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.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 2

Yankees 3, Red Sox 1
Yankees lead, 2-0

I suppose I could be pissed, or bitter about last night's loss - maybe break a few things, but I'm having a difficult time working up the righteous indignation. Mostly, I think, because the Sox' listless performance has rubbed off on me. The same team that lead the majors in number of pitches seen allowed Jon Lieber to coast through 7+ innings on 82 pitches, and everything went to shit from there, despite a very solid performance from Pedro.

I don't want to hear any crap about a curse, or jinx, or the Sox being doomed to lose. Right now, the only excuse is that they're getting completely outplayed. The Yankees have been better in every single phase of the game, except maybe the critical "Quizzical Looks Back at the Plate Umpire After Watching Strike 3" category. No excuses, no complaints - the Yankees have simply and completely been the better team through 2 games.

Bronson Arroyo takes the ball tomorrow night in the biggest start of his life. Curt Schilling told SOSH that Arroyo has "balls the size of Saturn". They'll need to be in Game 3. This series isn't over, with the next 3 games in Boston and the Sox nursing a grudge the size of Arroyo's balls, but it will be if the Sox don't play up to their capabilities.

One little thing, and it may be important: with Curt Schilling now hurt and unavailable until at least Game 6 (and likely not at all), the Sox just became huge underdogs. They thrived in that role last year, and they love to hoist on the mantle of the scrappy, goofy, overacheiver, whether or not it fits. Bears watching, anyway.

Also, of random insignificance, I'll be watching Game 3 in the company of several of my closest friends from the bar in which I (mis)spent much of my college career. That's powerful mojo, right on the heels of my Game 2 disaster - watching with my boss, his boss, and three other vice-presidents from my company. Good guys, all, but I was severely restricted in my ability to throw things, scream obscenities, and act like a mental patient. That won't be the case tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 1

Yankees 10, Red Sox 7
Yankees lead 1-0

If you start with the premise that the Sox are destined to lose a few games in the postseason, even if they go on to win the World Series, then last night's loss, while unpleasant and numbing to watch, is about as "good" a loss as is possible. I see you out there in Blogland, sighing like Al Gore in the 2000 debates, rolling your eyes like C+ Augustus (with credit to Eric Alterman fo the nickname) in the first 2004 debate, calling me a hopeless pollyanna. But stay with me for a moment.

This game could not have gone worse for the Sox from the jump. Curt Schilling was awful, clearly battling his bum ankle. The defense didn't help the early innings, with Manny Ramirez costing the Sox a run by giving Hideki Matsui an extra base in the 1st inning, and Trot Nixon costing the Sox a run by taking a bad angle on Matsui's bases-clearing double in the 3rd. And it didn't help in the late innings, with Manny failing to reach Bernie Williams' 2-run double in the 8th. Plate umpire Randy Marsh seemed to squeeze a few Sox pitchers in key spots - though Mike Mussina's dominance of the strike zone may have made that more a perception than reality. And Mussina was more than dominant, keeping the best offense in the American League off balance (and freaking hitless) for 6+ innings, and taking an 8-0 lead into the 7th.

The game could not have gone worse for the Sox, and yet they had the tying run on 3rd base in the top of the 8th inning, and they got 2 runners on to bring the tying run to the plate in the top of the 9th. They made the Yankee bullpen work hard in a game where they should've been able to take naps. The Sox, and the Nation, should take great solace in the fact that the Sox played as badly as they're probably capable of playing, and they still scared the bejesus out of the Yankees.

That said, if Pedro loses tonight, it's thumb-in-mouth, curl-into-fetal-position, mumble-incoherently time. We'll see whose Daddy comes to play tonight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

3 1/2 Innings In, and I'm Already Looking for Bright Spots

The fact that I'm typing this and not engrossed in game action is clue number 1 that things have gone badly wrong, and quickly, for the Sox. Shall we count the ways, beginning with Curt Schilling's obvious physical discomfort and ineffectiveness? Or maybe, the fact that the first 12 Sox hitters to come to the plate have been retired, including all three in the top of the 4th via called strike 3. 6-0 Yankees after 4, Schilling's long gone - replaced by Curtis Leskanic, who walked the first 2 batters he faced - Mike Mussina's pitching a perfect game, and the Sox are rapidly approaching Assmonkey on Parade status.

But here's the thing: the Yankees lost the first game in last year's ALCS and came back to win the series. Long series, even if the Sox punt the first game.

