Congratulations to the Red Sox for clinching a playoff spot last night. Extra nice job, considering all the upheaval and "challenges" this team faced this season, and considering they did it against the best pitcher in the league. Another year, another October. The Yawkey Trust was never like this...
The feat was accomplished this year in what was actually pretty impressive for it's lack of dramatics. I've been a little irritated lately by the lack of offensive production, but that's just my usual fanstate, so that can't be counted as a reaction to the stress of a pennant race. But remember last year around this time? I was a drooling, nearly psychotic madwoman, incensed over what appeared to be an unacceptably cavalier attitude towards winning the division vs the wild card. This year? I'm pleased, but not feeling so much intensity, for sure. Some of that is because a lot of my intensity has been transferred to the election (and, in the absence of a competitive Yankee team, my intensity of dislike transferred to John McCain and his Barbie doll running mate), but the circumstances are different as well-the division rival of note has been the Rays, not the Yankees, and the spot clinched is the wild card, not the division. The Sox still have a chance to win the division, of course, but at this point I'd be very surprised if they did. The Rays have played like men possessed, and they deserve it.
(Off topic a little bit here, but for those of you who watched the champagne celebration after the game last night, did it seem to you all that Theo Epstein has, well...gained a little weight? Not that there's anything wrong with that-I'd be very hypocritical to suggest otherwise-but geez, he used to be a beanpole. The domestic life must agree with him, I guess, but you might want to opt for the vegetable plate next time, Theo...)
There is also the feeling I had last year that the Red Sox were the best team in baseball and had no business playing as if they were anything else, and this year..again, not so much. The burden of expectation for this team is not there. I think both the Rays and the Angels are probably better in the AL, and the Cubs are probably better better in the NL, and that was before we lost both Lowell and Drew. As far as I'm concerned, anything this team gives us from now on is gravy. Now, does that mean I won't be sitting in front of the TV raging at every missed opportunity or bad pitch or botched play? Of course not. I'm genetically incapable of doing anything else. But at the end of the day, this team has come up big no matter where they finally shake out.
There are a few members I think have to stand out for special recognition, though:
Dustin Pedroia-with the loss of Manny (which, yes, folks, I am still grieving) and the injury to Papi, in two short years, he has turned into the best all around player on what has become his team. His uniform size may say small, but you could fit ten ARods in there.
Jason Bay-this guy came during a time of high emotion, replacing an extremely talented, popular player, and all he's done since he got here is produce. After years languishing in Pittsburgh, you know he's excited to get to the postseason.
Jon Lester-I can't apologize to this guy enough. I said he was soft and wimpy. I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong. And thank god I was, because without his performance this year, there are no playoffs. Jon, you are the man.
While the playoffs have been clinched, and the rest of the season is playing out the string now, the Red Sox do have one monumentally important task in front of them. Sunday is the last game of the season against the vanquished Yankees...and starting for them is one resurrected Mike Mussina, who won his 19th game against the Jays last night, and will be in a position to win his 20th on the last game on the season. Call me an un-classy fan with no appreciation for a great player like Mike Mussina, but I don't care. That cannot be allowed to happen, not in Fenway Park, not against the Red Sox. All stops must be pulled out to prevent this, even if they have to drug Manny, sneak him back and dress him up as Mark Kotsay.
(Oh, and off topic number two, now that the last game has actually been played in Yankee Stadium, I can honestly say I feel the same about that behemoth's demise as I did about the passing of Ronald Reagan-good riddance to bad rubbish. In Reagan's case, he did far too much damage to the country for me to even pretend to mourn his passing; in the case of Yankee Stadium, it extracted too big a price on the psyche of another type of nation to wax poetic. Let's all hope the new stadium brings with it a different kind of "mystique.")
So, I was wrong, there's still drama to be had in the Fens. Just not the kind we thought there might be when we first saw this series on the schedule.