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It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Marking the Birth of Modern Red Sox Fandom

The Red Sox, for whatever cosmic reasons, have proved remarkably championship-prolific at the beginning of centuries. By 1918 they had claimed more World Series titles (5) than any team in Major League Baseball. That they wouldn’t win another until 2004 has been, erm, well documented. But listen: They just had a bad century, like the post-Opium War Chinese. Come the Millennium, Deng Xiaoping had re-established his people in the Middle Kingdom, while the Sox, by 2018, had won another four World Series.

The years between 1918 and 2004 weren’t exactly dark. They were periodically robust and eventful, at times heart rending and/or darkly comic. Yet 20 years ago this week, the Red Sox as modern baseball fans know them today — the post-Curse, billion-dollar-appraised, theme-park-residing, culturally monolithic Sox — first revealed their curiously revived championship character to their fans, to the region, and to the Major Leagues at large.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly lightning is caught in a bottle, but here it’s rather clear — coming back from 2 games down to beat the Oakland A’s in the 2003 A.L. Divisional Playoff. The affable-if-mercurial Derek Lowe emerged from the bullpen to close the decisive Game 5, striking out Terrence Long on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to preserve a 1-run victory.

The precise date: 6 October 2003.

Boston would not win the World Series that year. It would lose another, even more dramatic series to the New York Yankees later in October. That epic encounter, and the victory over Oakland, have been further obscured by the Bloody Socks, Idiots, unlikely stolen bases, and fan-enabled 3-run homers of ALCS 2004 — to say nothing of the four World Series that followed. Nevertheless, Boston laid the championship foundation the year prior, with its unlikely victory over the Athletics, long-time nemeses in their own right.

The recent passing of Tim Wakefield, another of this era’s complicated talismen, got me thinking about these emotional building blocks from 20 years ago. It’s only fitting that we celebrate that clinching Game 5, that oft-overlooked Oakland series, its own unlikely heroes, and the hilariously drunken adventure I experienced watching the finale from Spokane.

Yes, Spokane.

The Build-Up: Looking back, Red Sox Nation in the fall of 2003 remained hopeful but hopelessly naïve. Unwitting fans actually believed Boston could reverse a century of futility with Grady Little pulling the strings, with Trot Nixon in right, with Nomar at short, with Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson closing games. What’s more, we actually dared to assume the team might win post-season series without David Ortiz performing like a Dominican Paul Bunyan. Ortiz produced a fine 2003 regular season, his first in Boston, but he went 2 for 21 in the Oakland series. Not until 2004 would he cement both his legend and the Big Papi sobriquet, courtesy of the RemDawg.

Accurate foretelling is hard. Even in the direct wake of Oct. 6, 2003, The Nation and its long-suffering citizenry had zero understanding of what was happening, of what was to come. I mean, how could we? The Mo Vaughn Sox made some playoff appearances during the 1990s, including an ALDS elimination game, courtesy of the Albert Belle Indians, on Oct. 7, 1995 (my wedding day). That performance laid the title-winning groundwork for exactly nothing. The acquisition of Pedro Martinez in 1998 did result in an American League Championship Series appearance the following year, but the Yankees proved way too good. Historically dynastic, in fact. And let’s be clear-eyed about those Sox: No team featuring Troy O’Leary batting clean-up was ever that close to winning anything.

The 2003 experience, in the moment, felt similarly competent and perhaps substantial, but never touched by the fates — not until Derek Lowe willed us into the ALCS.

Here’s another important differentiator: Few had realized that a powerful new karma had only recently settled over Fenway and the Red Sox, starting in 2002. That’s the year Ted Williams passed away. As I wrote at the time, Mr. Ballgame had been born in 1918. His all-hit, no-field career didn’t just symbolize Boston’s 80-plus years of championship futility. His carbon-based life form embodied it. The Splinter’s death, however tragic, was tantamount to removing a giant karmic thorn from the paw of Red Sox Nation.

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Count Me Out of Any and All Hall of Fame Melodrama

Apparently the San Diego Chicken is Cooperstown material but Barry Bonds is not.

