Monday, July 16, 2007

Old 97"s

Games 90 & 91 – Red Sox

Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 4
Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 55-36

They say the first step towards recovery is to admit you have a problem. The truth shall set you free. In the interest of not spending the next 2 ½ months or so as a complete basket case, I come here today in the spirit of honest sports addiction to admit publicly that I’m nervous about the Sox. Specifically, I’m worried about the pinstriped menace that is now within 9 games. And even more precisely, I’m concerned that the current incarnation of the Sox isn’t strong enough to hold up over the next 71 games against said menace.

Like most Sox fans, I’m predisposed to see the half-empty portion of the beer cup. And yesterday, in the span of less than an hour, the half-full portion spilled messily onto my lap. While the Sox were managing to plate but a single run against yet another rookie starter, despite 11 hits, the Yankees were writing thank you notes to their hosts in Tampa for a gift-wrapped victory.

With the Rays holding a 3-0 lead in the 5th inning, Andy Phillips laced a ball to straightaway center that should have turned into a routine out. Instead, junior birdman B.J. Upton overran the liner in spectacular fashion, flailing wildly as his momentum carried him beyond the ball. Phillips wound up on third with a run-scoring triple and the Yankees plated 4 in the innings. Then, in the late stages, the Rays blew a 5-4 lead by giving up 3 in the top of the 8th. The final run scored when Akinori Okamura double-clutched a groundball from Derek Jeter just long enough to allow Captain Intangibles to beat the throw to first. As it happened, that run was the Yanks’ final margin.

I was watching the Yankees/Rays game because my sister and brother-in-law were visiting with their kids, and my brother-in-law, for all his fine and noble qualities, is a Yankee fan. He’s ruining my nephew, too.

Ultimately, the seeds of my doubt find purchase in a nagging lack of confidence in the Sox, not an irrational fear of their opponents. I really don’t think the Yankees are all that good, especially on the mound. They’ll score a bunch of runs, and they’re capable of tearing off a 14 of 16 streak at any time, but I don’t think they’re necessarily any better than the Sox – if the Sox play decently. It’s that latter clause that’s been troubling over the last six weeks.

With Curt Schilling ineffective and then hurt, the rotation now becomes Beckett, Matsuzaka and three dice-rolls. No pun intended. The bullpen has continued to be sharp, but the effect of an increased workload isn’t tough to predict. On offense, Lowell and Youkilis are slumping, Drew is hurt for at least a little while (quel surprise!), Ortiz and Ramirez haven’t quite been Ortiz and Ramirez, and Pena hasn’t been quite Mario Mendoza, rendering him quite close to useless and perhaps even less than that. At any given time over the past month-plus, more than half of the lineup has been ineffective. The Sox are 1-9 in their last 10 one-run games, and haven’t come from behind in close-and-late situations in a cow’s age - the definition of fan frustration.

1978 was a long time ago, and the era of good feelings ushered in by the 2004 championship put a spiffy new coat of paint on most lingering psychic damage to the infrastructure. Terry Francona’s twice the manager Don Zimmer was, and the Sox pitching staff is still probably better now than the one that gacked the summer away 30 years ago. Still, if I’m forced to spend the next 75 days listening to Mike & Mike, Karl Ravech, John Kruk, and the SportsCenter crew cite chapter and verse of the Bucky F. Dent story because the Sox are slowly allowing the Yankees back into contention, I will not be responsible for my actions. And that possibility, the chance that the mass media’s main baseball hook for the rest of this summer is the Sox fading once again, well, that just makes my stomach hurt to consider.

Ahhhhh. That feels much better.

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