Indulge me, if you will, in some Sox-related navel-gazing.
You see, I am not exactly sure how to deal with a loss right now. Not because they have been so infrequent, but because as a Sox fan several superstitious coping skills I have developed over the years are beginning to get tangled up in each other.
One part of my deranged fan-brain says that in a situation like this, to bitch and moan because Papi didn't hit a grand slam in the 8th to tie the game for the Sox to possibly bring them to their 6th victory in a row, and second series sweep in a row, would be the height of ingratitude. And every Sox fan minted prior to 2004 knows that ingratitude is among the cardinal sins in the eyes of the baseball gods.
Meanwhile, however, another form of magical thinking rears its ugly head: to act as if any loss is nothing to worry about weeks before the All-Star Break, to act as if any division lead is so insurmountable that every loss might not count anymore, is that not cockiness? And is cockiness not a karmic transgression on par with ingratitude?
Everything is out of whack for the Sox fan at this moment. Many of us, it seems, are struggling with a similar cognitive dissonance--feeling ourselves slipping into delirious infatuation even as we keep looking over our shoulders, into our rearview mirrors, and hatching any number of harebrained correlations between this or that lucky totem or ritual and the way this season has been going, because the idea that the Red Sox are really this good (overall, okay, I'm aware we lost tonight, but irregahdless...) is simply more than we can comprehend without some kind of paranormal forces attached.
It's part of the charm of Boston's brand of fandom--the need to mythologize, the sublimation of baseball games into fairy tales built around an absolute moral axis of good and evil. It's just that, as Yankees fans abandon ship (something that enrages a Sox fan's still perhaps overdeveloped sense of fairness in a world that long ago should have demonstrated its lack thereof), and we are without the timeworn storyline we grew into pre-World Series, we're feeling our way along in the dark when it comes to the narrative. Here, for example, is a new surprise of the post-World Series era for me: that little voice in the back of my head that I was issued at birth as a Sox fan, the one that says, this could all still end horribly, has not left me after all.
But is that not turning my back on how we were taught to believe in 2004?
Let's just say, for the moment, that things just feel a little surreal. This post's title is kind of a dig at Shaughnessy, but I'd be lying if I didn't cop to some pinch-marks on my own forearms from various points in the last month.
It's almost too good, too perfect, too far-fetched-wish-fulfillment-dream when you flick on NESN and they give you the news that, to paraphrase things a bit: "The Sox just clinched the series against the Central Division's leader, holders of the second-best record in the AL, with our third ace on the mound coming up for the last game of the series at home tomorrow night, and oh, by the way, the Toronto Blue Jays stole home on the Yankees today and wound up winning the game by one run to put the Yankees tied with the Devil Rays in last place in the division at 14.5 games out.
"Also, did you know Kevin Youkilis is vying for the AL batting lead with Magglio Ordonez and Mike Lowell has a 22-game home hit streak going? Hmm, let's see, what else...?
"Oh, right, the Yankees paid Roger Clemens $28 million for this season but he can't get out of Triple A, we have probably the best bullpen in baseball, it's sunny and 80 degrees in Boston with low humidity, and oh, almost forgot, [insert celebrity of your choice] is on their way over as we speak to have sex with you."
Bostonians and New Englanders can deal with many things. Heartbreaking losses. Infuriating losses. Insane traffic patterns. Disastrous infrastructure. February. Bitching and moaning, we've got down pat. Pessimism as a defense mechanism is available in spades. But it's been getting a little Twilight-Zone around here with this recent spate of undeniable, at times unbelievable, good fortune.
The last time I remember feeling like this in relation to the Patriots in the off-season was when Richard Seymour lost†both his parents in a shocking act of inexplicable violence.
As I wrote†in a comment on one of Brent's posts below (back when I wasn't going to add my post on top of his, but then I saw that the Herald had a six-story package of Marquise Hill coverage, and figured adding my two cents over here probably wouldn't be considered excessive),†I canít say I ever was aware of Marquise Hill before the other day.†I canít say†I ever cheered for him by name, but any time the world loses a person like that, itís just that much the worse for wear. Itís a shame when it takes manner of someoneís death to highlight how they lived their lives, but we at least owe Marquise Hill some appreciationĖeven if itís too late for him to hear it.
