Thursday, October 27, 2005

Happy Anniversary

Seems like it was only yesterday when I penned this:

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.

And my feelings really haven't changed all that much since then. It's still a hell of a thing. Congratulations, ChiSox, and may your memories sustain you for the next 365 days.

Oh, and by the way, that King/O'Nan book blows. We did it better here. Our agent sucks.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Voice in the Wilderness

Just ducking in quickly to send a shout out to MLC supporter T.J. Doyle for turning me on to Fire Joe Morgan, a blog compendium of asinine sports reportage - that's sadly becoming a redundant phrase.

The Hot Stove is beginning to warm, and the World Series starts tomorrow, so the content-starved MLC community may actually see something from Whit and me in the next several weeks. Or not.

For what it's worth, I'm having a hard time forming a preference regarding the Series. I'd love to pull for the Astros, mostly because of Biggio and Bagwell, then I remember that Fat Roger's wearing the Red and Gray. I'd like to support Whitney and his Grandpa Jack, but I'm growing rapidly wearing of the Ozzie Guillen Media CircusTM. I'll flip a coin later today. I must admit, somewhat guiltily, that it's been refreshing living through an angst-free October.

One final note related to this blog: I've finally picked up Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan's Faithful, which is essentially a book-form version of this blog. The book is edited better than MLC, and King and O'Nan were compensated much more handsomely. Other than that, the crapprose you read here every day is just as entertaining, in my modest and unbiased opinion. King and O'Nan are obviously real fans, but they make fanboy mistakes about basic stuff (O'Nan waxed on about his expectation that Pokey Reese would provide offense, and was heartened by Cesar Crespo's .432 Spring Training batting average) and spend a lot of prose on the mundane. I'm only up to mid-May, so I'll reserve full judgment until I complete the book, but I'm sitting here wondering why Whitney couldn't get his far-flung network to set us up with a book deal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Nation Exhales

The Bombers got knocked out of the playoffs last night, and if you had your TV muted as Darin Erstad flipped the ball to Francisco Rodriguez for the last out, you probably heard the sudden gust of wind that rustled leaves from Marblehead to Malibu. That stiff breeze was comprised of one Nation-wide sigh of relief. While cell blocks of Yankee fans, offices of television network executives, coffeeshops of journalists for whom “write” and “trite” have more commonality than a rhyme, and a man named Cashman who just performed his annual ritual of reactivating his account, there is disappointment abound in another Yankee season which fell short of the mark. For Rob Russell and his ilk, however, there is a long-overdue moment of carefree relaxation.

It’s already been covered in this space that Boston’s failure to repeat their charmed season wouldn’t be a failure at all, that 2004 created a recliner full of laurels upon which team and fan base alike can rest for the foreseeable future, and that the way the 2005 season unfolded for them, it was quite something that the Sox went as far as they did. It’s also been covered that points a, b, and c above would be rendered moot were the New York Yankees to win the World Series this year. Well, that’s not happening, so those points just went from self-help rationalization to Gospel.

While my cohort isn’t exactly kicking up his heels at the notion of his team suffering its first postseason sweep in a decade (since their playoff-debacle days when Boston dropped 13 straight postseason games), he can actually breathe easy for the first time. Last winter granted them no such downtime, as stonebuilt angst suddenly led to intense revelry which morphed slightly into utter release which eventually became hearty self-congratulation which rolled well into this baseball season. By the time the scorebook-pointing and own-horn-tooting gave way to stress about the outcome of the year 1 A.C. (Anno Champione, in the year of our championship), it was apparent that the time for deep exhalation and tranquil smiles would have to wait.

It was questionable whether the folks on the roster or in the Nation had the energy for yet another ALCS showdown with the Empire. Of course, had the situation arisen, so would have the appropriate parties, but it would have been like that last day of Mardi Gras – you realize you have to muster the energy, because for Pete’s sake, you never know if this will be the last time you ever encounter this opportunity, but you’re just so dog-tired, and beaten up, and you know very well there’s likely a letdown on the docket. So this quiet duck-out was arguably the best way for it to go down for Red Sox Nation this year. I just know there’s at least one guy for whom today is Day 1 after finally figuring out what the hell Glenn Frey was singing about in “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Enjoy, Rob.

