Thursday, May 31, 2007

Monthly Recap: A Mighty May

May Record: 20-8
Overall Record: 36-16

What can you say about this team? Durring the second month of this season the Sox didn’t lose 2 games in a row, bested the other top teams in the AL and did so with injuries to their best pitcher and hitter. They have a commanding lead (10.5 games as I write this) over the rest of the AL East and are 20 games over .500. Yeah… it’s deliriously happy time in Red Sox Nation, but let’s break down how we got to this stage of bliss.

Catcher: Ok you can stop worrying about Tek. He has been off the charts lately and looks like the 2003 version of himself. Lord knows how long he can keep the injury bug away and continue to show age defying talent, but I hope he can do it till November. Also, he has been continuing to learn Japanese and can now say the phrases: “Throw strikes or I will go Hiroshima on you” “Tell you’re wife to call me” and “Put some clothes on Oki.”

Corner Infield: Lowell has been on fire. He has the most doubles, RBI and homeruns on the Sox. He hits a TON and he seems to have shaken his bad glove problems of last month. All the stat books in world say he is due for a drop off in the second half, but let’s just enjoy this production while it lasts. Meanwhile, Youk sees Lowell’s “on fire” status and raises him a supernova. He is in the middle of a 22 game hit streak, has a plethora of clutch hits, plated a inside the park homerun and does all this while looking like a demented longshoreman. These two guys have A LOT to do with the 36 wins thus far.

Up the Middle: There certainly has been a change in roll when it comes to our middle infielders. Lugo although a demon on the base paths, has been in a bad slump at the plate. Combine that with his “sub par” defense and you could make the assumption that switching the SS every year might not be the best strategy. On the other hand, Pedroia is starting to overcome the fact that he’s 5 foot nothing and is 12 years old by hitting everything he sees. His “big ‘ol swing” has been really productive and at this rate he might get to extend his curfew to 12 if Francona says it’s ok.

Outfield: Yeesh. Welcome to the dregs of the batting order. Other than Manny (who is starting to get red hot just like we all knew he would… it’s barely worth mentioning) the outfield has only really been good at making outs. Coco is still a black freaking hole. He has one good week and then fell right back into his Coco for 4 mode again. If he wasn’t such a vacuum cleaner in the field, I would say he was the waste of a good uniform. Now pair this with J.D. Screw and his .230 average with NO power and you have the makings of a $100 million dollar disaster. But at least we only have to deal with it for 3 more years!

DH: Papi still has his average over .300 but his hasn’t gone deep since the beginning of the month. He did have the flu which caused some dehydration and hamstring injuries that may be attributing to his lack of power numbers. Would be nice to see him come around.

Bench: These guys have seen some more playing time and it has had mixed results. Cora has had his formally amazing average drop a lot and he is reminding us all why he’s a back up. Hinske is still making the argument that he could probably start on a lot of other teams and has the web gem of the month with a face planting catch in right field. Oh, and as I was writing this, Wily Mo struck out twice, dropped 4 fly balls and then homered into Boston harbor. You get the idea.

Still the only guy on the planet who can catch knuckleballs, Mirabelli has not really been hitting while serving as Wake’s backstop… but hey! He can catch knuckleballs.

Bullpen: While Timlin has been out with a nasty case of the “really olds” it has been up to Oki-doki-jima to get out of the 8th inning so we can get to Papelbon. It’s also Oki’s job to get out of the 7th inning sometimes. Also Oki has been closing with Papelbon isn’t available. Oh, and Oki now does most of the landscaping for Fenway. What I’m saying is that Oki’s awesome but a bit overused. But can you blame Francona? Look at Joel, Donnelly, Snyder, and J.C. Do you actually trust ANY of these guys? Sure they’ve been passable when you’re up by 4-5 runs… but anything closer than that and I would disconnect the bullpen phone.

Closer: Paps blew a save and gave up a few runs just to prove he’s mortal… but I think that might have been a trick to lull other teams into thinking they have a shot. Wait and see.

Starting Pitching: This is still the strongest point of the team. Beckett skipped 2 starts with a blister… excuse me… middle finger avulsion and he came back without missing a beat. Kason Gabbard looked good replacing him, while Hansack was forcibly removed from Fenway in restraints. Schilling had a few more rough outings before rebounding with his best game of the season against Cleveland, while Wakefield has come back down to earth as a respectable 3 or 4 starter. Dice-K has had the highest highs and the lowest lows. One start he looks un-hittable for 9 innings, the other he looks totally smackable for only 5 innings. Maybe it’s the number of pitches he throws, maybe it’s because he got sick, but Dice K needs to figure out what works for him and stick with this. Finally we get to our resident crazy person Julian Tavarez and his strict baby eating diet. This guy has been actually pretty good… and boy is it scary. I still feel he is one bad strike call away from killing everyone all the field. Glad he’s on our side.

Low Point: The 14-0 ass beating in the second half of the double header against Atlanta. When a team tags you for 14 runs, the least you can do get one back.

High Point: The Mothers Day Miracle! Anytime something so awesome happens in a game that they have to NAME THE GAME… you know it’s gotta be a high point. Down 5 runs to the Orioles, the Sox score 6 in the 9th to win it on an error by embedded Sox Kevin Millar. One sign of a great team is that they somehow win the games they are supposed to lose. The 2007 Red Sox look pretty great.

Game 52: Six Innings Over Tokyo

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Cleveland Indians 8

Nuts. That outing by Dice-K was the worst thing to come out of Japan since this Hello-Kitty handgun. He danced on the edge of disaster all night, but due to some awesome outfield and infield defense, the runs stayed off the board until the 5th and 6th innings when all hell broke loose. Not pretty Mr. Land of the Rising ERA.

It was also hard to see Paul “deceptively mediocre” Byrd mow down the Sox batters like it was the end of last year. He got into his fair share of jams late, but the clutch hits weren’t coming when they were needed. Even Youk, who extended his hitting streak but not his multi hit hitting streak couldn’t get it done. Even Pedroia who has been just as flammable couldn’t get it done. Even a rested Papi (the king of getting it done) couldn’t get it done. Even J.D. Drew… wait… he NEVER gets it done.

Make no mistake this was painful. Like Lindsey Lohan trying to pee after a 4 day blackout bender… this one stung. I know the Tribe has some mighty sluggers and that if you told me we’d take 2 of 3 from them I would have been elated on Monday… but I really wanted this sweep. I wanted the last few naysayers to choke on all that “they can’t keep this up” nonsense as the Sox roll over the best of the AL. I guess you can chalk this one up to wanting it more than needing it.

Do I feel some solace in the fact that the Sox still have a 10+ game lead over the next closest competitor? For sure. Am I worried about the Yankees sauntering their way into Fenway this weekend? Not even a little. Is it hilarious that NY altered the pitching match-ups so Clemens will dodge the Red Sox and start Monday vs the White Sox? Knee slapingly so.

I hope he enjoys playing for a last place team.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Game 51: Feeling Like a Winner

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Cleveland Indians 2

Clearly the rumors of Josh Beckett's demise were greatly exaggerated. Seven innings, seven strike outs, three hits, two runs, one walk (neat line, huh?) made for another ordinary day at the office where all of Beckett's pitches worked as planned, batters swung and missed when appropriate and most of the Indians offense didn't know what to do with themselves. Thanks to two DPs, Beckett even faced the minimum number of batters for six innings. Add last night's appearance up with pissed-off Schilling from Monday and the Zen Master's stylings tonight and I think calling for the brooms for the second series in a row isn't unreasonable, because things are just clicking like magic.

It's almost frightening to say this, but every win puts me in an odder and odder place as a Red Sox fan. Baseball Prospectus predicts 106 wins for the Red Sox this season, a rate so fantastic that if the projections are even close (i.e., over 100 wins) they will make the 2007 Sox the winningest team in Red Sox history since 1946, when Doerr, Pesky, Williams, DiMaggio, Ferriss, Hughson et all put together 104 wins and a .675 winning percentage to grab the AL title (and face an ignominious fate in the World Series, but we won't go there). Indeed, if the Sox go on to capture their projected 106 wins, they will beat out the 1912 team as the winningest Red Sox team ever, which boggles the mind.