Monday, October 11, 2004

American League Division Series - Game 3

Red Sox 8, Angels 6 (10)
Red Sox win ALDS, 3-0

If nothing else, this game was good practice for what is sure to be a draining 2 weeks to come, a mental preview of the long-awaited ALCS between the Sox and the Yankees. It was also a good lesson to Sox fans: no celebrating allowed until the final out is recorded.

Just like the 35,000+ that were packed into Fenway on Friday afternoon, I was guilty of looking ahead to the ALCS when the Sox took a 6-1 lead into the top of the 7th inning. Like very few of those same folks, I was also guilty of throwing my daughter's toy ball against a sliding glass door and unleashing a torrent of F-bombs - despite the fact that my mother was visiting for the weekend and my daughters were still awake - after Vladimir Guerrero turned that lead into a 6-6 tie with help from Mike Myers and Mike Timlin.

Lesson learned in full, especially in combination with the recalled memory of the 8th inning of Game 7 of last year's ALCS. No premature celebration. No taking anything for granted. Got it.

The catharsis that took wing as David Ortiz' booming fly arced majestically over the Monster in the bottom of the 10th, both in Fenway and in my living room, almost, almost, erased the memories of last year's post-season. Nothing, mind you, short of a World Series championship will truly erase those memories. But you already know that, don't you.

And so, after another 165 games, we find ourselves in exactly the same place we did last year. Good versus Evil. Animal House versus the Establishment. Flobie versus...I don't know the names of any fancy-schmancy salons - but I bet A-Rod does. Except for one thing - last year, the Sox entered the ALCS after an all-timer of a series against the A's, having used their entire bullpen in Game 5, started Pedro Martinez in the ALDS finale, and lost Johnny Damon to a concussion that still bothers him. And they actually won the first game of the ALCS and scared the living hell out of the Yankees in the series.

This year, the Sox are rested, healthy, and inarguably a better team than they were last year. A dispassionate observer would rate the Sox starting pitching markedly better than that of the Yankees - especially given Bronson Arroyo's last 10 starts, while scoring the offenses a wash and the Yankee bullpen slightly better. That, and $4.25 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

I won't read any predicitions about this series, because they're worthless. I won't try to analyze this series, because it's impossible. I honestly don't have any gut feeling about this series, except to say that it's the Red Sox and the Yankees and anyone that thinks that numbers on paper offer any insight into the next 4-7 games hasn't been awake for the last 4 years. Do I think the Sox can win? Absofreakinglutely. Do the Yankees scare me just a little? Um, yeah, especially after what they did to Minnesota (who should be renamed the Vichy Twins after their spineless capitulation last week).

I do believe that the Sox have the stuff to stand up to the Yankees, and I think this particular roster features the perfect combination of talent, depth, and - hugely important - personality to be successful in this series. This team is so loose, and so confident - even holding the weight of all of the New England's expectations (positive and negative) - that if any Red Sox team is going to vanquish the demon Yankees, it'll be this one.

Enough words that mean a whole lot of nothing. Game freaking on.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

American League Division Series - Game 2

Red Sox 8, Angels 3
Sox lead 2-0

If you're wondering why this post comes so late in the day, you should note that the final pitch of last night's (this morning's?) game was thrown at approximately 1:55 am EST, that I was awake watching it, that I was so amped on adrenaline and anxiety that it took me another 45 minutes or so to fall asleep, and that my daughter woke me up by poking me in the eye with her index finger at 6:05 am. Hell, you should consider yourself lucky that any of the combinations of letters in these "sentences" actually spell real words.

What a weird game, this baseball. By all rights, the Sox should have alternately a) blown the Angels out in the first 2 innings, and b) lost this game handily. The Sox did enough stupid things in the field (Anaheim's 2nd and 3rd runs were set up by a harmless popup that fell to earth between Cabrera and Ramirez), on the basepaths (Bellhorn got picked off at 2nd - by the catcher - with the bases loaded and 2 outs and David Ortiz batting against a laboring Bartolo Colon in the 2nd inning), and at the plate (Trot Nixon swung and popped up the first 2 pitches he saw, Cabrera failed to get a bunt down in three attempts) to easily hand the Angels the win, but Anaheim gave it back through a series of wild pitches, untimely hitting, and fielding mishaps - not to mention the generosity of home plate umpire Jerry Meals (to be fair, he was consistent, except for one really bad call against Troy Glaus).

