October 7, 2008

Congrats to the Boston Red Sox, who once again defied The Great White Shank’s expectations and moved onto the American League Championship Series after defeating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (a stupid name for a ballclub if I ever heard one) three games to one in their best-of-five ALDS playoff series.

Make no mistake about it – this was one close series played by two very evenly-matched teams. One can easily argue the Angels are the ones who should be heading to Tampa to play the Rays – fact is, if they had played defense as well as the Sox did they would have. Oh sure, Angels manager Mike Scoscia’s bonehead suicide squeeze call in the 9th inning of last night’s game didn’t help by any stretch of the imagination, but in every game of the series, the Angels’ inability to: a) make the routine plays, and b) drive home a runner or two when they were in scoring position absolutely killed them.

Given the Red Sox recent history of success, it’s hard to imagine that not so many years ago, it was the Red Sox who would find themselves in the position the Angels find themselves today – heading home after yet another disappointing post-season.

As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick points out these are not your grandfather’s Red Sox anymore – the “lovable losers” monicker they finally tossed off their back in 2004 (now the sole possession of the Chicago Cubs) replaced, under the steady guidance of GM Theo Epstein, by a stunningly-efficient machine capable of competing deep into the post-season any given year.

What Epstein has been able to do in four short years has been nothing but transformative. In 2004, it was the end of the “dead ballclub era” when Nomar Garciaparra’s team was turned over to David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and the two not only propelled the Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years, but led them to Major League Baseball’s mountaintop again just three years later. At the July trading deadline this year, the “Manny Being Manny” era became the latest vine on the Beantown Nine to be pruned, and newcomer Jason Bay quickly ingratiated himself into Red Sox Nation; along with up-and-comers like shortstop Jed Lowrie, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and pitcher Justin Masterson, the Sox now fielded an exciting mix of veterans and rookies to make their push to the baseball post-season.

How far can the Sox go this year? The Rays will certainly present a most formidable challenge, and it promises to be an exciting series. These are two teams that have already played each other 18 times this year (Tampa holds a 10-8 advantage) and most of those games were close and well-played affairs. Both teams have excellent starting pitching and defense; the Rays bullpen has been excellent all year, Boston’s, while good lately, has been in and out. The Sox will certainly miss third baseman Mike Lowell’s bat, but they’re making the right decision holding him out of the series because, try as he might, his lack of mobility and bat speed due to an ailing hip hurt the team equally during the Angels series. Dan Shaughnessy says not to bet against the Sox, but I just think this is the Rays’ year – they truly are the Cinderella Team.

And if that happens, that’s OK – it’ll give the Rays fans something to cherish always. I can still remember the excitement of that crazy 2004 post-season. I have all the DVDs and, watching the Red Sox play the Yankees in Game 4, on the verge of being swept, making that incredible comeback win and sweeping the Yankees and Cardinals for their World Series championship, it still seems almost impossible to believe. And this time of year, it all comes back to me again as a marvelous thing to have experienced – “Surviving Grady”, the Dropkick Murphys and “Tessie”, the outpouring of emotion that reverberated all the way from Boston to the Left Coast and back again, culminating in what we know today as Red Sox Nation.

Watching the Red Sox doin’ the cheap champagne thing last night was a joy to behold, and Theo & The Gang are to be congratulated for what they accomplished. Now it’s on to Florida, that sun-shiney state for shady people, and the opportunity to wring just a few more golden days of summer out of the autumn and baseball’s post-season.

Red Sox baseball in October. ‘Tis a wonderful thing one never tires of.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 14:22 | Comments (2)
  1. The Sox will win the World Series. They’re going to take a tough one from the Rays in 6 and a fairly easy one from Manny and the Dodgers in 5. Just too much experience.

    The Rays are built for a solid 5-6 year run, though. I love their youth and enthusiasm. The AL East is a whole lot more interesting now because of it. In the Central, the Twins are another young team built on dynamite.

    Youth will be served in both leagues … but not this year. MLB has a bright future. Look at the 2008 All Star rosters. At least half of those players had to be under 25. The 1000-watt smile on Hanley Ramirez (24) after his first All Star hit said it all. Man, the kids in both leagues are a lot of fun to watch.

    Comment by Rob — October 8, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  2. Ahh yes, Hanley Ramirez – he’d sure be a joy to watch at shortstop for the Sox, but you gotta give up something to get something, and the Sox wouldn’t have won it all last year with Josh Beckett. I love trades that work out for both teams.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — October 8, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

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