An Historic Performance

The first 11 responses to a Google search one minute ago of <historic collapse>–not  <historic collapse Boston> or  <historic collapse baseball> or  <historic collapse sports>–concern the Red Sox’ failure to make the playoffs after holding a 9-game wild-card lead 26 days ago.  Under the first response, from–“With historic collapse, Red Sox miss playoffs“–Google helpfully provides a link to “6309 related articles.”  One need not dive deeply into this echoing tale of woe to read that “Boston became the first team to miss the postseason after leading by as many as nine games for a playoff spot entering September . . .”  The story line is familiar.  Before 2004 it’s what Red Sox fans expected, just one more way for the team to shatter objectively-reasonable hopes. Now the 2004 ALCS comeback over the Yankees, the World Series Sweeps of the Cards and Rockies, the hype about this being the “best team ever”look like feints to set up the biggest sucker punch yet: “the greatest choke in baseball history.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, your 2011 Boston Red Sox.

C’mon, Sox

Today I renewed my Red Sox season tickets for the 2010 season.   Always on the lookout to increase my frequent flyer mile account I was happy that the Sox said on the form I could pay by credit card directly at the Sox website.  I logged into the site, found the 2010 season ticket renewal menu, and started through the prompts.  Indeed I could pay by credit card–but only at the gross price, without getting credit for the $3,400 the Sox owe me for 2009’s unused playoff tickets. The process may have provided for this credit later but I chose not to advance past the window that told me my credit card would be charged if I took one more step.  I’ve made the Red Sox one interest-free loan this fall.  I’ll decline the chance to make another.  I logged out of the site and wrote a check for the net 2010 ticket balance.

How hard is it, really, to give renewing season ticket holders credit for unused playoff tickets?  Is this how you cope with having to pay the credit card provider’s merchant transaction fee? Bad form, Red Sox.

Fun at Fenway

Yesterday’s Red Sox-Yankees game may have been the most entertaining baseball game I’ve seen live.  Not the best baseball, but the most over-the-top baseball show.  The 4 hour 21 minute long game featured six lead changes, 28 hits, 15 walks, 16 runners left on base (12 by NY), 6 home runs, 7 Yankee and 5 Red Sox pitchers throwing a total of 386 pitches (215 by the Sox), over 37,000 fans, and untold sunburns from the first hot day of spring (82 degrees at the 4:10 PM start).  The Sox came back from six runs down in the 4th inning and once they were back in the game I felt they would win.  It was a wonderful day at the ballpark in this new era of the Sox-Yankees rivalry, when the Sox collapse is not inevitable.   Judy and I had a great time but I’m glad I don’t have tickets for tonight’s game, which starts at 8:00 PM because it is on national tv.  I’m still tired from yesterday.

Lists, official and unofficial

This morning, before the 2:00 PM release of the official Mitchell Report on use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, an email circulated with a purported list of dirty players. Some of the names on the unofficial list did not appear in the Mitchell Report, including Jason Varitek, Nomar Garciappara, Johnny Damon, Carl Everett, Rich Garces, Trot Nixon, Jose Offerman, and Julian Tavarez. A global search of current and former Red Sox on the unofficial list reveals that of its 77 names at least eight–over ten percent–of the players do not appear in Mitchell’s report. (ESPN prepared a list of those named in the official report.)

What’s up with that? Who propagated this unofficial list? How many others does it name erroneously? It’s hard to understand how this list could be so wrong if it was assembled in good faith, which suggests it wasn’t. So what’s the story?

Red Sox 2, Rockies 1

Schilling looked shaky in the first and Sox hitters were uncharacteristically impatient early in the game, the Rockies needing only 19 pitches to record the first six outs. Then Schilling found a rhythm, the batters worked pitch counts, the crowd found voice, and the game settled into a 2-1 Sox lead when Okajima replaced Schilling in the 5th with one out and two Rockies on. It turned into what Schilling called the “PapaJima (Pap and Jima?) Show.” Or, maybe we can say that the Rockies were OkaBonned. A rose by any other name still amounts to Boston’s bullpen stalwarts recording the final 11 outs with only one hit, Matt Holiday’s rocket single that Papelbon somersaulted to avoid. Holiday stayed on first just long enough for Papelbon to pick him off for the final out of the 8th inning, Holiday so far astray when Youkilis made the tag that we could see daylight between the bag and Holiday’s prone body from our right field box seats, 350 feet away.

