My first reactions following the loss tonight…

The 12 month reign of the Boston Red Sox as World Champions came to a close tonight, (Yes, I know the Red Sox are still technically the champs until the next team wins the World Series.) and strangely enough, while I’m frustrated at how the season came to an end, I’m ok with it at the same time.

I believe that this team went as far as it could as presently constituted. Further even. Terry Francona has been getting ripped by talk show callers all year, and yet the guy tied for the division lead, winning 95 games, without having Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke for most of the season. Take the number one starter and closer off of any team, and they’re going to be worse for it. Somehow, and with the help of the guys hitting third and fourth in the lineup, he managed to win just three fewer games in the regular season than the club did last year.

It seems somehow appropriate that the runs scored tonight were all the work of two men. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez accounted for all the scoring on solo home runs. Appropriate given that this 3-4 combination was what carried the team into the postseason. Johnny Damon was injured much of the season and still had an incredibly productive season, but who else was consistent this year? Those three guys were pretty much your offense all year.

I’m looking forward to the offseason. I’m very interested to see what happens with this team. (Assuming Theo Epstein gets his contract situation worked out.) Are we going to see a bunch of new kids on the field next year? Will Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia step into starting roles in the infield? Jonathan Papelbon seems a lock for a position in the starting rotation, so who does that knock out? Will Craig Hansen be with the big club from the start next year? How about Manny Delcarmen? Where is Hanley Ramirez going to end up in the field? How soon before we see Jon Lester? Is David Murphy getting close?

It appears we’ve seen the last of Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller and perhaps John Olerud and Tony Graffanino, (Though I could see both those guys coming back as role players.) and how about Johnny Damon? However, for me the biggest offseason question is what becomes of Manny Ramirez.

The Red Sox scored nine runs in the entire series and Manny drove in four of them. He had two home runs in the final game…perhaps his final game at Fenway as a member of the Red Sox. He’s not a clutch performer? I’m sorry, but I still don’t see how the Red Sox are better by getting rid of him. For the perhaps 10 days during the season in which he is a distraction,he makes up for it a hundredfold with his production the other 152. He also protects Ortiz in the lineup.

I expect a lot of talk this offseason from talk show hosts, especially two on the morning show of WEEI, who will be overwhelming in voicing their opinions that Manny needs to be driven out of town. I don’t get it. The media as a whole is obsessed with Manny’s effort, becoming fixated with every trip out of the batters box that the guy makes. This bit from Chad Finn the other day captured things very well:

John Dennis and his 'EEI partner, Gerry Callahan (who used to be one of my favorite columnists until I realized he's either a wretched lout of a human being or plays one all too well on the radio), spent the morning absolving Graffanino of any wrongdoing while trying to pin blame for the loss on Manny Ramirez (who drove in the first two runs but, in their eyes if no one else's, dogged it and turned double into a single) and Edgar Renteria (no legit explanation why, though if you know D&C's history, you have your suspicions.) Before I could slam my car into the nearest telephone poll in a desperate attempt to make the noise stop, Karl Ravech of "Baseball Tonight" came on and shut them the hell up, noting that Albert Pujols - yes, the sainted Albert Pujols, Gammo's Exhibit A on how The Game Should Be Played during his anti-Manny rants - lollygagged to first himself recently. Ravech added that Manny had no better than a 50-50 shot of getting to second anyway, and that it seemed they were hassling Manny for the sake of hassling Manny. Dennis was, perhaps for the first time since he was hatched, silent. Callahan responded with a witty "Right," then changed the subject. Karl Ravech, we salute you.

No matter what people like these two say, Manny has to stay. A tiny part of me actually would want Manny to be moved somewhere else so he can get away from people such as those two. However, I know that even if Manny is gone, they’ll still rip him almost daily. (See Martinez, Pedro) If he’s going to get ripped by them, I’d rather have him him hitting his 45 homers and 140 RBI. With all the potential kids in the lineup next year plus whoever is acquired to play first base and centerfield if needed, it is critical to keep the Ortiz/Ramirez 3-4 combination in the lineup and build around them.