In my dotage, I find myself at the heart of Major League Baseball’s core demographic. After all, I still watch playoff and World Series games in their entirety — not later, online, via some highlights package. I get choked up when Henry Aaron and other icons from my youth pass from the scene. I even cut MLB slack in small-but-meaningful ways — like this summer, when I pointed out that COVID-era baseball doesn’t suffer so much for the lack of fans, because we’re already used to watching extra-inning games where pretty much everyone has gone home.

But count me out of any and all Hall of Fame melodrama.

Yet another episode of this embarrassing, annualized hall pall descended last week when Trump toady and erstwhile World Series hero Curt Schilling was denied his piece of immortality, along with steroid poster boys Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Ho fucking hum. Would-be inductees might be dicks, or saints, in the superficial and cynical ways these traits are communicated to the sporting public. But I am determined never again to invest emotionally in such constructs — the Hall of Fame being the greatest construct of them all.

What a sorry collection of misplaced sentimentality and tradition. Because of its Hall of Fame, MLB’s entire relationship to the past is a maudlin self-congratulatory muddle… The NFL? Worst sport coats I’ve ever seen. It’s as if new inductees are all guest-hosting Monday Night football in 1973… The basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield, Mass., in a nod to inventor Dr. James Naismith. As a Bay Stater who covered Travis Best in high school, I should stick up for it. But the place isn’t affiliated with the NBA, and so folks like Wilt Chamberlain and Alexander Belov and Pat Summit are honored side by side, with nothing at all to connect them… The World Golf Fame in Florida is absurd — and needy. Players need not retire from competition in order to gain entry. Phil Mickelson was inducted — in 2012! They invited Tiger Woods; he told them, “Not yet, thanks.”  Whatever… As for the NHL Hall of Fame: Is there one?

Award rituals in this country are unusually dependent on murky interpretations of phrases, term and ideas that feel dated or misplaced. “Hall of Fame”, for example, is a phrase that does not mean anything. What sort of “hall” are we talking about here? Like that place dead Vikings gather, if they should die holding a sword? In what other context do historic figures convene in this way, so as to honor them for all time time? It’s like a museum that is also an exclusive club — but only if you never gambled or did drugs?

The bizarre trappings of hall induction politics have become an anchor around the neck of Major League Baseball, in particular. Pete Rose pioneered this particular shit storm but let’s be clear: On-field greatness cannot effectively be withheld — not by a bunch of sports writers, based on something so amorphous as lapses in “character” or “integrity.” This is a level of caprice that is simply impractical.

The Baseball Writers Association of America, members of which vote on Hall of Fame induction, delineates HOF criteria this way: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Pretty wide open to interpretation. It is, I suppose, some type of “injustice” that Barry Bonds has been denied entry based on his steroid use, but here is my solution: It does not matter to me, as a matter of will. And I would urge readers to join me in worrying about something else. It would frankly matter more, to me, had the juice won Barry and the Giants that World Series in 2002. Same with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — the juice won them nothing. So who cares. I’ve consciously turned myself off to the potential for outrage.

Now, if Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone were juiced, I’d be pissed.

Otherwise, meh.

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Kershaw’s more Clemens than Koufax

So, sports are cruel, whether the participants are professionalized adults or mere school children. But sports are real, which is what makes them so damned compelling — in a way that lays bare the mockery of a sham that “reality” TV truly is. The latest case in point: Clayton Kershaw, now a certifiably tragic figure in baseball’s sprawling Hall of Misery & Woe.

I fell asleep in a Vermont hotel room two Wednesday nights ago thinking Kershaw and his Dodgers had beaten back the pesky Washington Nationals in their best-of-five National League Division Series. Kershaw, having already lost Game 2, at home, was summoned to preserve a 3-1 lead in the 7th inning of Game 5. This he did, securing the third out.

That’s when I nodded off.

For some reason, I later learned, Kershaw was summoned by Dodger manager Dave Roberts to pitch the 8th, wherein the erstwhile starter gave up home runs on consecutive pitches to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. Tie game. Kershaw was lifted and L.A. lost in the 10th on Howie Kendrick’s grand slam… Where was Kenley Jansen through all this? Isn’t he L.A.’s closer?