And it was as simple as that for me, until today. I don't think the magnitude of the tragedy really hit me until I read†in a brilliantly written (if poorly headlined,†as traditionally newspaper reporters don't write their own headlines) article†by Karen Guaregian of the Herald on Jarvis Green's reaction.
With that last line, Green put his hands over his face, trying to bury the emotion. But he couldnít stop. The tears kept pouring out.
Now that. That got to me. There's something about a 6-3, 285 pound NFL defensive end weeping uncontrollably about the death of his friend that can really get to you, ya know?
I realized I've been avoiding the Patriots news, because I knew the next step was to see and read about all of Hill's teammates in tearful interviews like the one on Green, and because I knew the devastating details would keep pouring in. And what can you do, when you can't even say you ever specifically rooted for the guy?
Still. He was a member of that family down in Foxboro, and he was a 24 year old young man with a fiancee and a two year old child who worked hard and stayed out of the limelight. Even as he died he showed his selflessness. What a haunting shame it is to lose someone like that, when the first time he makes any headlines is when it's already too late.
NESN is apparently on a different rotation this year with its anchors, or they had to shuffle Eckersley and Macha around for some reason, but now we get a double dose of Eck in as many weeks, just in time for a Beckett start, and what I call a good night on NESN: Eckersley previews Beckett, Beckett kicks ass, Eckersley fawns over Beckett, using the words "gas" and "cheese" many, many times, each time with a smidge more intensity.
I looked forward to this all day. I tell ya.
It wasn't the 8 Vintage-Pedro-style innings I called for, but, well, I was aiming high. Beckett looked more than sharp tonight; the extra rest while being able to throw on the side has given the fastball extra turbo fuel. The curveball was nasty. And the changeup was the filthiest of all. I love Beckett's balance when he pitches, especially when he throws a big breaking pitch and balances just for that split second with his right leg parallel with his head. Sometimes it seems like the brim of his hat brushes the ground, but his legs always seem to stay straight.
Tonight's great Beckett moment was the moment in the third inning when a daisy-cutter off the bat of Josh Barfield bounced back toward the mound. Slow-motion replays showed the ball screaming toward Beckett's knee, then ankle, as he fell off through the end of his delivery. Then he took a step forward as the ball struck the mound with enough force to spring back almost straight up in the air before falling toward shortstop, where Lugo handled it for the out. I had approximately ten heart attacks thinking it'd hit Beckett's leg, but turns out he stepped forward at exactly the right moment to avoid the ball both on its way in and its way back up. Didn't even touch him. Then he struck out Mike Rouse swinging to end the inning and walked off with a look back toward the infield like, "As if." You better like 'em cocky if you're gonna be a Beckett fan.
Meanwhile, tying run at the plate in the ninth with two out? Yawn. Our other lights-out closer will be seeing you out. The word Eckersley used was "frightening" to describe this Red Sox squad.
Whaddya say, Dice-K? Can we sweep the second-best team in the American League?
I'll admit it: I had forgotten about Trot Nixon. Understand, there have also been moments I've forgotten about just about anybody on the Red Sox who doesn't take the mound, so mesmerizing has the pitching staff been this season.
But still, the moments I sat back in the heat of a mid-game moment and sorta wished Trot were here were, well, none. JD Drew is in a slump and overpaid, and I'd much rather have Trot on the outfield bench than Wily Mo, now that I really consider it. But overall, I hadn't really thought about him much, except when seeing him on the odd Sportscenter highlight, usually for good reasons, smiling for a moment and wishing him well.
Then yesterday when I saw him in the visitors' dugout giving his press conference, looking like he'd been extra careful to trim up that handlebar moustache nice for the occasion, all glowering brow and pug nose and aggressively short haircut, that's when I realized maybe I haven't been thinking about Trot much because shit gets a little rough when I do.
