Friday, July 04, 2003

A Way of Talking About Betterment

Glad to know it's not just fans like myself who have this feeling:

"I personally think these games hurt more than losing to the Yankees," catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "We are a team that's supposed to come in and beat these guys [Tampa Bay]. When we don't, we've got to look in the mirror and figure out what went wrong" (Horrigan, Herald).

Yes, the losses in games everyone feels the team is expected to win hurt more in some sense. For me it's not a gut wrenching ache but more of a "here we go again … why, why, why does this happen?" kind of hurt.

And I'm starting to feel myself slipping, and behind the scenes having trouble maintaining my optimistic, take-it-day-by-day persona I try my best to project. See, deep down, secretly, I really didn't expect the Red Sox to win this series with Tampa Bay.

Now I don't know what hurts more, the fact that Boston did indeed drop 2 of 3 to cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay ("which had gone 0-12-1 in its previous 13 series dating back to mid-May" as Horrigan points out) or that I was expecting the worse and possibly fed into the collective negative energy and that it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Next up the Yankees. Alex from Bronx Banter e-mailed me yesterday asking if I was "nervous" about the upcoming series. And, yeah, I'm nervous but not really for the team but rather for having to face up to my own personal demons. Losing to the Yankees brings out the worst in me, a wicked self-loathing, self-pity attack that tends to blacken every aspect of my life. Such feelings, then, prompt my internal questions along the lines of why I do this to myself and what does it say about me that I get so wrapped up in what is just a game? It's not a pretty sight, but I know I'm not alone among Red Sox fans in having these thoughts.

But as Giamatti writes,

'Winning' for player or spectator is not simply outscoring; it is a way of talking about betterment, about making oneself, one's fellows, one's city, one's adherents, more noble because of a temporary engagement of a higher human plane of existence (Take Time for Paradise).

I want to win. I want to beat the Yankees. I want to be on that higher human plane of existence however fleeting it may be.

Have a great Independence Day Weekend and root, root, root for the Red Sox!

Thursday, July 03, 2003

The Princess and the Pea

At the risk of reiterating what the both the Globe and Herald are leading with this morning, I just have to say that I, too, find this club's elasticity after tough losses worthy of praise:

Rather than losing confidence, slinging mud at the beleaguered bullpen or allowing the effects of the deflating losses to linger, the Sox have proven to be as resilient as a tightly tethered bungee jumper, with the bounce-back ability of a schoolyard superball (Horrigan, Herald).

Of course, this being Boston, where the media are kissing cousins with the Princess and the Pea (you know the chick who was so sensitive to the least little irritant that she could still feel a pea through twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds?), there just has to be something to be something to fuss about.

"Oh terribly bad!" said the princess [when asked how she had slept]. "I have hardly closed my eyes the whole night! Heaven knows what was in the bed. I seemed to be lying upon some hard thing, and my whole body is black and blue this morning. It is terrible!"

And what pray tell is so terrible this morning? What is the pea in the media mattress?

According to princess Cafardo it's that Pedro Martinez is not pitching at least eight innings and preferably the complete game.

What Martinez deserved last night was a chance to preserve a two-run lead provided by Kevin Millar's home run in the top of the eighth.… Again there was this overwhelming need to overprotect Martinez…

Is it not time to stretch out a starting staff that averages nearly a full inning less per start than the Yankees? And more specifically, is it not time to let Martinez decide his own games? (Cafardo, Globe).

Ah, no, it's no time to risk injuring Martinez (again) at this point in the season. And what's with this crap of worrying about what the Yankees are doing with their pitching staff? I'm reminded of the bleat of a whiny 15 year old:

"But, Ma, the Steinbrenner kids get to stay out until 2am and the Cashman's let their kids do the same. Why am I the only one with a curfew?" Boo hoo.

Besides, it's an effort in futility to compare the Yankees staff with the Red Sox staff. The Yankees just have so many more options. They're like the rich guy down the street who has several cars in his garage. If one breaks down, no problem. He bring it in for service and tells the mechanics no hurry and drives off in one of his other cars. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are like those guys who in Cuba who are keeping their '57 Chevy's going because it's all they have. If that car breaks, they're walking or hitching.

Speaking of the Yankees, it looks like our man Mendoza will now be going against Clemens rather than Claussen on Saturday in the Bronx. Light another votive, boys and girls, we need some serious intercession.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Being Ramiro Mendoza

As we've been preparing ourselves for by lighting a votive and leaving novenas in our shrines to Our Lady of the Low ERA,

Ramiro Mendoza, who tossed 14 shutout innings in three minor league rehab starts, is expected to be activated from the disabled list later this week and make his return on Saturday with a start against his former team, the New York Yankees (Horrigan, Herald).

Gulp. I'm going to stoke up some frankincense as well. "Faithful intercessor of all who invoke your special patronage in time of need, help me in my present and urgent petition." And we do have reason to hope for a miracle, with Mendoza as our Lazarus rising from a bullpen crypt:

It was the best I'd seen it [the sinker],'' said Little, who seemed to be endorsing Mendoza as a starter Saturday vs. the Yankees, essentially replacing Byung Hyun Kim, whom Little officially named the team's closer last night."Every pitch was below the knees. Had a lot of life on his pitches. The kid looked good out there. He's anxious to get back and help this team any way he can" (Cafardo, Globe).

But keep your humble knees bent because as pitching coach Wallace warns us, "I think we need to see it in a major league game before we get too excited" (Cafardo).

Man, I want to see Mendoza do well. You know when Burkett has his "stretch of first-inning futility" or when Lyon "literally [throws] the game away" like he did last night, I shrug with disappointment, but I don't feel for those two players. It's just business. Just one of those things.

