy need a new home, and it's worth a shot to find out. Again: Sammy Sosa would only be under contract for one season. How much damage could he do in a worst-case scenario? "Disaster" is used far too often in the aforementioned article without clearly labeling the last two seasons as such.

The personality issue is worth discussing. The evolution of Sammy Sosa's image currently has him out of "co-savior of baseball, the Dominican Republic's greatest product, and Cubbies legend" territory and in the area of "total prick." He's come across as selfish, arrogant, money-hungry, cheating, misguided, and aloof in the last year or two. With Jose Guillen also being discussed as a winter acquisition, Willie Randolph might have his hands full. But if Randolph is worth his salt, he's learned from his mentor that you can take otherwise abrasive personalities like Roger Clemens, Ruben Sierra, David Wells, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Nelson, Kenny Lofton, and Darryl Strawberry and find a way to maximize their output while minimizing their outbursts en route to 100 wins. (While simply avoiding guys like Jose Canseco, of course.) Sure, as Olney points out, Sosa "could be an utter disaster of Ed Whitson-like proportions playing in New York." But who couldn't??? If Rey "F-ing" Ordonez (moniker applied by Rob Russell last year) can fit that description, can't anyone? If Johnny Franco and Al Leiter can go from beloved to besmirched in a short period of time, who's immune to the wrath of New York? Sammy may enter with two strikes against and a target on his back, but he only needs to shut his mouth and open the season well to gain favor in this town. It gets back to my last post. If you're going to play scared and take no chances this winter, we'll have the most harmonious, loveable spring training ever. And by August, when the Mets are 23 games out again, we'll have more formerly esteemed New York Mets sniping in the press and having potshots administered by the Buster Olneys of the sportswriting world.

What Olney really wanted to write was "I hate Sammy Sosa and Dave Kingman sucked." Which is fine, just don't obscure it with 1,200 words of garbage surrounding it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Recipe for Met Success: Sammy Sosa, and More Than a Few Grains of Salt

On the table: the Mets acquiring Sammy Sosa from the Cubs for Cliff Floyd and/or Mike Piazza, plus a bag of cash. All of Mets Township is up in arms about Omar Minaya's interest in getting Sosa, as well as Mike Lupica's suggestion that the Mets might not be so crazy to try. It'd be easy to bash Sosa and the potential trade in this space and fall in line with the legions of sane fans doing just that. I'll try to take the road less traveled by and see if it makes any difference.

Lupica's suggestion of "What could it hurt?" has been rejected, mocked, and scorned by knowledgeable people who point out Sammy Sosa's deterioration in hitting (an OPS free-fall, as Kaley points out), fielding (a flashback of the 2003 Mets Lupus-like OF), health (a huge concern for the Mets these days for obvious reasons), standing in MLB (the cork-popping to celebrate his acquisition would be rife with irony), and general appeal to the community. Most have balked at his huge price tag, his slipping offensive numbers, and the fact that he seems to have gone from beloved hero to beleaguered zero five short seasons. I'll contest each of these points in brief, even if I have to grit my teeth to do it.

What the respective GM's are talking about now would be a waiving of the extended, overpaid, automatically-kicked-in option years that make reading Sosa's contract like watching Faces of Death. As currently written, any trade would exercise 2006 and 2007 years of 18 and 19 million dollars, respectively. A cool 9 mill would buy them out, of course. Skiddit. Sosa and his agent are asking the union to let him waive this part of the contract, meaning the Mets would only get him/be stuck with him for one year, albeit at an inflated price. In addition, the Cubs supposedly want him out so much that they might send some cash -- or take on a bad Met contract -- in exchange. And this all makes it a far less bitter pill to swallow than most folks originally thought. The agony of Mo Vaughn (typing that name always results in tremble-caused typos) was so much worse because there were essentially two lost seasons at $17.1M apiece. No matter how bad Sammy's production tanks, it's but one season -- or less, if they deal him at the deadline (absorbing some/all of his salary for a key prospect, of course). So the price wouldn't be as bad as feared, and the damage wouldn't be long-term in a worst-case scenario. And in a better-than-worst-case scenario, he's slugging balls out of Shea with a frequency we haven't seen much lately, except off the bat of Pat Burrell and other visitors.

Then, of course, there's the notion that he's a prima donna crybaby who threatens the harmony of any clubhouse. Flash back (scroll down a ways) to the clubhouse that was the 2004 Mets: a manager who lost the team through emotionless bumbling, a corps of veterans whose apparent big contribution was forcing management to trade away the best prospect they had for a dinged-up wild thing, and a general malaise which settled over the team. Flash back further to the 1999-2000 Mets, a club that not only contended, but went to the World Series. These guys included the likes of Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonilla, Armando Benitez, Dennis Cook, Derek Bell, and Rey Ordonez, guys who at one time or another were better known for their whining, griping, and self-absorption than their play. At the same time, these clubs were stabilized by Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Orel Hershiser, Robin Ventura (who'd lived off his infamy of charging and getting whipped by Nolan Ryan a decade prior), and yes, Al Leiter and John Franco.

Flash further back to 1986, when the team employed S.O.B.'s like pompous Ray Knight, drug trialed Keith Hernandez, surly George Foster, moody Darryl Strawberry, and other seemingly cancerous personalities. The franchise seems to function better when the roster isn't filled with humanitarian award candidates. Meanwhile, over the last couple of years there have been plenty of likeable personalities but few likeable results. Going after bad seeds isn't a recipe for success, but (a) nor is hiring only choirboys, and (b) maybe it'll shake things up. After the Orioles were destroyed by the Albert Belle Disaster (O's fans scoff at Mo Vaughn tales of woe), Peter Angelos and his revolving door of execs played scared for several years, shying away from big contracts, players with injury histories, and abrasive personalities. That approach has provided them a series of 60- and 70-win seasons with a slew of low-to-mid-grade talents like Pat Hentgen, Marty Cordova and David Segui that, ironically, have spent most of their time on the DL. When they finally started taking chances again last winter, they saw improvement. Look for more of the same from them this winter.

Getting over Mo Vaughn, like recovering from any bad relationship, takes time. But I sense from Omar Minaya that the hesitation about big contracts and long-term deals is fading away with the bad memories of Big Mo. The Mets have the money -- this new cable deal, while it doesn't put them in Steinbrenner territory, is more evidence that the Mets are one of the elite, and they can start competing with the big boys whenever they want. All it takes is some shrewd decision-makers (it's not yet been proven any wear the royal blue and orange) and any of the anatomical entities that represent courage (spine, guts, sack, what have you). Sammy Sosa in a Mets' uni has an upside -- a big one. Sure, the Dominicans in the 5 boroughs (the same ones who were overlooked whilst pseudo-courting Vlad Guerrero, which is Exhibit A of the trigger-shy past) will come out in droves, but so will the rest of the fans. Read the tomes of blogwork out there. Fans are just begging to come out to the park with a reason to believe. And Sosa, despite the baggage he's created for himself in recent years, is one good reason.

Reason #2 -- the signing of Al Leiter. Sure, a 39-year-old pitcher who threw 5 2/3 innings per appearance last year and tired down the stretch like a miler in a marathon is not worth $7 million guaranteed. No way, no how. Unless he's a heart and soul of the team kind of guy who, despite some rumor mill miscues, provides veteran leadership and good PR to an organization lacking it entirely. You know how the Red Sox are so thick in positive image they can afford the hit of letting clubhouse guys go? Then there are the Mets. They have to sever ties with Johnny Franco, and whether or not he lugs that shell of his former self onto the mound elsewhere this season, you still have to hope he'll come back and coach the 'pen someday. Meanwhile, Al Leiter can remain as the icon, the local guy who finishes his career out with the Mets, and then slides right into the booth with Fran Healy and Keith Hernandez. We all heard him blow away Tim McCarver and Joe Buck in the ALCS; if he's not running for NJ state Senate, he should be behind the mic at the new station. You hate to make moves merely because of the crosstown rivals, for sure, but the alternative of having Leiter defect to the Yankees, give them a morale boost and a lefty arm, then roll into a job with the crappy YES team would be horrible. And since it's only a difference of a few million bucks, and you're the New York Friggin' Mets, you sign him.

