October 15, 2008
The Boston Red Sox that I'd rooted for in my youth were a completely different team.
They had one superstar pitcher (until he became a traitor) and some decent hitters. They had guys like Joe Hesketh, Greg Harris, and Danny Darwin making up the rest of the rotation, and Jeff Reardon—once baseball's all-time saves king—closing things out.
I rooted for Tom Brunansky, Jody Reed, Ellis Burks, and Mike Greenwell. Reed and Wade Boggs would double off the Green Monster to set the table for the Brunanskys, Burkses, and Greenwells.
Well, so in a sense, the Red Sox had one great pitcher, "and a bunch of other guys."
The Red Sox, however, fell short every year, but still, they were my team. Even when they grew into the habit of picking up former league and playoff MVPs (Canseco, Mitchell, Avery, Eckersley), ex-18-game winners (Portugal, Schourek), and one-time no-hit pitchers (Ramon Martinez, Mercker), I still cheered them on.
(Oddly enough, Tim Wakefield was almost a playoff MVP with the Pirates in 1992, but his Bucs fell to the Braves in that famous Francisco Cabrera game, depriving the knuckleballer of the hardware.)
Eventually though, the Red Sox became the little Evil Empire. Red Sox management might deny this, but come on. The Sox were at their best in the mid-2000s, battling the Yankees to try and get the biggest names. Getting Schilling. Getting A-Rod, until the players' association got involved and vetoed the deal. Winning the bidding war for Dice-K. Giving J.D. Drew a $70 million contract. And on and on.
The Red Sox were no longer the "underdog," the team that I grew to love. They were starting to be the big spenders like the Yankees. Sure, Boston had overpaid for guys like Darwin and Matt Young and Jack Clark, et al, in the 1990s, and later Steve Avery and so on, but at least—in my view—the team was loveable. Of course, others didn't view the BoSox as loveable losers like the Cubs, but as choke artists. But still, they were my team.
Before this year's league championship series started, I was on my friend's Web site making my predictions. I picked the Phillies to win in five, and the Rays to triumph in the same number of games. There was no way I wanted to see the soap opera of this "Manny goes back to Fenway in the World Series" nonsense.
That's what the media would want. It's all about storylines and such that everyone wanted. But come on, do people seriously want to see villains like No. 99 come out victorious?
Nope, I'd rather see the underdogs win. (Philadelphia is kind of a dog because it seems Ramirez's Dodgers had been getting much more attention.) The Red Sox? Been there, done that. When the same team keeps winning, it gets old. Of course, with both the Dodgers and Red Sox down three games to one, I could very well be perfect in my picks.
Or, to steal a line from Yogi Berra: "It ain't over till it's over," and one or both L.A. and Boston could very well rally. But unlikely. I could see one team make it, but not both.
(On a side note, in my baseball novel Replacement Pitcher, which comes out June 2009, I'd written—the manuscript was completed in August 2008—the Red Sox and Dodgers would square off in the Fall Classic...it's just not the matchup I want to see, though, in real life.)
So both L.A. and Boston could see their seasons potentially end in Game Five of their respective LCS. If I had to pick one of those two that would be most likely to pull off a miracle, I'd have to give the nod to the Red Sox.
So nope, this article isn't meant to be an obituary. After all, the Red Sox have proven themselves with their 2004 and 2007 ALCS comebacks, and sure, you could argue, have gotten the Rays where they want them this year. Sorry to say though, for Dodgers fans, there's no way the Phillies will choke their 3-1 series lead. Not this year.
Last year, I told people I wasn't worried the Red Sox were down 3-1 against Cleveland, especially when Josh Beckett would pitch Game Five and then they'd go back home for the last two. Just as in 2004, after they beat the Yankees in Game Four, they had Pedro and Schilling—bad ankle and all—going in the next two, and if they could pull it out, anything could happen in a seventh game.
Last year, I wasn't worried.
This year, I couldn't care less.
But nope. This year, I wouldn't count the BoSox out. After all, they are the Kings of Comebacks. Yes, the 2004 ALCS, when they overcame that 3-0 series deficit. Last year, when they blew out the Indians 30-5 in the final three games.
Indeed, the Red Sox have become the Kings of Comebacks in the last 20-plus years. Before 2004 though, no one really cared, because they didn't have a World Series...while upstarts like the Mets (2), Blue Jays (2), Marlins (2), D-Backs (1), and Royals (1) had won it before.
In Florida's case, TWO championships in its first 11 years of existence? Holy smokes. (That makes the Marlins' accomplishment much more impressive than the Braves' lone title in 14 consecutive trips to the postseason.)
Still, you couldn't deny the Red Sox and their propensity to come back when you least expected it. 1986, when they were rescued by Dave Henderson's homer while down to their last strike and trailing 3-1 in the ALCS against California.
1988, when they rode new manager Joe Morgan and a long winning streak at Fenway to win the division. 1991, when they trailed the Blue Jays by 11.5 games before being down by just a half-game with two weeks left in the season (before ultimately slumping at the end).
1993, when both Roger Clemens and Frank Viola were struggling, they rode the arms of Darwin and Aaron Seleto a first-place tie in July (but again ultimately fading). 1995, when they won the A.L. East over the Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays, all of whom were expected to be far superior. Yes, all those were great, but then the real comebacks began.
1999, down 0-2 to the mighty Indians in the Division Series, rallying to win three straight, including Game Five at Jacobs Field, thanks to Pedro in relief and Troy O'Leary's home runs. 2003, down 0-2 to the Athletics in the ALDS (and having lost 10 straight to them in postseason play) before ultimately winning Game Five in Oakland.
Then 2004 and 2007. So, sure, perhaps another comeback is in the cards.
Even if they don't, that's fine. I think most Red Sox fans said before 2004 that they'd want to see Boston win a World Series in their lifetimes. One. Fait accompli. But of course, people are naturally greedy. So I would guess they want that second one, and then a dynasty.
I'd much rather see a true underdog win this year than the new, second version of the Yankees.
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