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28 Oct 2004 03:38:40 Daniel Hellerstein.

Subject: Sports    
The Sox win the WS: The Road from the 60s

A History Of the Sox, as seen by one fan on the morning after winning it all.

The 1918 stuff is dumb. Yet, it has been a LONG WAIT. For me, it starts sometime in the mid-60s, as a kid watching a real pathetic sox team. Going to Fenway, smacking the empty seats next to you (lift and push down hard) to make noise, or yelling through the megaphone popcorn containers.

Then out of the blue comes the "Impossible Dream" team of 1967. From deep in last place to first place, winning in a tough 4 team race that goes down to the wire. And although they lost to the Cards in that one, the experience reawakened Red Sox fever in Boston.

And it never really died. Me, I take a break from baseball (and other organized sports) for hippy-dippy reasons in the mid-70s, so my awareness of the 1975 extravaganza is of being in a small hotel in Wyoming, on the outskirts of the Black Hills, waiting for a bus to take me on to California. And looking up at the TV in the lobby, and seeing the sox playing the cards in the series, I somehow felt that I had a little bit of extra local legitimacy (I was more then some scruffy kid passing through). An illusion no doubt, but a poignant one.

By 1978 I'm back in Boston, and the whole '78 phenomenon sweeps away my vestigial pc-like reluctance to embrace organized-professional sports. I re-become a Sox fan. And I get a lesson, in some ways a new one for me, in the special frustrations of Sox fandom -- a lesson rooted in the collapse of the team in August. All the starting players were just worn out, and couldn't do it. Gotta give credit to Fisk, since he never gave up; but everyone else seem ground down.

Sox fandom was getting antsy through this collapse. I was driving cab, and one night waiting for the game to break outside of Fenway after a loss, a middle age guy scratches my eye cause I moaned about giving him a 2 block ride. I blame the mounting frustration.

But somehow the Sox get it back together, and force the infamous Bucky Dent game. I remember watching at a friends house, I remember the Dent home run.

But what I most remember is Remy working his way to 2nd base (he was the best clutch hitter I've ever seen), and Yaz at the plate. What a scene -- everyone knows that the winner of this game will win the Series. And here is the chance of a lifetime for Yaz, a chance to make it happen. This is rare for baseball players, since so much depends on what others do (say, can the pitcher hold the lead after you drive in the winning run). But this is the 9th, so Yaz can do it all himself. ALL HIMSELF.

An important aside -- in 1978 Michael Dukakis is running in a tough election against a paleo-conservative name of Ed King. Yaz is known to be a supporter of Ed King.
So Yaz is up there, and I think to myself: "Yaz, you win the game and I'm voting for Ed King". But one second later sanity kicks in, and I say to myself "no, I take that back". And two seconds after that YAZ FOULS OUT TO THE THIRD BASEMEN wasn't enough. What a pathetic out. Perhaps it was my fault, but so be it.
That starts a series of declining years, as the Sox either leave (Lynn to Calif, Fisk to Chicago, Yaz to dodderdum). But then Oil Can Boyd shows up -- a real novelty, a Sox pitcher who talks and thinks like a pitcher (not like a generic baseball dolt). And Hurst. And Clemens. And by 1986, they have a real winning team. As I remember some radio call in guy saying "this team won't fold, cause Clemens can stop a losing streak by himself".

And they get to the playoffs and run into a stacked Angels team featuring a one-last lap around the majors Reggie Jackson. And the Angels take the 3-1 lead, in Anaheim. And they are up on the steps, waiting to celebrate. Waiting to get rid of their own Angels demons. And I'm in bed, glumly watching my little TV, yelling out to my housemate if he wants to bet agin the sox. My housemate, a New Orleans boy who had just spent a summer in Boston, and couldn't understand the angst that Sox fans had regarding the (in his short experience) a very dependable baseball team. He was learning quick!

And then, the Angels season collapses. Everyone remembers Henderson's home run. But who remembers Rich Gedman betting hit by a pitch, the pitcher being (his name I forget) a good Angels starter who HAD OWNED GEDMAN. Wow. And after Henderson's home run, you just knew the Angels were toast, that the Sox Were Back.

Which leads to the '86 series, against a Mets team that had dodged a tough Astros team, playing 16 inning games (or so) in the snow, pulling tricks out of their bag to head-game opposing pitchers, and doing everything they can to avoid playing a last game against the split-fingered master Mike Scott.

So its a pretty damn good lead up to the series. The Mets are favored, but somehow (I forget the details) the Sox win the first two in NY. The Mets take two of three in Boston, and its back to NYC for the final games. And we know what happens. Clemens gets the lead, we go to the 9th. Schiraldi (the baby Clemens) is on the mound. And He Can't Get It Done. Two Strikes. Two Strikes. Lord how many times were there two strikes with two outs.

