Friday, December 24, 2004

Hot Stove 6: All Hail the Cap'n

It's official - as of 11:00 this morning, Jason Varitek is returning to the Red Sox for four years and 40 million dollars. He is now also the first official captain of the Red Sox since 1989 (Jim Rice) and the second since 1966 (Carl Yastrzemski). The solution to the no-trade clause issue was announced too; as part of a new club rule, "players who already have a certain amount of no-trade protection in their contracts can not be traded by the Red Sox without permission if they have at least eight years of uninterrupted service with the team." Varitek will qualify for this new rule at the end of this season; Trott Nixon will qualify at the end of 2006. Presumably, since the article didn't mention him, Tim Wakefield, who is the senior member of the team by two years (started 1995) does NOT have these protections. Since Nixon is a player the team would want to hang on to anyway and the agreement got the deal done, I'm happy about the whole thing - Varitek is now officially what he's been unofficially for years, the team is one step closer to completion and (hopefully) another run for the World Series Rings and as a Boston fan, I'm gratified about Varitek played the situation out. Even though the Sox had to negotiate with Scott Boras, Varitek and his wife apparently made it clear they didn't want to hear any offers from any other teams until the deadline...two weeks from now. In other words, he put the team and the fans first, unlike some other former Sox I could mention...*

I leave you this day of Christmas Eve with a poem that was posted today on that does a pretty good job of capturing why part of me wishes it was April right now. GO SOX!!!

'Twas the Day Before Christmas

'Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the Nation,

We were happy for ‘Tek, but worried about the rotation;

Randy in pinstripes? That deal fell through,

But Pedro went walking to the orange and blue

Schill was nestled online, reading a thread,
While thoughts of ripping Petey a new one danced in his head;

But then he looked at his “2004 World Series Champions” cap,

And forgot about the Met and his mouth that yap-yaps

When out on the ‘net there arose such a clatter,

Who was getting away? Now what’s the matter?

Typing on boards fingers flew like a flash

Like when Tony Soprano slips his girlfriends the cash

And on some dot com I got such a blow,
They were reporting “RJ to NY” is finally a go;
He’s #1 for the Yanks, or so I feared,
But wait – it was on ESPN, and the report was unclear

Johnny Damon was on his honeymoon, the new newlywed,
Now will he pull a Ricky Williams? Will he ever leave his bed?

We'll miss Roberts, and Kapler, OC, D-Lowe and Pete

And Mientkiewicz or Millar, 'cause one of them is hittin' the street

Now Curt’s on the shelf, no more blood in his socks,
And D-Lowe is home playing with his mental blocks;
Our starters are gone! Who is to blame?
Who are these new guys? What are their names?

“Now, Boomer! now, Miller! now, Clement and Halama!
On, Mantei! plus Payton! and Vazquez and Edgar!
A whole new clubhouse! GM made the call!
Free agents dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

But Theo went to the Wells and a Cub named Clement;
Have faith in our genius, it’s money well spent;
And now we’ve got Miller, the second best Wade,
in the history of Boston (so his labrum’s a little frayed)

And then, in a twinkling, he was back on the mound,

The prancing and pawing of the new top throwing hound,

Laying his finger aside of the seam,

He gave ‘Tek the nod, an almost impossible dream;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

He went into his windup; then turned with a jerk,

As he threw out his hand, and was coming around,

Down towards home plate, the ball took off with a bound;

He threw like the old days, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment, Schill was no longer sick;
His heater’s mid-nineties, the splitter has bite,
Let’s mark him down for eight innings a night!

More rapid than eagles came the Opening Day game,

Up went The Flag, the Yanks looked ashamed;
Johnny's speed back in center, Manny’s long drives lit the sky,

Papi had the old stroke back, when he hit ‘em, they fly

I sprang to my feet, to the team gave a whistle,

They circled the bases, Schilling threw another missile;

The good times were back for our championship ballclub,


* - It's true, I did say no Pedro bitterness, but he DID bash the Sox and make it sound like they were the unreasonable ones after his new signing. I'm done, I promise.

Hot Stove 5: Moneyball

I think this happened before my last post, but I would be remiss if I didn't put it up here: Dave Roberts has been traded to the Padres for outfielder Jay Payton, infielder Ramon Vasquez and pitching prospect David Pauley. Presumably this was a smart deal inof itself (I'm in a Theo-can-do-no-wrong mood right now), but it was also a classy move on the part of the Sox - Roberts will get to play every day now. Of course, since this was the guy who, with a steal, saved the ALCS from being a sweep (and then the next day, got so much into Tom Gordon's head that he was able to score the tying run AGAIN), he departs from Boston with god-like status forever and I wish him all kinds of well.

The other reason I'm posting, though, is because of the Sox signing of pitcher Wade Miller out from under the Astros with a 1 year, 1.5 million dollar deal. Miller was hurt this past season with a frayed rotator cuff that closed him out after June 29, but instead of getting surgery, he elected to go through rehabilitation. The doctors have given him a clean bill of health and he plans to be at Spring training. Now, since this was a guy who won 45 games from '01 - '03, if he's healthy, he's an incredible deal. And if it turns out he's not, with the number of pitchers the Sox have picked up and his cheap signing price, he's no big loss. This is classic Moneyball - even more since, as Peter Gammons pointed out, the signings of Mantei, Wells, Miller, Clement and Halama have cost the Sox less than the $17.5 million Pedro earned last year. And now there'll be some interesting competition for the five starting spots come March.

According to rumors on and news slightly more substantiated on, Jason Varitek is back for another four years! At the cost of $40 million to the Red Sox (but no no-trade clause), the team leader is coming back for more. The deal is expected to be announced tomorrow. I love this team so much...and I'm really psyched for another year of baseball now. GO SOX!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hot Stove 4: More signing fun

Ok, so I'm bit a behind. I blame going to the frozen wastes of northwestern New Hampshire and spending time with the family, Hannukah-style. Besides, this gives me the chance to digest and come up with my snappy commentary you all know and love.

Since the 14th, the Sox have signed John Halama to a one year, one million dollar deal. Halama, best known for having a last name that Jerry Troupiano made fun of (John Halamalamalama). John comes with a 4.70 ERA and a 6 and 7 record with Tampa Bay last year and the distinction of having played for four teams in four years. Not really a stellar pickup.

On the heels of the Halama signing, however, the Sox picked up Edgar Renteria (or, as he will be known in Boston starting this season, "Owah wicked good shoahtstop, Edgah Renterier"*) for four years and forty million. O-Cabs, he of the gold glove defense, has been signed by the Angels, in the place of David Eckstein. I wish him the best. Renteria is a slightly better hitter than Cabrera...or at least he is in the NL, where Cabrera was unhappy anyway. That one's kinda relative. Renteria's definately a better fielder than Cabrera and he's got a gold glove too, so the Sox aren't losing that department. I was psyched overall by the results. My question after finding out was what the Sox plan to do with Hanley Ramirez, who's supposed to be ready to play in 2006. Supposedly the reason the Sox didn't re-sign Cabrera was because he didn't want to take a short contract to make room for Ramirez - it seems now it's (also) because the Front Office was also after Renteria. Originally, I was thinking maybe Ramirez would be involved in a deal to get Hudson, but he signed with Atlanta, ending that possibility.

Then over the weekend, Matt Clement announced he'll be signing with the Red Sox for three years, rounding out the rotation: Schilling, Wells, Clement, Wakefield and Arroyo (who just signed a new contract of his own, along with Mark Bellhorn). Clement, who is apparently one of those fine wine pitchers (i.e., he takes a while to develop) was picked up because the Front Office feels he's entering his prime, tell us. He's 30, apparently healthier than Pedro and hasn't really hit his stride yet. Still, he's one of those pitchers I seem to recall getting excited about at some point over the past year or two, so I applaud the move.

The only other trading news of note is that the Dodgers pulled a fast one on the D-backs AND the Yankees by pulling out of the Randy Johnson trade. I continue to hope that this deal will go through, because I want New York to be foolish enough to trade away Javier Vasquez for a pitcher who's 41. Of course, the Yankees may pull this, get a pitcher who's good for a year or two, then just spend the money to get more talent and I'll just look foolish...or maybe they'll end up with another edition of the 2004 Yankees. There's time yet for the trade to happen.

I have more Red Sox schwag. Not only that, but it was schwag that other people gave me, which makes it that much better...nothing like free cool stuff. Over the weekend, during the aforementioned Hannukah festivities, my parents gave me a copy of the NESN season DVD (which I'm told is much better than the MLB version) and one of the blue championship hats** - it's got the logo, the 2004 champions, adjustable by strap (remember when these things had those annoying plastic clips? Didn't those suck?) and made of this cool fabric that's suprising warm. I dig it. Then, last night, Nikki and I exchanged gifts and she bought me a game ball from the April 16th game between the Sox and Yankees, where Wakefield beat Vasquez 6 - 2. She also made sure it was from a series the Sox won, because she's such a sweetheart. The ball comes with a plastic base and a certificate of authenticity with an odd little squirrel on it and I'm entertaining ideas of finding Tim Wakefield, breaking the ball out of the case temporarily and having him sign it. A fun little mission, if I do say so myself. Or maybe crazy. Either way, definately another cool gift. GO SOX!!!

