Saturday, August 19, 2006

Close But No Cigar?

Red Auerbach used to celebrate another Celtics' victory by lighting his famous cigar. Although occasionally close, the opposition never caused that cigar to explode. A C's victory inevitably ensued. Always.

As the Red Sox are close, at least geographically, within the pennant race, they tempt us to remain brave, trustworthy, courteous and the whole host of Boy Scout adjectives. Especially when confronted by our antithesis of Red Sox Nation, the Evil Empire.

We must remember that the Red Sox embody 'toying with our emotions', and a calamitous collapse, especially on Jimmy Fundraising Day, hardly seems an appropriately ambivalent 'pain trade'. Jason Johnson's performance earned him a bus ticket out of here, and Jon Lester's OJT stint at Fenway never engendered more pain.

Are we in for another Boston Massacre reminiscent of 1978, the good old days of Butch Hobson and Bobby Sprowl? Sprowl's portside promise never delived a single win in parts of four years baseball service. Time does wound all heels.

Sure, Sox fans can lament dollars unspent on Abreu (over 27 million the papers say, counting luxury tax for 1 1/3 seasons), trades unmade for Roy Oswalt, and the sting of injury to stalwarts Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, and Trot Nixon. But 'there's no crying in baseball', and the Bombers have endured the loss of Matsui and Sheffield, and Carl Pavano has been largely MIA since picking up his 40 million/ four year deal.

For the most part, the crisp (not Coconut Arm in center) defense has remained, and the offense, while inconsistent, hasn't been abominable. The Sox struggle lies at the feet, or more appropriately at the arms of the pitching staff, where our "no lead is safe" mantra about venerable Fenway Park has proven true. Although fashionable to hurl Philippics at overpaid middle relievers like Seanez and Tavarez, the entire staff can take Shakespearean discomfort in "the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves." All too frequently, the Sox play catchup, and holding a lead for the entire bullpen has become as troubling as eating soup with a fork.

Castigating Theo Epstein for a lack of deadline deals and an abundance of cash conservation begs the question. As currently constituted, "are the Sox good enough to be a championship contender?" If Epstein and his minions decided no, then accepting a pennant race transition team in lieu of throwing good money after bad pennant prospects makes abundant baseball and financial sense. Of course, they can't publicly pronounce their abdication from title dreams, but maybe they whisper it within the Fenway bunkers.

So don't tear up your Red Sox Nation cards, punish the big-screen television, or kick the dog. Embrace the Sox for what they have always been, a mercurial tease within the baseball universe.

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