CANOE Network SLAM!Sports

 
SLAM! Sports SLAM! Baseball
  Thu, August 26, 2004


BASEBALL NEWS
BLUE JAYS
COLUMNISTS
COMMENT
PHOTO GALLERY
VIDEO GALLERY
STANDINGS
STATISTICS
PLAYERS
INJURIES
TRANSACTIONS




NFL CANADA




Red Sox just won't go away
AL East chase is about to heat up
By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

If a guy didn't know better, he'd look at this Boston Red Sox team and wonder if anything or anyone can stop them.

If it wasn't for their twisted, tortured history, the team that slipped out of town last night, winners of two of three from the Blue Jays (14 of 19 on the season series), would have the aura of a champion.

Okay, so they're still miles behind the New York Yankees in the AL East and not even in the clear in the wild-card race but these guys have a lean and hungry look. They're headed to Fenway Park, where they've won about two-thirds of their games this year, for a 10-game homestand against the Detroit Tigers, the Anaheim Angels and the Texas Rangers.

Those latter two series could begin to solidify their hold on the wild card playoff spot and this critical part of the schedule couldn't come at a better time.

Since the all-star break, Boston has been playing at a lusty .621 clip. And despite all the gnashing of teeth in the wake of the Nomar Garciaparra trade on July 31, they've improved that win rate to nearly .700 in August.

Seldom has Red Sox Nation been so utterly blessed. In Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, they have a pitching tandem that not even the Yankees can match. And the offence is once again leading the world in runs scored, averaging nearly six a game. They're even catching the ball better lately.

They have been poster-boys for consistency, having lost two games in a row (and never more than two) only twice since the break, which is evidence of many weapons but mostly a superior pitching staff, from front to back.

If you want to search deeply for some warts, the team's record in one-run games has been 11-17, abysmal at least for a team with designs on a division championship. But even that sad story has a bright side in that they have been on the right side of the score in four of their previous five one-run decisions.

The Red Sox still have designs on overtaking the Yankees. Early in August, as well as they were playing at the time, the Sox managed to fall to a season-high 10 1/2 games behind the also-streaking Yankees. Two weeks later, they've whittled that margin back to 5 1/2 games, which is as close as they've been since early July.

They have six more confrontations with New York and they've already won eight of the 13 games between the teams this season. So there is some hope there.

But even if that doesn't happen, there's plenty of reason for optimism on the wild card front.

The key there is that the Oakland A's, Anaheim and Texas, the three teams that have the best chance of challenging Boston for the wild card slot, are all in the same division. One of them will win the West. But the other two will have a difficult time opening up any breathing space because they all play each other down the stretch. Texas plays 14 of its final 20 against either Oakland or Anaheim. Anaheim plays 13 of its last 16 against either Texas or Oakland. And Oakland plays 13 of its last 20 against Texas or Anaheim.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox, when they're not facing the Yankees, will be playing against non-contenders like the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Eighteen of Boston's final 24 games are against teams with losing records. Yes, the signs of a bountiful harvest in the Back Bay stretch out as far as the eye can see.

No doubt about it, if you're looking for a Boston collapse down the stretch, the odds are stacked against it. Besides, the heartbreak quotient isn't nearly high enough unless the hope extends deep into the post-season.

It will come at the moment of supreme tension, just when even the most cynical Red Sox fan might be thinking: "Could be. Might be."

And then the dagger materializes from thin air. There is always a Grady Little lurking in the shadows.

Or, worse, a Bill Buckner.

Somewhere in this clubhouse blessed with so much talent and experience, there is a sleeper, a double-agent under deep cover, waiting for the signal. And at the moment of greatest psychological impact, all of New England will be plunged into the depths of despair. Again.