This game turned on one at-bat by the guy I've lauded before as the Sox' heart and soul. My screensaver is a photo of Jason Varitek rearranging Alex Rodriguez' nasal passages. I love Jason Varitek. And Jason Varitek, when he's off, sends me into paroxysms of vitriolic ranting. His first two at-bats last night were vintage Bad Varitek, waving at pitch after pitch with no real chance of doing anything but jogging back to the bench to don his gear. Then, with 2 outs and a runner on in the top of the 6th inning, with Colon cruising and the vaunted Angel bullpen prepared to get the game's final 9 outs, Varitek launched a Colon fastball deep into the night, tying the game and completely changing the contest's atmosphere. Had Colon completed the 6th with a 3-1 lead, I'm confident that the Angels win this game, probably by a 3-1 score. He didn't, and they didn't, and Jason Varitek adds another exhibit to the people's case for Tek as the 2004 Sox unsung hero.

After the game was tied, the outcome - in my mind, anyway - really wasn't in doubt. Pedro was dominant, and don't let anyone claim otherwise. His line - 7 IP, 6H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K - wasn't vintage, but a closer look at his performance shows that only 2 balls were hit hard against him all night. 5 of his 6 hits could kindly be characterized as flukes - flares, dinks, a popup that wasn't caught - and he had excellent velocity and command. I'm no longer worried even a little about Pedro. He left with a 4-3 lead, courtesy of some patient hitting against Francisco Rodriguez and some poor defense by the Angels. Terry Francona used his bullpen impeccably, getting 6 outs from Timlin, Myers, and Foulke, and the Sox made the bottom of the 9th academic by dinging the (did I say vaunted? I meant haunted.) Angel bullpen for 4 tallies in the top of the inning.

Sox take a 2-0 series lead back to Boston, hopefully wildly aware that a 2-game ALDS lead means nothing if they can't close the deal. See, Oakland circa 2003 for all the reminder they need. That said, I really like the way the Sox are playing now - overcoming mistakes, hitting the ball early and often, and pitching effectively in all phases. A day of much-needed rest (for me - I couldn't care less about them) and Game 3 in Fenway on Friday afternoon. Alrighty then.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

American League Division Series - Game 1

Red Sox 9, Angels 3
Sox lead 1-0

Just when I thought I could take a rational, measured approach to playoff baseball, Curt Schilling went and started the Sons of Sam Horn game thread. I mean, if you didn't get goosebumps reading that first paragraph, you're not human. I was pumped and jacked and reporting for duty by noon - and then had to sit in a budget meeting from 4:00 - 5:15, fingers drumming on the table, absent-mindedly blurting out nonsense until I could go home to watch the game. The Sox plated 7 runs in the 4th inning while I was in the car driving home, ending the game for all intents, and enabling me to actually pay attention to my daughters and wife for a few minutes.

Yesterday was simply a red-letter day in my personal history. The Sox won, the Yankees lost, my aging softball team recaptured a little of our past glory for one night, and I got a promotion at work. I'm now sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Schilling wasn't stellar yesterday, but he did his job once the Sox posted an 8-0 lead. The Sox took advantage of Angel mistakes the way championship teams should, combining 2 walks and an error with 2 homers and a couple of singles to put the Angels away early. The defense was solid, and Alan Embree and Mike Timlin resurrected their 2003 playoff stuff to shut the Halos down over the final 2 1/3.

Now it's on Pedro to keep the Sox moving forward. I've been rightly apprehensive about him over the past month, hoping more than thinking that's he's just playing possum. I still refuse to believe that the game's most intimidating pitcher completely lost it over 4 starts, and most of me expects that he'll step up tonight to show the Sox, Schilling, Anaheim, and the nation at large that he's still El Rey. That other little part of me is hiding in a corner with its thumb in its mouth, mumbling something unintelligble.

Here's a question for the MLC readership. I'm taking a substantial amount of grief from several women in the office about my priorities. Yesterday was my wife's birthday, and I bought her a gift, and flowers, and carry-out dinner from one of our favorite restaurants. I then bailed to play softball for 4 hours. Our 5th wedding anniversary was 10 days ago, and we did it up proper-like. Our daughter's 3rd birthday is Friday, and we've been preparing for that over the past week. Finally, neither of us ever makes a big deal over birthdays. So, the question is this: Is Pedro's hairstyle the real reason he hasn't been pitching well over the past month, and should Eriq Lasalle's character in 'Coming to America' sue the Sox' hurler for impersonating a fictional person? (And, no, I'm not going to admit any weakness on this birthday issue. She knew what she was getting when she boarded this particular party train.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Games 160 through 162 - Mets
Fade to Black

Expos 4, Mets 2
Expos 6, Mets 3
Mets 8, Expos 1
Record: 71-91
22nd-best record in MLB

The season's over already? Huh. I guess time flies when you drink so much you have extended periods of blackout.