With Mendoza, on the other hand, it honestly hurts me to see him struggle. I guess this is due to our nascent fears that he may be a sleeper agent for Steinbrenner or otherwise reminding us of the possibility the Yankees pulled a fast one on the newly anointed Red Sox GM Theo Epstein when, in one of the first moves of his tenure, he signed Mendoza, and right then Brian Cashman guffawed?

So get out your worry beads, light your votive candles, don't step on your sidewalk cracks or walk under ladders: Ramiro Mendoza is a Red Sox starter.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

I've Got Your Tragic Sensibility Right Here

Reading The Washington Post's Op-Ed page this morning, this bit from columnist David Ignatius had me choking on my corn flakes:

[The] tragic sensibility -- the sense that in most instances, things do not work out as you might have hoped -- is generally lacking in the American character. Americans are an optimistic people: They have difficulty imagining the worst.

Really? American's have difficulty imagining the worst?

Where the heck does Ignatius hang out anyway? If he thinks there isn't a large contingent of Americans who "grow up in a culture where it is always best to assume the worst," then I guess he's never met a devout Red Sox fan from one of the 5½ New England states.*

For Red Sox fans,"tragic sensibility" is our middle name. Man, I sweat tragic sensibility 24/7, and I'm one of the generally optimistic fans.

I don't know if it was the night off last night that gave me too much time to think or what, but I'm not having any trouble at all imagining the worst about the next two series with Tampa Bay and New York.

Here are a couple bullet points from Gordon Edes' column this morning that go to the heart of my darkness:

  • It was on last July's visit to New York that the Sox suffered devastating back-to-back 9-8 losses to the Bombers, when they could have moved into a first-place tie.
  • Remember? Dustin Hermanson, fresh off the disabled list, couldn't hold a two-run lead after the Sox had scored five times in the eighth inning to overtake the Yankees, and the Sox lost in extra innings.
  • The next day, July 21, the Sox lost again despite hitting five home runs, when Trot Nixon made a costly error, overrunning Bernie Williams's ground-ball base hit, and Ugie Urbina walked Jorge Posada, who had been 0 for 12 with six strikeouts in the series, to force home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
  • That loss dropped the Sox four games behind the Bombers. Two days later, Urbina blew a 4-0 lead in the ninth inning of the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader against Tampa Bay… The Sox would never get closer than four games to the Yankees the rest of the season.

Oh, don't shoot the messenger here: I'm still optimistic. After all, I'm the one yesterday who claimed to have a good gut feeling about Mendoza being moved to the starting rotation — But I don't sit here in some Polyanna bliss unable to imagine anything but total Red Sox victory. I've been around the Boston base paths a bit too often to live in such a state of innocence.

And it isn't just the fans who toss and turn with worry:

"The thing I didn't expect was the emotional ups and downs with every win and loss. It was a lot easier to do as an assistant (under Kevin Towers in San Diego). It has (required) a much more conscious effort to stay focused on the big picture," [Theo] Epstein said yesterday at the virtual midpoint of his inaugural season as general manager of the Red Sox.

"…there have been some nights where I haven't been able to sleep after some of those losses (Massarotti, Herald).

So I don't think there is much lack of tragic sensibility in these parts.

*[By 5½ New England states, I'm referring, of course, to that half of Connecticut that roots for the New York teams and where the populace identify themselves as living in a northern suburb of NYC rather than part of provincial New England.]

Monday, June 30, 2003

The Great Gabe?

The Great Gabe?

I'm using all of my mental energy here to resist the urge to make a "Welcome Back, Kotter" reference when referring to the latest addition to the Red Sox roster, Gabe Kapler. (For those of you naive to 70s pop culture, comic Gabe Kaplan was the star of a hit 1975 sitcom about a group underachieving kids, called sweathogs, in a Brooklyn high school.)

Of course ,by saying I'm not making the reference, I did in fact just make a reference. Damn. But while I'm already out here, I will say this: Welcome Back, Kotter first aired on September 9, 1975. That year should jog your memory a bit; indeed, on that date in '75 the Red Sox were in first place with a 5 game lead over the Orioles and a beautiful 11.5 up on the Yankees. The Red Sox, as you know, when on to win the AL pennant that year finishing at 95w-65l. Coincidentally, this year's club is currently on a pace to win 95 games …

But I digress.

Let's get to the real Gabe Kapler.

Kapler, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and three RBI in his Red Sox debut Saturday night, is now 7-for-9 with two home runs, a triple, two doubles, seven RBI and a slugging percentage of 1.889 in a BoSox uniform.

It's enough to make Kapler an instant favorite with Red Sox fans, who gave him a standing ovation when he came to the plate for the second time yesterday (Connolly, Herald).

Yeah, that'll do it. And you've got to like this kind of biographical info as well:

Kapler, a 27-year-old Californian who speaks in complete sentences and who is going to force the local scribes to upgrade the level of their postgame inquiries. …

Here's the kind of guy Kapler is: He has been known to take a camera on road trips. He gets out and around in each new place. He long ago paid the requisite pilgrimage inside the left-field scoreboard. He's been to Harvard Yard. There's an active mind to go along with that amazing body (Ryan, Globe).

Kaplar sounds like the kind of player who should have his own blog, eh? (Mark my words, it's only a matter of time before you starting seeing more in the way of pro athlete blogs.)

Meanwhile, can you believe tomorrow night's game at Tampa Bay marks the 81st game of the season and official halfway mark on the journey to 162?

This headline from Los Perros more or less sums up my halfway mood:

The Good: Kim Will Close
The Bad: Sox Now 3-1/2 Back
The Ugly: Mendoza to Start Upon Return

You know, I've got this ridiculous gut feeling that Mendoza is going to be OK. (Yeah, I dug out my sunglasses with the rose tinted lenses. Why not?)