Monday, October 12, 2009

The Hub of Broken Hearts

Another season that began with so much hope, sits dashed on the rocks this morning, as the California Angels accomplished what they’ve been trying to do since 1986—beat the Red Sox in the postseason. What was supposed to be the Sox’ strong suit—pitching, and in particular, the vaunted bullpen—gave away the game, one that clearly should have been won.

Much like the Shaughnessy-invented “curse of the Bambino,” another overused, and in my opinion, useless phrase is, “2004 changed everything.” Yeah, probably for those bandwagon riders, many female that now make it impossible for the cult of the longsuffering to find tickets to the games, but dues-paying lifers to the club knows that 2004 changed nothing for the many that know baseball is a marathon, not a spring, and as fatalists, know that every Red Sox loss could be the beginning of the unraveling of a season.

I still contend that most sports fans are morons, but some of RSN recognized chinks in the team’s armor long before October’s shadows graced Fenway’s green manor. Back in spring training, the incessant talk of too much pitching rattled around the echo chamber of Boston sports writers and their tendency to repeat one another. The rigors, strain, and torque visited on arms and bodies necessary to throw a baseball upwards of 90 miles per order can sideline the best of pitchers. Who would have guessed back in March that the season would hang on the inconsistent Game 3 slants of Clay Buchholz?

Two weeks ago, I grabbed Steward O’Nan and Stephen King’s Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Fans Chronicle The Historic 2004 Season off the library shelf, mainly to hate on King and possibly pen an essay about his over-inflated ego and the self-importance that attends some of the book. I’ve been reading it for the past week in snippets, between the overly long commercial breaks that plague televised baseball, and occasionally in bed, before sleep overtakes me. Instead of King’s ego getting in the way, I’ve found the book an interesting work of history that helps put the past three seasons in an entirely new context. To those of you that think “2004 changed everything,” I have two words for you and an accompanying gesture—fuck you!! (ok, enough of the potty mouth, and maybe a bit harsh, but good lord, many long-suffering Sox fans never got to experience 2004's WS win, kicking it before seeing their team break a streak of futility that dated back to 1918, curse, or no curse--jb).

Yes, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and again in 2007—so what? The Yankees have won a total of 26 compared to a mere six for the Red Sox, and my prediction is that they’re on their way to #27 this year. Who the hell is going to stop them? With all due respect to the Angels, a gutsy group of gamers in their own right, watching the Yanks take two swings last night and turn Carl Pavano’s strong performance for the Twins into another “nice try” by a Yankees’ opponent convinced me that it will take a Herculean effort to derail the evil empire.

Red Sox fans might be staring another postseason drought of three years (2000-2002), or longer squarely in the face.

While I’m a big fan of Jon Lester, Beckett’s been a disappointment two postseasons in a row. Buchholz showed me something during parts of August and much of September that I had been looking for from him, still I’m not convinced he’s matured enough to become the type of big game pitcher the club needs.

I'm more optimistic about the pitching, thinking it will be ok heading into 2010, with Lester heading a decent staff, I still have my concerns about Beckett, and Dice-K, and it appears the Wakefield years in Boston are over. However, we may be looking at another throwback string of fourth and fifth starters the likes of Frank Castillo, John Burkett, and Brad Penny next summer. Buchholz could win 14, or 15 games, Lester might once and for all harness his electric stuff and have the career season I thought he’d finally have this year. With a greater commitment to training, Matzusaka could win in double figures. Still, Papelbon (Papel-fuck, as I “affectionately” call him) was shaky all season, culminated by yesterday’s meltdown (even Hendu throwing out the first pitch couldn’t save the loveable lunkhead). Who closes next year?

[Papelbon leaves field in 8th, after surrendering the season (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) ]

As for the offence, fans saw an anemic club that the likes of Lackey, Weaver, and Kazmir (while they got to him, it was a surprise to me, given his previous history against the Sox), not exactly Cy Young candidates, shut down. Right now, the Sox have a lineup that can’t hit the good pitchers. Yes, they pad their stats against Triple-A caliber staffs that clubs like Baltimore, Kansas City, Toronto (save Halladay), and the rest of the AL consist of. Against stud pitchers, however, Ortiz, Lowell, Drew, and most of the Sox lineup is overmatched. That won’t change next season.

Baseball’s basically over for me, closing the book on 2009. Now it’s on to basketball and the Celts (and possibly a few Red Claws’ games), and hockey with the Bruins.

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