* * * *

The way the 2005 ALDS unfolded was also the way I wanted it. I informed my compatriot in writing early on that I would not be renewing my membership in the Friends of the Nation for this year’s playoffs. Last year was a one-off ride for me aboard the Soxwagon, doing my small part to further the positive karma that led the Olde Towne Team to its highest heights. (You’re welcome. Really.) It was a good story, excepting the Series steamrolling of St. Louis, and I’m all for that. But I’ve got just as (personally) compelling a story going in ’05, and it involved a bleaching of Sox I hope Rob understands.

There were a couple of uncharacteristically real-world dramatic stories this year, both involving grandfathers. Rob’s recounting of what might sadly have been one of his last visits to his Sox-loving grandfather provided some often-necessary perspective at MLC, and (I can’t believe I’m mentioning this) serves as a reminder that there was a happier side to the Win It For thread – the folks who waited what seemed an eternity but did hang around until the Red Sox did it. Meanwhile, you might recall my posts surrounding the April passing of my Mets-loving grandfather. While he was the family’s patriarch and the reason the rest of us live and die with every Mike Piazza home run or Kaz Matsui toss into the dugout, there’s more to the story.

Grampa Jack was living in the NYC suburbs in 1962 when the New York Mets were founded, and as one who believed that “root, root, root for the home team” was more law than lyric, he instantly pledged his allegiance to the worst team ever assembled. (It also enabled him to successfully force-feed baseball to his children in a pre-Extra Innings Package era.) Long before Stengelese made its way from Yankee Stadium to the Polo Grounds, however, my grandfather was cheering for another lousy franchise.

He was born on the South Side of Chicago (you now know where this is going) 88 years ago today, on October 11, 1917. When he was four days old, the hometown White Sox won its second World Series by taking four of six from the New York Giants. It stood to reason that there would be more trophies arriving in the South Side before long, with players like Joe Jackson, Eddie Collins, and Eddie Cicotte doing life sentences on Charlie Comiskey’s payroll. Then some stuff happened you might’ve heard about. [Although books and films paint Comiskey as Darth Vader and the Sox as the Rebel Alliance, most historical accounts say it ain’t so. Charles Comiskey (and the fans) as the victim and Shoeless Joe as the villain brought to justice – not as gripping a Hollywood story, but the truth rarely is.]

So Grampa Jack knew the ChiSox in their darkest years. When he left Chicago as an adult, they still hadn’t fully recovered from the 1919 implosion. Though he moved on to other cities and other teams, the White Sox still had a piece of him. When my grandparents bought a condo in Sarasota in the early 1980’s, that town was home to the Pale Hose in spring training. Cheering on the White Sox as the secondary, American League alternate to pulling for the Mets became the new mandate for the family. And so we did, without deviation. Soon we became privy to the doctrine of mediocrity known as the Chicago White Sox, though I’ve only come to know the full history in later years.

The immediate future of the White Sox post-1919 was compromised not by a curse, but by the fact that a roster widely considered as talented as the 1927 Yankees or any other in baseball history fell on its own grenade. The wreckage in the scandal’s wake was tangible (many of the best players banned) and perceived (franchise disarray for years to come; Comiskey’s reputation sullied). It was 40 years before the White Sox contended again.

