Working in sports can be great. However, some days are better than others. Working on a hectic Sunday while watching my two favorite teams lose kick-in-the-balls games within hours of each other and having no outlet for my frustration is what I call a nice way to get an ulcer.
OK ... that's a bit strong. Still, it was a rough day at the office. A rough day for Boston fans everywhere. We're so used to being at the top that the trip back down is odd, unfamiliar and all the more painful.
Let's recap ...
When the Red Sox surrendered to the Yankees in the Bronx late last month, an uneasy feeling grew in my stomach. They proceeded to back into the playoffs, with Josh Beckett and many others struggling at just the wrong time. So consider me not too surprised by the abrupt end to the season.
The way it happened ... is a different story. Papelbon's been shaky all season, something that his sterling statistics hid very well. And he was bound to give up a postseason run sooner or later. But he completely imploded Mark Wohlers-style, giving up two inherited runners in the eighth and three of his own in the next inning. Say goodbye to any dreams of another Boston playoff comeback.
I'm not crushed. The Angels were better and the Red Sox never seemed to have the extra gear championship teams have. They beat up on the dregs of the league like the Orioles and struggled against the elite. They have a lineup full of good hitters, but the power of the Manny-Papi combo is long gone. Is Kevin Youkilis a very good hitter? Of course. Is he the third or fourth hitter for a championship team? Probably not. The lineup failed to come through against good pitching all season and they stuck to their (unloaded) guns in October.
And when they finally came through in Game 3, the pitching faltered. The sign of a team that just doesn't have it - the inability of one facet of the team to pick up another.
Shortly after the final out, I thought about what the Red Sox can do to get better. The free agent market is weak. They might try to trade for Adrian Gonzalez but other than that - which would cost a fortune - the options are few. Here's hoping the Red Sox adjust their Caldor/Apex plans from last off-season. Signings like Brad Penny and John Smoltz were busts, proof that giving bad, old, decaying pitchers 5 million might not be the ticket to the World Series. Cultivating good, young positional players could also help. The Angels lose Mark Teixeira and replace him with Kendry Morales. Boston has had trouble finding power hitters in the farm system for years and that bit it in the ass this postseason.
Then we have the Patriots. After watching the Red Sox blow a game and lose their season, I watched Kyle Orton thoroughly outplay Tom Brady. Yeah, it makes me sick just to type that. He threw for 330 yards?? Two drive overs 90 yards? They ran the same simple patterns I ran against Jeff and Zach in one-on-one football in college. And, with the Pats' DBs giving each receiver 45-yard cushions, they completed pass after pass after pass.
I've long given up expecting the Patriots defense to make game-winning stops when they absolutely must. (See 2006 AFC title game, the last Super Bowl.) Without a drop last week, they might have lost to the Ravens. They just can't do it anymore. The persistent inability to pressure the passer is a big culprit. What I still hoped for was Tom Brady and the offense finding their gear. Sad to say, but Brady is still rusty and will be for the foreseeable future. He missed an easy touchdown to Randy Moss early and another to Wes Welker late. Those weren't the only misfires, just the biggest ones.
He'll be back to his old form before the season ends. Unlike the Red Sox, he still has a chance at redemption. So while the Pats of 2009 look a bit shaky, they're still going.
The Red Sox of 2009, may they rest in a peace. A good team but an utterly forgettable one. Just like Sunday, October 11th. I'm glad you're over and ecstatic that you'll never return.