* - Part of being a Massachusetts native living somewhere else, especially somewhere like New York, which has its own collection of accents, is being able to do a good Boston accent...and enjoy doing it. I could probably start up a show here in NYC, just doing my accent imitation: "Come see the freak who pronounces his Rs like As and his As like Rs!" It would make a fortune. And I could bring Robin in as a co-performer and have him do a Worcester accent. Maybe do a blind-test to see if people can tell the difference. Then I'll bring the wonderful John Greene back from LA for a special guest performance and put all of us to shame.
** - I just spent five minutes trying to find a picture of said hat, but it is nowhere to be found on you'll have to live with my description.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Hot Stove 3: Petey in New York, Boomer in Boston. And Manny...?

As my friend K80 put it to me last night, at least he didn't go to the Yankees. As I said back on the 1st of the month, I infinately prefer a Pedro on the Mets than I do on the Yankees and I will try to take the opportunity to see Pedro pitch in Queens.

Still, it hurts a bit. Part of me wanted Pedro to be reasonable about his arm and his future and take a two year deal and stay in Boston, because Boston was where he became famous. That's the part of me that's the fan of course - the part of me that kept faith in the team after times like Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But of course Pedro is going to follow the money - he's a practical guy who wants to milk the owners for as much as he can get before he retires. I just hope the competitive side of him isn't disappointed pitching for the Mets

Meanwhile, the starting pitcher scramble continues. Hudson hasn't settled for anyone, but the Yankees snagged Pavano. Even before Pedro announced he was signing with the Mets, the Sox picked up David Wells for two years and eight million dollars. For those of you not on the up and up, that means the Sox just signed a pitcher who's 42 and 280 pounds and plan on keeping him until he's 44. Now, to be fair, he had a fairly good year last year, because the Padres apparently made him take better care of himself, but I half wonder if Boomer is going to drop dead of a heart attack in the middle of his second year. With Pedro gone, this guy could be our number two starter. And, since Schilling told WEEI radio that because his surgery/recovery was so off schedule, he may be as much as a month behind on getting his 2005 season started. So Boomer may be going up against the Yankees to start the season. The irony is killing me.

Ok, no more bitterness. Actually, truth be told, my bitterness isn't over the Wells deal, as weird as it is, or Pedro, but because of the rumors circulating on about Manny possibly going to the Mets as well. Apparently the talks were serious, as in, "yes, please, take half of our hitting powerhouse so we have more money available." Stuff like that mixes with all I've heard about Larry Lucchino - how he builds up a championship-caliber team, then breaks the entire team apart and sells it a few years later at profit - and makes me wonder if ole Larry is going to pull the same stunt again, thereby earning him the entirely useless emnity of all of Red Sox Nation, card-carrying* or no. Robin tells me the rumor has been debunked - he thinks it's because the Sox realize they don't want to give their entire team to the Mets, I think it's because the Mets have run out of money to buy.** In any case, probably the only thing that could piss me off more Red Sox-wise than a deal sending Manny somewhere else would be failing to resign Varitek. No news on that, by the way. I'll be back when/if any other rumors (Clement, Renteria, Hudson etc.) are stabilized into deals. GO SOX!!!

* - Can we talk about how stupid this idea is? This is the sort of thing that belongs in Arizona or Anaheim, where they don't know how to be baseball fans. It's insulting.
** - To quote ESPN Rumor Central: "Talks with the Mets progressed at the winter meetings to the point where the clubs were discussing a deal that would send Ramirez, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and cash to the Mets in exchange for outfielder Cliff Floyd and more than one of the Mets' prospects.

The deal hit a snag when the Mets asked for more cash. Reportedly, this led to a harsh exchange between Sox GM Theo Epstein and Mets GM Omar Minaya and the trade went from quite possible to unlikely. The Red Sox would have to chip in a substantial amount of cash to make this deal economically palatable for the Mets."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hot Stove 2

Doug Mirabelli has become the first of the free agents to resign, agreeing to a two year deal for an unconfirmed $3 million on the 29th. Gabe "The Great Jewish Hope" Kapler became the first of the free agents to leave the team, opting on the 22nd to go to Japan for a year so he can be a full time player. Pedro Martinez has been offered $37 milllion over three years by the Mets, upping the supposed offer of $25 million over two years with an option for a third year by the Red Sox. Rumor also has it that the Sox have since made that third year a guarantee, upping the total to $40 million.

Obviously, in the scheme of things, the Pedro deal is the most important, but it's important to give Mirabelli, especially, his due. Kapler I wish all the best to - it was fun to watch him play and I'm glad he's decided to try and take his career to the next level. Mirabelli, however, is an important signing because of the role he plays on this team. First, he's Wakefield's catcher. As Varitek proved so succinctly during the ALCS, he can't catch more than half of Wakefield's pitches.* Although I hope to God he resigns, we need Mirabelli to catch every fifth day and now that's secure. Second, Mirabelli's offensive numbers have been steadily increasing in almost category and he certainly hit better for the Sox in every category this year than he did in 2002. He's also consistent trouble for the Yankees, which always go over pretty well in Boston. And, should the worst happen and Varitek signs with another team, Mirabelli has been the fulltime catcher before. Not the best option out there, maybe and certainly not the way this ownership or our Golden Boy GM would run things, but still doable. All in all, good pickup.

Now, Petie. If any of the rumors about the Sox offers are true, it sounds like the Boston Front Office has more than a little interest in keeping him, especially if they're trying to counter the Mets offer by guarenteeing that third year. As much I'd like Martinez to stay around, I'd definately prefer him going to the Mets than to the Yankees, for two reasons: first, if there's any possibility of facing him in the future, I'd rather do it possibly once in interleague play than definately three or four times in normal AL encounters with NYY. Second, the ghosts of 1986 are dead. I can want the Mets to have a good team and not be the weak younger brother in New York now without feeling guilty. Heck, it would be a good inducement to go to Shea if I could see Pedro pitches there. See, making the best of a (potentially) bad situation already. That's all for the moment; I'll be back when more signings, etc. are announced. GO SOX!!!

* - How did we win that game? How did we win the ALCS at all? I was looking at pictures on the other day and I got all giddy about the whole thing AGAIN because I still can't believe it happened. Anyway, enough of my jibbering, back to the analysis.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Hot Stove 1

I was going to wait until the signings for next year were announced before writing again, but I had to post this letter, written by my uncle Nathan Hanson to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. The editors at the T & G did not see fit to publish it, but what do they know? I think it speaks pretty well for itself:

October 30, 2004

Dear Editor,

In the days since the Red Sox defeated the Yankees and steamrolled through the Cardinals, there has been much discussion about the infamous Curse of the Bambino. Some claim that the curse has been broken, some claim that it never existed. I propose that the curse has simply been transferred.

I submit for argument the Curse of A-Rod. Back in 1919, Babe Ruth, the greatest player of his time, was traded from Boston to New York for money by a cash-strapped Red Sox owner who hailed from New York. We all know that since the Yankees have won 26 world championships, and the Red Sox only this one. Flash forward to the modern era where Alex Rodriguez is considered by many to be the best player of his time. A-Rod began his career in Seattle, and in 2000, his last year there, the Mariners had a respectable record of 91-71, enough to gain a wild card birth in the playoffs where they would eventually lose to the Yankees, who were on the way to their last world series victory. The year after, when A-Rod left for a Texas-sized contract with the Rangers in 2001, the Mariners set a major league record for regular season wins with 116, but again could not make it past New York in the ALCS. The Yankees, however, lost that world series.

In Texas, A-Rod put up his numbers, but played on some horrible teams. All that he wanted was to play for a winner, regardless of the money. Enter the Red Sox in the winter of 2003, who worked publicly and tirelessly to trade their best player, Manny Ramirez, to Texas for A-Rod. By all accounts, the deal was in place, and A-Rod was dreaming of strafing the Green Monster with line drives. But a union head from New York intervened and said that A-Rod had earned his huge contract, and could not take less money to play for the Sox. A-Rod acquiesced. Once again, it came down to money, and the Sox owners balked, and in swept the Yankees to sign the best player in baseball. We all know how that turned out, as A-Rod is now the symbol of the biggest choke in playoff history and Ramirez took home World Series MVP honors. By the way, in 2004 without Rodriguez, Texas improved their record by eighteen wins: their record in 2003 with Rodriguez was 71-91, a mirror image of A-Rod's last record in Seattle). The Rangers finished only three games out of first place.

