The Boston Red Sox always had been cut out of the same mold. Slugging, slow teams that inevitably collapsed because of bad pitching or defense. If they didn't crush you, they didn't win, and they've always had that Goliath arrogance that hasn't been justified in October since 1918.
Which makes this year's team so different. The junkyard dog Red Sox, a collection of players overlooked or dumped by other clubs, are running away with the AL East.
There's Tim Wakefield, released (justifiably) by the Pittsburgh Pirates because he couldn't find his knuckleball magic after the 1992 NL playoffs. Wakefield's back, having won two starts in four days earlier this week. How about third baseman Tim Naehring, who has returned from back surgery and is now one of the league's best clutch hitters, ranking third in the AL in batting? Zane Smith, who wasn't re-signed by the Pirates, has been key. Rule V draftee Vaughn Eshelman, left unprotected by the Orioles, won his first three major-league starts.
They've won despite injuries to Roger Clemens, Aaron Sele, Mark Whiten, Jose Canseco and Lee Tinsley. They've won even as Naehring and shortstop John Valentin have played with nagging injuries. They've won without a true closer.
They've won with a relatively light payroll of $32 million; general manager Dan Duquette decided to keep a core of stars (Clemens, first baseman Mo Vaughn and Canseco) and added a bunch of struggling free-agent pitchers who had success in the past and hoped that some would pan out. They have -- Wakefield, Rheal Cormier, Smith, Erik Hanson and Eshelman have a combined record of 18-5. The Red Sox are paying those five a total of $3.1 million, which is less than they would've paid for keeping Danny Darwin. They were the second team to call up a replacement player, outfielder Ron Mahay. The Red Sox picked up another castoff this week, outfielder Willie McGee.
"This is a hungry team," said bench coach Tim Johnson. "We have no jerks. We have good guys who want to work hard and succeed. We all believe we can win, and everybody seems to take the right, even-keeled attitude."
Vaughn said: "This team doesn't care about who we're playing or who we're facing. It's a great thing to see. I've been around teams that had attitude problems like that. It's not that we feel invincible, but we take every situation and we find a way to turn it into a plus for us."
Could be the kind of Red Sox team that breaks The Curse.
Eshelman is having shoulder problems and the Red Sox are worried they are serious. Orioles general manager Roland Hemond and his subordinates have been criticized for not protecting Eshelman (and he's been criticized here).
But when the Orioles decided not to protect Eshelman last fall, part of their thinking was that other teams would pass on the lefty because of his bad medical history, and there was always the risk he would break down again.
Correct thinking, as it turned out.
Speaking of Orioles decisions, however, there was the curious handling of Jeffrey Hammonds' promotion.
The right fielder was playing for Double-A Bowie, and on the morning of May 25, the decision had been made to send him to the big leagues on May 28. That, in itself, is odd, because it wasn't as if Hammonds was a true minor-leaguer; if the Orioles deemed him ready to go back to the majors, he should've been there immediately.
Later that day, the Orioles suffered a horrible loss against Oakland when their pitchers walked 14, and later that night, Hemond and Co. decided to promote Hammonds immediately. But that night, Hammonds played in a rain-delayed game for Bowie that lasted past midnight. It wasn't until late the next morning that he was en route to Seattle, and he had a Murphy's Law day.
Bad weather in Detroit delayed his travel, and he wasn't able to make it to the Kingdome until the third inning of the May 26 game, when the Orioles faced left-hander Randy Johnson. Because Hammonds' arrival was delayed, Rafael Palmeiro had to start in his place, and Palmeiro, 1-for-17 lifetime against Johnson, struck out three times against him.
It's ridiculous the Orioles didn't have enough foresight to get Hammonds in Seattle well in advance to face Johnson.
A rare rip by La Russa
Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa has always believed in keeping internal problems internal. But this week, right fielder Ruben Sierra sent him over the edge with comments published in a San Francisco Chronicle story.
Sierra was quoted as saying that general manager Sandy Alderson should "put on a uniform and go to home plate. And I want to be the pitcher, so the first pitch I'm going to throw is going to be over his head."
Later on the day of publication, La Russa called reporters together to slam Sierra.