Johnny Damon's strikeout in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded--following on a Tony Graffanino pop-out and a Jason Varitek pop-out, also with the bags juiced--was emblematic for our entire season. Potential squandered. They could never quite get it together. We waited for the offense to come through, and it never came.
What may be emblematic for the White Sox was a play in the first inning. With Johnny Damon on base, David Ortiz hit a line drive toward center field, right up the middle. It was such a sure-thing base hit I could already see it bouncing toward Aaron Rowand.
But then, ridiculously, inexplicably, Juan Uribe was there. He gloved it, sending Ortiz packing; then, insult to injury, he doubled Johnny Damon off at second.
That's the kind of play--like Tony Clark's ground rule double, like Mark Bellhorn's ground-rule-called-a-home-run--that happens only to the champ, and it's the kind of metaphysical magic the White Sox have had going for them all season long. I don't usually pay attention to anything Beyond I-495, but I've had at least one eye on the pale hose all year. I've predicted since early in the season that this was their year, and also predicted that the Red Sox would meet and be defeated by them in the postseason. I thought that meeting would come in the ALCS, and I didn't predict it would be so lopsided, but in many ways, it's still appropriate.
Think of last year. A team that's going to win the World Series has to "get hot at the right time". They have to have a momentum build up that is truly monstrous to behold. Witness us steamrollering the Angels last season in a Division Series so uncompetitive it felt like a strange prologue to the postseason, rather than part of it. The Red Sox of this year--tired, tattered, ragtag, existing possibly more on the adrenaline from last season than on any true solidity as a team--were absolutely no match for the roaring, hungry, momentum-filled eventual World Champs. Absolutely not. The only reason we didn't go further is because we met them too soon.
I talk about this in the past tense, like it's already happened, but in my mind, it might as well have. The Chicago White Sox are your 2005 World Champs, folks. You heard it here first. I've believed that since July, and believe it so strongly now that it might as well be a done deal.
It only makes sense. They last won a postseason series--forget about the World Series--in 1917. Hmm.
Edgar Renteria made the last out, on a ground ball up the middle (to second this time, not to the pitcher).
We've passed the baton.
Meanwhile, the gears of the media machine are already turning, hungry to feast on our misery again--it's been a long year for them. "White Sox Win Series, 3-0 Red Sox Return to Waiting Until Next Year". "Red Sux". "Locals stunned by Red Sox collapse."
Those locals must not have been watching last year, when we saw firsthand, time and time again, how pitching and defense win championships. They must also not have been watching this year, when they would have seen we had neither the pitching, or the defense.
Frankly, I think at this point that the media are writing the stories they wish they could write, rather than the actual stories that are out there. From what I've seen of my fellow fans this season, especially this postseason, most may not be happy about the Red Sox not going further, but it's nowhere near the anguish of seasons past. You want proof? Look no further than the applause and encouragement for Tony Graffanino when he returned to Boston yesterday. Contrast that, in turn, with the reception for the last man to let a ground ball through his legs in the postseason.
Because, come on. Let's get real. The Red Sox have now made the playoffs in three straight seasons for the first time in team history. And they did so this year with a team that, realistically, had no business being there (as we've seen). They did so with two of last year's horses crippled and / or absent. They did so with the 29th-ranked bullpen in the majors. To even get to the postseason after what's happened this year--much of which has been beyond anyone's control--takes guts and sheer determination we should admire, regardless of how it all turned out. I would venture a guess that no other team in the league right now would even make the playoffs if they went through what the Sox did this season--let alone for the third season in a row, after having made it to the threshold of the pennant one year, and won the World Series in the next.
Add to that the fact that between losing many of the key figures in the World Series run last year and the as-yet underdevelopment of key up-and-comers (Papelbon in '06!), this year by rights should have been a garbage year. Many would argue that it was. But in my mind, this is a hell of an overachievement for a transition year, and I salivate with anticipation over the next three or so seasons if this is how this season turned out.
Mike (auteur of "Red Sux", linked above) points out that the Sox are just the sixth defending champ team to be swept in their first postseason series the next season, and apparently has stood back to wait for Sox Nation to rend our garments, gnash our teeth and tear our hair for his entertainment. But what he doesn't mention is how many other defending champs don't have a postseason series in the next season at all.
Last I checked, the Arizona Diamondbacks weren't contenders in 2002. The most recent World Series winners to make the playoffs, the Diamondbacks, were also swept, three games to none. The Angels in 2003 and Marlins in 2004 did not make the playoffs. Looking back on the list of World Series winners, you see few repeat names on there at all, much less repeat names in the winners' column (the exception, of course, being those assholes to our south and the 1991-1992 Toronto Blue Jays). After not winning for so long that a mythology of a curse developed, we were expecting to go back to back? Is that what we're supposed to be disappointed and stunned and devastated by? That their first postseason series as defending champs was "lopsided"?
Once again, Red Sox Nation is completely misunderstood by others. For the record, guys, I don't think we have the capacity for that kind of ingratitude. You may be thinking of Yankees fans.
Because, hey, let's take the worst case scenario right now--the one proffered to Bill Simmons last season by an out-of-town fan that if the Red Sox won, they'd be just another team that had won recently and that nobody cares about, like the Twins. This was meant to be a dire prediction of future gloom, doom, and, I guess, un-specialness, but I'll say something to the effect of what Simmons said: I'll take it. I'll take it in a heartbeat. You mean I don't have to pay you so I can take it?