I want to be clear: I honestly have nothing against Kershaw — or the Dodgers. When I first started following baseball in the early 1970s, I loved those Dodger teams of Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Yeager & Ferguson behind the plate, Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith in left and right). I rooted hard for them later in the ‘70s when they faced the Evil Empire Yankees in consecutive World Series.

And yet I have been mystified by the conventional wisdom surrounding Kershaw these past few years. Folks seem determined to cast this guy as one of the great pitchers of all time — despite the fact that he’s done so very little in the post-season, which, we can agree, is the true measure of pitching greatness. I’ve even heard Sandy Koufax comparisons! (Just google “Kerhaw Koufax” to see the extent of this folly.) Yes, they’re both Dodgers; their surnames both begin with K; they’re both lefties. But that’s where the similarities end.

Again, I don’t dislike Kershaw, nor do I wish to run the guy down in light of what has been another gut-wrenching failure. But his October went like other Octobers, which is why these Kershaw-boosting narratives make no sense. They are in fact the careless musings of baseball know-nothings and hype-vendors.

I don’t Tweet much (follow @MandarinHal, if you want proof) but after watching Kershaw struggled in the first inning of Game 2, I posted the following:

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How Gene Michael and the Post-Miracle Mets Built a Red Sox Fan

I’ve got work to do, but here I am getting misty writing about Gene Michael — a New York Yankee no less! But his passing last week jolted me back to a time when my baseball allegiances were new and muddled thanks to the insistent, dulcet tones of  Lindsay Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy.

I was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts in 1964. Soon enough my father’s corporate work life moved our family to New Jersey, then to California, and then, in 1969, back to the northern Jersey suburb of Upper Montclair. It was there, in the mammoth penumbra cast by the New York City sporting scene, that I first took a shine to baseball. Yeah, I played it in the streets of Waterbury Road, and I collected baseball cards, but this is when I first started watching games en masse, in the early 1970s, via WPIX Channel 11 (Yankees) and WOR Channel 9, where Mets broadcasters Nelson, Kiner and Murphy plied their trade.

My family would move to suburban Boston in 1973, and there my dad would chuck his corporate odyssey for some stability in a town my parents were loath to leave. That move meant I could, from that point forward, seamlessly pass myself off as a legitimately rabid Sox fan with impeccable historic and geographic credentials.

But that would be a lie.

The first teams I truly learned and observed closely were the Yankees and Mets of the early 1970s, and that’s why I was moved by thoughts of Gene Michael, the Yanks’ light-hitting glove man at shortstop. (He and Baltimore’s Mark Belanger were pretty good comps.) Not every game was televised back then but many were and I watched the man called Stick play dozens and dozens of them beside second baseman Horace Clarke, behind pitchers Doc Medich, Fritz Peterson and Steve Kline, taking cut-offs from Bobby Murcer and Roy White. New York was a terrible team at this time. It confused my 7-year-old brain that the Yankees had, apparently, been so dominant once — but had nevertheless come to suck so bad.

Convenient to my eventual Sox fandom, I much preferred Bud Harrelson’s Mets to Michael’s Yankees. I don’t remember the Miracle Mets of 1969. But I did enjoy those NYM teams of the early 1970s, and any mention of Gene Michael, or Dave Schneck, or Thurman Munson or Tommy Agee summons the memory of just how hard and quickly a 7-year-old boy can fall for the game.

I watched those shitty Yankee teams because they were the only thing on.

But I developed a real attachment to those Amazin’ Mets.

Let me say right here that no Google has been deployed in the writing of this blog item. As such, here’s the whole Met team from 1973, the guys who nipped St. Louis and a great Pirates team (World Series champs in ‘71) to win the old Eastern Division (with just 82 wins!) before handling the 99-win Big Red Machine to capture the NL pennant: Jerry Grote and Duffy Dyer at catcher; the inimitable and original Met Ed Kranepool at first; Felix Milan and Ken Boswell platooning at second; feisty Bud Harrelson at short; Wayne Garrett at third; John Milner, Don Hanh and my favorite Met of all, Cleon Jones, patrolling the Shea Stadium outfield.