Bringing back Leiter will mean more when another veteran presence, Mike Piazza, is absent. Piazza should be on his way to the AL straightaway; the impact of losing one of baseball's good guys, and a player who's done nothing but give his all to this franchise since he's been here, is lessened by the fact that he's been MIA for so much of the past two years. Plus, when he's been there, it's been painful to watch his defensive discomfort no matter where he plays. For his sake, trade him somewhere that he can DH and thrive, and wish him well.

And finally, since I'm offering all of the solutions here, go after two more big names. Wait out the Boras BS, and be there when serious deals get inked. Don't be the A-Rod Rangers, but be the Vlad Angels or the Tejada O's. Pay a little more than market value without embarrassing yourself. Pursue Delgado and Pavano, or Beltran and Clement, or, if you have to (please no), Pedro and Magglio. Don't pursue Cabrera; consider your assets assets and not trade bait. Keep young, cheap talents in house. Trade at the deadline if you're in contention, but right now be a free agent grabber. Mostly, learn from the mistakes of the past, and that past includes the gun-shy, timid approach of the last two seasons, not just the overspending, underscouting mistakes of the years prior. Keep in mind that an awful lot of bad luck has accompanied the idiocy of the Mets of 2002-2004, so roll some dice and be a player. Boy, am I tired of the fact that every criticism of the economics of baseball needs to be asterisked with the acknowledgement that the New York Mets are the exception to the rule that money buys championship teams. The Mets are among the privileged; let's take some benefits along with the stigma.

Okay, that's enough. I can't go on for much longer pretending I don't abhor Sammy Sosa and the faux-cuddly image that belies an increasingly obvious total bastard. [Wow, that manifested itself pretty nastily once I let it out.] I don't believe in Omar Minaya making a blockbuster deal just "to make a big splash," but I believe in making wholesale changes to a 71-91 team, dumping the chaff in one fell swoop, and taking calculated risks that might irritate now and gratify later, rather than something that's a slow seep from mildly appeasing to mildly displeasing. I'm still not sure if I can truly get behind this Sosa deal, but doesn't it sound like I can talk myself into yet another Met decision once it happens? I'm such a sad sucker.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Being Theo Epstein

For the record, let me state that I'm glad I'm not Theo Epstein, as is Red Sox Nation. I'm still flying high about the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox (and, no, that phrase has not lost its luster, but thanks for asking), while Theo's got to get down to the serious business of reassembling a roster that can compete for the 2005 title - and do so while balancing ownership's financial considerations and the Nation's emotional attachment to everyone on the 40 man roster.

Luckily for Theo, he's got a great model just across town in the Scott Pioli-run New England Patriots, winners of 2 of the last 3 Super Bowls. If ever there was a Moneyball NFL franchise, it's the Patriots, who've built dominant teams on a foundation of motivated, fairly-but-not-overpaid, cohesive, team-oriented parts. New England sports fans saw the Patriots dispassionately but rationally jettison players like Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Malloy, and thrive because of it. The ground has been laid for Theo to do the same.

That said, I know the Patriots, and they, sir, are no Boston Red Sox in terms of emotional attachment to the community. Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mirabelli and nearly a dozen other free agents will never pay for a meal in New England again. It will be hard to watch any of them play for another team next year, but the cold, hard facts of professional sports in 2004 dictate that many - if not most - of them will don other laundry.

For me, Varitek's the top priority, followed closely by Pedro - and the reasons are more emotional than anything else. Varitek is the unquestioned leader of this team, which is worth a premium, even if he's a catcher on the wrong side of the age/production curve. That said, his agent, the evil Scott Boras, has publicly declared that 'Tek wants 5 years/$50 million to sign - laughable numbers when compared to Ivan Rodriguez' 4/40 deal with Detroit. I love 'Tek, and would be willing to give him 3 years at $8-9m per with a club option for the 4th, but he ain't I-Rod.

Pedro's been offered 2/25.5 with a club option for a 3rd year - all pretty close to Schilling's deal. That's a fair offer, and I expect Pedro to eventually take it. The wild card will be the rest of the league - if 1 owner goes to 3/40 or higher, with the final year guaranteed, Pedro's got a decision to make. Can't really blame him if he takes guaranteed money. Can't blame him, but would still be bummed.

The other slots offer so many possibilities that it makes my head spin, so I'm going to shift into talk radio mode now. Here's one man's perfect world scenario for the makeup of the 2005 Sox on opening day:

C - Varitek
1b - Mientkiewicz/Glaus
2b - Bellhorn
SS - Cabrera (not likely, unfortunately)
3b - Mueller/Glaus
lf - Ramirez
cf- Damon
rf - Nixon
dh - Ortiz

Reserves - Mirabelli (c), Roberts (of), Millar (of, 1b, dh), Reese (if - also unlikely)

SP - Schilling
SP - Martinez
SP - Pavano
SP - Arroyo
SP - Wakefield

RP - Foulke
RP - Timlin
RP - Embree (L)
RP - Traber (L)
RP - Leskanic
RP - one more random quality long arm

That rosy scenario sees the Sox getting Troy Glaus and Carl Pavano in free agency, and losing only Derek Lowe among front-line free agents. Probably wishful thinking. In the real world, Cabrera's probably gone, replaced by a stopgap like Omar Vizquel or Edgar Renteria (not the worst thing in the world) while the Sox wait for Hanley Ramirez to grow up in their farm system. Glaus is a SoCal guy, may not want to play in the superheated Boston atmosphere. I feel pretty good about Pavano, though - New England kid, has said he wants to pitch with a mentor, blah, blah, blah.

The free agent period started yesterday. I'll check in here as things happen. Gimme Tek and Pedro and I'd probably call the offseason a success.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Check this out. Pictures of Schilling's ankle during the post-season. Just when I thought that guy was as big a stud as I'd ever witnessed on a baseball field,'s gotta go and show us that...and completely prove it.

And, for what it's worth, Whitney's sooo right about Linda Cropp. D.C. politics never ceases to amaze - it's like a Monty Python skit that took a left turn into really surreal territory, only if the quality of people's lives was at stake.

And you wondered why, when prayers and bitches and moans were answered and Major League Baseball awarded the Expos to Washington, DC, we didn't get up and boogie down here at MLC. For those not following the saga of D.C. baseball too closely, the deal is now in jeopardy thanks to Linda "Flip-Flop" Cropp, the chairwoman of the DC Executive Council. After being rah-rah when the announcement was made and praising the plan, she's decided at the 11th hour to reject the accepted Anacostia site and push for a lot right next to RFK Stadium. This would save DC businesses and taxpayers millions, which, considering how much it's costing, is equivalent to saving them $5. Oh, and the RFK site was previously investigated and rejected by MLB. So she's basically voting for no baseball.

It appears Cropp really is the jellyfish that Mayor Anthony Williams, Michael Wilbon, and others are making her out to be. Of course there was going to be a backlash to the astronomical price tag associated with acquiring the team. You knew it was coming. To cave in now simply paints you as a waffling, ineffective buffoon. Did D.C. offer too much in this deal? Of course! Could the money be better spent on schools, hospitals, cops, firemen, and roads? Of course! If not for this massive expenditure, would those millions of dollars be going to schools, hospitals, cops, firemen, and roads? Of course not! This is the District of Columbia, for God's sake! This is where Marion Barry is still the preeminent voice of the people! This is where corruption and ineptitude are written into city by-laws! This is where the health codes stipulate you don't even need a new plate to go back up to the buffet!