The upshot of all of this encapsulated awesome is that I've started to develop certain expectations of how a game will progress. First expectation: when the Red Sox get a hit or a walk in the first inning, that runner will score. At this point, Kevin "The Man" Youkilis will probably be involved, but the end result is the same: the Sox will draw first blood (especially if they're batting first) and take an early lead. Second expectation: the starter will go six innings and surrender less runs than his offense generates. Third expectation: the bullpen is solid enough to protect any lead, even if there are a few bumps along the way. As you can tell, taken together these expectations mean that the game is over as soon as the Sox get their first base runner, which is a very, very nice feeling to have as a fan. I can even enjoy the bumps for the moments of excitement they create, the nervous tension that exists in a vacuum because right now, even a loss or two doesn't matter. It's so very, very sublime.

Game 50: Smorgasbord of Delight

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Cleveland Indians 3

Honestly, too many strange/awesome/mind blowing things happened in the win tonight. I have to break ‘em down into categories.

Heart Warming: Trot was back and he got a standing O to end all standing O’s. Hell, this guy got like 5 standing O’s. We love us some Trot Nixon no matter the laundry. Great to see him back in Fenway… I wish your new team sucked more.

About Time: Drew with some extra base hit action with men in scoring position. This looks a lot more like the $70 million guy that was supposed to replace the aforementioned and beloved Nixon. Carry on J.D.

Coming Around Nicely: Little Dusty Pedroia is turning into a very fine contact hitter. He already has his average into the .280’s and is no longer earning my ire daily. Keep this up and I may learn to like you… ya little scamp! Now go fetch me the Globe or I’ll box your ears.

Phew: Rumors of Schill’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Curt brought his K stick and used it 10 times on the Tribe. He only gave up one run in 7 innings and looked better than he has all year. More of this please, Mr. Blog man.

Getting Warmer: Manny is coming out of his coma as the late spring sun burns off the chemicals he puts in his crazy hair. This is bad news for every pitcher in the league that doesn’t like their ERA to match the distance of his homeruns. Not scared pitchers? You will be…

Freaking Weird/Amazing: Youk now has a 20 game hit streak and managed to bash an inside the park home run. That’s right, the bald headed, ogre looking, first baseman child of Moses ran like he stole some Matzo and scored on his own fly to the triangle. Youk isn’t just on fire anymore, he’s burning like a tire dump.

Worried: Papi missed his second game with “hamstring tightness” and I am starting to lose sleep. Are you sure I can't rub those for you Ortiz? I am strong but surprisingly gentle. Hmmm… that sounded straighter in my head.

Relieved/Confused: After a dismal showing by J.C.BB Romero, the rest of the pen stopped the bleeding and held the lead long enough for Paps to come in for the 3rd time in 5 games. He allowed a run (gulp) and had the go ahead runs in scoring position with only one out (double gulp) but SOMEHOW got Blake to swing at a pitch that hit him in the hands (so say the umps) and then got Hafner swinging as I clenched my ass cheeks. Whoa! That was close. Let's win by more runs tomorrow… ok?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Game 49: Unexpected Flashes of Brilliance

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Texas Rangers 5

If there's one single best thing about the 2007 Red Sox, it's the unexpected contributions that keep rolling in from all sides, dropping much-appreciated bits of change into the Red Sox win basket. Take yesterday: two fun bits of flash - stuff you wouldn't expect to win ballgames, but that was fun to watch - all of the sudden make the difference between 34 and 15 and 33 and 16, between a sweep and two-out-of-three. Damn, I love this team. For your inspection:

Item 1: Bottom of the seventh, two outs, runners on first and second, Texas up 4 to 3 and Frank Catalanotto hits a ball off of J.C. Romero that sped through the air towards the gap in right center. Crap. That's two runs right there, possibly the game - but wait! Coco Crisp is speeding towards the intercept point! How is he so fast? Is he going to make it? Yes! Diving catch! Inning over! The one-run difference is preserved, setting the stage for an eighth inning, two-run rally spearheaded by Kevin "The Man" Youkilis.

Item 2: Top of the ninth, first batter: Dustin Pedroia. He's facing the little-used Eric Gagne, sporting a perfect ERA over about nine innings. No disrespect to the P-Dawg, but I'm not expecting much to happen in this at-bat. Besides, the Sox are up by a run and we've got the Red Scare on the case - no sweat if the Sox don't score some insurance. What does Pedroia do? He battles like a fiend. Twelve pitches, six fouls in a row and then...damn, dude hit a home run into left field. That was cool. Superfluous right now, but it's nice to see the P-Dawg succeed.

Of course, the next inning Okajima lets in a run - dude's slipping a bit lately, but that's cool - before getting the final three outs and all of the sudden, those two actions made all of the difference. And that's why I love this team.

Game 48: Texas Flood

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Texas Rangers 4

Manny took control of the team bus and it stayed on the road. If that’s not a good omen I don’t know what is. The Man-Ram went 4 for 4 with a walk and just a homer shy of the cycle (yes Manny hit a triple and yes questionable physics were involved) while the rest of the team managed just walks until the 6th when the flood gates were opened washing away Padilla and much of the awful Ranger bullpen. Yech… those guys look really bad, no wonder this team already has 30 losses.

Wake was... well… Wake! He allowed 4 runs, pitched into the 7th, the knuckleball danced to the backstop a few times, but all in all it was a fine performance. Besides Lopez walking the only batter he faced (cue slow sarcastic clap), the bullpen laid sand bags for 2 innings as the rising desperate waters of the Texas offense swept past them. Donnally took his psycho pills and finished the 8th with out problem, while Paps hammed down the 9th for his 12th save.

Today Tavarez steps up for the sweep and hopefully he can dodge history as artfully as the rest of this pitching staff. The history I refer to is the small matter of Sammy Sosa’s 600th homerun and the two homeruns he needs to reach it. Keep him in the park JT Killer and you won’t end up a sorry stat in the history books. Let’s get that sweep!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Game 47: Sick, Sick, SICK!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 10, Texas Rangers 6

Do you see this man to the left? This man is a BAD. ASS. You've heard the original stories: pitching over 200 pitches in a high school tournament game, then coming back to pitch the next day. Pitching like a demon during the WBC last year. The array of pitches, including the mythical gyroball. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to say those moments were just the first act in a long string of awesome.

What prompts me to make such a bold claim about our newest pitching hero? What deed could suffice to awe my jaded baseball sensibilities, in a time when every man is a juicer, when laundry, not the man inside it, dictate fan loyalty and yesterday's heroics with the bat or the ball are only good enough until the next start? Dude, Dice-K pitched with the frickin' flu.

What's even more incredible is that Matsuzaka, who ended his night getting intravenous fluid replenishment in the visiting clubhouse, managed to keep the Rangers down for most of the night, then had humility required of a true bad ass to feel shamed for giving up the runs that he did. Shame? There's no shame! You were throwing up between innings and still came back in the fifth to get a double play and a strike out to end your night! Lesser men would have crawled back from whatever high tech vomit receptacle they have in major-league clubhouses and demanded bullpen relief ASAP. Matsuzaka pitched long enough to make a complete start before his manager ended his night.

Hats off to the offense for picking up their pitcher's slack, too. Four runs to knock out the starter not good enough tonight, Dice-K? That's cool: we'll add another six over two innings to make the point. At one point, every time I looked up at the screen the Sox were getting another single, another double, driving a few more nails into this game's coffin. Everyone but Lowell (0 for 2 with three walks) and Drew (0 for 4 with a walk) got hits, Youkilis pushed his hitting streak to 17 games and Boston set up the momentum to keep the ball rolling tonight.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Perfectly Sucky Storm

Not to raise the specter of panic, but Matsuzaka needs to win tonight. As this article in the Herald points out - and as I'm sure you've noticed - the Sox have alternated a win with a loss since May 18, mainly through a series of back-and-forth blowouts that speak to a slump amongst most of the starting pitching corps. I'd blame Robin - he's blogged all three losses, so he must be responsible - but unfortunately, that's just too convenient. Instead, what I think we really have is a perfect storm of bad luck:

First weather system: Josh Beckett and his trick finger. Beckett's injury sets up Gabbo's sweet outing on Sunday (or maybe Beckett's injury and the rain worked together), but they also put the *ahem* unproven Devern Hansack on the mound the night before. No Beckett injury and that Braves series becomes a sweep.

Second weather system: Curt Schilling. Deadspin stated yesterday that Curt hasn't looked the same since using his blog to apologize to Bonds, but I think the fault might be mine for calling him rock solid after the Clemens signing. Come to think of it, I called Beckett rock solid in the same theory: this entire pitching slump is my fault. Regardless, Curt has not had a solid outing all month, in a hindsight-driven slippery slope that led to dreadful loss against the Yankees on Wednesday. Will Number 38 get so pissed at himself that he pulls out of his tailspin? We'll see on Monday, but I'm guessing the Indians are in for some trouble.

