A Bridge Too Far?

  Anyone here seen the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far,” the 1977 British film that depicts a major allied airborne operation in Holland during World War II? Assuming most haven’t, I will give away the ending ….. the attack failed as the Allied plan to capture seven or eight bridges and secure a shortcut into Germany came up one bridge short.

I mention this because as that defeat dawned on the military command, the movie shows a handful of American and British officers gathering to discuss what went wrong. There is no consensus as each rattles off a different gripe but in a later scene, an English General sums it all up by saying:  “Well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far.”

I bring this up because it occurs to me, that during this Boston “Bridge” year, the Red Sox also fell a bridge short. Like the Allied attack in Holland, the Sox staged a brave fight that was dogged by injuries.  But in the end, the Sox attack collapsed a bit short of its objective.

So this afternoon, I am having my own “what went wrong” conversation, much like those officers. Was it Beckett and Lackey?  Was it the injuries?  Had the bullpen performed up to plan, would it have all turned out differently?

Each of these body blows took a toll. And collectively, they go a long way toward explaining why Boston was eliminated last night. But is it fair to assume that had a couple of things broken differently, the Sox could have crossed their “bridge” and taken a playoff spot? Perhaps that was just too much to expect from this aging team.  Like that elusive bridge over the Rhine, maybe securing a 2010 playoff spot was just one bridge too far for this club.

I’m not ready to concede that point at this time. Call me a partisan fan and an apologist for the front office, but I don’t think the 2010 plan was overly ambitious. Yes, mistakes were made like making big bets on middle relievers who didn’t merit such confidence. But at the end of the day, I think the 2010 blueprint could have worked had it been given the opportunity. And it didn’t need much outperformance. As it turns out, decent health and “normal” years may have done the trick. And it certainly would have got the Red Sox to Saturday or Sunday. In that vein, the Sox strategy was realistic.

But like Operation Market-Garden in 1944, it wasn’t just one thing that went wrong. Lots of things wildly deviated from the mean and regrettably, only two went in the right direction. Those two positives – Beltre and Buchholz – played a large role in keeping the Sox in the hunt but they were inadequate to offset chart-busting blowups by Papelbon and Beckett, middling seasons from Lackey and Drew, and significant injuries to Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis and Martinez. When you add it all up, it’s difficult to imagine any plan overcoming such odds, particularly in the AL East.  

Yet despite all the problems just mentioned, this club hung in until game 157 and because of that, I actually will have fond memories of this season. I’ve watched 153 games to date and I admit there were painful frustrations along the way.  But this season had plenty of big moments and I enjoyed watching it all unfold. To see Buchholz blow up and Lester develop into one of the league’s two or three best starters was terrific. Beltre’s season was simply tremendous. Ortiz’ rebound was a pleasant surprise. And from Kalish and McDoanld and Hall to Nava and Lowrie … it was fun watching new guys deliver in big spots.

The Red Sox may have not achieved their objective this season but I think they did a pretty good job crossing the proverbial bridge. And while they aren’t quite to the other side, I think they are getting close. With some prescient winter moves, an influx of young talent arriving shortly and a little better health, this club should be back in business come 2011.

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One response to “A Bridge Too Far?

  1. Mister Snitch!

    1) They’ve gotta sign Martinez, and I think they can/will. There’s just no option on this one.

    2) Beltre probably walks. Not really the end of the world. People got upset when Bay left, too, and look what happened.

    3) They’ll probably offer Ortiz two (three? or an option for three?) years at a good deal less than $12 million, and he’ll probably take it.

    4) Kalish plays at least as much right field as Drew will next year. The rest of the time he’ll be in center or left. He’s full-time now.

    5) McDonald stays. Nava likely does not.

    6) Papelbon? Good question. Sox have gotta balk (puke?) at picking up his option. On the other hand, they still need help in the ‘pen. (Can’t just let EVERYONE who underperformed go…)

    7) Lowrie opened some eyes. Starting SS next year, but they might try him seriously at 3rd during Spring Training just to see how he tolerates it. Gotta cross your fingers and hope he doesn’t keep breaking down – nobody knows if he can endure a full season yet.

    8) Ells comes back, thank you. Sox were nearly at the bottom re stolen bases this year. He ignites an offense, like Henderson did. And that’s all he needs to do, just like all Ortiz needs to do is hit for power.

    9) It’s a shame Anderson, Rizzo, Lin and Iglesias aren’t ready for prime time. But they ain’t. Don’t know if Lin will ever hit much at a big league level, but he covers so much ground… well, for seventeen years no one complained much about Paul Blair’s (.250) bat.

    10) Tek’s done as a catcher, but they should find a way to keep him around. Coaching is the obvious answer, are there others?

    All the above can be resolved, and the players who are another year or two away will eventually arrive and contribute. The Sox looming problem next year is that they painted themselves into a corner by handing out ungainly, unwise contracts to three starters (you know who they are) who not only aren’t worth the money, but are pretty much guaranteed to blow enough winnable games to cost the Sox a playoff berth. (Compare those guys with Sabbathia, who manages to come up with The Big Out when he needs it most. The Sox’ Bad Boys manage to give up The Big Hit when they can afford it least.) And I don’t see where there’s much hope for the ‘pen.

    If even one of Beckett, Dice and Lackey can figure it out and offer a better performance next year, AND we bolster the pen somehow, the Sox have a shot. (Even sans Beltre.) We’re stuck with those guys, so all we can really do is be hopeful and grateful for the fact that none of them, at least, seems to have any serious physical issues. Otherwise, next year is Deja Vu all over again.

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