Becketts of Rain

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ImagePhoto By Steven Senne

Yesterday I was listening to that Bob Dylan album of heartbreak and disappointment; you know the one that cries of bitterness, resignation, longing, mixed in sometimes with contentment. You are going to make me lonesome when you go. Tangled up in Blue. Simple Twist of Fate. See, if we attribute it all to some quick turn of fate, then maybe the game doesn’t hurt so much.The Red Sox have won 4 in a row. How may times has that happened this year? How many times has any team beat Justin Verlander two times in a row? We ought to all be happy? Yes? Yes, but cautiously.

The season I said was dependent on Josh Beckett. When he waved his black mitt last night in the rain, signaling for the trainer, after retiring the first 8 batters of a fierce lineup, disappointment, like a dampness in our clothes all season long, got just that much colder. The only thing consistent about Josh Beckett this year is amount of air time radio shows spend trying to figure out what to do with him. Trade him? Bench him? Clean up the toxicity in the clubhouse? Get rid of Lackey and Beckett will be a better man and a better pitcher?

When I watched Bobby Valentine’s press conference the other night and heard him describe Ryan Sweeney’ s busted hand as something that happened in the last at-bat, I wondering about all the things in the clubhouse that are shrouded and have been all season. What really happened with Tito? Why was Youk so unhappy? Is Bobby V going to look so glum, even after a victory? Can we really be happy about 4 wins in a row?

The game ended last night with the bases full of Tigers.  A little bit of rain turned into a blurring downpour. A simple twist of fate?

Youkilis

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Further Explorations in Science

The season thus far seems to have been nothing but a series of formulations, calculations & recalculations, transitions, beginnings and revised beginnings, not to mention the addition of tossed dirt, in the form of thick mud. As the Sox attempt to push through and past the .500 mark, the original foundations of the season echo. My questions about team chemistry from April, resurfaced yesterday in the Globe, with Peter Abraham’s excellent story, “Have the Sox Flunked Chemistry Class?” Professor Abraham answers,

Good clubhouse chemistry wasn’t going to solve any of those problems. But it makes for an convenient excuse and a good topic.”

But I have a follow up question. From whom do we need to hear some answers? If some of us, as said on yesterday’s Baseball Reporters show(98.5), have lost faith in the process, as well trust in the organization as a whole, who can be that one voice of accountability? What words, if any, can be voiced to allay the fears and woes of the 2012 season? The Sox are not in as bad shape as some would proclaim. It is difficult, though, to put one’s faith in a team that has lacked consistency.

To be or not to be?

1) Youkilis

2) Bard

3) Gonzalez

4) Crawford

5) Bobby V. Bobby V, is he the warrior we need him to be?

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Team Chemistry?

If you watch the Red Sox in 2012, one question might keep floating above the field, perhaps generated from the clubhouse conflicts, the blabbering of select folks in from the media, or from some unknown, magical source: do the Red Sox have good team chemistry?

As we head into a nostalgic weekend at Fenway, maybe the sense of history and old uniforms will unify this sloppy bundle of players, or maybe it will alert them to some kind of common mission like the solution following a difficult mathematical problem.

Yet, another important question arises: does team chemistry really matter?

One question leads to another.

Will this be a year-long transition with new management? Did Tito’s style of managing create one kind of chemistry, while Bobby V’s style makes another?

Does it evolve from one player’s leadership, from Dustin’s spark? Was Varitek an anchor? Who might take more of a leadership role, beside Big Papi?

Does it even matter?  Is there some artificial sense of urgency that can’t replicate pre-2004 days? How many years of missing the playoffs is necessary for the hunger to turn raw again?

BeckettBall

Brandon McCarthy of the A’s(now the new home of, you know, a guy named Manny) has reinvented himself, according to the title story of ESPN Magazine. Not only that, he has rewritten the next chapter of Moneyball  Even if they don’t win any Oscars, the evolution of that system deserves more than respect. For the Red Sox, maybe it isn’t a reinvention that needs to happen. After all the preseason hype of last year, which is damned embarrassing, if you think about it too much, what needs to happen is what didn’t happen last year, and that means winning more games. Simple. And isn’t it simply about pitching? Look at all those bats in the dugout. Look at all the blown saves, especially one excruciating loss in Baltimore. Think of how many games more the Sox would have won with Clay Buchholz in the rotation.

More pointedly, the 2012 season depends on Josh Beckett. You’ve  heard this before, not only from me but from baseball writers around Boston and also from the fans. This is not about rewriting any chapters, nor is it about rewriting any rules in the 100 year old clubhouse. Nor is it about coming into the season as “underdogs.” (Underdogs? We must forgive for the moment Lester’s  comment last week. I will attribute it to the amount of time Boston Players and those in other big markets are expected to talk) Nor is the season about having a new manager. (I have been silent for quite some time. I will only say this once–I miss Tito.) The season is about seasoned veterans who withstand pressure in big games and lead others, confidently, with poise, guts and as displayed here, balance.  Mr. Beckett has the whole season in his hands.

photo by David Goldman

Losing farther, faster . . .

Black hole photo provided by NASA

The Art of Losing

The art of losing certainly isn’t hard to master for the Red Sox. They came into the season losing and they’re exiting the regular season the same way. Though they’ve hardly had an unsuccessful season, they seem to have lost all control over their control. How does a team only win 5 of the last 23 games played in September? During the prime of their season, the wins were great and provided a shining light towards a postseason. But when the pressure began to mount, they began to flake. They’ll be lucky if they can hold onto the Wild Card. But, I won’t hold my breath for two reasons:

  1. In the bottom of the 6th in their first game against the Yankees, they were losing by nine!  By the end of the game, it was 9-1 and the only hope was that the Rays lose to Toronto and then keep losing.
  2.  The bullpen hasn’t been impressive for what seems like months. Remember how long it took Wake to pull out 200? Lester didn’t even make it to three innings and I think that was even way too long to be in. I’m beginning to question the pitching staff.

