August 10, 2009

One Day At A Time

When I look back at what I was writing about the Red Sox in 2003, I see a lot of venting and rehashing of numerous managerial decisions and non-decisions, backed up with plenty of stats and splits and quotes.

Now, and especially since 2007, I'm more apt to stew for a little bit, then go about my day and look forward to 7 PM. I watch every game, root like hell, keep the faith. I love having a game every evening. But the idea of spending a few hours examining the appropriateness of Terry Francona's bullpen decisions on Friday that led to Junichi Tazawa making his major league debut in the 14th inning seems somewhat pointless. And what can you really say about the team-wide batting slump? You can drive yourself nuts, but it won't do the team any good.

Some of that mindset is because of 2004. Prior to that, who knew when the Red Sox would win a World Series? Would it be another five years, 10, 40? When the team was a contender, every game was a crucial battle, because this loss right here could end up being the one game that kept us out of the playoffs. And so there was plenty of anxiety, frustration, rage, despair. It's exhausting to keep that up for six months. Waking up still fuming at the previous night's loss is not healthy. I know some fans still think that way, and if I asked them "Why?", they'd give the same answer I do when asked why I am less intense: I just am. (Unfortunately, my attitude also results in a duller blog.)

Now not only do I intuitively know that the previous night's loss is history, its result unchangeable, and tomorrow's game is far away, so all we can hope for -- and the only thing the team can do today -- is win today, but I can actually have it work in my brain.

It is the same attitude I was forced to take when things looked dark in 2004 and 2007 (and 2005 and 2008, for that matter). Take a deep breath and boil it down. No team can win three or four games (or make up 6.5 games in the standings) at once. It is a waste of time and energy to fret about winning on Tuesday when you play on Monday. So win Monday's game. That's all you can control.

Manny Ramirez had the right idea when, in October 2007, he famously said:
We're not going to give up. We're just going to go and play the game, like I've said, and move on. ... It's not like the end of the world or something. Why should we panic? ... It's going to happen. It's going to happen. We've got a lot of confidence in our teammates. They've been good all year round. ... We have to keep grinding it out and see what's going to happen. ... If we go play hard and the thing doesn't come like it's supposed to come, we'll move on. ... Why should we panic? We've got a great team.
I posted this back on August 25, 2003:
Kevin Millar: "It baffles me that all the media and all the fans want to bash the Red Sox in August. There's a lot of baseball left. There are going to be negatives, but why not jump on this team's back and have fun with it and pull for this team and write good things about this team, because when this team is in the wild card or [wins] the division title, this is going to be a fun team to root for. ... I love this team and I love this city, but some of the things you see and read ... It's 2003. ... [The past] makes zero sense to me."

Millar's comments in his MLB diary were perceived by the Boston sports media as a slam on the fans, but it was clearly an expression of befuddlement (and annoyance) at the media's harping on past Boston losses, some of them decades and decades old. Millar's right; it makes no sense.
On that day, the Red Sox trailed the Yankees by five games and were tied for the wild card.
This is too serious for a baseball post -- and I can't tell if it actually applies -- but there is a line in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest that pops into my head every so often: "... no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable."

Very late in the novel -- 650 pages after that line -- one of the main characters, a former addict and AA counselor, is in a hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to communicate and in pain but also terrified that he will be given possibly addictive pain medication against his will.
Any one second: he remembered: the thought of feeling like he'd be feeling this second for 60 more of these seconds -- he couldn't deal. He could not fucking deal. He had to build a wall around each second just to take it. No one single instant of it was unendurable. Here was a second right here: he endured it. What was undealable-with was the thought of all the instants all lined up and stretching ahead ...
A central theme in all of Wallace's work is that seemingly trite, unhip, "polyesterishly banal" cliches -- One Day At A Time and Give It Away To Keep It -- are actually incredibly meaningful and damned hard to truly follow.

So: Keep Coming Back. Hang In There. We're All Here Because We're Not All There.

But if you do want to wallow in gloom (or, some would argue, the cold facts), you can see -- from Cool Standings projections -- the decline of the Red Sox's chances of winning the East during the weekend in New York:
Morning of   0804  0806  0807  0808  0809  0810
Yankees       47%   52%   60%   67%   72%   78%
Red Sox       41%   35%   27%   23%   16%   13%
Boston's chance of simply making the playoffs has dropped from 70% to 47% in less than a week.