Trot talked about how fortunate he felt just to still be playing baseball after having back surgery in the offseason. You could tell there'd been some dark moments for him somewhere around November or so, but he seems genuinely recovered now. He doesn't seem the slightest bit bitter, though he does seem sad. He has been courteous in his return, never resentful, but in the end, he is Trot Nixon, and he has not pulled any punches. He has let his emotions show on his face as always, and it's like I wrote when we got the news he was gone for good, "I know baseball teams are businesses and not charity organizations, and that this was a necessary move, but...let's not pretend that on an emotional level this doesn't just suck, right out loud."
Kristen wrote a great post about the Return of the Trot, and the line that really hit home with me was, "Meanwhile, I don't even know what JD Drew's voice sounds like."
Ugh. You feel that? That dull little ache right in the pit of your stomach? There has been something missing, here, I can intellectually understand the reasons why that's the case, but let's just not bullshit ourselves over this on an emotional level. Because on that level, this still sucks.
Curt stepped back off the mound when Trot came to the plate. Trot lifted his pine-tar-smeared batting helmet and acknowledged the crowd. Then he turned to face Curt, and Curt climbed back up the mound to face him, and like it or not, the game goes on.
Trot got a hit in that first at-bat, on an abortive changeup Dennis Eckersley would later snortingly refer to as "a cookie". But in the end the Indians were shut down by Schilling, who racked up 10 strikeouts and no walks in a reassuring return to dominance after his struggles the last two weeks. Schilling, Javy Lopez and Jonathan Papelbon gave up one run apiece, while the Sox bats behind the hitting (and baserunning!) machine that is Kevin Youkilis racked up five. Trot had half-jokingly expressed the hope that the Indians sweep the Sox once the sentimentalities were over with, but I think the Red Sox are dead serious about kicking the asses of the Tribe for as long as they remain in town, and much as I still love Trot, I'm of course still siding with the laundry there.
I am still confused over one part of Jonathan Papelbon's ninth, meanwhile. Why was Casey Blake out? With the count according to NESN at 2-1, he half-swung and was half-beaned (if such a thing is possible) by a heater from Paps. After some argument, the umpires ruled that he had swung at the pitch, reversing their call of a HBP. But why was Blake out and not just back at the plate with 2 strikes? Either the NESN score ticker was behind on the balls and strikes just then or there's something I don't understand about the rule the umpires were referring to.
Beckett on the hill tonight. Once again I tortured coworkers and friends with Beckett-related babbling today. Let's hope the leprosy holds off for, hmm, how about 8 or so utterly dominant innings? That'd be just what the doctor ordered.
Basically what I love about NESN is the fact that 99% of the time**, they know exactly what we want to see. If Manny is goofing around with Julian adorably enough, to name one example, then screw the bases-empty effort of the opposing pitcher at that moment. Yes. Correct decision by NESN. This is what they excel at.
So last night when Daisuke was surrounded by trainers and translators and coaches and then ushered back up the tunnel after the second inning, NESN was immediately on the case. Screw everything else, what's going on with Daisuke? These are the kind of instincts that make us spoiled to have NESN.
It was both a relief and a stomach-turning revelation when they showed Daisuke coming back out for the third with one hand over his stomach, puffing out his cheeks in the universal sign for "I am going to blow chunks." Thankfully, I'm not a chain-reaction vomiter, but if I was, NESN gave us enough detail of Daisuke turning green to have created a bit of a problem.
Once again, however, he somehow, magically, got stronger as the game went on, leaving the game on a mighty swinging strikeout to Sox killer Frank Catalanotto. I can only imagine he then dry-heaved for about half an hour, given the way he was looking by that point. There were definitely a few terrible heaves on the mound and in the dugout. It was nasty.
Luckily Daisuke's friends from the DR had his back--Ortiz and Manny gave the Sox the lead again before Daisuke left, giving him his league-lead-tying seventh win of the season (the Ray-Ban Man being among the other bearers of that record, not that we're totally spoiled brats this season so far or anything).
