Why am I not worried?

Today, Sam Killay of Raystalk stands in for Evan in his hour of need.
It’s October, game 3 of the ALCS, the Sox are down 0-2 to the hated, accursed, vicious, baby-slapping New York Yankees, our vaunted offense has failed us miserably in innings 1-6 in each of the first two games of this series, ace Curt Schilling is down (and maybe out for the count), Derek Lowe is back in the rotation and has had terrible outings against the Yankees this year, Bronson Arroyo is making the start here in game 3 and as I type this has already given up 3 runs in the first inning, Pinstriper Hideki Matsui is breaking hearts in NE again, Manny Ramirez is looking ditzy on the basepaths again, unofficial team captain Jason Varitek has been in a funk with the bat, and I still don’t think Terry Francona has the brain of a lobotomized chipmunk.
So why am I not worried?
If ever I should be worried, after all, it’s now. Game 3 tonight is the must-win of all must-wins. Arroyo has been called by Baseball Prospectus, “the flakiest pitcher in the league”: is tonight one of his flaky nights? Johnny Damon, the ever-so-important catalyst in our best-in-baseball lineup, has had a recurrence of the terrible migraines caused by his 2003 ALDS collision with Damian Jackson. As a result, Captain Caveman has looked off at the plate throughout the postseason. We’ve already lost games 1 and 2 with our aces pitching, Schilling and Pedro Martinez, and how can we expect to win this series without their contributions?
So why am I not worried?
Alex Rodriguez, the principal in the offseason melodrama that nearly sent the so-called best player in baseball to Boston’s hallowed green, is now a Yankee, and, what’s worse, is hitting like a monster in the postseason after putting up mediocre numbers (by his high standards) all year. Mike Mussina, who always saves his best outings for the Red Sox, also had a mediocre season but started game 1 for the Yanks and was perfect through 6 innings. Jon Lieber, who didn’t even pitch last year–not at all, not one lousy pitch–as he recuperated from surgery, shut us down completely in game 2.
And now Bronson Arroyo hasn’t been able to pitch 3 innings in this crucial game 3, and his night is done. Ballgame tied 4-4, nobody out, runners at 2nd and 3rd, and former Yankee Ramiro Mendoza is on to pitch to Bernie Williams. Whoops, correction, Williams gets a base hit, Yanks back in the lead, Mendoza on to pitch to Jorge Posada. And Mendoza balks home another run. Great.
So why am I not worried?
Because I’ve spent the last season writing for the Devil Rays here at MVN. Writing and rooting for the Devil Rays. I don’t want to say that my standards have been lowered, but, a passionate lifelong Red Sox fan, I put it to you this way: I’ve found a new perspective on baseball.
Now, you’ll recall last year’s fateful Red Sox/Yankees matchup in the ALCS. That was terrible. That was my first real Red Sox heartbreak.
Every Red Sox fan has known that feeling. Some of the old-timers remember the heartbreak of ’46. Many remember ’67, The Impossible Dream. Many remember ’78, Bucky Dent. Many remember ’86, Buckner. And now, of course, ’03, Boone.
I was 4 years old in ’86 (you do the math), and the ’90s were something of a lull in Red Sox history, so until Boone’s blast last October, I had never tasted of the cup of grief that has been so familiar to fans of this fateful franchise.
It hurt.
It really hurt.
For a solid week after that, I walked around in a delirium of disbelief, lost in a stupor, numb.
And it still hurts. And if we lose this series, it will hurt again. And, basically, if we lose tonight, we lose this series.
And I’m still not worried.
I welcome you to the world of the less fortunate, the world of baseball fans whose GM worries not about breaking the lux tax threshold with his offseason additions, but about breaking even. About not hemorraghing cash and running the organization into the red. About the bottom line. Or, as in the case of the Expos this year, or the Twins when they were under threat of contraction, maybe the end of the line.
And I put it to you that we Red Sox fans are rather spoiled.
We’re also more than a little short-sighted.
One thing I’ve found, in my time among the D-Rays faithful, is that as a group they are extremely knowledgeable about the inner workings of their organization. They know more than just the ins and outs of their major league club: they know the ins and outs of their minor league clubs, too. All of ’em. And who’s playing winter ball. Who’s playing Mexican ball. Who’ll get a cup o’ coffee come next September. Who will be declined arbitration. Who will be allowed to reach Free Agency so he can be replaced by a solution from within. In their discussion forums, they start threads with titles like, “Top 10 Rays Prospects” and, “Top 50 Prospects in Baseball,” and they all post their own opinions on the matter. Informed, in-depth opinions.
