Saturday's epic loss to the hated Yankees marks the sad end of a remarkably successful and interesting era for the Olde Towne Team.
Brothers and sisters of Red Sox Nation, it is time. And someone's got to say it. So I come before you today to bury a particularly notable version of our beloved team. Let those of us willing to mark the occasion now pause, bow our heads, and solemnly recognize that the Decade of the Sox (circa 2003-2012) is officially and irrevocably over. It was an extraordinary run, giving diehards and new fans alike the thrills and heartbreaks of a lifetime. But like everything good in life it had to come to an end. And now it has. Rest in peace.
If it started on that October night in 2003 when hapless manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long against the New York Yankees it surely ended on an April afternoon at Fenway Park, yesterday, when beleaguered Bobby Valentine's squad, now 4-10 on the new season after imploding last year, blew a 9-0 lead after six innings in a 15-9 loss to the Yankees. The Yankees. The damn Yankees are always and forever the antagonists in any Red Sox story worth knowing, are they not?
Given how the bad the Sox are playing it's easier to figure why the architect of the team's rise, Theo Epstein, was so eager to take his organizational talents to Chicago. The Cubs have nowhere to go but up. As became clear late last season, and is so obvious today, the Red Sox have nowhere to go but down. Poor Ben Cherrington, Epstein's successor as general manager, who at such a tender age has to figure out how to make lemonade from the lemon of a team he inherited from his mentor. At least he isn't likely to sneak out of Fenway wearing a gorilla suit, like Epstein did back on Halloween day in 2005.
Ah, but there is no need to be caustic about the passing of this glorious era in the team's long history. There is no need to be sentimental, either. It was great while it lasted and it delivered unto the fervent Red Sox Nation two world championships, hard-won prizes it hadn't savored in 86 years. I watched in disbelief in 2004. I was there in person in 2007. I will never forget it. I got my money's worth. And a whole lot more than all those dearly departed souls -- God bless them -- who rooted for the Sox all those years without seeing them win. The truth is that a great many people have gotten rich, or stayed wealthy, thanks to the Red Sox Decade.
Think of all the pink baseball caps that were sold. And all the Fenway tours that were filled. And all the bricks and bats and dirt and balls which were bought by fans all across the world. Think of all the Red Sox teddy bears, and onesies, and bankies that were ordered by parents for their children. Think of Fever Pitch, for goodness sakes, the Nation's cinematic anthem by the Farrelly brothers. Betcha we won't be seeing Drew Barrymore running across the outfield at Fenway Park ever again. And if she does perhaps Valentine can ask her to pitch.
The Red Sox will be good again one day, soon I hope, but for now we are left with a fragile, unlikeable team laden with underachieving prima donnas. A team that cannot pitch, that can only occasionally hit, and that saves its worst moments for the most crucial moments of the game. A team surrounded by questions. Why is Darnell McDonald still a Sox? Why are Sox pitchers so much consistently worse than management has projected them to be? And why wasn't current Sox favorite Dustin Pedroia fined for ridiculing his new manager early last week (the team has not won since)? You would think that Pedroia, Terry Francona's close pal, would have a dollop of shame after the Sox' epic collapse last September.
Why did Bobby Valentine call out Kevin Youkilis last week, after a Sox victory, and then why did he apologize to him afterward? Why did the Sox trade for a relief pitcher, Mark Melancon, who cannot retire a batter? Why did they trade for another, Andrew Bailey, who has a history of injuries (and who, indeed, got injured). Why is free-agent disaster John Lackey, who made a horse's ass of himself last year, still lingering around the team even though he won't pitch until next year? Why was Sox management so hesitant to sign a quality free-agent starter so that the team's logical closer, Daniel Bard, could stay in the bullpen?
But I digress. The Sox will figure it out. In the meantime, I'll think of 2004. And 2007. And all the years of the run. I'll think of Daniel Nava's unlikely story. And Manny Ramirez going to the bathroom inside the Green Monster. I'll remember Keith Foulke throwing his arm off in the playoffs and Nelson de la Rosa, God rest his soul. I'll remember Trot Nixon, after whom my dog is named, and even J.D. Drew -- but only for what he did in the 2007 playoffs. I'll remember Wily Mo Pena for his line-drive home runs into the seats about the Green Monster. And I'll remember Doug Mirabelli's police escort over to Fenway. Again, I say: Doug Mirabelli's police escort.
The good. The bad. And the ugly, too. I'll remember poor Matt Clement getting hit in the head and Julian Taverez rolling the ball to first base to get an out. And we'll always have Dice-K, right? I mean that literally since no other team will ever want to saddle their fans with the tedium of his 120-pitch five inning starts. And of course I will remember Nomar Garciaparra, Pokey Reese, Orlando Cabrera. Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzales, Julio Lugo. Nick Green. Marco Scutero and Mike Aviles, the ten, count 'em ten, primary shortstops the Sox fielded during their decade at or near the top. All of them combined don't add up to Derek Jeter.
Bobby Valentine said Saturday night, in the wake of the epic loss, that he believed the Sox have hit bottom. Maybe yes and maybe no. Maybe tonight their fifth starter, the one who should be their closer, will get rocked by the Yankees. Or maybe the Sox will win. Maybe they'll win 85 or 90 games this year. Maybe not. Whatever this team does, whatever it is or may become, it will be of the new era that dawns today, the first day of the rest of the organization's life. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Here, the five stages of grief come down to two sentences: The Sox are dead. Long live the Sox.