Everywhere but the mound, this was a pretty darned different team from the shock World Series champions of ’69. Only Harrelson, Kranepool and maybe Grote held over from Miracle Mets. But the pitching was a constant. It was Seaver, Matlack and Koosman who made the Mets of this entire era so very formidable. Just to shore things up, a young Tug McGraw closed. And who did the Mets pick up late in 1973 to give them a bit o’ pop? Only a 40-year-old Willie Mays and Le Grande Orange, Rusty Staub.

Still, come October, those Mets were not expected to trouble the Oakland A’s, a dynasty at its peak. But what a series I watched from my new home in Boston during the fall of 1973, surrounded by people who could not have cared less. The Mets went down valiantly, in 7 games, after having led the series 3-2. Lefthander Kenny Holtzman didn’t just win the finale; he got the big hit off opposing starter Jon Matlack to turn the tide. Bert Campaneris hit a home run to seal it. I was mighty disappointed.

The ’73 Series would prove the end of contention for this generation of Mets; the club would fall into disarray before regrouping in time to put a stake through my heart in October 1986. Gene Michael would retire in 1975 (right before the Yankees got good again), manage the Cubs, and eventually serve in the thankless role of Yankees GM under George Steinbrenner. Stick would hold his nose long enough to build the great Yankee teams of the late 1990s.

And now he is gone, another withered petal on my fading flower of youth…

Flashback: Removing the Splinter from Our Collective Subconcious

This August 2002 essay appeared in the Portland Press-Herald, to which I contributed op-ed columns from 2000-2003. It should have made me famous: The next season, my theory having been realized, Boston took the Yankees to 7 games before falling in the 2003 American League Championship Series; in 2004, the Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to slay those same Yankees and defeat their other cosmic nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals, to win the 2004 World Series… While it’s plenty clear the Sox were not destined to win a World Series while The Kid still walked the earth, it’s not clear that Sox fortunes depended entirely on him being properly laid to rest, as is posited here. Indeed, it’s not clear that Ted Williams has ever been afforded the opportunity to rest in peace. That said, his son, John Henry, whose fault that limbo is, certainly got his. He died in March 2004, from leukemia.

By Hal Phillips

I never saw Ted Williams play; late thirtysomethings like myself never had the chance. All we got were gilt-edged glimpses: the triumphant but out-of-context film clip, the seemingly staged black-and-white photo, the hyper-reverent musings of our elders. Yet the shadow Teddy cast over New England was so large that it hardly mattered. Heroic figures like The Kid transcend generation gaps.

Indeed, for as long as I can remember, I’ve coveted a Red Sox away jersey — not the ‘70s-era pajama tops of my youth, but the genuine flannel article from well before my time. From Ted’s time. When my darling wife delivered on this wish last Christmas, the number choice was a no-brainer: 9.

Ted Williams touched all of us New Englanders, regardless of age.

Yet perhaps my lack of first-hand exposure allows me to examine his recent passing with a more clear, spiritually acute eye. As his children fight over the fate of his remains, and the corporal Kid remains in limbo, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves this question: Are the Sox better off now that Ted Williams is gone?

You may find my premise obsequious in its optimism, or perversely macabre, perhaps a tad heretical. But hear me out.

The numbers don’t lie. The seminal digits which should be flashing across the beleaguered eyes of Red Sox Nation this summer are “1918-2002”. Those are the years The Kid bestrode the Earth. However, these same dates also measure with excruciating accuracy the span of Boston’s World Series drought… Coincidence? If so, it’s a real doozie — even by the wacky standards of numerology.

Is it possible that Harry Frazee’s selling of Babe Ruth has been a mere front, a convenient explanation of Boston’s sad championship void thereafter? Shouldn’t we at least consider possible corollaries — namely, that until Ted Williams and his outsized, symbolically fraught persona joined the hereafter, his beloved Sox were cosmically doomed to underachieve?

In this, The Age of Irony, it’s worth exploring. If on some agnostic level we accept as valid The Curse of the Bambino — wherein The Sox cosmically endure pain on account of Frazee’s salary dump — we should also ponder the possibility that those same Sox will prosper now that the Splinter has been removed from our collective foot (or soon will be, if his offspring get with the program).