Once that hump was crossed over, though, what prevented a title for the next 40 years? Hard to say. These weren’t the classic bad teams like the Senators and Phillies. These were teams with All-Stars on the roster, even a handful of Hall of Famers, but a whole lot of mid-grade nobodies in between. They finished in the middle of the pack most years. There are only a few first-place finishes, but only a few more last-place finishes. They haven’t won 100 games since 1917, but they only lost 100 three times. They never showed much flash, despite being well-known as the single largest purveyor of hideous uniforms (outside of Houston, perhaps) in baseball yore. They were boring. After hiring managers with first names of Fielder, Nixey, Pants and Kid in their first quarter-century, they opted for guys like Jimmie, Al, Chuck, Tony, Gene, and Jerry ever since. New Comiskey is dull and void of personality, but it has accurately reflected the team itself since its opening. This franchise has had no vibe, no must-see undercurrent, no backstory at all beyond the Black Sox tale that’s been played, overplayed, revised, and beaten into the ground long ago. The Chicago White Sox have never been sexy in the least; truly, they’ve been about as sexy as . . . well, as white socks. (Outside of my grandfather, very few folks found white socks a sexy look.)

The 2005 ChiSox, however, have a few things going for them. One is Ozzie Guillen, a fiery, mouthy skipper who most importantly has an interesting name. (It’s no “Pants,” but it beats the hell out of “Gene.”) He’s actually inspired a style of play that bears watching. In addition, the White Sox have the Red Sox backlash thing going for them. Now that the Soxwagon has witnessed its hangers-on fleeing like rats from a sinking ship, the train of thought in vogue would be to shut up the “86 Years” chatter definitively with an immediate, one-upsmanship that is the end of an 88-year famine. After seeing the joy in Beantown last fall, the humanitarian in me wouldn’t mind seeing a parade of title-less streaks broken, either, with the Cubs and Indians following in the years to follow.

More than this, however, these ChiSox have one crazy old man upstairs (we in the family hope) who would find it all too fitting that the team he was born into rooting for would win it all on his fourth day on the planet and then not again until six months after he’s gone. If fallen BoSox fans pulled some strings up there to achieve last October’s result, it could happen again this fall. And finally, don’t discount the power of my weight aboard any team’s bandwagon. Sure, that amount will slow any vehicle down at first, but once you get some momentum going, look out, people.

Happy 88th, Grampa Jack. Let’s see what we can cook up in the next couple of weeks, just for kicks.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Have a Nice Life

American League Division Series - Games 2 & 3

White Sox 5, Red Sox 4
White Sox 5, Red Sox 3

Red Sox lose, 0-3

My dad, a career Army officer, spent my 16th year living in South Korea. He loved his time there, in part because he got a taxpayer-funded vacation from me and my sister right as our pain-in-the-ass adolescence was peaking. In some measure, though, the country tickled his keenly honed sense of the absurd. I vividly remember his description of striving South Korea as "The Land of the Not Quite Right" - in stark contrast to its neighbor, the Land of the Rising Sun.

Dad's encapsulation of his time in Korea was the first thing that came to my mind as I sat down to pen the obituary for the 2005 Sox. This was the Season of the Not Quite Right. The Sox were thismuch off when it mattered, whether it was the solid Tony Graffanino lifting his glove a split second too soon to cost the Sox in ALDS Game 2, or the team dropping 2 of 4 to Toronto in the season's last week to ultimately lose the AL East, or Alan Embree, Mark Bellhorn, and Kevin Millar slipping perceptibly, or even the front office miscalculating Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling's health. The Sox were one of the dumbest teams in the league this season, repeatedly overlooking the little things as if counting on the lightning-in-a-bottle karma of 2004 to make everything okay. The little things, though, kept adding up and adding up, even as the Sox scrapped and battled and bashed their way to 95 wins, and in the end, the little things spelled the end of the 2004 Sox, 11 wins short.

I outlined the litany of bad luck, bad decisions, and bad play that befell the Sox a few days ago, so I won't go through it again. The fact remains, though, that this is the first Sox team in the 100+ year history of the franchise to reach the postseason in 3 consecutive seasons. This team won 95 games without an ace, without a closer. This team had one hell of a season, though it won't be remembered that way.