Speaking of the number three . . . I myself was not entirely convinced that the stars could realign themselves in such a dramatic fashion all within one October, I was not certain that what had seemed like the accursed fate of the Red Sox for all of eternity could be shrugged off by the likes of Ortiz, Schilling, et al, only to become the heavy mantel of another, hated franchise. That is until I pondered this: A-Rod had worn the number three on the back of his Seattle and Texas uniforms and would have been able to do so with Boston (Pokey Reese wore that number this year). But the number three is retired in Yankees Stadium in honor of the man who, as the saying goes, built that house, Babe Ruth. Left to choose another number for the 2004 season, A-Rod wore thirteen.

To all of those Yankees fans who chanted "1918," carried posters of the Babe and who laughed heartily whenever the Sox bumbled another opportunity, to all of those fans of New York who may have a hard time accepting any of the facts presented above, who even now may be pondering whether any curse ever existed, I have only one piece of advice: Believe!

In Deep Gratitude to Babe Ruth,

who is The Giver of Championships,

Past and Present,

Nathan Hanson

Worcester, MA

For those people who have called down a "Curse of the Pedrino" on the Sox, I say long live the Curse of the Purple Lips. I'll be back once rumors about Pedro getting an offer equal to Schilling's contract and Varitek's attempts to get 50 million over five years have been settled. GO SOX!!!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

World Series Game 4

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 3, St. Louis Cardinals 0

It's been almost twelve hours since the Red Sox became the baseball champions of the world for the first time since 1918 and I still can't entirely wrap my mind around it, let alone have any sort of perspective. Of course, as I've proven numerous times this season, this journal isn't about perspective, it's about feeling...and feeling is one thing I've got a lot of right now. I watched the replay of last nights of SportsCenter this morning and got all weepy just watching the highlights from the game. I get weepy watching Nike's commercial showing two Red Sox fans going from little boys to old men in seats along the first base line at Fenway over a span of 86 years. Hell, I get teared up just thinking about getting weepy. All season I got choked up just thinking what would happen if the Sox did what really had been the impossible and won and wondered how I'd react. I still don't know how to do so.

So many little things from last night coming together. Derek Lowe pulled the hat trick of cinchers last night, by completing the hat trick of incredible Red Sox starting pitching during this World Series. Seven innings, no runs, three hits, one walk, four strikeouts. Set down thirteen or fourteen in a row at one point. Johnny Damon leading off the game with a homerun into the right field seats to grab the lead for the start YET AGAIN. Trot Nixon getting THREE doubles, including one that put the Sox ahead 3 - 0. Keith Foulke, who went from blowing it for the A's last post-season to becoming Rivera-like this post-season, closing out the ninth and catching that chopper from Renteria, staring at it in astonishment, as if surprised to find the winning ball in his glove, then tossing it to Doug Mientkiewiecz to end the game.

Emotional moments as both Robin and I broke down for several minutes, then wandered around the apartment talking to the multitude of people who wanted to celebrate by phone. Talking to my father, up in New Hampshire with a group of Red Sox fans. Talking to my sister, out in Ohio, discussing the Red Sox tattoo she was planning to get this morning. Talking to my grandfather, who had called the necessity for the Nomar trade several years ago and turned out to be very, very right. Talking to my mother, who had a premonition the Sox would win the World Series during the game 3. After three shots in rapid succession, talking to my friend Jeff in a drunken slur about how incredible it all was while watching an episode of Scrubs. Hanging out in the bar downstairs with Nikki, Ryan and Robin and not knowing what to say for the toasts that accompanied those shots. And I'm still not entirely able to believe that it all actually happened.

Simultaneously, some realizations; an attempt to put some logic into the situation: this was the first year that I came even close to listening to or watching every game, even over last year. This was the first year Robin and I watched or listened to games together consistently (we have a perfect post-season record when we watch games together, by the way). This was the first year I kept this diary. So much that I could attribute to a win, just as I'm sure many other fans across the country and the world are doing right now.

More firsts: for the first time in my life, I don't have to listen to chants of "1918" and not have an answer, I don't have to have Yankees fans tell me they feel bad that I'm a Red Sox fan, I don't have to say, "maybe next year" or "why does this always happen to us?" because my team, the world champions, made history by coming back from the impossibly deep hole, winning an unprecedented eight post-season games in a row and becoming the first World Series winners in Boston since the end of World War One. Like Bill Simmons put it, " Now the 1918 jokes are done. Now TV networks can't ruin our playoff games anymore. Now we can watch Red Sox games without waiting for the Other Shoe. Now we don't have to deal with manipulative books and documentaries, or hear about Buckner, Zimmer, Grady, Pesky, Torrez, Stanley and Schiraldi ever again. It's a clean slate. We're like those ugly contestants who show up on "The Swan," get fifty grand worth of plastic surgery, then start sobbing in front of a full-length mirror when they see themselves. That's every Red Sox fan right now. Eighty-six years wiped away. Just like that."

I think back to listening to pre-season games back in March in my old apartment, starting this blog at the end of April, suffering through that awful June, the fight in July that turned the season around, hearing about the news of the trade and wondering what the management was thinking, cursing Terry Francona more times than I can count, the magic hot streak in August, coming so close to taking first place in September, beating the Angels in three for the ALDS, beating the Yankees in seven for the ALCS after the incredible turn-around in game 4 and finally all of last night. Over those seven months, 25 or so strangers became like a weird extension of my family and as promised when I started this journal, there was much suffering and much joy. I want to thank the Boston Red Sox and all of the people who were fans with me (or supported my being a fan, as crazy as it was) and all of the people, like my father, who taught me what it was to be a Red Sox fan for this's truly a blessing.

I guess with that sentiment, I'll close out this volume of the Diary of a Red Sox fan. I'll be back soon with announcements about who's being resigned, who's been traded and all the hot stove talk that make up the long cold winter as I wait for the next season to begin and the fun (and these regular posts) to start again. I'm looking forward to more from the dynamic duo of Manny and Big Papi, more thrillers from Schilling, the continued blossoming of Arroyo, Johnny Damon having another great year leading off and the composition of the team next year. I'm looking forward to watching baseball without sports' equivalent of the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. It's gonna be fun. GOOOOOOOOOOO SOOOOOOOOOOOX!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

World Series Game 3

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 4, St. Louis Cardinals 1

Pedro Martinez. Amazing. When it's all said and done, having Schilling and Pedro as your one-two punch is something really special. I've gotten to point where I just want the team to resign all of these guys so I can have just as much fun watching them again next year. Last night the Man went seven innings on no runs, three hits, two walks and six strikeouts. He had some trouble at the beginning of the game (detailed below), but once again, if that's the last time we see Pedro Martinez in a Red Sox uniform, it was incredible way to say goodbye. After getting in his groove, Pedro went on to retire fourteen straight batters and shut down the Big 4 (and the rest of the lineup) completely.

The only tough part of the game was at the beginning. A combination of an umpire with an inconsistent strikezone (for both sides) and Pedro's taking time to warm up to the warm (about 65 degree) mid-autumn air led to some trouble in the first two innings. But somehow, those breaks that NEVER come to the Red Sox came again, like they have almost all post-season. In the first, the bases were loaded with one out and Jim Edmonds hit a fly to shallow center. Larry Walker, who was on third, decided to tag and try to score. Without missing a beat, Manny threw a one-hopper right to Varitek, who decoyed Walker into thinking he wasn't getting the throw, drawing the Cardinal's rightfielder into coming down the basepath and tagged him out easily for the inning-ending double play.

In the third, the Cardinals had another opportunity - after Jeff Suppan poked a little infield hit down to third base and Edgar Renteria doubled (the last hit Pedro would give up all night)*, Walker came up with no outs to try and get something started. Todd smacks a grounder to Mark Bellhorn, who like the rest of the infield was playing back to get the out, even though it meant giving up the run. Bellhorn tosses to Ortiz (who played excellently, by the way, much to my glee), who tags first...and discovers that, for some reason, Jeff Suppan has frozen on the base path to home. By the time he gets the presence of mind to flee back to third, Ortiz has thrown to Mueller, who tags him out. Pujols grounds out to end the inning and Pedro settles into his groove. The Cardinals don't score until the ninth, when Walker smacks a Keith Foulke pitch into left-center for a solo homerun before St. Louis goes quietly into the night.

On the offensive side, Manny seems to be finally breaking out, going 2 for 4 with a walk, two RBIs and a homerun, which came in the first, after Robin made a comment about Manny being due. After a particularly agregious low strike call, Manny got annoyed enough to say something to the umpire, then hit a shot into the second deck in left field. Robin and I both feel he got so mad at the umpire that he decided to hit one out just to prove a point. Overall, there were nine Boston hits, including three doubles, more than enough to knock out Suppan in the fifth and add a few runs to the total.** Not a massive effort, but there weren't any errors either. And the Sox beat the Cardinals in St. Louis, doing what Los Angeles and Houston had failed to do. I'm psyched.

