It was a mistake to believe again this year.
Although the Sox had a white-hot start and an impressive run near the end of the season, it should be noted that for the lion's share of 2004 they played disturbingly like the team which has been on display for the past week against the Yankees in this absolute horror show of an ALCS. The matzoh-ball pitching, the anemic hitting, the Little League baserunning - it's like a flashback to late June, when the sports punditry had dubbed Boston's overpaid and underperforming roster the "Fortune .500".
Sweeping the Angels was child's play, as they and the other AL West contenders had gorged themselves on the utter collapse of the Seattle Mariners, pumping up their win-loss records with nineteen games each against a team that ended up one game short of losing 100 for the season. In truth we could have taken any of the three clubs that might have ended up with that divisional title.
The Yankees, however, were another beast entirely. While the Boston did in fact best New York in the season series - taking 11 out of the total 19 games played head-to-head - it should be borne in mind that six of those wins came from April and May, when the Sox were an altogether different team. Judging from the midseason performance of the Fortune .500, and even taking into account Boston's phenomenal 20-2 drive after the All Star Break (which in retrospect seems more like a fluke than anything else), this final showdown against our arch-nemeses was not going to be a cakewalk. Throw in the psychological baggage of having to face the Yankees yet again in the postseason, and it's a wonder that anyone thought we had even a snowball's chance in Hell to take four games out of seven.
And yet - inexplicably - the Sox became the favored team in this match-up. The Boston Dirt Dogs may not be all that good when the chips are down, but win or lose they're unparalleled in their ability to market themselves. Perhaps we Americans have been exposed to so many reruns of the movie Major League that we instinctively latch onto any team sufficiently rag-tag enough to resemble the ensemble cast portrayed by Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, et al, because despite ourselves, despite the Curse and the legacy of bad management and the still-raw wound that will forever be known simply as Game Seven we allowed ourselves to be seduced by these self-proclaimed "idiots" as they limped into their customary Wild Card position at the end of September and yet carried themselves as if they were still the juggernaut they had seemed in mid-May.
What were we thinking? Now the Old Towne Team is down three games to none and facing elimination tonight in what Major League Baseball had been billing (to the detriment of the NLSC, which is actually delivering something of a showdown between the St. Louis Cardinals and the underdog Houston Astros) as baseball's "main event", bigger than the subsequent World Series even. Will Boston be able to win one for honor's sake, or will the team continue on their downward trajectory and leave the faithful of Red Sox Nation feeling like they were idiots for placing all of their hopes on such a club?
We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, is it just me and my wife, or do you think Nomar Garciaparra isn't helping himself to a nice satisfying slice of Schadenfreude right about now? Enjoy it, Nomah. Any team that chooses "idiots" over honest-to-goodness professionals deserves all of the humiliation they have coming their way. The Cubbies may not have made it to the postseason at all this year, but at least they weren't pretending to be something they most egregiously were not.
Man, I'm glad we have a good football team...