Well, that could have worked out better.
Oh, relax, will ya? Yeah, Curt Schilling looked more like Kurtis Blow last night in Mizzou, giving up a six-pack of runs to the worst team in the American League in his much ballyhooed return to the rotation. And yes, the Red Sox limped home after a 4-6 trip, allowing their lead on the New York Yankees to shrink to a mere 2 1/2 games. Big deal. David Ortiz is struggling, Manny Ramirez is loafing (again), and there's an impending bullpen by committee aura, making everyone squirm but Grady Little, who is probably smirking about all of this somewhere.
Shrug it off. No fooling. Things are going to be fine.
The Red Sox are coming home, but what they see when they arrive at the Fens might surprise them, parents returning to find their kids threw a bender during their absence. The Rolling Stones and their ridiculous monstrosity of a stage tore up the Fenway outfield, forcing a one-hour delay of today's game. Dave Mellor's ground crews literally worked around the clock to rectify the situation. This was overboard, pushing the limits of the old girl, who proved valiant in hosting smaller events like Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffet. Did anyone on Yawkey Way even think to approve of such staging? And if they did, can we ask what in the world they were thinking? Besides the ubiquitous Pink Floyd intro. How do you think Mellor is going to react when the U2 rumors start to percolate again?
Still, it's home, a place these Red Sox love to play. They're 38-18 at the corner of Yawkey and Brookline, and that only begins the level of good news. Of their remaining can-you-believe-it 37 games this season (including Labor Day's re-do against the White Sox), the Sox play 25 at the confines. It is here that they win at a .679 clip, which translates in theory to about 17 more wins at Fenway.
As bumpy as the just-completed road trip through Detroit, Anaheim, and Kansas City was for the Boston nine, this is the stretch that both players and fans have had circled on their schedule since March. Only the Oakland A's have a better home mark over the last three seasons than the Red Sox. And with just 12 games remaining on the road (New York, Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore), that 2 1/2 games looks a little more husky than it actually is.
The Tigers worked the Sox rather well last week, but don't stand a chance at Fenway. Tampa Bay, they say, has been hot since the All-Star break. So hot in fact, that they are only 23 games behind Boston in the loss column. Baltimore comes to town next Friday, allowing the Fenway fans their first chance to deliver Rafael Palmeiro their best wishes. Then there's a mid-week matchup with the Angels, a team the Red Sox split four with last weekend, and one that could very well be their first-round opponent in the ALDS.
That's 13 straight games at home to kick off this stretch, the longest homestand of the season coming off the longest road trip of the season. Worried about that Lily Tomlin-like lead over the Bombers? How's 13 straight at a place where the Red Sox not just win, but beat up on teams temper you? Pretty good, no?
OK, so yes, it's a little scary how the Yankees keep winning. Even more scary that they're winning with dominant -- not good -- outings from the likes of Jaret Wright and Shawn Chacon (two earned runs over seven innings yesterday in beating the Blue Jays). The Big Unit goes tonight against the Royals, and he has all of sudden become the question mark, a 6.16 ERA in his last three starts. But you just know they're saying in Yankee-land, "Forget the wild-card, we're coming to get ya." That's a scary proposition considering how the A's and Indians are neck-in-neck for the rights for that final playoff spot as well.
Of course, there's also the issue brewing now that the Red Sox won't get a day off until Sept. 22, thanks to the re-scheduling of that rainout against Chicago to Sept. 5, a common off day for both clubs. That breaks the CBA clause that teams can't play more than 20 days in a row unless voted upon by the players. Since there was no other option here though, it was kind of a T.S. situation for the Sox and Sox. On the bright side, it's one more home game for Boston, which is always a welcome sight on the schedule.
Pivotal games remain of course, including six more against the Yankees, which they are licking their chops at in anticipation, particularly at that season finale three-game set that might make or break either team's season. There are three against the Angels, who many are tabbing to represent the AL in the World Series. And as terrible as Baltimore has become, the Orioles always manage to play the Sox tough. Mix that in with Schilling's rough start, the wishy-washy state of the bullpen, Kevin Millar's mammoth foul ball swings, Ortiz's recent road drought and ensuing hand bruise, Manny being Manny, Matt Clement's one second-half win, the prospect of Edgar Renteria handling a game-saving play at shortstop, Mike Remlinger being allowed access to the park, and well, yeah there is some reason for concern I suppose.
But the Red Sox mask their inefficiencies like you couldn't dream at Fenway Park, where they transform into world-beaters. Tonight, they look to make it 14 wins in a row at home, a streak that if continued, is going to eventually assure them they'll be opening the postseason with a pair at Fenway, where all bets are off for the opposition.