I believe that the loudest protests are coming from those who simply oppose each and every measure that fosters the further gentrification of the town formerly known as Chocolate City. There are those who don't necessarily see "progress" as progress, and while sometimes there is a fine line between improving the living conditions of a neughborhood and forcing out loyal citizens, this is clearly not the case here. Southeast DC, specifically Anacostia, is the current heart of what DC was all over the place 15 years ago. It has the market cornered (despite a recent push by NE DC) on murder, drug crimes, and prostitution. For a while, there were more humans being pulled out of the Anacostia River than fish. And since the baseball plan was unveiled, it's been announced that this area is also the hub of the local gay porn industry. All of this character is being bulldozed away to be replaced by food courts, parking garages, and Pottery Barns, but also riverfront restaurants, businesses, and a state of the art stadium that represents the reclamation of a presence in the national pastime for the national capital. And yes, Mayor Williams went all in with this ballsy deal. He made MLB the offer they couldn't refuse -- because if he didn't, they would have refused. Bud Selig would've hemmed and hawed and sat on the fence for another year before deciding that Washington was too valuable an asset to have as leverage for owners to threaten their cities with a "Build me a publicly-funded stadium or we're moving to DC" edict. It'd be the Las Vegas Seigfrieds in the NL East in a year or two. But he didn't let that happen.

Instead, Tony Williams grabbed the reins, and said "This is it. We're taking the team. You cannot and will not say no to this." Yes, the terms of the deal are a little tough to swallow for District residents, especially small business owners. He's rolling the dice that this will turn out to be a worthy venture civically, financially, and aesthetically. It's easy for me to be for it -- I'm not even a DC resident any more. But I was up until last year, and I would've paid my share, plus that of my Dupont Circle, Anacostia-visiting, gay porn-loving neighbor, too.

The best line from Cropp came when the mayor insisted that her about-face would likely represent a cave-in that blocks out the light at the end of this long tunnel, since MLB's agreement specifically targets the Anacostia site. She simply replied, "I would hope that baseball would be extremely reasonable." Hilarious. Uproarious, even. There has never been a better indication that she is wholly unqualified to have even the slightest bit of clout in this matter than when she suggests that the brain trust . . . the think tank . . . the Mensa with bats . . . that is Major League Baseball's executive office might be "extremely reasonable" with DC's bait-and-switch. It'd be funnier, though, if it weren't another train wreck in the long and troublesome history of the District of Columbia's bumbling, fumbling, and stumbling.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Still Grinning

Whitney asked me yesterday if I was planning to take the winter off. I told him that I'd be back, but I just had nothing interesting to say. Just stopping in today to let you know that I still don't - I can't stop smiling. Friends and family have sent me dozens of newspapers from Boston, I've read everything I can about the postseason, and I just cannot shake this euphoria. Even the election only bummed me out for a little while, because the Red Sox are World Champions. It's been more than a week, and I've - this is true - been in a great mood ever since Mientkiewicz caught Foulke's underhanded toss. Every sports fan should get to feel this good, just once.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Under New Management

Introducing Willie Larry Randolph (please don't call him William Lawrence), the new manager of the worst team money can buy. While his hiring doesn't get anyone fired up, it's not the disaster some of the other candidates discussed would've been. It's nice to finally see some ethnic diversity in New York managers, since the Mets' managerial history was looking extremely pasty. And there are even some parallels with the shrewd move that brought Joe Torre to the Yankees in 1996, albeit stretched parallels: the local product who speaks more with his actions than his words and who played for the cross-town team as a player. Hey, we'll try just about anything to reverse the vibe of the 2002-2004 Mets.

As for Willie's future here, it calls to mind a Gin Blossoms album title -- Congratulations, I'm Sorry. This will be no picnic, as Art Howe can tell you. As always, despite my initial negativity, I'll slide into that blindly optimistic state just so I can have the rug pulled out from underneath me. We're going all the way, baby. Somebody punch me in the face, please.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Reason #1,962 Why This Team Kills Me

It looks more and more like the new Mets' skipper will be Willie Randolph. Meanwhile, Wally Backman is getting the Arizona Diamondbacks job. This just feels like another misstep in the Chevy Chase trip down the stairs for Wilpon Mgt, Inc. The thing is, there isn't a whole lot bad you can say about Willie Randolph. There aren't volumes of good, either; even a past managerial record would be a nice gauge. But he's a good guy with a long track record of being around when good things happened. Maybe the good fortune will rub off on the Mets.

The biggest problem I have with Randolph is that he's a quiet, dignified, guy who gets quiet, dignified praise from his peers. He was a solid ballplayer without flash, just a workmanlike performer. He says more with less, has a quiet calm (why does "quiet" invade every profile of Willie?), and is well-respected despite drawing little attention to himself. Oh, and he's been a part of playoff teams of the recent past, even though these playoff teams were choking dogs the past three years. With the lone exception of a New York background, Willie Randolph is Art Howe two years later, except that Howe had 12 years of managerial experience to Randolph's none.

Managers are often the antithesis of their predecessor, sometimes out of necessity. Art Howe was the ideal salve for the high-tension Type A Bobby V years. The timing was right for him to step in and be the calming voice of reason. But the same trainer who was parked in the dugout to check Bobby V's blood pressure in those moments of exteme ire kept his spot on the bench to check Howe's pulse to ensure he was still alive. And frankly, as a fan, and perhaps a player, you'd rather be awful with a manager who was going down fighting, kicking and screaming. That way it's apparent he's dying the same slow death you are. And right now we need someone a little feisty with whom to go through this painful battle. Wally Backman was a scrapper on the ballfield, and you'd have to figure this mentality is what carried him through the A-ball season to the accolades he's received. Willie Randolph? If there were a how-to guide for ensuring Howe II, it's Willie Randolph.

Boy, does the negativity just flow in MetLand these days. But even an idiot like me can only generate so much wasted optimism before he catches on. I got suckered in on Art Howe. I got duped on Robby Alomar, Mike Stanton, and Tom Glavine. Boy, did I get hoodwinked on Mo Vaughn. I even came around on the Benson and Zambrano trades after pleading against such action days before the trade. (After Benson walks this offseason and Zambrano visits the DL in '05 like Andruw Jones visited the Gold Club, this particular ass-burn will be complete.) And as the commander-in-chief says, "Fool me once, uh, er, fool me twice, um, ah, you can't get fooled again." So here I sit, jaded, surly, nasty, negative, and doubting that any move the Mets make this offseason will be to the team's long-term benefit. With Omar Minaya supposedly looking at Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano, and Manny Ramirez, I see no reason why it'd be any other way.

I'll say this for Willie Randolph: if the Mets hire finalist Terry Collins, I quit. With Randolph, I stay on as that continually disgruntled guy. Man, I need a new team. If only one would move into my neighborhood . . .

Friday, October 29, 2004

Afterglow, Day 2

This feeling is not getting old. My God, the Red Sox are the 2004 World Champions, and they always will be.

There's a lot of ink being spilled today about how this victory changes things for Red Sox fans, about how their identity as lovable losers is forever lost, and that Red Sox Nation is now simply another group of fans. To which I (a bastion of partiality, I understand) reply, "That's a load of horseshit".

Red Sox fans - true Red Sox fans - have never reveled being "cursed". Sure, we've been pained by near-miss after near-miss, we've certainly wondered if our team would ever win it all in our lifetimes, and we've shed tears for loved ones who never saw a championship team. There's no question that many of us developed a robust Calvinistic, doom-and-gloom view of the Olde Towne Team. But while that emotional state may have marked us as Red Sox fans, not a single one of us enjoyed that description. And if you see someone interviewed on ESPN today, or read a quote from the Boston Globe, claiming that the subject doesn't know what to do with himself now that the Sox have won, write that moron off as a Johnny/Sally-come-lately who has no idea what true fandom means.

