9.25.02:  Spending a week in New York - particularly in September - surrounded by that certain breed of liberal intellectual Yankee fans can be really excruciating. They maintain a blissful cognitive dissonance between their political socialism and their belief that the team with the highest payroll is entitled to win the World Series every year.  In their spoiled view, the rest of us, starving for a championship, should be content to eat cake, I suppose.  Without fail - and with a genuine, if slightly condescending fascination - they all wanted to know, "What happened to the Red Sox this year?"

What did happen?  Or, more specifically, where can we place the blame for this monumental disappointment?  Well, there are many candidates:

Grady Little.  Call it a statistical glitch of no real relevance.  Say it all evens out.  Give the guy a million alibis.  To me, a talent-laden club endures a 5-21 stretch in one-run games and some of that stinkin' pile of blame has to be laid at the manager's feet.

Frank Castillo and John Burkett.  Yuck.  Between June 12 and last weekend, these guys combined to start 30 games and win four.  Burkett, of course, sparkled next to Castillo's perfect 0-9 after improving to 5-6 on June 12.  And, yes, this wretched pair did manage to allow 18 earned runs in one game this season. These woeful numbers needn't elicit requests from the fans for these two softballers to euthanize themselves, but the stats would seem to merit a request from management to look elsewhere for employment.

Jason Varitek.  Compare the catcher's production after July 31 this year with his production after his season-ending elbow injury last year and, sadly, you'll see very little difference.  No other position player's performance chart so closely mirrors the team's decline.  In August and September, he has hit .184 with a .256 slugging percentage and from 7/29 to 9/9 he endured a 105-AB stretch without a home run.

Bad luck.  Dustin Hermanson injures his groin on a wet mound in a game that never should have started, then gets attacked by his kitchen, effectively wiping out his season and ensuring Frank Castillo's spot in the rotation.  Terrence Long, whose shoddy defense has been a playoff boon for the Yankees, makes the catch of his life on a chilly night in Fenway.  On a slightly warmer night Manny's drive is caught by the celebrating cop.  Oh, and Manny misses 39 games - and a chance at a truly historic season - when he breaks his finger on Dan Wilson's shinguard.  Which brings us to...

Bad base coaching.  Wendell Kim got a whole lot of guys thrown out at home plate, but I don't remember him getting the best hitter on the team sidelined for a quarter of the season (and thrown out) with a baffling, slow-guy-running-nobody-out windmill.  Sadly, this brainlock was not an isolated event.  Mike Cubbage doesn't appear to have the necessities to coach third base.  Of all the little fixes the Sox need to make in the offseason, this one should be the easiest. 

The defense.  The montage would be sickening.  After the 40-17 start, it seemed every time the Red Sox made an error, it led to a run, which, in turn, led to a loss.  Rey Sanchez drops a routine feed on a double play ball in Seattle.  Loss.  Trot Nixon charges a single by Bernie Williams and has it squirt under his glove for a two-base error.  Loss.  Johnny Damon makes his first bobble in an eternity and within seconds... loss.  Add to that the leakiest left side in the American League and one begins to understand how so many potential one-run victories became one-run losses.

The schedule.  While we were getting battered in 12 games against the Braves, Dodgers and Diamondbacks (all of whom ended Interleague play with .600+ winning percentages), the A's were beating up on the soft underbelly of the National League Central.  They went 16-2 against the NL.  The Sox went 5-13.  We never really recovered from that 11-game swing in the standings.

"We have met the enemy and he is us."  My fiancee is convinced that the biggest problem with the Sox is not pitching depth, lack of clutch hitting or poor managing.  She says it's the fans, you and me. We paralyze with enormous expectations and poison with bitter negativity.  I told her it's hard for us to be glass-half-full types and not just because we've had a prospect fall out of bed onto the glass and land on the DL.  But she doesn't understand what it means to blow a 14 1/2-game lead or the improbability of having 13 pitches to win a World Series and failing to do so.  She does insist, however, that being showered with bilious contempt never helped anyone do their job better.  Oh, that it did.  We'd win the World Series every year.