Three Base Hit: World Series Edition — The Curse of A-Rod, Who to Root For, Who Will Win

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I’m trying to get excited for this World Series.

I mean, I love the World Series, and am excited for it to take place. That’s an every year thing. My problem isn’t getting enthused about the event, it’s this year’s participants. Two teams I don’t like very much, yet don’t dislike with any kind of intensity approaching “Yankees-dislike intensity.” In other words, I need something.

Even back in 2005, when the Fall Classic offered us one of the weakest matchups in World Series history — Chicago White Sox versus Houston Astros — I got into it. You had Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, who despite being incredibly unappealing, was at least interesting. Plus the Chisox hadn’t won in a long time, and the Astros had never won. So we had storylines.

I know, I know, there are plenty of storylines this year. Again, that’s not really the point here, because there could have been so many better ones if more acceptable franchises had gained entry. And yes, there is an element of sour grapes seeping through this commentary, related to my disastrous run of predictions that have cursed me to date in the 2018 postseason.

But rather than focus on the many “low hanging fruit” storylines available to me, like how much money Manny Machado stands to make/lose depending on his showing over the next 10 days, or how the Red Sox may take the best right fielder in baseball and play him at second base due to the lack of a DH in the National League park, I’m applying a different lens to the matchup between the two highest payroll teams in Major League Baseball.

Because as the 2018 Fall Classic sets to kick off in a matter of hours (weather permitting), we are witnessing history in the making.

I’m referring to the fledgling Curse of A-Rod that is gaining steam and threatening to take 21st Century baseball in an unexpected direction. A direction that would have been incomprehensible to us all only two decades ago. Work with me here, I’m just getting started.

We have to begin this discussion nearly a century ago, when a cash strapped Red Sox owner made the decision to sell Babe Ruth to the rival Yankees following the 1919 season. At that point in MLB history, the Yankees had yet to even appear in a World Series. The Red Sox were by far the more successful franchise, having already won four of the first 16 World Series contested, including one as recently as 1918.

Cue the Curse of Babe Ruth. We know too well what happened following that ill-fated sale of the Sultan of Swat. The Red Sox went the remainder of the century (yes, century) without winning another title. The Yankees, on the other hand, after stumbling out of the gates following their serendipitous acquisition of The Babe (they actually lost three of the first four World Series they and The Babe appeared in — in 1921, 1922 and 1926 —  winning it all in ’23), concluded the century of the 1900’s with 25 World Series championship flags flying proudly above Yankee Stadium.

But as the old saying goes, “the 2000’s are a new century” (actually no one’s ever said that, but please continue bearing with me — my point is coming soon).

The 2000’s began with the Yankees’ title run continuing, as they completed their three-peat run of 1998-2000 by beating the Mets in the Subway Series (a pox on you, Armando Benitez — finish off Paul O’Neil for chrissakes!). It looked like the Bombers would add another title ’01, but Mariano Rivera finally flushed one (yes, it was a bloop), and then again  in 2003, before surprisingly falling in six games to Trader Jack McKeon and the Florida Marlins. Despite those setbacks, the Bombers run was still very much alive and thriving.

Meanwhile, the still-cursed Red Sox, smarting from Aaron “effing” Boone’s homer that had ended their 2003 season (the most recent in about 80 years of gut punches delivered by the Bronx Bombers), decided to take drastic measures and went out and traded for the game’s biggest star at the time, the inimitable Babe Ruth. Oops, I meant Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod was producing huge, steroid-driven numbers in relative obscurity down in Texas after signing his first “biggest in history” contract. The slugger was so anxious to escape that self-inflicted banishment in the offseason of 2003 that he agreed to a below-market deal with the Sox just to get onto a pennant contender. Not so fast. The players association doesn’t take kindly to it’s biggest star knocking down salary levels, and summarily nixed the A-Rod to Boston deal.

The Yankees, always happy to turn Red Sox pain into their own gain, swooped in and made their own deal for A-Rod, plugging him in at third base, smack next to his best “frenemy,” Derek Jeter, on the left side of the Yankees infield. And with their title-saturated fans dreaming of a preordained continuation of their 1900’s domination, the Yanks went out and became the first team in history to lose a series after leading 3 games to none. The beneficiary of the Yankees collapse? Uh huh — the Boston Red Sox.

Hmmm…

And not only did they choke up that 2004 ALCS after being up 3-0 to their most hated (and formerly-cursed) rival, the Yanks had to sit in front of their television sets and watch as the Red Sox proceeded to bust their own curse, sweeping the Cards in four games. As the final out of that World Series sweep was being recorded, astronomers up and down the east coast were recording the sighting of a pear-shaped apparition making it’s way down the I-95 corridor, on a collision course with the Bronx.

The rest as they say is history (and no, I’m not ignoring the fact that the A-Rod-led 2009 Yanks did win a subsequent World Series — some curses take longer to fully grip a franchise than others).

The Sox are now the proud owners of three World Series titles in the 2000’s (and counting). The Yankees have won their two (or for those keeping score at home, two fewer than the Red Sox had won in the 1900’s prior to selling The Babe and being afflicted with The Curse).

Welcome to the Curse of A-Rod, SportsAttic friends!

While we may not be around to witness it, there is clearly a movement underway, that if projected out over the next 82 years or so will end up looking something like this:

*World Series won in the 2000’s by the New York Yankees: 2

*World Series won in the 2000’s by the Boston Red Sox: 26 (yeah, one more than the Yanks had in the 1900’s — curses can be petty)

Keeping in mind that the Curse of A-Rod is currently gaining strength, while only in the toddler years of the 21st Century, there really is no doubt who will win this year’s Fall Classic. And that’s the storyline I’m creating to help me get interested in this year’s matchup. It is also the basis for today’s Three Base Hit — World Series Edition.

