August 21, 2004

GO TELL THE SPARTANS:

Lost Cause (CHARLES McGRATH, 8/22/04, NY Times Magazine)

Once again, you can tell it is August merely by looking at the American League baseball standings. In the East, the Yankees are in their accustomed perch at first place; in second are the gasping Boston Red Sox, who when not quarreling among themselves have virtually conceded the top slot to the Yanks and are instead nervously calculating their wild-card chances. This is a late-summer pattern as regular and as predictable as the one that causes the goldenrod to begin turning yellow right about now.

If you're a Yankees fan, the standings are evidence of your team's lordly and effortless superiority; if you're a Red Sox fan, they're a sign that the universe is profoundly and unfairly rigged -- that there is a God and he plays favorites. And if you're a sportswriter they mean you can crank out yet more column inches on the storied rivalry between these two teams -- a competition that has variously been compared to the ancient struggles between Athens and Sparta, to the Renaissance rivalry between Florence and Venice and to a non-nuclear cold war. In this convention year, with John Kerry and some Democratic delegates making a ritual visit to Fenway Park and the Republicans soon to gather on Yankee turf, the stakes have been amped. If you're a New England scribe, it's now time to dust off words like ''fateful'' and ''Sophoclean.'' Almost as bad as the Curse of the Bambino, in fact -- the eternal fatwa supposedly visited upon the Sox in retaliation for Harry Frazee's improvident sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920 -- is the curse inadvertently summoned by John Cheever, who once declared, ''All literary men are Red Sox fans.'' Ever since, the team has been the subject of more damascened prose, more classical analogies, than any franchise in American sports.


Is there anyone who knows anything about baseball who thinks this Yankee team has a shot once the playoffs start? In baseball you can get through the postseason if you just have three good starting pitchers, because with the way the games are spaced out you can pretty much just keep using those three (a fourth if you lead the series or get desperate). The Yankees have one--Javier Vazquez--and he has one of the most abused young arms in the game and no playoff experience. He'll be matched against either Johann Santana or Mark Mulder twice. They won't get out of the first round.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 21, 2004 8:32 PM
Comments

"Once again, you can tell it is August merely by looking at the American League baseball standings"

Huh?

The Mariners, for the first time in several seasons, aren't leading in August (only to collapse in September). Texas, for the first time since before W sold his share (or so it seems), is in contention.

And maybe the last two years Minn. was leading as in this year, but before that they were going to be contracted with Montreal. (Despite haveing a better record than the Brewers) During the 90s it was Cleveland that dominated the Central.

There's more to the American League than the Eastern Division. If he'd said Eastern Divisions (i.e. Atlanta and the NL East also rans) he might have a point

(Ichiro needs an HR tonight to complete the cycle, and should get at least one more at bat. Bet there are a lot of teams that wouldn't mind having a player who could go 6 for 7 (so far) after taking a concussion pitch.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 21, 2004 9:11 PM

Agree with OJ and Raoul. There is more to baseball than the NY-Boston rivalry. The BoSox are 8-2 over their last 10 while NY is 5-5 and the Yanks lead in the AL East is down to 6.5. I'm not saying the BoSox will catch the Yanks but as OJ notes their starting rotation is weak and they can easily be beaten during a 5 or 7 game series.

Posted by: AWW at August 21, 2004 9:23 PM

Agree with OJ and Raoul. There is more to baseball than the NY-Boston rivalry. The BoSox are 8-2 over their last 10 while NY is 5-5 and the Yanks lead in the AL East is down to 6.5. I'm not saying the BoSox will catch the Yanks but as OJ notes their starting rotation is weak and they can easily be beaten during a 5 or 7 game series.

Posted by: AWW at August 21, 2004 9:25 PM

Sorry for the double post - computer hiccup. And I forgot to mention that if the BoSox make the players and the media try to tie it to the Kerry campaign it's going to get very annoying.

Posted by: AWW at August 21, 2004 9:26 PM

Off topic, but "damascened" would make a fine Word of the Day:

" To decorate (metal) with wavy patterns of inlay or etching."

On Topic: the Braves look great the second half - I had given up on them at the All Star break.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 21, 2004 10:01 PM

It doesn't really matter who wins the AL since my Cardinals will be wearing a World Series ring come Halloween. ;-)

Posted by: MB at August 21, 2004 10:21 PM

Texas is getting its post I-rod bounce. Just like Seattle did when he left.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 22, 2004 12:20 AM

MB:

There are some sketchy starters--though no one in the NL has great ones this year.

Posted by: oj at August 22, 2004 12:47 AM

Perhaps my Yankees won't get out of the first round, but I can say with complete and utter confidence that OJ's Red Sux will not win the World Series this year. Babe Ruth's ghost will see to that.

And please don't tell me the Curse isn't real. As Michael Ledeen reminds us, the Curse is an established prenomenon, even -- dare I say it on OJ's blog? -- a scientific truth.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 22, 2004 5:30 AM

Matt:

Absolutely. It is just as scientific as Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at August 22, 2004 8:57 AM

OJ:

I won't dispute your comment although I will say that the Cardinal pitchers have been remarkably consistent as opposed to the past few seasons. Now whether or not this is reflective of their own performance, or the fact that they have arguably the best defense and offense in baseball to back them up is another question. Personally, their closer Isringhausen is in my opinion the weakest link. In close games he tends to make things a bit too exciting for my taste.

Posted by: MB at August 22, 2004 11:14 AM

The Yankees are built for the regular season, as opposed to the playoffs, unless Brown suddenly returns to form and Musinna returns to form and rids himself of the title he's taken from Roger Clemens in recent years of "best regular season pitcher who sucks in the playoffs."

Of course, since Red Sox owner Thomas Werner is a big contributor to Democrats and John Kerry, they can't break his heart enough for me this year. On the other hand, seeing the Sox in the World Series this fall would almost be worthwhile if it meant Kerry would get a chance to throw another 45-foot bouncer to home plate in front of 50 million people right before the election.

Posted by: John at August 22, 2004 11:20 AM

"But for many of those 86 years the Red Sox were so inept as to not belong on the same page as the Yankees. It's mainly in the years since 1990, when the Boston sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy fully explored the Curse of the Bambino in his book of the same title, that the Sox have settled into their heartbreaking habit of near-misses"

What color is the sky in his world. 1975 the Sox were in the Series, in 1976,77 and 78 the Yanks. 78 was the year of the famous playoff. In 1986 Boston was in the Series Again. The Sox were also there in '67. Try being a Cubs fan

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 22, 2004 7:03 PM
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