Posted: Sunday October 24, 2004 2:36AM; Updated: Sunday October 24, 2004 10:09AM
Bronson Arroyo committed one of four errors the Red Sox overcame to take Game 1.
BOSTON -- If the Red Sox are going to win their first World Series in something like eight centuries, if they're to actually pull off the previously unthinkable, the first thing they're going to have to do is to learn to overcome their innate Red Soxness.
Nobody, as every citizen of Red Sox Nation knows, can muff things quite like the Red Sox can. No one can screw things up beyond any and all recognition, can tear a loss from the maws of victory -- and can look so stupid doing it -- quite like these loveable, lame-looking Red Sox.
If nothing else, you have to say the Red Sox are true to thineselves. Saturday night, they did everything they could to hand Game 1 of the World Series to the Cardinals, a classy team that plays the game the way it's supposed to be played on just about every level.
The Sox pitched terribly. Whew, did they throw badly. They gave up two leads in the game, one of them a shoulda-been comfortable five-run cushion. They walked six hitters. They plunked a couple more. And defense? You want to call it that?
Let's get to that later, OK? What the Red Sox did in the name of catching the ball deserves its own section in Saturday's little horror story.
Still, try as they might, the Red Sox couldn't even get the screwing up quite right this time around. Despite their worst efforts, doing everything they could short of laying down on the field (though they stumbled around plenty), the Red Sox actually won Game 1, sneaking off with one of the ugliest World Series victories you'd ever want to peek between your fingers to see. It took a home run in the eighth inning off the famed Pesky's Pole, 310 feet down the right-field line, to do it. But the Sox won, 11-9.
"When you can make mistakes like that against a good team [and win] ...," said Boston's youthful general manager, Theo Epstein, "things are going your way."
The Red Sox had no right winning Game 1. None at all. Sure, they got out to a nice 4-0 lead, and then when the Cardinals swung back a little, the Sox pushed the difference to 7-2.
But then they reverted to their Soxness. Tim Wakefield, Boston's knuckleballing starter, didn't last through the third inning. He walked five hitters. He gave up five runs. Johnny Damon's hair was under better control than Wakefield's knuckler on Saturday.
And then the Red Sox started booting the ball around, which this year to the Sox is as natural as a flapping shirttail. In the fourth inning, Kevin Millar, the first baseman, took a throw from right field, looked at a runner that he could have nailed at third base -- maybe should have -- and promptly missed the third baseman by, oh, about a base. The wild throw allowed a run to score, put another on third (where it scored on a groundout) and brought the Cardinals to within 7-5.
Red Sox Nation held its breath. Again. Red Sox Nation often is blue from holding its breath.
"I didn't have a grip on that ball," said Millar. "I shouldn't have thrown it."
Reliever Bronson Arroyo came into the game to relieve Wakefield and, in the sixth inning, bounced off the mound on a slow roller and pulled off his best Brooks Robinson impression. He got the ball, too. It was the throwing to first base that was the problem. The ball ended up in the stands, and the runner ended up on second base. Two batters later, the Cardinals tied the score, 7-7.
And then there was Manny Ramirez, the fun-loving but stone-handed left fielder. After the Red Sox pushed the lead to 9-7, Ramirez politely handed it back on back-to-back botches in the eighth inning.
The first was typical Manny. He charged a ball and forgot to pick it up, allowing a run to score. The second error was amazing even by Manny standards. Coming in on a fly ball off the bat of Larry Walker, Ramirez went into what looked like an unnecessary feet first slide for the catch. But his left knee crunched into the turf, his right heel stopped him short and he very nearly went spikes over smile. The ball actually hit the back of his glove.
"It was a tough day," said Epstein, who actually tried to defend his defenseless left fielder as being much improved in the field. "He's never boring."
This, of course, was typical Red Sox stuff, and if Boston had blown the lead right then and there, given it up never to get it back, all of Red Sox Nation probably would have nodded knowingly. This is what the Red Sox do. This is how they play. This is what they are.
Except, strangely, along came Mark Bellhorn's homer in the bottom of the eighth, and all the walks were negated, all the errors forgiven, the 12 men the Sox left on base all but forgotten.
The Sox were a chirpy, smiling, fun bunch in the clubhouse afterward, despite playing a game that would have made the Bad News Bears blush.
"Idiots," centerfielder Damon said with a smile. "Unfortunately, we played bad. But we're a bunch of happy guys."
Maybe trying to overcome their Soxness is not what the Sox should be thinking about. Maybe they should be embracing their Soxness. Maybe they should take all those flaws, all the failed history, all the goofiness that has infused this team for so long and just hold it close. It worked Saturday night.
Maybe, after all these decades of fighting it, simply being the Sox will be good enough this year.