In the precise calculus of the postseason, the Sox' casual relationship with the fundamentals finally put them in a hole that they couldn't escape with brute force, as much as Manny and Tizzle tried. The White Sox were crisp from the jump, never making a single mistake that mattered. And the Red Sox, for all their heart over the past 3 seasons, finally wore down against that precision. As the Sox loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the 6th inning of ALDS Game 3, the steel will and killer instinct that sent them raging against the dying of playoff lights in consecutive AL playoff series in 2004 was nowhere to be found, and the season died in A.J. Pierzynski's glove as Johnny Damon waived meekly at strike 3.

As the team went quietly, so too did the Nation. I knew the Sox weren't going to win the ALDS as soon as the White Sox went ahead in Game 2 - knew it. And yet my primary emotion was mild disappointment, not the gripping angst that has carried the day for the past 3 years. It's as if I knew, and the Sox knew, that it was time. I've been a rabid sports fan for a long, long time, and have never been as deeply engaged in anything sports-related as I have been in the 2003-05 Boston Red Sox - the wrenching loss, the soul-swelling championship, and the slow, anesthetic stumble back to equilibrium. That's where I find myself at this moment, at dead breakeven - unhappy that the Sox lost, and still in vast awe of the fact that they won in 2004.

I'll come back here as the postseason unfolds with more on my memories of the season. I'm processing the end of the year on purely emotional level right now - it's like breaking up with someone you love deeply but know you can't/shouldn't be with, because it's not healthy for you. So while you feel the loss in places you don't talk about over beers with your buddies, you know deep down that you'll be better for it in the long run. 120 days to pitchers and catchers - can't wait to get back on target.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

These Are Better Days

Games 153 through 162 – Mets

Mets 6, Nationals 5
Mets 6, Phillies 5
Mets 3, Phillies 2
Phillies 16, Mets 6
Mets 11, Rockies 0
Mets 3, Rockies 2
Mets 3, Rockies 1
Rockies 11, Mets 3
Record: 83-79, 7 GB Atlanta, 6 GB Houston for Wild Card
Tied for 3rd in NL East and Wild Card Standings

Phew. Take a breath, people. I can’t believe that summer is already in the rearview mirror and winter is just over the horizon (autumn, the Mid-Atlantic’s best season, is on the endangered list these days), but when I think of the baseball season we just completed, there’s not one iota of “Where did the time go??” The 162 games the Mets and I just plodded through didn’t fly by for any of us; rather, they arrived to much fanfare, hung around, drank all my beer, entertained the guests, fell down the stairs, and stayed way past their welcome, but then offered a redemptive, heartfelt adieu before heading out the door. And now we relax.

We can relax now (and clearly, in light of my silence, I have been relaxing) because the Mets played themselves right out of the postseason with that 3-15 public pants-wetting around Labor Day. That putrid stretch inevitably elicited a bevy of what-if musings after the Mets’ final fortnight of resuscitation, but despite the disappointment, there is so much to like about the 2005 season that I’m going to keep wearing the blinders I donned in my initial prognosis for this team.

First of all, though the new-millennium Mets seem destined to incorporate one sizeable stint of stank into every 162-game schedule, the silver lining is that this seems to be happening later and later each successive season, making the viewing enjoyable for a longer duration every summer. In 2006, I expect a final-week plummet to miss the playoffs, or if we’re lucky, a first-round sweep. Two years later, though, we might even see the free-fall pushed back until the following spring. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

Looking ahead to the future used to be a way to damn the Mets of the present and dream irrationally of a better day. Now it’s a realistic reason for excitement. It’s being pleasantly surprised with some of what’s gone on with an eye on bigger things around the corner. It’s the last line of The Bad News Bears. (The original. Please.) Roll call: David Wright; Jose Reyes; Mike Jacobs; Aaron Heilman; Juan Padilla; Victor Diaz; even Anderson Hernandez, who, though he went 0-for-17 before notching his first big-league hit in the ninth inning of the last game of the season, has that magic word “promise” attached to his scouting reports. It’s enough to preserve that shrug-and-smile “you never know” attitude throughout Mets Township for most of the winter, and that’s a big, big change from the discontent of winters past.

