LONGSHOTS: Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
by Dave Long
Count me as one who thinks losing two of three to the Yankees over the weekend was actually a good thing for the Red Sox. I know it sounds crazy, but I just donít like double-digit leads at the end of the first one-third of the season.
Who knows, they might be like Detroit in 1984, which jumped out of the box at 35-5 and never looked back. But while I like a big lead, double digits on June 1 gives me the willies. Itís an invitation to go on cruise control, which is hard to reverse when it happens. Then thereís the outright giddiness in Red Sox Nation, where many counted the Yankees dead as they chirped away last week while getting ready to stand in line for playoff tickets.
Egads, doesnít anyone have even a little sense of recall around here?
There are those, like WEEIís Glen Ordway, who constantly dismiss anything in the past as irrelevant in 2007. Since I go to the historical record now and then, I say thatís crazy. For instance, Bob Ryan made an interesting observation in Mondayís Globe drawing a parallel between the Empireís struggles in 2007 and those of the 1965 Yanks. As age and injuries piled up that year, the great Yankee dynasty ó Patriot fans take note ó that started in 1921, with the arrival of the Babe, finally ended as they finished sixth. Since I was there suffering right through it all, I can tell you Ryan is right that it occurred amid a summer-long belief (like many have now) that the vaunted Yankees would rally and get back into the race.
Historical naysayers ask what does what happened 42 years ago have to do with any team in í07, and thatís where they miss the point. Itís not that thereís a direct connect from then to now, but it can serve as a guide to GM (for now) Brian Cashman for how relying on an older team can catch up with you as it did for NY after it won the 1964 pennant.
So I agree the collapse of 1978 has no connection to the current Sox. But, itís still significant by showing a 14-game lead is not insurmountable. And the Giants and Dodgers in 1951, the Phillies blowing a 6Ĺ-game lead with 10 to go in 1964 and the Blue Jays doing something similar in 1987 show it wasnít one in a million. If you dismiss that as ancient history, consider LAST YEAR. The Twins entered September nine back and still won the Central, and the Red Sox were in it until an avalanche of injuries led to a five-game sweep by the Yanks in August and they wound up farther back than Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 primary.
My point is not to say the ďsky is falling!Ē Itís to say itís just a wonderful start, helped along by an onslaught of Yankee injuries. So itís not quite time to print series tickets just yet. And while thereís certainly been a lot to like, there are still a few things Iím not quite convinced about yet. So hereís my take on where things stand with a third of a season in the books.
What I Like Best: Number one ó theyíve done it without Manny- and David Ortiz-bashing. History (thereís that word again) says theyíll begin terrorizing pitchers at some point, which will help. Thereís the maturing Josh Beckett, dominance of Jonathan Papelbon (Sunday not withstanding) along with Mike Lowell and coming into his own Kevin Youkilis. After those pitchers, theyíre 1 and 1A for team MVP.
Questions Still Needing Answers: I know the bullpen has been a revelation, but I need more evidence than one third of a season. Chief among them is if Hideki Okajima has been just a red hot pitcher or a guy whoíll be better in the U. S. than he was in Japan. Will Curt Schilling and Mike Timlin stay healthy and will Dice-K get consistent? Is Jon Lester ready to start? Off field, why do I keep hearing Lowellís name in trade rumors?
Needs Improvement: I know weíre just two months into it and that his numbers will improve, but J. D Drew hasnít done a thing to assuage my thoughts over how bad it was to give him a five-year deal at enormous numbers. And while I like Julian Tavarezís attitude and versatility, they need a better fifth starter.
Biggest Surprise: Okajima for one, but does anybody know how, in the name of David Eckstein, Dustin Pedroia got up to hitting .330? Last time I checked it was .260 and I was ecstatic at that. Theo and the boys look good here.
Nitpicking: I mention this because the revolving door at short is a pet peeve of Niagara Falls-like proportion. So I need to mention in Eckstein, Nomar, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Henley Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez six shortstop alums are out-hitting Julio Lugo. Having said that, there are things I like about Lugo and I think things will get better for him.
Overlooked: Not that Iím tough on managers, well, besides Grady Little, Kevin Kennedy, Doc Rivers, Rick Pitino, Jimmy Rogers, Pete Carroll, Rod Rust and Ö., well OK maybe I am tough on them, but I really like Terry Francona. Pitch count mania aside, he does a great job with the staff, keeps all on an even keel, stuck with Pedroia, and is ready for Manny being Manny on a momentís notice. Thereís also the speed of Coco Crisp and Lugo. Say what you want about Crisp as a hitter, but heís better in center than Johnny Damon, while he and Lugo offer an ability to manufacture runs when needed. I like that.
The Yankees: The difference between í07 and 1965 is their top stars arenít ready to topple as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard were. They need bullpen help, but the top four starters look pretty good to me. And remember in 1995 they had the same record on June 1 as in 2007 and went farther in the playoffs than the Red Sox. It may be 1965 all over again, but, like then, I ainít buying it just yet.
The Rest of the Division: Elitist? Maybe ó but who cares. Even though more big leads have ended happy than not, itís best to recall that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. No one, besides maybe those 1984 Tigers, has won it before June 1. So rather than looking at the great start with the rampant ďitís overĒ giddiness, try cautious optimism. Because if you donít and they come back to the pack ó history says the Nation will be back out on the ledge ó and does have a direct connect from then to now.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).