Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ladies and gentlemen, I have an intriguing question to pose to you all. At what point in this evening's game did Kevin Youkilis look most ridiculous? Was it the foul ball down the first base line that he turned into a Keystone Kops moment? Or was it when he struggled through the introduction of the lineup, making Rocky's struggles in the commercial taping in Rocky II look like Olivier doing Hamlet on stage in London?

According to Joe Buck, Youkilis manages to look intimidating even when he introduces a lineup. Of course, I think that if you are Joe Buck, even my five year old niece looks intimidating, but that's neither here nor there. I think Youkilis is far from intimidating. Rather, he looks like the type of guy that desperately wanted to be a biker all his life, who gets the bike and the clothes and the look, but still can't make himself look mean. Perhaps Youkilis would have looked meaner in my eyes had he not waited until the team trailed by 7 in the 6th inning to notch his first HR and RBI of the ALCS.

The Youkilis bobble reminded me of a quote from George Orwell which I first applied to Mark Cuban. Orwell described one of England's peers as "looking rather more like a monkey on a stick than I would have thought possible for some one who wasn't actually trying." That sums up how pathetic Youkilis looked in misplaying that ball.

Over the course of the offseason, which now looks like it just might start a lot sooner than Red Sox Nation might desire, a great deal of ink will be spilled on the fact that Francona elected not to start Josh Beckett on three days rest. For my part, I have attacked Francona continually over the 18 months this blog has existed. But I don't think he made the wrong call. And it's not because I wanted the Sox to lose, for a change.

People love to point out that Beckett was lethal on three days rest in the 2003 playoffs. That was then, however, and this is now. Josh Beckett is the cornerstone of this team going forward. Is it, then, better to risk his arm for the sake of tying an ALCS or is it better to take your chances with Wakefield and keep Beckett as healthy as possible to extend the window for this team?

I took a great deal of grim staisfaction in seeing Wakefield, who was so good so long ago in the regular season, fall apart in the fifth inning of this evening's game. But up until this evening, he had never lost an LCS game. And it mattered little that he was pitching on 18 days rest. After all, were you really worried that his arm would be too live in tonight's game if you happen to be a Red Sox fan?

And while we're talking history, if we can remember what Josh Beckett did in 2003 on three days rest, why can't we remember what he did in the last LCS start with his team trailing 3-1 in an elimination game? That was Game 5 of the NLCS in 2003, and I hate to do this to my friend the Cubs fan, but Beckett shut down the Cubs as though it were a moral imperative that the Cubs should score no runs.

He threw a 2 hitter in that game. Not much attention is paid to it, partly because stifling the Dusty Baker-era Cubs wasn't exactly a miracle. And of course being on the wrong end of a 2 hitter in a game where you could have elimated the opponent isn't anywhere near as picturesque as some loser in glasses interfering with a fly ball down the left field line with 5 outs to go and a three run lead.

If Red Sox fans were honest (and let's face it, they aren't), they'd admit that starting Wake over Beckett wasn't exactly reminiscent of Joe McCarthy going with Denny Galehouse in the one game playoff against the Indians in 1948. Of course that presumes Red Sox fans know half as much as they pretend to about their team's history. Perhaps if the CHB gets off his posterior and has his interns burn the midnight oil, then the Nation might remember it as though it were yesterday the day after the column appears. But that's another story.

Before today's game, I got to thinking about that play where Ortiz managed to get in the way of Ramirez grounding out to shortstop. Seeing him run into that out in such surprising fashion reminded me of something at the time. I'm sure all of you good Red Sox fans who worry so much about what might happen to John Henry's ill-gotten gains in his pending divorce own the 2004 postseason DVD, so you can check it out for yourselves.

In case you don't remember, Cardinals pitcher and all-around loser Jeff Suppan managed to get himself trapped in a rundown at third base thanks to indecision on the base paths. I remember being livid with him at the time, not only because it was a momentum killing play that benefited the Red Sox, but because a National League pitcher has to run the bases from time to time and ought to have had better sense than that. To make a long story short, I think Papi might have killed the Sox momentum in this series with that play.

So the Red Sox are now poised on the brink of elimination. I cannot summon up a proper level of excitement about that, though. First, there is, as I keep saying, the lingering memory of 2004's comeback against the Yankees. And as I've said, I still don't like this Indians team. I do find myself wondering whether the layoff while the Rockies await the winner of this series might be the only thing that will kill the roll Colorado is on at the moment.

The home half of the fifth inning of tonight's game did reinforce an impression I've had of the Indians in this postseason. With the way they keep grinding out runs in all kinds of different ways with two outs, they remind me of a football team that simply can't get an opponent off the field on third down, like Notre Dame, or the teams that have fallen victim to Belichick's corrupt legion of minions.

And while I'm on the topic of things that have suddenly become clear to me over the last few days, I have one more this evening thanks to Bill Simmons. For a long time now, basically since the travesty of 2004, or maybe since he went to work for Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Simmons has been evoking an impression of something I couldn't quite explain. Calling him an aggressive sycophant summed up his persona, but it didn't resolve the question of that nagging impression.

Then Bill Simmons wrote this brilliant piece comparing being a Boston fan right now to waking up every day being George Clooney. And it hit me like a thousand of brick, to quote Rooster Cogburn. Bill Simmons reminds me of George Clooney. Not the looks, or the talent, but that vague, smarmy smugness that is all over the Gospel According to Clooney.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, the writers of South Park did an excellent job of satirizing this particular aspect of Clooney's character in the smug epsiode. They got after Clooney for his inexplicable Oscar acceptance speech after he won Best Supporting Actor for Syriana.

In that speech, Clooney gave credit to Hollywood for bringing issues like civil rights and AIDS to public attention when the rest of America was silent. Now, I might be alone in not remembering all those movie and TV stars sprayed by fire hoses and attacked by police dogs in the South in the 50s and 60s, but I am that sort of guy. And it was a blow against racism when Hattie McDaniel won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind, right up there with the I Have a Dream speech, right?

But that's a long digression to come back to Bill Simmons. He's a fraud, like Clooney. He sets himself up as the voice of the young sports fan from Gen X and beyond, and I wish it weren't true. After all, if he's the voice of that slice of sportsfandom, then sportsfandom must be even dumber than I want to admit.

In other matters, the Yankees brain trust convened in Tampa today to discuss the future of Joe Torre. No announcement was made, so I have tomorrow afternoon to try to squeeze in the analysis of the Yankee management situation before the decision is made.

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