Third weather system: Tim Wakefield versus the Yankees. Three years ago, Timmy Knuckles owned the Yankees. These days, not so much. Wake's last two starts haven't been his prettiest, especially when held up to the shining light of his Toronto shutout on May 11, but they were against teams (Detroit and New York) who've made him look bad in the past. Next stop is Texas (also a tough outing, especially in Arlington), so we may be in for more disappointment. Of course, it's a knuckleball, so who knows what could happen.

Combine all of these elements and we get the losses of the past week from a formerly hot team, so while Beckett will be back next week, Schilling prepares for vengeance and JT Killer looks to keep doing his crazy game-owning thang, it wouldn't hurt to have another Dice-K win to get the ball rolling.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

ALCS Game 7: In Attendance for the (Over)Reaction

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, New York Yankees 8


Can you believe it? Against all odds, the Yankees blew away the upstart Red Sox and won the 2007 AL pennant. What an amazing series, what an amazing game… and I was there to see it all. The drama, the prestige the passion from ALL the fans. These people were soooo into the game that half of them didn’t show up for the 1st inning (probably out planning the ticker tape parade) and then most of them left in the 7th I guess because the “intensity” of the match-up was more than they could handle.

Schilling looked over matched from the first batter on. There was nothing he could do against that lineup especially when Doug Mientkiewicz is slugging. You know the chant: “Gimme a M, gimme a I, gimme a… ummm… N? How’s that spelled?”

On the flip side, Pettitte couldn’t be touched. He was in rare form and finally got the run support he needed to lock down this very important win. The Sox defense didn’t help their cause either: between Lugo’s flub error and Wily Mo/Coco/Manny’s adventures in the outfield, the series win was all but ensured for the Yanks. Mo Rivera came in to mop up the 9th and struck out the side as ambrosia and champagne fell from the havens and the crowd roared. Oh that moment is etched into my mind… the grandeur, the spectacle, the mystique and aura.

Wait… this is strange. I can’t find anything online about this being the most important playoff win ever. In fact, everything I read says that this WASN’T the playoffs and the Yankees are STILL 3 games UNDER .500 even after this win.

Well that can’t be! I was there! I saw the reaction and I heard the taunting. The season MUST be over and done with if that’s what the Yankees fans are doing. The “F@#% You Boston, clap clap clapclapclap” chants are signal of supreme victory, right?

Or is it something else? Is it the last hurrah of a team that is 9 ½ games back and facing mediocrity for the first time in a decade? That has a certain ring of truth doesn’t it? I think the Yanks might have another midseason run in them, I think the Rocket could give them the leg up they need to come back to the race (even though he got hit today), but now it’s different somehow. Tonight there was something in the air in the Bronx. A smell beyond the stale beer, thick aftershave and fresh vomit from the normal clientele… it was the smell of desperation. They know the time grows short and the season is not as new as it once was.

9 ½ games…

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Game 45: If a Moose Gives You a Gift Pitch...

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, New York Yankees 3

There's probably a site out there with the statistic listing the correlation between Red Sox first-inning runs and Red Sox wins, but for the moment I'm happy to bask in the glow of this one particular game and the Man-Ram home run that made it happen. Three pitches into the at-bat, after two balls down below the strike zone, Mussina trying to throw a ball that would spin below the bottom of Manny's bat and turn into an inning-ending ground ball double play...the pitch comes, the ball, for reasons unknown (besides bad mechanics and poor luck) much, much higher in the strike zone than Mussina or Posada want it and right into the heart of Manny's kill zone. Manny knows it, the Yankees know it, everyone watching the pitch in the ball park and on TV knows it and all Manny has to do is complete the formality of the swing and deposit his home run into the left field seats. Three runs on the board and Julian Tavarez has yet to throw his first pitch. The Sox would score other runs (other runs they eventually needed), but thanks to that one pitch, this game was over - until the eighth inning, anyway - after the third batter of the night. That's domination, baby.

As for those eighth and ninth innings...what happened? Okajima breaks his scoreless streak with a single, two walks and a fielder's choice? Papelbon walks two men before getting three straight outs on two Ks? During those tense twenty minutes where each pitcher offered the Yankees a chance to redeem themselves at home before slamming the door, the common theme was missing by inches: pitches that were out of the zone through accident or design weren't getting the swings the Sox needed, stopping the momentum that each pitcher needed to win the battle and end the inning. It was a scary, scary moment, reminiscent of the end of a few games in 2004 ALCS, because the lead seemed to be slipping away and there was nothing the Sox could do. Too scary, in fact. Let's not see it again, ok?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Game 44: Battling the Bad Teams

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, New York Yankees 6

I don’t understand this Red Sox team sometimes. The Sox manage to take 3 of 4 from the brilliant Tigers, they take 2 of 3 from a nasty Atlanta team, they sit alone at the top of the standings, but they can play down to the level of their opponent and lose to an irrelevant under .500 club. How does this happen?

For starters we left a small village on base. 12 LOB really bailed out that mediocre pitcher they threw at us. We couldn’t even capitalize on the errors they made. The Sox need to keep that same fire in their belly even when facing a sub par opponent.

At least the bullpen held together. Romero, Delcarmen and Pineiro did a serviceable job holding back that “so called” offense. Wake was the one that got knocked around and let in the runs. The knuckler was a little high and he had trouble keeping it in the park. Their slugger… what’s his name?... B-Rod?... got a huge blast in the first and their token steroid user got a chemically enhanced upper deck shot. Aww well. They need something to hang their hat on… good for them.

Wait what? That was the Yankees? Are you kidding me? Huh…

Anyway, in game 2 tomorrow we are throwing a secret crazy weapon. Right now JT Killer is bathing in animal/human blood and making 9 little voodoo dolls. I hear he doesn’t eat before a game… but he feeds on fear during. I think he’s gonna fill his belly.

Game 43: The Strategy of Gabbo

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Atlanta Braves 3

Tim Hudson? More like Tim I right? Seriously, though: Kason Gabbard's start yesterday was like finding a whole roll of cash in the pocket of a jacket you were about to throw away. The rotational shuffling that put Wakefield, Tavarez and Schilling in the line of fire against the Yankees and Gabbard on the mound to face the Braves wrote off Sunday's game as an acceptable interleague loss to save up for a good pounding of a division rival, a strategy that suddenly paid big dividends as Gabbo started striking out Braves with all kinds of nastiness. Seven Ks on the day, with the kill pitch alternating between curve ball, change up and fastball in a deadly trio that kept most of the lineup guessing through five innings. Although his appearance was a spot start, I'm willing to bet Gabbard will go back to AAA and dominate thanks to the confidence booster shot he gave himself yesterday.

Come to think of it, there may have been a second half to the Operation: Gabbo strategy: Tim Hudson has never pitched well against Boston, making a slug fest that would have been a saving grace to a bad Gabbard start more likely. In the event, the Sox kept up their history against Hudson and their torrid run production in the first inning (36 total so far, eclipsed only by the 42 they've scored in the eighth inning), loading the bases and scoring three on a Tek triple into the right field corner. That inning set the stage for the six run, eight hit, two walk beating the Sox administered to Hudson, putting Boston on top through the remainder of the game.

Taking a closer look at those run totals: if you've gotten the impression the Sox do their best work at either ends of a game, you're correct. Boston has scored 88 runs in innings 1 - 3 and 80 runs in innings 7 - 9, a difference that exists perhaps because Boston has played nine full innings only 28 times this year (we're at game 44, remember). The middle three innings lag behind at 64 innings, which has its own interesting correlation: the Sox offense does well against a starting pitcher the first time through the order and even better on round two, but slacks off pretty dramatically by the third time. I have no idea what it's happening, but the neat thing is that it's the exact opposite of what the lineup's done since 2004, so while the overall team balance between starters, relievers and hitters seems to be much better than in the past, this year's lineup is definitely its own animal.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Game 42: How the Other Half Lives (a one act play).

Final Score: Atlanta Braves 14, Boston Red Sox 0

Scene: The Red Sox dugout right before the second game of the doubleheader.

Francona: Alright team, get over here. I want to run a little exercise in empathy and understanding. It will help us get a feeling for what the other teams in our division are going through.

Pedroia: Coach… you mean not every team in the AL East has over a .600 winning percentage?

Lowell: Yeah Tito. Doesn’t everybody have a staff full or starters that go 7 innings+ every night?

