Friday, July 03, 2009

All-Star Break Ahead

Baseball has the best of the All-Star games, although for me the game changed after interleague play. I'm not too concerned about how many Sox players get selected or not, although I'm sure that contractually some probably have All-Star bonus clauses. If you make ten million dollars a year, should you be rewarded additionally if you perform TO expectations? Hey, that's what contract negotiations represent.

All that acknowledged, the Sox should focus on playing good baseball into the break. A strong homestand would help keep Tampa and Toronto in the rearview mirror. The Yankees are always the Jason Voorhees of the AL; you can never eliminate them.

From an overall performance status, the 'best' players on the Sox have been Youkilis, Bay, Papelbon, and Beckett. A lot of players have exceeded expectations including Varitek, Green, and much of the bullpen. To an extent Jacoby Ellsbury has also improved, as he's no longer easily 'defeated' by the hard stuff inside.

What Sean Casey emphasized tonight reinforced the organizational goals - consistency, professionalism, and effort. Mark Kotsay's at bat in the bottom of the eighth illustrated the 'tough at bat', as he worked the count long enough so that he could get a hittable pitch.

Red Sox Nation has changed since 2004 and especially since 2007. The fans expect success and 'the breaks', as opposed to waiting for the "piano from the sky" to fall and land on them. Surely, it doesn't always work out; baseball's vicissitudes ensure surprises. But no longer a priori do we anticipate the worst outcome.

As I've said many times, every game brings you something unexpected, the leads lost or deficits overcome, heroics or errors, baseball genius and faux pas. Half the players running off the field with only two outs? Happened this week. A nine run lead squandered and a four run ninth inning deficit erased back-to-back? This week.

Have a pair of World Series victories lifted the sense of urgency for fans? While some might argue that interest remains maxed out, I believe that the 'performance anxiety' overhang really has changed. Some things don't change, the rivalries, the 'our boys' mentality, and the intensity within the ballpark. But to paraphrase the Southwest Airlines ad, "the angst? It's off."

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