Who am I kidding? I'm wired. I've been bouncing around all day, especially this morning when I didn't have other things to distract me. I really don't want to think about what happens after tonight, or even what happens tonight, because if the best happens...I have NO IDEA how I'll react. Hell, I have no idea how Boston will react if the Sox win. It's possible that the entire city may just sink into the ocean, leaving the rest of Red Sox Nation to wander the lands of the Earth like some sort of lost Atlanteans.

I can't believe I just wrote that. Clearly I'm a bit unhinged just thinking about it, so on to what's actually happening tonight: Derek Lowe is going up against Jason Marquis in game 4 tonight. Lowe, who was not originally on the post-season rotation, has won the ALDS and ALCS for the Red Sox and will be trying to win for them again tonight. I have no other commentary. GO SOX!!!

* - I have some serious beef with the grounds crew at Busch Stadium because of this play, even though all turned out for the best. It rained in St. Louis yesterday and even though there were tarps on the field, there were sizable puddles on the warning track in right. And by sizable puddles, I mean it resembled a swamp. Heck, even Walker, who plays there normally, was being careful. When Nixon went after that Renteria double, which hit off the wall, he slipped on one of those puddles and fell flat on his back. Yes, the man with the disc and quad problems FELL ON HIS BACK. Yeah, there was a good deal of yelling at the TV about that one. Fortunately, he seemed to be ok for the rest of the day and I haven't seen anything about his being injured by the fall, but this was clearly something that could have been prevented had the grounds crew done their job and vacuumed up the water or something like that. The Fenway groundskeeper apologized to Tony Womack by way of Tony LaRussa for the field conditions that may or may not have led to Womack getting clocked by the Ortiz grounder in Game would be nice if the Busch groundskeeper could be as classy.
** - Robin and I tried something new tonight, although it really only worked well with Bill Mueller - we gave everyone theme songs. Varitek got a Fifth of Beethoven, Mueller got Eye of the Tiger...all adapted to fit their names and what we wanted them to do. And my coworkers want a seven game series...clearly the ALCS made Robin and I crazy enough.

Monday, October 25, 2004

World Series Game 2

Final Score:

Boston Red 6, St. Louis Cardinals 2

Well, one worry was certainly assuaged last night, as Curt "The Warrior" Schilling threw six innings of one run, four hit, one walk, four strikeout ball last night, bleeding into his sock a splotch the shape of the state of Oklahoma. If Derek Jeter is the William Wallace of baseball, is Curt Schilling the Connor McLeod? As the moment draws down to where there can be only one, Curt Schilling has certainly done his very best in his last two starts to make sure his team gets the World Series rings. With any luck, I'll have the chance to crank "Princes of the Universe" on my stereo and mean it.

Ok, enough of the Highlander references. Sox pitching picked it up last night, keeping the Cardinals to two runs instead of nine. The defense, however, did not, with Bill Mueller committing an incredible three errors last night. Of course, he also had two incredible line drive catches last night to match the errors and prevented the game from being a lot closer by doing so. The second catch, snagged with runners on first and second with two out, was a double play with the tag accomplished by Mueller tagging his jaw to the runner's chest. Based on the speed on which it was hit, Mueller would most likely have had a triple play at second if it had been necessary. What's even more incredible, though, is that none of these errors resulted in a run. This team continues to amaze.

The interesting thing about the Sox last night was how close they came to getting homeruns. Starter Matt Morris was on three days rest for the first time in his career and neither he nor his relief, Cal Eldred were particularly effective, with a combined total of six runs over five and 2/3rds innings. However, with the wind blowing in last night, hits to deep center that would have been homeruns dropped in the park for hits. Varitek hit a two-run triple in the first that came within feet of going into the bleachers and Bellhorn hit a two run double in the fourth that landed in roughly the same area.* In the sixth, Cabrera smacked a hit off the Monster to score two runs (including Johnny Damon from first), but again, I'm willing to bet that ball dropped in the wind. Finally, Manny hit a ball that started as a monster to center, then died enough in the air to drop for a bloop single.

For the Cardinals, it was Pujols' turn to have the big night last night, going three for four with a run and two doubles. Everyone else was pretty quiet, though as Schilling, Embree, Timlin and Foulke combined to get the job done. Heck, the vaunted Cardinals bunt didn't even appear once. Indeed, in the end, it was a game you could watch without getting too worked up, which was really a nice change of pace, especially for a Sunday night. Much appreciated, guys.

On Tuesday night, Pedro goes up against former Sox pitcher Jeff Suppan, most noted for looking a bit like me (but with short hair) and sucking balls as a Red Sox pitcher. I hear he's done pretty well with the Cardinals, though. Again, it's a game against a team who hasn't lost at home all post-season, with our usual DH playing at first. I'm not writing the Red Birds off at all. But if the Sox win tomorrow night...I can't even think it, let alone type it. Not with the way this postseason has gone, let alone with what history says. We'll be one step from the incredible with a lot of breathing room and that's all I'm gonna say. GO SOX!!!

* - Robin, of course, called that one, but only after I prompted him to make a prediction. Well, sort-of called it. He said homerun and of course, on any other night, he would have been right. I give him credit for knowing where the ball should have been, even if the ball did not.

World Series Game 1

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 11, St. Louis Cardinals 9

So last night we had a World Series Game 1 party here at the apartment. Seven or eigth people, pizza, beer and the idiots on television* for a good three plus hours. Things went pretty well at first: Wakefield gave up a hit and a man made it as far as second, but then got out of the inning unscathed. In their half of the inning, the Sox got four, including a three run homer by David "I the Papi" Ortiz** on his first World Series at bat. The Cards got a run in the second, then a run in the third, then the Sox got three more in their half of the third, driving starter Woody Williams from the game. Wakefield last less than half an inning longer, as he lost control of his knuckleball and started walking batters with a vengeance. The Cardinals got three before Bronson Arroyo was able to shut them down. St. Louis got two more in the sixth to tie it, Boston answered with another two in the seventh and Keith Foulke came on in the eighth to reliever Timlin and get the save. In game where St. Louis had already committed one error and the Red Sox two, Manny went on to blow Foulke's save by committing two errors in a row, scoring two runs. It is worthy to note that this is the only time anyone in the apartment really lost it, including when Arroyo threw a ball away trying to make an impossible play at first to get left fielder So Taguchi.

Manny's bacon was saved, however, when Mark Bellhorn homered off the right field foul pole for the second time in the post-season. Robin, who apparently has developed a psychic ability that allows him to predict when Bellhorn is going to hit homeruns, called this shot, like he did the homerun in game 6. It makes me wonder if there's some way to exploit this ability for money - I'll let you know if I figure anything out. Foulke went on to get the win in this sloppy, sloppy game. My only hope is that this was some sort of dress rehearsal jinx for the Sox, who will step it up again in the defense and pitching tonight with Schilling on the mound.

Oddities of note for this game: Larry Walker was a machine last night, going 4 for 5 and coming a triple shy of the cycle. He was by far the most effective of the Big 4 (Walker, Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds) last night. Not only did Ortiz hit a monster homerun last night (one that you could tell was gone by the sound it made as it left the bat), but he took Cardinal's second baseman Tony Womack out the game by smashing a bounding grounder to the right side. Womack could not field it cleanly and it bounced off his hand and then his collarbone. X-rays turned up negative and he'll be back again today, just like he was after having back spasms in game 6 of the NLCS. I gotta give the guy props - that ball looked like it should have knocked a hole in his chest.

Speaking of Schilling, Curt's return to the mound tonight, complete with restitched ankle, is one of my four big worries for the week. Not only is Schilling's effectiveness in question, but he's pitching against a National League club - I hear they, you know, know how to bunt there? Kinda scary. The mental picture of Schilling tearing out his ankle and it spraying blood all over one of the Big 4 as he trots down to first is not a happy one and I'm doing my to banish it from my mind. Ugh. My other three worries: first, because of the wretches DH/no DH rule, David Ortiz will have to play first for three games in St. Louis; a lovely thought, since Ortiz hasn't been a regular first baseman since the Sox picked up Mientkiewiecz. I suppose I should be grateful that Boston has the homefield advantage. Someone who was over here last night was seriously proposing taking Ortiz out of for those four games just to have Millar at first base, but I think he was just bitter that his team lost. Second, the Big 4. They're scary, no doubt about it, as Walker proved last night. Of course, it's not like Kent and the Killer B's*** were any less scary and there were five of them. At least St. Louis only has four AL-quality hitters to put forward. Third: the Cards have yet to lose at home this post-season and the Sox have to go play there for the middle three. There is a distinct possibility the series might go back to Boston 3 - 2 in favor of St. Louis. Of course, history is made to be changed and the Sox also have to win tonight to begin to even talk about such a possibility. GO SOX!!!