The cumulative weight of all the crushing losses over the years did have an impact on Sox fans: it forged a passion and a love and a devotion to this franchise that may well be unmatched in professional sports. And a championship won't diminish that devotion, not a whit. The 2004 Red Sox will forever serve as a monument to the power of hope, to the heart-stopping, spine-tingling joy of hope rewarded. I'm still grinning, and I still will be when pitchers and catchers report in February. And then I'll watch the World Champion Boston Red Sox take the field and pull fervently for a World Series championship in 2005.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Feels Like Trespassing

I had planned to leave this space alone today, not wanting it to be blemished with idle chatter from non-Sox writers, but there is a little something worth mentioning. To file under "too coincidental to be coincidence," the Independent Film Channel was airing the film Fever Pitch last night during the Red Sox' professional-carpentry-grade hammering of the final nail in the Cardinals' collective coffin. For the unfamiliar, Fever Pitch is the 1997 movie version of the 1992 Nick Hornby novel/autobiography about his lifelong chronic obsession with a hard-luck English League football club. The book was fantastic, and the movie was solid, though both flew mostly under the radar with Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) and lead actor Colin Firth (Brit-chick flicks galore) reaching the mainstream after subsequent efforts. The parallels between the maniacally fervent, loyal at all costs, tunnel-visioned, misunderstood, xenophobic, oppression-heralding fan bases of the Arsenal Gunners (as Hornby painted it) and the Boston Red Sox are obvious. Someone in Hollywood picked up on it, and next year they're releasing a remake of the story as told from a Sox fan's perspective. And last night, somehow, the Boston Red Sox went ahead and finished the story for the moviemakers to perfect the symmetry of the original novel. Brilliant.

Flipping back and forth enabled a side-by-side comparison of the two works. Firth's curmudgeonly Paul is the Arsenal equivalent of a slew of Sox supporters I have known in my lifetime. Of course, he's the extreme case. Those who haven't known folks like him would think him an artistic exaggeration, the hyperbole that cinema creates; those to whom Paul represents the spitting image of some (formerly) embattled Bostonite they have known realize it's less of a caricature than others might think. But if you think Hornby and his character suffered for the 18 painful years of near misses, 86 years of misery has created infinitely more wretched frustration for their American counterparts. And this scenario offers two possibilities: (1) the 2005 American adaptation of Fever Pitch, the one where the Red Sox knock off the Cardinals in 4 (methinks some greedy producer was hoping it'd go 7 for added drama) to finally end the pain, becomes the single most purchased and cherished piece of Hollywood-produced celluloid in the New England area forever more; or (2) the 2005 American adaptation of Fever Pitch, the one starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, the one directed by the Farrelly Brothers, despite its best intentions simply cannot properly convey the sea of emotion and heart-warming relief that the real event set loose, and it's a mess. The Farrellys are legendary among my circle of moviegoers, but not for real-world drama. If Jim Carrey can turn that corner, and he has, perhaps they can, too. But the danger is there to come across as cheapening this moment with such an endeavor.

I heard that they're now re-writing the ending from fiction to fact, and as of last night the 1989 Arsenal finish (while it boasted a more down-to-the-wire conclusion, even if it didn't have the longevity of history nor the earlier drama of the ALCS) now mirrors the 2004 Red Sox finish completely. And while I was against this adaptation initially, both because it'd invariably involve a fictional fairytale ending and because those adaptations so often suck, after last night I'm all for it. That Fallon and Barrymore were spotted mashing on the infield in the postgame celebration made little sense to anyone who hadn't just seen the eerily identical conclusion of Fever Pitch on IFC during a 7th-inning commercial, where Paul and his now-enlightened-after it-happened girlfriend spot each other among the mob of festive fans and make out in a display of emotion he'd seemed incapable of for 18 years. Normally I'd be down on it all, from the cinematic cashing in to the invasion of pure, heartfelt glee by two actors pretending to feel it to the blatant PDA. Last night, though, it made perfect sense and fit right in. With these idiots, anything goes, anyway.

One thing to note amid the parallel: at the end of Fever Pitch, the protagonist recognizes, even as he's dancing ecstatically in the streets, that nothing will be the same between his team and him ever again. The bond that glued so many fans together was that long, brutal, joyless road they had all trudged together, and that this unique journey separated them from any other fans anywhere. Now that the trip is complete, the celebration can begin, and in a way, it will go on forever. The problem is that next spring 25 guys will suit up and take the field in the exact same manner that the players have for the past 86 years, as if nothing had happened. Today that's a non-issue and the furthest thing from the Red Sox fans' minds. But for this team, these fans, and yes, this blog -- nothing will ever, ever be the same again. For better and for worse. The chronicling of how this alters the Sox Fan Universe is an interesting direction for Rob to go; unfortunately, for fans of teams like the New York Mets, the future's a bit bleaker. To see these people revel like this is something I've waited to see for a long time -- torturing them all the way, of course. But to reflect that (a) my team is relatively devoid of the talent, wisdom, heart, and unity that propelled Boston to victory, and (b) no matter what, I will never get to experience this firsthand arrival at the lifelong mecca is somewhat disheartening. Not that anyone will feel sorry for us today -- at least no moreso than the wee bit crummy I always feel when they show the aftermath of the '86 Series and Wade Boggs crying in the dugout.

From the taller half of the MLC team, I formally use this space to congratulate Rob Russell on the realization of a dream and wish him well in his new blog, "Looking Down from Cloud 9." It was a long time coming, to employ the use of understatement. Enjoy.
We're Gonna Need a New Title for This Blog - I'm Thinking 'Ecstacy Loves Everyone'

(9:30 am, 10/28/2004)

I'm gonna do this stream of consciousness-style, and it'll take a few days.

Somewhere, Charlie Brown is smoking a cigarette, the Little Red-Haired Girl's head nestled against his shoulder as they lay in the afterglow of beautiful cartoon lovemaking. Lucy's sitting outside wondering how the hell he kicked that ball so far.

All the stuff that came before - Buckner, Bucky, Boone, Enos Slaughter, and Thurman Munson, and Ed Armbrister - all of it now has a purpose, a cosmic fit. It all happened to make this possible, to make this win feel so damn fulfilling. It all makes sense now.

I remember coming into my office the morning after my first daughter was born - I had to duck in at 8:30 for a meeting with an important new customer. I was exhausted, and giddy, and disheveled - my eyes actually hurt from being so tired and drained, but my heart was near to exploding with happiness. It occurs to me as I sit here this morning that I feel exactly the same way.

There's a scene near the end of the movie, 'PCU', where a character stands up from his catatonic movie-watching state and says, "That's it. That's my thesis. Caine and Hackman in a movie together. I can stop watching TV." I feel like that about sports right now. That's it. I can stop watching sports. I'm never going to have this feeling again. But it's such a great feeling that it'll sustain me for the rest of my life. And if you think I'm exaggerating, come spend a few minutes inside my skin. Aside from the fact that it probably wouldn't fit you if you were a normal-sized human, it's a pretty good place to be right now.

The fact that the Sox won the World Series is stunning, but the way they did it is even more remarkable, if that's possible. They won 8 games in a row against the 2 best teams in the majors (well, the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the majors). 8 games. Against the Yankees and Cardinals. In the postseason. And none of those wins were flukes - the Sox earned every single one of those wins by outpitching, outhitting, outrunning, and outmanaging (God bless you, Terry Francona) 2 very, very good teams. Tim Kurkjian of ESPN called this the greatest story in the history of baseball. I'll go one better. This is the greatest story in the history of sports.

(2:22 pm, 10/28/04)

The realizations are starting to come in waves. I was mostly happy for myself at first, then, I called my dad (and woke him up at midnight - he'd gone to bed after the Sox had failed to score with the bases loaded in the 8th, afraid to watch any more). This morning, I thought about my grandparents, all born in 1919 or 1920, and I called them to bask in the happiness. I'm very lucky that they're all still alive, and I'm happy beyond words that they got to witness this. My mom's parents couldn't stand watching, so they went to bed after the 6th inning. My dad's parents were heartier souls than their son, staying up to the glorious end.

Now, though, I'm thinking about Tim Wakefield. Of all the Sox on this team, all the magnificent idiots who will go down as legends, Tim Wakefield is the one for whom I'm happiest. His grief after last year's ALCS loss, after he stood on his head for 2 games before finally failing against Aaron Boone, was the single worst part of that series. That this guy who has been so unselfishly team-oriented for so long had to spend the last year agonizing over 1 pitch is cosmically unfair. That he now has a World Series ring is spectacular payback.


