I'm starting to wonder if Beckett Boot Camp actually did happen, and they just said it didn't to throw us off (and, sadly, any photographers who might've had a mind to capture it for posterity). Because Jon Lester has sure looked this season like he's been schooled in the ways of Commander Kickass. In fact, he out-stoppered the stopper this week, chucking nine shutout innings against New York on Thursday night for the first Sox win in five games.
Josh looked a little shakier yesterday, especially in the first and fourth innings, but contained the damage (hollering "hey fuck you man let's fucking go" at himself after the fourth inning seemed to help), and Mikey Lowell rode to the rescue with a three-run homer off Darrell Rasner (who?) in the fifth inning.
Thank the baseball gods for those favors, because the collective teeth of Red Sox Nation were officially on-edge heading in to the New York series after the sweep by the Devil Rays.
Let's not forget that the 2004 Championship team was swept by Texas in May and was swept by the MFY's to staht July. And last year's Championship club was swept by Seattle in the June 5th series, was swept by Detroit in July, was swept by the MFY's in late August, and was swept by Toronto as late as mid-Septembah.
But really. We know. We know the weaknesses of our team this year. We know what it means to watch the Sox bullpen cough up a four-run lead in the final game to put the final ignominy on the series--last year's World Champion team may have been swept on occasion, but on most occasions it had the best bullpen in baseball. This year, that has definitely not been the case.
While trashing the Yankees in their own house on The Boss's birthday will never fail to soothe even the savage beast, this is a Yankees squad whose main source of entertainment for its fans so far this year seems to be the morbidly fascinating spectacle of Jason Giambi's mustache. The standings suggest that by rights we should be trashing them. Even if we sweep the Yanks, that Rays series will stick in our craw, and it should.
I've been wrestling this week with how to feel about this, actually. The knee-jerk reaction is to be pissed. Despite the repeated suggestions of national sports pundits, Sox fans aren't going to be abandoning their winning-lust any time soon, and I'm not any more enthusiastic than the next person about the Sox being on the receiving end of Tampa Bay's message to the rest of the league that they're for real this year.
But I also think that what's happening in Tampa is a natural consequence of this decade's arms race in the AL East. Big-market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox (and, to some extent, the Mets) have built their rosters in part by offering smaller-market teams their prospects for more mature players (Scott Kazmir and Hanley Ramirez jump to mind). Cellar-dwelling teams like Tampa Bay also routinely get the top picks in the draft. And lo and behold, those prospects sometimes have a way of growing up.
On top of that, Tampa has taken a smart tack with the obvious keepers--locking them up to long-term deals to ensure that when their maturation happens, it happens in a Tampa Bay uniform.
The Red Sox have caught on to this, and have been taking a kind of dual approach in recent years, cultivating more of their own prospects and balancing them with free-agent acquisitions to stay competitive from all sides, and trading prospects only for significant value. It's taken the Yankees a little while longer, but of late prospects like Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Shelley Duncan have also been making their way toward New York's big-league roster.
This market isn't like the free-agent market. It's not solely a matter of money (though extra cash can allow the big-market teams to take risks the small-market teams can't). It's more a matter of scouting and shrewd business development. All of this adds up to a quiet war between the AL East's GMs over the last five years, just starting to manifest itself on the field.
Much as I despise when the Sox are on the losing end of it, even I have to admit that what's happening is good for the division. Better competition makes baseball more appealing in more markets. In the long run, even Sox bigots like myself have reason to want that, because it gives the Sox a more vibrant and meaningful context.
I know this, and yet like some others, that didn't stop me from wanting to bust some heads when that Fisher-Price My First Baseball Team thought they'd throw on a little "Sweet Caroline" to seal the sweep. Let's also not forget how much of a role injuries have played for the
Sox so far this season--and if that's less of a factor in the second
half, Boston hegemony over the sports world may yet continue. The season ain't over yet, fellas, and that kind of behavior has been known to come back and bite you when there's still baseball left to play.
P.S. Housekeeping note: I'm on vacation for the next week, so not sure how good I'll be about posting...