* - Unfortunately, the idiots include not only the ones on the field, but our good buddies Joe McCarver and Tim Buck, who are the ONLY two in the broadcast booth for the series.
** - This series promises to be interesting for no other reason than that it's face off between the two contenders for Senor Ottubre - David Ortiz and Albert Pujols.
*** - How's that for a band name? Kinda like Josie and the Pussycats, only with more facial hair and more homerun potential.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

ALCS Game 7

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 10, New York Yankees 3

It took about an hour and a half for me to realize on visceral level that the Red Sox had done the impossible, made all nay-sayers (including me) wrong and become the first team in baseball history and the third team in major sports history* to come back from a 3 - 0 deficit and win a championship series and that they were going to their first World Series in eighteen years. Robin, Ryan, Morgan and I were sitting on the couch. We had already gone downstairs to the bar next door, had a celebratory shot and were drinking beer, watching Sportscenter replay the David Ortiz and Johnny Damon homeruns over and over and over and just talking. Robin, who I think has really and truly blown a fuse because of all the stress, kept saying every five minutes, "hey, the Red Sox won the pennant." Someone asked about the location of game one of the World Series and Robin said that because the AL had won the All Star Game, they had home field advantage. Suddenly it hit me that because the Red Sox had won game 7, the World Series would start in Boston and I cracked up. I've been seconds away from a big smile ever since.

Speaking of those Sportscenter replays, watching ESPN run the top 10 moments of the ALCS made me realize how oblivious I was during the last four games about how close the Sox were to losing. Sure, I knew, but with the exception of last night and possibly game 6, this series came within inches or a bad pitch of ending. Any of the games of this series, with the possible exception of game 3, which was just sloppy, belong on ESPN Classic and will make excellent demonstrations for years to come of the mastery and resiliance shown by players on both sides.

So, to wrap up last night: Derek Lowe has proven once again that despite it all, he IS a big game pitcher of the highest caliber. Coming back after two nights rest to hold the Yankees to one hit and one run with one walk and three strikeouts on sixty-nine pitches was an incredible, incredible feat and one that if it doesn't get him resigned to the Red Sox, will certainly earn him a great deal of money next year somewhere in baseball. Lowe was helped by a key two run homerun by Big Papi in the first, coming right after Johnny Damon was thrown out at home on another bad running call by Dale Sveum; a grand slam by Damon in the second; a two run homerun by Damon in the fourth (yeah, Johnny's out of his slump) and a solo shot by Mark Bellhorn to send the Sox over the top. The Ortiz homerun was by far the most important - putting the Sox on top, especially after that throw to the plate almost killed the rally, seem to have had far reaching effects on that game and on the Red Sox confidence.

After the sixth, Francona, for reasons known only to him, decided to lift Lowe and put in Pedro instead of one of his bullpen. Perhaps Pedro asked for an inning. Perhaps Tito felt that he should rest his tired bullpen and remove the possibility of getting his weaker relievers into trouble. In any case, the gamble, like all of the gambles Francona's taken in the past few games, worked, although it did have a few interesting side effects. First, it woke Yankees Stadium back up. By shutting down the Yankees hitters, Lowe had silenced the crowd as well and Fox was having a field day showing the faces of the discontented. Pedro comes out, though and suddenly "Who's Your Daddy" comes out with him in full force. The Yankees, seizing the moment, go for one last rally. Matsui hits a Pedro fastball into the right field corner (which I swear is his favorite place - he hit so many balls in that tricky section of both ballparks). Bernie Williams misses a homerun by inches (another break) but scores runs. Pedro starts to heat up - he's throwing 96 mph gas now and he uses it to get out of the inning.** The Yankees have scored two...but the Sox get them back within two innings.

Timlin comes on in the eighth and holds on through two outs in the ninth. After he walks Lofton, Tito pulls him for Embree, who gets the final out off a ground ball off the bat of Sierra to Pokey Reese. Pandemonium erupts on the field, as I celebrate on the phone with my dad and on IM with five or six different people. My sister calls me and tells me she wants to come back from college in Ohio just to be in Boston during at least one of the World Series games. Dave IMs me and tells me to be at the Cask and Flagon on Saturday. On the television, a rare, rare and very surreal sound - you can hear Red Sox fans cheering in Yankees Stadium, as enough Yankees fans had left in disgust to no longer drown them out. Robin and Morgan make their way over from his apartment to my place and the three of us and Ryan commence drinking and celebrating until 4 in the morning. The ghosts of 2003, if not of the last 85 years, are finally put to rest.

After the ALDS, I said the lesson of the series was that the Sox could make it through times of trouble, like the Vlad grand slam, without falling apart and keep the presence of mind to win anyway. The lesson of the ALCS, I think, is that as long as The Idiots stick to Tito's one game at a time philosophy, they can win anything, including the impossible four game comeback. The Sox let the big picture get into their heads in games 1 and 2 and the Yankees took advantage in a big way - Mussina and Lieber had excellent, excellent outings in part because Boston was trying to go way too big in one bound. With their backs to the wall, the Sox remembered how they won all of those games in the second half of the season - they just focused on winning the game at hand and they became, once again, the incredibly talented team they've been all year. We'll see if this frame of mind sticks with them for the start of the World Series. GOOOOOOOOO SOOOOOOOOOX!!!

* - Along with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders
** - Robin freaked out completely during this inning and had to sign off, shut off the computer and the television and go run around the block. He kept IMing me that he couldn't see and I had serious thoughts that he might have blown a blood vessel in one eye. He's a crazy boy, that one.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

ALCS Game 6

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 4, New York Yankees 2

Schilling was amazing. Seven innings of pure gold - seven innings, one homerun, four strikeouts, no walks. Pretty darn good for a guy with a busted ankle, who had, I found out afterwards, had his ankle tendon STAPLED together. The Sox played Lieber a great deal more effectively this time around, getting early hits off of him, although they could not score until the fourth because of double plays. Finally, thanks to a double by Millar and a single by Varitek, the Sox scored a run. Orlando Cabrera hit another single, moving Varitek to second. Then, the first of the night's amazing things happened.

We were five in the living room last night: Robin, Morgan, Ryan, Petra (the Yankees fan from Texas) and myself. Now, up until this point, Mark Bellhorn has not been our favorite player - he's done little but strikeout and make a few bad plays in this series. Up until this particular at-bat last night, Robin had said every time, "he's going to strikeout. He's going to hit into a double play" and of course, it had come true. This time, he looked me right in the eye and said, "he's going to hit a homerun." No joke. Bellhorn, being the obliging fellow that he is, hits a drive to the left field wall, Matsui is chasing, Matsui gives up on it...and then the third base umpire calls it a double. When I first saw it, I agreed with him - it looked like it had hit off the top of the wall. As it turned out, however, it had struck off the chest of a young female fan, whose black jacket obscured the view enough to cause confusion. Francona protested, the umpires met and made what turned out to be the proper call. 4 - 0 Red Sox.

Bronson Arroyo came on to start the eighth. He gives up two hits and a run and gets two outs. Derek Jeter is on first after single-ing in an RBI when A-Rod comes to bat. The Yankees third baseman hits grounder down the first base line that Arroyo retrieves; the pitcher then runs to the bag and tags A-Rod out as he runs by. Or tries to, as Rodriguez slaps the ball out of his hand as he passes Arroyo. The ball squirts down towards right field, Jeter scores and A-Rod goes to second. All is panic in the living room...until they show the replay and we realize what just happened. Terry Francona makes his way out of the dugout and convinces the umpires to meet for a second time. Crew chief Randy Marsh, who was at first, realizes that his view was obscured by Doug Mientkiewicz standing next to the bag and defers to Joe West, who was at home plate, who correctly calls that Rodriguez had interfered with the play, calls him out and sends Jeter back to first, according to this rule:

"While contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act such as grabbing, tackling, intentionally slapping at the baseball, punching, kicking, flagrantly using his arms or forearms ... to commit an intentional act of interference unrelated to running the bases."

Given A-Rod's history with Arroyo, it's hard to tell if this baserunning maneuver was a deliberate, malicious attempt by A-Rod and the Yankees to score runs they couldn't get legitimately, or if it was something instinctive. Alex's comments on the situation:

"I don't want those umpires meeting any more. Every time they have a meeting, they make a call against the Yankees. No more meetings...They said I should have ran him over, kind of like a catcher. I can't go out of my way to knock the ball out of his hand. I was perplexed by the whole situation. I don't know what I tried to do. I knew he was coming, and I know that the line belongs to me. Looking back, maybe I should have run him over." Here's a pic of the play in question, with a pretty decent angle.

