Confident owner never hedged
OK, class, a pop quiz before the start of school. Two months ago today, in the aftermath of an eight-run loss to the Yankees that had the Nation down in the mouth, one astute observer rendered the following opinion:
"I believe we have a very, very strong team despite the win-loss record over the last couple of months. It took a while to jell last year. We've left a lot of runners on base, but the good news is they have gotten on base. That will even out and we will score a lot of runs in the second half. We've allowed a lot of unearned runs. I also believe that will decline greatly in the second half. Again, this is a very strong team and I believe they will show exactly how strong a team it is. Our pitching is strong and our lineup is just as strong. I don't believe there is anything Pollyanna-ish about what I am saying. I strongly believe what I am saying. I expect to be proved correct."
So, who was the author?
c) John W. Henry
d) John Knickerbocker, the bartender at the Boston Beer Works
If you picked (c), the billionaire, you might want to consider a career in hedge funds.
Sox owner Henry, who spent part of his day yesterday hobnobbing with Mayor Menino, never did share that prediction directly with his uniformed employees, according to pitcher Curt Schilling. He didn't have to.
"That was the thinking in this room all along -- I know I've always felt that way," said Schilling after the Sox won their sixth in a row, matching their longest winning streak of the season, by breezing past the Detroit Tigers, 6-1, completing a four-game sweep of the toothless Tabbies and drawing within 4 1/2 games of the Yankees, the closest they've been to the lead in the AL East since June 23.
Schilling will take the ball tomorrow against the Anaheim Angels, the team's direct pursuers in the wild-card race, the start of what Schilling calls the "biggest nine games of the year" -- three-game sets against the Angels and Texas Rangers here, three games against the A's in Oakland, all three teams competing with the Sox for a berth in October.
"All of us are playing very, very good baseball," Schilling said. "Now we'll be playing ball against each other, and the next nine days will give us a chance to separate ourselves from the other teams."
In the two months since Henry offered his forecast, the Sox are averaging nearly a run more a game than they did in the first three months of the season (6.23 to 5.38). But even more striking is how prescient he was about the drop in unearned runs. From 60 unearned runs in the team's first 76 games, the Sox have allowed just 20 in their last 53 games, including just six in 27 games this month.
"I think this is all about our defense," Schilling said. "The pitching has been very, very good, sure, but look at [the Tigers'] defense this weekend and our defense. Night and day, right? But we were that team, before."
The Tigers, who are tied with the Royals for most errors (114) in the league, made three errors in each of the first two games of this series, and another Saturday. Pudge Rodriguez, their Gold Glove catcher, threw two balls away. Brandon Inge, his fill-in, improbably dropped a throw to the plate on which Manny Ramirez easily would have been out. They weren't charged with a miscue yesterday, though shortstop Carlos Guillen had a rough afternoon, most notably on a double-play ball in the third on which he thought he could beat Gabe Kapler to the bag, failed to do so, and then threw too late to first base.
"We, as players, understand it's 162 games," said Schilling, explaining why he was as confident as Henry that things would turn for the better. "You can't be reactionary every 24 hours, especially when everybody else in this town is. As a player, you just can't, especially when you're on a good team.
"For three months, when we were at .500, no one was more frustrated than us. Certain guys were pressing, and there was always another story than the game out there. Now everybody is focused on the game, instead of things like who's playing, who's not, who's doing this or doing that, and anybody who isn't focused on that is just selfish.
"To me, it starts with the defense, but we're also a more well-rounded team. It's not just about the three-run home run, though, with this team, anybody can do that 1 through 9; so can a lot of teams in this league, but we can do a lot of other things, too."
Mark Bellhorn hit the team's first home run in four games yesterday to break the game open in the seventh, but this game was about scoring four runs after two were out in the fifth, a rally galvanized by Kapler's stolen base. Johnny Damon also stole a bag before Bellhorn's home run, as the Sox had at least one stolen base in all four games of the series. They've also been bunting more, with sacrifice bunts in each of the first three games, while Ramirez came through as usual with the bases loaded, delivering a two-run single (he's 4 for 7, 12 RBIs with two outs and the bases loaded this season).
A day off today, and Schilling, who proclaimed after his last start in Toronto that he felt as strong as he has all season, takes the ball tomorrow night against the Angels.
"I'll go home, hang out, and study my Angels stuff," he said. "I've got a great opportunity to set the table, send a message to our staff that even though they have the kind of offense that they do, that these guys can be pitched to."
Positive thinking? We already know what the owner believes.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.