...left is right, etc. Ichiro, of all people, lost sight of a ball in the sun of late-afternoon right field at Fenway, letting Jed Lowrie reach third base safely, and then Carl Crawford hit a walkoff single that scored the Legend. And thus, with the first walkoff win of the season, the one game the Red Sox were expected to lose this weekend -- right up until it started today, even when it would mean a sweep -- they won, at the last minute, and in unlikely fashion.
"Unlikely"goes for the Sox in macrocosm, too, so far this season. They have defied every expectation, from the certainty that they would probably flounder during their West Coast swing, to the assumption that they would then feast on the soft underbelly of the Orioles, before returning for another strong homestand.
As it turned out, they went on an ass-kicking rampage in Oakland and Anaheim, inexplicably dropped the series in Baltimore, and did indeed look headed for another blindingly frustrating loss this afternoon before a pitch was even thrown, given the pitching matchup: AARP member Tim Wakefield vs. "King" Felix Hernandez. Sure, piece of cake. Or so, of course, we thought.
It's not that there aren't initial answers to that question. Obviously, one of the chief reasons the Sox have been losing has been their lack of timely hitting with runners in scoring position. The nadir in a string of nadirs in terms of Limp Bat Syndrome came last night, when it looked like the Sox were beginning a comeback in the ninth, only to see Marco Scutaro ground into a double play and Dustin Pedroia fly out with Jarrod Saltalamacchia on base. Today was particularly painful on the bullpen side, with half of New England still scratching its collective head over Terry Francona's decision to pull a surprisingly strong Wakefield for Bobby Jenks with two outs in the top of the sixth.
A broader explanation for the record the Sox are looking at so far this year -- 12-15 even with today's win, still good for the basement in the AL East -- has been timing. Just as famine in one category, like starting pitching, has turned to feast, another has gone suddenly barren, like timely hitting. The bullpen has also taken its fair share of turns in this Crap Relay.
But there are layers of why, and there is a point where the simple facts on paper don't explain everything. There's a question beyond the explanations about runners in scoring position and BABIP, a question whose answer brings you into philosophical territory.
I talked with my Dad about this, recently, telling him I wished I could be a fly on the wall when it came to the starting pitchers' turnaround earlier this season. I wished I could know every detail of mechanics and muscle pulls that had made them suck, and the exact way each starter got back on track. Which is when my Dad shrugged and said, "They probably don't even really know."
My Dad has forgotten more experiences in athletics than I have ever had, but I still didn't quite believe him. I heard Kevin Millar on the radio earlier this season saying to Lou Merloni of the struggles for the Sox, "y'know, this ain't rocket science, what you're watchin' here." And yet part of me still refuses to believe that. This way lies madness, and yet I crave some narrative that weaves together all the whys into the seemingly inexplicable sum of their parts we've seen so far.
Adrian Gonzalez, speaking to Peter Abraham in the Globe, offered at least one situational explanation:
“I should have hit the ball off the left-field fence,’’ he said. “Up and away fastball, I was out in front of it. That’s a ball I drive to left field. It’s not bad luck that I hit it right at him. I should have backed it up a little more and driven it to left the way I know how to do. It’s those little things we’ve got to do better.’’
But again, I will be annoying and say, why? Why was he out in front of it? How does he start 'doing better'? How does an intention become successful execution? And why do so many of these individual situations see to be coming together at once?
...and then there was Youk in the Abraham article:
“Yeah, we just haven’t gotten hits when guys are in scoring position,’’ he said. “So, that’s the bottom line. You have to hit the ball where they’re not when guys are in scoring position. When they get hits, the guys score.
“This game’s pretty easy when it’s on the outside. We get judged a lot around here. What are you going to do? We’re not going to give up.’’
As his teammates claimed their bats and gloves and quietly trudged to the clubhouse, Dustin Pedroia sat alone on the dugout bench with an expression that was equal parts rage and frustration.
“We can’t score, man,’’ said Pedroia, whose usual postgame bravado was reduced to a whisper. “We’re fighting to get it going. It’s frustrating. I’m not even sure what to say.’’
“We’re being tested,’’ Pedroia said. “We have to find a way.’’
Those answers sound a lot more like my Dad's. And so I'm back to square one.
I don't know how Carl Crawford was able to come through in the clutch today any more than I know what happened to give him the yips in the first place this season. I DO know that eking out one win apiece in each of the last two series still isn't what Boston needs to begin clawing its way out of last place, but I still can't really understand how they wound up there to begin with, or why the Red Sox continue to so stubbornly defy every sensible prognositication, both good and bad, that gets made about them as a team.
I am aware that, as a fan in these situations, to paraphrase Tennyson, mine is not really to reason why.
If only I could resist the temptation.