Not enough hours in the day. Not enough Red Bull in the fridge. Not enough split-screen views of continuous action. Saturday was nothing less than the greatest sports day of the year.
The Red Sox played the Yankees at Fenway and the Yanks beat the Sox again, 4-2. The New York Rangers beat the Washington Capitals, 3-2, in the second round of the NHL playoffs.The skull-imploding NFL Draft wrapped up in Chicago with Bill Belichick paying homage to his late father, selecting a long-snapper from the US Naval Academy in the fifth round. Across the pond, Liverpool beat Queens Park, 2-1, in a Premier League game. American Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby as Rob Gronkowski looked on while wearing one of the more hideous ensembles in the history of Churchill Downs. In the evening, the Los Angeles Clippers dumped the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in Game 7, capping one of the greatest first-round series in NBA history. Finally, after the midnight hour, boxing fans around the world ponied up hundreds of dollars to watch Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in the latest fight of the century.
I chose to spend the day at Fenway where Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd served as host in the Legend’s Suite, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino contemplated taking over the Hub’s effort to bring the 2024 Olympic Games to Boston, and the A-Rod Redemption Tour continued.
It was a sun-splashed day at the ancient ballyard, but still too cold for early May. Sox fans arrived at the park, still grousing about Friday night’s excruciating, 3-2 loss to the Yankees — a game that featured Despicable Him, Alex Rodriguez, winning the game with an eighth-inning pinch homer that put Rodriguez on a par (660 homers) with Willie Mays. We are told that the young man who caught the baseball honored his Hub heritage by refusing to bargain with Yankee officials who tried to procure the souvenir for Rodriguez. Swell. Citizens of Red Sox Nation do not negotiate with the Evil Empire.
Speaking of the Yankees, perhaps it’s time Sox fans stop mocking the Pinstripes. There was considerable tittering about the plight of the woeful Yanks when the Sox marched through the Bronx in early April, but here we are 24 games into the season and the Yankees are in first place with a 15-9 record while the Sox have lost seven of 12, plummeting to a perfect .500 record. It’s a small sample, for sure, but we are now working on 3½ seasons of underachievement for the highly-paid local nine. The Red Sox are 256-281 since Sept. 1, 2011. At what point is it OK to wonder if the Sox are simply overrated and still getting a free pass owed to their incredibly lucky and somewhat inadvertent championship season of 2013? The AL East should be up for grabs all summer, but if the Sox are not careful they could be looking at Worst-to-First-to-Worst-to-Worst.
The Red Sox at this hour operate in a forgiving universe that tolerates failure and exists on the infinite optimism of the future. This is how they can lose a game like Saturday’s and come away feeling really great about themselves. It’s not about Mookie Betts sitting on a .221 average or Mike Napoli batting .160 or Dustin Pedroia no longer able to hit with runners in scoring position. The Sox lose, 4-2, and are madly applauded because Wade Miley lasted more than three innings (seven innings, three runs, which lowered his ERA to 7.15) and they unveiled shiny rookie catcher Blake Swihart.
Swihart is here only because two other Boston catchers have undergone surgery. The kid was indeed impressive. He saw nine pitches before striking out in his first major league at-bat, but rebounded with a single and drew a walk before fanning against monstrous Dellin Betances to end the game. Swihart is part of the endless procession of prospects who — to a man — are universally overrated because they grow up in the Boston system. Everybody loves the Red Sox farm system. You don’t get to talk about baseball unless you love the Red Sox’ farm system.
Swihart looked like a keeper in his first game. He’s only 23 and demonstrated rare speed for a catcher, scoring from first on a Wall-ball double by Betts. He also handled a lot of balls in the dirt delivered by Miley.
“A very good first day for Blake,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “We saw his overall athleticism.’’
We did. It was a good day for the kid. And a pretty good day for Miley.
But it was not a good day for the Red Sox. They lost a second straight game to the Yankees. They fell to .500 for the first time since they were 1-1. Their catcher, Ryan Hanigan, had surgery on his hand. And their record in division games dropped to 6-9.
Vegas set them as division favorites. They were darlings of the national media in the offseason and in Florida. The theme was supposed to be Worst-to-First-to-Worst-to-First. But on the biggest and best sports day of 2015, they fell to .500. When is it OK to start wondering about these guys?