After the United States blew a 2-0 halftime lead over Brazil in Sunday’s Confederations Cup soccer final, many compared the loss to blowing a 10-run lead in baseball.
So, we sort of have that now, too.
OK, it was “just” a nine-run lead the Red Sox surrendered last night in the greatest comeback in the history of the Baltimore Orioles. But both events reeked of historic collapse.
Obviously, timing being what it is, the US team’s loss is far more significant than the Red Sox blunder, though you wouldn’t know it talking to soccer fans. We’ve been hearing the same, tired pronouncement that “soccer has arrived” in the States since the 1994 World Cup, yet I’m sorry to say it is what it is. The game will never retain the same following here that it does elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that.
Still, Sunday’s loss has many supporters of US soccer excited nonetheless. Why? Because they were able to hang with Brazil for a half? That would be like Red Sox fans celebrating the 1999 ALCS because their team won the Pedro-Clemens showdown. Yippee.
Instead, Red Sox fans today are going to wonder if something is seriously wrong with the perceived iron-clad bullpen, which gave up 10 runs following a long rain delay, but the best ‘pen in the game doesn’t go from hero to zero in one night. Despite what you witnessed last night, there’s really no need to overhaul what has been this team’s strength on the basis of one game.
You almost wonder if Orioles manager Dave Tremblay got his hands on the feed from the NESN booth, where during the delay Don Orsillo and Dennis Eckersley discussed Boston’s dominance at Camden Yards, and classified the game, 9-1 at the time, as “in hand.”
You also have to wonder if Sox pitchers figured the same thing, and never really mentally prepared themselves to return to the field. Justin Masterson (two innings, five runs) watched his ERA jump from 3.66 to 4.28. Hideki Okajima (1/3 of an inning, four runs) watched his soar from 2.41 to 3.44. Oh, and the Yankees won, which means they’re just 2 ½ games back now.
It was the second-worst loss in Red Sox history, only the 1989 clunker against Toronto, in which Boston blew a 10-run lead, was worse. In that game, it was Bob Stanley, Rob Murphy, Lee Smith, and Dennis Lamp who blew things open after a decent start from Mike Smithson, who allowed four hits and two runs over six innings. Gee, that sounds familiar.
I mean, really, if we’re going to take anything away from this loss to the Orioles, now just 12 games out of first place, shouldn’t it be the fact that John Smoltz looked pretty darned good? Since his awful first inning against Washington last Thursday, the righty has now allowed just two runs over eight innings. He, of course, has nothing to show for that right now, but for the last day of June, it’s certainly encouraging.
If the Sox blow a nine-run lead to New York or Tampa (winners of seven straight and just four games back), maybe there’s reason for some fleeting concern. But the Orioles? Nah. Just one of those nights that happens more often than we care to remember in baseball. Try asking yourself what this game means for either team and get back to me when you have an answer. The closest I have is this — should we be a little concerned about Jonathan Papelbon, but wasn’t that already a percolating question prior to 11:30 last night? Heck, even Jeff Bailey went 3 for 4 on the same day Mike Lowell hit the disabled list, which delays the inevitable, “Who they gonna go get?” discussion for a day at least.
The Orioles, of course, only have until this afternoon’s matinee to bask in the glory. Did we mention Josh Beckett takes the hill? Which means this one — and the ensuing overreaction by Sox fans — should be forgotten somewhere around 4:30.
It was a good night for the O’s, a bad night for the Sox bullpen. Now, you tell me how many of each of those we’ve seen so far this year, and how many more of each you expect to see the next three months. Well, there’s your assessment of how important this game was in the grand scheme of things.