American League Championship Scuffling (A Boston Tradition)

FenWestCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2008

There are losses, and then there are losses. 

These last two were definitive losses. 

They were kick-in-the-gut losses, mind-numbing losses, losses that leave a fan down.  One was a five-and-a-half hour fiasco, and one, a quick, sharp blow to the head

And so, on a sunny California Tuesday morning, I wake in a world where my beloved Sox are down 2-1 in the ALCS. It’s sad. And it’s strikingly familiar!

I don’t need to remind anyone of last year’s comeback, down 3-1 to the Indians. I certainly don’t need to remind you of 2004, when a comeback made history. Scuffling in the ALCS, and then coming back to beat the odds is a team tradition. The Olde Towne Team has always been big on tradition. 

Yes, they’re at it again, those history-loving Sox. It wouldn’t be right to just take a lead in this series. It isn’t done! 

Now, do they remember how the next part goes? 

The scuffling part is down pat, and it’s hard to pin down the low point of the series so far. I imagine most fans will have their own picks. The first time Beckett gave up a lead in Game Two, there was a drop in elevation, I'd say. The second and third times, we were plummeting. The Rays homered off Timlin to win it, and we were very low indeed.   

There was the big inning in Game Three, Lester’s first ever postseason earned runs, and there was the three-run homer off Byrd that closed the coffin on a game already dead. The ball left the park and, moments later, so did half the fans. 

But none of those, to my view, marked the low point.

It was earlier in Game Three, before the Rays lead became insurmountable, and before a few more glimmers of hope had been snuffed. For me, it was in the fourth inning.  

They booed the Captain.

Now, fans of other teams may think me nuts at this point.  Jason Varitek has just completed his career worst offensive season and has yet to hit so much as a single in the ALCS.  There was also a passed ball that helped lead to the Rays first run, this from the catcher who tied for fewest passed balls in the league during regular-season play. Why not boo him, they'll say. But Fenway's own Faithful did, and I reeled in shock.

For any outsiders, let me explain. Varitek is team captain, yes, but it’s more than a title, or relic from "back when he used to hit more." He’s revered for his game-calling, revered for his leadership, and revered for his professionalism.

His pitching staff regularly credits him with making their best games possible. He’s caught more no-hitters than any catcher in history. Players at every position have said that with Tek behind the plate, they always feel they’ve got a good chance of winning. (They’re right, too: The team’s winning percentage when Tek starts at catcher is .602, .458 when he doesn’t).  John Farrell has called him “the most valuable member of our pitching staff.”

He goes all out, every game, in whatever way he can, and fans embraced him long ago as a symbol of the team’s heart and spirit.  He's known as one of the most selfless players in the game. And even when he struggles, he's the leader. He's The Guy Who Shoved A-Rod! He's the backbone.     

Last night, the Faithful booed Tek.

Et tu, Fenway?

When mad enough, or hurt enough, I know anyone will kick. When the crowd started kicking at Varitek, I knew—really knew—we were low. 

Oh, Tek got cheers too, later, when he woke the crowd with that beautiful plate block, saving a run in the eighth. Any momentum that play might have brought, though, died with Baldelli’s homer.

It isn’t only Tek who’s finding this ALCS hard going.

Ellsbury is still 0-for-the-series in leadoff, as is resident slugger David Ortiz in the three-hole. Those are terrifying stats. Youk, Bay, and the Jockey can't pull the whole team's weight!

As for the pitching...Well, you know about that. Beckett was pounded throughout his start, and gave up three separate leads. Surely this is some kind of playoff record. Lester had just one big inning, but that was enough. He was invulnerable no more.  Our own offense never did crack Garza.  

Even the fans have been badly off their game.  Booing Tek was bad enough, and Big Papi got a similar treatment -- both suggesting a frightening epidemic of memory loss in Boston.  It was more than booing icons, though.  The crowd was strangely quiet from the start, and many didn’t stay to see the finish.  Verily, even at Fenway. 

So here we stand. Three games in. 

We aren't done playing yet.

But now Sox fans are in a kerfuffle, and I want full credit for spelling that.

Fans are swarming the message boards and radio call-in shows, telling how they could have managed better, how such and such player needs to be tossed, so and so be benched, how the whole team stinks, etc.

It’s the wounded dog wanting to bite. It’s more spitting in the wind. Perhaps you’ve heard it?   

Take it from the man who got booed last night: “We’re down 2-1, but we’re still in this. Now we need to focus forward and worry about tomorrow.”

Yes, we fans may ache like Tek's neck after last night’s collision. We’re broken like Beckett (who still claims his oblique is just fine, thanks). We’re feeling as sore as Lowell’s hip, as trampled as the Fenway basepath, and we want to kick someone. But we are still in the championship series. The Yankees aren't. The Angels aren't.   

We are down by one game.

One game? A pathetic attempt at falling behind.

Years past, we’ve seen impossible comebacks in this series, each one a thing of sheer beauty. We could always use another gem like that, another little spark of postseason joy to remember.

If we lose again tonight, we can start hoping for one of those. But otherwise, Boston, alas, we’ll have to settle for an ordinary comeback. That type may not be quite as sweet, but it's filling. And it doesn't give you heartburn. 

Here's to the BoSox, championship scufflers. And here's to impossible comebacks!


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