Last night, the Red Sox were down to their final strike when Will Middlebrooks, batting against Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney, laced a change-up into the outfield for a bases-clearing double. The Sox went up 4-3, Junichi Tazawa picked up the win in relief, and if I’m imagining the scenario correctly, most of the crowd went home happy, since this took place in Tampa and no one there seems to care about the Rays one way or the other.
Apparently, it was a hell of an at-bat for Middlebrooks, who is rebounding from a minor slump and on his way back towards the torrid pace he carried through April, when the Red Sox were busy surprising a jaded fan base and sitting in first place. The mighty Jon Couture actually has a great breakdown of Middlebrooks’ at-bat here, complete with his growing patience and his success reading the pitcher and the situation.
They’re a game back of the Yankees this afternoon for the top spot of the American League East, and they’re playing some fun games, even when they lose. But don’t ask me about details, because I’ve missed all of them lately. Simply, it’s because the Bruins are in the playoffs, and it is functionally impossible for me to concentrate or devote any sort of emotional focus on the Red Sox when this is the case.
There’s just too much at stake when the Bruins are playing — primarily, the Stanley Cup. But each game is just a vat of pressure waiting to blow at any moment. It’s a by-product of the fact that there is nothing as intense and immediate and draining as the Stanley Cup playoffs, which inevitably turn into a two-month march towards immortality for the last-team standing. Having grown up with the Bruins just as much as I have the Red Sox, it’s gotten to the point where, if the two teams were to meet on a neutral field in a neutral sport — soccer seems fair here — I’d root for the Bruins. Despite the ineptitude of the NHL and the work stoppages and how terrible the team’s management was until about 2006, I couldn’t imagine feeling any other way.
While Felix Doubront and the Sox were doing their best to hang with the Rays in Tropicana Field, I was watching the Bruins and their three rookie defensemen — Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Tory Krug — support a blue line that is in desperate need of reinforcements. I was watching Zdeno Chara play for what felt like an entire game, breaking up breakaways with a quick reach of his redwood-like stick. I was watching Tuukka Rask man the net, staying on his toes and keeping the Bruins in the game into overtime.
And of course, I was watching Patrice Bergeron, one of the heroes of Game 7 against Toronto and the 2011 Stanley Cup and so many moments since he broke camp with the Bruins as an 18-year-old in 2003, break through the neutral zone to hit Brad Marchand with a pass that became the winning goal. The Bruins take a 1-0 lead, I get to rest, and somewhere in there the Red Sox won, thanks to Middlebrooks. I guess.
This has happened before. In 2011, I emerged from a hockey-induced coma some time in July, a couple of weeks after the Bruins won the Cup for the first time in 39 years and sent me into dangerous hysterics, to find the Red Sox in first place and playing well with guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. That would change later, you may recall.
This time, it’s a little different. The Red Sox aren’t favorites, and the Bruins aren’t necessarily expected to win the Stanley Cup again. But they weren’t expected to win it in 2011, either. I can only hope the scenario is the same this time around, at least as far as the Bruins are concerned.
In the meantime, good luck to the Red Sox, I guess. I can’t fathom finding the energy to care too much as long as the Bruins are still playing competently, but I’m sure I’ll catch a stray score or breakdown here and there along the way.