Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Hope and Despair

Boy, had an evening last night that would have induced a monster tilt if I was the same player I was three months ago.

I knew things would be bad when my very first hand of A,J flopped top two-pair. I lost to a guy holding A,T when the old runner-runner K,Q filled his broadway straight. Later on, I'm holding T,T and see a flop of J,J,T.

I'm drawing dead. Other guy has J,T.

Then my Q,Q gets rivered by a flush and my last few dollars are lost when my K,K loses to A,8 when the flop gave my opponent an A.

Luckily I was on two tables and won a bit on the other one so my net loss was only $23. I just packed it in and called it a night even though I'd only been playing for about 40 minutes. The onslaught of those beats told me it wasn't my night and I happily complied with the poker god's wishes.

WARNING: Non-poker content to follow.

So it begins again. October. RedSox. Eternal hope. Crushing letdowns.

I'm not sure how it will end this year, but regardless of how it does end, I'm sure I'll be on the emotional roller-coaster that is being a Boston RedSox fan for the next few weeks.

You see, for as long as I've had memories, I've been a huge fan. I've seen some of the most improbable collapses and chokes in modern day sports.

My earliest Sox memory is watching the 1975 World Series, Game 7. I was watching with my parents and some other grown ups and just remember a bunch of cursing and disappointment.

By 1978, I was 10 years old, and was watching every game. Jim Rice was my favorite player and I saw him tear up American League pitching that year. By the All-Star break, the Sox had a commanding lead and several of their position players made the All-Star team. A 14-game lead against the World Champion Yankees seemed safe at the time. Little did I know.

I remember getting my mom to write a note to my 4th grade teacher, excusing me early from school that day so I could come home and watch the one game playoff. I got home and the Sox were up 2-0 thanks to an RBI single from Rice and a Pesky Pole shot from Yastrzemski. (Only true Sox fans can spell that name right without looking it up.) Ron Guidry was pitching that game and he was the dominant pitcher in the AL that year. I even remember his amazing stats without looking them up: 25-3 1.74 ERA. The fact that we were beating him was amazing to me.

That is, until the 7th inning. Bucky Freaking Dent.

The following years were pretty lean for the Sox, never really threatening for the AL East crown. The Orioles were good, the Brewers even got to the Series once, but the Sox were flailing.

Until 1986.

I must have watched nearly every game that year too. It was the summer before I was to leave for college. I played softball that summer and after most every game, we'd go to the pub sponsoring us and watched the Sox. It was a fun year. Roger Clemens was nearly as dominant as Guidry was in '78.

I subscribed to the New England Sports Network for the first time that year since they were going to broadcast most of the Sox' games. The first cable Sox show I ever saw was Clemens' first 20 strikeout game. Amazing stuff.

I went from heartache to exhilaration in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angles, with the Dave Henderson homerun. That was probably the most amazing sport event I experienced at that point in my life, only to be eclipsed 15 years later by the Vinatieri field goal against the Rams. After the Sox won game 5, I just knew that games 6 and 7 were foregone conclusions and that the Sox would finally make it to the World Series and play the hated New York Mets.

I was going to school in upstate NY in 1986, surrounded by fair weather Mets fans. God I hated their arrogance. Gooden, Hernandez, Dykstra - all of them.

During my first year at college, I was in the Navy ROTC program. It didn't work out for me, as I really wasn't cut out to be in the military. I willingly would miss required meetings and obligations in order to catch Sox games on TV during the World Series. I had my priorities.

So when the Sox took an early 2 games to none lead, I was stoked. The Sox were definitely the underdogs and winning this series would be amazing. Unfortunately, when the Series got back to Fenway, the Mets took the next two to even it up. Bruce Hurst pitched a masterful Game 5 to set the stage for a return trip to Shea for game 6.

Ugh. Game 6. Those two words alone bring back memories that to this day can still get me agitated and emotional.

I won't recap their collapse that year, it is well documented elsewhere. I can only say that I was hugging other male Sox fans after Dave Henderson's 10th inning homerun.

I went from elation to despair so quickly in the 10th inning that my sports brain couldn't handle the swing. I shutdown. After seeing how the Sox came from a strike away in Game 5 of the ALCS and went on to win, I already knew how Game 7 would turn out.

It was only minor consolation that next year during a spring training game between the Sox and the Mets that Al Nipper threw at and hit Darryl Strawberry. An ounce of redemption for the ton of pain.

1988 and 1990 were somewhat enjoyable seasons, but I knew each year that the Oakland A's were the superior team and the Sox had no chance.

1995? Leave it to ex-RedSox Tony Pena to hit a game-winning homerun in Game 1 of the first round for the Cleveland Indians to kill any chances the Sox had in winning that series.

1998? I actually was at Fenway for the deciding playoff game. The Sox were trailing 2 games to 1 and needed to get to Game 5 and start their newly acquired Pedro Martinez. Pete Schourek(sp?) started that game and managed to keep the Indians in check for 5 innings. Leave it to Flash Gordon who hadn't blown a save all year to blow one this game. A 2-run Dave Justice triple ended the Sox season that year.

1999? The Yanks were unstoppable that year. At least there was some excitement as the Sox rallied to beat the Indians in the Wild Card round after trailing 2 games to zero. Also, Game 3 in the ALCS where Pedro dominated in a matchup with Roger Clemens was fun to watch. But the Yanks were the team that year.

Then came 2003. Another miracle come-from-behind effort against the Oakland A's in the Wild Card round set the stage for a Sox Yankees showdown. I thought we had a shot that year and when we made it to game 7, there was a glimmer of hope.

But as all Sox fans can tell you, it's not over until it's over. Leave it to the Sox to create new ways to lose. Up 5-2 in the 8th, Pedro is obviously tiring. Grady Little leaves him in. Aaron Freaking Boone's homerun ends it and that's all for the Sox....again.

With two Patriot SuperBowl victories, I had vowed to myself that I wouldn't get all caught up in a RedSox season again. Like an addict who can't control his irrational desires, I'm back again, fully enthralled with each post-season pitch.

How will it end this year? Despair? Victory? Who knows. But I'll be along for the ride again, destination unknown.

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