Pardon my month-long silence. I have been busy riding the rollercoaster known as the Boston Red Sox. The month of April felt like Disneyworld’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Our winter dreams of fields brought us to April and our field of dreams. Then what? We rode the rollercoaster from the exhilaration of opening day to the bad early start against the Tigers, Blue Jays, and Yankees, intersected by the good early start against the Rays. Well, we told ourselves, they started the year against the Tigers and Justin (Mr. Cy Young and MVP) Verlander. (The AL MVP should have gone to Jacoby. Period.) Things will improve, I said. But in the pit of my stomach came that nagging familiar feeling. You know….that feeling like we had in April and September of 2011?
The slightly subdued home opener was still exciting, despite the bad start, because baseball was back at Fenway at last. We hardly had settled into our seats when Jacoby was injured in a base running mishap. That “uh-oh” moment when you think, “This can’t happen again. Can it?”
Then there was the magical 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park celebration when even the most cynical Red Sox fan wiped tears from their eyes. The extraordinary history of the “little bandbox” that is Fenway stood before our eyes and filled our hearts. What happened after that beautiful celebration – before the eyes of Johnny Pesky and all the past Red Sox players who attended – was an embarrassment. The New York Post headline read, “100 Years of Ass Kicking”. Sadly, it was not far from the truth. Over that weekend, the Yankees proceeded to humiliate the Red Sox. First, there was the loss after that Friday anniversary celebration and then a total beat-down on Saturday. Saturday’s events included losing a 9-0 lead and eventually the game 15-9. The Red Sox once again made history but not in a way you want to remember unless you are a Yankees fan. The Sunday rain out would clear their heads, we hoped. Never before did a rain out feel like such a relief.
Tito Francona’s return to Fenway for the 100th anniversary bash was heartwarming. The loud greeting that he received from the crowd literally hurt my ears and brought tears to my eyes. But then the rollercoaster took a plunge. Later I read that he barely got back into the tunnel, after making nice on the field, when he ripped off the Red Sox jersey he wore and threw it to a fan. Was it a nice gesture or a statement of anger and disgust? Did that jersey irritate the raw wounds inflicted by certain players and/or owners? If so, it is too bad he came at all. I learned a long time ago that there are two sides to every story.
We made excuses for the bullpen. Well, it’s true that our new closer, Andrew Bailey, went down with an injury two days prior to opening day. It will take a while for the bullpen to be comfortable in new roles and to fill the gaping holes left by Daniel Bard’s transition to the starting rotation and Papelbon’s departure. But for now, there is a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when the bullpen gate opens.
On they moved to Minnesota to beat up on their little brothers, the Twins. We began to think that maybe, just maybe, they would be okay. They just needed some time and confidence, a few wins under their belts. Bobby V. had to learn his way around. He called out Youkilis publicly for not being “physically and emotionally” into the game. The team, the press and the fans rallied around Youk, forgetting that they blamed him in part for the 2011 demise. After all, Bobby is the outsider. Even Pedroia publicly called out his manager saying that’s not how we do things here —maybe in Japan, but not here. Apologies. Things quieted down. Meanwhile, Youk has taken a seat on the bench to nurse injuries several times already and it’s only April. Was there truth in Bobby’s comments?
They headed to Chicago to take on the Sox of a different color. Despite freezing temperatures and not enough warm turtles to go around, they looked pretty darn good against decent pitching. Things are turning around, we said. The offense was stellar. Big Papi’s stupendous spring has been a high point. When the camera points to him in the dugout, the fire in his eyes can be seen in high-definition. Big Papi looks mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. That’s a good thing.
They came back home where the air was still cold and turtles were still necessary. We added some rain and drizzle into the mix just for the hell of it. Bring on the Oakland A’s–always a nice punching bag team when you need a boost. We saw old friend Josh Reddick, now with the A’s. Josh is doing well in Oakland and playing every day. Clearly, from his interviews and his Tweets, he has been missing Boston and the old friends that he came up with from the minors. I read that Josh expressed disappointment about his lack of reception from the Fenway Faithful on his return. At least he didn’t get booed. Just ask Johnny Damon. Just for the record, Josh, I cheered for you. You probably did not hear me, but I did. The next night when you flipped over into the bullpen chasing a Big Papi homerun, I first made sure you were okay and then I Tweeted a complimentary message to you. You did not respond and that’s okay. But do you now see how it works? You came up and did an admirable job for part of 2011 then you got sold off. Not your fault, I know. You are wearing a green and yellow uniform now and half the crowd at Fenway does not know that you are a former Red Sox. They are too busy staring into their cellphones and texting and drinking beer and getting up to go the bathroom and drinking more beer and singing “Sweet Caroline” even when the suddenly anemic Red Sox cannot score any runs against the Oakland bloody A’s. But, anyway Josh, a few of us will keep our eyes on you; but we don’t have to stay in touch. Think of us like an ex-girlfriend. You can have fond memories but still move on with your life. It is your time to go and have a great career and an even greater life. Don’t worry about us.