Without further delay, here is a quick overview of what to look for, and who will end up on top:

Boston Red Sox

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What to like? Well, they aren’t the Yankees, so that’s a big plus to start us off. And after disrespecting the Sawx for the past several months (apologies for all those 2001 Seattle Mariners comparisons), I did gain significant appreciation for how this 2018 Bosox squad plays the game. Those 108 wins didn’t happen by accident.

Their lineup is absolutely relentless at the plate. Is it just me, or did it seem like they had the bases loaded every inning in their ALCS matchup with the Astros? They play great defense — especially in the outfield — and everyone knows, and seems to thrive in, their role.

They even managed to somehow turn overpaid David Price into a sympathetic figure, who I found myself rooting for in spite of myself when he finally found some postseason redemption in Game 5.

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Grievances? Of course we have a few. First, I still completely expect Craig Kimbrel to start blowing games. I thought we were going to see the meltdown begin in Game 4 of the ALCS, when Alex Cora brought the closer in too soon and then appeared to be simultaneously burning out Price in the pen as Kimbrel sputtered toward the final out. But somehow every move Cora made in that Astros series worked out for him and the Sox. Can that really continue?

Look for Kimbrel, and that lame arm hang of his, to keep this series closer than Red Sox fans can be comfortable with. We can also expect at least a few of Cora’s moves to finally backfire, as the law of averages and a so-so bullpen catch up to him (lucky for him he’s got old teammate Dave Roberts managing across the diamond).

Beyond that, they are a reasonably likable (albeit a bit bland) team that’s only won 115 games (postseason concluded) already this year. What’s not to like?

Los Angeles Dodgers

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What to like? This is a really tough call when it comes to the Dodgers. When I look at this roster, most of these guys I’m either indifferent about (Kemp, Taylor, Dozier, Ryu), or flat out can’t stand (long list — see “grievances”). And while not really a “like” in favor of L.A., I do look forward to Dave Roberts giving up at least one game in this series with his poor decision-making.

That being said, I like Clayton Kershaw. He’s a bulldog and an unbelievable pro, and only the best left-hander of the 2000’s (apologies to Chris Sale, but it’s really not close). The problem here, I fear, is that this patient and relentless Red Sox lineup is not the one that Kershaw will finally begin to change his postseason narrative against.

I see a lot of long counts coming, and a bunch of guys that won’t bite on his curve out of the strike zone. Not to mention that Roberts’ head scratching decision to have him close out the Brewers with a four run lead in the ninth (yeah, yeah, it was his day to throw — give me a break) may have Kershaw at least a bit depleted as he takes the mound tonight.

I’d love to see a couple of Gibson-esque performances from the big lefty to get this series to 6 or 7 games, but just can’t imagine it actually happening against the AL Champs.

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Grievances? You bet. I won’t take the easy way out here and jump on the intolerable Yasiel Puig, like every other baseball purist in the country outside of Los Angeles County. And I will also avoid the other layup grievance out there, Manny Machado, who managed to alert the entire baseball world to two things we weren’t aware of when this postseason began — that Machado is both lazy and a dirty player (yeah, let’s give this guy $300 million).

Nope, I’m going with Justin Turner. Part of my grievance is directly related to the fact that Turner is yet another former Met we jettisoned after determining he’d never make it in the bigs, only to watch him become an All Star elsewhere. That’s certainly part of my grievance, but really, how come no one ever points out that the spiritual leader of the Dodgers, with that beloved red beard and mane, looks like he’s added about thirty pounds of muscle and a couple of cap sizes since his days as a light-hitting utility infielder in New York (photo above)?

Or that the guy (hello, Marlon Byrd) that is credited with introducing Turner to that uppercut swing of his, the one that is credited for Turner’s becoming a power hitter out of thin air, was suspended for steroids shortly after his “mentoring” of the redhead?  So forget Puig and Machado and that rat Chase Utley (if he’s even still on the roster) — we’ll go with Redbeard as the object of our scorn for the next 10 days or so.

Who wins?

It seems almost anti-climactic at this point, as the whole “AL/NL, Varsity/Junior Varsity” theme has been playing out before our eyes all year long.

Boston knocked off arguably the most talented team in the AL when they dominated the Yanks in the ALDS, and then followed that up with a stomping of the defending champ Astros, who had looked unbeatable in their own right heading into the ALCS. Two sound thrashings of 100-plus win teams send Boston into the World Series riding an enormous wave of momentum.

And there wait the Dodgers. Yes, they have plenty of talent down in L.A., and were able to overcome injuries, Dave Roberts, and an up and down regular season to emerge as champions of the Senior Circuit. I suppose they are the “sentimental” favorite, since it’s been thirty years since they last won one, but that only truly matters to their diehard SoCal fans. Fact is, the Dodgers would have only been the fifth or sixth best team in the Junior Circuit had they resided in the American League this year.

I’d like to see this one get to at least six games, only because I’m not ready for the baseball season to end yet, but I simply don’t see it.

I am certain that Kimbrel will blow one, and that will serve to offset the one that Roberts will figure out a way to gift wrap for Boston. Then, for the third time this postseason, the Red Sox will get to pop corks and don celebratory goggles after clinching on the road.

Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 1. And the Curse of A-Rod takes another giant step forward.

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