And then Buckner makes his mark, he adds a new word to the lexicon -- to pull a Buckner. To be so concerned with the next step, with what to do after you get the ball, that you forget to reach down and get the ball.
Lest we forget, Mookie is running hard down the line, Stanley is now on the mound and he's as mobile as a bathtub, and Buckner has knees held together with multiple braces. So it makes sense for him to worry about what to do next -- how the heck to get Mookie out? Still, it was an error for the ages, right through the legs. Poor guy, no one blames him. I had seen him make similar blunders in other games. Serious Sox fans blame the manager for keeping him in, for not doing the Stapleton replacement that he had done in all the other games of the series.

But there is still game 7. Bruce Hurst is now the Sox ace, showing guts the Clemens just didn't have in the post season (hence no suprise when he can't put away the Cards in 2004). A problem: Hurst is spent.

Fate intervenes, a rainout (or two?). So it becomes concievable for Hurst to go up against Gooden, albeit on short (3 day?) rest. So of course, that's what the manager choses (his name, McNamara?).

Do you detect sarcasm? Well, remember Oil Can Boyd. He is rested and ready. Not having the greatest year, but still a guy who can give you a game. Someone who typically starts rough but settles down to give you 6 or 7 innings. The risk is that his rough start means 4 or 5 runs, but there is a good chance it means 1 or 2. And you just knew that the challenge of taking on Gooden would have defined the Can. It was a challenge that somehow his whole professional career was meant to meet. For in some way Gooden was Can's exemplar, a pitcher Can could almost-but-not-quite be.

So does the manager recognize this supremely motivated player? Does the manager recognize that there is no way that Hurst can give you more then 5 or so innings? Does the manager use his imagination and Start the Can, see how it works, and if it works out bring in Hurst to finish off the last few innings. After all, we know that the Sox pen is mighty suspect.

Of course he doesn't, cause that would require taking a smart gamble rather then sticking with what seems like the right and proper thing.

And sure enough, Hurst pitches valiantly but tires. When the pitcher (hitting) takes him to the track, you know its trouble. And when the Sox suspect bullpen comes on in, its no suprise the blow a small lead and lose the series.

Did I mention that a Mets fan ex-roommate (not the New Orleans boy) made me watch game 6 a year or so later. And he tells me that right before the end of the game, before the disasters of the two strikes... the Mets message board flashed up a message congratulating the World Series Winner Red Sox.
The next year Hurst takes Lynn's lead and goes off to So Cal (San Diego?) where he is never heard from again. But the words of some old lady, quoted in the paper, were prophetic "because you are leaving, I'll die before the Sox win a World Series".

Well, it wasn't all that bad. The team was still good, but it wasn't sterling. And although the Sox were clearly better than the faded (god bless steinbrenner when he actually tries to run the show) Yankees, the A's are a juggernaut that Sox just can't get past when they do manage to make the post-season (88 and 90?).

My memory is fuzzy, but they get kind of blah in the early 90s -- they are good enough to make a run at Toronto once or twice, but they really aren't first place material. Then, again my memory is fuzzy, Clemens goes, Mo Vauhgn shows up, and they are good but not good enough. The 1994 strike is in there too.

After the strike baseball gets clearer. The Indians have a massive team, as do the Braves. Most important, the Yankees start it up. At first, 1995, I'm sympathetic, its been a while so I can root for them as reps of the ALCS east (at least after the Sox are dispatched by the Indians).

Big mistake, for it is far easier to keep the vampire in his coffin (with a few smakes of the stake back into the chest) than it is to put him back in. And we see the Yankees Rule of 1997 1998... and then 1999.

The Sox, with Pedro and a good bullpen and Nomar and some talented young kids (Lowe/Nixon/Varitek) are looking interesting. 1999 post season they make a heck of a showing, with Pedro making a fading Cleveland team simply disappear, and Nomar scaring the bejesus out of Yankees fans. But it wasn't enough. Yankee evil (why would making one bad call for the Yankees mean you have to make another???), Red Sox blinks (Jason, hold the ball when you tag the guy at the plate), and superior Yankee clutch performance holds off the Sox. Not suprising, the Yankees are one heck of a team. But it does whet the Sox fans appetites.

And the appetite stays whetted. Manny appears on the scene (at a ridiculous price), which is supposed to make a difference. My Cleveland cousins are skeptical of his clutchness, but at least the Sox aren't backing down. Alas, for the next few years its not enough --after the amazing Pedro the rotation is thin, a good bullpen becomes weak, and various injuries intervene.

And then comes 2003, with a new management (one that the local papers weren't crazy about, them being from out of town) starts to make its impact. Goofballs like Millar, diamonds in the rough like Mueller, and the where-did-he-come from Ortiz. After cowboying up they make the post season (props to Burkett for holding down the fort in mid-summer, and sweeping Seattle to earn their place). After beating the too-busy-arguing-to-score A's, the long awaited Yankees-Sox matchup occurs. And lo and behold, Wakefield goes into one of his unhittable modes, Lowe finds himself, Timlin/Embree/Williamson down a bottle of chill pills, and the Sox make a real series of it.

