Take that, Murray Chass
Well, I suppose this doesn't quite put Melvin Mora in the company of Rick Waits, but watching the Red Sox clinch the American League East title when the Orioles' third baseman beat the shellshocked Yankees with a squeeze bunt sure was an appropriately surreal way to wrap up this thing, wouldn't you say?
Man, that was just fun tonight, all of it . . . Dice-K's optimism-spawning performance and another Papi blast . . . Mariano's meltdown on the Jumbotron . . . the raucous celebration in front of the lingering Fenway faithful . . . Tina Cervasio's surprising comfort with the wet look. Yes, good times were had by all.
Now, of course I realize that the AL East title is ultimately irrelevant, given that history suggests there really isn't much of a homefield advantage, if any, in the postseason. We all know the truly important prizes are up for grabs in the coming weeks. But it is nice to cross one more item off the shrinking list of things that Yankees mouthbreathers - and bitter, crotchety New York sportswriters - like to hang over Red Sox fans' heads, and in some sense it does matter quite a bit. After all, it has been a long time coming. The last time the Sox won the division, Tim Wakefield was a 29-year-old reclamation project, Luis Alicea was the starting second baseman, and a scrawny kid named Derek Jeter was up for a cup of coffee while Tony Fernandez handled shortstop duties for the Yankees. Like I said, long time ago.
Besides, as I watched the Sox players spray cheap champagne and cheaper beer all over the bowels of Fenway, I couldn't help but feel that they genuinely deserved this. I'm not going to pretend they overcame great obstacles to get to this point, because other than the injuries to Manny and Schilling, and the fatigue that affected Okajima and Dice-K recently, they've been fortunate and healthy. But the Yankees "stalked" them (Theo's perfect word choice) down the stretch, just as we figured they would even when the lead swelled to double digits, and it's to the Sox' credit that they shrugged off the patently ridiculous it's-'78-all-over-again hysteria and refused to cede their spot at the top of the standings. Their Fenway forefathers should have been so resilient.
Yes, the Sox deserved to celebrate with vigor and pride and coolers full of cold beverages tonight. And while I don't know if this is the last party we'll see by the home team at Fenway this season, if there's anything I've learned over the course of the summer, it's that this team seems to be pretty adept at proving its doubters wrong.
* * *
Though it's hardly shocking considering that the Sox were pondering shutting him down while he was still at Pawtucket, but it's still a bummer that Clay Buchholz's season has come to a premature conclusion. I'm convinced he could have been a real factor in the playoffs, not only because of his elite stuff, but more so because he's still an unknown to the Sox' opponents. I thought for sure the reason he didn't pitch against the Yankees was because the Sox didn't want New York to see him before the playoffs. Turns out they won't see him until next season. Oh, well. I guess it's prudent of the Sox to play it safe for the future with the No-Hit Kid, especially if he's hurting more than they are letting on. But it sure would have been cool for him to remain part of the present as well.
* * *
A few Pats notes I've been meaning to post:
This week's reason why I wish Peter (Is Deanna Favre A Lucky Woman Or What?) King would stop writing about the Patriots:
"I think when I hear Tedy Bruschi, the ultimate honorable competitor, rail about the Patriots' honor and how he'll stand up to anyone who questions the team's integrity, I'm really hearing him say: I'm ticked off that our great record has been sullied by Rodney Harrison's HGH suspension and Belichick getting caught videotaping other teams' signals."
Now, I've heard Tedy Bruschi interviewed countless times, and I've heard Peter King interviewed countless times. And I can say with a reasonable level of assurance that Bruschi is well-spoken enough that he does not need an inarticulate oaf like King putting words in his mouth.
The more allegations I hear about Rodney Harrison and HGH, the more I think the Chargers should feel vindicated for letting him go after the the '02 season because he was injury prone. How were they to know the lengths he might go to in order to remain healthy?
Man, Randy Moss and Tom Brady will be something when get they get on the same page, huh? Okay, so I'm an idiot. Hey, at least I wasn't one of the football-impaired nitwits who suggested at the end of training camp that Moss might be cut - even I knew better than that. But as delightful as it is to be getting Air Coryell flashbacks from Moss and Brady, I'm just as amazed by the depth of the Pats' receiving corps. We've all seen what Wes Welker can do, which, precisely, is a spot-on imitation of Troy Brown in his prime. I thought Jabar Gaffney was the Pats' best receiver at the end of last season, and I can't fathom why such a smart, steady player was out of the league at a point last season. And while Donte' Stallworth has been quiet so far, you can just tell the speedburner has a four-catch, 110-yard performance in the near future. It's an insanely deep and talented group, so much so that I wonder if there's a spot for the beloved if aging Brown once he's ready to come off the PUP list.
And for the record, I'm embarrassed by the 'EEI boobs (you know who they are) who snidely and ignorantly suggest that Deion Branch wouldn't have a role on this team. I know these guys sacrificed their credibility long ago, but is it really necessary to diminish all he accomplished as a Patriot just because he isn't around anymore? Branch is not Moss in terms of ability, obviously, but he was a crucial contributor to two championship teams - does the phrase "Super Bowl MVP" ring a bell? - and he deserves to be remembered well even if his time here did not end well.
I'm not saying he was pulling an Al Czervik "Ow, my arm!," and the fine Vince Wilfork was hit with suggests the NFL took the matter seriously. Still, I can't be the only one who got the sense that J.P. Losman was content to spend a lovely New England Sunday as an NFL observer rather than a participant last weekend.
You know things are going well when the Patriots are heading into Week 4 and Randall Gay hasn't even suffered a season-ending injury yet. Okay, cheap shot, but it is kind of odd to see Gay on the field - he's spent so much time in the Hart Lee Dykes Memorial Trainers Room the past two seasons that you tend to forget he was a capable starter on the '04 champs after Ty Law got hurt.
As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
In case you were wondering, the over/under on Monday's Pats/Bengals game is 52.5. Gimme the over. I think ol' Ike Curtis here might even find the end zone in this one.
* * *
Wait! Two more things before I go:
1. This week's Fox Column is right here, yo. Figures the Rockies finally lose after I get around to writing about them. But man, that is a fun team. Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki might be my two favorite players in the National League at the moment.
2. Thought "The Office" season premiere was just a little bit . . . well, off, I guess. Maybe it was because much has changed for so many of the characters since the beginning of last season (the Ryan-as-boss is going to be a goldmine), or maybe it was because the hourlong format felt padded with needless filler (a lot of the Michael/rabies stuff was boring), but it almost felt like a different show in some sense, almost like a sitcom. Don't get me wrong, it was still superior to everything else on network TV. The Jim/Pam busted-by-the-camera-crew twist was brilliantly done, and "dangling participle" makes me laugh every time I think about it. And I do have complete faith that Greg Daniels and the writers will consistently knock it out of the park once they set up the season's storylines. It's just that the standard has been set extremely high, and this particular episode wasn't quite as tight and clever as we've come to expect.