27 October 2004

On the Eve of the Unthinkable...

[collection of thoughts written to a friend on the eve of...]


I’d venture to say that rarely, if ever, has this one simple word meant so much to so many people.

Tonight. “It” could happen tonight.

I’ve decided to keep a running file of my thoughts today at work; not meant to be a column or journalistic venture but an accurate representation of a) my scattershot brain on an average of roughly 4 hours sleep per night for the past 3 weeks and b) what it’s like being at work in Boston this week. I don’t ever want to forget this; the lead up. Because – and yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s not done yet (I’ll probably erase this file and/or destroy half of the 617 area code if they lose it now) – if and when the Sox finish it off…nothing will ever be the same. Oh, it will be amazing and fantastic and everything all of us hoped for. It will just be…different. This might be the last afternoon of World Series title virginity for an entire region…for me it’s been even more. It’s been a long road…

Driving into work today – a half-hour late due to my 3 hours of sleep, hey I had to squeeze every ounce of highlights and commentary out of this last night – the “Amber Alert” sign over the Mass Turnpike read simply:



Meanwhile unmarked vans with kids in the back wrapped in duct tape are cruising along the highways at 90mph towards Maine. But I suppose we have all winter to find them. Shit, just pray to Keith Foulke like that kid lost in the woods in the Stephen King book about Tom Gordon did. As they say, all things in life lead back to the Red Sox…

I always want to remember what these last 10 days have been like. Just 10 days ago everything was different. EVERYTHING. We all know the story…but it hasn’t gotten old yet either. This team had given us a memorable up and down then up again season. Leading into the playoffs, all everyone wanted to talk about was a possible rematch with the Yankees. Of course without thinking of the possible consequences. Well, we got the rematch. And after 27 innings it was way WAY more than anyone had bargained for. Just last Saturday night the Sox lost at home in a so-called “must win” game 3 by the humiliating score of 19-8. NINETEEN TO EIGHT. The only thing left to wonder was how badly they were going to lose game 4 and get swept out of the most disappointing postseason in a long list of them.

But then Dave Roberts stole a base off of the great Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th in game 4, and seismologists across the globe detected a faint but distinct shift in the world falling off its axis. Beelzebub looked for his gore-tex coat.

7 games later – make that 7 WINS later – we’re standing on the precipice of history. Dispense with the usual caveats of “its only sports” because that’s way too simple of a throwaway line. This is community, this is generational, this is…hereditary. Obviously there aren’t any metrics to measure it but to what capacity is the greater city of Boston’s productivity this morning. 75%? 50%? Lower? Obviously mine is hovering in the single digits at best since I’m writing this instead of doing “real” work but I’ll justify that by deriving a simple mathematical formula:

# years as a diehard Sox fan / # years earning paycheck at present company.

Or even this:

# years as a diehard Sox fan / # years earning paycheck at any company.

The answers end up being roughly 10 and 2.5. Of course they don’t mean shit other than the Sox mean a hell of a lot more to me than making sure this particular product doesn’t ship with this software flaw.

Pedro Martinez. Just like everything else that has preceded this mad dash into history for this team, whoever is responsible in this great cosmos for the comedic and head-shaking coincidences in life, this had to be the game he pitched. Just had to be. The Pedro of years 1999-2000 was transcendent. Hold those 2 years up to any in the entire history of the sport and it pales to none. Any amount of rational thinking will lead one to the obvious conclusion that no athlete can be – nor should he be – compared to the absolute and transient peak of his talent. Yet Pedro Martinez is consistently held to a higher standard than anyone else on the team, or possibly in the league. If you look at his overall numbers for the season, and compare them to the rest of the league, by any barometer he’s a top-10 pitcher at worst. Ks/9, H/9, WHIP, ERA… all top 10. But comparing it to his own history is where it pales. Classic case of being a victim of his own success.

So here he is, pitching the ever-pivotal game 3. Here’s where everyone expects the “real” Cardinals to show up – best record in baseball, best in baseball at home. Petey struggles (as has lately often been the case) in the 1st inning but gets out of it – Manny Ramirez with a big outfield assist on a great throw to nail Larry Walker at the plate (complete with a classic cocky Pedro move of slapping Walker on the ass w/ his glove). After 5 innings we hear how Pedro has “struggled” but survived…he’s pitching a shutout to the NL’s leading offense. One that everyone expected to bust out and show the world how good they were this year during the World Series. Any other pitcher up there and they’re talking about one of the great clutch pitching performances in recent WS history. In the end he’s vindicated with 7 shutout innings of 3-hit ball – one of which was a fluke infield hit by the pitcher, another a double over the head of Trot Nixon that on a day without treacherous field conditions might have been caught.