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Recapturing the ’75 World Series, via iPhone

Recapturing the ’75 World Series, via iPhone


Nothing sums up the prevailing zeitgeist better than the online recap, whereby otherwise respectable writers, toiling for otherwise respectable media outlets, review individual episodes from the various series comprising our so-called Golden Age of Premium Television. These morning-after recaps treat TV shows more like marquee sporting events; they exist so that we might wallow again in their drama, better drink in their plot twists, indulge anew in idle plot speculation, and ultimately rehash it all with likeminded folks in the comments section.

Quite by accident and irrespective of this retrospective TV trend, it occurred to me a couple years back that YouTube might well harbor clips, if not entire game films, of the 1975 World Series — contested 45 years ago this month. As the 2020 Red Sox never approached relevance (and once-proud pitching staffs implode amid an octet of 3-game, must-win playoff series), my mind drifts back to Luis Tiant and the magnificent Game 4 he pitched in Cincinnati to level this epic Series, perhaps the most epic yet contested.

The 21st century is a remarkable thing: Game 4 from 1975 was indeed right there on YouTube, in its entirety (commercials completely excised). I watched it on my iPhone and, over the course of three days, allowed a veritable cloudburst of memories to wash over me like a warm, amniotic shower. This led to YouTube-aided consumption of Games 2 and 3, in that order, as these, I reasoned, were the chapters in this remarkable 7-game saga that I remembered least of all.

What follows is my own recap of this 3-game series within a World Series, indeed one of the greats, which I first watched as an 11-year-old, staying up later than I ever had before, in a suburban living room some 13 miles southwest of Fenway Park.

Game 4, Riverfront Stadium, Oct. 15, 1975: Red Sox 5, Reds 4

El Tiante was already a Boston legend before he took the mound in Game 4. After doing his best to thwart Sox hopes in 1967, for Cleveland (one of four teams with legitimate pennant hopes that final weekend of the season), he had come over in 1971 and immediately claimed our hearts. No one knew how old this amiable, almost elfin Cuban really was; I suppose we still don’t know. He was a bit dumpy and could be clownish, though a lot of that was surely ESL-based. But he won and he did it with singular style — 18 games in 1975, despite some back issues. He shut the Reds out in Game 1 at Fenway and, after his virtuoso performance in Game 4 at Riverfront, his place in the Boston Sports Pantheon would prove utterly secure.

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Three Rules to Promote Baseballing Alacrity

Three Rules to Promote Baseballing Alacrity


See here three simple rules for the betterment of baseball and the country whose pastime it remains, to the extent that anyone can sit through an entire 9-inning game these days without the aid of a DVR.

First, give the ball to the pitcher and oblige the batter to be ready when the ball is delivered. This sounds simple, and it is. Honestly, it’s more or less the way baseball was prosecuted up until around 1980. We are simply codifying a throwback policy, whereby, once a batter strides to the plate from the on-deck circle and establishes himself in the batter’s box — two things he can do with levels of speed and alacrity entirely of his own choosing — there are no more batter-initiated timeouts.

The batter is not a prisoner there. He can step out. He can wave to his mother in the stands or adjust his balls. He can tug on each batting glove strap as often as he likes, or, to be more accurate, dares. But he clearly won’t overindulge in any of this behavior because he knows the pitcher, once in possession of the ball, can deliver it to the plate whenever he chooses.

Base hit, foul ball or stolen base? The process resets, meaning he can step out and tug on those batting gloves before re-entering the box.

Some have called for the umpire to be more diligent in calling batters back into the box. That won’t work. It’s arbitrary and frankly not the umpire’s charge. Should the batter be inclined to see some pitches (something the Moneyball Era has emphasized), superfluous batter routinization between pitches will disappear almost instantly — and completely organically.

There is no penalty for stepping out of the box – only that you might not be in the hitting position when the ball arrives at/near the plate. There is no need to make special accommodation for the delivery of signs from the third-base coach. They can be delivered to/received by the batter at any time, though it seems prudent to get this done prior to said batter entering the box.