World Series - Game 4

Red Sox 3, Cardinals 0
Boston Red Sox - 2004 World Champions

Next year is right now. It's 12:30 am, I'm drunk, tears are dried on my cheeks, and I have a perma-grin on my face that's not likely to recede any time soon. To steal from the great Jack Buck, I cannot believe what I just saw.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

World Series - Game 3

Red Sox 4, Cardinals 1
Red Sox lead, 3-0

Plant life throughout Greater New England is in for a rough day today, as carbon dioxide levels will be drastically restricted by widespread holding of breath. I imagine you could hear a pin drop in Faneuil Hall right now.

You'll notice that it's taken me until 1:00 to get something posted today in the wake of the Sox moving to the brink of something nearly unimaginable even 10 days ago. I simply cannot find the right combination of words. Every thought is so freighted with meaning, yo-yoing back and forth in some torturous karmic yin/yang mindfuck. They're 1 game away from winning the World Series; but it's not over. The Sox are really going to do this; no, they're not, the Cardinals can come back. The Sox have been dominant in this series; but the Cardinals are bound to start playing better. I can't wait until they wrap this thing up; shut the fuck up, asshole.

(That last line was written for Whitney's benefit. He sent me an email earlier this morning telling me to make this a good entry, because I'd be reading it to my daughters in years to come. That line eliminates that possibility, and frees me up to suck for the remainder of this post. Which is a good thing, because I intend to do just that.)

The Red Sox are 1 win from capturing a World Series championship so elusive that 3 generations of Sox fans have never seen one. They find themselves on this precipice because they believe in themselves and each other to the exclusion of all distractions, and I and people like me find ourselves silently mouthing, "Believe" as games draw to a close. Though the karmic cruelty supposed by a Cardinal comeback in this series would be legendary in its devastating impact, we still hold on. "Believe," I tell my family. "Believe," I implore as Pedro Martinez faces a 0-out, 2nd and 3rd situation in the 3rd inning of a 1-run game. "Believe," as Pedro retired the next 14 Cardinals, and then watched Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke shut the door.

It's a new thing for us, this believing. We're all still dipping our toes in it, hoping that it's real. We know the facts, and the stats, and we understand that the Cardinals team, while terrific, really isn't set up well for postseason baseball, especially with so many control pitchers who don't make many batters swing and miss. Pitchers that throw a lot of strikes against these Red Sox tend to get battered - no change in this series thus far. We also understand that the Sox have gotten all the breaks thus far - that the Cardinals, the league's best fundamental team, essentially gift-wrapped Game 3 with 2 colossal base-running errors in the game's first 3 innings. We see the Sox rap 2-out hit after 2-out hit, and belief comes a little easier. We know that the bullpen is rested, that Derek Lowe is confident, that the offense is on fire, and that the Sox players are looser than the intestines of a dysentery patient. (Did he just introduce dysentery into this paragraph? Forget it, he's rolling.)

We know all these things, and we're so ready to really, truly believe. And yet, we're Red Sox fans, so the exhale won't truly come until Keith Foulke induces the last Cardinal batter to fly softly to center, until the last out of the last inning of the last game of the World Series is recorded, and the Red Sox have more runs than the Cardinals. And if that happens, God...I can't even imagine.


Monday, October 25, 2004

No Wonder; Stevie's From Detroit (4 World Championships Since 1918)

When you believe in things that you don’t understand then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way

Eighteen years ago tonight, in utter desperation, my grandfather grabbed his nut and rubbed it. Before you muse about apples falling from trees, it was a buckeye nut. Not sure why he had it, but he knew the goofy lore of the good luck that stems from such action. He began doing it sometime very late in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (I think it was about the time I dramatically stormed out of our living room and went to bed in disgust), and no reader needs further explanation. All I've ever heard out of Tuxedo Park, NY, when the topic of the '86 Mets title came up was "It was the nut!"

Nearly every fan and many a player has his or her superstitions, some more bizarre than others. As we chronicled last fall, Boston's fortunes in the ALDS did a 180 when I began donning an old A's cap -- bringing all of those good vibes from the 2003 New York Mets into Oak-town's camp, thereby dooming them. (When your team is an afterthought well before Labor Day each year, mercenary-style ship-jumping and whammy-delivering is excused.) The problem in '03 was, of course, that like Doc Holliday, my hypocrisy goes only so far, and I refused to sport anything in faux support of Los Banditos Yanquis, to mix my movie metaphors.

In 2004, though, the rules of superstition don't include bizarro-garb. (I don't make them up, I just read the cosmic vibrations and adhere to them!) After experimenting with viewing locales and seating arrangements in the ALCS to the point of deciding that nothing I was doing mattered -- and getting close to chucking this notion of mojo out the window entirely, I recognized one pattern that I thought might be influencing the outcome. Games 1 and 2 had found me stone cold sober. During Game 3 I was hammered, which clouds the theory, but I wasn't even watching the game closely, what with the series clearly over by then and me in a bar in the metropolis of Williamsburg, VA. But for Game 4, I threw back a few Sam Adamses to watch the last gasp of the 2004 Sox. Interesting. The next night saw me consciously consume a couple of Coronas (the Sams were gone, and Heiny is imported / brewed in NY). At that point I wasn't sure my beer intake had any bearing, but this was one of those rare superstitious rituals that was actually enjoyable to test out, as opposed to the time we had to drive around town listening to the game on the radio to alter the karma rather than enjoy it on TV from the sofa.

Game 6? Seven or eight more Coronas and a happy result, though the late innings had me putting them away at a more frantic pace. Also noted was that upon the emptying of each bottle, something bad would happen. The absence of alcohol allowed the enemy a foothold! What a ludicrous sight it must have been for the basement crickets to see me scurrying from the easy chair to the semi-fridge behind the bar, scrambling to crack a new beer and get down one swallow in between pitches. Game 7 was more of the same, and the empties started to stack up fairly noticeably, evoking much more introspective thought than I really wanted during a ballgame. But the cosmos dictate the rules, and I merely abide by them.

The World Series presented a new wrinkle, as my formerly overstocked fridge was starting to show signs of depletion, leaving a slew of Anheuser-Busch products. Now, I don't know much, but I certainly know that I won't be helping the Sox mojo during this World Series by drinking a beer brewed in Saint Louis, Missouri. I even have trouble on a whammy purist level with the big Budweiser sign at Fenway. (There have to be enough wack-jobs like me in the stands to drape a Harpoon banner over it, right?) So as the non-St. Louis beers are frittered away, I may have to battle lazy inertia, get out there and stock up on Boston beer if I intend to continue helping legions of Sox folks everywhere. [By the way, my conscious decision that in a case of no-beer-or-Bud-beer this Series I'd go with no-beer deems me as non-alcoholic as an O-Doul's, or in this scenario, a Kaliber. (As an aside, both are a little bit alcoholic, but not enough to hurt.) It's a straw-grasp parallel to the selection of nothing at all over Coors Light on a regular basis, and one that ensures the 12 steps in my life remain the maximum distance between my next beer and me, rather than the stringent alternative.] And this thought process, factored in with this entire preposterous, superstitious crazy train of thought, sounds like the mutterings of a lunatic but makes complete sense to me. I haven't even gotten into the internal mental debate I had as to whether Miller Lite, brewed in Milwaukee, might be detrimental because Milwaukee is a National League town, but it used to be an American league town, but Milwaukee was the last team to lose to the Cardinals in the World Series, and I take a 46 extra-long in strait-jackets, thankyouverymuch. Boy, has it been a long baseball season for me.

All of this just serves to illustrate that the gravity of the World Series, this one in particular, has seemingly normal people behaving peculiarly -- well beyond the card-carrying residents of Red Sox Nation. There's so much on the line for so many people. For me, it's a little different: it's the satisfaction of silencing two tired threads of loud discussion -- the Yankees supporters dredging up the Sox' title drought (they hated "1940!" but they can’t do better than "1918!"?) and the Sox Nationals playing up the woe-is-me cursed oppression motif. Plus I'll get to see my little buddy Robbie Russell in the single most gleeful moment of his life. (Prudence dictated that he rank such a moment, if it arrives, 4th all-time, but we know better; at the very least, while the other events may have been more momentous and truly happy for him, the ensuing responsibility he knew even then that those events carried took them out of the "most gleeful" running.) Most importantly for me, if the Red Sox happen to win the Series in a Game 6 -- which would feature a little extra gravy for those fans who, 18 years later, still feel the fresh sting of a Game 6 debacle, Mr. Russell and I will be in Boston to take in what will become an indelible deposit in the ol' memory bank, even for me the (closeted that night, for personal safety) Mets fan. Rob thinks he might have to bag out on that road trip, what with some small life-altering home purchase at stake about the same time, but if the situation presents itself, he won't. The notorious Noonan Brothers await his arrival, and trust me, you do not want to cross them where the Sox are concerned.