The very next inning, J. Varitek also put in a word for his boy, tripling in Lowell to fire up the merry-go-round once and for all for the Sox. By the time the dust cleared, the Sox had ten runs on the board. After gutting it out--literally--for probably three innings longer than you or I would've been able to stand up, Daisuke deserves no less.
P.S. Me likey what I'm seeing w/r/t Jon Lester lately. He's gone from looking like he just came out of chemo in Spring Training to filled out nicely--looking even sturdier than he was last season--and being lifted after one-run appearances in Pawtucket just to err on the side of caution. He also appears to be taking a page out of the Kevin Youkilis book on facial hair, but we can work on that.
** That 1% of the time being content relating to one J. R. Papelbon of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Listen: if he's in the game, we want the full replay of his inning available online afterwards, or at least shown on SportsDesk. It's that simple. If he gives an interview, we want the footage online afterwards, preferably in iPod format. If Jonathan Papelbon shouts something particularly interesting across the clubhouse, we want it reported on. If he orders something other than his usual Big Mac and fries at Mickey D's down the street from the ballpark, we want the CHANGEUP: MCNUGGETS headline in mile-high letters in the Globe. Just cover Jonathan Papelbon, please. Video. Audio. Pictures. Interviews. What can we do to get some more Papelbon content going here? This is my only complaint so far this season. I am available for focus groups.
I missed the game last night, crashing and burning with a headache somewhere just after it was 5-0 Yankees. What's sad is that meant I went to bed at true grandma-time, 'cause Curt gave 'em out with a quickness. I pretty much had already accepted they were going to lose before going to bed, and okay, maybe I harbored an irrational hope they'd all of a sudden come back against Pettitte and then the soft underbelly of Yankees middle relief, but the score in the morning confirmed my original suspicion.
I hate Yankees games. Stress, stress, and more stress. It's always just a long, drawn-out, ulcer-inducing stress-fest.
First there was Tavarez, cruising through three and a third with a no hitter, and then suddenly with Matsui on first facing A-Rod with one out, I had that old Jurassic Park feeling again. Except rather than the kids in the car with the water, it was more like the part where the T-Rex was in sight. And Julian looked like the lawyer hiding on the toilet.
In the end, though, Tavarez gave up a run on a wild pitch (brutal), but it absolutely could have been worse. He got into the sixth and gave up another run, but Javy Lopez was tonight's bullpen stud, shutting down that inning with no further damage.
Then both Oki and Jonathan looked tired. Well, Oki looked tired all the way through, letting up a run, finally, and Jonathan looked tired in the beginning, when he walked the first two hitters of the ninth. That's when you saw the eyes start, the pursing of the lips. You could feel him about to Unleash the Fury (tm). Melky Cabrera didn't seem too overmatched, though, fouling off two and working a 2-2 count before he finally swung at a sneaky little fastball that gave me a tiny spark of confidence.
But it wasn't till he threw his first strike to Jeter--after a Johnny Damon groundout moved the two baserunners both into scoring position just to make things more fun--that it was clear he was dialing it up a notch or two to ensure these shenanigans would not continue.
Among the many things there are to utterly adore about Papelbon, his clear aggression toward Jeter vies for top of the list. That's three times now I've seen Papelbon bring the pain on Jeter in particular. Hope he keeps it coming.
But until then? Even a five-run lead didn't feel safe. Not for a second.
And now I'm sure Papelbon's appearance in another non-save situation with the rubber game tomorrow will be questioned. And has Oki been overused? And who do we have left in the bullpen for tomorrow? And aagh! I can't remember the last time a win made me this stressed out. I hate Yankees games.
At least the Eck has returned. I'm not the only one who noticed him missing. I guess we're not getting an explanation, so let's just hope that moving forward, an absence of this nature never happens again.
ETA: Joy of Sox makes an excellent point about why Pedroia might have been a target for A-Rod last night. Seems the boys are getting a little pissy on both sides. As SG put it, " With frustrations boiling over in Yankeeland, we could have our first quality donnybrook of the 2007 season. Stay tuned."
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