Speaking of the last game of the season, although the Mets were routed by the rubbish Colorado trotted out there, it was as enjoyable a final loss for a team that fell short of its goals as I can conceive. The fans at Shea were in A-plus form, giving the tingle to our heroes and giving the finger to our zeroes. Danny Graves got a moderate hailstorm of boos; lesser bodies of supporters might’ve gotten complacent on the last game of the year and let him off the hook, but not this steady group. Meanwhile, in addition to cheering on the normal rootables like Cliff Floyd – who homered to cap off an utterly impressive season (not sure what stands out more, the 34 HR’s or the 550 AB’s), the Shea faithful gave a special series of ovations to one of the greatest Mets of any era, Mike Piazza. Mike . . . you get your own paragraph.

What can you say that hasn’t already been said about Mike Piazza? The guy has maintained an unparalleled level of humility, understanding, and appreciation for his place since Day 1. To hear him last night in the Yankees-Angels telecast was to understand why denizens of the Township have every right to deify the man. He says the right things with a sincerity foreign to all too many professional ballplayers of any era, let alone the present batch of perspective-deficient self-aggrandizers. The Mets are only 43 years old, but they’ve seen an array of superstars don the colors; with Piazza, though, it goes well beyond the record-setting numbers. With the parabolic arc of Piazza's numbers flattening over the past few years, Mets fans have needed to gravitate to Mike Piazza the guy over Mike Piazza the athlete, but he’s always brought more to the table than the majority of his peers. That “Thunder Road” came on my iTunes shuffle (1 out of 12,016 songs) as I was typing this paragraph is amusingly fitting. Here’s hoping that, like Springsteen, Piazza enjoys a surprising resurgence in the twilight of his career, one that begins next spring. May he continue to be exciting to watch perform, worth the price of admission, and capable of cranking out hits when the masses clamor most for them. (Unless the Yankees sign him; then I hope he’s lousy. Sorry, Mike.)

Anyway, the Mets fans gave Piazza a reception to remember as the season came to a close, and my beloved 2005 Extra Innings Package concluded with a montage of Piazza moments as “These Are Days” by the Empire State’s own 10,000 Maniacs provided the accompaniment. (What, you thought something Piazza-related wouldn’t be a touch cheesy? Come on now.) Like Mike alluded to last night in the booth, the Mets and Mike Piazza in 2006 are plainly two great tastes that don’t go great together, but you just never know what might work out. Though there isn’t a single logical argument to be made for his return to the Mets, I find myself kind of hoping he does. This is reason # 749 why I’m not a big-league GM.

Back to the season in a nutshell . . . (I’ll refrain from making a comment at the expense of my tiny friend across the aisle.) There were plenty of reasons to cheer this year, from the continuing ascension of the young talent to a 12-game betterment over last year’s record to – especially to – a heretofore unseen amount of heart on the club. Seriously, for the first time since MLC’s inception I was able to use words like “scrap” and “mettle” and not be referring to Fred Sanford (perhaps in the context of “People Who Could Outrun Mo Vaughn”). The reinvigoration within the New York Mets spread throughout the Township, and that’s what made this season so thoroughly more pleasing than its predecessors. But there’s still one fascinating success this season that I haven’t mentioned. Something that, to borrow from a certain Boston Beaneaters fan, has made all the difference.

On April 2, 2005, Rob wrote:

Pay attention now, as the next sentence is as close as you'll get to a season preview from this side of the MLC table. I'm picking the Sox for another 98-win season in '05. They have the talent to win more, especially if Wade Miller is healthy, but the uncertainty surrounding Miller and Curt Schilling is enough to keep me balanced in my assessment.
On April 4, 2005, Whitney wrote:

I have clear images in my head of Beltran in the middle of the pack, Pedro on the DL, Piazza tailing off even more. Again, I'm not sandbagging this bet with Rob, but 83 wins is as high as I can see the Mets finishing. Maybe it's this pessimism that has biased my prediction, but I just feel like we've been here before. Game on. Now that I've established that I don't believe in the '05 Mets, it'll take exactly one pitch before I revert to my old self.