The Yankees are playing five games better than their Pythag while the Red Sox are dead on. The "expected" standings, based on runs scored and runs allowed, show the Yankees in first, with the Rays 1 GB and the Red Sox 1.5 GB.

The Red Sox have plenty of problems, no doubt about that, but that may be a truer indication of the closeness of these three teams.


FenFan said...

As usual, you are dead on. Thanks, Redsock - great post!

It's not over until it's over! GO SOX!!!

redsock said...

It has taken me a while to understand and accept that not every fan underwent an unexpected shift in his or her brain after 2004 like I did. Just because I am not devastated by any particular loss does not mean no one is. Maybe they just can't help it.

L-girl said...

Great post. Thank you.

L-girl said...

Just because I am not devastated by any particular loss does not mean no one is. Maybe they just can't help it.

That's always worth remembering - for all of us, all the time. I need reminding as much as anyone.

People feel what they feel. We're all different - we all love, hate, fear different things, and we experience our emotions in different ways.


I love how if you approach sport in an intelligent way you always end up talking about life in general.

johngoldfine said...

2004 really did change everything, and this wonderful post reminds us again of that truth.

And why do we need reminding? Because when we are sitting in the near dark with the radio, listening to bad news--a habit of fifty years for some of us--we regress to old habits of mind and, though we know those are not really our habits any more, yet in our gloom they return for a few minutes.

"Dull blog"? I'm still laughing at your strings of fuck-thises and fuck-thats the other day. It was cruel to toss Lugo in, but 'just because' seems a more than adequate reason.

Gareth said...

Waking up still fuming at the previous night's loss is not healthy.

I really identified with that comment: it was something I simply couldn't control a few years ago (similarly, I remember getting unreasonably upset about an incident in a 2004 game where Millar got stupidly thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, and I can't imagine getting so furiously worked up now).

There certainly wasn't anything to be joyful about over the weekend - except maybe 14 innings of pretty amazing pitching on Saturday - but the Tigers are up tonight, I have tickets for Wednesday (since I'm not from the US I get to reverse the usual experience and take my Dad to his first baseball/Sox/Fenway game), and we'll see what happens this week.

redsock said...

I really identified with that comment: it was something I simply couldn't control a few years ago

In comments a few days ago, I linked to something from August 2004 where I said that it had been such a frustrating summer, with this promising team playing pretty much .500 ball for 3-4 months, that I was actually getting pissed after wins.

They were sometimes as maddening as the losses. Recovering from 2003 certainly ramped up the "Fuckin A We Gotta Win" mindset, but under any circumstance, that cannot be good. (L can probably comment more on my day-to-day mood in 2003 and 2004.)

Right after we were swept by the White Sox in the 2005 DS, I wrote:

"When Edgar Renteria ended the second consecutive Red Sox season with a infield grounder, I went out to walk my dogs, and I was somewhat surprised at how I felt. ... I didn't mind all that much. Sure, winning is better than losing. I'd rather be anxious and pacing, waiting for Game 4 to start. But it seems that within my baseball heart, the glow of 2004 has failed to dim.

The short series was frustrating --- the White Sox outplayed our boys in every facet of the game: pitching, hitting, fielding, baserunning -- but there was no real angst over the final result, certainly no weight of history on the shoulders. Later on in the evening, I actually said: "Hey, you can't win them all."

Which is pretty funny, coming from a lifelong Red Sox fan. And yet: Do you know how good it feels to say that? The Red Sox will be one of 28 other teams that will be watching the World Series later this month. I don't like that, I wish it wasn't so, but deep down, I'm content.

I think about that and I think about what happened to bring me to this place, and I have to smile. Soon, some other group of fans will be celebrating, but ... I'll be damned. The ripple effects of 2004 -- and the promise of 2006, now a mere dot of light on the horizon, but soon to come into clearer view -- will keep me quite warm through another winter.

I love baseball."

That moment is as clear to me as any in 2004. It was truly a revelation.

redsock said...

"Dull blog"?

The deconstructing of in-game moves and events has largely disappeared. I miss them, but I can't force myself to write them.

Joe Grav said...

Good post. I quoted you at my new blog.

Joe Grav said...

The deconstructing of in-game moves and events has largely disappeared. I miss them, but I can't force myself to write them.

I feel the same way. I don't even enjoy talking about that stuff any more.

L-girl said...

(L can probably comment more on my day-to-day mood in 2003 and 2004.)

First make sure there are no children present.

L-girl said...