So in sum what I’m saying is this: the public and press have been relatively down on Pedro of late. “He needs to prove himself” …”Biggest game of his career”…. If this was game 4, with the Sox up 3-0, there’s not as much at stake. Game 3 is the big one. Change of venue. Chance for the home team to get back in the series, or the visiting team to take a stranglehold. The classic “who wants it more?” scenario.

Use any tired cliché you want: Pedro delivered a gem for the Boston ages.

And the clincher is this: that might have been it as far as his career in Boston. You know what I would want? I want him to RETIRE. Yup – never to pitch again. How freakin’ colossal would that be – legendary pitcher plays 13 seasons, only missing element from his resume is a W.S. game, he has ONE shot and fires blanks – nothing but eggs….and then hangs ‘em up, never to be heard from again. You’ve seen the stat-comparisons to Sandy Koufax…above and beyond anything he could do in the future on the field, this would put him in the pantheon of Greats.

More cosmic humour:

Gap in years between 1967 world series loss and 1986: 19

Gap in years between 1986 world series loss and 2004: 18

19. 18.

People at work who are diehards can’t even speak to me, nor I to them. No less than 4 times today I’ve turned the corner, run into a colleague whom I know to be a diehard (and they in turn know my “illness” as well), and we just stare at each other. Like 2 rottweilers who end up at the same street corner, sizing each other up. Only there’s no snarling or gnashing of teeth; there’s just this silly stupid shit-eating 4th-grader grin. It takes about 5-10 seconds before mumbling commences, followed by “I know I know!!!” and ending with a head-shake of disbelief and the obligatory “well, we have to win one more…” before stumbling off in our respective directions.

Last week I hope taught all Sox fans to not assume. We are up 3-0. 10 days ago we were down 0-3. To the (previously) defending AL champs. The Cardinals have played some crappy ball over the past few days, but they still won 105 regular season games which was the best total in 6 years. Gotta still respect them as the best team in baseball this year. I keep telling myself that. I’m just not sure I believe that anymore.

Derek Lowe. A month ago he was “demoted” to the bullpen and was fairly typically huffy about it. Little did he or any of us know that he would recover, pitch some great ball vs. the Yanks in the ALCS and now have a chance tonight to have his name live forever in the annals of the most notorious baseball club in American history.

Here’s an idea for the title of the inevitably will-ship-platinum season-ending DVD:

“Are You Fucking KIDDING Me? The True Story of the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.”

Nostalgia. Here’s what is going through my mind over and over and over and over…..

I grew up in Buffalo, NY. When I was 6 years old, my dad went to Boston on a teachers' conference. he brought me back a 1975 Sox AL Champs pennant. I put it in my room and studied the names on it. I watched my first game on a Saturday afternoon NBC game of the week when Denny Doyle hit a home run. My dad drove me to Boston that summer to watch Luis Tiant pitch and beat the Hank Aaron-led brewers.

In 1977 the Toronto Blue Jays entered the league and we drove up one morning to see a doubleheader vs. the Sox, we saw the Sox win both in 2 shutouts. I saw a 9th inning gag in September '78 in Toronto that cost them the AL East title. I skipped school in 3rd grade on October 2nd of 1978 to watch the Sox lose the most famous regular season game ever played. I traveled to boston so many times over the next few years with my dad that I got to know Boston better than my hometown of Buffalo. The Red Sox were MY team.

I applied to Boston schools to be near the team. I went to BC and got to attend playoff losses in '88 and '90. I stayed in Boston, stuck with the team in the lean early 90s and got to attend playoff losses in '95, '98, and '99. Clearly, I was bad bad luck.

I felt that after last year's [2003] NY game 7 I felt as low as I could feel due to sports...and I've felt low before: I have rooted for 30 years for just 3 teams: the Red Sox, the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Bills. I have suffered professional-sports gut-wrenching heartbreak like nobody I know.

...and all of this - ALL OF IT - will be 100% perfect and worth it and part of a master plan if the Sox just win one of their last 4 games.