Sunday, October 10, 2004

Why Not?

The problem with asking why this is the year for the Sox lies in semantics. It shouldn’t be a question of “is this the year?”

It should be “why shouldn’t this be the year?”

“Why not us” is the rallying cry these Red Sox take into the ALCS and, while it may lack the potential marketing promotion glitz of last year’s “Cowboy up”, it does have a good beat and you can dance to it. Besides all that, it shows that this team enters in the right frame of mind. If you ask “Why us?” then you’re unsure—and going into a series with the hated Yankees is like walking into a lion’s den with a belt made from t-bone steaks.

The Sox went 11-8 against the Yankees during the regular season and, this is the really, really, really important part, believe they are the better team going into this series.

They believe they can win.

They know that if they’re down in the 9th to the Yankees that Mariano Rivera is NOT unhittable—they’ve beaten him before and believe, if need be, that they can do it again.

The team was four outs from vanquishing the Yankees last season and much has changed.

The Yankees are different—their bats are stronger than last year, but they are more and more reliant on the long ball as means of offensive production. Power hitting as an offensive trademark is a risky thing in playoff baseball. When your team’s idea of situational hitting is “hey, we’re down a run, someone hit this out of the park” and the bats are cooled, you’re bound to run into trouble.

<>The upgraded Red Sox pitching staff aims to be just that trouble for the Yankee’s potent lineup.

Curt Schilling, the new staff ace, knows what it takes to beat the Yankees in October, having done it before with the World Champion Diamondbacks. Pedro Martinez, despite getting rocked by the Yankees in his previous two starts against them, knows what is at stake here, and will use it as motivation to pitch at his best—which may not be what it was in 1998-99, is still very, very good stuff. Behind the big 1-2 punch the Sox have a pretty good #3 in Bronson Arroyo—who pitched quite a gem in Fenway last week, striking out more Angels than either Schilling or Martinez—and the knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

The upgrades to the Sox pitching staff stand out even more compared to what the change the Yankees starting rotation underwent from last season. The Rocket is gone, as are Andy Petite and David Wells. Kevin Brown has been Kevin Brown—good when healthy, but not always healthy. Plus there was that whole punching the wall thing. “El Duque” was a surprise, but may not have anything left in the tank to be a difference-making starter. Which means, for the Yankees, the series may come down to Mussina-Schilling and Lieber-Martinez. If all pitchers come with their best stuff, this is a big plus for the Sox.

My wild dream is that the Sox destroy the Yankee starters to the point that the bullpen won’t be an issue, but that is mainly because the bullpen is the one area the Sox could be in trouble.

Yankee fans may be salivating after watching the Sox bullpen risk a brilliant start by Arroyo against the Angels, knowing what their own lineup was able to do—multiple times—against the Twins. To compound this fear, remember that the Sox were making Tanyon Sturtze look unhittable in the Bronx earlier, have yet to figure out a good way to hit Tom Gordon, and that Sox closer Keith Foulke did blow some saves down the stretch.

I know it is a tad scary. Being a Red Sox fan is a scary thing though. You relate easily to the Charlie Brown and Lucy football cartoons. But this time, Charlie is going to kick the ball, the Sox will beat the Yankees in 5, and, just like the last time Mt. St. Helen’s was feeling frisky, the Sox are going to the World Series.

And they’re going to win there too. Why not?

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