We are not in denial.
We're not denying that the Sox played some alarmingly bad baseball during this road trip, including abysmal pitching, embarrassing defense, and incomprehensible bullpen management (you know who you are). But we're pretty sure every other Red Sox site in the world will handle that discussion for us. Just picture us participating in the collective forehead-slap, waving our "Impeach Gagné" signs, and chanting along with everyone else in the Nation, "The sky is falling!"
Instead of making ourselves feel even worse about the narrowing division lead, we thought we'd try and get our focus away from losing and flailing and failing. The scoreboard and the standings don't tell the whole story. Here's a countdown of the things that, win or lose, make us happy about Red Sox baseball in 2007.
5. Jonathan Papelbon: how is he real? He throws like a mofo, scares opposing batters, but off the field, he's an overgrown puppy dog, clamoring for attention and correcting Josh Beckett's grammar. He is the guy who can't handle losing at cribbage on the team plane. He's the guy who calls his manager a father figure and calls himself Cinco Ocho. Just when we start to think we might have made him up in our heads, we turn around and there he is, pumping his fist and calling Beckett a "mulligan."* Oh, Jonathan, we applaud you--clap your hands if you believe in closers!--and we hope you never change.
4. This team may not be quite as balls-out silly as the '04 squad, but they're damned entertaining in some surprising ways. For starters, even without some of the pure power-hitting we've come to expect, it's fun to watch them terrorize opponents with sheer plate discipline. It's especially fun when a struggling pitcher intentionally walks Varitek only to be tagged by Coco Crisp, or, even better, when said pitcher goes from struggling to completely baffled and walks in a run. We don't have numbers handy**, but we've seen this enough over the course of the year to learn to love it. Plus, it's definitely fun to yell, "Good eye!" from the cheap seats.
That's just one example of the unconventional ways this team's found to kick ass. How about Coco being Ichiro in centerfield? How about Josh Beckett cheering for Coco being Ichiro, and alternately venting his unutterable rage on innocent coolers, benches, and reporters that cross his path? How about Mike Timlin coming back and bringing new weapons--only figurative, we hope--to the bullpen, along with surprising strength from Okajima and Delcarmen? How about Dougie going deep? This team has survived injuries to its starting aces, and sub-Mendoza performances in the first half by key players. They've survived moose attacks. They've survived the continuing, soul-sucking presence of Dan Shaughnessy. They've survived cancer.
In a season where Bonds, A-Rod and Glavine made history***, Kerry Wood and Rick Ankiel staged comebacks that nobody ever thought would happen, and there are approximately 27 teams in the wild card races, the Red Sox remain the least boring team in baseball.
3. Our first, second, and third basemen. 3-4-5. The hot corners plus one. It's sort of shocking and awesome to think about how much of our team's offense has come from Youkilis, Lowell and Pedroia. All three are batting above .300 as of this writing; the lowest OPS in the bunch is Petey's more-than-respectable .840. They've also been defensive rock stars.**** Few things are sexier than Mikey flicking a ground ball over to Youk's waiting glove like they've rigged up their own private zip-line. Except possibly Pedroia leaping around like a Californian jumping bean and magically transforming a single into a double play.
There's also the small issue of their completely terrific personalities. We've seen 'em in the field, at the plate, and chilling with Tina Cervasio and/or Jonathan Papelbon; we feel like we know them, and to paraphrase Margaret Cho's memorable routine: There's the sweet one, the smart one...and then there's the Youk.
Watching these guys play for the season to date has been a treat. Here's hoping Theo "Yoko" Epstein doesn't break up the band next year.
2. Stumbles and all, the season so far really hasn't been bad. Remember that the Yankees were supposed to be leading the division all along? Remember that time our boys hit four home runs, back to back to back to back? Remember that we sent six guys to the All Star Game and have spent a good part of the summer debating which of our three Rookie Of The Year candidates is having the best season? Last season the Red Sox limped to third place in the AL East. This season, despite injuries and illnesses and an oddly grueling schedule and Julian "Batshit But Beloved" Tavarez as a starter through the All-Star Break, the Red Sox maintained a division lead all season (knock frantically on wood until your knuckles are as bruised as ours), a lead which is still the biggest in baseball.
No matter what happens with the rest of the season, whether we end up in a division race or a wild card race or even if we never win another game, we've gotten a much better ride than we expected. Definitely a much better ride than, say, Oakland fans (sorry, you three) have gotten after their team won the division last year. And it's true that some guys haven't produced at the level we might like, especially considering their salaries, but nobody on our team is Barry Zito.
Regardless of the eventual outcome (knock on splinters), we'd still take the 2007 Red Sox over the 2007 anybody-elses.
Sure, the Bronx may be burning again these days, but ladies and gentlemen, the Fens are still en fuego.
1. The Captain. We have one. He fought back from injuries for us. Behind the plate, he's a rock. Harvey Keitel would say he has a gun. His bat still has some pop left in it. He wears ice that beeps. All his pitchers are madly in love with him.
Nobody works harder. Nobody prepares better. Nobody has more binders.
One day he and Gabe Kapler will co-manage the Red Sox. And we will say, "We told you so!" But for the time being, we'll just watch Tek give everything he has to each pitch, watch him get spitting mad at himself when he strikes out on one of those high fastballs he can't resist, and listen to him demur the credit for one of his own home runs by praising the opposing pitcher. He's so completely committed to his team that it makes us proud to be on his side. We fully realize how embarrassed he'd be to hear us say this, but Jason Varitek could pretty much make baseball worthwhile all by his lonesome.
Forty-four games are left, just about a quarter of the regular season. It's too late to jump off the crazy train. Play ball, guys. We'll be with you.
*Papelbon is really, really obsessed with Josh Beckett. This can only lead to good things, like competitive awesome pitching, and possibly a home run derby. Or a wizards' duel.
**If you're joining our show already in progress, you might not realize this, but we virtually never have numbers handy. And we're writing this on the Internet, which is where numbers come from! But we did go to the trouble to look this one up: we have the second highest OBP in baseball, and have taken the most walks. Sing it with us: not too shabby!
***We don't want to give ourselves too much credit for reversing their karma, but--we guess you're welcome, guys. Please send checks and/or money orders to the home office.
****We're not excusing Mike Lowell's inexplicably numerous errors, but the 95% of the time when he isn't playing double-A defense, he's lights out. Big points to whoever took away his Just For Men.