Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Heart-Shaped Box

Game 56 – Red Sox

Yankees 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 33-23

If ever a game transpired in perfect fashion to elicit muttering of the melancholy refrain, “that’s baseball”, it was last night’s contest from the Bronx. The Sox were long on ifs and buts, but their cousins candy and nuts were in short supply, and the seemingly irrepressible Yankees gobbled up whatever was around.

David Pauley pitched better than any Sox fan could have expected, and as he enticed Miguel Cairo to chop a little grounder to the right of the pitcher’s mound with 2 out and none on in the bottom of the 7th, it looked as though he’d get the Sox through 7 innings of 1-run baseball. Cairo’s bleeder, though, snuck under Pauley’s glove and then skittered away from Mark Loretta’s barehanded attempt. Jerry Remy gave voice to the fears of a Nation at that moment, saying “Boy, you hope that’s not the kind of break that costs the kid the game.”

From his mouth to the Yankees’ ears, as Cairo’s infield single was followed by Johnny Damon’s liner to left and Melky Cabrera’s 4-pitch walk. Terry Francona lifted Pauley at that point, and even as his teammates heartily congratulated the 22 year-old for giving the Sox far more than was expected of him, every person in the building knew that the Yankees were gonna take the lead. The shitty way they did so, with Rudy Seanez walking Jason (“HGH is the new Clear”) Giambi to plate Cairo, was fitting.

The final indignity, and “that’s baseball” stamp on the game was Manny Ramirez’ blast to left off Kyle Farnsworth with 2 out in the top of the 8th. The game-tying run was flying out of the park when Cabrera raced over from left to snag the ball just as it cleared the fence. It was the Yankees’ night by thismuch, but make no mistake – it was the Yankees’ night.

As the season’s story begins to take shape, I can’t help but think that the Yankees’ ability to more than make do – to prosper – in the face of really substantial adversity is telling. The Sox have now lost 4 straight to a New York roster missing numerous key elements, and have fallen 1 ½ games back during a stretch where that seemed all but impossible. The early returns show these Sox to be a paper contender – likely to win enough to keep things interesting into the late summer, but lacking the horsepower to be a viable postseason threat. If history is any guide, we witnessed last night the annual and inevitable ceremony of the Yankees nosing out in front and slowly but inexorably stretching their lead until they disappear from view.

Call me melodramatic, call me a pessimist, call me a naysayer – even as the last 3 years in this space should prove otherwise. There’s nothing about the way the Sox are playing right now that says they’re for real, especially given the recent injuries to key members of the bullpen.

The starting rotation consists of an aging stud, a knuckleballer, 2 seemingly talented massive question marks, and whatever green rookie the front office can find to patch a hole. The offense is stumbling after the manager decided that old-school tradition is more important than production and replaced one of baseball’s best leadoff men (Kevin Youkilis – he of the .430 OBP) with a fast guy with adequate on-base skills. The studs are doing their thing, though the effects of opposing shifts seem to be wearing on Papi (his .257 average, .364 OBP, and .552 SLG are all lower than his worst full-season numbers in a Boston uniform – that a .916 OPS is considered an off-year for him is a testament to how good he’s been since Theo stole him from Minnesota). Jason Varitek seems to be grinding to a halt right in front of our eyes, and while Mark Loretta, Trot Nixon and Mike Lowell are offsetting Alex Gonzalez’ limited offensive skills, the Sox remain a mediocre 8th in the American League in OPS with runners in scoring position.

It all points to a fine club, a decent club, a very professional club, but not one that strikes a whole lot of fear in the hearts of the opposition and not one that inspires the dreams of a Nation. I know it could be worse – this blog could be about the Kansas City Royals – so I’ll try to minimize the whining over the next several months.

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