Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Game 106: Beckett and the Big Man

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Baltimore Orioles 5

Oh, Beckett...hoisted by the lone Bedard. There's a stat on Baseball Prospectus called Expected Wins, which acts a bit like the Pythagorean win expectation formula, in that it crunches some numbers and states where the pitcher should be in the wins column right now (as opposed to where they should be at the end of the year). It's an interesting stat to look at to see whether or not a pitcher is leading a charmed life, perhaps with a chance of a terrible comeuppance at some point in the future. Josh Beckett, who falls to 13 and 5 after tonight's dalliance with the mediocre, has an expected win total of 8.0. Yikes.

However, we shouldn't expect Beckett to come down to earth any time soon, at least as far as win totals go; he's outstripped his Expected Wins total every year since 2004 and combined with the above average bullpen aid and high run support he's benefited from this year, there's no reason why Beckett shouldn't keep winning games and end up somewhere between 15 and 20 victories in 2007, even if the numbers say otherwise. Stats are fun like that.

But moving on past Beckett's loss tonight, past the game-ending ground outs from Lugo and Pedroia (why you gotta swing at the first pitch, P-Dawg? Why you gotta hurt me like that?) that gave the failed rally an even bitterer taste, Wily Mo's "0 for 1 with a walk, this is how I rebound post trading deadline" style and the win of gaining Gagne, I want to give a special moment of praise to my man with the long bombs.

Tonight's offense for Boston came entirely courtesy of David Ortiz, who took two separate off speed pitches from two different pitchers into the no-man's land of right center for home runs, marking his 26th multi-homer game as a member of the Sox. For Big Papi, who hadn't hit a home run since the middle of July, everything looked in place: the smooth swing, the perfect connection, the weight landing on the front foot and dropping into place to propel the ball out of the confines and into the books. It makes me feel really, really good to see those elements fall back into place.

Hall of Fame for the Good Guys

Back in January, we featured our friend DC giving his thoughts about the decision not to elect Mark McGwire to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Now that this year's ceremonies are over, DC's got some thoughts on the more pleasant side of things. Enjoy.

Something good happened this weekend: Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, icons of baseball and living reminders of my childhood innocence, were enshrined into Cooperstown. This ceremony could not have come at a better time, as it served to distract us that from the dog fighting rings, mafia-linked gambling/point shaving, getting tasered after a night out, and steroid induced home run records that have come to permeate our sports culture this summer.

Instead we all got to take a time out and honor two of the guys who did it the right way, inspiring millions along the way. In this day and age of free agency ruling sports and fans rooting for laundry rather than the players who wear it, it’s hard to believe that these two guys - Tony Gwynn, a product of San Diego State, played 20 seasons for the San Diego Padres and Cal Ripken, Jr., who called Maryland home, played 21 years as a Baltimore Oriole - managed to play their entire careers for one team for no reason other than they felt it was important. Neither man spent a single game in another team’s jersey and it’s nearly impossible to imagine the heartache that would be felt in their respective cities if they had. Thank goodness neither Gwynn nor Ripken attended the Scott Boras School of Contract Negotiations.

There are those out there who question the greatness of Cal Ripken, Jr.. As a fan of his this sentiment hurts, however as a fan of baseball in general it makes me die a little inside. First off, the man has over 3000 hits, 400 home runs, and 1600 runs scored. He drove in nearly 1700 runs and had a fielding percentage of .977. He is a 2 time MVP, 2 time Gold Glove winner, 8 time Silver Slugger Award winner and made 19 All Star Teams. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that those are Hall of Fame worthy statistics. But more important than any numbers are two things that he did to directly affect the history of baseball.

First off, as the Iron Man, he destroyed Lou Gehrig’s “Unbreakable Record” for consecutive games played the way a grizzly bear destroys a salmon. If you consider yourself a baseball fan and you don’t remember watching the night he broke the record, well you may want to reconsider your definition of baseball fan.

Secondly, Cal Ripken, Jr. and “The Streak” to break Gehrig’s record saved baseball following the 1994 strike. I know that everyone gives the bulk of the credit to the home run chase of Mark McGwire (who SHOULD have also been inducted this weekend) and Sammy Sosa, but the reality is Cal Ripken, Jr. and his brush with history captured the attention of as many people and his reputation has never been soiled the way that Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy’s have been. So to the baseball fan who claims that Cal’s greatness is overrated I say “Without Cal, you might not have baseball.”

Finally, Ripken changed the position of shortstop forever. Before he came along, shortstop was played by short, quick little buggers who wouldn’t know a home run if it fell out of the sky, kicked them in the shins and screamed “Hey, look at me, I’m a home run.” Then Cal came along at 6’2” tall and weighing over 200 lbs and showed the world that a bigger person with an athletic build can play shortstop. So again, to the Ripken bashers I say “Do you like watching guys like A-Rod, Jeter, Tejada, Michael Young and Nomar? Well you have Cal to thank for that one too.”

