Sunday, October 08, 2006

Nation mourns its Red Sox

Friday, October 15th, 2004

BOSTON - Well, at least they still have that nice little football team to temper the winter gloom.
The wicked buzz generated by the current batch of idiots in red stockings lasted about as long as Johnny Pesky held the ball. The players might not have succumbed to the mass moroseness that descended upon New England early yesterday morning, but the salsa music blaring from the Fenway clubhouse barely buffers the truth.

This is one bummed out Olde Towne. A Nation mourns, and there are still 18 innings in which to hide under the couch.

The Red Sox are down 0-2 to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Curt Schilling likely won't pitch again until the snow thaws, Johnny Damon swings like Delilah and the Patriots don't play again until Sunday. Once again, it appears Boston fans must find consolation not in achievement, but in Yankee failure.

The hottest selling T-shirt in Kenmore Square still pays homage to Derek Jeter's mother - don't you just adore a series with family values? - but the most telling garment is this: a shirt with the words "Red Sox' Fans Favorite Moments" on front, and on back, a list. "Yankees lose to Marlins. Yankees lose to Diamondbacks. Yankees lose to Reds." Vendors are leaving room for one last line: "Yankees lose to Cardinals."

And so it goes, for the 86th year and counting. The Red Sox fans who bothered to crawl out of bed on this dreary afternoon admitted to looking forward to a few bright spots tonight, when Bronson Arroyo starts against Kevin Brown at Fenway. Arroyo could go inside again on the precious Alex Rodriguez, which would turn the little bandbox on its side. Brown's back could crimp, and surely he would hear a few special chants about parasites and punches. The skies could also open up, flooding the Back Bay with frogs and locusts, and that might be the best harbinger of all because it would mean Derek Lowe wouldn't have to start Game 5, in Schilling's place.

If there is a Game 5. What once had the look and smell of a series going to the ultimate zenith now feels as if it's been slapped into its rightful place. "If he can't go for the rest of the series," Arroyo was saying yesterday of his buddy Schilling, "I definitely think it's hurting us."

Unless this is the ultimate cat-and-mouse game, unless the Red Sox doctors can rig a space-age contraption that will keep Schilling's ankle tendon sheath from completely snapping while still affording him mobility, Boston has little hope of returning to the Bronx. Baseball fans, whatever their stripes, will be the poorer for it.

This year's Aaron Boone moment occurred subtly, unaccompanied by flair or drama. What if Mark Bellhorn clung to Jason Varitek's throw from the plate, and Jeter was tagged out at second base in the first inning of Game 2, before Pedro Martinez threw a zillion pitches? Or this: What if Schilling had bowed out of that Game 1 start after his ankle began barking in an awful bullpen warmup? Remember, if David Wells hadn't lied about his back in Game 5 of the World Series last year, Red Sox fans might have one less line on those Yankee-hating T-shirts.

A series bursting with such drama and macho posturing now seems so deflated. Not so long ago, everything appeared to be lined perfectly for the Red Sox: the planets, their rotation, Schilling's off-the-cuff script. He's always been mouthy, and when he upped the noise level to another extreme with that preseries comment about making "55,000 people from New York shut up," a Nation nodded in brazen harmony. Cockiness does not come naturally to Red Sox fans; they are having a bad century and don't mind moaning about it every single second of every single day.

But then, literally while Brian Cashman was sleeping, Boston general manager Theo Epstein swooped in, and over Thanksgiving dinner, signed Schilling, the stud pitcher who would slay the Evil Empire. It might not be a curse, but it definitely is cruel irony to hear Schilling say his ankle injury occurred not in a playoff game against the Angels, but in his final regular-season start against the Yankees.

It gets worse - around here, it always does. Millions of mouths dropped simultaneously late Wednesday night, when Pedro reflected in a strange glow of those "Who's your Daddy?" chants at the Stadium. The more he spoke about mango trees and grabbing the attention of all of New York, the more he sounded as if he were auditioning for a role with Steinbrenner, Inc. At least that's the lasting impression for a Nation raised to expect the worst.

So they pray to their deities, to Stephen King's ghosts and Ted Williams' legacy. Let the storm clouds roll through, let Pedro have the ball one more time. And don't forget, the Patriots go Sunday, and the Yankees haven't won a World Series in four long years.