Saturday, October 08, 2005

Red Sox season ends

Final Score - Chicago White Sox 5, Boston Red Sox 3 - Chicago wins series 3-0

So the Red Sox have a disappointing end to a frustrating season. But I feel very differently about it than I would have any time before last year...

  • Two years ago, the Red Sox went into New York in September, with a chance to win the East, and took the first two games of a 3-game series before falling to David Wells and the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. I didn't take it well:
    The "Baseball Gods" (to anthropomorphize the luck of the bounces during my baseball-watching lifetime) have shown me that the Yankees will always beat the Red Sox in close and important games. The Red Sox can beat the Yankees, even sometimes in big games, but only if it's not critical and/or close. I hate that attitude, I hate that feeling, but tell me, someone, where's the counter-evidence? Someone point me to a game that wasn't over early, a game that the Yankees needed as much as the Red Sox, a season-outcome determining game, that the Red Sox won. As Art put it in July, "the fact that it's (probably) a fluke doesn't matter." He's right. If second marriages represent the triumph of hope over experience, what does the expectation of a World Series win for the Red Sox represent?

    And this is where the fatalism comes from. I do NOT believe in any curse. I KNOW that baseball is a game where there's enormous room for luck. And I root for a team which lost 13 consecutive post-season games! If you figure that each of those is a 50/50 shot (and some are worse, but some should certainly be better, as the Red Sox had an all-time great pitcher, Roger Clemens, start 6 of those 13 losses), the odds of losing 13 straight are 1 in 8192. That's really amazing. A franchise, over the course of a decade, has four teams good enough to make post-season play, and they lose 13 consecutive games in those post-seasons, against 3 different franchises.

    ...there's a certain Pavlovian response that develops. I hate it, but I acknowledge it. And it's much worse where the Yankees are involved. I hate the Yankees. Hate them. Hate them for what they've done to the Red Sox. Hate that the first Yankee dynasty was just the late teens Red Sox dynasty shifted south. Hate that the Red Sox couldn't win one of the last two in '49. Hate that Dimaggio got that MVP in 1941 when Williams was so much better. Hate Bucky Bleeping Dent. Hate that Jeter is considered to be the same level of player as Nomar. Hate (really, really hate) that Boggs and Clemens won World Series rings in Yankee uniforms. And somewhere, deep in the recesses of my psyche, is the feeling that Yankees/Red Sox is the punishment for all of my sins. And I hate that more than anything.

    When they went on to lose to the Yankees in the ALCS that year, there was more:
    Well, it was a hell of a ride.

    I suppose that, like many, I'm still feeling shocked by what happened last night. Lots of tossing and turning - not much sleep. The adrenalin flow takes a long time to shut down when your brain is re-playing the whole game constantly.

    When Pedro got to two strikes on Bernie in the 8th, I actually wrote a post for the game thread that said "isn't this exactly where the Cubs were - runner on 2nd, 1 out, 3 run lead in the 8th?" but didn't post it, thinking it unnecessary to notice parallels like that. And what followed was utterly gruesome. In the 1978 play-off game, they didn't have a lead in the 8th. In 1986, there was still one game left. This was a game with so much potential to erase bad memories, a game in which they took an early and sizeable lead, and poof - all gone. Shocking, stunning, appalling. I've spent the last 3 months trying to maintain some emotional stability with regards to this team, hoping for a win last night but fearing a loss. And what did we get? Unbelievable.

    I have steadfastly maintained, and do so again today, that there is no such thing as a curse. But sometimes it absolutely feels as though there are script-writers, "baseball Gods", to ensure that the Red Sox fail in the most excruciating way possible. Last night was an unbelievable finish, except to anyone who's followed the Red Sox. Then it's not only believable, it's almost expected.

    The Red Sox have lost play-off deciding games 9 times in my lifetime (I was too young to appreciate 1967 and 1972) before last night. Each of those was accompanied by a sick feeling, as despair set in - "will they ever win it all? Just once? Can they actually win a World Series someday?" This is completely different. I'm certainly not happy about it, I care just as much about the team, I'm just as emotionally invested as I ever was. But there's no despair this year, only disappointment. For a couple of reasons.

    1. The big one is, they've won it all. We know it can be done. We knew before, rationally, that it could be done, but we didn't "know" it emotionally. Now we do. This season ended the wrong way. That's life. Before, every season that ended badly was furtherance of an emotional state that seasons had to end badly. Now we know better.

    2. This was their third consecutive play-off season. Given the state of the roster, the number of good prospects ready to make the jump, the demonstrated abilities and philospohies of the front office, the money they've got to spend, there's every reason to expect this team to be in contention again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

As to the game itself, I got to listen to most of it, didn't see much of it, and what I did see was from a distance on a TV with poor reception. Just a couple of thoughts:

  • When Jason Varitek made the final out of the 8th inning, my first reaction was "poor Edgar - he's had an awful year, and now he's going to make the final out again..."

  • Speaking of Varitek - he's now killed critical rallies in two post-season series' clinching losses. After game seven of the 2003 ALCS, I wrote the following:
    The most important at-bat of that game may have been Jason Varitek's in the 4th inning against Mike Mussina. The Red Sox were already up by 4 and had runners on the corners with no outs. I believe that that was their last opportunity in the game to score a run on an out, but Jason struck out.

    Last night, with the Sox trailing by one after Manny's 2nd HR of the game, they loaded the base with no one out. Varitek could have tied the game with a hit, HBP, fly ball, walk, possibly even a ground-out to the right spot. He hit a foul pop-up to the first baseman. Graffanino, who also bears great responsibility for the sweep, popped-up, again, their last chance to score a run on an out. Damon's strikeout ended the threat, and, effectively, the series. There were 3 innings left, but they never came close to scoring again.

  • Speaking of Damon's strikeout, I thought it wasn't, but it was close. That's a bad result to that at-bat, because that pitch was never close to the strike zone.

  • For all of the lamentations about the Red Sox bullpen, it was the starting pitching and the offense that did it. They never had a lead after the 5th inning in any game.

  • People that don't get it, people that think RBI are important, will look at the 3-4 hitters in the Boston lineup, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and say "hey - it's their fault - they only drove in 5 runs!" Which is true. Three of them on solo HR in game three, the other two on a Ramirez double in game 2. But the two of them hit .318/.375/.818. Manny, in particular, had a very good series, with 3 hits (all for extra bases), two walks, and a .300/.417/.900 line. The problem was that the 9-1-2 hitters weren't ever on base. Graffanino, Damon and Renteria combined on a .237/.275/.368 (UGH!) line. In 40 plate appearances, those 3 reached base safely just 11 times. There wasn't ever anyone on for the big hitters.

  • As bad as Graffanino/Damon/Renteria were, Nixon/Mueller/Varitek were worse. The Red Sox had essentially a 3 man lineup (Ortiz/Ramirez/1st baseman) with 6 holes. It's a short series, those things happen. And when they do, you get swept...

Hopefully, the Angels beat the Yankees this afternoon or tomorrow, so I can root for SOMEONE in the ALCS...



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