I know I should be at least a little bit relieved because the Red Sox won and the Yankees lost last night, putting some precious daylight back between us in the standings, but I have to say last night's interviews pregame did little to soothe my anger at what I feel has been the general Red Sox attitude throughout this embarrassing slide over the last week or two. From watching the interviews with Tito, the attitude that seemed to come through was "Eh, we're going to make the playoffs anyway...the goal is to win the World Series."
This is where, once again, the membranous barrier between the team and its reality and fans and their reality is proving a stubborn and tricky thing. Because, of course, there's what guys like Tito say and what they really feel. It could very well be that Tito told Tina Cervasio the above and then went into the clubhouse, flipped over a card table and told everybody that if they didn't win tonight he was going to start presiding over team meetings naked from now on.
But let's pretend for a minute that Tito meant what he said to Tina. I, for one, find it very disturbing. For one thing, it appears not to really be getting through that if the Yankees win the division, they make the playoffs, where if the Sox could've held their lead, the Yankees might have been eliminated entirely.
I also can't totally put into words how infuriated ideas like, "well, we're going to make the playoffs anyway," and "my head wasn't really in the game" make me at this point in the season. I'm still appalled with Jonathan about that second one, just for the record. Yes, the Sox won just three short years ago, realistic expectations, yada yada. But these people are paid to be competitors. They are paid to get up every day with a drive to be the best, not to settle for anything. As far as I'm concerned, an attitude of "my head wasnt' really in the game" amounts to not doing your job. And when your job is with one of the biggest-market teams in baseball, in the midst of a pennant race with a fan base that's hanging on every word and every pitch, that is unacceptable.
I feel like the closer we've gotten to the end of the season, the more the Red Sox have started to worry and disappoint me. There's one theory that the Sox could be angling for a better matchup in the DS if they end up with the Wild Card, but the Wild Card has to play the team with the best record, so I don't get how that would work. And if the Sox end up with the Wild Card as the erstwhile best record in baseball, wouldn't that make the team with the best record the Yankees? It's my understanding that the league wouldn't let the Sox and Yankees face each other in a DS since they're division opponents. So back to the drawing board on that one, I guess.
Look, I've watched the Red Sox win a Wild Card and then go on to win a World Series. I know it can work, and I know we'll have October baseball in this city at least for a little while. I also know the Sox will most likely have made the playoffs in 4 out of 5 years.
But I can't let go of that division win. The prevailing wisdom about the baseball playoffs in the age of the Wild Card is that the team that gets hot at the right time is the one that wins. I don't think coughing up a season-long division lead to close out the season amounts to getting hot as the playoffs begin, do you?
If the Red Sox don't win the division this year, it'll have been the biggest collapse since 1978. Do we want those flashbacks? Do we want that hanging over their heads with every mediot yammering on about Bucky Dent as the playoffs begin?
Also, if the Yankees come roaring all the way back to win the division for the 10th fucking year in a row, what does that say about them? What does that suggest to their players, their fan base? What kind of momentum does that give them?
Can it really be possible that Tito hasn't thought about all of the above? I refuse to believe that. So why this "our goal is to win the World Series" nonsense when, technically, a playoff berth is not clinched? Are the Red Sox assuming these last few games will take care of themselves? If so, then that makes me vexed. I am terribly vexed.
But moving on. Because what Josh Beckett did last night is not to be overlooked. Generally the only thing that's stood between me and a broken television set at least once a season is the fact that when I'm aggravated with the bigger picture, I've developed the habit of zeroing in on one particular player or aspect of the game that I still enjoy. Joshie's always good for that.
Last night he won his 20th game while his nearest W-L competitor, Chien-Ming Wang, got a ND. Nobody else can touch him in wins right now, but there's some talk of other factors coming into play in terms of you know, that award there (too superstitious to name it). Like what? As far as I can tell his other numbers also stack up superior to any of the other guys in the running, including and especially Wang. You can now officially hold Josh Beckett up against any elite pitcher in the league, and I think he deserves all the accolades in Boston he can handle.
For one thing, we might be having an even more gloomy conversation than the one above about the division if he hadn't been there last Saturday to prevent a Yanks sweep at Fenway (though I still maintain that that series very easily could've been a Sox sweep but for two mistake pitches). And tonight, again, he proved the stopper. He's shown that he's more than capable of stepping into that leadership role this season, and I don't think that was necessarily a guarantee.
Over the years, Josh has been...how do you say...not very mature, not only as a pitcher but, it seems, as a person in some ways. Since he's come to Boston, though, he's come into his own not only as a more intelligent presence in interviews but as the linchpin, the leader, and the bellwether of this staff. I think the Red Sox just happened to get him at the right age, as he was making the transition from the wild child of his early 20's to the ripened staff ace of his late 20's and early 30's.
This isn't to say the Sox themselves deserve no credit for his development--I think the hardest thing for Josh to figure out since coming here is that maybe he doesn't know everything. Someone, somewhere within the Red Sox organization, or maybe several someones in several places, have been successful in getting through to him. He came to us as a kind of fixer-upper, a stubborn, potty-mouthed frequenter of the DL, and has ripened into a stubborn (but smart), potty-mouthed kicker of ass. That's a huge feather in the cap of the Sox organization right there.
But at the end of the day it's No. 19 who's been taking the field every five days, consistently, and prepared to do vicious battle as he did last night if he can't bring his best stuff with him. Wins like last night's are in some ways even more impressive than the ones where he cruises through eight innings--with 76 pitches weighing on his arm already by the fourth, Beckett still outlasted Kazmir through six, and put himself and his team in a position to get the win.
Last night as he came off the field after 113 difficult pitches, Tito made sure to shake his hand, then forced Josh to look him in the eye while he said something (he still has that annoying habit of not looking at people when they're talking to him). Then one by one other teammates started filtering out of the woodwork to touch him, patting him on the shoulders and neck (Manny) like he's some kind of talisman.
It's like Kristen said--we're going to have to win more than just Josh Beckett's starts. I'm not going to feel better about the team overall until I see a few more wins strung together, hopefully against Yankees losses.
But right now, Josh Beckett is the king, of this team, and the league. At least for today, he deserves our attention and praise.