Terry Francona dubbed last night's 11-inning loss (which has me a bit groggy this morning, having watched the final three innings) "heartbreaking." With all due respect to Terry, I disagree. This might be the most uplifting loss I've ever seen.
The Red Sox should have lost this game. Not just because of the circumstances heading into it (those in a minute), but because of the game itself. I count no less than five different points at which any team would be forgiven for losing this game, and the Red Sox did not.
- Before it even started. A long night game Sunday, made even later by ESPN's ridiculous insistence on starting its televised games at 8 p.m. Eastern time, then a cross-country flight that put the team in Oakland at 5:30 a.m. Pacific time, then sleep and a game at 7 p.m. No one woul;d have complained if the Sox threw this game away. The opening game of a road trip in early June with a big lead in the division? No need to kill yourselves on this one, boys. Just come back and win the rest.
- By the third inning. Dan Haren v. Julian Tavarez. Are you kidding me? Haren has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Tavarez has arguably ... not been the best pitcher in baseball (though far better than expected, I think). This game could have been 6-0 by the third, based on the matchup alone. Instead, Tavarez kept the Sox in it, trailing 3-1 in the sixth.
- Entering the ninth inning. A tired team trailing by two runs entering the inning? Pack it up, go home, get em next time. Granted, such a deficit is not unsurmountable -- even less so against Alan Embree than against the Athletics' DLed closer Huston Street.
- The bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded, none out, wild man J.C. Romero on the mound. The clock turned midnight here -- allowing me to circumvent the satellite three-hour NESN blackout -- just as Romero struck out Eric Chavez. I still expected him to walk the winning run in, especially as the count on Bobby Crosby went to 2-0. The 5-2-3 double play was one of the more exciting moments of the season. I don't believe the 2006 Red Sox would have made that play.
- The bottom of the 10th. The winning run again 90 feet away, and again the Sox hold the A's at bay, this time on a gutsy play by Kevin Youkilis and Kyle Snyder, who executed to perfection the exact same play that Kevin Millar and Chris Ray failed to execute during what NESN now calls the "Mother's Day Miracle." A slow rolling grounder, a quick field-and-throw from Youkilis, leading Snyder to the bag just ahead of the runner, who then steps on Snyder's foot and sends them both tumbling. That ball is late to the bag or wide -- or the pitcher loses the ball in the collision -- more often than not.
The plays in the ninth and 10th especially have made me a believer in this team. Sure, they lost. Snyder -- who's having a great season, by the way, and pitched very well last night -- gave up the walk-off on a mistake pitch, and that was it. But there was no reason for the Red Sox, run down and exhausted, to play this well or put up this much of a fight.
Growing up a Sox fan, you learn to hope but never believe. Not until the magic number is zero. Not until the celebration on the field. Not until the champagne flows in the clubhouse. 2004 changed some of that, sure. But the Sox couldn't hold it in 2005, and they collapsed in 2006, reinforcing those old feelings. Always hope. Never believe.
This year, though, is different. I believe. Last night's loss sealed it for me.