Tuesday, September 9, 2003

BALTIMORE. — So is the force of the Spirit of the Night greater than that of the Sultan of Swat?

Is the karma of Born to Run enough to finally overcome the curse of the Bambino?

If you believe in long wet kisses and all else cosmic and the like that Crash Davis ranted about in the film “Bull Durham,” then you have to believe that having Bruce Springsteen play at Fenway Park carries with it some sort of mystical force that could help propel the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title since 1918.

If you believe in all that, then there is some poetic symmetry in the fact that the Boss (Springsteen) coming to Boston set in motion a momentum that helps beat the Boss (Steinbrenner) in New York.

You might have convinced the Boss of the Bronx of such a notion this past weekend. The Red Sox took two out of three from the Yankees in New York, beating them by a combined total of 20-3 in the first two games, while the Boss of Jersey was playing “Dirty Water” (an old Boston tune) and “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” in two concerts Saturday and Sunday nights at Fenway Park — the first ever at the 91-year-old stadium.

One of those Boston wins was an 11-0 beating of Roger Clemens and company. That score beat the most-lopsided shutout the Red Sox ever had in New York — 10-0 on April 23, 1919 — the same year a young player named George Herman Ruth led Boston in home runs and RBI.

And, as if you needed any more circumstantial voodoo, Bruce is, of all things, a Yankees fan.

Myself, I believe in the scariest offense this side of the old St. Louis Rams (pre Kurt Warner concussions days). The Red Sox came to Camden Yards last night for a three-game series with the Orioles with a historic offensive machine.

They lead the majors in every offensive category, including batting (.291 average), runs (862), hits (1,481), doubles (335), extra-base hits (583), total bases (2,521), on-base percentage (.361), slugging (.495) and sacrifice flies (57). They are on pace to break the major league record in doubles, extra base hits, total bases and slugging percentage.

Now, I know pitching wins, particularly in a pennant drive and the postseason. But that is under normal circumstances. These Red Sox are not normal. There are no soft spots in the lineup or on the bench. Their ninth hitter in last night’s lineup, catcher Jason Varitek, has 28 home runs and 82 RBI.

You can pound your way to the postseason if you pound hard enough. The Orioles did it in 1996. Then, once you get into the playoffs, when you have Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, you have just enough pitching to steal a short series.

First, though, the Red Sox have to get to the playoffs. They opened the series last night 3 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, but leading the wild card race by 11/2 games. The wild card is just that — a wild card, and that bid is subject to the play of several teams.

The Yankees — the “Evil Empire,” as Red Sox president Larry Lucchino referred to them this past winter — are right there in front of them, ready to be had. New York’s vaunted pitching staff is looking old and shaky, and although David Wells beat the Red Sox on Sunday, he could get into a fight with another midget in a diner tomorrow, and this time take an even worse beating. (By the way, Wells is suing the guy who beat him up — hardly befitting his tough guy persona. I’m David Wells, and if you mess with me, I’ll hit you with a subpoena).

New York led Boston by 71/2 games just three weeks ago, and the Red Sox made up the ground the hard way, playing 25 consecutive games against clubs with winning records. Boston went 15-10 over that stretch, and won 12 of its last 16 before facing the Orioles last night.

Now the Red Sox have the schedule in their favor. Of their final 20 games of the season, 17 are against teams with losing records, such as the Orioles (although after losing three out of four to Baltimore last month at Fenway, the Red Sox should be wary of teams with losing records, since they have nothing to lose).

Of course, that was before Bruce Springsteen played Fenway Park.

The curse of the Bambino, though, is a formidable presence, and it is never far from the Red Sox. Last night before the start of the game, an elderly woman walked to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

It was Julia Ruth Stevens — Babe Ruth’s daughter. Score one for the Bambino. The Red Sox lost 13-10.

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