I'm biased, but it sounds like those "A-Rod is an A-Hole" t-shirts people were selling back in April weren't so far off the mark. Of course, this series has been full of that huge undercurrent of tension - what with last night, Gary Sheffield's comments before Game 5 about the Red Sox being a team full of losers and amateurs that found itself posted all over the Red Sox clubhouse, Orlando Cabrera bowling over Miguel Cairo during Game 5 while sliding into second to try and break up a double all-out fights have broken out, but you can tell both sides are there to compete.

While we all sighed in relief after the umpires' decision on the second controversial call of the night, Yankees stadium explodes, as the oh-so-classy fans start throwing things on the field.* Francona calls his players in from the field and Stadium security calls in cops in riot gear to crouch along the first and third baselines in an attempt to prevent a riot. Eventually play resumes and Arroyo gets Sheffield to pop out to end the inning. The damage had been done, however, for when Keith Foulke comes on in the ninth it seems like he can't strike anyone out. Not for trying either - Joe West had been very good about making borderline calls, including one by one of the Yankees pitchers that just kissed the outside of the plate earlier in the game. Now, however, balls that were clearly going over the outside edge weren't being called. One batter strikes out swinging. Another gets a walk. Another pops out. The Yankees are down to their last out with Reuben Sierra. Sierra gets to two strikes, fouls off a few, takes what should have been strike three and is walked. Tony Clark comes to the plate, representing the winning run. The entire season is hanging on Foulke getting these strike calls and he's not getting them. I'm standing now, staring intently at the screen, willing Foulke to get the calls and get the outs. Robin, who I think has suffered some sort of partial breakdown after all this stress, is lying in a half fetal position on the floor, basically doing the same thing. Morgan makes a comment about how sports are supposed to be fun and how this room has suddenly become like a church. It's an apt description. 1 strike. 2 strikes. A few foul balls. Some balls, to the point where I'm starting to panic and think that Foulke is going to keep walking people until he walks in the winning run and there's nothing I can do about it. And then, strike three. A yell of triumph explodes from four throats and we're all hugging each other and cheering. The Sox have made history and become the first team to force a game 7 after being down by three in a post-season series.

Tonight, for that game 7, we're most likely going to have a slew of pitchers against Kevin Brown and his bad back. Derek Lowe, on two days rest, is the scheduled starter, but clearly he's not going to be able to go more than a few innings. After that, who knows what will happen? It's quite possible that everyone in that bullpen will have been used by the time the game is over. GO SOX!!!

* - I want it noted, by the way, that I bring this up because it bothers me that it occured. If Red Sox fans had done the same thing, I would be ashamed to be a Red Sox fan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

ALCS Game 5

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 5, New York Yankees 4

Recipe to beat the Yankees:

  1. Pitch a close game. Let the Yankees get a run or two on your late-ish in the game, so they end up bringing in Rivera
  2. Stage some sort of comeback in the ninth. If down by two or more runs, have David Ortiz come up and hit home runs until down by one.
  3. The Yankees reliever will now walk Kevin Millar.
  4. Pinch run Dave Roberts for Millar.*
  5. Roberts either steals a base, or so distracts the pitcher that he gives up a hit. Roberts will score within a play or two, tying the game.
  6. Add 3 - 5 innings and a slew of Red Sox fan soul.
  7. Have whichever worn out or poorly controlled Yankee reliever that is still able to be sent out give up the game winning hit to David Ortiz. Fenway will literally explode.

I made a joke before leaving work yesterday that the game would go six hours last night. It was a joke, of course...but it came pretty close to true. Fourteen innings and five hours and forty nine minutes from start to finish. Incredible mistakes, incredible blown opportunities, ridiculous heroics and some good luck mixed in made this game the second of two reality altering ALCS games in a row.

It started out easy enough; I rush home from work, get back at 5:20 and turn the TV on to discover that it's already the bottom of the first, Cabrera is on first with one out and Manny is up. The Sox go on to score two, including a run that Mussina walks in. I call Robin to find out why he and our friend Morgan from college have not shown up yet. As I do, Bernie Williams hits a solo shot. Robin tells me he's hanging up now. The score remains 2 - 1 until the sixth, when Pedro gives up a three run triple to Jeter on his 100th pitch. I've decided that there needs to be a special section on all of the scoreboards that tells Francona how many pitches Pedro has until 100, so he can warm up a reliever on time and pull Petie after pitch 99, thus saving us all some grief. Other than the triple, Pedro was excellent, showing yet again that the Yankees really are not his daddy.** If, in fact, that was his last start as a Red Sox, it was not one to be ashamed of. Morgan leaves to go to a friend's place in Park Slope, but my roommate Ryan comes back just before he leaves and really gets into the game in his stead.***

Mike Timlin comes in, does the entire seventh and two thirds of the eighth without major incident. Keith Foulke comes in, after four innings of work last night, finishes the eighth and survives the ninth by purest luck: after Reuben Sierra drew a walk, Tony Clark hit a smash into right field that bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double. The runners are stuck on second and third and Foulke gets Miguel Cairo to pop out to end the inning. At some point along here Trot Nixon makes two incredible catches, one of which stopped what surely would have been a big run scoring hit by Matsui, keeping the game close.

The Sox go into their half and pull the Millar/Roberts combo. Dave Roberts jumps back and forth so much during Trott Nixon's at bat that he freaks out Tom Gordon completely. Robin's comment: "If you cracked open Tom Gordon's head right now, Dave Roberts would come out and steal third." Nixon gets a single and Roberts tears around to third. Enter Sandman. For the second night in a row, Rivera gives up the tying run, this time in the form of a sacrifice fly by Varitek, before getting out of the inning. Exit Sandman. The Machine has once again failed to do his job.

Arroyo comes on for the tenth and is pure smoke. Mike Myers comes up against Matsui and strikes him out on four pitches. Embree finishes off the eleventh in style, before Wakefield pulls a heroic three inning effort and wins the game in the fourteenth, giving up one hit and one walk with four strikeouts, all the while pitching to a catcher who can't catch him, so that the winning run gets to third on pass balls. Solid gold. Meanwhile, the Yankees go through Heredia and Quantrill before using their last, worst hope, Esteban Loiza. It takes three and a third innings, includes some of the weirdest antics I've seen from this team of idiots in a while, before Big Papi drops a bloop single into right center to score Johnny Damon from third.

David Ortiz. David Ortiz was the embodiment of the Red Sox fan in the extra innings last night, taking hacks at pitches that made Orlando Cabrera look good, cursing audibly at strikeouts, trying to steal second (yes, it surprised us too) before finally finding a way to win it. He is the People's Champion right now if for no other reason than that he clearly wanted to win this game as much as any in the Nation did.

Meanwhile, back in the living room, all is chaos. Robin and I have yelled some horrible, horrible things at the television during this game and I'm starting to wonder if my neighbors hate me. In the sixth inning, we press the mute button on the remote to stop the insanity coming from the mouths of McCarver and Buck and wonder if Al Leiter will try and strangle himself with his tie before the series is over to escape his contract. With the quiet, a measure of calm returns, although now we're yelling abuse at the players instead of the announcers. Robin dies at least four times and exclaims that his soul is dead at least five. We stand up to induce strikeouts, chant "meat" at the screen like our lives depend on it, hug each other after huge outs, moan after huge outs (team depending), curse at Mark Bellhorn for striking out, at Tony Clark for being tall and old, at Derek Jeter for his smug grin and A-Rod for his purple lips. At the end of the game, for the ten pitches it took for David Ortiz to hit that single, we simply stood and smacked our hands against our legs in a rhythm, trying to will the ball into a scorable spot on the field so the series could advance to game six. Smack, smack, smack like some mystic drums, inducing the baseball gods to give Ortiz the hit we all knew he could get. And then he did. And it was very, very good.

Tonight, Curt Schilling goes up to prove exactly why the Red Sox picked him up in the off-season. Equipped with a special shoe from Reebok designed to keep his injured ankle stable enough to push off of, Schilling faces Jon Lieber in the Bronx and will probably throw until his arm falls off, because I have a feeling there's absolutely nothing in the bullpen. This game is living for today in its fullest extent and it'll be...well, it'll be what it'll be. It'll be something though, I'm sure of that. GO SOX!!!

