posted: Oct. 11, 2005  |  Feedback

Even though the series ended four days ago, I wanted to discuss the Sox. Not the Red Sox ... the White Sox.

It wasn't just the sweep that impressed me, or all the different players who stepped up at various times. The way Chicago dismantled Boston was almost Belichickian. Did they screw up a single time in three games? Was there a play that wasn't made? How many times did someone come through when they needed it? I just loved the way they played baseball, even if they were constantly reminding me of the staggering inadequacies of my own team.

Looking back, that matchup was eerily reminiscent of some of the Colts-Pats games from the past few seasons -- maybe the Red Sox were more explosive, maybe the White Sox didn't seem as dangerous on paper ... and then the games started and the White Sox kept popping them in the mouth, making big plays and doing the Little Things. And after it was over, much like Colts fans after any of those Pats games, the Red Sox fans were torturing themselves with comments like, "Man, if only that play didn't happen, we would have won that game" and "Man, if only he had come through in that spot, that game would have been totally different" but the bottom line was this: The Red Sox weren't good enough to beat a team like Chicago. That Game 3 ended with Boston scoring three runs on three solo home runs -- I mean, if that didn't sum up the entire Red Sox season, I don't know what does.

(As I wrote two weeks ago, without Big Papi's heroics, this was an 82-85 win team. There's absolutely no question that this team overachieved, and there wasn't a single thing that stood out about this team other than the staggering amount of comeback wins and the Ortiz-Manny combination, which ended up yielding nearly 100 homers and 300 RBI in 165 games. Every other aspect of this team was average or below-average, and that includes the front office, which botched this 2005 season in ten different ways and made the unconscionable decision to tinker with a championship team that everyone loved. This franchise could potentially be screwed for the next 3-4 years because of decisions made over the last 10 months. But that's a whole other story.)

The question remains: Can the White Sox win the World Series?

In his Sunday column, Peter Gammons alluded to a new direction of baseball -- the post-steroids brand of play, where the Little Things (baserunning, defense, clutch hits, quality starts, reliable relievers) have taken precedence again -- and wondered if we're headed for a stretch like the mid-80's, where teams like the '84 Tigers, the '85 Cards and Royals, the '86 Mets, the '87 Twins and the '88 Dodgers competed for championships even though none of them were dominant offensively in a traditional way. And there's something to that, I think. This summer, when I watched the 12-game DVD of the Sox-Yankees and Sox-Cardinals series from October, I couldn't believe how poorly all three of those teams played in some of those games -- for instance, Boston was downright sloppy in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series (remember the four errors in Schilling's start?), and Game 5 of the Yankees series (although dramatic as hell) contained an inordinate amount of screw-ups and bad baseball plays. But Boston's bats made up for everything.

The biggest difference between the 2004 Sox and the 2005 Sox? The 2004 lineup coould always bail them out -- from top to bottom, all of those guys could get on base, all of them could come through when it mattered, and they always kept extending those pitch counts and wearing out starters and relievers. This year's lineup was a two-man show (Ortiz and Manny), with everyone else underachieving by year's end (especially Varitek, Damon and Nixon, all of whom looked cooked). Throw in the defensive downgrade in the middle infield (Cabrera and Bellhorn to Renteria and Graffanino), as well as the dramatic difference in pitching staffs (that's a whole other column), and there was no way this 2005 Boston team could hang with a team playing as well as the White Sox last week.

At another time, we'll tackle what the Red Sox should do this winter. It's easy to overreact after a sweep in the playoffs, and you can't overlook the fact that A.) the two most important pitchers from the 2004 team (Schilling and Foulke) were complete non-factors this season; B.) there was no way to predict that Nixon, Bellhorn and Millar (one-third of last year's championship lineup) would break down like that; C.) Clement was never the same after getting nailed in the head in Tampa Bay; and D.) if you believe Theo Epstein, Renteria was battling back problems all year (although that excuse seems a little too convenient after the fact, if you ask me). Without Ortiz's ongoing heroics and Jonathan Papelbon's unexpected emergence down the stretch, this team wouldn't have come within 7-8 games of a playoff spot. There's no way.

(And with that said, they easily could have won Game 2 of the White Sox series with a little luck, and Game 3 was right there for the taking... oh, man... I promised myself I wouldn't do this ...)