And the fatal game 7, the game that made the name Grady Little unmentionable in polite New England society. Where Pedro pitches well, but not great. Where the sox, powered by some good (but sadly not totally killer) hitting drive out Clemens (that was sweet) and get a big lead. And where insanity grows as Pedro is not taken out.

How to explain this? The usual thing, if you leave your fatiguing but still effective starter in for one more inning, is to pull him when anyone gets on base. Even if its because of some egregious error. But this does not happen, and it keeps not happening. Up to the point of absurdity. Why?

Tom Boswell of the WaPost had the best analysis. He looked at the collapses of the Sox and Cubs, and he wonders about "curses". Obviously stupid, right. Yet, and yet, maybe there is some socio-psychology reality. Boswell postulates that the history of these clubs can not be ignored. That this history suggest that Olympian forces are aligned against you, forces that only a hero (in classic sense) can be expected to oppose. And what hero does one have. For Grady, it was Pedro. So in he stays. Despite the obvious signs of mortality, and the availability of real alternatives (the suddenly dominant bullpen).

So the sox lose, as Wakefield does his best but falls victim to a known weakness (knuckler can give up the long ball). And grady goes bye bye. At least we wear the Yankees out so much that those non-deserving Marlins get another WS win. Gnashing of teeth, but one just can't root Yankees.

And then the crazy post-season, the ARod sweepstakes. Getting Foulke (why, didn't we prove he stinks by beating him in the post season). Getting Schilling (hmm, isn't he starting to look like he is injury prone). And what about those Patriots, by the by?

The seasons starts. Nixon, for reasons dark and mysterious, messes himself up. Nomar decides, again?, to take his rehab during the season (rather then over the winter). Still, Manny does his April thing and the Sox start hot. Then cool down, can't beat the mediocre teams (those damn Orioles). Cruise until late July. Nomar is back, playing okay. Team winning a few gamess. Then, out of the blue, the blockbuster dump Nomar trade. Pick up who? Cabrera? Menilkaeiw0325slcz? Roberts? A bunch of journeyman for a possible HOF'er. Oh well, perhaps it will work, and our defence was real embarrassing.

Then August and the amazing run. Almost catching the Yankees. Failing that, but smoking the Angels, Texas, and Oakland (ala Seattle 2003) to ease their way into the post season.

Dispatching the Angles in 3 -- making sure to finish them off just as they are starting to get hot (who can forget their comebacks of 2002).

And then the Yankees. Schilling... oh no, he is hurt. Pedro... oh no, left in too long. Arroyo... oh no, can't take the pressure. Down 3-0.

But its not over. It's just going to take a series of challenges.

Within each challenge, there are mini-challenges. Get that run back. Keep that guy from scoring. Etc.

The amazing thing, it works. The bullpen is an utter patch job, yet gets the job done. Lowe transforms from the Paranoid Android to Megatron. The bionic Schilling makes his appearance. Pedro keeps it respectable. Foulke enters a zone of greatness, and makes us forget our Oakland 2003 trepidations. Oh, did I mention Ortiz? And Bellhorn and Damon redeeming themselves in the best way possible? And so Manny was kind of MIA, at least he wasn't hurting the team.

Am I skipping Mariano Rivera? How the Red Sox have proven, if there was a doubt, that they do not fear him? And how Roberts was the ultimate secret weapon, a weapon they had used to great effect several times in September. Wow, the Sox winning with total small ball in the pinch. Unheard of.

The thing is this: at no point, not even with the big lead in game 7, was I ready to relax. Every notion of "relax and enjoy this" was carefully quarantined. Well, there were some stressful innings in games 4 and 5, where out of sheer survival instincts I just decided to sit back and take it in. Still, as I told my suddenly interested in baseball son, get complacent and a killer will take you down.

Which leads to the Cardinals. A very good team. A team to fear, but a team with obvious holes. Holes, that in retrospect, were the worse things to have against a slugging team like the Sox -- starting pitching that was just a few steps above mediocre.

The amazing thing is that the series was never in doubt. Yet, as with the Yankees, one just couldn't relax and enjoy it. Remember Buckner? Remember Pedro in the 8th inning? I did. And the lesson was that if you relax, then the anvil from the sky will crush you.

So the victory is amazing. Unheard of. Yet it hasn't quite seeped in. I guess that's the price of vigilance (yes, it makes no sense. But serious indulgence in sympathetic magic is one of the pleasures of fandom).

In summary. The curse is a joke. 1918 is an annoying bleat. But it has been a long time coming, a time with far too many blunders and shortcomings. Overcoming this, and in a way that required a mental focus combined with peripheral awareness, a careful allocation of resources that pushed things to the limit but no further, and an avoidance of failed sentiment. Well, I guess that was the only way the curse/1918 could be beaten. And if it means the enjoyment lacks some affect, so be it.

We can indulge next year!

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