Wednesday, August 25, 2004: Within any season there are dozens, hundreds of little plots and subplots to occupy the most fervid fan’s waking hours. The Red Sox seem to have more of these petit dramas in any given year than most teams.

This is probably true more because of the scrutiny on and coverage of the team than it is on the actual reality of the existence of these dramas. All teams, after all, deal with injuries and suspensions, and prima donnas and the trade deadline and playoff pushes and criticisms of the manager. But in Boston these things are all magnified by the ubiquitous nature of the media, for which the Red Sox are without peer. The Boston Globe, historically one of the most respected newspapers in the United States and a very important one for its coverage of politics (though it is nowhere near what it once was – a relatively recent transformation that may well be tied to its being owned by The New York Times – of course there is a New York connection to blame) probably has the local baseball team on the front page more often than any newspaper in a major league city of any in the country.
And of course because the hopes of all of New England, save for that peculiar little pimple west of I-91 and South of I-84, rest similarly on the boys who ply their trade in Fenway, not only do the Boston and larger Massachusetts papers converge on Yawkey Way so do those in Rhode island and New Hampshire and Maine and Vermont and the respectable parts of Connecticut. Everyone wants a scoop, or at least an angle. This is great for the fans most of the time, as this competition leads to a lot of information. And information is plasma to the sports obsessive.
I was thinking about this because of Jason Varitek. The biggest of the many big subplots interweaving through this season is his scuffle with A-Rod in Fenway a few weeks back. That will most likely be seen as the defining moment of this team when everything plays out. I have the image prominently displayed in my office. Well, long after most folks have consigned this to the “yesterday’s news” bin, Sox fans get to be reminded of that weekend because Tek decided, wisely in my estimation, to serve out the suspension. He figured that these four games are ones the team can win without him, and it is better to miss a series against Toronto and a game against Detroit than to be absent when we hit the big boys again in the next couple of weeks. Tek has been rolling lately – he has raised his season average above .300, his OPS is climbing, and he is back to being the heart and soul of the team.
Fortunately, Doug Mirabelli, blasted a three run home run that might still be soaring across Canada had it not encountered a wall 420+ feet from home plate. Mirabelli has served most of the season predominantly as Waker’s special catcher, and as a fill-in as needed to spell Varitek. And he always seems to get at least one big hit when he does play. These are the little things that help a team get to the playoffs. Even the most durable catchers need a spell, and to have someone in whom the pitchers have faith and who is a force at the plate and in the clubhouse, well, that can make a huge difference. And Mirabelli’s stint as the man right now is even more vital, because he is really the last line of defense – we chose not to go with a backup, and so if something happens to Mirabelli, we will go with Mientkiewitz as our backup and Millar is our emergency guy. I think Minky is great, do not get me wrong, but gold glove or no gold glove, it was quite enough of a heart-tester to see him get a start at second last week.
Another story that has lingered through the season, longer than the A-Rod situation, which on the whole was good for us, maybe decisive, has been Tito’s handling of the bullpen. True, Dave Wallace the pitching coach deserves equal scrutiny, but at the end of the day the manager is often the final arbiter, and even if he is not, he is responsible for the pitching coach. Tito’s biggest two problems have been the timing of his use of the bullpen – almost always he’s pulled a guy 2-3 pitches too late. It would be humorous were this not so serious. The other problem he has had is in use of his big guns, Embree, Timlin, and Foulke. Of course this is a bit more difficult to pin down, especially given that we lost Williamson, and that has been huge. Tito has tended to overwork some guys 9those three) and seems to be underutilizing others, namely Mendoza, who seems to have regained some of his old form, which could do wonders for the bullpen if he can consistently produce. Last night Timlin was lights out when he came on in the 7th, which is another key. If he keeps pitching well, if Tito can develop a consistent use pattern, the pen will return to being a strength of this team, which could be a decisive development.
Tonight the Sox are rolling. This was exactly the outing they needed. Schill has scuffled against the Jays all season, with an 0-2 record and 6.00+ era. We needed the bats to come in and just pound, and this is precisely what they have done, with the big boppers hitting home runs – Manny hit his 34th and Ortiz his 32nd and 33rd. Cabrera continued his hot streak, adding his own home run to continue to bring Red Sox Nation around on this trade. With the lead Schilling has been predictably solid, and barring the sort of catastrophe the very thought of which makes my stomach turn (and the Sox just stretched the lead to 9-1 on, yes, Mirabelli’s rbi single, so I cannot envision catastrophe right now. The Jays’ radio announcers are talking in terms of Wally Pipp with regard to Varitek, which is obviously not something Tek has to worry about – at least until contract negotiations this winter – but which indicates just how hot ‘Belli has been of late.) we should have this one in the bag. Another series win.
Next we are off to a four game set against the Tigers, a team we should be able to mash over the next few days. All of the little stories give the season flavor. But the only way the stories will lead to a happy ending is if we keep winning. Right now, cue sunset, because things look good on the storyboard.

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