I Know Dick
Behold a real closer.
That's the late Dick Radatz, the first great closer in MLB, the kind of guy you'd feel comfortable putting into a bases loaded, no out situation against the Yankees with Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris on deck. The kind of guy who was so cocksure of himself he'd say to the starter on the mound, "Pop open a cold one for me. I'll be right back."
Then he'd do it. And if you needed him to pitch three or more innings for a rulebook save, you'd get it. Radatz would routinely pitch anywhere from 120-160 innings a year and would rack up more strikeouts than most starters nowadays get in 32-36 starts. And "the Monster" didn't demand through his agent $12,000,000 a year to do it, either.
There was no choking as with the pretender on the mound in Baltimore last night, one who reminded us that sometimes curses aren't broken, after all, but just temporarily diverted.
You know, this John Lithgow-looking loser who time and again toward crunch time couldn't keep a lead against some of the worst teams the major leagues had to offer.
And, thanks largely to Jonathan Papelbon, it was just like old times again and Pap joined the ghosts of Denny Galehouse, Jim Burton, Mike Torrez, Bob Stanley, Calvin Schiraldi, Tim Wakefield, and, yes, even the great Pedro Martinez.
They couldn't just let us walk away and write them off when they began the most titanic September slide since the '64 Phillies or the '78 Red Sox. No, they had to lead us on just long enough by barely coaxing out an 8-7 win the night before from a roster creaking with injuries, incipient old age and inexperience. It was a teaser of a team so close to falling apart, our little center fielder and leadoff hitter had to come to the rescue again and our backstop was a guy who'd never had a major league start at that position because our everyday and backup catchers were sidelined with injuries.
Papelbon almost blew that save, as well, but managed to keep the tying run from scoring and the romance was alive for another day, a pathological wallflower bereft of all social graces trying to crash the hall to become the belle of the ball.
And then, the inevitable happened. The champagne was ordered, we began filling out our dance cards and the Boston City Police Department was eagerly loading their guns in the interests of crowd control.
To add more of a Three Penny Opera dimension to this spectacle, the Red Sox depended on the division champion New York Yankees, who had zero incentive to win their last game of the year and essentially fielded a team made up almost entirely of Trenton and Columbus minor leaguers who couldn't even hit Karen Carpenter's weight let alone their own, to get us into the postseason.
A Mark Texeira grand slam in the early innings at the Trop made it 5-0 Yankees and when the lead went to 7-0 with the Sox ahead 3-2 against a last place team playing for naught but some misplaced pride, it looked as if we wouldn't have to go to Tampa Bay, after all. Either Michigan or Texas it was. Either way, no way would we be going home. We were going on a postseason-long honeymoon.
And then Papelbon happened and, suddenly, after being in first place half the year, we finished third.
Just his third blown save of the year, it couldn't've come at a worse time. And this past September, Papelbon and much of the pitching staff pitched as if they hated their fans and took sadistic enjoyment out of tormenting us as had their forbears in seasons past. Even Pap's reliable setup guy, Dan Bard, began training his 101 mph flamethrower on the Red Sox dugout. Maybe someone should call the DC police to see if his best friend disappeared again.
As the old saying goes, "The sons of bitches killed our fathers, now they're coming after us." Go buy a poster of Dick Radatz in between basilisk stares and Irish jigs, Johnny boy, hang it up in a prominent place in your home, study it long and hard, try to derive some inspiration from looking at a real closer who did the job when it counted the most.