* - The way Francona has run this two nights in a row makes me think of the National League, except it's substituting first basemen rather than pitchers and pinch runners instead of hitters. It is, however, one of the more forward-looking things Francona has done.
** - After seeing a hat this morning that read, "Hey Pedro, who's your daddy?", I've decided I want to make a shirt that reads, "Hey Yankees, who's your papi?" and put a big number 34 on the back.
*** - This game made Ryan into a Red Sox fan. I have so confirmed it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

ALCS Game 4

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 6, New York Yankees 4

That was the most beautiful moment I have EVER had as a Red Sox fan. When that ball left Ortiz's bat, it was just like the end of Game 3 of the ALDS - even though it went the opposite way, you KNEW it was gone. That awkward swing which makes it look like he should just pop it up but sends the ball up and away was the hallmark of this homerun, just like Game 3. When it happened, I lost it completely. Just sat on my couch and cried and laughed until I was blinded by the stream of tears running down my face and the release of finally beating history. It took twelve innings, it was longest game in post-season history, but it was so worth it.

We (well, Ryan, technically) has DVR from TimeWarner and I couldn't resist...I had to watch the ball leave the bat and just sail away into the bullpen again. And again. And again. And hell, a fourth time. Simultaneously, almost every Red Sox fan I know is IMing me and we do the electronic equivalent of hugging and screaming and crying and giving high fives and all the business of such a warranted celebration. Man...I'm still all worked up by it. Before I go pass out from exhaustion of the soul, though, I record the events for posterity:

I start the game out calm, working on the laptop and watching tv on the couch, wearing my Sox hat and jersey. Nothing can flap me - I have submitted to the machinations of fate, so that even FOX does not bother me. Despite my prediction last night, Derek Lowe pitches an excellent game - besides a two run homerun to A-Rod, he does very very well, especially for someone who had his stats versus the Yankees.* Then, in the sixth, with one out, Lowe gives up a triple to Matsui. Now, unlike last night, Gary Sheffield did not have a great night - he was 0-ffer, in fact. Matsui, on the other hand, continued to be a hitting machine. Lowe had dealt similar problems throughout the game and had not given up any ground and I honestly saw the Matsui triple as an abberation to be pitched around in the professional manner that Lowe was showing. Terry Francona, however, felt otherwise. The Sox offense, to put it crudely, saved his ass tonight, because he made a huge mistake - playing the statistics instead of the flow of the game, he went for Mike Timlin instead of leaving in Lowe to deal with the problem. Even now, I don't understand why he so eager to get to his bullpen, which he's going to need when the series continues tomorrow.

Timlin has the misfortune of giving up two hits that were misplayed by the defense - one of them by Mark Bellhorn, who probably has very few friends in Boston at the moment. Two runs score and the Yankees pull ahead. Next inning, Francona brings in Keith Foulke, who goes on to do a phenominal job, pitching two and a third innings in relief. Embree comes out next and holds on for the next inning and a third. Meanwhile, the Yankees go from El Duque to Tanyon Sturtze to Mariano Rivera. Mariano, who is 6 for 6 in post season save chances. The post-season machine that Joe Torre plugs in every night after the game. But Mo walks Millar in the eighth. Dave Roberts comes in, steals a base in a clutch situation...and then up comes Bill Mueller. He doesn't reenact July 24th with a homerun, but he does the next best thing - he singles and drives in Roberts. Tie game. The machine has been defeated. Fenway Park explodes. Damon, who has done almost nothing this series, comes up and hits a little grounder that Tony Clark misplays and it's runners on first and third with one out, instead of two. Cabrera comes up and strikes out on three pitches, then Manny walks and Ortiz is called out on an iffy third strike call.

The game grinds on. Mike Myers comes on to walk Hideki Matsui, wasting five minutes. Curtis Leskanic comes on and keeps the Sox alive long enough to go through Flash in the tenth and eleventh...and then Torre brings on Paul Quantrill to face the heart of the Sox order. Manny comes up and hits a single to right. Good start. Big Papi comes up, takes a ball. Gets a high called strike. Takes a ball in the dirt. UNLOADS on pitch number four. At the moment, all they have is the plays of the game...but it still shows the homerun and includes Mueller's single. Here you go. Tomorrow (or this) evening we do it all again, starting at 5:00. Robin, who has been MIA all week will be here; it will be glorious. Truth be told, I don't care what happens tomorrow. Sure, I want the Sox to win the next three games and go on to the World Series and just keep establishing history like it ain't no thing. But they weren't swept (screw you, AMNew York**) and they made history and they beat Mariano. I got my money's worth. GOOOOOO SOX!!!!!

* - I'm so bad about these things that I probably should start taking out odds against my predictions and make some money...but I digress.
** - AMNew York predicted a Yankee sweep before game one. SO glad that didn't happen.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

ALCS Game 3

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 8, New York Yankees 19

"Wait, there's been a slaughter here. Don't stop to speak or look around, your gloves and fan are on the ground. We're getting out of town, we're going on the run...and you're the one I want to come"
- Jim Morrison

What can you say? The pitching in this game was like a cut that breaks open every time you think it's scabbed over, bleeding runs every time the top two thirds of the Yankee lineup came around. No one could make their pitches and the New York offence just jumped all over everything they saw. Sheffield and Matsui were like hitting machines designed to kill pitchers and they made the Sox look BAD. Meanwhile, the Sox offence had what should have been a good night - fifteen hits, eight runs, a few homers; they drove starter Kevin Brown out of the game and even had the lead for the first time in this series briefly in the second. For a while it looked like the two teams would go back and forth, until the Yankees blew it open in the fourth.

The problem on the offensive end was the base running and more specifically Dale Sveum, another coach who won't be able to show his face around Boston again after this season. I watched the first three innings on FOX in the Bronx tonight and I saw the two plays that resulted in crucial outs: first, in the first inning, when David Ortiz hit a single to right and Dale Sveum tried to get Manny to third on the play. Manny was called out in a bad call - it was pretty clear from the replay that he was safe - but that wasn't the point. It was a standard single to right. Gary Sheffield does not have a weak arm. Manny Ramirez is no Dave Wallace and even if he was, what are you doing trying to get a runner to third when you're down by three, especially with two outs? The maxim that you should never make the first or the third out at third base applies here, Dale and you should (and probably will) be fired at the end of the season on that call alone...but then there was the second mistake.

In the third inning, the Yankees came back with a three run rally to make the score 6 - 4. In the bottom of the inning, Brown loaded the bases and Cabrera hit a double to center...a double that should have scored two runs. For whatever reason, since clearly getting Manny to third from first didn't work, Sveum decides to send Bill Mueller, who was on first at the time of the hit, from third to home. Bernie Williams hits the cutoff man, who throws Mueller out at the plate easily. Inning over. Rally cut off at a tie and the Yankees score five runs in the next inning. Ridiculous. At this point, I could coach third base better than Dale Sveum. I just wish now that after the Front Office resigns Varitek and Cabrera and possibly Pedro and Mientkiewicz and fire Francona and Co., they get a manager who's actually been a manager before, so we can stop with these stupid experiments in manager training that lead to one of the best Red Sox teams ever assembled winning 98 games instead of 105+ and failing, once again, to get past the New York Yankees and into (and heck, winning) the World Series. We'll see - as Micah put it, fire Francona on Monday, press conference on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, the Sox are sending up Derek Lowe, who has a 9.28 ERA with a .354 batting average against the Yankees this year, because Francona was forced to bring in Tim Wakefield, tomorrow's nominal starter, to try and put out the fire. No one else can start the game and even though Francona talks about winning, I don't see how, when all he's got is his worst starter, who hasn't won a start since early September and who can't pitch against the Yankees this year anyway. This isn't doom and gloom defeatism either - no team has ever come back to even win a game, let alone a series, in the ALCS, when down 3 - 0.* So basically, the season is over. Barring a miracle tomorrow, I'll be back tomorrow evening to move this year's edition of The Diary of a Red Sox Fan into post-season mode. GO SOX!!!

* - This statistic is not the only piece of history from this game - the 19 runs scored by the Yankees are the most ever scored in a post-season game and the combined 37 hits are the most hits ever given up in a post-season game. At four hours and twenty-ish minutes, it's also the longest post-season game ever played. It was a brutal, brutal game.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

ALCS Game 2

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 1, New York Yankees 3

It was a big switcheroo - tonight the offense couldn't hit Lieber to save their lives and by the time he left in the eighth, it was basically too late. Pedro was once again quite excellent, having some problems in the first and then homerun to John Olerud in the 6th to give up three runs. I suppose you could second-guess the homerun situation until the sun comes up - Pedro was past 100 pitches, Francona could have brought in a reliever and the game might still be going on. Of course, the reliever could have broken it open too. In any case, the Sox are headed back to Boston down 2 - 0 against a team that doesn't relinquish 2 - 0 leads in the post-season. The only saving grace on that score is that the Yankees are still a .500 ballclub on the road and that may help the Sox in the next three games...until the series heads back to New York.

