Not to put too much into a too-oft uttered phrase this summer, but …
What if David Ortiz doesn't hit that three-run blast last night, sending everyone at Fenway Park home in euphoria, a TV audience to bed with dreams of October dancing in their heads? How many Tobin Bridge references do we have today? How many irrational fans calling for Theo Epstein's head?
While Ortiz's heroics put the exclamation point on what turned out to be a thrilling victory for Boston, it certainly doesn't help erase what was indeed a less than banner day in Red Sox lore. Consider:
If Ortiz doesn't hit that home run last night, the Red Sox and Yankees are tied for first in the standings today, and panic ensues throughout New England. No pitching? No Nixon? Possibly no Varitek? Jason Johnson? Jason Johnson?
Instead, it's all hail Big Papi.
Epstein's failure to make a deal at the trading deadline is playing one of two ways. Either you're in the camp that values the Red Sox' young talent going forward, or you want the baseball ops folks to make deals just for the sake of making deals, a reactionary attitude to counteract the Yankees. Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal lumps the Red Sox among the losers of the trade deadline. You could use the example that two years ago, the Red Sox made a deadline deal that was tantamount to them winning the World Series. That's how important these deals can be. Maybe if Epstein had landed Kip Wells, he could have scored some points yesterday from the pundits. Of course, he'd risk putting the Sox in the "losers" category where it counts.
Realistically, the only starting pitchers supposedly on the market that would be worth giving up a Jon Lester or Craig Hansen to acquire were Roy Oswalt and Jason Schmidt. Roger Clemens, too, but the hope would be because of the multi-million dollar price tag and limited number of teams he'd approve (Boston, New York), the cost in talent would be a bit more reasonable.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark writes today that a Clemens deal to Boston might have been closer than we all think, and had Houston owner Drayton McClane done the right thing, we'd have a reunion on our hands. Schmidt is a free agent at the end of the season. If you fail to sign him, you've sacrificed young, cost-effective guys who could anchor your team for years to come.
Let's assume, however, that a guy like Oswalt is enough to put the Red Sox over the top this season, leading to the second World Series for the franchise in the past three seasons. The cost is Lester, Hansen, and Coco Crisp (to Atlanta, reports the Providence Journal’s Sean McAdam, for Andruw Jones, who then would have been flipped to Houston for Oswalt), which immediately puts you in a hole to start with in that you now need another pair of arms in the bullpen and another starting pitcher to replace Lester. And with Nixon hurt, you also need a right fielder to replace Crisp, moving Wily Mo Pena to center.
Look, at 63-41, it isn't exactly like the Sox are struggling to get by, tied with the Mets for the second-best record in baseball. That is partly a reflection on their dominance in interleague play (16-2 vs. NL teams, 47-39 vs. AL teams), but consider at this time a year ago, the 95-win Red Sox were four games off this squad's current pace (59-45, 2½ games up on the Yankees). In 2004, they were 56-47.
And remember, they still have only played 49 of 81 games at Fenway, where they are a dominant 34-15.
If we consider their current home winning pace of .694, that's a 22-10 mark the rest of the way at Fenway. On the road, they're winning at a .527 pace, so let's say they finish that schedule at just 15-14. That would give the Red Sox their first 100-win since 1946. Granted, how long they can keep that up with injuries to Tim Wakefield, Nixon, and Varitek is a major concern, but they've also rocketed to their current mark with what amounts to a three-man starting staff.
Boston went just 15-12 last month, but finished at a crossroads. While the front office failed to make any deals to improve the on-field product, its reluctance to do so could prove imperative for the long-term health of the club. Are they good enough to win it in 2006? Maybe. They have the defense, offense, and have some semblance of the pitching. They also have Ortiz, which is a factor perhaps above all else.
Is their pitching as good as the Twins? No. Is their hitting as good as the Yankees? No. But outside of Detroit, they might be the most balanced team competing for the postseason.
I'm still not convinced the Sox have given up on Clemens, and considering his frustration level with the free-falling and punchless Astros, you have to imagine another try will be on tap should the Sox fall even a half-game in back of the Yankees in the AL East, preventing a New York waiver claim that would drastically alter that potential.
In order to take a major step forward, sometimes there has to be a small step back. Patience is a virtue. All good things come to those who wait. Toss whatever other cliché you like here, it'll work for the moment.
Speaking of clichés, David Ortiz did it again. Except this time, he saved a lot more than just his teammates.