Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Game 2 - Red Sox
From the Uninspired to the Sublime

Red Sox 4, Orioles 1
Record: 1-1

Days like yesterday are the inspiration for the legions of baseball poets who rhapsodize endlessly about baseball's perfect rhythms. Whit and I spent a long, leisurely beer- and sun-soaked afternoon in Charm City, carrying on a rambling conversation about everything from families to memories to the nature of Red Sox Nation. In the midst of our afternoon, a baseball game was played - and we were almost participants.

We sat four rows back from the leftfield fence at Camden Yards, close enough to see individual blades of grass in the outfield. Curt Schilling calmed Sox fans from Bangor to points south by dominating the Oriole bats, scattering 6 hits and allowing 1 run in 6 innings. He'll be expected to go longer into games as the season progresses, but his first outing in Sox togs was plenty good following Opening Day's mediocre effort. Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Keith Foulke were nearly flawless in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, respectively, with Foulke shaking off a messy Spring Training to close out a tidy, tight 4-1 win.

The Sox were helped by Oriole starter Eric Dubose's wildness (he walked 6 and unleashed a Nuke LaLooshian wild pitch to plate a run in the 2nd inning) and Birds' third-baseman Melvin Mora's inability to make easy plays to his left (Mora's second error of the game allowed Boston's final run to score). Of note for the Sox, beyond Schilling's performance and that of the bullpen, were Pokey Reese's defensive stylings (he's smooth like my baby daughter's butt - when Nomar gets back he and Pokey will form a sensational middle infield pair) and Kevin Millar's insistence on clanging his nugget off of Johnny Damon's jaw on a routine popup to center. Damon's gotta feel at least a little gunshy at this point, having collided with fellow Sox twice in the last 7 or 8 real games he's played. I feel certain that his newly hirsute personal style is prompted at least in part by a subconscious desire to have a little extra padding on his head.

In addition to his comical outfield effort, Millar did provide Whit and I with our own personal highlight. His 4th inning blast off of Dubose started right at us when it left the bat, prompting me to exclaim, "That's ours", and our entire section to stand in anticipation. The ball struck an empty chair three seats from us and clattered around for a moment before a woman reached down to snag it. Whit chose chivalry over glory, declining to trample the young lady next to us to get the souvenir. Personally, I think the trampling might have made a better story.

On the car ride back, Whit harangued me at length about the bandwagon nature of Red Sox Nation (the crowd at Oriole Park was at least one-third Boston rooters) and contended that a Sox world championship would permanently (and negatively) alter the nature of the relationship between the Sox and their fans. He argued that Sox fans (and to some extent, non-Yankee baseball fans at large) relish their hard-won identity as noble, long-suffering competitors, fighting the good fight year after year but falling just short. A championship, in Whit's mind, turns the Sox into just another big market bully beating up on the little guys.

A lot to think about, to be sure, but I think my grandfathers or my father or millions of others in their generations would laugh Whitney out of the room if he made the same argument to them. The first Sox championship will be such a cathartic moment for so many people, that I don't think it's possible to accurately weigh the longer-term implications. I disagree with Whit, at least in the sense that one singular title will really exorcise decades (nearly a century) of soul-crushing near-misses, but, frankly, I'd love to find out one way or another. We're not done with this topic by a mile.

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