Sunday, October 9, 2005

White is the New Red � Sox Reign is Over

Well, it�s really hard to accept that it�s over, but at least we didn�t lose to the Yankees! Friday�s game was painful to watch, but I have to comment just so I can put it behind me. Don�t worry, this will be my last post about baseball this season � they�re out of it, and my interest has just dropped to zero � I don�t really care now who wins � could very well be the Yankees too � whatever. The Nation grieves, and the what-if season has officially begun.

Up until the 6th inning on Friday, I was still of the firm belief the Red Sox would win the series in 5. Even I can see they don�t have the mojo from last year, but if the chips fell their way, I still think they had a chance to repeat as champs. That said, Game 3 summed up so much about why this was not in the cards. All their shortcomings were exposed, and the baseball gods really evened things out with this series.

- First, Ortiz and Manny did all you could ask for � 3 solo homers, and all their offence. They�ve been carrying the offense all year � just like Ruth and Gehrig � but you need more than that to win � and the Sox got nothing out of everyone else. They win when they hit as a team � just the way Chicago came out smoking in Game 1. But when it�s just a couple of guys producing, they are very beatable. LOB � left on base � has been their Achilles Heel all year. I read they went 4 for 23 with men in scoring position this series � Manny and Papi can hit all the solo homers they want � but you gotta bring the runners home. And somehow, they still managed to lead the league in offense again. Imagine what they could do if they could fix this LOB problem. As a sidebar, despite being such a homer, I say A-Rod is the MVP, not Ortiz. Now that he�s settling in this year with NY, he�s proven in spades that he�s the best overall player in baseball. No way the Yankees are in the post season without him � same for Ortiz/Sox too. But he does it all, no doubt about it. And to think what might have been if the Red Sox got him � and kept Manny. Sure, A Rod/Sheffield/Matsui is an awesome combo, but A Rod/Manny/Ortiz would be out of sight � 3 guys hitting .300 with 40+ homers and 120+ RBIs � that�s fantasy league material, for sure.

- The 6th inning of Game 3. This one will no doubt go down in Sox lore as the most painful half hour ever of going from hope to glee to doubt to despair and then impnding doom. Nobody takes you to the edge and then pulls you back like the Red Sox. How do you go from a thrilling home run by Manny to make it a game again � to loading the bases with none out � to bringing Varitek in to pinch hit � to not even bringing in the tying run, and not even getting a ball out of the infield? El Duque somehow came through. Who knew? They would have had a better chance against Rivera.

- Chicago�s insurance run in the 9th really typified the bullpen woes. Timlin has generally been effective, even as a closer, but he never makes it easy. Sure enough after Papelbon, etc. had held the fort after lifting Wakefield, Timlin comes in and gives up a hit, which soon came to score on some sloppy defence. He�s been a big part of their success this year, but of course when needed the most, something always seems to go wrong.

- That said, while everyone seems to harp on pitching being the big problem, I don�t agree. I think it�s the lack of offense that killed them. Sure, Clement got bombed, and he�s been off his game ever since Crawford�s line drive knocked him out, but he only gave up 5 of those 14 runs. On that day, I don�t think it mattered who was pitching � Chicago was just so pumped up, and everything went their way. That was a one-off thing, but in a 5 game series it carries a lot of weight. Anyhow, the Sox starters pitched well enough to win Games 2 and 3, and with Schilling due for Game 4, there�s every reason to believe they would have tied things up for a Game 5 � if the offense did its thing. Well, it didn�t � 9 runs in 3 games gets you swept, and that�s what happened. At home the Sox normally score 9 runs a game. They had lots of chances to do this, but plain and simple, Chicago�s pitching was the story. Good pitching beats good hitting, right?

- The Bill Buckner Moment. Can you believe how eerily similar Graffanino�s error was in Game 2 to Buckner�s in the 1986 World Series? Scary. Well, the Red Sox have been hurt by poor defence many times this year, although Graffanino is pretty sure-handed. So, it came back to haunt them again, and this one probably cost them the series, even more than Game 3�s 6th inning. They had Chicago � up 4-0 � their only lead of the series. It was looking so good � go back to Fenway with a tie, bailed out yet again by David Wells. Then it all fell apart and before you know it, it�s 5-4. What if, what if?

