By Ryan Divish
At the beginning of this baseball season, I was filled with grandiose hopes and lofty dreams of the Boston Red Sox finally beating the New York Yankees for the American League title and somehow winning the World Series. But after this last three-game series in New York, I've basically seen those hopes and dreams crushed and run over again and again.
Is it too much to ask for the Yankees to lose? Is it too much to ask for A-Rod to go into an 0-147 slump? Is it too much to ask that Derek Jeter suddenly can't field a ball and be forced to date ugly women? Is it too much to ask for the Yankees entire pitching staff to suddenly go Rick Ankiel and not be able to throw a strike?
Really, is it too much ask for these things? At this point I'd settle for one of the four, preferably Jeter and the the ugly women.
But after watching that pretty boy dive head first into the stands at Yankee stadium in last night's game just to catch a foul ball, I realized the Red Sox are playing for second.
The ball looked like it wouldn't be caught. The ball looked like it shouldn't be caught. The ball, of course, ended up in Jeter's glove and he ended up about six rows deep in the stands on the third base line. For his extraordinary effort, Jeter received a cut under his eye, a sore jaw and most likely the American League Eastern Division title.
One play isn't going to secure the title, but that one play was the culmination of a several different plays made in this series that indicate that the Yankees are the better team, at least right now.
Yes, I know the All-Star game hasn't even been played yet, but call it a gut feeling, or as my hero Thomas Magnum used to say, "that little voice is telling me I'm right."
The more I watch the Red Sox play, the more of their flaws are exposed. As of yesterday, they are just not on the same level as the Yankees, offensively or defensively.
Boston is like a slow pitch softball team and not just because of the bad haircuts and beards. Offensively, they are like a good slow pitch team that seems to hit huge home runs and score a ton of runs. Defensively, Boston is like a bad slow pitch softball team that couldn't field a grounder with a glove and a net.
Never has a team embodied the American League idea of sitting back and waiting for the three-run home run.
The last time the Red Sox executed a sacrifice bunt was in an intrasquad scrimmage during spring training. They simply can't, don't or won't sacrifice an out to move a runner into scoring position.
I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Writers and fans from around the country also point out this glaring absence of a fundamental aspect of baseball.
Here's a typical scenario for Boston: Johnny Damon, after temporarily moving his hair out of his face, leads off with a single. He proceeds to stand on first base and groom his Messiah-like mane as Mark Bellhorn hits a weak fly to left, David Ortiz hits a long fly ball to right and Manny Ramirez hits a grounder to third that he barely jogs to first on.
This scenario didn't just happen last night, it happens twice a night, four times a week. The baseball coach in me wants to fire the remote control at the TV or at least order some of those cheesy Tom Emanski instructional baseball videos from the 70's that they still show on ESPN.
Come on, how hard is it to move a runner by either bunting or hitting behind him. Don't even think about using a hit-and-run, Ramirez can barely grasp the concept of running after you hit the ball, let alone something as technical as stealing a runner and then trying to hit behind him to advance an extra base. My old Comet teams had a better grasp of fundamental baseball.
But that's how they want to play. Get a runner on and pray like hell for Ramirez, Ortiz or Jason Varitek to hit a bomb. That strategy works well against a team's fourth starter or third reliever, it doesn't work so well against Mike Mussina or Mariano Rivera.
Still the Red Sox offense is actually pretty productive, at least statistically speaking. The Red Sox defense, however, is pretty horrendous, at least fundamentally speaking.
With the exception of shortstop/second baseman Pokey Reese and Varitek at catcher, the rest of the Red Sox defense skills fall in the categories of bad (Kevin Millar), terrible (Bellhorn) and corpse-like (Ramirez).
The whole softball team analogy really applies best. You've got Reese out there running around like a mad man, making incredible plays, keeping his team in innings and games, only to see Millar's matchbook-size range at first letting balls go through and Ramirez struggling to know how many outs there are and what base to throw it to.
And then there is Nomar Garicaparra, who because of a preseason injury, is basically using now as his spring training. He looks rusty and unpolished as most players would after a three-month layoff. With Nomar hurting, Millar making Bill Buckner look fast and Ramirez obviously not giving a damn about anything but hitting, it's no wonder that the Red Sox lead the league in unearned runs.
I'll cut Nomar some slack because he is trying to come back and I'll even cut Millar some slack because he's never been the most athletic guy in the world. But Ramirez, there isn't a player I despise more, and the guy's on my favorite team. I can accept errors and mistakes, they happen. I cannot accept lack of effort. Every ball hit to Ramirez seems like a chore to catch and throw in. It really is 50/50 on whether he makes the play.
I often wonder if Manny is following the slow pitch style and drinking in between innings. Honestly, if you watch him play in the field or run the bases, you'd have to think he was drunk. Nobody can be that bad or stupid, if he was, he'd fall down more.
The only thing that saves the Red Sox is their pitching. Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke have been outstanding. Pedro Martinez isn't the Pedro of old, but he still better than a lot of pitchers. But they can only carry them so far with porous defense and no run support.
But it isn't the Yankee's staggering lineup that makes them better than the Red Sox right now. It is their willingness to do the little things. It is their ability to steal bases and bunt runners over if need be. It's Gary Sheffield fouling off 11 pitches in one at-bat before delivering a clutch double. It's Jeter diving into the stands for a foul ball without regard to his body or precious face.
Do you think Ramirez would dive into the stands for foul ball? Not hardly. A beer, maybe, but never a foul ball.
There is a right way to play the game and the Yankees do that, which is one of the reasons they are good every year. Then there is how the Red Sox play with a sloppy laziness that suggests either apathy or indifference.
There might be a reason why the Red Sox haven't won a World Series in close to 100 years.