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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Red Sox Commentary

They’ve reached the peak of realism

Stage A of the ultimate annual mission has been fastened, as was signified by the audible, visible, and tangible presence of champagne in the Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday night.

Ideally, within the next month, the exact same acknowledgment will be made of the achievement of Stages B, C, and D –victory in the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series respectively. Until that engine hits the final line or busts, all the rooters and publicists shall incessantly stress the thirst for one more swig of party beverage, then another, and then one more.

But in sport, there is only so much room for everybody’s idealism to slip on the glimmering robe of reality. Come Sunday, 22 out of 30 major league franchises will have been forced to give up their presumed first-things-first goal of earning extra competitive activity.

Not long before Halloween, another seven will have had to relinquish their desire to clutch the Commissioner’s Trophy until they revive the bats and balls for spring training.

Sacrilegious as it may seem to even hypothetically suggest, especially for a fan base that is watching its team defend the championship and has all but grown addicted to winning, what are the odds that the Sox will again be the singular team that still stands and stands triumphant?

All right, enough of that dreadful fright for now, especially since the first round itineraries haven’t been solidified yet. The Red Sox have earned their spot and their shot at the title, and that in itself is something to be savored.

Even more succulent than that is the sudden frequency of Fenway Franks being on sale in October (remember when the Pinstripe Party Posse made jokes about that not being the case?). Boston will see postseason action for the fifth time in six years. And, if you’re interested in adopting a little Don Schula spirit, feel free to put an asterisk next to the playoff no-go year that was 2006, when the Sox melted from first to third in the AL East over the final two months largely owing to an incessant injury plague.

Or not. Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, and the rest of the management cabinet would be apt dismiss such an “excuse.” And indeed, this year, the Red Sox perpetual learner of a GM proved that the sturdiest franchises are those who compile an emergency kit in case the injury bug invades again, which it has for the better part of the 2008 campaign. When Mike Lowell has been down, Kevin Youkilis has shifted to his old third base post and in turn given first-year Bostonian Sean Casey a chance to contribute. A substantially quantitative and qualitative array of outfielders has averted disaster in the absence of J.D. Drew during the stretch drive. Et cetera.

Individual health and availability aside, the Sox are now a certified perennial powerhouse in MLB. In other words, they are a rare find in the stuffy 21st century sporting pool. After all, the Yankees’ have discontinued their practice of all but pre-ordering post-season tickets before Opening Day. And this comes a year after they severed their exponentially shaky ties with Joe Torre, who in a former era delivered four titles in five years and six pennants in eight years.

The Atlanta Braves –who until recently were hairs away from permanently purchasing the NL East flag? Don’t ask about them anymore.

The New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers are still arm wrestling for assumption of their league’s wild card bid, but whoever prevails will not commence the postseason with the same manager who led them at the start of the regular season. How does that guarantee stable, long-lasting contention?

All the while, Epstein and Francona have each enjoyed playoff action in all but one of their years in Boston. As far as the horizon is visible, they each have their respective posts nailed as rigidly as the Pesky Pole.

It’s an understandable propensity for fans of the more prosperous teams to crave dynasties. Such occurrences, however, are all but extinct. A legitimate annual crack at the crown is the next best thing, and for the moment, only the Sox and the Los Angeles Angels, who under the consistent guidance of Mike Scioscia have now garnered postseason privileges five times since 2002.

Could you ask for more than regular playoff ventures? Do you hope to build on what’s already been attained? Well, not doing so would defeat the purpose for fans and players alike.

But for safe keeping, just note that whatever isn’t earned in the near future won’t delete what was earned already.

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