Ortiz: And don’t they all have big run producers like me?

Francona: Sorry guys, not even close. In fact, we are the only team above .500 and the rest barely are getting by with the rookies they call up.

Team in unison: Wow! We had no idea!

Francona: I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes other teams don’t hit the ball as well as we do and most of these teams don’t have 5 starters that go the distance every start. We’re lucky… and it’s about time we recognize that fact.

Hansack: Sounds good skipper. So what do we do?

Francona: Well I’m glad you asked Derven (or whatever your freakin name is). I want you to go out there and pitch like a complete spaz. Homeruns, walks, come-backers you can’t handle… the whole shebang.

Hansack: You got it!

Francona: And after you’ve stunk up the joint, I want the bullpen to come in and be even worse. Got it guys?

Pineiro, Lopez, Romero and Donnelly: Alright coach. No problem.

Fancona: Oh and I almost forgot. Everyone in the batting order can take the night off.

Team in unison: Everyone?

Francona: That’s right, the lot of you. I don’t want to see any hitting out there. Nothing but fly balls and strikeouts ok? And as for fielding, forget it. Bobble, drop or throw away everything you can.

Manny: Coach, is this really going to show us how other teams play?

Francona: Sure it will Manny. We will get our asses kicked just like all the other teams. Now we can experience what a true spanking feels like.

Coco: Man, this sounds awful. Will we have to do this again?

Francona: Hmmm, I’m not sure Coco. Tomorrow the Braves are throwing Hudson at us. I guess you never know.

Gabbard: Hudson? That f-ing blows.

Francona: It sure does Kason… it sure does.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Game 41: This Temple is Dedicated to Dice-K, We Just Worship in It

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 13, Atlanta Braves 3

When Chipper Jones complained about the imbalance of Interleague schedules earlier this week, I think today's game might have been what he had in mind. With Dice-K pitching a gem that, like a flawed ruby, was marked only by a single mistake (a pitch rocked by an always-aggressive Jeff Francoeur), the Braves had no chance to win and, with a string of pitchers whose flaws stood in direct contrast to the Zen Master, they helped themselves to a loss that may reverberate into tonight's part two.

Here is the measure of Matsuzaka's recent magic: in seventeen innings over two starts, he's allowed four men to cross the plate and won both games. He's been aggressively pounding the strike zone, surrendering fifteen hits and striking out eleven, but giving up nary a single walk on 227 pitches. His only harmful mistakes in both games have been two home runs, another symptom of how much he's trying to crush the zone right now. To say he gave Boston what was needed today in Game 1 is understatement - he just put the fear of God into most of the Braves lineup so they'll be mystified when they face Hansack tonight.

Then there's the offense; marvelous, magic, full of life and power and - holy crap - home runs from unexpected places. Julio Lugo homers to start the Sox half of the first, setting the tone. Kevin Youkilis hits his second home run in four games, adding to an RBI streak that started back on May 12 and a hitting streak that started on May 10 and pushing the game to 3 - 0 in the second. Mike Lowell redeemed a missed bases-loaded chance in the first with a grand salami in the fifth and Wily Mo...well, Wily Mo did what he does best. Into the parking lot, baby.

To say this team is firing on all cylinders this year is an understatement of extreme proportions. To say that as a Red Sox fan (especially as a Red Sox fan) that I'm anxious about the other shoe dropping is just as much an understatement...but for the moment, I'm happy to take a cue from Matsuzaka's performance on the mound and just like things roll. 10+ games up on the AL East? Best record in baseball? Best record in baseball since the 2001 Mariners, the only other team in history to have this good of a start? It's a good time to a member of Red Sox Nation.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Beckett on the DL

Unfortunately this doesn’t mean Beckett is on the “Down Low.” The cut on his middle finger will cause Josh to miss his next two starts. Tonight we are gonna get “Whirling” Derven Hansack, his 4 digit ERA and his inability to throw over the plate.

Damn you Beckett and your woman hands.

[Edit] Or the weather could interfere and push Hansack's start back to tomorrow night. How's about another day/night double header, everyone? Looks like we're shooting for a reverse of yesterday's perilous arrangement: Dice-K, the guy expected to throw more innings, is going first, while Hansack will take the night game and (hopefully) have more bullpen support available.

Game 40: Somebody Bottle Eric Hinske

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Detroit Tigers 2

This was an “on paper” loss. Curt pitched 100,000 pitches in the first two innings, the Sox left about 100,000 men on base and we were throwing the SUPER B team to the wolves (Tigers?) during the second half of a double header which we ALWAYS manage to split. That’s the “L” baby. Write it down and drown your sorrows in that cheap bottle of wine and the tape of Air Supply. That’s what losers do.

Looks like Hinske didn’t get the memo.

That’s right. He doesn’t know how to lose. He eats excellence and craps awesome. He flies through the air, cracks his neck and hits the go-ahead homer with his fist held high as if to say “YES I AM THE ONE KNOWN AS HINSKE… AND YOUR CHILDREN WILL WEEP!”

Can you believe this guy? He KNOWS he won’t be playing tomorrow (ummm J.D. Drew might make this point moot) and he still give it his all and then some. Hinske is the extra large burrito of ball players. You don’t want him every day, too much and you will get sick, sometimes he sucks, but MAN… when you don’t have another option he comes though in a pinch.

So with our bench players going full bore and Okijima fulfilling contractual obligations to pitch in every game, we got another win. What are we going to do with them all? They just keep piling up. The garage is packed, there’s a half dozen under the bed and the closet is bulging full of ‘em. Greedy with wins… such a sad state.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Game 39: Screw Your Run Support

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Detroit Tigers 1

Always good to start a double header with a win, especially with a tough-as-nails victory like this one:

JT Killer: 7 innings of pure dream death, dancing around four hits and four runs to surrender a single run. The man who loves double headers gave Boston exactly what they needed on the mound on double header day: a whole pile of innings that saved the bullpen for tonight.

what's the only thing better than having a kick-ass closer? Having a kick-ass closer and a kick-ass setup man. It's always a rush to watch this bullpen work during a close game, but this game was over after Tavarez left to start the eighth.

the man, the myth, the legend. Nearly struck out the side on filthy stuff that turned the lower-middle of the Detroit order into mush, like a reprise of his appearance in Texas at the start of the year. I'm so pumped after watching him pitch I have to resist the urge to jump up and start pacing off excess energy.

The only problem with today's start: where was the offense? Don Orsillo mentioned during the NESN broadcast that Julian Tavarez has the lowest run support of any of the Red Sox starters (yes, even worse than Wakefield), which lead me - of course - to do some research. Where had all the runs gone?

Today was Julian's seventh start, which already puts him at a disadvantage - he's got fewer games to get runs than the rest of the staff. In addition, Tavarez has pitched less per game than the other four Boston starters; the average number of innings for Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka and Wakefield is 52 (or a very healthy six and two-thirds per game), while Tavarez has 37 total innings, or an average of five and a third per game, again reducing the opportunities for runs scored by his offense.

While Tavarez is pitching, his offense has scored him fourteen runs, or two per start. The other pitchers are getting much higher than that - somewhere around five (I'm not going to do the counting on 32 other game logs, but it's definitely higher than two) and the difference is more than an inning and a third of additional pitching could account for, so that theory is out, at least in part - the Red Sox really do score fewer runs when Tavarez is pitching. However, look at the Sox faced during these starts: Johan Santana once, Roy Halladay twice, Kevin Millwood (not great, but the score of four runs matches his ERA of 4.91), Chien-Ming Wang (same deal as Millwood)...not exactly a crop of Sidney Ponsons. Run support isn't an exact science - there's no way to statistically tie offensive and pitching results together - but I'd have to guess that Tavarez's bad luck with getting runs from his own team stems from (in declining order) a.) the pitchers he's faced, b.) his lower inning and start totals and c.) bad luck, statistically quantified.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Game 38: Can’t Win With The Barflies

Final Score: Detroit Tigers 7, Boston Red Sox 2

Tonight was an interesting experience that walked the ever so flimsy line between delightful and disastrous. Eric, myself and a few other members of Sox Nation: NY Branch rendezvoused at Professor Thoms to see this epic battle of AL leading monsters. I like this place. It’s a great “bar” bar and better than any other Sox bars I’ve visited in this city. It’s also full of Sox jerks who read the same trash on the internet that I do. We had more than one laugh at Manny being Manny being high, J.D. Drew breaking his back, Tina Cervacio and her rumored porn tape (named either Back to the Bullpen or Double Header) and Mirabelli banging chicks and eating veal parm.

