Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Hundred Sixty-Two Degrees and Rising

It’s that time of year again: August, the month where baseball fans begin to panic. In droves, like lemmings, the loyal fans of first-place teams, and teams in the wild-card hunt walk zombie-like towards the cliff, and get ready to jump. The sky is falling in out in detroit, where if the team doesn't make the playoffs, entering the final two months with an 8.5 game lead, they may just move to Montreal, and start from scratch. Why is the sky falling in? Because of a 1-2 series against the divisional rival twins over the weekend, and according to the blogger "Walk Off Balk" because God hates him. Of course, now that we are mid-week the Twins have lost their young gun and, suddenly, the Twin Cities are in a panic. Steve Phillips' "best rotation in baseball" is going to have to be more reliant on an offense that has statistically played over their heads for the past two months. And the tides are turning out in Oakland, where a suddenly anaemic offense is nullifying the success of the Athletics' most recent crop of young arms. Indeed, it seems that from the Mid-West to the West panic is setting in on Waiver-Wire-Wednesday. And then of course, there is the Red Sox.

The Curse of the Tattoo-Bet

Now I am not normally one for curses. I didn't believe in Shaughnessy's Curse of the Bambino, and I am not afraid of an injured bird hobbling around second base at Fenway. But I do believe in the metaphysical improbability of fan-on-team jinxes. I believe that a certain position a fan sits in, a beverage a fan chooses to drink, or (as was the case in October of 2004) the inning in which a fan chooses to blow out a burning candle--the 6th, of course--can affect the outcome of a game, or a series, even a season. Call me crazy, but even as I refuse to accept the possibility that an injured black-bird could be the cause of what seems to be the worst string of Karma the Red Sox have had in years, I have no doubt, whatsoever, that their trials and tribulations are directly related to an idiotic drunken bet made on the deck of a friend's house on the 3rd of July. On that fateful evening, with the Yankees trailing the basement-bound Cleveland Indians, and the Red Sox riding a 16-1 streak, I promised my friend Tim that the season was over. The Sox, I proclaimed (under the influence of a few cold beers and a few hours of the hot sun) would win the division. And not only that--NOT ONLY THAT!--but the Yankees won't even make the playoffs. Playoffs?! PLAYOFFS?!! PLAAAYYOFFSS?!!!?!

You ask: What inspires an otherwise rational human-being, an intelligent, college educated, Sports Research Editor, to make such a rash, foolish--nay, downright INANE--statement? The answer, sadly, is I have no idea. Simply amazing and inexplicable is the manic rationale of the overzealous fan. A win over Tampa Bay in May can smell so much like the burnt smoke of shopping-cart pretzels in October, feel so much like the beginning of something beautiful blooming, a flowering bud on the trees above, emerging in time-lapsing images into a World Championship Ring. And a week later? A one run loss to the Yankees can spell doom. The team is falling apart, there's no chemistry, not enough speed on the base-paths, the off-season acquisitions are like produce picked up in haste at the grocery store, brought home to rot on the window-sill. You never really eat Bananas, anyway! Your team is done.

