Pass the Flask!

…before Jackass Cat finishes it.   He is already almost out of catnip.  Little doper.

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Another excellent Christmas gift from our gracious host.  I have been remiss in not posting this earlier.  Thanks, XBRAD.  Your gift will let me stay warm inside when the wind chill is -30 (like today), or when forced to contemplate our invertebrate Chief Executive, or our eroding liberties, or our lemming-like voter base….

World Champion Boston Red Sox

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You didn’t think I was gonna let that pass without comment, did you?   The phrase “World Champion Boston Red Sox” still carries a slight flavor of an alternate history of some kind.  After all the disappointment, nay, true heartbreak, over the previous several decades, it still gives a long-time Sox fan pause.  It isn’t that Boston doesn’t have at least its share of champions.  Since I began following sports in the early 70s, the Celtics have won six Championships, including 2008.  The Bruins, three.  The Patriots, three Super Bowls, and are contenders every year.  But the Red Sox?  It is a strange realization that there are young adults who have no concept of the Curse.  Youngsters with three World Series wins already in memory, who probably think the oft-told tales of long-suffered angst and anguish and fatalism has more to do with their parents than with the team.  For them, the crushing disappointment of 2003 with the loss in extra innings of Game 7 of the ALCS, once again to the hated Yankees, is a mere blip.  After all, we came close, didn’t we?  And we won it the next year, anyhow!  No big deal.

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But that is truly a short perspective.  For my Dad, there was Enos Slaughter and the mad dash.  And Denny Galehouse.  1967 is special, an exception. even being a 7-game loss to the same St Louis Cardinals, because of the rank improbability of it all for a young and underdog Red Sox Impossible Dream team.  While not a disappointment, it is, nonetheless, a defeat when they had been so close.   For me, it is 1972, and 1974, when seemingly dominant Red Sox teams unraveled in the late summer heat.  In ’74, the Sox led by 3 games with 4 to play, only needing to win one.  They lost all four, including a double-header in which they looked absolutely frightened, and lost the division by half a game.   And then there is 1975, and the World Series against the Reds.  Jim Burton giving up Joe Morgan’s bloop single to score two in the late innings of game 7, and Yaz flying out to Geronimo to end it.  Maggie crying against her fridge somewhere in Charlestown…  And 1978, the Yankees again, who come from 14 games back to win a playoff game.  Bucky f-ing Dent, and Yaz, again, ending it with a pop-up to Nettles, after homering off Guidry earlier in the game.  And then there is 1986.  I couldn’t even watch a show about that series until after the Sox won in ’04.   A 5-2 lead, bases empty, with two outs and two strikes in the 9th inning.  And they lose. (Calculate the chances of THAT, sabermetricians!) Calvin Schiraldi coming in from the bullpen looking like he was being led to the executioner’s post.  Stanley’s pitch in the dirt.  Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner.  They had NO chance in Game 7.  My TBS classmates tried to console me, but I told them I knew the Sox would lose.  And even when the Sox had a 3-0 lead in Game 7 with Clemens on the mound, I was firm.  Nope.  No way.  They have NO chance.  As one of my Basic School platoon mates said after, when the Sox indeed lost the game 8-5, (and the World Series) to the Mets, “Man, THAT’S fatalism”.

This was a fun team to watch.  Much more enjoyable than even the 2004 and 2007 teams, for the entire year.  Both of those teams had a couple of jerks whose poor attitude and lack of effort were aggravating to see.  (Manny Ramirez, great hitter that he was, played left field like he was blindfolded on roller skates.  And for being paid $150,000 a GAME, you’d think he could run out a ground ball, for Christ’s sake.)   But this team was hard-working, and overachieving.  Fast on the bases and in the field, with excellent pitching more often than not.  And they were clutch.  I never got the feeling they were going to find a way to lose.  On the contrary, they had the tools and the speed and the hitting to find ways to win.  Even when St Louis loaded the bases, good pitches and good glove work ended the threat.