Sox v Rox Game 2

There was a new wrinkle last night in Papelbon’s ritual entry into the game. After the fist-bump, Wild Thing, and pause on the infield grass, as Papelbon fired his warm-up bullets to Varitek, the Dropkick Murphys’ I’m Shipping Up to Boston blasted through the air. This–backdrop to Papelbon’s signature Irish jig, poundingly rhythmic and loud–is a great stadium song, 30,000+ voices joining the Murphys’ lead singer’s rough voice roaring the chorus “I’m shipping up to Boston (whaa-ahh-ohh).” It was an electric and thrilling moment out of too many to count. An amazing night in Fenway. Thomas Boswell captures it: “[T]his Series deserved a taut, one-run game, a contest of nerve, a game that was as much exquisite excruciation as simple pleasure. And, in the end, it needed old heroes, men who knew the stakes because they grasp the game. That’s exactly what the Red Sox provided with a 2-1 victory that will probably be remembered as the fulcrum of this Series.”

Sox Dance Into World Series

A few days ago the New York Times ran a story–Are the Red Sox Ready to Become the Yankees?–that asked whether the Sox are ready “to replace the Yankees as the team the nation loves to hate.” Somehow the notion exists that Sox fans take more pleasure from the franchise’s history of heart-breaking collapse than they do from success. Wrong. We managed to embrace the Patriots’ transformation from laughing stock to NFL franchise of the decade, and we’ll cope with our high expectations for the Red Sox. And no matter how successful, the Red Sox will not become the Yankees. It’s hard to imagine the Bosses Steinbrenner putting up with their pin-striped players’ dancing on the field during post-game celebrations.

Woe is the Sox

This afternoon I heard the beginning of Sox manager Terry Francona’s call-in on WEEI’s Dale and Holly show. “Tito” they began, “it’s very difficult to get people in Boston to agree on anything, so I want to congratulate you: everyone agrees you are the reason the Red Sox are down 3 games to 1 with Cleveland in the ALCS.” Francona laughed genuinely and said “Thanks. Thanks for sharing that with me.” You have to give Francona credit for that much. If the Sox lose on Thursday night–and Cleveland has completely outplayed them since game one last Friday–the Fellowship of the Miserable (Rick Patino’s greatest and most lasting contribution to Boston sports history) will be at full froth until Opening Day in 2008.

CLE 6, NYY 4

Cleveland beats New York 3-1 in the ALDS. “[T]he Yanks have now gone out in the first round three straight years and, going back to their epic collapse against the Red Sox in 2004, they have lost 13 of their last 17 playoff games.”

An ALCS in Fenway without the psychological baggage that comes with playing the Yankees? Starting down a road to the World Series that travels through Cleveland, not the Bronx? For Yankees’ fans it’s wait ’til next year, for Red Sox fans it’s wait ’til next week? These are strange, refreshing concepts for Sox fans.

The Closer

Yesterday’s heavy rain (the mid-day sky turned end-of-the-world black at 3:30 and 6:00 PM) caused the Red Sox to postpone last night’s game versus Detroit to today, creating a day-night doubleheader. I had no classes, exams, grades to submit, committee meetings, or other academic responsibilities and attended the game with one of my sons. The game featured strong pitching from both teams, moving at a good pace (love those ground ball outs) and resulting less than three hours later in a 2-1 Sox win. Julian Tavarez allowed the one run in his seven innings and Hideki Okajima pitched a one-two-three 8th, setting up a save opportunity in the 9th.

Jonathan Papelbon’s save was the highlight. The Fenway atmosphere turns electric before Papelbon shows his face, as cheers of anticipation grow and the crowd gets to its feet. Fans in the bleachers who can see into the Sox bullpen cheer louder as they see Papelbon approach and open the bullpen gate. He steps onto the warning track, bumps fists with the on-duty cop, and then pauses for a moment just outside the bullpen, head down, as Wild Thing blasts from the speakers. The crowd goes nuts. After the pause he methodically steps across the warning track until he touches the outfield. When his feet hit the grass he jogs to the mound. This ritual is becoming as familiar as Larry Bird wiping his hands on the soles of his sneakers or Nomar compulsively adjusting his batting gloves between pitches. Papelbon’s serious, almost solemn approach to each step enhances the effect, as if each one layers him with another piece of mental armor. As he warms up the announcer intones “Now pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Jonathan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Papelbon!” and the roars, cheers, and applause climax. With everyone continuing to stand Papelbon finishes warming up, grips the ball as the batter stands in, peers intently under his visor at the catcher (Mirabelli this afternoon), winds up, and throws a strike. More cheers. Every strike sends a jolt through the crowd. 13 pitches (11 strikes), two swinging strikeouts, and a 5-3 ground ball out later Papelbon pumps his fist and the opening chords of Dirty Water signal the Sox victory as the crowd, smiling as one, leave the Park. It’s a quintessential Boston experience.