Offhand, I don’t think I could name 10 Red Sox prospects. Never mind the 10 best in our system.
See, when you’re a Devil Rays fan, you have to be realistic. You can’t afford to be naive. The Devil Rays won 70 games in 2004, which is the nice way of saying that they only lost 92, and among their loyal fans this is considered progress. Heck, not just progress, but historic progress. The Rays had never won 70 games before this year. When your favorite ballclub is in their situation, you only dream of the day your team can reach 70 wins. Maybe someday, 80 wins. Maybe someday, break the .500 mark. Maybe someday, 90 wins. Maybe someday, hope beyond hope, even make the playoffs.
Someday.
And I put it to you again that Red Sox fans are short-sighted. Because reasonable Rays fans can only hope so much from their major league team: baby steps. The real hope resides in the minor leagues, in the farms. And the Rays have good farms. You already know the names of several of their products, guys like Baldelli, Huff, and Crawford, but did you know that they have even better yet to come? Yes, better. You might not know their names now, but in 3 years you will, I guarantee.
Rays fans can only expect so much for today, so they reserve much of their trust for tomorrow. I wonder whether Red Sox fans would benefit from doing the same. After all, it’s hard to enjoy a baseball game when you’re paranoid. Frustrated. Nervous. Frazzled. Hypertense. Bitter. Excessively negative. Obsessed.
Relax, people. In Theo We Trust. Did you think that only applies to 2004?
By the way, back in the present, the Yankees are now up 13-6. Balls flying around the ballpark every which way. Francona yanked Mendoza too early, Leskanic couldn’t throw a strike for his life (and what do you expect from a guy even the Brewers and Royals didn’t want?), and now Tim Wakefield, tomorrow’s scheduled starter, is on to pitch. Hmm, guess that means we’ll be seeing Derek Lowe sooner than I had hoped.
Anyway, the Red Sox don’t have a deep farm system like the Devil Rays do. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But we have a couple of names you should know. SS Hanley Ramirez for one, who should reach the bigs by late 2006, is a guy whose name appears frequently in lists of the top 50-, the top 30-, the top 20 prospects in all of baseball. MIF Dustin Pedroia for another, who is only a few months into his professional career and is already earning himself mention as one of the top prospects in the game: if he keeps it up, he’ll see time in the show by 2006, too. SP Abe Alvarez, a kid with incredible poise who looks like he will progress through our farm systems very rapidly. SP Tommy Hottovy. RP Kyle Bono, another kid making a stir. And the list goes on.
Remember back when John Henry bought the Red Sox and we were hunting for a new GM? We assigned Theo to the position, shocking the baseball world. I mean, nobody doubted his intelligence: he was an Ivy Leaguer after all, and you could just look at him and see his smarts. He carries them around him like an aura.
But! But! But you can’t give control of a $100m+ payroll to a raw kid nobody knows anything about! Ivy Leaguer or not! It takes more than just smarts to run an operation like this! You need experience!
But Theo it was, naysayers aside. And as GM, he came armed not just with his intelligence, but a host of new ideas about how to run a baseball team. Key among these was the importance of the farm system: you don’t run a successful baseball team through free agency. You raise your own talent until it’s ready, you field it, and you supplement your base of homegrown talent by making prudent free agent signings. But you do not buy championships.
In his inaugural press conference, Theo made a promise: under his leadership, the Boston Red Sox would become a scouting and development machine. While you were watching the Red Sox lose to the Yankees last year, what do you think Theo was doing? As we watch them lose to the Yankees again today–it’s 17-8 now in 7th inning–what do you think Theo is doing?
Is he worried sick like you are? I don’t think so. Because he knows something you don’t know. Can I let you in on a little secret? By the year 2008 or ’09, the Red Sox will be the most dominant franchise in baseball.
The Red Sox killed my grandfather. They may well kill my father. But they won’t get me.
Picture the A’s or Twins of the last few years, but with a large-market payroll. Picture the A’s, especially, retaining Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Miguel Tejada. Picture them locking up Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Rich Harden, all for, say, the next decade. Picture the A’s without their defining quality of cheapness.
Picture the Giants with help for Bonds and Schmidt. Picture the Rangers, all these years, with real pitching to go along with all those great offenses. Picture the Braves of the ’90s, but with good offenses backing the remarkable trio of Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine. Picture the ideal baseball team.
That’s what the Red Sox will be within 5 years. Like the Yankees of the late ’90s, only better.
So do you think Theo is worried?
Do you think I’m worried?
Why are you worried?