So, with wall to wall Sox fans, a pleasant atmosphere and a steady buzz (ok a strong drunk… wanna fight about it?) the environment was perfect to witness another Sox victory over the big cats from Detroit.

Well, I had the veggies, the potatoes, the knife, fork… I just didn’t get to that steak.

Poor Wakefield. He didn’t have his best stuff (5 earned over 7 innings), but he got his normal “we don’t get you runs Timmy” show. Consistency is important.

Verlander was the rolled up newspaper to the Sox naughty puppy. Got a run in the first? WHAP! Bad dog! No more runs for you! Youk with his BIG fly to dead center? WHAP! What did I say? No more runs… now back to your dugout. It’s not the first time they ran into a wall of a pitcher. Gil Meche, King Felix, the unlucky bastard the Orioles threw at us Sunday (he got sent down to AAA), and then this putz. Unstoppable colossi of pitching prowess (or incredible freaking luck) that halt the ever growing collection of Sox victories. Yeah, they suck.

Well, at least I enjoyed the bar.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Game 37: Complete Game, Baby!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Detroit Tigers 1

For all looking for a sign that Dice-K is the real deal, look no further: no walks, six hits, five strikeouts and one measly little run over nine innings is about as real as any of us should need. The strong curve ball that anchored his last start returned, complementing an indomitable pitching rhythm required for true domination of the bat. The Tigers had no chance, as ground out after ground out, peppered with a few useless hits, racked up the innings and sealed their fate.

What's even more impressive about Matsuzaka's performance is the one mistake he did make: a low fastball, tailing over the heart of the plate at 94 miles per hour that Curtis Granderson smoked into the right field bleachers for the Tiger's only run. Sure, the pitch was a mistake - a little lower than Tek's waiting glove - but there was no freak out, no pause even, as if the home run failed to penetrate the defenses of Dice-K's concentration. Coming back to pound the outside half of the strike zone, the Zen Master got the next batter and out of the inning on four pitches, on his way to his second masterful start in a row.

Here's what really excites me about this complete game, though: it's not that a guy known for his rubber arm went 124 pitches and got better as he went along - although that's very cool - but that it's a sign of Dice-K's growing composure on the mound and with that composure his growing ability to dominate some downright scary offenses. I think about that increased confidence and I think Matsuzaka and his place in the brick wall Red Sox rotation and I start to get the same jittery, pit-of-the-stomach excitement I got three years ago, thinking about the Sox winning a World Series. If this team stays, it's gonna dominate.

Book Review: David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti - Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits

Three years ago, the woman who is now my wife asked me to name my favorite Red Sox player growing up. It was a tough question: I had always held an irrational affection for the Gator, but nothing resembling favoritism. "Well," she said, "how about now?" "David Ortiz," I said. No hesitation needed.

Thus when the publishers of Ortiz's new memoir, Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, contacted me and asked me if I wanted review the book on this blog, I did a little jig: not only because a publisher was asking me for my opinion (one of the more gratifying things about running a blog is people acknowledging respect for your written thoughts), but because I would be writing about the writings of my favorite player. As it turns out, not too hard of a task: doing my best to keep things objective, I think the book is pretty good.

My biggest concern before I started reading My Story... was that the book might read like a typical post-game interview; a collection of bland quotes and carefully edited stories that said everything by saying nothing. I was curious as to how much of himself David would put into his book. I needn't have worried - it being David Ortiz I shouldn't have worried anyway - and I can happily say that the results, while occasionally a little repetitive, are an excellent window in Big Papi's thoughts, dreams and motivations over the ten years he's been in the major leagues.

Written in a fun, loose, conversational style that reads like an informal pre-season chat between Ortiz and the reader, My Story...has two big things going for it:
  1. The free-flowing narrative Ortiz and Massarotti adopted when editing Papi's conversations. Everything fits the time line of Ortiz's life, from his childhood in the Dominican through his time in the minors and majors with the Mariners, Twins and Red Sox, but thankfully, there's no rigid structure. If Papi wants to introduce a side thread into the main weave of his story, he does so as naturally as if he was telling you the story in person. It's very effective style; I don't think there's a better way to make a naturally distant figure like a celebrity seem more human.
  2. To help establish historical perspective and to keep Ortiz's story in context, Massarotti wrote several interjectory chapters that he calls "Stepping Out of the Box." Each chapter covers someone from baseball who's had an effect on Ortiz's professional career - Pedro, Theo, Torii Hunter - and reinforces, in Massarotti's sportswriter style, one of My Story...'s main themes: no man succeeds on his own. Mixing with Papi's looser interviews, the straightforward Massarotti chapters give the book a nice balance.
All of this praise is not to say the book is perfect; as I mentioned above, David does start to repeat himself a bit at the end, as he tries to drive home his point about needing a support network to really succeed, but overall I found Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits an interesting and inspiring read worth the price of admission.

Game 36: Send you crying home to Mama

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Baltimore Orioles 5

Oh! Does that hurt? Do you need to tend to that wound? You bleeding and sore and want to cry? Well, your mom came up to see you Orioles (it is Mother's Day after all) and she can kiss that booboo and tell you everything is gonna be ok. But she’s lying… you got beat brother. You got beat bad.

Yeah you had us on the ropes for a while. All game in fact. Forget that Beckett struck out 7 in his short effort. He got hurt and that kills us. Once he got that cut/slash/blister on his middle finger… he had to sit. That’s his “FU” finger and he needs it fully rested and healthy. Then you orange birds put up some runs on our bullpen and it looked pretty safe huh? Our bats had nothing.

That guy Guthrie… wow. He was amazing. He had our number from the start and combined with some of the WORST strike calls I have ever seen, he was almost untouchable. Why’d he get pulled again? He only had 91 pitches!! It was crazy. Did you think Baez had the better stuff? Yeah his NO outs really helped. And what about that closer of yours, Baltimore? I know Wily Mo already has his number (grand salami), but today’s walks, Tek’s double and Lugo two run single/error was the final signature need for transfer of ownership. Get it? The Sox OWN you now, Ray. Oh and Millar, your secret embedded Red Sox check is in the mail. Nice toss to first.

The crowd was the best. Fenway looked like a South American soccer riot broke out and people didn’t want to leave. Fans (read: I) love the come from behind walk off wins and we love them even more when they give us the best record in MLB. Yep, we are the best of the bunch now with a VERY good team from top to bottom, amazing chemistry and they seem to be getting some luck too. Sure it’s still early (when is it late enough so I can stop saying that) but the Sox look like they really have the best team.

Whoops, how insensitive of me, Baltimore. You must be upset. I see em. The tears. There they are in the corner of your eyes. Got a big sniffle coming? It’s ok Baltimore… it’s ok to cry. I guess on Mother’s Day there IS crying in baseball.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Game 35: Rock Those Sox Off

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 13, Baltimore Orioles 4

You gotta give it to those Orioles: they don't give up easily. After several innings of Steve "The Nibbler" Trachsel and his strange ability to dance around a predominance of walks, the Sox finally drew first blood with some small ball success in the fourth inning, opened a major chink in the fifth thanks to an error and some doubles - then saw the lead evaporate thanks to a classic Schilling meltdown on a brace of singles and a mistake by Javier Lopez. All of the sudden, a game that had started to move out of Orioles reach was anyone's contest; the starters removed, the tenacious fight in the eyes of every batter and every relief arm...

Who am I kidding? Perhaps stung by the offensive failure of yesterday's lost, the Sox turned a game that had run close through six into a blowout by eight, scoring eight runs in two innings thanks to single after single after single and a bit more capitalization on all of the walks (seven today, fifteen for the series) the O's have handed out in this series. Was it pretty? Blowouts rarely are. Was it necessary? You betcha. The Sox have displayed sheer 0wn4g3 over the mix of Baltimoreans who have had the misfortune to play the Olde Towne Team over the past two years and there's no reason why the 2007 club shouldn't continue the trend. Series clincher on Mother's Day? Sounds like a blast.

Game 34: Bad, Bad Luck

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Baltimore Orioles 6

Man, I hate games like this one; games where nothing goes quite right, where the other side offers the bait so many times, then keeps making the plays that kill the almost rallies; games where the umpires don't make the opportune calls or - sometimes - even the right that the Red Sox have been lucky enough to consistently win this year, but ended up on the wrong side of the coin last night.