So that's what I'm pulling for, and that's why I've become the baseball lush of late to that end. Of course, a Game 6 would invariably include two St. Louis victories along the way. While rooting for two Cardinal wins would equate Cardinal sins to the faithful, I'll simply pull back on the Whitney mojo a wee bit. Tuesday's softball game will facilitate that, and while Rob hunkers down in his living room and digs us a hole at 2B and the leadoff spot, I'll be out there hacking away at balls out of the zone, swinging for the fences with all of the same ill-conceived, senseless kind of approach that I bring to my fandom, wherever it's employed in late October.
World Series - Games 1 & 2

Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9
Red Sox 6, Cardinals 2
Red Sox lead, 2-0

So this is how idiots win postseason games - by completely and utterly ignoring their mistakes and blithely sticking to their game plan. Nearly any other Sox club in my lifetime - hell, nearly any other baseball club in my lifetime - would have absolutely imploded under the weight of 8 errors in 2 games. Especially against a very, very good (and fundamentally solid) Cardinal squad.

Instead, I didn't even see any of these Red Sox bat an eye, or hang a head, even in the wake of some colossal blunders (See, for example, Manny Ramirez' stunningly uncoordinated attempt at sliding to catch a relatively simple fly ball in Game 1. He left a divot the size of a Volkswagen.). They just kept hitting, and kept pitching until they got to the end of the game and had more runs than their opponents. It's a simple game, baseball. You hit the ball (Bellhorn, Ortiz, Varitek, Cabrera), you throw the ball (Timlin, Embree, Foulke, Schilling), you catch the ball (okay, 2 out of 3 ain't bad). But the point remains, the Sox are simply playing baseball. No muss. No fuss. No stress (except for their fans). As Johnny Damon notes in today's Washington Post, they simply refuse to think about things - they just play on instinct, and guts. Pretty damn good recipe for success.

The Cardinals really must be scratching their heads this morning. They didn't play terrific baseball, but they did rally from down 7-2 in Game 1, and did have lots of chances - mostly thanks to the Sox' fielders - to score the go-ahead run, but every time the Sox needed to make a play, they did. Then, after dodging a bullet in the first game, the Sox leaned once more on Curt Schilling and his Roy Hobbsian ankle. If you're St. Louis, you start to wonder if forces out of your control are in play when you hit screaming line drives right at Bill Mueller to end 3 separate innings in Game 2 - with runners in scoring position all 3 times. You look at the fact that all 6 Boston runs in Game 2 were scored on 2-strike, 2-out hits, and you pause for a moment. You see your 2-5 hitters - statistically one of the best such collections of offensive players of all-time - put up 2 hits in Game 2 (and outside of Larry Walker, 3 hits in the first 2 games combined). You watch your pitching staff, with the best control of any staff in the National League this season, give the Red Sox 14 free passes in the first 2 games, more than offsetting the baserunners the Sox handed you by way of errors. You've gotta wonder.

You're also taking comfort in the fact that the next 3 games are in St. Louis, where the Redbirds are undefeated in the post-season. Don't think for 1 moment that the Sox - or any member of the Nation - is taking this Cardinal team lightly. They play great baseball - Scott Rolen may well be the best-fielding 3rd baseman I've ever seen, and the catch Jim Edmonds made on Jason Varitek's late-inning drive last night was Maysian. I'm very, very surprised that St. Louis has not been running on the Sox - they've been sucked into an AL-style series thus far - and expect that to change in Game 3. I fully anticipate the Cards to stiffen as the series heads to the midwest, but I'm done worrying about these Sox and their ability to persevere. If there's a way, they'll figure it out.

While the Sox are winning on blissful idiocy, I'm doing my part by ratcheting up my superstitions to Defcon 5. I've worn the same long-sleeve AKVA bottled water t-shirt and adidas track pants since Game 5 of the ALCS - and, no, I haven't washed them. I've sat in the same seat on my couch - actually forcing my father-in-law to move on Saturday - and clutched the same yellow, grapefruit-sized smiley-face ball during every game. I've imbibed 2 bottles of Red Hook ESB - poured into the same pilsner - each game (well, I had 3 last night, but that was only because I needed to sleep). The remote control sits in the same spot on the coffee table, and I change channels to CNN or Comedy Central between each inning. Whitney calls me immediately before the first pitch of each game, asks me what I'm doing that evening, and I tell him what TV show I plan to watch. I've repeated the mantra, "Believe, Rob. Believe.", during every tense moment. Let no man claim that I'm not doing my part.

And if you think that's a sign of insanity, let me state for the record, I am a Red Sox fan - insanity is my very lifeblood. I am a Red Sox fan, and I do not traffic in the rational.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Just a Little Glimpse...

Whether you're a Sox fan or not, I defy you to read this SOSH thread without breaking down at least once. So many people pouring out so much pent up emotion about this team. I'm biased, but I simply cannot believe that any other franchise in any other sport in the world generates this kind of passion.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 7

Red Sox 10, Yankees 3
Red Sox win, 4-3

Boston Red Sox, 2004 American League Champions

A friend of mine from Seattle e-mailed me at about 12:30 last night to congratulate me. My response to him (sent on my Blackberry in the midst of watching the Sox celebrate) was that this was the 4th-happiest day of my life after my wedding day and the days my 2 daughters were born. And that I was willing and hoping to knock it down one notch in a week or so.

As Ruben Sierra's groundball settled first into Pokey Reese's glove and from there into Doug Mientkiewicz', every memory of Red Sox tragedy, every wasted opportunity, every held relay throw or mental error, or managerial blunder, every ghost, and every disappointment washed away. I fell to the floor of my living room and pounded the carpet with both fists, crying, laughing, repeating, "They did it. They did it. They did it."

In the buildup to Game 7, I knew that a Sox win would produce euphoria in the moments after the game, and it did. I soaked up all the post-game celebrations, reveling in the catharsis wrought by this self-proclaimed band of idiots. What I didn't expect, and have welcomed, was the flashback euphoria. I was driving to work this morning, and - from nowhere - my eyes watered and I tore off an involuntary fist pump. It was an adrenaline aftershock of sorts. It's happened 3 or 4 times since.

Forgive me if this post is a jumble of unconnected thoughts - I simply have not completely processed the entirety of this thing. The Red Sox were 1 single inning away from losing this series, 4-0, and the Yankees had Mariano Rivera on the mound with nobody on base. Consider for a moment the "nevers" that the Sox overcame in this series alone: New York had never lost consecutive extra-inning postseason games; Rivera had never blown consecutive postseason saves; a team trailing 3-0 in a best-of-7 series had never extended the series to 7 games, let alone won it; the Yankees had never lost Game 7 of an ALCS; the Sox had never beaten the Yankees in an elimination game. Add to that the well-documented and quasi-tragic history of the Boston Red Sox. Mix in Curt Schilling's injury and Pedro Martinez' not-quite-dominance, and a 19-8 Yankee thrashing in Game 3. Stir in for good measure the fact that Johnny Damon started the series 3-for-29 and that Manny Ramirez finished the series with 0 RBI. I mean, c'mon, you couldn't make this up. They won. They did it.

From this day forward, the Sox will be known as the team that pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of sports, and the Yankees will be known as the team that committed the greatest chokejob in the history of sports. And even though that's wildly unfair to the Yankees - they didn't choke, the Sox scratched and clawed and fought and won - I won't correct anyone who says they did. They are well and truly vanquished. You can't possibly imagine how good it feels to type that and to know that.