What a dreary season. It was remarkable only in its unremarkability, leaving no imprint upon the minds of any but the most fixed fans. The Mets weren't record-setting bad like the Diamondbacks or Royals, they weren't sad-sack but loveable like Detroit a year ago, they were just disappointing, underachieving, and generally uninteresting. (A lot like me in high school, some might say.)

The only notable tidbits from the season included at least one terrible-looking trade, busts all over the place, another wasted payroll, and a mediocre manager fired while even more mediocre management remains. For every young talent that sparked high hopes (David Wright, David Wright, and David Wright), there were several that didn't pan out (Matt Ginter, Tyler Yates, Grant Roberts, Aaron Heilman, etc.). Breakout seasons didn't materialize, injuries ripped through the lineup, and free agent signings blew up in everyone's face. Veterans started strong, then they sniped, whined, and complained until prospects were traded away, then they fell apart. The starting rotation looked too old and too young every other day, the closer got worse with each outing, and the middle relief was the meat of a crap sandwich. The hitting was untimely at best, the lineup changed daily, and the defense was atrocious . . . again, despite a concerted effort to plug the gaps.

Morale was down, and the fans got sick of it by August 1. Off-the-field controversies, though nothing earth-shattering (mainly because no Met hit the ball well enough to be accused of taking steroids), ate away at the clubhouse demeanor until every day was a New York Post drama day. Between the Piazza positional juggling, the Kaz/Reyes positional error, Franco bitching about his usage (all the while getting torched to the point where his FDNY shirt became a bitter irony), Leiter & Co. lobbying for the Kazmir blunder, and Glavine bitching to the press this week, it all painted a pretty petty picture. The New York Mets executive framework looks less like a typical, sensible pyramid and more like a hieroglyphic character; Jim Duquette's job description might as well be in sanskrit. You can have the most expensive bus in town, but if you can't find anyone to drive it properly, you're going to end up in a ditch.

So you can see why I might not be terribly enthused about reminiscing about the 2004 season, eh?

To be honest, this has escalated beyond annoyance for me. This is insulting to all of us, and there's no end in sight. The New York Mets are currently like a bad case of herpes (or so I'm told). The offseason is the remission, where the scars remain and the dread of the inevitable recurrence of flare-up hangs over us all the while. The season is a painful burn that seems to last an eternity and embarrasses us when people who aren't afflicted notice our plight. And it really hurts to take a leak. (Hmm . . . maybe the analogy doesn't go that far.)

Anyway, while most fans have no recourse except to try not to think about it and hope for the cure that's just not coming, I find myself at a unique, once-in-a-lifetime crossroads. I'll elaborate further in a subsequent post, but for the first time, I've got options. Viable options that, although it will cause me to leap into the Sea of Hypocrisy, are appealing options nonetheless. And just like I did back in college, much to my girlfriends' chagrin, I'm keeping my options open. I've dangled such threats in front of my Mets before, but for the first time, this isn't just idle chatter. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Age of Unlightenment

I can't even get a rational thought out, I'm so overloaded with anticipation, but it's a different sort of anxiety than last year. I had myself utterly convinced last year that the Sox were a team of destiny, on a mission from God, that I was locked and loaded prior to Game 1. This year, with the phenomenal sprint to the finish balanced by the soul-sucking mediocrity of the season's first 100 games, I can't figure this team out - they still seem to be missing...something.

You can see it in my blogging over the last three weeks, after they all but clinched the playoff spot. It's a bunch of aimless words, no real flow - an author in search of a voice. Last October, I was on it, baby, if I do say so myself. This, not so much.

But here's the thing (you knew it was coming, and you know you wanted it), last year, for all my surety, all my Era of Positivity, all my inspired blogstylings, the Sox gacked Game 7 of the ALDS. This season, for all my misgivings, and all my whining, and all my "feh", the Sox finished with a better record than they did in 2003, and are better equipped to make a deep run.

Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for October 31. The Presidential election is 2 days later. Be pretty cool if native son and new President-elect John Kerry shows up at Fanueil Hall for the parade on November 3, wouldn't it? Fuck it, if the Sox win the World Series, Bush and Cheney could push for legislation depositing my paycheck directly into Halliburton's account, instead of indirectly, and I wouldn't bat an eyelash.
Games 159 through 162 - Red Sox
A (Very) Few Thoughts

Red Sox 8, Orioles 3
Red Sox 7, Orioles 5
Red Sox 7, Orioles 5
Orioles 3, Red Sox 2
Final Record: 98-64, 3GB NYY
AL Wild Card
3rd-best record in MLB

So it comes down to this: the Sox were 89-54 against all teams not from Baltimore, and 9-10 against the O's. If Boston had gone 12-7 - simply played to their level against the O's - they'd have won the American League East. That's super.