But then there's a run like the Sox went on to end the month of June: Sure, it was against a group of teams from that "special-needs league" who arrived to the Stadium in a caravan of short busses, drool spotting their chins, chewing on their pine-tar, stumbling around with their cleats tied together. And perhaps, the weaknesses in the rotation were masked by being pitted against weak lineups, and clueless managers, but still, things were just going right: bunts were being put down, in the rare circumstance that one was in order; errors were non-existent; Papi was being Papi; Schilling looked like a certifiable Ace and Beckett looked like the Beckett of the National League (wait for it, wait for it...) So, why wouldn't I feel bold enough to proclaim my team tops of the AL East? Why wouldn't I get up in my buddy, Tim's face, and gloat about the Red-Hot-Sox? And with the Yankees struggling against the league's punching bags, and with Randy Johnson failing to throw harder than Jennifer Stewart, and A-Rod doing his best impression of that Third-Basemen/Team-Owner guy from the Fidelity Investments commercial, why wouldn't I declare the Yankees season over?! With the Sox on fire, the Yankees in the dump, and the AL Central chock-full of legitimate contenders, why wouldn't I be so certain of the Yankees demise to declare: "I am so certain of the Yankees missing the play-offs that I will tattoo the Yankees logo on my ass if they do!" It was the proclamation of a fan in heat. It was a statement made in a moment where your slightly flawed team has just given you such a fantastic 17 game stretch that you can't help but sigh and light a cigarette, pull up your shorts, and pound your chest a bit. And maybe you are feeling a little too good about what you've just landed, and maybe the pock-marks on your teams ass are going to look alot more abundant, and the cottage cheese-thighs in your bull-pen are going to become a lot less appealing when you strip off the forgiving National League East under-garments, but right now? Right now, you are on a roll, king of the world, and you've just cruised to 16 loud and wild finishes. Your team is looking perfect. And yeah, so what if you have had a couple beers?

The thing about my gambling tendencies is that when I am laying down that big stack of chips, or betting twenty that Shaq sinks the next free-throw, or even declaring the Yankees dead ( as they are 3.5 games out of the Division BEFORE the deadline) is that I don't know that I ever truly believe in my own wager. It's like I am making the wager against myself. I might lose that big stack, or that twenty; I might end up with that NY logo, that talisman of "improbable odds conquered with the power of endless payroll" stamped on my ASS FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY, but even though everyone within hearing distance disagrees with me, myself included, if by some chance I am right...well...then I will have been the only one who knew better.

The problem with this bet, of course, was that it was completely irrational. Over the course of 162 games, things happen. Players get injured; managers go on benders; the guys on your team who used to juice, just can't get their hands on the good HGH that the guys on the other team sure seem to be taking...I mean, the possibilities are endless. Especially when it's July, and certain asshat general managers still have the ability to sign off on baffling transactions that only serve as reminders year after year that there are fans of certain teams in this world whom God, and their own General Managers, truly do not care to help. Now I'm not a welch, and I may be a whiner, but I brought this on myself. There is not a doubt in my mind that had I kept my stupid mouth shut, the Sox would be marching away with the AL East division title as you read this. Had the Gods of Karma (whom, it is rumored, have keen senses of humor) never overheard my promise to tattoo the NY on my buttocks--immediately deciding this prospect was to good to pass up--the Sox division lead would be about 7. They would not have gone 14-12 since I made that stupid bet. Meanwhile, the Yankees, most certainly would not have gone 16-7 during that same stretch with an outfield consisting of Judas Damon, Milk-Dud, and that kid that looks like Butters. Had I kept my stupid mouth shut, Trot Nixon would be healthy, Jason Varitek would not only be healthy, but have found the fountain of youth, Roger Clemens would be on his way to Boston (just to picth tonight, before turning around and flying home for four nights), Bob Abreu would be off in Central America hunting down his loosely moralled ex-fiancee, and Derek Jeter's new Cologne would come in one of those unecessary, tacky, gift packages, with a stick of A-Rod's purple lipstick. Alas, I had to open my stupid mouth. And now instead of feeling so relaxed about the Red Sox prospects that I could just TiVo the game and go get drunk in an Air-Conditioned bar tonight, I will be sitting in my AC-free apartment, with my window fans blasting, clicking maniacally back-and-forth between MLB games praying that Chien-Ming Wang gets a case of the yips, Vernon Wells finds his stroke, and Jon Lester proves Theo a genius for insisting that his promise was so great that we shouldnt let go of this kid for Andruw Jones or Roy friggin' Oswalt.

And one last thing: Tim and I have tickets to the August 19th day-game match-up between the Sox and Yanks at Fenway. I am feeling pretty damn confident that the Sox will be five games out by then. So, confident, in fact, that I would place a wager on it. If any one is interested, I have one spare ass-cheek open for the taking.


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