So here's to the 2004 American League Champion Boston Red Sox. And in my best text version of the 'One Shining Moment' signoff, here are a few of the things I'll always remember about this series:
  • Curt Schilling pitching Game 6 on one leg, with blood pouring through his sock, and shutting the Yankees down for 7 innings
  • Dave Roberts stealing 2nd base in Game 4, and scoring on Bill Mueller's single to tie the game. The baseball version of a cardiac crash cart.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz' otherworldly scoop on Mueller's short-armed throw to start the 8th inning last night. Even up 9-3, a leadoff error would have probably sent me into arrest.
  • David Ortiz. David Ortiz. David Ortiz.
  • The bad Johnny Damon morphing into the good Johnny Damon in the span of 3 at-bats in Game 7 - and Ortiz claiming post-game that it was because he told Damon's fiancee to sleep in a separate room.
  • Derek Lowe, in a post-game interview, pointing to the Yankee Stadium pitcher's mound and noting that Tim Wakefield was standing there alone, soaking up the good feelings and erasing the memories last year's gut-punch. I simply lost it at that point.
  • Keith Foulke getting 15 outs in three games in about 48 hours, giving his team everything left in his arm.
  • Manny Ramirez smiling through it all.
  • Terry Francona making the right move time after time after time - and I'll give him a pass on bringing Pedro in last night.
  • Alex Rodriguez' bush-league karate chop on Bronson Arroyo in Game 6. Karma's a bitch, ain't it.
  • Derek Jeter being the only Yankee with any heart in Game 7. Say what you want about that guy - and I've said it all - he is one hell of a competitor. And his teammates went out like so many whimpering puppies, tails between their legs from the first inning on.
  • Wearing a bald spot in my living room carpet from pacing back and forth in the final innings of Game 6.
  • My favorite aunt (a Boston resident) emailing me after each of the final 3 games - at first worried, then cautiously optimistic, then ecstatic. My last email to her: "Believe, Jan. Believe"
  • Mark Bellhorn, not once but twice, hitting homeruns immediately after I told my wife that he'd been worthless in the postseason.

The Sox beat the Yankees. Damn.

But here's the thing: the Sox aren't done yet. They will face a worthy adversary in the World Series, and they will overlook Houston or St. Louis at their peril. Which is to say, they won't overlook them. I'll always have Game 7, but it'll mean something less if the Sox don't close the deal next week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Self-Abuse 101

I'm ending my Met-imposed silence today because, frankly, every baseball fan should have a million crazy baseball thoughts on his or her mind right now, and blogs even tangentially related to the ballfield should be overflowing with gushy sentiment and extreme superlatives. Like Rob's below.

Just about every sport presents a fundamental dichotomy between its regular season games and its playoff contests in terms of fan experience. Throughout the regular season, the games are largely spectacles for our amusement, exhibitions of skill and poise under slight pressure, and we watch to root our teams on, but just as much to enjoy the sport of it. Then the postseason hits for those select few squads (unless you're in the NBA or NHL, R.I.P., where "select few" equals half the league). For the true fans of these playoff teams, the enjoyment of taking in an athletic competition and observing masters of their craft perform in the spotlight, flexing muscles both literal and figurative . . . yeah, that's history. By this time of year, the purist delight in watching baseball has evaporated inside the bodies of the fans, supplanted by the anxiety and tension that come with watching your team walk the best-of-seven tightrope. For the Red Sox fans especially, the war waged between the hope of finally reaching that elusive eden and the dread of another tumble just short of the finish line physically devastates the body. In fact, those seemingly adversarial elements are in less of a war against each other and in more of a tag-team battle against you.

It starts at the extremities, where fingernails have been chomped into embarrassing nubs. Shake hands with a Red Sox National right now and you're lucky to see a nail at all, as Game 6 took them all the way to the cuticle. The hands are achy from wringing, but all that wringing can't dry the sweaty palms, flowing at warm-ups and ebbing in the postgame press conferences. Knuckles are bruised, and everyone knows why. Muscles all over the body are sore from remaining taut for innings at a time. At least one hamstring is pulled from sitting-to-jumping leaps. (For those on the taller side, there are head wounds from this as well.) Knees are worn; even by-now faithless Sox fans sneak a prayer and a promise of contingent goodness in between Yankee-directed epithets. It's possible the questions of "Does God exist?" and "Will the Red Sox win a World Series before I die?" evoke equal amounts of unknowing frustration, and these Sons of Job have fixed their hopes on their martyrizing journey ending with affirmative wisdom of the latter inquiry. But with the damage every October does to Bostonites' bodies, the "before I die" part becomes more of a challenge.

For all of the external harm committed during these playoff stretches, the internal organs may suffer more of a barrage. The nervous system is shot; by Game 7, there are 30,000 R.P. McMurphys walking around Boston after shock treatment. The circulation is great, but the heart's one more jolt away from giving out. The stomach has more knots than a boy scout manual. (I'd like it duly noted that with the boy scout reference I completely stayed away from the Sox-fans-getting-sodomized-every-year gag. Almost completely.) Ulcers appear like freckles on a red-head. Chest pains, labored breathing, wooziness. Baseball fever, my ass. This is baseball stroke.

The face of the Playoff Fan is quite a sight indeed. The red, swollen eyes, with bags deeper and darker than any eye-black on the players. Hair is thinning at a record pace. Patches of it are missing, and everyone knows why. Teeth are gnashed and ground so often that the dentist doesn't even ask any more. There are handprints over the nose and mouth from that girly, "oh my," inhale-the-prayer pose; it's one seen on the tube on 2/3 of the fans in the stands, and it looks so damned melodramatic, and then you catch yourself doing it in every tense scene. There's a coffee-table-crease across the forehead from that last GIDP ball. A candid from the bottom of the ninth will look worse than any mug shot 10 times out of 10.

And this is the fans' reward. This bodily devastation occurs during the postseason every year, and this -- this is what die-hard fans pray for? You're goddamned right, and this is what I, as a New York Mets fans, am pissed at my club for denying me even a taste of for most of the last 15 years. (Funny how 2002-2004 have eradicated 1999-2000 from my brain.) Of course I'm uber-jealous of the fans whose boys are still battling come October 20, but when the Evil Empire is still alive, there's always an extra seat on someone's bandwagon. And that's been the beauty of the 2004 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS. A nation of baseball fans is holding its breath as Game 7 looms, and I don't mean Red Sox Nation. Fans from Safeco to Pro Player, from Waveland Avenue to Chavez Ravine are tuned in and turned on to this outcome. Most spectators will choose a side somewhere along the way in any series, but there isn't a soul who's watching this event "just to see good baseball." You ask anyone watching Fox tonight if they're rooting for the Yankees and you'll either get "Go Yanks!" of "Go fuck yourself." There is no middle ground, and for the rest of us on the outside, it's almost like having our team in the thing. This is as close as we Mets fans will likely get to postseason drama for a very long time, like 5-10 years or more, maybe, what with the think tank known as the Family Wilpon at the helm. Why not embrace it with every ounce of the enthusiasm we've stocked up on in vain since '00?

Much has been made of how tired everyone is from staying up late, but it goes way, way beyond that. I've managed to trick myself into staying up late watching TV plenty, usually for a special occasion like my 253rd viewing of the scene in Shawshank when the warden rips down the poster. Even a few nights in a row, like for a Bullets west coast swing (okay, it's been a while since I did that). Not like this. The hours-long self-torture of hunkering down and living and dying with every one of the 300 pitches hurled night after night is a vastly different punishment on the corpus than mere late nights cause. I'm a zombie at work, and everyone else is, too, and we ache. But if it goes the right way tonight, it'll be the most comfortable physical agony some folks have ever felt. Like the pain of completing a marathon, or like TJ said, going through initiation. (Wow, the second biggest blasphemy to marathoners behind Rosie Ruiz.)

Were it not for the self-important bullying-tactics of a new executive here at work, I'd be on travel for work tonight. To Boston, Massachusetts. When the trip got yanked Monday, I was annoyed. After last night, I am consumed with a venom for this sleazy, cheesy bucket of pus that, if Game 7 plays out as it already has in my mind's eye, will not wane until I see this man being carried out of the building on a gurney. Douchebag.