Three things made me feel better after the Red Sox season ended ...

1. It was refreshing to watch my baseball team get crushed in a playoff series, including two old-school Sox moments (Graffanino's error and the bases loaded/no outs/El Duque debacle), and not have to deal with announcers rehashing the Curse of the Bambino crap, high-fiving in the booth and showing 200 different replays of the Buckner Era. The boys didn't play well, the season ended, and that was that.

2. I didn't fully realize it until afterwards, but that was a particularly stressful Red Sox season: Foulke's unequivocal meltdown and subsequent Section 8; the collective demise of Bellhorn/Millar/Embree; Dale Sweum practically baiting Sox fans to pull a William Ligue Jr. on him; the neverending Manny soap opera; Pedro thriving in New York; Jay Payton's struggles (followed by his renaissance in Oakland); Schilling's painful-to-watch comeback, accompanied by the gradual realization that he wasn't the same pitcher anymore; the ongoing horror of watching a seemingly washed-up shortstop on the hook for $40 million through 2008; stiffs like Remlinger, Harville, Halama, Mantei, Neal and Gonzalez pitching in big spots; Clement falling apart after the Tampa game; Kapler's unfair achilles injury that abruptly ended his season; the Yankees turning things around with Small and Chacon (17-3 combined!); Mike Timlin (God bless him for pitching 81 games, by the way) trying to close games without the capability to pitch with guys on base; Varitek and Damon wearing down in September ... I mean, this had to be the least enjoyable 95-win season of all-time. In a weird way, part of me is glad that it's over.

3. The Yankees falling short in Anaheim, followed by the inevitable winter of good-natured A-Rod bashing. In fact, here's a sample from my mailbox last night:

I am just steaming right now and I have to get this off my chest. I'm a die hard Yankee fan, and I have to say one thing ... give Papi the MVP. While watching the bottom of the ninth as the Yanks trailed 5-3 tonight, the first 2 at bats completely summed up the values of Jeter and A-Rod to the Yankees as an organization, it was almost eerie. Maybe Jeter will never put up the numbers that A-Rod can put up over 162 games. But when the Yanks need a baserunner, he gets on base. A-Rod blew it. A-Rod vs Ortiz? Forget about it. This postseason I watched A-Rod's teammates play their guts out and A-Rod let them down. I also watched David Ortiz play his guts out, and his teammates let him down. There's a huge difference. Big Papi gets my vote.
-- David, New York, NY

Right now, somewhere in New York, a five-year-old kid is wondering if the Yankees will win a championship in his lifetime.
-- Dan Bock, Durham, N.C.



Oh, man. I haven't laughed that hard since I was a little girl.

I think you really need to devote a column to the A-Rod face. It's like little fairies came down from the heavens riding milk-white chariots, their only mission: to beat a look of disgust and pain on number thirteen's face -- a look so magical that you could bring it to Tiny Tim and he wouldn't be want for food or drink.

If you bottled it and sold it, hunger would be driven from the land. People would make it their mission to bring the A-Rod face to third world countries. They would hold it out infront of them, like Perseus holding Medusa's Head in "Clash of the Titans," and suddenly crippled children would jump up and dance and barren women would find out they were pregnant.

HAHA, OK, that's enough. I'm losing it.
-- Jim B., Boston, MA When the Yankees obtained A-Rod, I reacted like Richard Gere did in "Unfaithful" when he went to that French guys house and found out about his wife. As a lifelong Yankee fan I knew full well the difference between Roy White, Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, Thurmon Munson, Don Mattingly, Jim Leyritz, Paul O'Neil ... and A-Rod. A-Rod is a curse -- he left Seattle, they won 116 games ... he left Texas, they won a bunch of games ... he gets to NY and they blow a 3-0 lead to their archnemisis, something never done before ... until A-Rod arrived. The best thing that could've happened to the Yankees was to let Boston have A-Rod, wait a year, sign Beltran and make a real effort to retain Clemens, Pettitte and Wells. In the words of Richard Gere before he bashes the French guy's head in, "I think I'm going to be sick."
--Jason S, Phoenix, AZ

