Tuesday, October 12, 2004

What a Surprise

Two days ago The Ninth was honestly bemoaning another Yankee-Red Sox matchup. Seen it, done it, time for something new. Now I'm so excited I secretly inserted Red Sox player names into important work documents for good luck. And yes, I got caught. I tried to place a bet with The Official Ninth Boss (who owns a prominent national hotel chain) - he asked "how much?", I replied "all you can handle", he looked at me like a crazy person. These games do this to us. No matter how many times we've seen the matchup, we never get tired of it. A few days before, we think we've had enough, then it's upon us and we're lighting furniture on fire for luck. (Sorry mom). It's almost impossible to find an angle on the series. The two teams have played to a Virtual Stalemate (look for it at an arcade near you) over the last two seasons, even down to the last run. We know this is going seven because it always does. There'll be one blow out, one extra inning angioplasty, and one come-from-behind spectacular, because there always is. One starter will over achieve, another will surprisingly fail, because they always do. The events are not going to be new, but the particulars will. We've seen this before, but at the same time, we've never seen anything quite like it. I think somebody stole my pants.

These next two games are of vital importance. There are two things Boston has going for them: better starters and a belief they can win. You look bad the next two days and both of those are out the window. I was talking to a Friend of the Ninth last night and mentioned a common Boston concern: the Red Sox are favorites. Pundits, fans, and gamblers alike are picking the Sox to win, and we don't care for it. We prefer being the underdog. Friend of the Ninth asked a simple and beautiful question in return: "aren't you always the underdog and don't you always lose?". I thought for a second, and then felt like an idiot. Why are we afraid of having the advantage? Every year it's been the same: Red Sox fans believe, everyone else does not, everyone else is right. Now we have finally people standing with us, and all of a sudden we're concerned? This is a good thing. It's better when it looks like you're going to win, because that usually means you do. Of course not always, but take a break from the cross for a few minutes and think about. Isn't it nice when people who understand the sport think Boston is better. Shouldn't that help our chances instead of hurting them? And Sox players believe. This isn't the usual Johnny Damon "any day now we're gonna turn it on" nonsense, it's legitimate confidence and expectation. They don't just believe they can win, they're excited about the chance to do it. Curt Schilling's brilliant quote ("I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up") sums it up perfectly. They believe they can win, and they can't wait for it to happen. God forbid we as fans act the same way.

But as I said, that can all go out the window with a couple of bad starts. Mike Mussina has been deadly against Boston with three regulars posting under .100 BAs, but the most alarming stat is this: 38% of all Red Sox AB's against Mussina have resulted in strike out. That's in the neighborhood of 15 per 9 IP. Yeesh. If Curt's ankle is just a little bit off, and those injury reports are down right Belichickian, there could be a problem. Give New York 2 runs instead of 1, or 3 instead of 2, and Moose could make it hold up. We've seen it before. The first two matchups are distinctly in Boston's favor, but neither are going to be easy. The advantage is not so large that it can't be squandered, it never is against New York. So Schilling and Pedro need to come out and succeed. A little bit of flop and the rare upper hand can be gone with the wind. Damn you, wind. The Sox are fine leaving New York with only one win, but it's important that neither pitcher get clobbered. Their excellence is crucial not only to the outcome of the games but the consistency of the club's confidence. Right now they've got the world thinking they're better, but Tuesday and Wednesday they have to make them believe it.

In closing, I'd like to do what Bill Simmons was too much of a wimp to:
Prediction: Red Sox in 7. Ha.
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