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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

  ALCS, Here We Come

It's been more than three months since I last posted commentary here. It isn't that there was nothing to write about between then and now; on the contrary, there was almost too much to write about. Every time I had a topic in mind, something else would quickly eclipse it. Most of it was good, but this is the Red Sox. And for the Red Sox, history has shown, nothing comes easily.

It is not possible to overstate how much this team, and its fans, have been through this season. After enduring early bullpen woes, we headed into the warmer weather with high hopes for trades and acquisitions to shore up our potent offense, maintain our adequate defense, and shore up our struggling pitching staff. Relievers especially were desparately needed to take the heat of our reliable starters.

General Manager Theo Epstein came up big, trading for solid pitchers like lefty specialist Scott Sauerbeck, former Red Sox prospect Jeff Suppan, and closer Byung-Hyun "BK" Kim. Position players like Gabe Kapler and Dave McCarty provided depth for the bench in case of late-season slumps or injuries. Theo's moves were widely praised. It looked like smooth sailing in the second half.

But this being the Red Sox, it wasn't that easy. Whether because of the difficulties posed by a new city, new teammates, or new batters they hadn't seen before, the new pitchers continued the struggles of those they had replaced. The offense continued to hit, led by the awakened bat of David Ortiz, but every game remained an adventure. With the the hottest lineup in baseball and the most volatile bullpen, no lead was safe - either way.

Then came the scandals. Pedro's illness. Mannygate. The trials and tribulations of BK. Negativity by members of the media. Impatience by the fans. And this being the Red Sox, all of it threatened to end in the same old way, with a September slide and dashed hopes.

But there was something different about this team, and it began to show through all the distractions. It turned out that these guys genuinely liked each other, believed in each other, and supported each other. And they never, ever gave up.

Every day brought a different hero. A stellar outing by John Burkett when we least expected it. A uncharacteristic defensive gem from Manny. A two-grand-slam game by switch-hitter and runaway 10th player Bill Mueller. Kevin Millar's "Rally Karaoke Guy."

So it wasn't really a surprise when, though disappointed by a failure to surge into first place, this team nonetheless secured a playoff berth. And it wasn't a surprise when they bounced back from an 0-2 deficit in the first round of the playoffs to take the series from Oakland in five games. Those who were paying attention believed it could happen.

Not that there weren't some tough moments. The extra-innings loss in game 1, Wakefield pitching lights out a little too late after the big inning in game 2. But then came the equally dramatic wins. Game 3 with Varitek being awarded home on an interference call, then Tejada surrendering home in a bad baserunning play, then Trot's dramatic extra-inning homer. And the big bats, silent during the series, coming alive just in time to shake up Foulke into blowing a save in game 4 (thank you, David Ortiz). Even game 5 was a nailbiter down to the last pitch. This being the Red Sox, nothing was easy.

But unlike so many Red Sox teams of the past, this one shrugged off adversity and turned things to their advantage as we saw them do all season. And in doing so, they earned the right to play at the next level.

This being the Red Sox, it won't be easy to beat the Yankees. But this team believes they can do it. And we believe in them. Go Sox!

Just my opinion.

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