August 24, 2006

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LONGSHOTS: Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
by Dave Long

I donít know what to write about today. Should I like forward, or back? Given that itís Monday with what Iíll understate as the monumentally epic embarrassment suffered by the Red Sox to the hated Yankees in the rearview mirror, looking forward might be better. After all, pretty much everyone except me has weighed in on last weekendís events and the discourse from some in the media was pretty gruesome.

Of course, being last hasnít stopped me before, but letís see what else there is to talk about. There are the Patriots, who drubbed the Cardinals 30-3. Yes, itís exhibition season and they are the Cardinals, but watching that game made something obvious, which for the sake of his bank account should tell Deion Branch heíd be wise to end his holdout. The offense is changing. The amazing tackle Ben Watson made on Champ Bailey last January is not the last youíll see of him. Itís obvious that athleticism will be a centerpiece of the offense, as it was with Ben Coates 10 years ago (yikesócan it be that long ago?). Iím betting theyíre going to use Watson and their eight other tight ends in a power passing game. Combined with the more diversified speed and power running game they now have, itíll let them pound it in 2006. That makes the depleted wide receiving core less of a factor and ironically more of a surprise this year and make it easier to get by without the departed David Givens and MIA Branch. Thus Branch will not come back because of any desperation call. So he might as well save the fine money, get what he can get now and then take the Johnny Damon route out of town to earn the big score heís earned.

I donít want to see him go, but thatís what I see happening. And if his agent doesnít, he must have gone to the same agent school that led Arne Tellem to tell Nomar he could get more on the open market than the $60 million. Howíd that one turn out? And that miscalculation came dealing with the congenial folks who gave Josh Beckett $40 million over four years, not the guy who let the most clutch kicker in football walk over $500,000. Deion, Iím telling you, youíre going to lose this one, pal.

Speaking of Damon, after his spectacular series the second guessers are in full bloom, arenít they? And that means Coco Crisp will be in the crosshairs for the foreseeable future. Isnít it amazing how quickly Damon went from a turncoat we-donít-want-him-anymore backstabber to a ďhow could they ever let him leave?Ē necessity. Who in the Nation hasnít seen him do what he did at Fenway last weekend? So why is it a shock? Now many did say the Trio should fork over the $13 million a year he got in New York, so I suppose they have a right to cluck. But I suspect theyíre also now barking about the pitching or lack of it..

I was willing to let Damon walk. Not because he was in decline, as I thought Pedro was when he got a four-year deal from the Mets. Instead I wanted the $10 million saved to be invested in pitching. Of course, Iíd been pounding the Beckett drum for 18 months and his 12+ ERA vs. New York doesnít make me look very Branch Rickeyesque. But if they did sign Damon imagine how bad it would be if the pitching budget were $11 million lighter.

Of course the media is all over Theo for not getting anything at the trading deadline, while Bobby Abreu (who also had a fabulous series) went to New York. Leading the charge, of course, is the grating Dan Shaughnessy, who pasted Theo in a Sunday column reinforcing that no one points the finger of blame or throws a media tantrum better than him. Well, outside George Steinbrenner, that is. I donít disagree with what he said, just how he says it. Sanctimoniously pointing the finger and never offering solutions. Essentially sports talk radio in print, and at its worst as nobody wants it both ways more. Loved Theo, loved his approach and now mocks the prospects as too good to trade. It does get to be a bit much.

None other than Steinbrenner can be used to support Theoís contention that you canĎt panic after a horrendous series and for looking to the big picture. Before The Boss got suspended the second time he played that game and it led to disaster. Every time the Yanks hit a bad patch and the tabloids blasted away, heíd panic and trade prospects for journeymen like Bob Sykes or Ken (good evening Mr.) Phelps to plug cracks the young guys supposedly couldnít fill. But instead he got over-the-hill stiffs who couldnít play in return for those who did a few years down the road. And that course bottomed out in 1992 when they finished dead last.

What saved the Yanks was the aforementioned suspension of the Boss, who then couldnít flip out over a two-game losing streak. So Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettit could make mistakes as they developed and in a few short years they were the core of a team that won four World Series in five years. Now I doubt the Red Sox young guys are that good. Manny Delcarmen hasnít showed me anything to say heís better than John Wasdin. Ditto for Craig Hansen, who simply isnít ready. Jon Lester has, though heís sure looked like Bobby Sprowl lately. But Jonathan Paplebon has Rivera-like ability and, as you may know, I love what Kevin Youkilis adds to a team.

So while I donít have a crystal ball for the prospects, I know they didnít have one in New York 15 years ago either. Just the luxury of not having to listen to pressure from the Boss. Which is the luxury Theo has with windbag media critics who donít always agree with him like me. Thatís what Bill Belichick has done in good times and bad while turning the Patriots into the best organization in sports. Mainly because, as Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri, Lawyer Milloy and others will tell, heís always looking ahead.

Which is what Iíll do today and Theo should do as well.

Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM


Comments?†Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com

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Yanked from the edge of your seat