The irony of this post is that before I even started writing this posting, I had nearly 1,000 words completed about how no matter what happened this year, there was a positive to take away from it. If the Red Sox collapsed on themselves, lost games, finished so far out of the race that they lost complete relevance by August, it didn’t matter. The emergence of Will Middlebrooks did enough to energize hope. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, a light shone at the end of the dark tunnel of the 2012 Boston Red Sox.
I figured Middlebrooks would cool off, slow down his torrid pace, and eventually either end up on the bench or back in the minors for a short stint later this year. I didn’t think he would keep up his Herculean pace, and I didn’t consider him the savior of the franchise, even though his two-game offensive output was the brightest spot of the bleakest year in years. I figured he’d be a full-time player next year, really emerge by 2014, and be a perennial All-Star by 2015 in caliber. I didn’t think the breakout would last all year long, even though I did say it would spell the end ofKevin Youkilis by July.
Of course that was before Middlebrooks pulled his hamstring.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Boston Red Sox.
I don’t know what it is about this team, but even in victory, they manage to look bad. They’re playing Kansas City, a team in the ultra-awful American League Central, the division the Sox already beat up this year. The Royals are a bad team by AL Central standards, which is saying something these days, but maybe that’s exactly what Boston needed. I’d said it before, and coming out of the 17-inning marathon and Adrian Gonzalez‘s three-pitch whiffle against a designated hitter, hey, it was something.
Maybe I’m the eternal optimist in this regard, but the 11-run thrashing the Red Sox offense put on KC pitching made me think that they’d finally bottomed out (again) against Baltimore. There were so many bad feelings that Middlebrooks’ 2-HR game made me forget, if only for a night, that I really didn’t like this team, I didn’t like a bulk of the guys on the roster, and I couldn’t stand upper management.
Then came Tuesday night and the pulled hamstring.
No matter what happens this year, it’s going to sting a bit. The Red Sox finally get a player who can ignite the fan base they’ve spent the last two years trying (now, finally, successfully) to alienate. It’s someone young, new, who isn’t the pink hat special of Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia. It’s not Gonzalez with his SoCal, laid back attitude that will never, ever, ever fare well in Boston. And it’s notDavid Ortiz, who’s milking whatever he has left from the Dominican pharmacy that gave him power in 2004 (just kidding, he’s actually been fairly good for a guy who may or may not be 72 years old).
Middlebrooks was, well, different, and that’s why baseball fans liked him. He plays hard, has oodles of talent, and is a guy bred through the farm system. In the era where Boston spent so much money on high-priced talent that’s only high-priced (ode to Roger Dorn there), Middlebrooks was the anti-Carl Crawford. This is a guy who came up through the system, worked so hard to get to this point, and can provide the Red Sox with a spark that, quite honestly, they don’t have right now.
And then he pulled his hamstring.
Look, I don’t know how long he’s going to be out for, if at all. But the good vibes brought on by his salami in the loss to Baltimore and the output in the win over KC are all of a sudden tainted. I don’t feel good. I feel tentative, like he’s a relic and I’m trying desperately to keep him from breaking down. I’m going to watch him when he rejoins the lineup, and I’m going to have the same nervous eye I’ll have when Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back or when Ellsbury comes back from his latest injury. It’s just another item in the long line of foul-ups this year, the year that’s fast becoming one that really isn’t enjoyable.
If the Red Sox go out and beat Kansas City, it does nothing to ignite. Yes, they took a licking sticks to Tampa Bay this year, but really, who else have they beaten? They’ve taken series from teams like Minnesota and Chicago, two teams that aren’t very good. They beat Phil Humber in his first start after a perfect game, but Humber really isn’t that great a pitcher if anyone actually reads between the lines. They haven’t really decisively dominated any quality opponents, and the bad karma inflicted by the front office by selling bricks, kid-gloving guys like Daniel Bard, and fouling up the season because the computer said so is growing.
The Red Sox can win games, but they can’t win back fans. Their phone sell-out streak is just as tainted as the strains of Sweet Caroline. It’s something I’ve talked about more than once, and it’s the running theme of the season. Even if they win, there’s substantial bad karma with the front office for many of us. They’ve alienated many of their fans by not focusing on the field and giving off the impression that the Boston Red Sox are just a brand in the portfolio, along with Roush Fenway Racing and Liverpool FC. It’s something someone makes money on, pimping the legendary Fenway Park to a CD of Kevin Millar singing Tessie.
If I haven’t said that once, I haven’t said it a thousand times. Those feelings went away on Monday when Boston pounded Kansas City and looked like a real baseball team, a team that actually wanted to play the game with fire and passion. It spurred out of one player, who many of us baseball fans rallied behind because we simply don’t have anybody right now. And then, in an instant, the good feeling went POOF, replaced with nervous tentativeness at how the Red Sox can screw this one up.
It’s just another notch in what’s becoming a rough season. I hope I’m wrong. I hope by July 4th, I’m writing an article about how I was wrong, asking forgiveness from the baseball gods. But right now, the Sox are simply up the creek…or the brook…or the Middlebrooks…without a paddle in the court of karma. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Even when they win, they lose. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Boston Red Sox.