So there it is. I'm all in. And, if history has any bearing on the future, misery does love company, and Rob and I will be lamenting 2004 tomorrow morning, another miserable chapter in baseball history, Mets and Red Sox style. Game on.
American League Championship Series - Game 6

Red Sox 4, Yankees 2
Series tied, 3-3

All that stuff yesterday about crying was mostly metaphorical. Then, last night, Curt Schilling pitched 7 innings with sutures holding his injured tendon in place, blood filling his shoe, and staining his sock a deep crimson (a red sock, if you will). Bronson Arroyo followed him with an gutty, if less than completely effective 8th inning, and then Keith Foulke threw his 5th inning in the last 3 games on fumes. When Foulke struck out Tony Clark on a full count with runners on 1st and 2nd, the tears were no longer metaphors.

In the course of carrying on this extended conversation about the nature of fandom, Whitney and I have briefly discussed why we care so much about these teams, and why we choose to suffer. The Valvano quote yesterday begins to answer the question, but my feelings in the late innings last night get closer. It is a uniquely human quality to care deeply and fully about something, and a true blessing from God to be moved so much that your physical being translates emotion into physical manifestations. At its essence, that level of emotional involvement signals that you are alive - that the same body that spends most days sucking down coffee, churning through a myriad of involuntary actions, droning through another meeting or television show or commute is capable of the most remarkable range of vigorous emotional response. The lucky among us are fans because every so often sports gives us these moments that affirm our capacity for joy and pain all in the same moment.

I've recently done a lot of cycling, and I love the moments at the end of long ride where the physical exhaustion and pain in my legs and chest blends with the satisfaction and sense of well-being in my entire body. The Red Sox do the same thing for my psyche.

So, win or lose tonight I'll give thanks to this team, this band of idiots, for reminding me once again why I care, and why it matters. I don't have any words of analysis, because none of them are worth anything. Roll the balls out, get the game on, and let the chips fall where they may.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 5

Red Sox 5, Yankees 4 (14)
Yankees lead, 3-2
To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number
one is laugh. Number two is think—spend some time time in thought. Number
three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think
and cry, that's a heck of a day.
— Jim Valvano

I pulled the quote above right after Derek Jeter's 2-out double scored 3 runs to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in the top of the 6th. I'd planned to use it as the foundation of my eulogy to the 2004 Red Sox, who made me laugh (both sardonically and heartily), think and cry (at least metaphorically) all season long. I was pretty certain at that point that the Sox had emptied all their chambers and come up just short.

8 innings and nearly 3 hours later, I was laughing and crying for a very different reason after David Ortiz' (natch) humpbacked liner dropped gently in front of Bernie Williams and scored Johnny Damon from 2nd with the game-winning run in the bottom of the 14th. Yeah, the 14th. Were I a Yankee fan (and this guy is and agrees with me), the vision of Ortiz' broad face and menacing bat would send spasms of abject terror hurtling through my body. As luck would have it, I'm a Sox fan, so I love the guy more than a married heterosexual male probably should. Me and 37 million others.

I was laughing - frankly, like a mental patient - in the top of the 13th, too, when Jason Varitek very nearly added his name to the pantheon of Sox post-season goats by allowing 3 Tim Wakefield flutterballs to elude him and advance runners. Just when it seemed that the baseball gods were flinging one last absurdity at the Sox, Tek squeezed a third strike from Wake and the Sox were spared.

Speaking of Wake, he and his bullpen mates were absolutely nails in this game. 8 innings of shutout baseball, pitching out of jam after jam, giving more than they'd given all season - Foulke one day after pitching 2 2/3 innings, Arroyo out of the pen with a monstrous inning of relief, Timlin, Embree, Myers, all doing their jobs. Shades of 2003.

And Dave Roberts has quietly made 2 of the season's most important plays, stealing 2nd in the 8th inning of consecutive games - when everyone in the building knew it was coming - to put himself in position to score game-tying runs. Both runs were scored against Mariano Rivera, who blew consecutive post-season saves for the first time in his career. He also pitched 2 innings in consecutive games for the first time in his career - a fact that may have huge implications for tonight's Game 6. (Edit - Roberts didn't actually steal 2nd last night, but he distracted Tom Gordon to the point where the Yankee pitcher offered up a meatball for Trot Nixon to drill into center for a base hit. Sue me.)

Which brings us to this: the fact that there will be a Game 6 simply stuns me. Only twice before in the history of baseball has a team forced a 6th game after trailing 0-3 in a 7-game series. Never before has a team forced a 7th game after losing the first 3. Before last night, though, the New York Yankees had never lost consecutive extra-inning games in the post-season. I know how emotionally drained I feel, and I wonder how the players on both of these teams will find the energy to compete again tonight. I wonder what must be going through the Yankees' minds right now - it's simply not human for the seeds of doubt not to have found purchase there.

Game 6 seems to be the perfect environment for a loose team playing with house money - which describes the Sox now to a "T". They were favored before the series, and played like that meant something. They're not now, and they're playing with the verve and grit that carried them through the last 2 months of the season.

Curt Schilling gets the ball tonight, with the memories of his Game 1 debacle fresh and painful. If his ankle holds up - and that's a massive, massive "if" - I would be stunned if he was anything less than inspired. Jon Lieber goes for the Yankees, and he's dominated the Sox in consecutive outings over the past month. The ghosts of Yankee Stadium are in full cry, as will be the 55,000 in attendance. Though it is a vastly overused cliche, it may actually be correct to say that it doesn't get any better than this - although I'd love to find out if a Game 7 might top it.

At the ready, preparing to laugh (to relieve tension), think (about why I wasn't born a Brewers fan - would be so much less draining), and cry (with joy or pain, equally possible) sometime late this evening.

Monday, October 18, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 4

Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12)
Yankees lead, 3-1

They're trying to kill me, dammit. Just when I was ready to pad softly off into another what-might-have-been offseason, the Sox battled back from a 9th inning deficit against Mariano Rivera (again) and won a gut check game for the ages. Bill Mueller's 9th inning single scored Dave Roberts to tie the game, and David Ortiz' 12th inning homer off of Paul Quantrill sent the series to a 5th game. I'm only half-kidding when I say that Ortiz would win the Boston mayoral election in a landslide were it conducted next week - and not just on the strength of last night's effort.

The pressure is still squarely on the Sox tonight, but if...if they can somehow prevail and send the series back to the Bronx, the Yankees' airways will start to get just a little narrower. Pedro gets the ball against Mussina tonight, with 2 very tired bullpens behind them. If either team can spot their starter a few runs, it could get very ugly very quickly.

As for me, I just don't know what to think. Are these bastards raising my hopes one more time, just to dash them casually against Varitek's shin pads? Are they really embarking on a run for the ages? And if they are, will any of us believe in it? Fuck it, I'm too tired to make a rational argument in either direction, and it'd be pointless anyway, because I'm a Red Sox fan, and I don't traffic in rational arguments.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 3

Yankees 19, Red Sox 8
Yankees lead, 3-0

Just a few thoughts - I'll spend more time on this game later. Ah, fuck it, no I won't. I'm too goddamned numb. All the troops over at SOSH are putting on brave faces, talking about making history, win one at a time, blah blah blah. And maybe that's what we're all supposed to say, but I can't bring myself to do it. The Sox have been so completely outclassed physically and mentally in this series, that even winning tonight's Game 4 would rank as a massive upset, let alone stretching this series to 7 games.

I simply am not smart enough, or talented enough to put adequate words to my utter disappointment with these Red Sox. It would be one thing if they'd played the Yankees close and lost heartbreakers because of bad luck or quirky bounces. But they have simply not deserved to win any of the first 3 games of the series. Stupid baserunning, indifferent fielding, and godawful pitching have overcome any spark provided by their prolific bats - and the fact that they've scored 16 runs in the series is the lone bright spot, despite it being 3 fewer than New York scored last fucking night. The Sox deserve to be swept, plain and simple. And that is just abjectly painful to admit.