NEW YORK — Life is full of little surprises.
Like the Boston Red Sox, for example. Less than 30 days ago, they were a team adrift. They were in the middle of the ocean so to speak, floating along without a paddle in fourth place in the AL East. The season wasn't even a month old and they already were four games back.
Not too much of a surprise there.
As far as most baseball people were concerned, particularly those outside of New England, the undistinguished April showing by the Red Sox was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
No one had expected a whole lot of the Red Sox. The Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers were considered far stronger contenders in the division before the season started.
But look at those jackrabbit Red Sox, will you. They're fooling everybody. Last year, they finished fifth, 18 1/2 games behind the first place Blue Jays. So far this year, no other club except the New York Mets has played better ball and by pooling some fine pitching with some timely if not spectacular hitting, the first-place Red Sox have won nine of their last 10 and opened up a two-game lead over the Yankees.
Now maybe that doesn't qualify as much of a shocker as what the Texas Rangers have done over in the AL West, but it does constitute one of life's little surprises anyway.
Red Sox Manager John McNamara explains their success up to now this way:
"Before the season began, I said our division is so evenly balanced that the intangibles will play a dominant part in deciding which team wins and I say the same thing now," McNamara says.
Wait a minute. What "intangibles" is he talking about? We need some kind of definition here.
"I'm talking about injuries to key personnel," McNamara comes back. "How can you forsee them? How can you possibly guard against them? You can't. All you do is try to patch holes the best you can and pray for the best."
McNamara has to be praying extra hard now he doesn't lose the American League's No. 1 candidate for the Cy Young Award, Roger Clemens.
When he was playing high school football, Clemens injured the knuckle of his right index finger when he got it caught in a face mask.
Pitching against the Rangers Sunday, Clemens, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before winding up with a two-hitter, twisted that knuckle and it puffed up so much on him that the Red Sox sent him back to Boston from Cleveland Monday to see a doctor about it.
Clemens isn't expected to miss his next pitching turn Friday against the Minnesota Twins. McNamara hopes his 23-year-old right-hander is OK. He wants to see him add to that 8-0 record of his.
But that swollen knuckle is one of the intangibles McNamara meant.
"No manager ever gets through an entire season without injuries," McNamara says. "I had it with this club last year when Tony Armas missed 59 games with a strained leg muscle. I had it with the Angels when we lost (Doug) DeCinces with a back problem. We lost (Tim) Foli and (Brian) Downing the same year. Like I say, all you do is try to patch the holes."
McNamara never had anywhere near the kind of year that Jimmy Frey suffered through with the Chicago Cubs last season, but he hasn't gotten away scot free either this season.
Shortstop Glenn Hoffman sprained his ankle in spring training and then came up with blurred vision. He's on the 15-day disabled list. So is Wes Gardner, the big right-hander, who came over from the Mets in the Bob Ojeda deal and is being counted on for help in the bullpen later on.
The loss of Al Nipper forced a change in McNamara's starting rotation. Nipper was taking his regular turn with Clemens, Oil Can Boyd and Bruce Hurst until a collision at home plate with Larry Parrish May 18 put him on the 21-day disabled list.
The Red Sox are the fifth major league club McNamara has managed. He has handled the Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and Angels before this and says the DH makes it easier managing in the American League than in the National.
Johnny Mac, as most everyone calls him, is one of those men in baseball who never is out of a job very long. That's because players never have any problem playing for him.
He knows how it feels being fired and the dismissal he took hardest was the one with the Reds in 1982 after he won more games than any other National League manager from 1979 through 1981.