How did luck hurt the Sox? Let me count the ways:
  1. Too many men left on base. The Sox pulled five walks and loaded the bases three times, but only scored three runs: two runs on walks and one on a Julio Lugo double in the second. Boston had had plenty of opportunities to put the nails into the coffin, but Orioles starter Brian Burres managed to keep wriggling away at the last second. The Sox ended the night with thirteen men stranded.
  2. Miguel Tejada's jumping abilities. The last time Boston loaded the bases was in the seventh inning, on a series of walks and a double. Up strides pinch hitter J.D. Drew, coming in on his night off to face old friend "Hanging" Chad Bradford and finally break this stupid game open. Drew smashes a ball towards left center that by all rights should have been a two-run single, until Tejada leaps, catches it and nearly doubles Mike Lowell off second base. As a reprise, Tejada does the exact same thing two innings later, stealing a hit from Kevin Youkilis.
  3. Bad umpiring. It's always worse when it goes against you, but the Sox do have plenty to complain about with the current umpiring crew: a questionable "he swung" call against Big Papi in the sixth, a bad out call against Wily Mo Pena at first in the third inning and a worse strike three call against Mike Lowell to kill a rally in the first inning involve three-quarters of the umpiring crew that will be officiating the next two games. Not a pleasant thought.
Now, all of the bad luck in the world doesn't excuse not making the chances happen anyway - and it's not like Tavarez and the rest of the Red Sox couldn't have won that game if things had clicked. Which is why they'll try again today.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Game 33: Tim Wakefield Wants Some Freaking Respect

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 8, Toronto Blue Jays 0

You feel that? That was the cold icy stare of Tim “can’t touch this” Wakefield and his diving, dancing, dipping ball of knuckle death. These hapless Blue Jays were minor obstacles in his path to victory. Lowest ERA in the league? Yeah not that his W-L record would tell you (4-3) but the soft throwing vet is now rocking a 1.73 ERA and an attitude. His last two starts? Not one opposing player crossed home plate… because they’re scared to. So that stare that cuts through your soul? It MAKES you bring him runs.

Even against Doc Hallady.

These Sox players didn’t have a choice. They were compelled like zombies at a MENSA meeting to feast on the brains… sorry… poor pitching of the Jays ace. Lowell went deep (again) and the Papi/Ortiz combo looked as healthy as ever. Oh and then there is the often plunked Youk. You know why he gets hit? Cause he’s freaking KILLING the ball and you might as well make him feel some pain when he gets on base.

Now about these Blue Jays. What the hell happened here guys? You passed the Sox for second place in the AL East last year, you made some expensive and (on paper) impressive improvements, but you look like garbage. The Jays can be a nasty thorn in the Sox side and after the 2 game loss earlier this season, it looked like that pattern was emerging again. Guess not. Get the brooms out. We need to sweep some azure feathers off this artificial turf.

And by the way… As an aside.

I honestly don’t care about Bonds and Curt/Ortiz/Papelbon/Francona’s comments for or against the record/steroids issue. Why is this even news? Curt shoots his mouth off, Ortiz dissents and then gets misquoted, Papelbon says stuff, Curt apologizes and Francona tells everyone to shut up. Wow… finally an opinion I agree with: Shut Up.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Game 32: Picking Up Where Beckett Left Off

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Toronto Blue Jays 3

You know what I like? A pitcher who can bounce back from adversity. Although Matsuzaka, stuck in low-90s land, continues to lack a really biting fastball, he stepped up his curve and went on to give what's arguably one of his top three performances this year. Even more importantly, he did so after facing a rising storm of criticism about his "one bad inning" tendency and against a team - number ten in the MLB for OPS - that does not lack for hitting. Whether or not Dice-K has reversed his course and is on his way back to the domination he showed in his first start against KC is one of the great mysteries of the universe, but one thing's for certain: Dennis Miles doesn't throw a curve ball like the one Dice-K had last night and Dennis Miles doesn't throw four straight strikeouts, either. If good breaking balls continue to abound, I think we can look forward to a string of successful Matsuzaka starts.

Speaking of strings of success, can we not declare Dustin Pedroia out of his slump and on his way up? After a wretched April, the P-Dawg has at least one hit in his last five starts, scored runs in four of five games and touched base 16 times, all while striking out only once. Also, let's not forget that home run: short guys got power, too! In other words, we can stop using "Dustin Pedroia" and "black hole" in the same sentence; Pedroia is on his first major league hot streak and, for the first time this year, the Sox have a strong lineup top to bottom, complementing a solid bullpen and a rotation that inspires shivers of delight. I'm loving life as a fan right now.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Game 31: The Gospel of Beckett

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Toronto Blue Jays 2

1:1- Lo there blew a great wind that carried with it not 1 or 2 or 3 but 7 wins in His first 7 starts. This the almighty Beckett did sunder the Jays with His awesomeness. Yea he doth rock hard for innings 1 through 7 and if it were not for the first pitch from His amazing arm (and this evil pitch did leave the park) on this night He would have been as spotless as His record. Blessed be the Sox.

1:2- He who is Beckett is loved. Loved not only by the nation (which has mighty love) but also from the Sox hitters He calls teammates. For they love Him so greatly that they give Him runs as bountiful as all the salsa jars in Saint Papi’s trashcan. It was first Youk to bring the homer, and Youk beget Pedroia (small yet divine) and Pedroia beget Lowell, and Lowell beget Tek (back to holy back) and thus the runs did score. Blessed be the Sox.

1:3- And woe be the relief pitchers. For their toil has been all but forgotten. The new soul called from the depth of AAA Hansack did suckith the high hard one and walked many a batter. Praise to Romero for he was undaunted even with the bases filled of unholy birds. He vanquished his single foe and left the final three outs to be collected by Kyle of Snyder. He who is Beckett was indeed granted victory. Blessed be the Sox.

1:4- That which was from the beginning, was a win well in hand and the 7th of its kind for the Beckett. His glory only mirrors our own as Sox Nation. The Red Sox still hold upon high the lead for the AL East and shall attempt to gain strength for that lead with the help of our foreign disciple…Dice K. Blessed be the Sox.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Coming Sign of the Apocalypse

Robin and I joked yesterday that we weren't going to write anything big or make any jokes about Clemens signing with the Yankees ("I thought Clemens said he wanted to sign with a team that was in contention?") but then I opened up the Globe sports section, my "damn, I hate stupid people" mental alarm went off and now I'm up on my soapbox. Here's what's grinding my gears: the Globe is running poll asking whether or not the Sox messed up by not offering Roger the Dodger more than a prorated $18 million to pitch in the 2007 season. Out of the 10,415 people who had voted, only a paltry 1,094 (10.5 percent) said no, the Sox did not drop the ball by not offering the world's most famous merc a king's ransom to pitch. In other words, there are 9,321 (89.5 percent) people out there who have some serious explaining to do, lest I smack them upside the head with a defunct Red Sox Nation member's card, tied to a brick.

Why Eric, you may be saying, that's the sort of foaming-at-the-mouth crazy we'd expect from Robin, not you. Well, here's my problem: I hate it when people act like star-struck morons. Yes, for all of his personality issues, Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers to throw a baseball; a man whose lifetime ERA+ (144) and 2006 VORP (42.1) put him among the top tier of current pitchers, no matter what age. But there are three things that Red Sox fans are forgetting when they vote "yes" to assign blame to their team:
  1. Age may finally be catching up to the Rocket. Baseball Prospectus puts his projected 2007 VORP at 28.3, which puts him in the same league as leading lights like Javier Vazquez and Freddy Garcia. VORP projections can be inaccurate - Josh Beckett is almost certainly pitching better than his projected 27.5 VORP right now - but there's no way Boston should overpay for an elderly pitcher with third spot in the rotation potential.
  2. Have you seen our pitching staff? Who would Clemens replace? Schilling and Beckett are solid as rocks. Matsuzaka has some problems, but they're surmountable and he's not going anywhere anyway. Getting rid of Wakefield is an unthinkable sacrilege that would cause the computer sending the transfer request to burst into flames on the spot and by the numbers (lack of run support and all), Wakefield is still the best pitcher in the rotation. JT Killer is the fifth spot wildcard, but guess what? We've got Jon Lester gunning for his position in the wings and he's already paid for!
  3. Curt Schilling. After playing second fiddle for years, Schilling has been solo in the top spot since Pedro left in 2004, growing into the elder statesman role that caresses his ego like Dr. Evil stroking Mr. Bigglesworth. Bring on another older power pitcher in a different year and there would be an acceptable level of friction (say, the level of competition between Schilling and Johnson in 2001); do it today and I think you just end up pissing Schilling off because he'll feel knocked off his perch.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Game 30: BFF

Boston Red Sox 4, Minnesota Twins 3

Another close game, but this time the Sox managed to stay ahead. Schilling looked good until the 7th inning when the Twins loaded the bases… and nearly unloaded them. Like an EMT or ER doctor, Oki rushed in to keep the lead alive and preserve the win for Paps to save (he looked like his old self).