The umpire is free to call time at his discretion — for example, when a player is knocked down or back by an inside pitch. Resetting is a simple matter, as the umpire already holds the game balls on his person. By not handing a new ball to the catcher, or not winging it out to the mound himself, he has called time and allowed the batter to regroup without ever calling time.

I’m not sure whether the baseball rulebook even acknowledges a batter’s right to call timeout. If so, this would be the only rule-change required. Otherwise, it’s a seamless move back to the way batting was prosecuted over the game’s first 150 years.

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The Long Game: Sox Even Series with Cardinals

The Long Game: Sox Even Series with Cardinals

New Gloucester-based video artist Kevin Fowler captures the Red Sox 2013 World Series celebration for WMTW.

I’m not young, but in the long arc of Red Sox fandom, some would argue I’m too young to have bona fide demons.

My family moved to New England in 1972, in time to endure three-plus decades of an 86-year World Series drought. I recall first-hand Luis Aparicio’s stumble around third base, Jim Rice’s broken hand and Joe Morgan’s Series-winning bloop, Bucky Dent’s anomalous three-run homer, Bill Buckner’s unfortunate fielding (Bob Stanley’s equally hair-brained pitching), Roger Clemens’ inability to beat the Bash Brother A’s, and fucking Aaron Boone.

But the Cardinals? Their wins over the Sox in 1967 and 1946 stand as disappointing but amorphous mileposts on a road travelled too long ago. Any Game 7 loss is gut-wrenching, for sure, and here were two of them — each closing the book on efforts to end long title droughts in their own right. But for me, they were just words on a page, disjointed snippets of film.

Even those New Englanders old enough to have experienced the ’67 Series were, it seems to me, happy enough to have simply won a pennant. Save an epic September collapse in 1949, the Sox had not seriously challenged for one in 29 years. Hard to bitch too much when simply contending is pre-emptively dubbed an Impossible Dream.

The 1946 loss to St. Louis is even harder to get worked up about. Yes, Ted Williams hit .200 and apparently Johnny Pesky’s botched relay allowed Enos Slaughter to score the Series-clinching run. At that stage, the Sox had not won a title, nor even played in a World Series, for 28 years. I’m sure it was plenty traumatic, but David Halberstam wrote a book about the epic Sox collapse in 1949, not 1946.

Boston’s World Series wins over the Cardinals in 2004 and now 2013 just don’t feel, to me, like any sort of cosmic payback.

But perhaps they should.

Here is something The Nation should work on: After three titles in 10 seasons, the danger is we might become jaded.

When a century happens to turn, the Sox apparently win like gangbusters. By 1918, they had won five titles and never lost a World Series.

By 2013, the Sox were, again, clearly ascendant: Three titles and The Curse of the Bambino summarily dispatched (actually, this Bambino thing was always a canard; god love him but the true curse kicked in when Ted Williams was born, in 1918, and petered out when he passed away, in 2002). Boston added yet another World Series in 2018.

Cardinal Hate seems to me a worthy emotional exercise. If we can’t muster the venom to keep score with St. Louis, over the course of decades, what sort of Red Sox fans are we really?

A sports grudge is never released.  What, are we supposed to stop hating the Yankees now that they actually suck? Surely not. They had their century. This one’s ours. Come 2101, we’ll count championships over the next hundred years — that will decide things.

And I’ve got news for you: This Cardinals team has a veritable boatload of spectacular young pitching. Martinez, Rosenthal, Kelly, Wacha, Siegrest… Every time I turned around, they were trotting out another kid who throws 97 mph and appears settled beyond his years. The veteran Wainwright is a stud. Their closer from the 2011 World Series-winning team, Jason Motte, is scheduled to return from Tommy John surgery. Consider Edward Mujica, Motte’s replacement till Rosenthal beat him out in August: Mujica was an All-Star this year — and he didn’t get a sniff this series. With this sort of extraordinary pitching depth, the Cardinals can trade for, or simply sign, another bat or two. They will be back.

At which point we’ll sort this Best of 5.

Never forget. Never stop keeping score.