Later on in the evening, I actually said: "Hey, you can't win them all."

Whereas this was one of your chief complaints about Gump.

Wasn't one of his SOSH nicknames something like Huckleberry Happy Talk? You'd complain that his attitude seemed to be, "Lose one? Oh well, get 'em again tomorrow, boys!" - said in a voice dripping with sarcasm and contempt.

I'd be scratching my head wondering what was wrong with "oh well, play again tomorrow".

This is not to defend The Dumbest Manager In The History Of Baseball (TM), of course. But after you try to fix what's wrong, "play again tomorrow" is really all you can do. As a fan, it is all you can do.

I remember saying to you in 2003 that it was unhealthy (and a bit scary) to be that upset over one loss - one regular season loss. You would respond: "We could lose the division by one game! What if that was the game?"

Not having been a lifelong Sox fan, I couldn't understand the depth of despair and anger over one loss - no matter how passionate a baseball fan I was (and am).

Now, after 2004 and 2007, Sox fans - you and many others, anyway - are much more in keeping with regular, passionate baseball fandom.

redsock said...

Thanks, Joe!!! Good stuff.

We're lucky to be in this generation of Boston baseball fans. Never forget that.

This is the greatest time ever to be a Red Sox fan. I can't see anyone presenting a convincing argument for any other era. (And who would have said that in October 2003?)

Four titles from 1912-18 (plus the Braves in 1914, which was actually played at Fenway) sounds nice, but it did not have the decades of dashed hopes behind it to make those titles as sweet at 2004 and 2007.

redsock said...

Wasn't one of his SOSH nicknames something like Huckleberry Happy Talk?

Yep. Along with "Grinning Jackass". There was also "5G" club (or "GGGGG"), which was applied to anyone who seemed to support Gump and his decisions: the "Gee Golly Grady's Great Group".

But after you try to fix what's wrong, "play again tomorrow" is really all you can do. As a fan, it is all you can do.

Yes. But he never fixed what was wrong. He never knew what was wrong. He was what was wrong.

That 2003 team is known for some pretty amazing comebacks. Many of those were necessary because Gump put the team in a hole. They went as far as they did in spite of him. (Fucker should have been fired after 2002.)

james said...

Great post, and great comments, guys. Though perhaps the flip side is possibly that victories are not quite so intensely felt too? I can remember a game, started by Pedro, I think, that brought a weekend sweep of the Yankees in NY in 2004, and just fucking living and dying with every single pitch. And then almost literally punching a hole in the basement ceiling when the Sox won. If we are calmer about defeat, we are perhaps also calmer about victory. Though I almost punched the same hole in the same fucking roof when V-MArt went deep last night.....
My cartoon on my feelings at midnight is up at my site:

james said...

I just checked - the sweep was April 25 2004.

redsock said...

James, just checked that weekend. I remember that Pedro game. 2-0 win on a Manny dong. I'm quoting myself a lot these days:

"Sunday's home run off Vazquez was a thing of beauty. The replay angle showing Ramirez from the side was fantastic. He strides into the pitch (which wasn't all that bad) as though he's expecting a fastball. But once the ball leaves Vazquez's hand, he realizes it's not a fastball. There is a split-second hesitation in his stride -- adjusting ever-so-slightly to the breaking pitch -- and then he just destroys it. You could tell immediately (from the center field camera) by the angle it left the screen that was a moon shot. Exhilarating."

Manny from his website: "[Vazquez] fired the fastball away and I fought it off two times, but this time I had a better count. On the last pitch, I was looking inside, but at the last moment something told me the change-up was coming. I held up my swing just a bit, until I saw the ball clearly, and I was right."

The 3-2 win in 12 the day before was a killer.

Patrick said...

I remember before the all-star break thinking, when this team starts clicking on all cylinders, we're gonna have another massive winning streak like we did in May.

All that was missing then was the starting pitching. It came around but everything else has fallen apart.

I'm still positive that the winning streak is going to come, and we are going to steam roll our way back up the standings.

Just look at the talent we have.

Edward Lee said...

The fact that the media printed only the "if we don't win, who cares?" snippet from Manny's 2007 monologue and completely robbed it of its clear meaning ("relax, play to win, and don't be afraid of losing") still pisses me off.

Amy said...

I really found this post helpful. Thanks for the free therapy.

It is true that 2004 cured a lot of my anger and desperation, but this weekend really made me so sad and angry.

Now, on to the next 51 games.