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Regarding the local pros


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Watch for the "Blame Game" -- everyone's favorite -- to soar into high dudgeon in the coming off-season. The natives are vengeful. The hot stove will be no place for the faint of heart.

If it is bitterness, anger, bloodlust, and outright mayhem that you fancy you can skip right past the atavistic tong wars of the National Football League in search of a fix and go right to the off-season of the relatively pastoral game of baseball where the settling of some nasty scores can be expected. We may not even need the National Hockey League.

Which is a good thing, because this season we may not get any hockey to appease our primordial winter angst. Ah, the indignities; they mount. An interesting autumn appears to be evolving, Mates.

With the abject surrender of the Red Sox, the Patriots are being pronounced our team of choice with football the game of choice thus terminating the grand olde game of baseball's century and a half reign as the undisputed darling of our quirky region's spoiled sporting masses. While not being quite ready to go that far -- especially in the heat of the moment -- one can understand the disgust the Red Sox have roused; their play lately having been avowedly disgusting.

The collaring of scapegoats and demand for accountings will get messy and pointless. You can bank on that. It's the way we are. An easier way would be to accept the fundamental reality that this team is simply as bad as it looks and if we are too stupid to recognize this then the resulting anguish will only become the mere beating of the proverbial dead horse; a familiar sound and fury signifying the usual.

Since their epic meltdown began the first of August this team's record (through September ninth) is 10-27. Such a lapse cannot be explained by a lack of moral character or willful indifference, only by a deep and desperate deficiency of basic wherewithal. They don't have the horses, chum.

Maybe it would amuse some among us to run the manager out of the province, tarred and feathered and riding a rail. But it would be entirely unjust. Bobby Valentine had every right to be enraged by the suggestion that he had packed it in, quit on the job. He may have many flaws but the least of them is a lack of spine and such a suggestion to a man of his obvious pride was what they used to call ''fighting words.'' It's a good thing that interview was on the telephone. Had he been face to face with the bombastic talk-show maestro who posed the question Valentine might have done what he said he'd like to do. Which would, of course, only have magnified the on-going fiasco, amusing only those who get their kicks from taunting people who are flat on their back.

Have you too wondered why ownership keeps Valentine on while propping him up with hollow "votes of confidence" soon to prove vacuous? Is it for savage amusement? Are they trying to punish him for having failed to perform the miracle of resurrecting their moribund franchise overnight? Or are they hoping that he will blow his cork and quit, thus forfeiting the $2.5 million they may otherwise be required to pay him for not managing their team next year. If so, it's a game they can't win. Valentine is no sucker. And they know it. Mainly, he remains on the job because in the short term he takes the heat off the owners. But the ''short term'' ends in three weeks.

Whereupon a Hot Stove Season of utterly glorious promise ensues with boundless recriminations and scapegoating that will be off the charts. And if the meltdown now proceeding apace down in the Bronx plays out fully the fun will be doubled.

Because nowhere does misery crave company more zealously than in Red Sox Nation. Should the Yankees flop, the satisfaction that would bring to the Red Sox and their whacked-out legions might almost redeem this lost season. It's a notion I find faintly sick, actually. Talk about your schadenfreude. But we are what we are.

And the odds on that spectacular happenstance grow for as another week passes the Yankees' problems deepen. They escaped Baltimore with a split that maintained their more fragile than it looks one-game hold on first place. But this modest achievement had a deeply pyrrhic quality as Mark Teixeira crashed and C.C. Sabathia faded, all in the course of a single gut-wrenching defeat. The consequences are huge. Take Teixeira out of that lineup and deny Sabathia his dominance on the mound and there is no way this Yankee team wins anything.

All of which would -- if it plays out -- raise the question: where will the "blame game" be mightiest, meanest and loudest? In Boston? Or in New York? What a delicious prospect the divining of all that will be.

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