Gloom is more respectful of tradition, but I could never help being an optimist. A Red Sox fan, yes, and an optimist, even before 2004. Expect the worst, but hope for the best. It's still my policy.
When we headed to LA last week, I expected the worst. They’d pounded us in eight of nine games, so why stop there? But I hoped for the best. We’d faced the AL East all season, while LA swatted down the scary Mariners and A’s, and with that idiotic monkey…
No, no need to dwell on the monkey. It’s probably fighting to keep its job now, and why beat a fellow primate when it’s down?
The Red Sox took that glorious series in four. They stepped it up, Sox Style, all down the order. And oh, those winning moments! Bay’s performance was enough to set off a whole new wave of bad puns. Drew, fresh off the DL, homered when we needed him most. Lowrie came through with a ninth-inning hit that renewed all my guilty joy over Lugo’s bad break. Jon Lester was Jon Lester. And when Varitek pulled an Ellsbury and actually outran Willits for the out on that botched squeeze… Well, it’s a moment I’ll cherish forever (suicide squeeze? You bet).
So we made it. Now on to Tampa Bay.
This season, the Sox won only one game at the Trop, and we optimists may be back on the defensive. The upstart Rays, the Cinderella team, the Disney Movie Waiting to Happen will not make our lives easy. On their turf, we’ve looked miserable. We’re going to a place where for six months we could not win, to take on the Frodos of baseball. We’re the villains this time, so they say. And it could be the Rays have our number.
But I say, not a chance.
Without further ado, here’s an optimists’ catalog: ten things Boston's got that Tampa Bay doesn’t, ten small signs that these Red Sox of ours can take anything:
1. Dustin Pedroia’s Uniform:
It’s one of life’s great certainties: one inning into any Red Sox game, Dustin Pedroia will look like he hasn’t changed in a week. The guy honestly does not know how not to dive after a ball hit his way—or one not hit his way, for that matter. If there’s a ball in play, Pedroia pretty much dives. “Baseball’s answer to the Jack Russell terrier”? Could be. Dirt Dog? You bet. And he’s a horse. He might even be MVP.
2. Kevin Youkilis’s Beard:
To borrow from the guys at Surviving Grady, “Some baseball players were just meant to look like filthy degenerates. Kevin Youkilis is one of them.” Those who doubt this need only revisit the photos of Youk’s black eye from last June: this man was born to look scary. Cross him at your peril, Tampa Bay.
3. Jason Varitek’s “C”:
The Sox didn’t have to put that “C” on Tek’s chest to prove he’s captain. This isn’t hockey. But you watch Tek play, decked out in the full body armor, blocking the plate, taking head-on collisions as needed, and just generally being the dirt dog he is, and maybe hockey isn't so far off.
Granted, the Captain is usually pretty soft-spoken in interviews. Why shouldn’t he be? He knows he can break you. He knows you know it too, and if you don’t believe me just try messing with his pitching staff.
4. Jason Bay’s Last Name:
My first reaction when I heard Bay was coming to Boston, even before, “they really traded Manny?” and “Who’s Jason Bay?” was, “Oh brother. The sportswriters are going to love this one.”
Sometimes, you can see the puns coming from miles and miles away.
The fact that Bay has made it this far and is playing this well without yet being beaten down by the sheer weight of terrible puns tells me this is one tough human being. Yeah, Bay-bee, you better believe it.
5. David Ortiz’s Smile:
Oh yes, that is the smile of a man who quite possibly heals sick children with hugs. It’s also the smile of a man who knows that even with a broken wrist, he can hit the ball farther than you can. But he thinks it’s awfully cute you still try.
6. Jacoby Ellsbury’s Feet:
The really great part of this ALCS will come in Game Two, when Jacoby takes off running on an ordinary base hit, reaches warp speed, and crosses home plate before the ball has actually left his bat. It’s only a shame we won’t see it clearly on TV, film speeds being what they are. (Later in this same game, Coco Crisp will attempt to duplicate the feat but will fall just short, instead merely achieving liftoff and causing game delays while we wait for him to stop lapping the Trop’s roof).
7. Jonathan Papelbon’s Right Fist:
If there’s an opportunity for an emphatic fist pump and a good loud yell, Jonathan Papelbon will not miss it, and the playoffs are packed with these opportunities. You think he’d let the Rays stand in his way? Not Paps. He’ll be fist-pumping clear to the World Series.
8. Jon Lester’s immune system:
Look: the fact is, compared to, say, death, a few guys with little wooden sticks just aren’t that scary. And the fact that he’s a no-hit pitcher, a world series winner, and has yet to allow a single earned run in postseason play, well, those things don’t hurt either.
9. Josh Beckett:
Just, don't mess with him. 'K?
10. The Red Sox:
Yeah, that’s the last one, for this list at least. The Red Sox have the Red Sox, and that’s no copout finish.
This team has self-assuredness and an October-ready attitude that you can spot in the greenest rookies as much as in the battle-scarred vets. They have professionalism. They have grit. They stick to Tito’s rules: “Play hard, play the game right. [. . .] And, if you can’t follow that, you got some issues.” And the way they stick together and stick up for one another, fight for each other and celebrate together, sometimes you'd swear this bunch is a family, as much as a team.
(Right. And if that sounds like the maudlin ramblings of a punchy, play-off crazed fan still writing at 3:00 AM, there’s a reason for that. But that doesn’t make it any less true.)
That’s 10 things Tampa Bay doesn’t have. 10 things Tampa Bay can’t get.
So somebody hand Pedroia another clean jersey, and bring on the ALCS!