I just watched the Yankees lose Game 5 of the ALDS with my Yankee fan roommate. I love that THE BIGGEST CHOKE IN SPORTS HISTORY has forever changed the demeanor of Yankee fans. Usually they have that smug "you know they're gonna win this game somehow" look on their faces. But that has totally changed since last year's egg laying to the Sox. He was yelling things like "another fly ball? Good job Popsui," and "Nice weak throw to the plate Giambi, should've juiced up before the game," and my favorite "effin' A-Rod! A bazillion dollars a year and he grounds into a double play in the 9th, he sucks ... him and his purple lips." Have you experienced the NEW Yankee fan or am I alone on this one?
--Chris M., Newton, MA

I was all for the A-Rod for MVP thing during the regular season. I was blinded by the whole playing the field argument and gave his defensive play too much weight. The breakdown should be somewhere around 99% batting and 1% based of fielding performance. That being said, I can't imagine that there is a single Yankee fan out there that would have rather had A-Rod hitting in the top of the 9th last night instead of Papi. Even with the same results I would have felt a lot better having Papi batting in that situation. Am I being too critical on a guy that hit 2 for 15 in the postseason this year? I don't think so. Papi won the MVP last night.
-- Royce, New York, NY

I'm at Game 5 of the ALDS and it's headed to the top of the ninth with the Angels up 5-3. I see Jeter, A-Rod and Giambi are coming up for the Yankees against K-Rod and I turn to my buddies I'm at the game with (one of which is a Red Sox fan, the other of which is just a Yankee hater) and tell them, "10 bucks says Jeter gets on to bring up the tying run and then A-Rod (screws) it up."

Right on cue, Jeter singled and A-Rod hit into a double play. In hindsight, it was probably the least bold proclamation I've ever made. It's uncanny the way Mr. Quarter-Billion seems to only be able to hit when the game has long since been decided.
--Chirag D., Los Angeles, CA

As I sit here just completely unable to fathom how a team could lose their starting pitcher in the 2nd inning to an injury, give up 2 runs in that same inning, and still come back against the "dreaded" Yankees, I just can't sleep because it makes me sick. See I'm a Yankee fan. I went through high school and college watching Jeter, O'Neill, Bernie, Tino, Sojo (had to throw him in there), Mariano, Pettitte, etc. come through time and time again in clutch situations.

I'm just telling you that as a Yankee fan, we are starting to turn on some of our players brought in to win the big games for us ... more specifically A-Rod. Let's forget the fact that he was 2 for whatever in the series for a second and take a look at the last two times around the order. In the 7th, with the Yanks down 5-2, Jeter comes up and smacks a shot over the center field fence to cut the lead to 2 ... typical October Jeter stuff. A-Rod comes up with some momentum on his side and weakly grounds out to shortstop. Now we head toward the 9th with the score still 5-3. Jeter leads it off with a frozen rope hit to left for a single. You just knew Jeter was getting on. I think Angel fans knew Jeter was getting on. So now A-Rod has his guy on first base. He's gotta do something, right? Nope ... 5-4-3 double play. And the thing is ... I knew it was coming as a Yankee fan. Should I have been sitting there hoping that my MVP candidate doesn't ground out into a double play? No ... I should have been hoping he could get on and keep the rally going. Instead, I found myself thinking things like "Just get it in the air A-Rod" or even "If he strikes out, at least there will still be only 1 out." This is my supposed MVP candidate. We got rid of Soriano because of his ineptitude in the postseason in 2003 to get A-Rod, but he clearly isn't the answer. I guess what I'm saying is that after watching that series ... as a Yankee fan ... Ortiz gets my MVP vote.

(I can't believe I just typed that last sentence, but it's so true)
--Mike L., Chevy Chase, MD

• Finally, my predictions for Round 2 of the baseball playoffs: Houston over St. Louis in 6; Chicago over Anaheim/Los Angeles/California in 5; Prison Break over OC for "Most Fox Promos"; me getting a press pass for a Sox-Angels game solely to find out how in God's name "Rocky 5" is Chone Figgins's favorite sports movie; McCarver calling Chris Burke "Chris Berkman" at least once; and 500 readers sending me an e-mail about how Bartolo Colon looks like Andre the Giant.

Back tomorrow with a new column.

October 2005