It is Friday, August 6, 2004. The Red Sox are 9 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the division and 1 1/2 games behind Oakland for the Wild Card. There are 56 games left to play against the likes of the Tigers, Devil Rays, White Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Angels and Orioles. We are 10 games above .500 in the season in which we were “built to win the World Series.”

So my question to you this morning is: How’s your faith?

Mine? It’s wavering.

I’ll be honest. Like most Sox diehards, I’m not going anywhere. If they were a woman, they could shoot me, max out my credit cards, burn down my house, smash up my car, and videotape themselves banging my best friends before I’d walk away. From the first shouts of spring training to autumn’s often bitter final curtain, they’ve got me firmly in pocket. It’s a dirty job, but I perform it with relish, year after year.

At this point in the season, however, it’s beginning to look a lot like 2004 will be remembered as the disappointing sequel to an awe-inspiring year. So far the Sox have seemed incapable of replicating the magic of 2003; in fact, they’ve been incapable of displaying any hint of the hunger that propelled them through much of last year.

Of course, much of what’s gone wrong has been out of anyone’s control. Trot’s broken ass, the Nomar debacle, the drop in offense from the likes of Tek and Millar, Lowe’s transformation into The Incredible Sulk.

But pinpointing the primary problem is as easy as looking to the guy steering the ship. When Terry Francona came onboard, Red Sox Nation rejoiced. Not because we knew a goddam thing about Tito, but because… he wasn’t Grady Little! But lately, he’s got us longing for la vida Grady. Or even Walpole Joe Morgan.

Better people than I have written extensively about just how many wins Francona has cost this team (my personal favorite nickname for the guy is “Francoma,” which I hear everywhere now, but recall seeing first at Dirt Dogs) and there’s a consensus that his misuse of the bullpen (or “The Timlin and Embree Show”) will be the ultimate downfall of this team. All I can add is that it’s probably time we begin to acknowledge Francona for what he really is — the guy we had to hire to get Schilling to sign with us.

And with that, I turn it over to you.