Thursday January 20th, 2005

It's a little before midnight on Sunday and Larry Bowa is on my TV. True, this is better than having him in my apartment, or managing my hometown team, but it is still unpleasant. Right now, he is calling Curt Schilling "heroic" for about the fourth time (he's already called him "courageous", next I suppose he's going to elevate him to "mythical" or equate his pitching while injured to saving babies from burning buildings). I'm enduring Bowa's "analysis" on ESPNEWS to get to the postgame press conferences, which provide some of the best live TV around. This is where fans get to find out what athletes and managers sound like without the benefit (or detrimental effect?) of sound bite editing. I particularly enjoy watching the facial expressions of players as they listen to questions -- we're so accustomed to only seeing them when talking that, like watching the presidential candidate who's not speaking during the debates (love the CNN split-screen Debate Camera), it's often possible to glean more from their body language in repose than their words.

So far, it's been a strange World Series. There's a post-coital feel to the whole thing, as if the real action took place in the League Championship Series. Both teams, flush with feel-good endorphins and just wanting a pizza and a cold beer, don't quite have the energy to get back in the saddle again (apparently they're not watching the FOX coverage, or they'd know all about Cialis and the benefits of "the weekender"). How else to explain that the Red Sox are now up 2-0 despite making eight errors? That sort of tables this whole idea of a Theo Epstein-designed defensive juggernaut. Not to single out anyone, but were it possible to control Manny Ramirez via remote control, as if he were some sort of knobby-tired electric car, a six-year-old could do a better job of positioning him than he has of his own/

The Boston offense, on the other hand, looks little like the squad from the Yankees series. I remember a point during the ALCS in which it appeared that Mark Bellhorn and Orlando Cabrera would be better off just taking pitches -- because that way they couldn't ground into a double play and they might at least get a walk -- than swinging. Now, Cabrera's second on the team in postseason RBIs (tied with Jason Varitek at 11) and Bellhorn is Ted Williams incarnate.

Or what about the fact that, despite Schilling's ankle injury, the Cardinals didn't bunt in Game 2. And it's not as if the Cardinals don't know how to bunt -- the dribbler Jim Edmonds laid down in Game 1 when Boston put the shift on was one of the prettier bunts in recent memory (you wonder why more players don't do the same in such situations).

The Cardinals problem so far is a lack of animosity. Sure, they're a dominant homefield team, and it will be a different series in St. Louis, but, unfortunately, they're a bunch of decent guys. I mean, look at Edmonds: you'd want the guy coaching your kid's little league team. But if the Yankees proved anything, it's that the Red Sox don't always respond well to personal challenges -- especially a certain jeri-curled Game 3 starter who almost single-handedly blew the ALCS because he needed to prove that he could get three outs in middle relief?

I'd like to see the Cards get a little mean. After all, the Sox are in the peculiar position of having history both on their side and against them. On a positive note, of the 48 teams to take a 2-0 lead, 37 of them have won. That's 77 percent. On a negative, Curse-invoking note, Boston represents part of the other 23 percent, having been in this position once before, almost 20 years ago. And we all know how that ended.

By a unique set of circumstances -- an evening flight to Pensacola, Fla., a radio dial devoid of ALCS coverage, an airport bar kicking out its patrons and an imminent two-hour drive -- I was unable to listen to the end of Game 5 of the Yankees-Red Sox series. Desperate for updates after leaving the airport with the game deadlocked in the 10th, I called upon the one man I knew I could count on in such a dire circumstance: Owen (of Owen's Important Sports Thought). For the next hour and a half, he provided at-times hilarious, often profane play-by-play as I rolled through the Florida night on I-98 toward Fort Walton Beach (the highlight: Owen, as a joke, declaring that David Ortiz was trying to steal second, then, after chuckling, yelling about 10 seconds later, "HOLY S---! Now he is trying to steal second!). By the time Ortiz hit a single to win the game in the 14th, my cell phone battery was nearly dead, Owen had had to replace his cordless phone (depleted battery) with a rotary he found in his closet and his enthusiasm was so great that his upstairs landlord would file a complaint the next day. Thanks Owen, I'll take you over Tim McCarver any day...

