Thursday, October 21, 2004

All Your Base...

Well, that’s over.

Not an exciting game, really—the Sox took such an early, commanding and sustained lead that the whole proceedings felt like an extended victory lap—but a sweet finish nonetheless.

I’ll take issue with the Notorious T.O.D.D., though, who opines that Terry Francona is “retarded.” To which I say: retarded like fox, brother. I’ve been watching Francona with fascination; taking it as given that the two teams are about evenly matched in raw talent (although I’d actually grant the Yankees an edge in that department), it was Francona’s tactical genius that won this series.

Call it scientific micromanagement; it’s all about the allocation of resources, and about understanding the opponent and his soft spots. Francona’s frequent shufflings and substitutions are what sealed these games for the Sox—his determination to use the twenty-five guys at his disposal to best possible advantage in every inning, every play, every at-bat.

Look at the fifth game. Tom Gordon is one of the best closing pitchers in the game—when he’s focused, which is almost always. Francona puts in pinch-runner Dave Roberts, who leads the league in stolen bases, and Gordon is effectively neutralized. With Roberts a constant distraction, Gordon can’t find his Happy Place, and when he blows the save he goes to pieces—his pitches wobble like drunken fruitbats until Torre finally takes pity on him.

That’s Francona—setting player against player, play by play, even when by rights he could and should be thinking of other things. In bringing in Alan Embree for—what? three pitches? at the bottom of the ninth with two out—in refusing to be distracted by the thought that Christ, we’re up seven runs and one out away from a Series berth—Francona’s in the moment, Zen-style. Not building a house, but making a brick. For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost, and on and on and on; Terry Francona is pounding his nails, one by one.

It’ll be interesting to see how this will work in the Series. As strategies go, it’s most effective against an opponent one knows well, and the learning curve can be fatally steep. No high hopes, but fingers crossed.

One last note: I usually only like A-Rod’s face when it’s being mashed in by Jason Varitek’s glove, but his expression in the later innings was priceless. Whut th—? Whut cha mean I aint goin tuh th Worl’ Series? They tole me I wuz goin tuh th Worl’ Series! I haven’t seen such a mix of petulance, rage, and sheer animal incomprehension since G.W. Bush’s performance in the first debate.

Roll on, Houston; how sweet it would be to exorcise the Curse of the Bambino and ratfuck Roger Clemens, in one swell foop.

UPDATE: Alas, ‘twas not to be. Ah well. Cardinals, then. In Boston, we’ve had our share of problems with Cardinals, as well.

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