Sunday, September 18, 2005

Being Eddie Vedder

Games 138 through 149 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Angels 3

Angels 3, Red Sox 0
Yankees 8, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 9, Yankees 2
Yankees 1, Red Sox 0
Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5
Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
A's 6, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 3, A's 2
Red Sox 2, A's 1
A's 12, Red Sox 3

Record: 87-72, 1 1/2 games ahead of NYY

Like Pearl Jam sang, and in stark contraposition to my recent activity level in this space, I'm still alive. And like the Red Sox, just barely.

I'm just barely alive because I spent a week in Cape Cod with Whitney and his family. Those of you that know Whitney, even a little, know that a week in his presence is marked by the following things: alcohol, drinking, staying up way too late, lots of food, and more alcohol, followed by drinking. By way of illustration, we spent last night in Highland Park, NJ as we made our way home from the Cape. At 2:00 AM or so, after roughly 15 cheap American beers each at the Corner Tavern we found ourselves at Giovanelli's, a glorified grease truck with spectacularly good late night eats. Being of modest size and appetite, I went conservative, rolling with a slice of pizza. Whitney, not so much. The gastronomic savant took down a Fat Cat (a sub with hamburger patties, fries - on the sandwich, cheese and assorted other grease) and a Fat Blunt (a cheesesteak with egg, cheese, fries - again, on the sandwich, and assorted other grease) in one fairly quick sitting.

As a result of the week of excess, my synapses are firing about as quickly as Doug Mirabelli on the basepaths. Even so, I feel quite certain that I could think circles around the assorted trogolodytes that staff Boston's sports radio outlet, WEEI. I had the pleasure (and by pleasure, I mean abject misfortune) of listening to the collection of bitter, self-important circle jerks at various junctures while on the Cape. I've heard a lot of sports radio, and I understand the limitations of the medium, but I've not ever heard such unfathomably unredeeming dreck. The collection of assholes that man the Boston sports airwaves seem to - nay, do take glee in the bad, the ugly, the misfortunes of others. And they stand in such distinct contrast to...

...the Boston Globe Sports section, which I've praised before in this space. Still, this week served as a reminder that the Globe still publishes the best sports in print news. 3-4 columns on the Sox after every game (columns, not beat reports) is the norm, and only the beginning of the most comprehensive coverage of the athletic world. Bostonians are truly spoiled in that regard.

Bob Ryan, one of the Globe's elder statesmen, made a very important and accurate point about the Sox early in the week. (And shame on you for wondering if I was ever going to get around to the nominal subject of this blog.) Ryan noted that a team's record was a historical record of their performance to date, not necessarily a reflection of the state of said team's affairs at this moment. And in the case of the Sox, the team that took the field today against Oakland bares only a passing resemblance to the one that hung up that 87-61 record.

The Sox are stumbling badly down the stretch, the result of indifferent starting pitching and suddenly impotent bats, both caused largely by significant and important injuries. Johnny Damon's nursing a painful shoulder injury, which renders him unable to throw the ball - not that it would be easy to tell any difference from his normal feminine hurling style. Damon's injury is made worse by Gabe Kapler's season-ending achilles rupture, because it leaves the Sox without an effective backup in centerfield. I'm sure Alejandro Machado is a nice kid, but I'd rather pour coffee on my groin than see him get meaningful September at-bats. Kapler's loss also means more Kevin Millar as Trot Nixon's platoon partner, which means 3 weeks of standard-setting ineptitude in right-field. In addition to Damon and Kapler, the much-noted injuries to Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, and Wade Miller remain unresolved in large measure: Schilling's been gamely working through his recovery, but he's been ineffective. Foulke pitched 2 innings in today's blowout loss, a measure of the Sox' confidence in his ability at the moment.

Even the guys that are healthy have been ineffective, perhaps because the Sox are in the middle of a 30 games in 30 days stretch. Jason Varitek has posted a .361 OPS in September, gamely gutting out the end of a long season, but stinking up the yard nonetheless. Trot Nixon's September OPS is .534, with 4 RBI. Manny Ramirez went 19 days between homers, and has an .812 OPS this month - decent, but not Mannyesque. The banged-up Damon has seen his batting average slip from .341 in mid-August to .318 now, and only scored 4 runs this month. On the mound, Matt Clement's stellar first half has given way to 18 earned runs over 22 innings in 4 September starts, capped by today's 1 1/3 inning, 7 earned run effort.

And even with that litany of woe, the Sox remain 1 1/2 games up on the Yankees after today's action - and many thanks to the Blue Jays for holding on against New York. Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, and David Ortiz have quite simply been carrying the Sox for the past 3 weeks. Timlin's given up 2 earned runs in his last 12 appearances. Wake has been an inning-eating stud in his last 4 starts, with 2 complete games (and a 9-inning appearance that didn't count as a complete game because the contest went extras) and 34 quality innings pitched. That he only has a 2-1 mark in that span is certainly not his fault.

Nor is it the fault of Big Papi, who will finish no worse than 2nd in the AL MVP voting. Papi is slugging .690 this month, with 7 HR and 14 RBI in 18 games. He's swatted game-winning, or game-changing blasts in several of the Sox' victories in September, and is the sole real source of offense for the once-vaunted Sox - all due respect to Tony Graffanino and Kevin Millar, who've both had solid months. I now expect Ortiz to hit the ball out of the park in every clutch situation - a feeling that no other player has ever given me. I just wonder whether 1 Papi is enough to drag this limping lineup into the postseason - and fear the answer to that unworded question.

But here's the thing (admit it, you've been camping out in line for tickets to that long-lost show), this team has proven over the past 3 years that it thrives on nothing so much as adversity. They've had prosperity nearly all season long, using their healthy lineup and good-enough pitching to set the pace in the AL East since June. They've had that prosperity, and not taken advantage of it, kicking away games here and there to mediocre opponents (losing 2 of 3 to Kansas City, for example) and letting the Yankees stick around.

I've not made any pronouncements about this squad, because I haven't had the same gut instinct about them that I had at various times over the last 2 seasons. No "all-in" moment, or Era of Positivity instant of clarity. So here goes: I think the 2005 Sox will summon their inner idiocy with their backs against the wall, and close out the season in style. Regular season, anyway. We've seen clear evidence over the past 2 years of the randomness of the post-season, so the Sox have as good a chance in that crapshoot as anyone - if they can get there. It says here that they will.

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