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Dan Shaughnessy

It's time for Decision '07: Leading men or fall guys?

It was pretty flat over at Fenway yesterday afternoon. The Red Sox and Angels seemed tired at the end of four games in three days. The locals trailed, 3-0, going into the bottom of the eighth and it felt like an appearance by Neil Diamond himself would not have brought any excitement to the proceedings.

In the end the Angels won, 3-1, and the Red Sox' first-place lead was cropped to four games. A few hours after Fenway cleared, while thousands of Boston fans rushed to Logan for a trip to Tropicana Field (Sox road-trippers have become the Parrotheads of sports), I bumped into a couple of guys who were arguing about the future of the hometown team over the final six weeks. It was a classic, Glass Half Full vs. Glass Half Empty debate. This is the way it went:

Empty Guy: Whoa. This is 1978 all over again. The Yankees were 14 1/2 games behind our guys May 29 and now it's down to four games and we still play them six more times. It's the Boston Massacre, the Curse of the Idiot, you name it. Something tells me Schill is going to regret saying, "We don't need him" when the Yanks brought Clemens back.

Full Guy: Calm down. The Yanks have exhausted themselves just getting back into the race and don't have the pitching they'll need to win in September and October. They're still spooked by what we did to them in 2004 and we've got Beckett, Schill, and Dice-K lined up to pitch against them next week in New York.

Empty Guy: Are you kidding me? Our guys aren't hitting and now we're heading on the road for 10 games. We can't even count on beating Tampa tonight. They've got Kazmir pitching and we've got this kid Cash trying to catch Wakefield's knuckleballs. I'm still having flashbacks of Josh Bard running to the backstop and now the ball's going to be bouncing all over that hardball aquarium in St. Petersburg.

Full Guy: Get back, big fella. Wake is on a roll and even if we have trouble tonight, everybody knows we love to play our Tampa cousins. We're 7-2 against those slugs this season and we play them nine more times. Plus, we've got the Orioles seven more times. That's 16 of our final 38 games against losers. No way we blow a four-game lead with that many bunnies on the schedule.

Empty Guy: Sorry, but I'm worried about the offense. We never come back in the late innings anymore and Manny and Papi only have 40 homers between them. David hit 54 all by himself last year. We're ninth in the league in homers. When was the last time we were that far down the ladder in power? Did you see that Wily Mo Peña hit a homer for the Nationals yesterday? Why can't we get power hitters like that?

Full Guy: You're making my point for me. The Sox never won with all those homer-hitting teams. Now we are first in the league in pitching and you complain. We've got more healthy quality starters than any team in the league and Okajima and Papelbon give us great work at the back of the bullpen. This team is not built to fold like some of those teams from 30 years ago.

Empty Guy: Two words: Eric Gagné.

Full Guy: Hey, he punched out the side today. You heard Terry Francona after the game when he said, "The same people that are yelling at him now are going to be cheering him."

Empty Guy: OK, what about J.D. Drew? Another Theo multimillion dollar mistake. Did he not look like Bob "Beetle"' Bailey taking that third strike with two runners on board to end the eighth today? And don't mention FranComa around me. He gave away that night game Friday and he's starting to remind me more of Zimm every day. Think about it -- he's bald, he's got the wad in the side of his mouth, and he's getting paranoid with the media. Zimm was the Gerbil. Now we've got Tito the Hamster.

Full Guy: Will you just stop? We've got the best record in baseball. How much better do you want them to be? We've been in first place for 127 days. We've got three rookie of the year candidates, three pitchers with 13 wins, the best ERA in the league, and the best closer in the game.

Empty Guy. You say tomah-to, I say tomato can. Youk [three strikeouts yesterday] is 4 for his last 35, Lugo can't make a good play, the bench is Kate Moss-thin, and Schill never makes them swing and miss anymore. I know he won the other night, but he was hit hard and that's his only win since June 7. He hardly even blogs anymore. And let's not forget that Big Papi is hurting in the shoulder and the knee. I'm telling ya, we're headed for the big fall.

Six weeks to play, the lead is down to four, and the Sox play the Yankees six more times. Time to take a stand and declare. Are you a Half Full Guy or a Half Empty Guy?

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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