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Outside Sox Park: Not Quite Valhalla

I got lots of positive feedback to last week's column, including from my friend John McNaughton, who wrote to say he was glad to hear I was a Sox fan, adding, "Growing up in Roseland we would have just as well seen the Cubs as walk the plank off the top of the Prudential building." A few people said that they might actually be interested in reading about sports for the first time. Things like that are gratifying and a bit overwhelming to hear.

I picked up several Sox fans in the cab after Thursday's home opener. No diehards though. In fact, there were three young guys leaving Sox Park before the bottom of the 8th. They were Live Nation employees who were at the park to take advantage of their company springing for an open bar. The one from Atlanta even admitted to being a basketball fan, though he did agree that listening to the game on the radio on the way back to his hotel made it seem exciting. Then there was the couple that stumbled in around midnight in full-on Sox regalia. The girl told the guy, as we pulled away from a bar, "Wow, what a great Opening Day. I don't remember any of the game, but it was a great day."

The Games

After a sloppy opener, the second game of the season wasn't a 2-1 loss as I'd been predicting. Instead, Edwin Jackson turned in a solid start and the bullpen didn't implode as it had the night before. An 8-3 win doesn't leave much to suspense but neither is it unwelcome. The last game against the Indians was a different story. With our best starter (John Danks) going, it was reasonable to expect a sweep, but as every fan knows, the games rarely play out the way they look on paper. Danks did his part, but when you hit into a triple-play and then insert a mop-up reliever (Ohman) into a close game, the odds won't often work in your favor. This was also the only game when they didn't hit the crap out of the ball.

The Kansas City Royals, a team that's doomed to be minor-league caliber due to lack of revenue, has always given the Sox fits. Even before the first game it didn't look good; Dunn had to have an emergency appendectomy. The rest of the squad didn't have that excuse. They were up 4-0 before Hochever could catch his breath, but hope would seep out of this one like a slow leak as the game wore on. Gavin Floyd is a maddening cipher of a pitcher: he's either unhittable or it's batting practice. He couldn't hold the lead but still lasted seven innings, which was long enough for the hitters to bail him out. Of course the bullpen gave it up and both clubs trudged on into the 12th, unable to put the other away. When Lillibridge got picked off second by a rookie reliever, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Tony Pena starting the bottom of the inning was the exclamation point.

The next one was another 12-inning affair but featuring an improbable comeback in the 9th, and, aside from Thornton's blown save, no bullpen collapse. Even without Dunn, the offense looked solid; pitching remained the question mark.

The home opener was the best game of the season. Jackson threw eight innings of thirteen-strikeout, one-run ball. If he can do half that well the rest of the way, we'll be okay. The best game was followed by the worst: Thornton gave away a three-run lead in the 9th and gift-wrapped the first win of the Rays' season. These wild swings have always been part of the game, mitigated in some small way by the marathon-length of the season. My hope is that this one will be forgotten (as will Thornton's stint as closer.)

The Announcers

Ed Farmer has a uniquely awkward way with the English language. Most of his phrases seem to contain two or three extra words. He's also inordinately fond of mixing metaphors. When he says things like, "He can have a good one, but he still has to throw it," referring to Thornton's secondary pitch, I have to pull my cab over and puzzle out the man's logic. Occasionally though, the deadpan delivery really works, as when he described an opposing pitcher's background thus: "He went to Valhalla High School. I think that's the Nordic . . . it's like their heaven or something." I much prefer that to the times he tells us that a 3-2 count is as far as one wants to go with a batter.

His partner, Darrin Jackson, was a decent ballplayer. When he takes over the play-by-play in the middle innings, I'm hard-pressed to discern from his tone, when a ball's hit, whether it's a hit or an out. As my pal John Sampson said, "It's as if he's bypassing his mouth and talking straight through his nostrils." Still, there's something about a ballgame broadcast on the radio that I'll always take over watching it on TV.

edwin_jackson.jpgEdwin Jackson by Dmitry Samarov. (Enlarge)

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Dmitry Samarov brings you Outside Sox Park every Tuesday. You can also find his work at Hack and at dmitrysamarov.com. He welcomes your comments.

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