Friday, July 02, 2004

A Few Thoughts on the Boston Red Sox

I realize by having any opinion on the cross-blog squad, I open myself up to criticisms similar to those of the ref who calls the foul from the far side of the court. Especially since I relinquished the Extra Innings package this year, meaning I've seen a fraction of the Sox games I watched last year. But a lack of knowledge on a given subject has never, ever prevented me from opening up my yap at length about it . . .

All I really wanted to say to Rob and his Red Sox Nation ilk is that the media folks have given you all of the jinxy momentum you need. It's one thing for Bostonites to count the Sox out early. A pair of college summers on Cape Cod opened my eyes to this perennial practice, as the locals would call it quits on the Sawx before Memorial Day. (Actually, back then in the Morgan/Hobson era, that was only slightly premature.) But again, it's one thing for the Sox fans to "chicken little" it on July 2, but it's a vastly different karmic entity when supposedly impartial, supposed experts make assertive statements about the Red Sox being dead in the water.

ESPN's people unanimously agree that there is no chance for Boston to pull itself from the depths of 8.5 games out. Berman and Sutcliffe in a broadcast booth; Stu Scott and Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter; Ravech, Gammons, and the eloquent, never redundant Jeff Brantley on Baseball Tonight; a slew of no-names doing ESPNewscasts: they all spoke very definitively about the Red Sox now being relegated to the wild card race. More talking heads than . . . there are Talking Heads albums have weighed in on how the Yanks have it locked up, how they've never blown even a 6.5-game division lead in their century-plus of play, and how the Sox will be lucky to battle for any postseason ball. I'm probably getting too wrapped up in the ethereal side of baseball and ignoring the reality of the situation, but I'm startled at this.

There are 85 games to be played, and nobody has won anything yet. Sure, the Yanks are the closest thing to a lock there is. They were before any games were played. But while they are on top of their game in early July, they have some serious question marks that they've skated on thus far. Kevin Brown says his back continues to bother him, and he thinks it's because of the same intestinal parasite (!) that plagues Jason Giambi. (Will the Boston-based catering company handling the Yankees' food service please identify yourself?) That's ridiculous. Gary Sheffield is playing with a damaged shoulder, and he's one step away from a backless linen robe. Their bullpen has been unreal, but they're also logging an unreal amount of IP. The role players have come up huge . . . so far. This is a team playing kick-ass baseball right now, but one for whom an August breakdown would not be unforeseen.

The problem is that right now, the Yankees aren't just playing much better than the Red Sox, they're also playing much harder. This doesn't begin and end with Derek Jeter's play last night; Pokey Reese's catch earlier in the game was just as tough, and frankly, it looked like Jeter clumsily launched himself face-first into the seat, thinking his beloved fans would catch him. (That they didn't is either a lasting repercussion of the Alou-Bartman debacle of '03 or an indictment of the type of character who has front row box seats for Yanks-Sox.) But the Boston club who scrapped for wins last year hasn't shown itself yet in 2004. Still, it's not too late.

Like many, I have long contended that those who need to rely on bulletin-boarding quotes by the opposition or the media to energize themselves are in deep, deep Cedeno. But if the Red Sox can right the ship -- start playing fundamentally solid baseball, doing what they're capable of, and showing a little fire, the breaks may start to go their way thanks to this latest twist in the fates. Positive vibes won't be enough, though. Black Label in a chilled, crystal pilsner glass is still swill. If the team can begin to brew up something more palatable, though, the cursed paper cup that has soured all of the fine ales of past years may crystallize. (Sorry, people, it's Friday and I'm thirsty.)

Use the negative image of 1978 as a blueprint. Enact the Curse of Michael Kay or any one of those bozos in the YES booth. (As an aside, what's more aurally painful, three hours of YES commentary or two hours of live Yes? I've seen all good people turn their heads and retch dissatisfied, I'm on my way to get earplugs.) Do what you have to do, but put the word "comeback" in your heads and get that pilot light re-lit before it really is too late.

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That said, I would really be enjoying the fact that the good team is 8.5 out while the crummy team is 3 out were the Sox' woes not part and parcel of the Yankee's success. I know it's an enormous long shot given the schedule, but if the Mets are ahead of the Sox by the break, I'll be lobbying for a bonus case of suds from Rob.

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