Thursday, August 5, 2004: Hard not to draw the conclusion that this Sox team that we are seeing on the field, and not our conceptions of what they might be able to be, represent the reality. Despite the personnel changes, the fundamental ingredients are the same as they have been all year and are not worth going over again. What is most bothersome is how dumb we play. Physical errors are one thing. They happen. Those balls are moving fast, it is not easy to be a major league fielder, and I can live with that. But when you play 162 games a year you have to understand intuitively the job of the cutoff man, or the rudiments of baserunning. And the coaches have no excuse for the sorts of dumb, mental errors they are making – they do not play the game – their contribution is overwhelmingly mental. If they consistently screw that end up, their raison d’etre becomes difficult to justify.

Last night’s game is a perfect example of all of these little maladies. Each loss seems more horrific than the won before it, though at least this time we managed to win the series, something we have not done on the road since early June. But taking two of three is less fun when you are in a position to sweep and take a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning. This is precisely what we did.
Arroyo was masterful again last night, at least for six innings. But the he started to struggle a little in the seventh, letting the first two batters on, at which point Francona should have lifted him, if not before. Instead he let Branson pitch to Julio Lugo, who hit a grounder to Youkilis that should have resulted in a double play. The ball took a funny hop, Youks misplayed it (funny hop or no, he ought to have made the play) and the bases were loaded. Francona still did not react, even with no outs and the bases loaded. The other day he took Pedro out when he was absolutely dealing, and last night Arroyo is struggling and Tito leaves him in. It is uncanny the way he manages to misjudge when to lift a starter almost every time. In any case, Toby Hall, Tampa’s catcher who was on a 0 for 18 streak prior to that at bat, came to the plate and worked to a 1-2 count. Arroyo shook Tek off a couple of times, and threw a sinker that Hall blasted for a grand slam. And just like that it was 5-4, Tampa.
Even then the game was not over. The meat of our order went 1-2-3 in the 8th, but one thing about this team is that the contributions come from all over the lineup. In the ninth Millar singled and was promptly pinch run for, with newcomer Dave Roberts, one of the fastest guys in Major League Baseball, taking first. He advanced to second on a wild pitch. Then Mantkiewietz came to the plate, and he drove a single to center field. Despite the fact that Baldelli scooped the ball up before Roberts had even gotten to third base, Dale Svuem, who almost makes us yearn for the days of Wendell Kim, waved him home. Baldelli made a perfect throw, and Roberts, fleet afoot though he is, never had a chance. Letting Roberts try for home when you are only down one and could have had guys on first and third was colossally stupid. It would be one thing if we had not been beating this team. But we had easily taken the first two games, it is not as if the Devil Rays relief corps strikes fear in the hearts of men. If we cannot get a guy across from third with no one out, we do not deserve to win. Mantkiewietz had advanced to second on the throw. Mueller grounded out, but advanced Minky to third, and Kaplar took one for the team, advancing to first after being hit by a pitch. Even after the Svuem screwup, there was a shot to get the tying run across, but Damon popped out to first, capping an 0 for 5 night at the plate, and the Sox lost 5-4.
And now rather than an off day during which to get some rest and enjoy the fruits of a sweep they have to stew over a game they had won, gave up, and should have taken back. What more to say than “UGH?” Tomorrow we head into Detroit, another team we should be thinking that we can sweep. But the sure thing is never sure with this team.

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