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Two Lost Sox, or a Good Match?

October 04, 2005|Tim Brown

CHICAGO — Two years ago, they cowboyed up and lost. Last season, they were idiots and won.

So, Kevin Millar, posse coordinator, leader of dolts, any bright ideas for these playoffs?

"It has been a season without a big-league theme," the Boston Red Sox's part-time first baseman and full-time hair-color adjuster admitted. "Hopefully, we can have a 'repeat' theme."

All right, then; "Manny being Manny" it is. The rest of them can be Manny too, and see how many find their way to the team bus this morning.

The Red Sox officially open their first defense of a World Series title in 86 years today against the Chicago White Sox, a historically terrible franchise that envied the Red Sox's success even before last October. The White Sox haven't hung a World Series banner since 1917, and since then have thrown half as many World Series as the Red Sox have won.

Had Dave Roberts not stolen that base, had Pedro Martinez never come out of the shade of that mango tree, had Achilles himself not come down to touch Curt Schilling's ankle, we'd be talking some serious exorcism potential here.

The White Sox haven't won a home postseason game since 1959. Those sorts of things are a lot to bear, particularly when the Red Sox are in town answering questions about being practiced winners, and you've just won 99 games through a chorus of condemnation.

"I can't tell you I was cool and collected," White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams said. "There were times I had to take a walk in the middle of the game, just to blow off some steam. There was a certain amount of agony involved. ... The first lesson I learned, I now know the difference between [brands] of sleeping pills. I know how to get you through a sleepless night."

These White Sox went from 15 up to one up to comfortably into the postseason over a couple of months. But they all have their stories. In the landscape of the baseball postseason, eight teams in, one team out, there are idiots and there are cowboys, and they don't always get to pick their parts.

Baseball keeps a creeping pace, so six of the eight teams from the last postseason are in again, all in the slots they occupied. The San Diego Padres overtook the Dodgers in the West, though the Dodgers did all of the work, and the White Sox reworked their roster, went hard with pitching and defense and Ozzie Guillen, and replaced the Minnesota Twins.

A year later, that's it.

The St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games -- 50 at home, in their farewell season at Busch Stadium -- the Atlanta Braves won their 14th consecutive division title, and the New York Yankees managed to spend more than $200 million on players and still present themselves as gutty. The Red Sox were nudged along by the sad collapse of the Cleveland Indians, the Houston Astros lost their two best players and showed up anyway, and the Angels turned pitching, defense and baserunning into a division winner.

"I have a great deal of respect for the way Mike Scioscia has run that act over there, that show," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said this weekend, viewing the Angel series from the Fenway Park visitors' dugout. "Mike has commanded a lot of respect over there for the way they play the game.

"In the Scioscia era, they've been a distracting team. They're sort of like the old Cardinal teams."

They are just part of the great curiosity that is October baseball. Sure, we'll miss Martinez and Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana and, maybe, a little, Jose Lima. But we'll have Jeff Francoeur. And Khalil Greene. And Willy Taveras. And Paul Konerko and Ozzie.

We'll miss the Indians, and we hardly knew 'em, but we'll have the Braves, always good for a postseason head slap.

Enjoy Bernie Williams and John Olerud, Tim Wakefield and Trevor Hoffman, older guys around for another October. Maybe Roger Clemens gets back to Fenway Park one more time, or David Eckstein plays shortstop in Anaheim again. Wouldn't it be great to have Roberts take another three-step lead off first base in Boston? Down a run in the ninth? David Wells could make the alumni-fecta: division series at U.S. Cellular Field, AL championship series at Yankee Stadium, World Series at Petco Park. Sadly, he missed the All-Star game in Detroit.

By Monday afternoon, as baseball analyzed exactly what it had here, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona had been asked about being a wild card, as opposed to a division champion.

"I think we feel like a playoff team," he said. "Part of my point, it doesn't really matter. Regardless of what you call us or call them, we have to play better than them."

Any of them could have said it, from Tony La Russa of the decorated Cardinals to Bruce Bochy of the 82-win Padres, and meant it. Either the big league theme is repeat, or it's not.

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