Pitch 1: A called strike to Jose Reyes.

The Mets are going all the way this year. 85 wins is the bet. Wild Card. World Series. It's all there for them.
98 – 85 = 13, for you math majors. The Sox finished with 95 wins, while the Mets came in at exactly 83, my initial prediction before I was strong-armed into 85. That 12-game difference means that for the first time, I win The Case Bet against Rob Russell.

And there was dancing in the streets.

Add these 24 Brooklyn Lagers to the pair of cases Rob owes me for foolishly questioning my knowledge of quotable philosophy (NB: “The unexamined life is not worth living” goes back a wee bit further than Thoreau) and there’s quite a party happening in the Lester household before too long. There might have been but two people fixated on this exhilarating battle between the Mets and Red Sox to close out the 2005 season, and one of them probably paid more attention to the more publicized, less significant pennant race instead. But if you were paying attention, you witnessed one of the Great Moments in Betting History.

Coupled with the relatively pleasant, positive outcome to the Mets’ season, this has made me extremely all right with the way things worked out this year. We're a long way from the elation the other half of Misery Loves Company experienced last October, but we're also a long way from . . . well, from Misery. A more “unexamined life” in the last two Mets seasons would have proven wiser, but riding the daily ups and downs alongside my talented peers in the Mets blogosphere (not to mention my uber-capable cohort here at MLC) this time around has made sustaining the life of this project a far more worthy endeavor.

See you in March, friends. God bless the Township.

Mother of All Train Wrecks

American League Division Series - Game 1

White Sox 14, Red Sox 2
White Sox lead, 1-0

The last time the Sox absorbed a double-digit post-season beatdown, they woke up the next morning, went to the ballyard as if nothing had happened, and won 8 straight. I'm just saying.

Sad to say, that's the only bright spot from yesterday's wire-to-wire asskickery. Matt Clement came up tiny, just as he has for most of the season's second half. The offense tried several times to ignite, but sputtered impotently when it mattered. The bullpen, well, the bullpen pitched to its level, which is to say it was mediocre to craptacular. And that, dear friends, is a recipe for a nasty, brutish and short stay in the post-season. (Dead English guy reference in honor of the newly released Calvin and Hobbes compilation.)

I can't shake the feeling that I'm watching the patient die here, that the Sox are simply so spent from the season and the post-championship overexposure that they're just running out the clock, blissfully aware that they've only got to close their eyes and all the stress will go away. Maybe they'll prove me wrong this evening. Maybe monkeys will fly out of my ass.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Same as It Ever Was

Games 158 through 162 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4
Red Sox 5, Yankees 3
Yankees 8, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 10, Yankees 1
Record: 95-67, AL Wild Card

"Nutzie, kaputzie", exclaimed my 84 year-old grandmother each time something went wrong during the Sox' 8-4 loss to the Yankees on Saturday - and she had much reason to repeat that mantra. Among other things, this weekend taught me that the disease is hereditary. It also taught me - reminded me, anyway - that there are things in life that matter more than baseball. As I stood next to my grandfather's hospital bed and watched the Yankees celebrate their 8th straight AL East title on the mound at Fenway Park, I was struck by the absence of angst-laden emotion.

The Sox blew a 5 1/2 game lead in 8 weeks, and I'm not tearing my hair out, and I'm not breaking things in my living room, and I'm not hyperventilating. This newfound equanimity is based upon a number of factors, none more important than the fact that the Sox are still defending World Champions. That championship foundation has been the elephant in the corner of this blogroom all year, softening the edges of my mania and blunting the force of my rage. Last October also makes it easy to live with the fact that the 2005 Sox are a flawed, injury-riddled bunch - the fact that Craig Hanson came into the late innings of Saturday's game to try to keep it close says more than my words could.

