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Rays of optimism

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 20, 2008 02:18 PM

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And while you resist being so greedy as to sound like a Yankees fan from the olden days, way back when their team accomplished significant things (ask your dad, kids; maybe he'll regale you about the Legend of Scott Brosius), you can't help but lament that legitimate chances at a championship don't come around every year. But you know the pain of losing doesn't wallop us like it did five years ago -- the blessings of '04 and '07 have more than made up for any past curses -- and this season was as fulfilling as a season without a championship can be.

Sure, the disappointment will linger for a little while, but with time comes perspective, and sooner rather than later we'll remember this team proudly. The season was a grueling endurance test from the first pitch -- the Japan trip feels like two seasons ago -- and yet they repeatedly proved resilient and determined, never more so than in the thrilling comeback in Game 5. In the end, there's no shame in the fact that they weren't quite as good as they strove to be.

Dustin Pedroia, who strikes us as utterly incapable of b.s., spoke a truth you rarely hear coming from the losing clubhouse: The best team won. Tampa Bay met every last challenge -- hell, the collapse in Game 5 would have destroyed lesser teams -- and if you still had doubts about their superiority, let's put it this way: They had David Price hidden at the back end of the bullpen, and didn't Joe Maddon play that card perfectly? Terry Francona had Mike Timlin. Those without a particular allegiance would call the Rays' victory justice.

In retrospect, it's a wonder the Sox were so close, considering their flaws at the end. The lineup was short a hitter or two or three (Mark Kotsay and the almost lifelike statue of Jason Varitek combined to strand 35 runners in the ALCS). This postseason, they longed for the '07 version of Mike Lowell . . . and Josh Beckett . . . and David Ortiz, who sadly looked like "Maurice Vaughn: The Met Years" save for one mighty flashback in Game 5. And you can continue to fool yourself if you wish, but in the end, the Manny Ramirez of postseasons past was dearly missed.

But this isn't where the bandwagon stops. In some ways, this was a year of transition for the Sox. Pedroia not only became a superstar, but the club began to take on his it-ain't-over-til-I-say-it-is personality. Jon Lester became the ace. Justin Masterson was a goofy godsend down the stretch in the bullpen. Jed Lowrie capably handled shortstop even as his production fluctuated. The kids are all right. The future remains bright.

Of course, there are issues that need to be addressed over the long winter, and damned if they're not already on our minds. So before the first pitch of the World Series is even delivered, we're throwing a few Duralogs on the hot stove and hoping the following items are on Theo Epstein's to-do list:

  • First and foremost, call up Padres GM Kevin Towers, tell him you heard he wants a major-league ready center fielder and a couple of prospects for 27-year-old ace Jake Peavy, and casually mention that Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz are no longer untouchable.

  • Seriously bid for free-agent slugger Mark Teixeira, who is everything the Sox covet in player, and sort out the Teixeira-Lowell-Youkilis triangle later.

  • Make a better-than-fair proposal for one of Texas's young catchers, perhaps dangling Michael Bowden.

  • Renew Tim Wakefield's rolling contract, but don't let him anywhere near the mound in the postseason unless it's to jump on a delirious pig pile.

  • Tell Masterson that he's staying in the pen as the new version of Derek Lowe, circa 1998-99.

  • Sell Kotsay -- who crushed the ball with almost no results in this series -- on coming back as a 400-at-bat supersub.

  • Tell the Rockies you've checked Matt Holliday's home-road splits, noticed he drove in 13 fewer runs than Jason Bay, and wish them good luck in fleecing someone should they shop the deceptively productive slugger this offseason.

  • Tell Jason Varitek he's welcome back on a one-year deal, with no promises beyond that.

    For all of the grief that we've given the World's Greatest Game-Caller this season, we were sad to see him go out with a predictable and appropriate whimper, whiffing hideously in what might have been the final two at-bats of his outstanding Red Sox career.

    While Steve Harvey might have had a better chance of getting a hit against Price, we truly do hope Varitek accepts a diminished role next season. Sometimes, new beginnings are overrated.

  • About Touching All The Bases

    Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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