Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Game 156 - Red Sox
Tito's Dilemma

Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 3
Record: 94-62
Clinched AL Wild Card

That sound you hear - not the clinking noise, that's Derek Lowe waking amidst the remnants of a 12-pack, wearing Trot Nixon's underwear on his head, face decorated with Sharpie-drawn penises courtesy of Varitek and Schilling - is the entire Northeastern seaboard and large pockets of people around the Nation exhaling.

It's been a foregone conclusion since early September that the Sox would make the playoffs, but that hasn't stopped me from fretting over every opponent's mini-rally, or from feverishly checking my Blackberry - even in socially unacceptable situations - for Sox/Angels/Rangers updates. That's the nature of Sox fandom, dontchaknow, to look for the dark cloud in every silver lining.

That said, clinching a postseason berth with 6 games to go presents the Sox with an interesting set of decisions and dilemmas. Do they rest their big guns and conserve energy in preparation for the AL Division Series, or do they go great guns to catch the Yankees and try to win the AL East? Would they rather play Minnesota or the AL West winner in the first round of the playoffs? Will one of Tim Wakefield/Derek Lowe snap out of his season-long stupor long enough to contribute in October - and more seriously, what does the playoff rotation look like?

The first one's a no-brainer, and a little bit out of the Sox' control. The psychological and actual benefits of winning the division and securing home-field advantage in the ALDS are important enough that I'd make every effort to win each and every game until the Sox are mathematically eliminated. The Twins have played the Yankees tough in recent series', so it's possible that the season's final weekend will matter. Of course, if it does, the Orioles will likely take 3 of 4 to doom the Sox. Bastards.

On the second question my preference is clear - if the Sox are the Wild Card entry, I'd much rather go out west to face Oakland or Anaheim than to the heartland to face Johan Santana and Brad Radke on the carpet in Minneapolis. The Sox have played really well against both AL West contenders this season - especially in the last several weeks, and Minnesota has both a historical advantage at home in the postseason and the league's undisputed best and most dominant pitcher in Santana. The Sox would be lucky - very lucky - to get out of Minny with a split in the series' first two games. If they went down 0-2, they'd be looking at Derek Lowe to keep the season alive, and that thought makes me want to solder my eyes shut without anesthesia.

And finally, while I believe that Curt Schilling's the Sox' best starter at the moment, I'd lead off the ALDS with Pedro, regardless of opponent. Pedro would be getting the ball on regular rest in Game 1, and I'd rather place the burden of a must-win start on Schilling's capable shoulders should Pedro falter. The difference between the two - at least from the talent perspective - is negligible. They're both studs. But Pedro's notoriously more of a prima donna, and there's no need to alter his routine if it's not absolutely required. So the mantra, then, is 'Petey and Curt and pray Derek loses his skirt'.

A week of relaxation - for me, anyway - before the tightness in my chest returns. Game on.

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