Add Béisbol to Casa de Campo’s Rich Sporting Life

Add Béisbol to Casa de Campo’s Rich Sporting Life

Casa de Campo bills itself as enabler of The Sporting Life, and they deliver on that claim in myriad ways: golf, of course, but shooting, polo, tennis, yachting and several more I’m sure I’m missing. But there is baseball, too, and tonight we got a thoroughly entertaining taste.

La Romana, the city of 250,000 that is home to Casa de Campo, is home to Los Toros del Este of the Dominican League, a winter circuit comprised of the country’s many fine players and a few U.S.-based stars home for the Major League Baseball offseason. Thursday night we ventured out to Estadio Francisco A. Micheli to watch “The Bulls of the East” drop a 4-3 decision to visiting Estrellas Orientales, who hail from the noted baseball hotbed, San Pedro de Macoris.

MLB fans surely understand by now what a huge impact Dominican players have had on America’s national pastime. Indeed, as a Red Sox fan, I’m forever in debt to Dominican stars David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez for delivering two World Series in the last 8 years. But the Dominican league is something substantial in its own right, a brand of beisbol that must be experienced to be believed.

Yes, there are MLB stars on hand, though Los Toros’ Erick Aybar, who plays for the Angels, and Estrellas’ Felix Pie were the only two “big” leaguers on hand this night. Aybar didn’t even play actually, which is typical apparently. Sometimes these MLBers show up to games, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they show up and never leave the dugout. It’s all very loose down here, and the crowd whoops it up regardless — waving banners, dancing to the band ensconced in the loge section, chanting scatologically, and tittering as the PA announcer ogles hot chicks in the crowd.

“I want an American girl, and her little friend,” the crowd chanted in the third inning, commenting on U.S.-Dominican couples they spy in the crowd, assuming the Dominican guy is just angling for a green card.

After Los Toros pushed one across in the bottom of the third, the PA announcer broke into a low growl, and intoned, “Attention, attention: Section 5, black top, blue pants… How healthy the women are tonight!”

In the middle of the fourth, the Toros mascot (a bull, naturally), delivered one of the raunchiest dances you’ll ever see from a man in orange fur, and it sure beat the hell out of any between-innings dot race — or the execrable Sweet Caroline sing along. Until this year there had been cheerleaders at Estadio Micheli; they’d been banned because they weren’t particularly family oriented. “Basically they were strippers,” our local guide explained, and the players spent too much game time ogling them as they worked it atop the home dughout. There’s been a strong call for their reinstatement.

The baseball itself is quite good, certainly on par with AAA, but it’s the little twists on the game that make it worthwhile for a tourist. There are cashews, not peanuts on offer. The beer flows, of course (the ubiquitous Presidente Light — in special Toros orange cans), but also rum — in plastic bottles to mix with Coke. When they flash player stats on the big screen, there’s the recognizable AVG and HR figures, but RBI is replaced by “C.E.”, for Carreras Empujadas, or “pushed runs”.

The DR may have thrilled this summer when Félix Sánchez won gold at the London Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles, but this is a baseball country, first, foremost and always. When we pulled into the stadium parking lot, it was not yet full and dozens of kids were playing baseball on the hard top. For visitors to Casa de Campo, baseball is yet another sporting diversion. For the locals in La Romana and across the country, it’s the only real game in town.

Three Things You Should Know About Carl Yastrzemski

Three Things You Should Know About Carl Yastrzemski

Whenever someone flirts with a Triple Crown season, baseball’s lightweight commentariat feels the obligation to make a series of paper-thin, Carl Yastrzemski-related references. It takes an actual Triple Crown, the likes of which Miguel Cabrera donned last week, to summon punditry of true heft.

And so both Roger Angell, the finest writer of baseball prose to have ever lived, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky both weighed in on the inimitable Yaz this past week, as a sort of homage to the 45 years he spent as “the last man to win the Triple Crown”.

I don’t hold myself in that sort of literary company. What’s more, having moved to Greater Boston in 1972, I was five years late to the Impossible Dream party, the much sentimentalized pennant-winning season that just happened to coincide with Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown, of which not much was made at the time, mind you. They weren’t so rare back then — Frank Robinson turned the trick in 1966, and prior to that, MLB produced one roughly every 10 years. However, perhaps because I completely missed Boston’s Summer of Love, and because I was there in Fenway’s bleachers and glued to Channel 38 over the last half of Yastrzemski’s career, I can add a bit of boots-on-the-ground perspective re. this titanic, complicated figure.

