In the meantime Pittsburgh is going to be even less competitive, it will continue to lose money, and it will be lucky to draw 1.5 million fans a season. This isn't so much McClatchy's fault as it is Major League Baseball's for bending over backward to allow him to buy the club when it was clear he didn't have the capital to make it work. ( McClatchy put up only $12 million of the $90 million purchase price; the rest came from various private investors.) Baseball's plan was to save one of the game's historic franchises by giving McClatchy three years to make things work in Pittsburgh and, if he couldn't do that, to let him move the franchise. Less than a year later the team's prospects look bleaker than ever.
Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn remembers July 3 well. Boston was a pathetic 34-47 and 15 games out of first place in the American League East when the Red Sox held a team meeting. "The whole first half of the season was like running 100 yards and fumbling at the goal line," Vaughn says. "I told everybody at the meeting that the fight is not within ourselves, the fight is out there. It's a war, and if we're not willing to fight, we'll get to September 55 games back."
September arrived on Sunday, and Boston was only 6� games out of first and a mere 3� behind the White Sox in the wild-card race when the day ended. Talk about the impossible dream. The Red Sox went 34-18 from the All-Star break through Sunday and were 23-8 in their last 31 games. On Aug. 22 outfielder Troy O'Leary capped a sweep of the A's, in which Boston won each game in its last at bat, by hitting a homer off the rightfield foul pole for a 2-1 victory. "Now we're getting all the breaks," says Red Sox catcher Mike Stanley. "The whole team is hitting the foul pole."
That's a far cry from the club that early in the year, Vaughn says, was filled with "deadwood and dead attitudes." Not to mention a lot of designated hitters. With Jose Canseco and Wil Cordero among the defensive liabilities on the roster, the Red Sox were trying to outslug teams in every game. But mid-season acquisitions such as Jeff Frye, Lee Tinsley and Darren Bragg have sharpened the defense, which in turn has allowed the pitching to improve. In his last four starts through Sunday, Roger Clemens was the Rocket of old, having allowed one earned run and struck out 35 in 33 innings. And Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, after a midseason tutorial from Phil Niekro, was effective again at times in August, when he won three starts.
It's still difficult to imagine the Red Sox winning the East, but at least they have a shot at the wild-card spot.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]