Which leads me to Owen's Important Sports Thought of the Week. Only one week removed from his so-called "New Commitment to Hating," he has now found the light, emboldened -- like so many others -- by the Boston comeback. This e-mail came in Friday morning and was prefaced by "forgive me if it's not as bitchy and in-your-face as usual."

"My honest feeling in all of this -- seriously -- is that I am fortunate to have been born when I was, and lived long enough so that my life could intersect with this moment. Ever since I was old enough to comprehend the seven-game series and its dynamics -- what each game meant, what a 2-0 lead meant, what splitting the first two on the road meant, what coming back from 3-1 meant, all of that -- I have always been captivated by the idea of a team coming back from a three games to none deficit.

And now I have seen it. And not only that, I saw the Red Sox do it to the Yankees -- and do it not only in the context of that rivalry, but also to answer the anguishing conclusion of last year's ALCS, an epic in its own right. I'm humbled. I never deserved this and feel like I should give it back. Right as I declare a "new commitment to hating" I get to share in an unbelievable, fulfilling week, and an absolutely affirming experience for those who love baseball above all other sports."

Owen promises he'll return to being cranky next week.

From the mailbag, more Sox love. Lots of people wrote in about the combeback last week, but perhaps none more eloquently than Gabe O'Malley, a friend from Boston, who sent me a long e-mail about what the victory meant to the natives. Here's an excerpt.

"There are moments which stand, stained into one's soul for all time. And over time, it is these moments which act as contextual markers for the rest of life...Wednesday night was one of those moments for me and everyone else born into Red Sox Nation.... For a region which invariably looks to the future through the lens of the past, the Red Sox act as the ultimate grounding mechanism. As the population in American shifts away from the Northeast and we become less relevant, as business or love calls on some to leave the region to pursue a life and dream elsewhere, as the leaves declare boldly each year that change has arrived - the Sox are always there, as comfort food when life itself offers little sustenance, as garnish, or even possibly dessert this year, always allowing us to believe in something greater than our own small existence and giving us the opportunity to pour our hearts into something that is indisputably our own.

And so, when Pokey scooped up that soft grounder that rolled his way and threw the ball easily to first, I felt that magnetic pull - the same one that had me leave New York, a city I love, and come back home to Boston -- towards Fenway, the only church I've ever attended with full hope and no skepticism. After the hugs and whoops and cheers and tear wiping, I gathered myself and, along with friends I've known for up to 26 years, ran downstairs to the street and began to jog up Brookline Avenue towards Lansdowne Street. There was really no question where we'd stop. Only the Green Monster's sheer size can begin to reflect the passion of the region. And so we walked, jogged, and ran, depending on our state of elation, toward that hallowed spot, car honks serenading us, helicopter cameras making our party the world's."

Well said, Gabe. Enjoy the Series.

Jon W. from Spring, Texas, offers some thoughts on Friday Night Lights and in particular the furry mammal that appeared to be clinging to Tim McGraw's chest.

"Thank you for your commentary about Friday Night Lights. It is the closest analysis to my own (I called it a "farce") and made me feel compelled to write, congratulate you and offer a year's supply of something ... anything ... to ward off those Tim McGraw groupies (my sister being one of them ... she saw him in concert 11 times last year and is on a first name basis with all of his band members) who only went to the movie to see him with his shirt off!"

Jon, to ward off those groupies, I would advise a simple tactic: move out of Texas. You can make it a year's supply of Anchor Steam.

A number of you wrote in to recommend good pickup hoops games on the road (special thanks to Joe L. in Memphis (the Mason YMCA) and David K. in Cleveland (Cleveland Athletic Club). If there's anyone out there who runs at the Roxborough Y -- my old stomping grounds when I lived in Philly -- drop a line and let me know if the afternoon games, and the leagues, are still going strong (and if Danny M.'s still shooting that two-handed heave-and-pray trifecta).

1. For a great look at the absurdity of political spinmeisters, as investigated by a canine hand puppet, check out Poop Valhalla. The Ralph Reed moment is classic.

2. Your official Danny Habib Esoteric Vocab Moment of the Blog: Kevin Brown's performance in the ALCS was inexpiable.

3. I'm all for increasing voter turnout, but there's something very creepy about the P. Diddy-led campaign slogan with the motto "Vote or Die."

Until next Monday.

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