When my sister and I were teenagers, we joked that the sound of someone vomiting was spelled, “Rat Pluh”. (There is more to the story but the details would be lost in the translation of the years.) When the Red Sox are blowing big leads, the pitching is faltering, or the bullpen is melting down, my sister and I email each other. The messages simply read, “Rah Pluh!”
Even Dustin “Dustbuster” Pedroia seems out of sorts. Dustin is usually the guy that comes up with the clutch hits. No such luck so far. Or maybe it is just that he cannot do it alone. And Adrian Gonzalez strikes out or grounds out in clutch situations. He looks unhappy. Dower. He even slammed his bat down once. I saw it with my own eyes. In high-definition. Yo, Adrian, get mad. Get good and mad. I think you need to show that emotion, buddy, because you are bordering on J.D. Drew territory – into the abyss of emotional nothingness. Adrian is 0-for-17 with 5 strikeouts in his last 4 games. Rat pluh!
What is troubling the pitching rotation? The performances of Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Doubront and Bard have been tepid at best. For all the good moments, there are bad moments. Up and down goes the rollercoaster. Already Beckett is missing his next start because of some injury. Are they dogged by injuries or by voices in their heads? Can Dice-K come back mid-season and have an impact? Can you believe I said that? Rat pluh!
Then there is the realization that Theo left the Red Sox with a stinking pile of steaming poo made up of long contracts for high-priced free-agents in decline. Thanks for crippling your home town team for the next several years, Theo. In your place, you sent us a pitcher that immediately needed surgery. The stomach churns. Do you notice how well Marlon Byrd is playing for the Red Sox and how awful he started the year with the Cubs? I love when justice prevails. Thanks for sending him over, Theo. Was it because you felt guilty or did you make your first mistake for the Cubs? I know it’s childish, but nah-nah! You had better get the gorilla suit ready.
The rollercoaster moves into May. We find ourselves thinking about how quickly things can change. Eventually Jacoby will return. (Please God.) His injury cuts this team to the quick. (I hope John Henry notices that and gets the blank check ready now. Let me help you, John: “J-A-C-O-B-Y E–L-L-S-B-U-R-Y $XXX,XXX,XXX.00”.
It is May 3. Twenty-four games have been played. The Red Sox are 2 games under .500. They are in last place in the A.L. East. Look at the standings earlier this week:
On the other side of the country, Albert Pujols cannot hit a homerun.
The world is upside down. Someone please fix it. Hurry.
I am a closet Rangers fan. Don’t tell anyone. Oh, those Texas Rangers. Just look at them. They are a whole different breed. Look at the Rangers. Look at the Red Sox. Look back at the Rangers. Look at the Red Sox. Rat Pluh!
Meanwhile, the Bruins lost in the first round of playoffs. But that’s another story for someone else’s blog. I have my own heartache.
I miss Bard in the 8th. I miss Papelbon in the 9th. Just sayin’.
In the winter before the 2010 season, Theo called the coming year a “bridge year”. Did he mean to say “the bridge years” (plural)? Where is the other end of the bridge? 2013? Meanwhile, back at the rock pile, there’s the new guys with their lunch pails, Mike Aviles, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Kelly Shoppach, Marlon Byrd, Nick Punto. They put a spark in the veteran clubhouse with their grit, great work ethic and attitude. But they are temps, rentals, not here for the long-haul. I especially like Aviles – his grit, his dirt dog style, the smile that breaks out over his whole face. Note to self: Don’t get too attached. (See Josh Reddick.) This year we will get a glimpse at the future – Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesius. The bridge to 2013. In the meantime? Rat pluh?