Sunday, October 14, 2007

Making my way back to Cleveland

Well, I guess it's gonna be a series, folks. I don't want to get all gloom and doom here after tonight's 13-6 loss, because for all of Cleveland's talent, I still think your Boston Red Sox, with their premier blend of experience, savvy, and talent, are still the odds-on favorite to emerge as the kings of October.

It's just that everything was so damn easy up until tonight - the sweep of the aching Angels, the ho-hum rout of 19-game winner C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 - that those old familiar nerves that rattle in your gut during the postseason were conspicuously absent. The playoffs weren't stressful; they were actually fun. Go figure.

And now, after one dramatic, well-played game (save for that hideous and ominously coincidental 11th inning - it simply cannot be a good sign that the go-ahead run in the game-breaking seven-run 11th was plated by none other than Christopher Trotman Nixon, the lefty-phobic, Dirt Dog-in-decline who had one freakin' RBI since July 29) it's apparent that these Indians have no intention of going quietly. They slayed the once-mighty Yankees, and led by the likes of Grady Sizemore, who is fast becoming a Jeter-level pain in the ass, they sure seem intent on slaying the American League's other big-market beast. Yes, you bet it is time to be nervous.

The significance of tonight's momentum swing can't be overstated. Had the Sox won this ballgame, they'd have a huge psychological edge in knowing that they won both games started by Cleveland's co-aces, Sabathia and Fausto Carmona (I know he was self-destructive tonight, but seriously, how does anyone ever hit that sinker?), and they'd head to Cleveland with every advantage. Instead, now the Sox are counting on the enigmatic Daisuke Matsuzaka to come up big in Game 3, and hoping creaky Tim Wakefield is healthy enough to get the job done in Game 4 against Sox pest Paul Byrd. Do I have faith that either of those things will happen? Let's put it this way: Manny, Papi, and the boys had better keep putting some crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Hell, considering the venue, it might not be a bad time to sneak Troy O'Leary into the lineup, either. The Sox have to hit, because I'm fairly certain Cleveland will.

So here we are, tied at 1-1, and left to ponder some obvious laments from tonight's loss: That Kevin Youkilis's epic at-bat against Rafael Betancourt in the ninth inning didn't end with him delivering pinch runner Jacoby Ellsbury from second with the winning run, but rather with a hard-hit liner to Sizemore for the third out; that Papi, Manny, and Lowell went in down quietly against Cleveland reliever Tom Mastny and his 4.88 ERA in the 10th; that Curt Schilling couldn't live up to the Bob Gibson Of His Time hyperbole and get out of the fifth inning; that the stragglers and afterthoughts in the Sox bullpen (Javier Lopez, Eric Gagne, and Jon Lester) melted down in the 11th, sucking - and that is the right word - all the joy and suspense out of Fenway Park.

Which leads me to my final rant before I go: The next time I see Gagne, he'd either better be riding on a float, dangling from the coke bottles, or throwing his batting-practice slop for another team. Has there ever been a more dreadful late-season acquisition in the history of sports? I wasn't opposed to having him on the postseason roster - he has had a tremendous amount of success in his career, and there was a certain Scott Williamson-in-'03 vibe about him - but it's painfully obvious now that he's not going to be of any help. Either his arm is hurt and he's not telling anyone or his confidence is battered beyond repair. Either way, he stinks, and I've seen enough. Excuse me while I daydream that the Sox might reconsider Clay Buchholz's status should they make the World Series. He would have been exactly what they needed tonight.

Ah, well. Here's hoping the Pats can steamroll America's Sweetheart Tony Romo and the Cowboys and take our minds off of tonight's debacle for a few hours. The ol' nerves could use a respite today.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Isn't it just wacky how both managers in this series actually played for the opposing team? Only in baseball! How about that! Oh, all right, so that's something only Tim Kurkjian would find remotely interesting. Forget you guys, I'm going to bed.