Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Who

Games 135 through 137 - Red Sox

Orioles 9, Red Sox 8
Red Sox 10, Orioles 0
Red Sox 3, Orioles 2
Record: 82-55

Several times over the past 2 seasons, I've voiced approval of the Sox front office and their reluctance to trade the future for immediate help. Most of the time, I point to 2008 as the target - notably here, where you can also find a terrific photograph that really should get more play on this site.

Until this weekend, most of that rose-colored view was the stuff of speculation. Now, though, I've seen the future, and it's a most wondrous place. Personal jetpacks, zero-emissions automobiles, cheap, plentiful microbrews, and kids named Pedroia, Buchholz, Lester, Delcarmen, Papelbon, and Ellsbury playing meaningful roles for the Red Sox in a pennant race.

And boy, did they pick their spots this weekend. After a disappointing 9-8 loss to the struggling O's on Friday (where, notably, the ancient Mike Timlin continued to serve notice that he's most effective pitching in the bullpen - not out of the bullpen, but warming up and most certainly not facing opposing batters), the Sox faced the prospect of consecutive starts by raw youngsters and no Manny Ramirez in the lineup.

No worries, then. All Clay Buchholz did in the face of September pressure was spin a no-hitter, baffling the O's with 3 ace-quality pitches, closing the deal with a you-must-be-kidding-me curveball on the outside part of the plate to freeze Nick Markakis. I missed the first 4 innings of the game at a birthday party for a 1 year-old (in keeping with the theme, apparently) and didn't fully realize that Buchholz was carrying a no-no until the 6th inning. Needless to say, I stopped flipping channels at that point. Buchholz' fellow rookie and Randy Newman's nemesis, Dustin Pedroia, made a stunning play on Miguel Tejada's sharp grounder up the middle in the 7th, diving to his right to flag down the ball, then bouncing up a whipping a seed to Kevin Youkilis at first to record the out. Coco Crisp ran down a pair of Corey Patterson liners to left center, as well, but other than those plays, Buchholz was dominant.

When Buchholz' final pitch covered the corner of the plate and the umpire signaled the strike, Fenway erupted for the last time - the crowd having stood and cheered throughout the last frame. Buchholz' new teammates sprinted from the dugout and mauled the 23 year-old, whose slight frame and guileless face make him look even younger than he actually is. And I stood in my living room with a broad smile on my face and more than a handful of tears welling in my eyes. While I will admit to being slightly drunk at the time, I wasn't at the moment nor am I now embarrassed about those emotions.

Some people are moved by art, a particularly evocative Van Gogh raising their spirits and speaking to their soul. Others find solace and sustenance in music, a Denyce Graves aria giving evidence of a higher power or a live Bruce Springsteen show touching the very core of their being, and individual songs transporting them to a specific place and time. Still other people glory in the food of Michel Richard or a perfectly aged bottle of Opus One. I like all those things. I'm moved, though, deeply, fully, irrationally in some cases, by the joy and pain found in athletic competition. I don't claim to understand it, but I'm beyond trying to fight it. Joy and pain, those opposite sides of the same coin, are the currency of the lunatic sports fan - and in their own way, they remind us that we retain the capacity to feel deeply.

Today's game didn't move me in any meaningful way, but the youth movement played an even bigger role, with Jacoby Ellsbury delivering his first major league homer and making a spectacular sprawling catch to back Jon Lester. Dustin Pedroia made another diving play at second, and doubled and scored the eventual winning run. Lester went 6 solid innings to get the win, which was saved by Papelbon. 2008 looks pretty bright from here - and if this weekend was a signal, so does the rest of 2007.

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