For the first time in three years, the Red Sox aren’t going to the playoffs.

Feels kinda weird, doesn’t it? Like watching the captain of the football team making out with your girl in the corner, while you’re sent home with a jar of Vaseline and some rubber gloves. It’s not cool at all, and I’m suddenly realizing what it’s like to be a Brewers or Pirates fan; you enjoy the season while it lasts, then quietly shift your attention to football [or, if you’re like me, hobo taunting] once September rolls around.

The best part of such a monumental collapse is being able to sit back in our easy chairs, can of Old Milwaukee at our side, and dole out the blame in large, not-so-easy-to-swallow doses. So that’s what we thought we’d do today, as we try to determine what went wrong with the 2006 Red Sox.

Coco didn’t come as advertised. When Johnny Damon left us for New York, we were quick to print up the “wanted for treason” T-shirts, but our anger was an attempt to hide our deepest fear: that we were absolutely f–ked in the leadoff hitter department. Say what you will about Damon’s questionable arm or his rock star demeanor or his pimped-out wife, the guy got on base a lot, and was the major catalyst behind our superior offensive output in 2004 and 2005. But before we could get all hot and bothered, management sold us on Coco. Better arm. Younger. Scrappier. The sorta lad who “makes things happen” on the base paths. The leadoff hitter of the future. Hungry and eager to perform in a big market town like Boston. Then he got here and we realized he was Lee Tinsley, but with a cooler name. Christ, the front office has even tried to move him once or twice, adding a whole “Edgar Renteria” vibe to the project. The good news is he can only get better in 2007. On another team.

Injuries happened. Typically, I hate pointing to injuries as excuses. But come on, the 2006 Sox endured everything short of Godzilla trampling the team bus or a team of robot alien cheerleaders buzzsaw-f–king the team into submission. Trot tears his ass? Expected. The guy’s conditioning program equips him for about two months of solid playing time each season. But Wells getting nailed by a line drive, Tek going down with a bum knee, Wake fracturing a rib, A-Gon straining an oblique, Papi having heart problems, Manny’s hammy acting up and Lester diagnosed with cancer? That’s the hand of God looming over your dugout and saying, “Not this year, pals.”

The bullpen went tits-up. In the greatest display of misjudgment since the infamous “bullpen by committee” maneuver, Theo and Co. stocked the pen with a bunch of question marks, including Rudy Seanez (who’d already been with us once and sucked), Julian Tavarez (more famous for punching phones than striking folks out), and Jermaine Van Buren (Jermaine Jackson would have been more effective, and could have at least kept us entertained with a couple rounds of his minor ’80s hit “Body”). Meanwhile, it became increasingly clear that the once-nails Timlin was 40 and possibly done, and that Delcarmen and Hansen were untested young’uns, struggling in the roles they’d been cast into. Only Papelbon rose above it all like goddam Optimus Prime to lay down the law and insert cleat into enemy ass. Too bad we didn’t have ten of him.

The bench… just wasn’t that deep. With pretty much everyone on the team falling ill or injured at some point, our bench saw more action than the South Boston High bleachers. Sadly, none of it was any good. Alex Cora started off magnificently, but burnt out soon thereafter. Gabe Kapler, god love him, has simply lost the will to hit. Wily Mo stepped up when Trot went down, but didn’t quite turn into the offense machine we’d longed for. And late season fill-ins like Eric Hinske and Javy Lopez turned out to be only slight improvements on Theo’s original plan, which was to sign a hat-rack and an old guy in a rabbit suit and just place them in right field and behind the plate, respectively. Also, shouldn’t Hinske be playing bass for Creed? He just has that look about him.

Our starters never really started. Schilling gave us far more than we expected this year. But everyone else gave us far, far less. Beckett? We had him slated for Cy Young and he came up 14-10 (so far). Wakefield was 7-8 before he got injured. Kyle Snyder performed reasonably well as a fill-in, about as well as you’d expect from a Royals cast-off. Do we even want to mention Jason Johnson? No, we do not. But the bottom line is most of our starters couldn’t eat up innings or get key strike-outs or keep us in games when we needed them most.

[post entirely stolen from ourselves in the latest Barstool Sports. You can read the whole thing here.]

Lastly, am I the only person in the world who enjoyed Timothy Dalton as James Bond? I still insist that Licence to Kill [British spelling of “licence” and all], with a young Benicio Del Toro as the bad guy, was better than any of the Pierce Brosnan films. Looking forward to this, though: