Lance Berkman, the affable "Big Puma" and one of the truly great (and yet underrated) offensive players of his time, is a New York Yankee. Kerry Wood, who had the most electric stuff I've ever seen, save for prime-of-career Pedro and perhaps young Mr. Strasburg, is a New York Yankee. How are we supposed to loathe them for their laundry when they're so damn likable?
Heard Read this. . .
The Yankees' trades remind me of their moves in 2000, when they made a flurry of deals to create more bench depth and provide more options for then-manager Joe Torre. After landing David Justice, Brian Cashman acquired Glenallen Hill, Luis Polonia, Jose Canseco and Luis Sojo, and Torre had to sit down with all of them, together, and explain that not everybody was going to get to play regularly and that every day, somebody was going to have to sit.
. . . from Buster Olney yesterday, and my first thought was, "Luis Polonia? Wasn't he in jail then?" But the point really was a wise comparison to this week's developments. Acquiring Justice -- another favorite here at TATB dating back to our college days watching the Braves on TBS because NESN wasn't available at my how-is-this-place-not-condemned? abode in Orono, Maine -- was a masterstroke. He walloped 20 homers with a .977 OPS in 317 plate appearances for the eventual champs. Canseco was little more than a jacked and pumped doorstop -- the Yankees claimed him on waivers to keep him from the Sox, who ended up with a pre-trading deadline "haul" of Ed Sprague (.599 OPS in 123 PAs, but it felt worse) and recent Yokahama Bay Stars refugee Lou Merloni, who hit .320 for the Sox after batting .213 in Japan. Go figure.
I know, I should probably be past the whole Shaking My Fist Everything In Pinstripes habit at this point in my life (not to mention career). And for the most part, I am. There are few athletes of this era I respect more than Mariano Rivera, and I'd say the same about Derek Jeter if the national media fawning hadn't been so unnecessarily over the top for the brunt of his career. (When we thought Nomar was better . . . Nomar was better.) CC Sabathia seems like he'd always pick up the tab on a hearty lunch. Curtis Granderson is, by all accounts, a gem of a human being. And from a New England perspective, we appreciate the counterproductive "contributions" A.J. Burnett, who I'm beginning to think is working on the covert behalf of John Henry, sort of like Dwyane Wade has done for Pat Riley, but fully embedded with the enemy.
And those sweet and glorious nights in October 2004? Yeah, that helped mellow our perspective just a bit, too.
But lately . . . well, it's been tougher for a Sox fan to play it cool and roll with whatever the schedule brings. The Yankees and Rays are tied for the best record in baseball, and New York added reinforcements in Berkman, Wood, and Austin Kearns at the deadline -- reinforcements that may not even be necessary, though they certainly enhance their chances of repeating as champions.
And they may not be the best team in their own division. The Rays are among the most exciting, innovative, and best-run clubs in baseball. You know that overcoming them will be no easy feat, and that's before you play the grim math games in your head that tell you such things like a 28-29 finish by the Rays and Yankees would still get each team to 94 wins, meaning the Sox would have to go 34-22 just to tie them.
It will be a bummer if a very likable and resilient Red Sox team never gets a chance to show its stuff in October, and today's bleak news that their best hitter, Kevin Youkilis, has a very worrisome thumb injury may be the final sign that it's not meant to be. Hell, I'll admit it: It's a killer. Devastating.
I suppose it's not like there haven't been plenty of other harbingers along the way (Pedroia's injury . . . Beckett's injury . . . Martinez's injury . . . ) but I will remain convinced that this team, should it have been fortunate enough to have the brunt of its deep roster (middle relief flammables not included) healthy at the same time for an extended run, would have proven the equal of the Rays and Yankees. And perhaps even their superior.
I'm trying desperately to avoid writing off a team that made up eight games in the standings in a span of 35 games from May 23-July 2, surging from 8.5 out to a half-game back before the injuries to Martinez and Pedroia became too much for the lineup to bear on a daily basis. They've made one swift charge already after digging themselves an April ditch, and the notion that they can do it again leads to daydreams of the improbable. If Mike Lowell can swing the bat with anger . . . if Jacoby Ellsbury decides to say hello again before it's time to say goodbye to meaningful baseball this season . . . if Pedroia comes back soon . . . if the wonderful Adrian Beltre keeps bashing the baseball with his pals Papi and V-Mart . . . if the starting rotation provides a quality start with virtually every turn . . . if Josh Beckett can quadruple his current win total (2) . . . and hell, if David Justice comes out of retirement . . . well, maybe.
But as the summer bleeds into the autumn, it's difficult to deny that the season belongs to the Yankees and Rays. Tampa Bay has the promise of youth being fulfilled, while the Yankees have the rich luxury of their latest reinforcements. The Red Sox? It's been -- and remains -- a season of injuries, infirmaries, and endless, agonizing ifs.
We're not giving up on them, not with 50-something games remaining. Sadly, that's more out of respect for their admirable determination than a belief that long odds, the latest injuries, and two excellent ball clubs ahead of them can be overcome.
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.