It's not a stretch to argue that Terry Francona's done a better job this year than last. To wit, if you'd told me before the season started that the Sox would...
  • Essentially lose their top starter for the entire season;
  • Lose their closer for nearly the entire season;
  • Waive their starting 2nd baseman and top lefthanded reliever due to underperformance;
  • Finish the season with 3 rookies playing significant roles in the bullpen;
  • Play the second half of the season with a 1-armed centerfielder/leadoff guy;
  • Get 9 HR and 50 RBI from Kevin Millar;
  • Get 13 HR and 65 RBI from Trot Nixon;
  • Be led in wins by Tim Wakefield; and
  • Lose Jay Payton and Gabe Kapler

...I'd have prayed for the welcome relief of the offseason, comfortable with the forthcoming 85-win season. That the Sox have overcome those realities to post a 95-win campaign, only losing the division to the Yankees on a technicality, is in any other year the stuff of legend. Only the Yankees winning 16 of their last 20 kept if from being so.

The anti-climactic nature of the weekend (Hello, Cleveland!) is another contributing factor in my blase attitude. Even after Saturday's loss, I was convinced that the Sox were going to the playoffs, so the woe-are-we wailings were in short supply. Hell, the Yankees didn't even know they were playing for the AL East title until 4 outs remained in the game on Saturday. If they didn't know what the hell was going on, how the hell could I be expected to keep up?

So after 162 games, and 19 more Sox/Yankee hype-fests, we find ourselves precisely where we were last season at this time, with the delightful difference being that Yankee fans have to worry about a 3-hour time difference and the Angels' balance. The Sox get Chicago, in a matchup that screams "Crapshoot". I'll spend some time previewing the ALDS in my own inimitable fact-free way later, but suffice it to say that I have no earthly idea what's going to happen in the next week. I am fairly confident that another Yankee/Red Sox ALCS will signal Armageddeon-style press coverage that will render all other news more trivial than Britney Spears' child-rearing tips. Look for the Bush Administration to choose that week to come clean on WMD mistakes, Karl Rove's role in the Valerie Plame scandal, and W's prediliction for Madlibs.

The rivalry did bring a moment of levity this weekend. As I sat in the Fox Sports Cafe in Logan Airport, I watched with amusement as Sully the Bartender laid waste to the kind of Yankee fan that gives all Yankee fans a bad name. Yankee hat walked into the bar, and Sully said, "Lotta balls to walk in here wearing that hat," with just enough edge in his voice to make me sit up and pay attention. "Tell you what, I bet I know more about your team than you do. What happened in the 1960 World Series?"

Yankee Hat hemmed and hawed before demurring because, "Hey, I wasn't even born in 1960." Sully kept at it, "Fine. What happened in the 1996 World Series?" "Man, that was 10 years ago, who remembers that stuff?" Sully, knowing he'd drawn blood, pressed the issue, "I could tell you the score of every game of that series, and I'm a Sox fan. 1 more chance - what was Don Mattingly's jersey number?" And as the entire bar leaned forward - most of us, even the Sox fans, knowing the answer, Yankee Hat choked - just like his "team" did in the 2004 ALCS. "Pretty sure it was 27," he said, at which point the whole bar murmured in anticpation of Sully's next retort.

"23, pal. He was number 23. Now get out of my bar. And you don't deserve to wear that hat." At which point Yankee Hat slunk out of the bar accompanied by the laughter of the assembled patrons. The entire incident reinforced the stereotypes held dearly by both camps: Yankee fans are a bunch of bandwagon loudmouths, and Red Sox fans are a bunch of defensive elitists. And the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

I'd like to tell you that I'm all pumped and jacked, but the truth of the matter is that I'm anything but. I'm pleased that the Sox are in the playoffs. I'm looking forward to obsessing over every pitch for the next 3 weeks, if all goes well. But there's something about holding the hand of an 85 year-old man as he recounts the joys of family and shedding happy tears with him as he comes to terms with his mortality that makes all this not amount to a whole lot. And if that perspective comes with a temporary price, if it makes this post-season a little less fraught with intensity and emotion, well, that's a trade I'm willing to make. Though I will be uttering more than my share of "Nutzie, kaputzie", starting Tuesday.