Here are three things baseball fans should know about Yaz:

• His Triple Crown year of 1967 was not his best in the Majors. Yaz won three battle titles but lost a fourth to Alex Johnson, on percentage points, in 1970, when many (myself included) argue he posted the finest statistical performance of his career. Just a single season separated 1970 from 1968, when Major League Baseball raised the mound and ushered in an era of pitching dominance (Yaz would repeat as AL batting champ in 1968, hitting a measly .301). By 1970, batting figures remained depressed across the board. Yet Yaz hit a career-best .329 that year, with 40 dingers, 102 RBI and a career-best 128 walks, which enabled a sick on-base percentage of .452. He threw in 23 stolen bases, just for the fuck of it… 1967 v. 1970: This was the debate we Massholes had as kids, referring to the back of baseball cards. Yet it’s a debate made even more interesting today by the plethora of “new” stats (check out the full monty here), which tend to favor 1967 — but fail to take into account the mound. In context, 1970 was the more impressive achievement.

• As good a hitter as Yastrzemski was — and most all-around statistical analyses rank him about #20 on the various all-time lists — he was a defensive player of comparable greatness. Of the 30 or 40 ballplayers ranked alongside Yaz via these various batting metrics, only a handful of guys can claim this sort of elite duality: Willie Mays, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins and Mike Schmidt. Plenty of others were fine fielders (Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, Lou Gehrig, Eddie Matthews, Alex Rodriguez), but Yaz was the best leftfielder in the American League for a decade or more. By the time I arrived in Boston, he was 32 and still an excellent glove man, but his best days were clearly behind him. Accordingly, I took his legendary ’60s-era fielding acumen more or less on faith. Indeed, he played a lot of first base in the early ‘70s — by ‘74 he was moved there permanently, in addition to DH, in order to accommodate a young Jim Rice and another up-and-comer, first baseman Cecil Cooper. Then, in September 1975, with the Sox closing in on their first post-season appearance since ‘67, Rice broke his wrist. Yastrzemski went back to left and there, for the first time in my experience, was the fielder everyone had raved about. Thirty-five years old but invigorated by the pennant-chase, he threw his body around like a rag doll, giving nothing away to the young defensive wizards playing beside him, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans. I maintain a distinctly thrilling memory of Yaz against the reigning World Champion A’s in the 1975 ALCS — diving to his left to cut off a line drive in the gap, popping up, whirling and gunning down someone at second base. And, of course, no one played the Green Monster better. Yaz would go back to left field for 152 games in 1977, as a 37-year-old. He won another Gold Glove, his 7th.

• For all these achievements, however, and the extraordinarily high esteem in which Carl Yastrzemski is still held throughout New England, the man remains a tragic figure. Yes, he was one of the all-time greats and while Yaz was never cuddly (he was rather taciturn and aloof actually) he allowed us to forget the guy he replaced, Ted Williams, whom the fans did not revere and who never led the Sox to any meaningful team success. But for all Yastrzemski’s grit and splendid achievements, twice during the 1970s, with the Sox on the brink of that historical team success, it was Yaz who stood at the plate when the curtain came down. He made the final out in Game 7 of the ’75 World Series against the Reds, flying out to left center with Boston trailing by a run. Three years later, in the famous ’78 playoff game against the Yankees, Yaz ended the game by popping out to third baseman Craig Nettles, stranding both the tying and go-ahead runs. This not to say that Yaz wasn’t at his very best when the Sox needed him most, because he generally was: He hit .400 in the 7-game Series loss to St. Louis in ’67; he hit .455 against the A’s in ’75, and .310 against the Reds. Even in the playoff game, perhaps the must soul-crushing moment of my entire childhood, he was immense — homering off the nearly unhittable Ron Guidry in the second inning and driving in another run in the 8th…

The indignity of twice making the final out after having done so much is not failure. It is tragedy, and texture.