But enough with the O-bashing - Baltimore's a long way from the playoffs, and their owner gets to spend the rest of his tenure getting his nose rubbed in the Expos/Grays success. We come here not to bury Baltimore, but to praise the Red Sox. And complain about the postseason schedule. Briefly, because the people that sign my paycheck actually think I need to get some work done today - and if I'm going to bail on them early tomorrow, wander in late and bleary-eyed on Thursday morning, and then sneak out early on Friday, I suppose they're entitled.

The Sox were 45-18 from August 1 to the end of the season. After all the gnashing of teeth from this and other corners of the Nation, the Sox actually did perform to their potential. The Nomar trade, like it or not at the time, galvanized the entire roster. Theo Epstein is 8 feet tall and bulletproof at the moment. Curt Schilling won 21 games, Manny and Ortiz became the first teammates since Babe Ruth to both hit 40 homers and drive in 130 runs in one season, Kevin Millar carried the team for a stretch in August, and everyone else chipped in with critical contributions - even Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield.

The 2004 Sox have now met baseline expectations. They were supposed to get to the playoffs. Do they have the horses to take the next step? As has been noted ad nauseum in the post-Moneyball world, baseball playoffs are a crapshoot, and predicting outcomes is about as useful as tits on John Kruk. Can the Sox win it all? Sure - they've got two very good starting pitchers (depending upon which Pedro Martinez makes the trip to Anaheim), the league's deepest offense, solid if not spectacular relief pitching, and a vastly improved defense. Could the Sox lose 3 straight to Anaheim and go home? Absolutely, especially if Schilling can't win Game 1 and Bartolo Colon steps up in Game 2. All the pontificating and prognosticating in the world doesn't amount to a hill of beans taller than Pedro's 27-inch buddy. All that's left is to hold my breath and watch the games.

Which are being played at 4:00 EST (Tuesday), 10:00 EST (Wednesday), and 4:00 EST (Friday). I could pick a worse set of times, but I'd have to work at it. So, I'll be leaving work early twice (or suffering through CBS Sportsline - a perhaps saner option) and staying up until the wee hours of the morning once. Whatever. It could be worse - I could be a Mets fan.

I was really hoping that the Sox would get to play Oakland, because it's fun to beat the A's, and the Sox have owned them this year. Anaheim scares me, because they don't beat themselves, they play the game the right way, they've got a lights-out bullpen, and they've got Vladimir Guerrero. If - and it's the single big if for the series - the Sox can get to the Angels' middling starting pitching early, I'd take the Sox in a walk. If the series comes down to the Halos' bullpen against the Sox', the Angels have a significant advantage, unless the Sox bullpen finds its 2003 mojo. To me, Pedro Martinez has a chance to be the single most important factor in this series - he could alternately be the stopper, soul-crusher, or life-giver, depending upon what happens in Game 1.

Enough blabbering. 11 wins to go. Stay on target.

Friday, October 01, 2004


Now Omar Minaya is the General Manager of the Mets, and Jim Duquette . . . isn't. He's not fired, he's not resigning, he's taking a demotion. This just feels a little bit wrong, people. We can all agree that a lousy record and some . . . "questionable" moves (that was more generous than calling the Mets a "team") usually warrant the removal of the GM; however, what's become painfully obvious is that The Duke had as much to do with the make-up of this roster as Mr. Met did, maybe less. I don't think that Team "Impose Their" Wilpon is trying to make Duquette the scapegoat with this maneuver, but every action sends a message, and this one is that Jim Duquette didn't get the job done. Maybe he didn't, but like they said in ancient times, don't blame the shepherd for lost sheep when you were the one who tied him to the tree and beat the crap out of him. Or something like that.

Omar Minaya is giddy right now, eager with the anticipation of guiding his hometown team. He's flashing smiles and wide eyes all over New York. In the old fraternity days, we knew this time as the False Sense of Security Party. A year from now, his spirit will be shattered, his hope will have been squashed under a steel-toed boot, and his ass will really, really hurt, but right now, the future is bright. And his fall will be made exponentially more painful with every assurance from ownership that he'll have autonomy. What he doesn't know is that Jeff Wilpon thinks giving his GM's "autonomy" means letting them drive themselves to work.

Good luck, Omar, and godspeed. Duke, you'll want to visit There has got to be a better workplace for you than this.