And now, the bad news. First, El Duque, whose arm had been bothering him, will now most likely go up against Bronson Arroyo in game 4, instead of the much more hittable Javier Vasquez. While it's true that Hernandez's only loss this year came against the Sox, it doesn't make me feel much better about the whole thing. Second and probably much more important, the real reason Schilling blew his start last night: the sheath around his ankle tendons tore off and the tendons are now rubbing against the bone every time he moves the ankle. Funny, the "who's your daddy" chants don't sound too convincing when you realize the guy was pitching with an injury so bad that it will require surgery to fix...and that he last three innings. Just thought I'd toss that out there. So, anyway, an ankle specialist from Mass. General is working on a brace for Schilling to wear to see if it will stabilize the ankle enough for him to push off of and be able to pitch. They'll try it out tomorrow - if it doesn't work, Schilling's gone for the rest of the season. Boom, just like that, your best starter is gone.

In truth, it's stuff like this Schilling ankle thing that make me think Curse. I mean, how the hell does this happen to a team consistently? Oh, you'll be favored to win the playoffs...or you would be, but your ace just blew out his ankle. Good luck, guys. Meanwhile, we'll give the Yankees a few lucky breaks and an excellent start in game one and an even better start in game two. And you wonder why I wasn't a huge fan of having to play New York in the ALCS. On the flip side, Nikki and I had an interesting conversation last night at the bar where she gave her analysis of the psychology of the Red Sox in the post-season. Basically, her point was that because of the attitude in Boston (and amongst Red Sox fans in general) about the New York Yankees, the players psych themselves out each time they play New York...especially in the post season. The Curse, the rivalry, etc. all combine to pressure the Red Sox to try and do things they don't need to do and thus they make mistakes and bad things happen. It makes me think that the Sox could easily defeat anyone else in the post-season (especially with this team) because no other team has the amount of psychological baggage associated with it the way the Yankees do.

Speaking of that baggage, I've decided I'm not watching Fox for the rest of this series. They do their best to drag every little bit of sensationalism out the event, they do their best to magnify every stupid taunt from the crowd, I hate the shows they promote on their commercials, I hate the commercials themselves and of course, my longstanding hate of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver remains unchanged. Quite frankly, it ruins much of my enjoyment of the game, because I feel like I'm fighting a battle with an entire television network and 55,000 Yankees fans. Thus, I will be sticking with WEEI and Joe and Jerry for the duration. Kevin Brown versus Bronson Arroyo (or as McCarver put it, Pedro Martinez versus Brandon Arroyo) on Friday at Fenway, assuming the skies don't open up and pour down floods like I've heard they're going to. GO SOX!!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

ALCS Game 1

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 7, New York Yankees 10

Well, I honestly wasn't expecting that one. Clearly Schilling's ankle was not as advertised, as the starter went only three innings after giving up six runs. The string of relievers that followed him were mixed and I certainly felt justified declaring that "this bullpen is killing me" after Timlin gave up the two runs in the eighth. Of course, part of that justification was where I watched the game.

As I mentioned in my last post, I watched tonights game in a Yankees bar in the Bronx. This was an experience - I'm not sure it's one I ever want to repeat either, especially if the Sox lose again. It wasn't the harrassment, although there was some of that. It wasn't the fact that the closest thing I had to a Red Sox fan was Nikki's brother Steven's friend Mike, who was a bitter, bitter Mets fan. It was being a room full of sixty people, all routing for the other team and for the most part, having something to cheer about. My sister Allegra would call me during the low points (while Alan called me during the high points - I wonder if that's some sort of weird sign) and I told her in the fourth inning or so that I was in the most psychologically depressing place on Earth. The beers weren't helping, either. At least in Yankee Stadium, you've got other people to suffer with (or feel good with) - here it was just me and "Nineteen Eighteen! Nineteen Eighteen!" I've decided that the main reason I want the Red Sox to win the World Series is so an entire group of people have to throw out one of their t-shirts and come up with a new taunt. All in all, it was a bit of masochism that earned me respect from the Yankees fans I was watching the game with, but it certainly wasn't a whole lot of fun. Alright, it wasn't all awful - I had the pleasure of Nikki running mental circles a drunk obnoxious Yankees fan while I ate some pretty good chili.

It was clearly not all doom and gloom in the game either, though. Between Mussina's no-hitter being broken up by a two out, five run rally in the seventh and Ortiz's two run triple in the eigth that was almost a homerun, it was pretty clear that, once again, the Sox were not going to be beaten down. Well, the offense wasn't, anyway. They kept pushing and pushing and finally made some headway and fought the good fight. Too bad the pitching didn't pull through this time, too bad the breaks weren't all there. Tomorrow's game with Pedro against Lieber becomes that much more important. GO SOX!!!

Monday, October 11, 2004

ALDS Game 3

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 8, Anaheim Angels 6

Oh my sweet gentle Jeebus that was a game. It wasn't supposed to be that close, but it was the sort of victory that made you jump up and down and scream "I LOVE DAVID ORTIZ!" into a phone* and sigh with relief BECAUSE not only had the Sox swept a team in the playoffs for only the second time in their history, not only did they beat the hard hitting, hard throwing, hard PITCHING Angels, not only were some of the ghosts from last year put to rest, but the Sox DIDN'T GIVE UP. This was not game 7 last year. Last year, when the Yankees tied the game up, you could feel the crowd deflate. You could feel the team deflate. I sat on the couch in my godmother's team on Long Island and just waited for the game to end. When Aaron Boone put that ball over the left field wall, I was hurt, but I wasn't surprised. On Friday night, as soon as the bullpen proved that, even after Timlin's mistake, they weren't giving the game up, the mood change was palpable. Sure, it took a few innings to make a dent on K-Rod, but he's K-Rod, for chrissake. Keith Foulke showed just why it was a damn good idea to pick him up and D-Lowe, after he got over some jitters, got the three groundball outs needed to end the game. Fenway Park, which was dead quiet** after Guerrero's game-tying grand slam, came back to life. People could feel the air changing, or something like that.

In the bottom of the tenth, after Rodriguez has given up his second hit of the night, Mike Scioscia pulls a Grady Little - he pitches the wrong pitcher at the wrong time. Sure, K-Rod was done for the night, but Scioscia trusted the numbers a bit too much - it doesn't matter that Washburn is a lefty who's roughly as effective against lefties as right-handed Percival, going up against a guy who hits righties MUCH better than lefties, Washburn got shelled on his last start and David Ortiz was a big part of that shelling. I had a bad (or a good, I guess) feeling about that decision as soon as I heard he had gone with Washburn. Then Ortiz comes up and first pitch swinging, brings the house down. It was...I dunno, it was pretty indescribable. I remember jumping up, yelling at the ball to go up and leave the park so I could leave for the weekend without having to bring a radio and so the uncertainty would be over and the Sox would get a three day rest break before the ALCS. And, of course, it did.

I just watched the highlight video again and I remembered something that I had forgotten until now: ESPN's color commentator is a moron. My dad and I realized this in the eighth or ninth, when Ortiz got on base and the commentator suggested taking him out and pinch-running Dave Roberts - even though, with the Angels outfield, it would have been difficult to score from first base no matter what. Nixon got a walk after that, if I remember correctly, so the point was moot - until, of course, when Big Papi ended the game with his bomb. Yeah, I'd say Mr. Fancy-pants armchair coach ate his words.

When I came back from the wilds of the woods, I found out that the Yankees had taken two games in Minnesota and thus had won their part of the ALDS. Before leaving, I had heard some commentary on whether or not the Sox needed to face the Yankees this year in the post-season to appease the Gods of Karma on their way to the World Series or something like that. Bill Simmons was against the idea - he could beat "Expos in the World Series with Frank Robinson playing first base. I just want to win one. I'm not looking for a degree of difficulty here." Ted Serandis, on WEEI, seems to like the Karma appeasement idea. Personally, I'm with Bill - besides the potential for relationship strain this series has (just kidding), going up against the Yankees in the post-season after last year is just asking for more strain on the heart. Of course, it's a moot point now, so I better start enjoying it. Hell, who wants to play the Twins, anyway? This sort of series is good for baseball.

Nikki told me that on Saturday, after the Yankees won the game, her brother came back to the table in the restaurant where she and her family were eating and told her, "Call Eric. Tell him to be at K.C.'s Sports Bar on Tuesday. Tell him I'm buying the first drink, because he'll need it." So, of course, after being called out like that, I'll be in the Bronx (hopefully with Robin, if he calls me back), at K.C.'s. Who could resist? And, of course, I'm going with Curt "Post-Season Pitching God" Schilling all the way. GO SOX!!!

* - Ok, it made me do that. But I know other people were doing similar things.
** - When ESPN replayed the grand slam, there was crowd noise in the background. That was bull; when Vlad hit that thing, you could hear a pin drop, a baby cry and the hearts of 34,000 Sox fans in Fenway and hundreds of thousands more across the country say, "Oh God...not again..."