Just outside Boston

So you’re a baseball fan, are you? Maybe you’re a Cleveland or Texas fan who still thinks pitching is overrated. Maybe you live in L.A. and go to third through seventh innings of Dodger games every once in a while. Or maybe you’re from Wisconsin and think that the Brewers chasing the all-time strikeouts by a team record is as good as it gets. Well you’re all missing out. If you think you have it bad because A-Rod makes more than your entire team does, or your team would DH for its shortstop instead of its pitchers if it could (Mets), try following the Sox for a year. For all of you who are trying to understand those of us from Maine, New Hampshire and “just outside of Boston,” here’s a glimpse at what we go through in an ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons style “Diary Column.”

Early last December: Coming off a disappointing season the Sox lose out to the Yankees in the Mike Mussina sweepstakes. Fans crash hard after dreaming about a Pedro-Mussina one-two combination.

A few days later: The Sox sign Cleveland slugger Manny Ramirez (who consistently produces an RBI per game) to an eight year, $160 million contract. Suddenly, elated fans forget the Mussina business and declare this to the “the year” as their non-existent pitching staff and team of washed up DH types disappears in a “they’ll have to pitch to Nomar and Manny” fog.

February: Nomar Garciaparra appears shirtless on the cover of Sports Illustrated looking like the poster boy for creatine. This isthe worst thing that could possibly happen. Red Sox fans, already obsessed with curses, now have the SI cover jinx to worry about.

Beginning of Spring Training: Surprise surprise, Nomar’s hurt, something about his wrist. This was the only logical outcome to Sox fans after the whole SI cover thing.

Middle of Spring Training: Manny Ramirez has a bad hamstring, doesn’t want to play left field, and isn’t hitting well. In Cleveland it would have been “that’s OK, Manny, we support you,” but, since he plays for the Sox…fans boo him in spring training games.

Opening day: While the team is in Baltimore, Nomar is on the operating table having wrist surgery, which will keep him out until August or so. Pedro pitches seven great innings, but, much like last year, the team does not score for him. Derek Lowe, our best pitcher last year (non-Pedro division) picks up the loss in extra innings. Fans give up on season as the Sox still can’t score for Pedro, and have three months of Craig “not-Nomar” Grebeck playing shortstop.

Day Two: Hideo Nomo, a classic Dan Duquette scrapheap signing, pitches a no-hitter against the Orioles and the Sox win 3-0. Fans once again declare this to be “the year” and herald Duquette as a genius, saying “he knew what he was doing all along; who needs Mike Mussina when we have a guy who is on pace to go 38-0 with a .000 ERA, give up no hits and strikeout 435. You know you have a great team when Pedro is the number two guy in your rotation.”

April-mid May: The days of Manny booing are long gone as he singlehandedly carries the Sox into first place. “Not Nomar” is a little rusty going about one for his first 78 and making us all wish that he could face Pedro just once for the fun of it. Fans write letters to Grebeck calling for him to go on a hunger strike until he can once again hit his weight.

Late May: AAA slugger Israel Alcantara manages to embarrass the entire organization by drop kicking Scranton’s catcher before charging the mound. Nobody is more excited than Carl Everett who volunteers his weekends to serve as a mentor for Izzy.

Early June: In a game against the Yankees, Jimy Williams inexplicably takes Pedro out after six innings and the Sox lose. Fans are outraged that Jimy isn’t fired by the seventh inning, and bankers, farmers and plumbers from all over New England prepare their resumes to apply for the manager’s position.

A few days later: Carl Everett, who doesn’t believe in Dinosaurs, trips over a Velociraptor in the outfield and hurts his knee. Since Crazy Carl also doesn’t believe in Asprin or rehab, he is out for six weeks. Optimistic fans declare: “At least we still have Pedro, Manny and Garces.”

Not Long After That: After three straight outings where he could barely throw 90 mph, Pedro goes on the DL, not to return until the end of August.

Midsummer: At some point during the broadcast of every game we get the “Injury Update.” At its peak, the list of Sox stars on the DL includes, Nomar, Pedro, Jason Varitek, Rich Garces, Frank Castillo, Carl Everett and Craig Grebeck.

July 15-17: Sox fans from all over New England make the pilgrimage to Montreal for a three game series and sleep-out in tents to make sure they can get tickets. Thanks to Sox fans, the Expos finally outdraw Saint Catherine’s Street for a few nights.