As for Tony Gwynn, I didn’t get to see him play much due to the fact that he was so loyal to San Diego. Everything I knew about him I knew from highlights and the endless comparison of this hitting with that of Wade Boggs. But just from those limited sources I know that he was a definite Hall of Famer, who played the game the way it was meant to be played, who loved the game and a city so much that he promised not to abandon them and then kept his word for a 20-year career.

Without a doubt, both Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. were among the greatest players my generation will ever see. More importantly, though, they played the game the right way, they embraced the cities and fans who loved them and they viewed being a role model as an important part of their job descriptions. I find it both appropriate and poetic that their entrance into the Hall of Fame links these two players for all time.

Deadline Dealing

Somebody help me out cause I’m a bit confused. Why are the Red Sox making so many moves right now? Are we in second place and nobody told me?

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that the Sox are making deals just for the sake of making deals… and that NEVER works out well.

Joel Pineiro to St. Louis for cash and prospects to be named

This makes sense. We weren’t going to call him back up and it was shocking to me he didn’t jump ship after we DFA’ed him. The Cardinals need another live arm in their rotation so this could work out for them. I just hope we got some young guy with some sort of upside.

Willy Mo Pena and Manny Delcarmen or Justin Masterson for Jermaine Dye

I don’t think this will happen now. The Red Sox really don’t want to risk pairing anyone with any projected value along with Wily Mo for Dye just incase Dye becomes a total bust (and he is looking pretty BUSTY). I know the Sox need a new 4th outfielder, but giving up too much doesn’t make sense at this point. If this happens (which looks unlikely) I hope Dye can show some shades of 2006.

Kason Gabbard and David Murphy for Eric Gagne

It’s sad that I’m praying for Gagne to block this deal with his no trade clause. This is basically a done deal except for that little fact. I guess it’s good to have a stacked bullpen… I didn’t think that was our weak point! Are they just adding strength to strength? Gagne is pretty good, but is it worth a guy like Gabbard and the potential of Murphy. This is something I see biting us in the ass down the line…

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Games 104 and 105: The Fat and the Skinny

Final Scores:

Game 104: Boston Red Sox 12, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 6
Game 105: Boston Red Sox 2, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5

This was about as weird a weekend as you could have asked for. On Saturday, Jon Lester (who has beaten cancer if you haven’t heard) pitched his second start, gave up 2 solo shots but looked strong for 6 and a third and left the game in line for a win. The 9th rolls around and in comes the Papel-bot… the dominator… the destroyer… the loser?

What the hell happened? How could some nobody like Johnny Gomes get the better of the holy one? Well this only tied it and by using almost every single pitcher they had, the Sox managed to hold out till the 12th when Tampa’s blundering bullpen managed to implode in on itself (they pitched a guy named Ryu, no joke) and the Sox jumped on them with both feet.

Flash forward to Sunday and more strangeness abounds. A classic match-up with Dice K squaring off against Scott Kazmir and the zeros were piling up on both sides. Tampa chased Dice K in the 7th after he gave up a solo shot and then a single and quickly Francona went to Delcarman… and why not? The guy has been hot, he didn’t pitch in the 12 inning affair and he looked primed to stop the bleeding on this one.

Except he sucked.

And I mean SUCKED! Add 4 more runs to that solo shot and MDC put this game out of reach. Manny and Youk (who both swung hot bats all series) put the Sox on the board with late inning back to back blasts…but it wasn’t enough to repair the damage.

Whatever happened to our pitching superiority? If the Sox want to maintain this level of winning (11-7 since the break) they need to have the great bullpen that’s carried them this far. No more “whoops, sorry guys” from our stoppers. Besides, if they can hold it together themselves it might stop these Eric Gagne rumors… ugh…

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Game 103: Creamy Center

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1

Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm the creamy center of this schedule sure is tasty! Even better, what with the iffy state of the entire Rays relief corps, there's not likely to be any of that post-blowout heartburn the next day, either. I love it!

Actually, what's scary about games like this one is that with the Rays, things are one step away from being white knuckle ties or shutouts, with the Tampa Bay bullpen holding the balance in their shaky, loose-fingered hands. Rays starter Jason Hammel might have walked himself out of the game in the sixth by distributing free passes to Cora and Lugo, but he was only at 88 pitches; if he had been up to true starting form, Youkilis might have been another one of his victims instead of the game-winning hero.

I guess the moral of the story is that if Tampa Bay ever gets a really strong bullpen, or even a halfway decent one, these games will go from a walk in the park to a zigzagging run through a battlefield.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Game 102: The Very Charmed Life of Julian Tavarez

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 14, Cleveland Indians 9

Everyone who picked up Kason Gabbard for their fantasy teams after the magic of his last four starts is probably feeling pretty foolish right now. Gabbard, who as we all know is now in competition with Jon Lester for the fifth spot in the rotation /pitching well enough so Schilling's return doesn't demote him back to Triple A did his best not to impress this evening, suffering a four run fifth inning freak out that had Francona worried enough - despite the 9 to 5 lead (go Manny!) - to pull the young southpaw an out before Gabbo could qualify for his fifth win. Was it bad? You betcha; the two run double and a one run single Gabbo surrendered after claiming his second out looked better than the final three batters of the night: walk, walk, hit by pitch. Control much?