Maybe it was karma, but a couple days before the deciding Game 6, ESPN played the classic Four Days in October, the story of the Sox coming from 3-0 down to beat the Yankees in 2004.   Local comedian Lenny Clarke has a great line in that.  He was looking at the faces of Yankees fans as the Red Sox were thumping the Yanks in Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the ALCS, cameras showing the disbelief and disappointment, the occasional tears.  He said “I recognize those faces!  That’s US!”  And until 2004, so it was.  Oh, so many times.  But no more.  And that is a nice feeling.

Red Sox in the World Series Again

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Last night the Boston Red Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers 5-2 in last night’s Game 6 of the ALCS, winning the series four games to two.   Boston will face the storied St Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic, a rematch of the 2004 World Series when the Sox swept the Cards and broke 86 years of heartbreak to win their first title since 1918.  Last night Victorino hit a grand slam in the seventh off Jose Veras, on a hanging curveball down the middle on an 0-2 count.

That 2004 Series was a surreal event, to be sure.  I had just returned from Iraq, where, as the Sox made a charge to the AL East title (and traded their star shortstop in the middle of the season), then-Colonel Joe Dunford and I would prognosticate, half jokingly, that “this was the year”.  Colonel Dunford, a Boston native, had as a kid delivered newspapers to Jerry Adair of the storied 1967 Sox team.  Also with us at Blue Diamond was Major McNamara, the son of the Red Sox manager (John McNamara) of the 1986 team that lost to the Mets.  Mike was less a Sox fan than we, as his old man was all but run out of town the next season.  (Boston is a tough place to manage baseball!)   After the crushing disappointment of 1986 (I couldn’t watch anything to do with that series until after the Sox won in 2004, for fear I would kick my television set in), and 1978, and 1975, and 1974, grasping that they finally had won a World Series in 2004 took a while.  “What now?” was the overwhelming thought once the euphoria faded.  And more than a few of us started looking around for other signs of the Apocalypse.

Boston had also matched up against St Louis in 1967, when the “Impossible Dream” Sox won the AL Pennant as 100:1 long shots, and in 1946, which was Ted Williams’ only Series appearance.  In 1967 and in 1946, the Cardinals won in seven games.  In 2004, Boston won 4-0.  Now they are facing off again with St Louis.  I love that.  The Cards have a rich tradition of excellence.  The Gas House Gang.  Dean.  Musial.  Gibson.  Brock.  The Sox, of course, do, too.  Ruth, Williams.  Doerr.  Pesky.  Joe Wood.  Yaz and Rice.  Fisk.  Yes, Clemens.  And now Ortiz and Pedroia and Ellsbury.    Should be a good and exciting series.

A couple of things I do lament about how the game is played today…  This infatuation with “pitch counts” and “match-ups” is a very new thing.  Time was a good pitcher could go nine innings more than half the time, and had pitches he could throw the third and fourth time through the line-up.   Now, these pitchers are treated as fragile things, limited to 100 or 110 pitches while in their prime.  Throw 200 innings, and you are a “work-horse”.  Pitch into the seventh inning and it is a good start.  Not long ago, pitchers threw 250-300 innings a year routinely.  Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver and Don Sutton routinely exceeded 300 innings a year, with no effect on their arms or longevity.  Even Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez threw 280-plus most years, and they retired only a few years ago.  I remember watching Louis Tiant, at age 37 (supposedly), throw 168 pitches in a single game in the 1975 series.   Managers should tell pitchers to be in shape for nine innings every time out, and the ones that can’t, don’t stay.  And pitchers should be able to get out right-handed and left-handed hitters.  This idea of “specialists” taking up a roster spot would have caused Earl Weaver’s head to explode.  Either you can pitch in the majors or you can’t.

While I am bitching, I have just one more thing.  Can someone invent a Tim McCarver mute button?