July 24-25: Instead of following through with his “high and tight say goodnight” pitching philosophy, “Brisket Boy” Rod Beck serves up a 440 foot homerun to Carlos Delgado on one of his patented batting practice pitches. The next day, with the game tied in the eighth Jimy brings in “Way-Beck” just in time to face Delgado again with the game tied in the eighth. Fenway fans rush the right field bleachers to await the inevitable souvenir. Beck doesn’t disappoint as Delgado hits one of the year’s biggest “no doubters” 445 feet to right center to win the game.

July 29: After months of ceaseless “if we can just hang around until Nomar comes back” talk, it finally happens. In the most exciting Fenway moment since Ted Williams came out in the golf cart, all New Englanders stand, cheer, adjust their batting gloves and tap their toes at the words: “batting third, playing shortstop, number five, Nomar Garciaparra.” Nomar delights us all by going 2-4 with a HR and a game winning two out, two run single. Fans repeat their “we always knew we were going to get the best midseason pickup of anyone,” and finally get to see the Nomar-Manny 3-4 combination they’ve been waiting for. Even without Pedro, 2001 has once again become “the year.”

August 4: As the sports world was bombarded with Gold Club stories, Sox fans covered their ears in fear of hearing the scariest words in sports, “Now testifying in the Gold Club trial…Rich Garces.”

August 13: “Upper Deck” Beck did it again. This time he served up one of his “Crafty Veteran Eddie Harris” pitches to Edgar Martinez, who promptly hit a three run “no-doubter” to win the game for the Mariners. It’s impossible to describe how bad this pitch was. I really wish ESPN had this game so we could see this 85 mph, 0-2 fastball show up right in the center of the “K-Zone” with absolutely no movement on it. Even “not-Nomar” would have had a chance to bloop it to right or something. Beck who apparently figured that Martinez would not be expecting an 85 mph fastball with no movement in the middle of the zone on an 0-2 pitch actually said, “I honestly felt that was a pretty good pitch, one he wasn’t looking for. I thought he popped the ball up.’’

Two days later: After the Sox fall further and further behind the Yankees Jimy Williams is finally fired as manager. The best part of this whole thing was that local TV stations showed clips from Jimy’s introductory press conference. In the history of the world only two public introductions compare to Jimy’s nonsensical “people are dying and getting divorced/if a frog had wings it wouln’t bump its booty” ramblings: (1) Admiral Stockdale’s Vice Presidential debate performance and (2) Frank Drebbin’s “no matter how silly the idea of having a queen is to us” press conference in The Naked Gun (Dan Duquette had the exact same look in his face as the mayor did during that scene. It’s really uncanny).

That same day: The Joe Kerrigan era is a success as Dante Bichette hits a game winning three run HR and new closer Ugueth Urbina picks up the save. Former closer Derek Lowe, who lost his job at the same time that Jimy did, managed to ruin everyone’s night not by blowing his 37th game in a row, but instead by calling Kerrigan a “!#$% &$#!@.”

Last week: The Sox get swept at home by the Yankees as part of a nine game losing streak, effectively ending their chances. After the starters went 21 1/3 innings without an earned run in the series, the Sox fire pitching coach John Cumberland. Although Nomar (back on the DL), Manny and Pedro (shut down for the year) have not played together all year, they are all unhappy with the team at the same time. Nomar says, “This is why nobody wants to play here” in reference to the firing. Pedro and Duquette spar over the ace’s bad shoulder in the papers, and Peter Gammons reports that “Manny wishes he never signed with the Red Sox in the first place.”

Things are so bad that we were actually looking forward to the Patriots season. That is, until they lost to the Bengals on opening day.

Yesterday: To add insult to injury, a five-man rotation of former Red Sox pitchers, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele, and Tony Armas Jr. is 77-29 with an average ERA of 3.45.

Epilogue: This promises to be an extra crazy off-season in Boston. The team will be sold, the GM should be fired, and we may finally get some clarity about the future of Fenway Park. There is actually a real opportunity to build a championship team round the holy trinity of Nomar, Manny and Pedro.

Of course something will probably go wrong, it always does with the Sox, but at least we have a well-rehearsed back-up plan: waiting till next year.

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