Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Looking to the postseason...hesitantly

With the start of the football season I've been negligent in talking about the Red Sox, and for that Mom, I apologize (the insinuation here is that only my Mom reads what I write -- which might be more accurate than I'd like to admit. But I digress...). Last weekend the Sox took two of three from the Yankees, and Monday night they beat the Devil Rays to secure a spot in the playoffs.

And to say that a few months ago I was skeptical about Bostons' chances of returning to the postseason is like saying the Kevin Millar is "kinda goofy." Either way, I hesitantly admit that the 2004 version of the Red Sox looks even better than the 2003 team (I'm hesitant not because I don't think this year's team is better, but instead because one misstep on my part -- one unintended thought or comment misconstrued as a hex or jinx -- could lead to a string of losses that would extend Boston's current run of futility).

This last sentence actually is proof that (1) I suffer from some form of neuroses, and (2) it's in all likelihood due to the fact that I'm a Red Sox fan. My "other" teams, the UNC Tarheels and Pittsburgh Steelers have all had success in the not to distant past. The Heels won the National Champhionship in 1957, 1982 (with some freshman named Buzz Peterson) and 1993 (with the only guy in UNC history goofier than Peterson, Eric Montross). The Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons starting in 1974, and they were last in the big game in 1996 (with a real chance to return in 2001, but the Pats came out of nowhere and dashed those dreams). To the casual fan, 1957 and 1974 seems like an awful long time ago, but when UNC won their first National Championship, the Red Sox were 39 years removed from their last World Series.

I suspect Cubs fans suffer similar maladies as Red Sox fans, except their futility seemingly knows no bounds. I mean really, the Red Sox actually beat the Cubs in their last World Series matchup (1918, in case you'd somehow forgotten), and at the time, the Red Sox were considered the team to beat (anyone under the age of 100 has never seen "Red Sox" and "team to beat" so close together in a sentence -- unless of course, you only read Peter Gammons).

So all of this is a long-winded way of saying I'm cautiously optimistic. There are still a million things that can go wrong between now and the last pitch of the World Series, but maybe this really is the year. But before we start popping champagne bottles all over the place (Photo above excluded, of course. By the way, is this the most ridiculous thing you've seen since Millar did his Paris Hilton video impersonation? Ok, he didn't take off his clothes -- and he was only lip-syncing Springsteen, but I've always had the sneaking suspicion that if we ever saw the end of that tape, we'd see Millar doing something really weird, like making out with a framed photo of David Cassidy or slow-dancing with stuffed animals that look like Manny Ramirez. Ok, it's official, I've lost it completely), here are a few things that worry me:

Terry Francona. Last Friday during the Red Sox - Yankees series, Pedro was obviously gassed at one point late in the game and instead of taking him, Terry Francona fumbled around the dugout, flipped through some charts and then promptly sat back down. Of course Pedro proceeded to get shelled, which then led to -- no surprise -- Francona taking him out of the game. Does this sound at all familiar? what the hell was Francona waiting for? The only redeeming thing that came from all of this is that the fans booed him mercilessly as he walked to and from the mound. In part because he was a dope for leaving Pedro in too long and also because he was an even bigger dope for bringing in B.K. Kim the night before.

In the grand scheme of things, this guy has a pretty easy job. He's basically a puppet for Theo and to a lesser extent, Bill James (and that's not a bad thing). All he should be doing in the dugout (in between blank stares into space) is checking whichever chart tells him what to do based on the latest geeky stat-based analysis. I guess things could really be simple -- Theo could just put an earpiece and some electrodes on Francona and then relay information to him through one of the Dr. Evil consoles. If he doesn't respond (perhaps because he's in one of his trances), Theo can then shock the crap out of him until he snaps out of it.

The Yankees. These guys have a knack for winning seemingly unwinnable games, getting timely hits off of seemingly unhittable pitchers and doing an overall good job of making my baseball-viewing experience a miserable one -- especially during the postseason. That said, the Red Sox have pretty much had their way with the Yankees this season. And maybe another sign that things are changing is the fact that apparently behind A-Rod's back, a lot of Yankees are calling him "The Cooler," because he cools off every team he plays on.

Speaking of A-Rod -- I said this in February and I still feel this way -- I'm glad the Red Sox didn't end up getting this guy. Do you realize what kind of nerd you have to be to make Derek Jeter actually seem cool? On the surface A-Rod says the right things, always smiles, and seems like a solid guy (except when he's getting donkey punched by Jason Varitek), but you get the impression that he tries so hard to please everybody that he ends up coming off as disingenuous (I've always hated when people speculated on why people do what they do -- kind of like what I'm doing here with A-Rod -- but I willingly admit as much, so that should count for something, right?).

Plus, in recent days Pedro has called the Yankees "his daddy" (the media got worked up about his comments, but I actually thought they were kind of funny), and Johnny Damon admitted that it might be a good idea if the Red Sox and Yankees didn't meet in the playoffs (of course he was referring to the fact that these teams see too much of one another, not that he was afraid Boston couldn't beat New York).

Kevin Millar and Derek Lowe. Look, I've taken my shots at both of these goofballs -- especially early in the season (see here, here, here, and here), but I also must admit that in the last third of the season, both Millar and Lowe have played pretty well. And while I haven't stated it explicitly, Millar has gotten some really big hits down the stretch (in case you're wondering, I already apologized to Lowe). Still, I'm not keeping my fingers crossed on this run of good fortune (You know, like when you put on a pair of pants and find money in the pocket, you can't expect it to happen every time you put on a pair of pants, right?).

Plus, Lowe is one catcall away from having Dr. Phil make visits to the mound between batters. I heard that people have actually seen him in bars in Boston and he's yelling things like, "I'm the worst ever!" and "I suck!"

A quick aside. When I say "I heard," what I really mean is that I heard it something like 15th hand. Do you remember in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, when Ben Stein (as the high school history teacher) is taking attendance and a student explains why Ferris is absent? Not really? Well here's the exchange (which is eerily similar to how I found out about D.Lowe yelling at himself in public):


GIRL'S VOICE: He's sick. (pause) My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with a girl who saw Ferris pass-out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious.

TEACHER'S VOICE (weary): Thank you, Simone.

Just substitute my name for "girl's voice" and substitute "Ferris" for "Derek Lowe" and you basically have the conversation. Anyway, both Lowe and Millar could prove to be the wildcards as the Red Sox play the, er, wild card in the AL -- which definitely gives me cause for concern.

So, heading into the playoffs, I really am optimistic. Seriously. But if any of the things I described above go south, I reserve the right to change my opinion.