- Schilling was never a factor in this series. How different is that from last year? The ace, the hero, the savior � he did it all in 2004 � he�s right up there in the Nation with Yaz in �67. The rotation just didn�t work out, and you�d have to wonder � even at less than 100% - how things might have turned out if he got a chance to start.

- Terry Francona was out-managed by Ozzie Guillen. Hats off to Oz � he just made all the right moves at the right time, esp putting his ace in to face Ortiz in the 8th inning of Game 2. Tito is a good manager, but he makes his share of questionable moves. Looks to me like Guillen is the one making all the right moves now, and is picking up where Francona�s magic has worn off.

- Chicago got all the breaks and did all the little things right. This was part of what the Red Sox had going for them last year, like the way Bellhorn�s homer to bury the Yankees was j-u-s-t fair, clanging off the foul pole in right. The White Sox had it all going in this series, esp on defence. Over and over, there were times when the Red Sox looked to be on the verge of getting a big inning going � when one hit would just set the table. They had so many sharply hit balls that last year would have been hits. But this time, Chicago�s fielders made great plays or were in perfect position. Konerko�s diving stab late in the game Friday � I think it was Nixon that he robbed � was a game-saver to me. The little things too � guys on Chicago who didn�t hit a homer or steal a base all year � come through with these in the series. They had the mojo, no doubt about it � just like we did last year.

- The baseball gods always have the last say. You just knew that Renteria would come up in the 9th and make the final, meek out. Just the way he did against his new team last year to end the World Series. No doubt he�ll be wondering how to top that one next year. And of course, it�s only right that just as the Red Sox swept through the 2004 post season a perfect 8-0, they quickly exit going the other way, swept out in 3 games. You could certainly argue they�ve been living on borrowed time with 9 lives � squeaking by Cleveland to make the wild card on the last day of the season. Despite having the same regular season record as the Yankees, NY wins the division yet again. Oy. And then, you have to look at the bigger picture and realize the Red Sox � believe it or not � do not have a monopoly on baseball futility. The city of Chicago owns that title outright � way more than Boston. In fairness, their teams have never been as consistently competitive as the Red Sox, nor have they had a true nemesis like the Yankees to remind them of their second-class status. That said, 1917 and 1908 are the benchmarks for Chicago�s teams, and if you ask me, the White Sox are looking a lot like the 2004 Red Sox. I say it�s their year, which works for me if you go in reverse chronology. The Red Sox updated their 1918 title, and the gods are saying it�s time for Chicago to take care of 1917. Shoeless Joe must be smiling.

So, what does Theo do now? Blow the whole thing up? Maybe. In many ways, despite all the things that went right in 2005, the emperor has no clothes. The rotation and bullpen both need major overhauls and the bench has no depth. There has been less harmony in the clubhouse than last year. A lot of hope is riding on Schilling and Foulke coming back healthy and in winning form. If not, this team is in trouble. I think there will be a lot of changes in the off season, and I think a lot of players know the team has past its peak and it�s time to move on. My prediction is that a number of key players won�t be back � Damon, Millar, Olerud, Ramirez, Arroyo, Wells, Timlin, Miller, Myers. I think they will all move on or be dealt. Yes, Manny. Would hate to see him go, but he�s got his ring, and maybe the Mets will finally pony up to reunite him with Pedro and put him in front of their huge Latin fan base. They've lost big stars like Pedro and the Rocket, and life went on. What they really need are younger, faster hitters and pitchers � guys like Carl Crawford. If there�s any consolation, the Yankees are in no better shape, and they need re-tooling even more. Sure will be interesting to see how their chess game will unfold. Until then, I�ll try to find a way to believe that the Patriots still have some game left and keep at least one 2005 title in the New England trophy case.

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