If Boston wants a shot at the postseason, they better start playing like it because with one game left against the Yankees followed by only three games left in the regular season and the Wild Card within reach for the Rays or the Angels, there isn’t room for losing this often.

It’s not the beginning of the season, then I had patience for loss, I understood that Carl Crawford was still syncing with the team, I understood that Adrian had to find his footing, it made sense that the kinks needed to be worked out, after all, it was a long winter. But Crawford has more or less been a letdown this season. Perhaps the expectations were tied in with the numbers on his contract rather than on the numbers he could actually put towards the team’s statistics.

And now, it’s the end of the season. Francona and Epstein have said there is no disconnect between the two of them, but there is a disconnect somewhere in the organization. Epstein recently said, “No one’s going to remember April. No one’s going to remember the last two weeks. Everyone’s going to remember what happens next, and we have the opportunity to control that.”Well, Theo, we remember April, and two weeks is on its way to four. Didn’t anyone ever tell them that you can’t wait until what happens next because you’re missing what happens now, right now, as the Sox dropped game number two against the Yankees?

These guys have been playing together for months, they’ve been so close to the post-season, the DL isn’t even close to as long as it was last year. If they can’t do it this year, they don’t deserve to.

The Clubhouse Exodus?

The Globe’s Red Sox reporters always offer a solid view of the inner workings of the clubhouse, perhaps more so in recent years with the addition of the blogs and more columnists. With new Iphone apps like Boston Baseball pulling together stories “24-7″(more than just a tag line, certainly), one could spend all day reading about the Sox. After the last game at the end of the 2010 season, Peter Abraham described what most people never get to see, and even more don’t always understand. The players quickly parted ways, talking about their winter plans and overall, the longing to be elsewhere was palpable and pervasive, according to Abraham.

After another bitter loss on Sunday, Abraham’s narrative about Epstein pausing in the hallway to look at the front page of the 2007 World Series newspaper and the stunned expressions on the rookies’ faces, I started to think about another managerial possibility.(Having just looked at the Globe I see that they are inviting readers to play manager.) I don’t think it has to happen on the field. What can pull this team together mentally? A question posed by one fan, or was it Tony Mazz, on Friday, was what would happen if Tito just lost it, really going nuts in some way he never has before? The players should not tear out of the clubhouse after a game, as was reported yesterday. The season isn’t over, at least in this fan’s view.

The cyclical narrative, ending where we started, will be more painful than other collapses, simply because of the potential of this team. But if the mood is resignation and defeat, then we are all going to have more of the same. today and the rest of the week. My Red Sox tissue box will then offer comfort not only from allergies but also for the angry tears falling into the water of a washed out season.

THE most important game of the year

Mazz is talking right now as I write this on the Baseball Reporters. This is the most important game of year, because of the ramifications but also because of the match-up Beckett vs Shields. Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post wrote about this very topic this morning.

All day, colleagues and friends have been saying something close to this. Seeing the Sox logo on my wall, one student(a Phillies fan) said, “They have to start winning now. Now.” On the superstitious side of the insanity, I sneaked into my secretary’s office after she left at 4:30 and turned her Dustin Pedroia bobblehead 45 degrees to the right toward the Ellsbury bobblehead. She told me not to touch them all season, and I haven’t until now, about 15 minutes ago.

But tonight is about Beckett. The Beckett question again. Where I started the New Year on this blog. There is that man on the stage looking up at the moon for answers. I might be doing the same between innings or even during the game, hoping that Beckett’s ankle or his entire landing leg will hold up because its holding up a lot more than the body that winds up above it.

Autumn Harvest

On May 27th, Thomas’ Trolley named eight important elements to the Red Sox overcoming their abysmal April. Three of those were were identified as “Carl Crawford’s Awakening.”  As we eye the potential hurricane of playoff games (that is the emotional turmoil, accompanying possible joys and pains–we can’t have one without the other–of the postseason), there is one harvest that I see as most likely to win games. It is always difficult to narrow the field of driving influences and this seems to happen game after game, with commentators and journalists attempting to reveal the truth to consistency in a game that endlessly confounds and surprises. But on this day, when the tourists begin to chase their hats out of this resort town, from where I write, the unofficial end of summer, I have a singular focus.

Webster’s 20th Century Unabridged Dictionary says that Crawford is a variety of peach, one of which ripens early in the season and the other late. We already know what happened in April. Then Carl, the baseball playing Crawford, had three walk-off hits, which were a sign that he was easing into the pressure of wearing a Red Sox uniform and all the nerves that might go along with a major market team. Then injury struck. Those with the speed of a Crawford seem to be more prone to the hammy pull. After watching Carl hit his grand slam a few days ago, it was enough to make me forget for a moment that he is batting only.256. It was the ease of that swing under the pressures of not the last inning but bases-loaded variety, when the game had a chance to blow open for the Sox, which it did as Carl rounded the bases at a fraction of the speed we want from him at other times. To steal bases, though, one has to get on base. Carl, we need you. Now. The electricity of action must come now with the autumn winds. We need you to fly off the branch, ripening all the way around the bases.

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