I was a little upset with the offense today. They should have jumped on that fat wack-job Sidney “Pontoon” early and often. Although it was good to see Drew step it up and get a couple of RBI’s, only scoring 4 off that tub of goo is embarrassing. But they got two out of three in Minnesota, the 20th win, and a solid hold on first place in the AL East.

Now, excuse me a moment as I flashback to a tender moment in the dugout during the 6th inning. Tavarez and Manny are old friends and as close as two guys that wanted to buy matching motorcycles can be. But this season Tavarez seems to be distracted. He has found a new buddy and (dare I say) a soul mate in newcomer Dice K. Their budding friendship has been well documented both on and off the field. Frankly I was getting worried. Not just because of the influence JT Killer would have on the innocent and naive Dice K (so scary), but what does Manny think of this relationship? Does he feel jilted? Has his chum moved on? Is this the reason for the cold start?

Well during the 6th inning today Manny and Tavarez rekindled that old fire. The head rubbing, the smiles, the hugs… it was like old times. Now what sparked this closeness and bonding? Just a simple conversation:

Manny: Hey did ya hear that some under .500 team just picked up a 45 year old pitcher? They’re paying him $5 million a month but he’s only gonna pitch for 3!

Tavarez: That really funny man. But honestly… who cares?

Manny: Wow good point. I wanna rub your head and hug you.

Tavarez: Do it man. Just do it. Go with the feeling.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Game 29: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Minnesota Twins 2

A look at tonight's box score reveals something very, very odd: by all rights (except the score) the Red Sox should have won tonight. A little comparison for you:

Starting pitcher hits surrendered:
Tavarez: 4
Santana: 7

Starting pitcher strikeouts acquired:
Tavarez: 7
Santana: 5

Starting pitcher innings pitched:
Tavarez: 6
Santana: 5

Number of pitchers used:
Red Sox: 2
Twins: 5

And yet, the all-important difference in score achieved by the Twins in the second inning, thanks to a few well-placed hits and a couple of untimely walks. It baffles the mind, this difference; so many seemingly important statistics dispute its existence, but there you have it: Dream Killer stepped up, delivered his best performance of the year and out-pitched (on many levels) Johan frickin' Santana, the best pitcher in the majors and still gained the loss. That's baseball, folks. That's why we watch the games.

Could it be Dustin Pedroia is finally about to break out? Two for two with a walk today, drove in the only Red Sox run with a double that kissed the left field foul line...who knows? It would certainly be about time...

Game 28: Lesson Learned

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Minnesota Twins 0

Fool Wakefield 15 times shame on you, but fool Mr. Knuckle 16 times and shame on him. Start after start Wake would step up to the mound, do a hair under amazing, and lose the game because the Red Sox don’t believe in a margin for error. 3 runs a start? That’s not gonna cut it Timmy.

So last night Wake finally had an epiphany. He came to terms with his complete lack of run support and brought his A+++ game. Can’t get much lower that 0 earned. Now add that to the much maligned defense finally showing up for a game, and the win was in the bag.

There was just that small problem of…you know...scoring freaking runs. It wasn’t till the 6th inning that Papi solved the problem that is Silva and put one DEEEEP into the upper deck in the trash bag dome. Thank you Papi, take your seat cause that’s all we’ll need.

Coco and co tacked one more on in the 9th, but it was over by then. The bullpen bounced back from the debacle 3 nights ago and resumed its lights out hold on any batter past the 7th inning. Paps resumed his overpowering form and now all is right with the world. Perfect timing. If you don’t recall, over the last two years the Sox usually get their clocks cleaned in this place. Be it outfielders losing their limbs in center field or speakers robbing Ortiz of homeruns, Minnesota has always been a nightmare.

And it looks like that might continue today as our resident whack-job and 5th starter Julian “I never saw those knives before” Tavarez gets the honor of battling superstar ace Johan Santana. How do these match-ups keep falling out this way? First JT Killer vs Halladay then Wang now Santana? We certainly like our degree of difficulty. Come on reverse trap game!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Game 27: A Win Only a Mother Could Love

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 8, Seattle Mariners 7

In the XBox 360 version of MLB 2K7, Daisuke Matsuzaka is called Dennis Miles - presumably because of some sort of licensing issue. Like his real-life counterpart, Dennis Miles has an obscene number of pitches (I think the game includes six) that he can throw for strikes, mystifying batters and leading to complete pitcher domination. However, knowing how to select those pitches and place them in effective spots requires someone behind the controller with enough baseball knowledge to know how to
a.) set up the hitter by changing speeds, b.) place the pitch so the hitter can't get the good part of the bat on the ball and c.) figure out which pitch from the arsenal the hitter isn't expecting. Get one thing wrong and you can recover; get all three things wrong and, for all his fancy pitches, Dennis Miles becomes just as hittable as a ball sitting on a tee.

The reason I bring this up is because last night, that wasn't Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching. That was Dennis Miles on the mound, with a fourteen-year-old kid with an understanding of pitching mechanics shallower than Paris Hilton operating the controls. Three walks to start the game, a five run first inning, five innings total with a bad spot at the end of the night made for Dice-K's worst outing in a string of three mixed-bag starts, where one inning tells the tale: command slips, hitters aren't fooled and that massive arsenal doesn't seem to mean anything.

There's a two-part silver lining, however:
  1. All of these problems are in Dice-K's head. As every other inning he's pitched demonstrates, when he gets past the freak out, Matsuzaka can dominate hitters in the US as much as he did in Japan; he's got a 1.89 ERA (6 runs in 32 innings) when he's not having a meltdown. Even better, the solution to the problem is one-dimensional: find the key to those slips and he becomes balls-out nasty all the time.
  2. If you're feeling some deja vu, you're probably thinking of the 2006 edition of Josh Beckett, struggling to adapt to a new league. Hopefully we won't have to wait until 2008 for Dice-K to undergo his own transition into the comfort zone, but there's definitely precedent that Matsuzaka will eventually come around.
So, to get back to the game, a quick sum up: Daisuke Matsuzaka = Dennis Miles, the bullpen was four pitchers short (Timlin on the DL, Hansack, Okajima and Papelbon all unavailable) and operating on a tape and glue budget that made Robin's fears two nights ago look like idle fancies and the Sox still came back from a five run deficit to win. There were plenty of contributions, of course: Lowell going 3 for 4; Wily Mo going 4 for 4 with three singles and a double, looking as comfortable as can be at the plate; even Pedroia knocked in a run. But the real hero was Manny with his two home runs, his fingers to the sky excellence, his sheer exuberance at cracking the hit that won the game in the eighth, as if he had found a way to focus the thousands of beams of happiness shooting out from the crowd into a single point of happiness brighter than the sun. Welcome back, Manny. It's good to have you here.

Game 26: Bow Before Beckett, Rejoice Before Okijima, Tremble Before Timlin

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Oakland Athletics 4

At this point in the season, no pitchers on the Red Sox staff cast more fear than these three. Beckett is the MASTER of wins. His 6 victories place him at the top of starting elite in this league. He has been pitching as well as I’ve seen him. He throws his curves for strikes, he dominates with his fastball and his selection has been great. He was perfect through 4 innings and only allowed 6 hits total. Even tonight in the 7th with the go-ahead runs on, he made Mark Ellis regret he even got up this morning. Josh is the real deal and he’s now the guy other teams hope they miss when they roll into town.

Fresh off winning American League Rookie of the Month honors, Oki brought his top stuff again tonight. Scratch that unfortunate first pitch in KC and this guy is el-perfecto. I hope the Japanese media give this guy the coverage they are dishing out to Dice K. Finally, the Sox have a set-up guy that bridges the gap without coronary complications. Oki turns the 8th inning into a time of cold reflection for opposing batters.

You know that scene in slasher films when the buxom blond is looking for her friends in the attic? That bimbo is snooping around when she finds this mysterious closed door. I wonder what’s in there? The killer you dumb bitch! This is usually when people start screaming “DON’T GO IN THERE!!” and hide their eyes expecting some knife wilding maniac just itching to slash her blouse off.

Wait… what was I saying?

