I don’t know which is worse, the Sunday night, nationally-televised blowout or yesterday afternoon’s “tie-it-up-in-the-ninth-only-to-have-your-closer-blow-it” type of loss. Kind of like being asked to choose between a swift kick in the crotch, or having your grapes squeezed slowly in a vice. A very special, multi-dimensional Hell that only Red Sox fans are privy to.

A few words about Mr. Keith Foulke. To be sure, not the most intimidating closer ever to take the hill. Give me Lee Smith bathed in sweat sauntering in from the bullpen as hundreds of fans bow in unworthiness. He was just as likely to walk up to a batter he didn’t like and gnaw the soft flesh around his throat as he was to strike him out. Give me Tom Gordon, cap pulled down low, eyes full of rage and fire glaring out, buckling the knees of the batter with his stare as much as with his nasty curve. But Keith Foulke? Yes, he has been effective, but he’s about as intimidating as Barney Fife. He blew 7 regular-season saves in 2004, but he was almost untouchable in the post-season: 14 innings, 7 hits, 19 K’s and 1 single ER. Giving up yesterday’s game-winning blast to Jeter? Painful, but I’m over it. And, hey, it could have been A-Rod.

That being said, there is a theory/phrase being tossed about sports radio that sends me into convulsions: free pass. The idea that a professional sports team, especially the Red Sox, should be given a “free pass” for winning the World Series is the most ridiculous idea since Bill Blazejowski uttered “what if we feed the mayonnaise to the tuna fish?”

Can you see your boss coming up to you and saying “great year you had in ’04, Smitty, why don’t you plan on sucking this year and we’ll just look the other way”? Or your teacher saying “hey Becky, A+ last term, skip this semester and you’re covered, wink, wink”? I don’t think so. Last year was amazing. Unforgettable. But it was last year. The Yankees reloaded and they’re pissed. The wolf is always at the door.

Foulke aside (but I will keep my good eye on him), there are a few legitimate early concerns.

Johnny Damon: Not so much the hype around his book tour and television appearances, but his Yankee-posturing. Talking about playing center field in New York is not what I want to hear during the inaugural week of title defense. Or any other time. And I did just see a quick clip for an upcoming Damon commercial where he’s in his underwear, laying on his back with his legs up in the air. No idea what that might be advertising. And I don’t want to know.

David Wells: Again, not the weight or the lifestyle or his debut, but all the friggin’ Yankee talk. Note to Boomer – they didn’t want you back, cut the cord. Saying Posada has the edge over Tek? Check the name on the front of your uni.

Edgar Renteria: I saw him in one spring training game and he looked terrible in the field. He was very sloppy taking the cut-off, dropping two of them. He had one error Sunday, should have had another on the grounder that dropped out of his glove. And a very costly error on a double-play ball yesterday. Also worth watching.

Before you lambast me for panicking or being too negative, here are what I see as the early-season bright spots.

Jason Varitek: Last year he was 0-for-the-season against the Yankees before the playoffs. This season he is 4-for-8 and, yes, he is holding his head high in Yankee Stadium.

Big Papi: Business as usual.

The Bullpen: Timlin, Halama, Embree, Myers all look great.

Injuries: Last year we began without Trot and Nomar. Both were “day to day” and didn’t return until midsummer. This year we are without Schilling and Wade Miller. Both appear to be on schedule to be pitching very soon. And they are both nasty.

Bill Mueller: Healthy and hitting.

Mariano Rivera: Official bi-atch of the Boston Red Sox.

So, no free passes here. Maybe a little more early season patience than usual, but still fueled by a desire to see the Sox win that even the World Series did not appease. Not once the first real pitch of ’05 was tossed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stick pins in my Mussina doll.