It’s possible that both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez could be gone by next spring. I say you’ve got to keep at least one of them, given the lack of outfielders on the market. If I had my pick of only one, give me Manny. Damon’s leadoff skills can’t be duplicated, but neither can Manny’s pure ability to hit the ball and carry it for a week at a time by himself. A first baseman, outfielder or two, (depending on what happens with Manny and Damon) and bullpen help appear to be what the Red Sox most need to obtain this winter.

This promises to be a memorable offseason for the Red Sox, but in a different way than the last two. In some ways, perhaps now the pressure might even be less on the team, the last few years it was always about breaking through and winning the World Series, this year it was if they could repeat that feat. All the while, Theo Epstein and the front office has been building the minor league system, something he swore to do the day he took the job. He was so committed to this that he didn’t part with any of the prospects at the trading deadline this season. It was a gamble, but not, it sure doesn’t appear that there was anyone out there that would’ve helped the Red Sox beat the White Sox this week. Now, we’ll see if the prospects are good enough to start building the foundation of a team that can be a contender year after year without having to pay such a high price, yet still able to go and spend whatever it needs to acquire the pieces that they are not able to develop. Expectations will still be high coming into next year, but there is a recent championship still to admire, and tangible results from the investment in the farm system there for us to see coming up before our eyes. I’m confident that with the right moves, the team will be able to break in the youngsters while still being a contending club.

Yeah, I’m bummed that the season is over. I’m not angry about it though. You won’t hear me calling WEEI and demanding that Francona be fired and that Manny and Renteria be run out of town on a rail. I’m excited to see what this team is going to do in the offseason, and will be looking forward with anticipation to see what the 2006 Red Sox look like.

Another issue:

I don’t get the anger that I’ve heard and read in recent weeks and that we will see for the foreseeable future in some quarters. I enjoyed this team, and they brought me far more pleasure than frustration. I’ve been trying to figure out where all the anger comes from. Talk show callers and hosts, internet sites, newspaper columns, they’re full of it. Why?

The only thing I can think of is that it is a way for these people to try to prove what a “fan” they are. “Wow, look at them, they’re so angry that the Red Sox lost, they live and die with the team, they’re a real fan.” Red Sox fans are constantly told that they are the best and most knowledgeable in the country. Does that lead to a sense of entitlement? This whole “Red Sox Nation” concept. I don’t think I’m down with it, simply because it seems to me that many members of the “Nation” don’t enjoy anything about the team and games and only live to find fault and an outlet for their anger. To me, not all members of “Red Sox Nation” are actually Red Sox fans. There is a difference. To me, one of the worst developments of the last few years was the emergence of the “Superfan”. Example number one: “Angry Bill”. Just go away, please.

Now, I can already hear it. The people claiming that I’m lecturing that you shouldn’t and can’t criticize the team and manager, and that we should just be positive all the time. That’s not what I’m saying. A caller to WEEI on Thursday stated that since the fans invest so much of their time into the team, and financially support the club by buying the tickets and purchasing club merchandise that they have a right to second guess and criticize the team. I can’t say that I find fault with that argument, but isn’t following baseball supposed to be fun and recreation? Sure, the team you follow (any team) is going to break your heart at the end of the year more often than not. Frustration is going to ensue. But anger? I feel heartsick after a loss. The day after a loss has me dragging. But anger? Am I ever motivated to pick up the phone, call a radio station and scream and yell about the manager and the players? No.

Maybe I’m just not an angry person. But there seem to be plenty of others out there. Hopefully it’s just that the angry ones are the ones that we’re hearing the most because they’re the loudest. I (hope) believe that the silent majority is more like myself.

I’m away all day Saturday, but the links below should get you access to the stories and opinions you want to read.