Oh yeah. Timlin is brutal killer and Sox Nation is due to be raped, gutted and left for dead on the side of the road every time he steps on the mound. I have never been so scared of a pitcher. Every time I see Francona signal to the pen and Timlin takes his jacket off I freak out. “Nooooo!!! Are you NUTS?!?! Don’t GO THERE!!! He’s a KILLER!!” Tonight we had a 3 run lead going into the 9th. I was wetting myself. He only gave up one run and it was a miracle. I still can’t believe he got a save. I wouldn’t trust him to save time at this point.

Bottom line: If Timlin was a steak you’d send him back because you like well done meat… not charcoal.

So yeah. We barely scored runs (Coco, Cora and Lugo offensive heroes? Yikes) and the bullpen held it together (sorta). Put it in the W column and steady your nerves. Deep breaths.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

David Ortiz: Badminton Badass

I was already a fan of the goofy vitamin water commercials...and then I saw they had brought in the Ortizzle to demonstrate the vitamin power by playing doubles badminton with Brian Urlacher. You might say I'm a fan, the way you might say I like oxygen.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Game 25: A Eulogy for a Moment Lost

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Oakland Athletics 5

Like some sort of anti-Christmas, Jonathan Papelbon's first blown save comes but one terrible time a year. The circumstances don't matter. The ending of the game almost doesn't matter, although it sucks when another leg of the bullpen (Donnelly) undergoes his own meltdown, gives up the winning run and the Sox go and lose because they can't score a runner from second.


Let's try that again, with less contextual bitterness. The ending of the game almost doesn't matter, because they got to Mr. Untouchable, his Holiness, the Papal-Bon. A magical, pure moment of Spring has been lost forever and we must go on with the rest of the season, knowing that despite all appearances to the contrary, our closer is still human, if only for one night. We accept this knowledge and move on, but the bitterness still lurks in our hearts.

However, if it must be defeat, better a defeat like that of tonight. Despite his business-like demeanor beforehand in the bullpen, on the mound Papelbon looked like someone had opened up his back and removed the special gear that makes his fastball go to 11, his slider turn the knees of batters into goo and his splitter that would sooner kill a man than look at him. Someone had removed this gear, which doctors might someday refer to as the "bad ass gear" and poor Paps went out to the mound and hung pitches like it was his job, which - in opposite world - it was. In the gloom of this sad moment, the task for tomorrow shines all the more clearly. Go for and conquer; win one for Papelbon and his missing gear.

Monthly Recap: April Powers

April Record: 16-8
Overall Record: 16-8

Well well well, here we are at the end of the first month and things are looking so bright I had to sucker punch Kei Igawa so I could have some shades to wear. The Sox have the best record in baseball, they are leading the AL East by 4 games and they look set up for the long haul.

So how did we get here? Who’s helping the effort and who needs help? What’s the body count for convicted murders Tavarez and Donnelly? Let me breakdown the happenings this month by position.

Catcher: Everyone started this season worrying about Tek. He’s another year older, coming off an injury and to be honest, he hasn’t looked too great since 2004. The captain responded by putting up the sub-par hitting numbers we’re used to and running the pitching staff like they’re his band of trained orangutans. Tek is the winder of the Sox watch, the conductor of the Sox train, the something important of the Sox other thing. Yeah he might not hit his normal .250 with 20 HR and maybe 70 RBI and he still can get a handle on a mistake pitch now and again… but I am more interested in how he helps the ERA of the pitching staff.

Corner Infield: Youk and Lowell are back in the same spots they were last year. Youk has been a plus defensive 1st baseman and is still the Greek (Jewish) God of walks. Lowell has been hitting a TON but for some freaking awful reason… he can’t seem to catch/throw the ball. He already has more errors than ALL of last year. I guess we can forgive him if he continues to hit, but that’s doubtful. Somebody check his gloves for needles or something.

Up the Middle: Two new bodies, two new approaches. Lugo is a speed freak and he has been the true leadoff hitter we’ve been missing since Damon left. He has been pretty mediocre defensively, but compared to Gonzo everyone looks bad. Pedroia on the other hand, well… he’s been trying my last nerve. He can’t hit for power, he isn’t contact hitting, he doesn’t have speed and his range in the field is questionable. As for positives… ummm he has been… uhhh…he is very short?

Outfield: Manny, Coco and Drew. The Clown, the Clod and the Cripple. I almost HAVE to disregard Manny’s awful play so far. He’s barely batting .200 and is lacking his Man-Ram power. I blame the weather. Once the mercury starts to dance above 80 for a solid week, Manny will start putting balls into the stands. Coco had an ICE cold start but he too is starting to thaw. I still hate seeing him in any type of RBI situation. J.D. seems to be going the other way. He started strong and is beginning to slump. In fact, he has been 0 for like a week. Francona also seems to be acutely aware that Drew is made from wet cardboard and tissue paper so he has been given some days off. I know that he needs rest to prevent future injury, but it might be preventing him from working up a groove.

DH: Papi just growled at me and told me to move on. Yeah, he’s still good.

Bench: Right now this is one of the Sox biggest strengths. Cora and Hinske have been tearing it up. Personally I think Pedroia could sit even more than he usually does so Cora can continue to rock. Hinske would probably start on a lot of teams. He is a double threat at the corners and the outfield and his bat has been very timely. And Wily Mo? Just don’t put anything over the plate. “Straight ball I it very much, curveball bats are afraid.”

As backup catcher, Mirabelli is the same fat designated knuckle ball catcher he always has been. He already has 2 homeruns and has been clogging up the base paths like ricotta clogs his arteries. God I love these guys.

Bullpen: The Red Scare has changed its meaning. They now strike fear into the hearts of other teams instead of the Sox Nation. Oki and Donnelly have been lights-out-goodnight. These guys are so money it’s criminal. Oki has been especially amazing with his weird lefty movement. The confusion he’s caused with hitters, it was like he was pitching in Japanese. Snyder, Joel and Timlin have been good to fair in non clutch situations (although Francona seems to be the last person in the world to hear that Timlin might be all done) and round this pen out nicely. The only guy not pulling his weight is J.C. Romero and even he hasn’t been awful. Unfortunately when Lester gets back I think he’s going to be sent packing to make room for Tavarez and his triumphant return to the pen (just in time).

Closer: Papelbon just stared at the ground, then slowly looked up right at me. I peed a little. He…is…a…GOD…

Starting Pitching: Besides are rocky first outing, Schilling has been top notch… which is interesting cause that’s the same notch he uses to fasten his belt. But the extra pounds haven’t slowed him down any. His ERA is slightly inflated from that hiccup in KC and from the hard slugging Yankees, but I think he will drop it soon. Beckett seems to have turned a corner from last year. As the first 5-0 starter this season, Josh seems to be using all of his pitches and is actually pitching rather than just throwing the ball as hard as he can. The consensus is that he has begun to listen to Tek more, or he’s gotten all my nasty letters. Wake is still Timmy Knuckles. He is still going to give up 3 or less runs every start and they are still going to not score him any runs. It’s getting old. Then there is the Asian Sensation. Dice K is good… but he’s not yet great. He ran into some run production problems, some wildness issues and had a run in with the dreaded “bad inning” syndrome. He still looks un-hittable at times, but he also looks like he is only giving 75%. I still don’t understand him.

The last piece of this puzzle is (for the time being) Tavarez. In this age of shallow pitching staffs, he’s probably better than most of the other #5 starters out there. Add that crazy factor (starting to rear its head again) and he is almost passable. That being said, Lester is a MUCH better option. Besides, I kinda like Tavarez in the pen. Check out his stats first time through the order… he’s pretty nasty.

Coaching: Haven’t heard much about Francona, Farrell and Magadan. Know why? CAUSE WE WINNERS BITCH! No hot seats when you have the best record in April. Besides, I think this crew is really meshing and working well with the varied talent. It’s much better than the alternative.

Low Point: Getting one hit by King Felix wasn’t fun, but the worst is how the Blue Jays handed the Sox a whooping. I hope the find a way around that sky colored menace.

High Point: Sweeping the Angels could be really important down the stretch. They are going to be one of he top teams in the AL. Aww… who am I kidding? We took 5 out of 6 from the Yankees baby! Combine that with a sexy back to back to back to back homerun display and I could just die happy right now.

This has been a fantastic month from almost every vantage point. Besides the lagging of some of the bats, the Boston Red Sox look like they’re in great shape and “Stay the Course” should be the mantra. That’s a damn good place to start. GO SOX