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.

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