Once upon a time, you'd call Kyle Snyder in to clean up these situations and eat up some innings until
either the offense scored enough runs to make putting a 12 year old with a broken arm on the mound a viable option, or the game moved into the late innings and bringing in short relief made more sense. Time was, but that time seems to be no more; it's been almost ten days since we've seen hide or hair of young Frankenbronson.

Instead, we have our old pal Julian "JT Killer" Tavarez, who recently his inevitable return to the bullpen to make rotation space for the feel-good case of the year, Jon Lester. I can almost imagine JT Killer holding a bloodletting in the visitor's clubhouse of The Jake, scene of so much ritual magic, praying to the dark gods who gave him the 10 and 2 year for the Indians 12 years ago to let him have another shot at making a difference. The man's dedication to his team is truly inspirational and he repaid that trust with two and a third innings of best and the worst he has to offer. Did Ryan Garko fly out to end the fifth, killing the bases loaded threat? He did - and Tavarez made him do it. Julian also magicked up a one-two-three sixth, pitched around a throwing error by Lugo to pick up the first two outs of the seventh, entered the home stretch, you can make it, Julian...you can give up those four runs first, if you want to. No, really, it's ok: Wily Mo brought his good game for once and hit a line drive home run in the top of the inning.

So congratulations, Julian: you didn't pitch great and your offense totally bailed you out, but you pitched (literally) when it counted and you got another win. Don't let anyone say the Man keeps you down.

Game 101: Faust(o)’s Deal With the Devil

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 0, Cleveland Indians 1

A year ago I witnessed Fausto languishing in his training room. He lamented that he had learned all the pitching knowledge he needed to smite his foes… and yet they beat him back. The Sox, the glorious scarlet sox of Boston did defeat him. In the cruelest fashion was Fausto humiliated by this crimson hosiery, not once… but twice. Heroically was he cast down in front of teaming crowds… and there he did swear his revenge.

Before his vengeance was realized, he lived in solitude near the outskirts of limbo (Buffalo, NY) and honed his skills, yet even he knew this was a fool’s errand. He was just a skilled novice and nothing more. And so he sought out the dark lord Mephistopheles in hopes to gain power enough to vanquish those that have embarrassed him. After an ancient incantation and arcane ritual, the Devil appeared in a puff of black smoke and brimstone. Fausto then traded his immortal soul for the pitching ability he so greatly desired.

The cur! The foul beast! Is Satan’s bargain covered by the players association or even Scott Boras? Isn’t this some sort of performance enhancing drug? Can Cleveland save his soul for another year by picking up his option?

The answers to these pertinent questions did not matter to Fausto. All he knew was revenge and he decided to extract it on the very team the beat him so badly. The poor Red Sox didn’t stand a chance when facing Fausto’s infernally improved pitches. Lament feeble Sox bats. This is the legion of Hell you face, not just Fausto and the Indians.

Alas it was too late. The Red Sox succumbed to his prowess and Fausto redeemed himself at their expense.

I hope it was worth it Fausto Carmona. Eternal damnation is your reward… well that and the 1-0 victory. I hope it was worth it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Game 100: A Game of Inches

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Cleveland Indians 0

I think there's a cliche out there about baseball being a matter of inches. I hate cliches and I try to avoid them, but tonight's pitchers' duel, where the winning run crossed the plate with thirty-four outs left to contest in the game...a matter of inches. "Contest" seems to be the right word, too; even though people usually cast football as the sport simulacrum for war, tonight's game was a battle, a hard-fought contest where, like the raging armies in battling in the trenches of World War I, one side fought desperately to keep a position and the other to take it. It was truly a clash of titans.

On a related note, I'm 90% convinced we owe tonight's successfully epic match up to my not putting Sabathia in my fantasy lineup this week.

Anyway,not to denigrate the performances of Messrs Matsuzaka, Okajima and Papelbon by not talking about their contributions even further, but I'd like to focus on those few, precious inches that separated win from extra innings and the threat of a possible loss. These two tasty morsels should be savored like a fine wine, because they're probably the only thing that kept the Yankees from gaining ground. First up:

Kevin Youkilis drops a single in front of Trot Nixon. Youk's been starting to pull out of his slump recently, so it was nice to see him keep things going tonight by going 2 for 4. For his second hit of the night, he dropped a 2 and 1 pitch in the heart of the zone right in front of Trot in right for a one out single. Nixon got a late break, dove and did a convincing enough job trying to trap the ball that Indians manager Eric Wedge had have a discussion with the umpire. You know; for appearances sake. Those of us without second sight could not foresee the importance of this hit at the time, but things started to congeal when Manny took the third pitch he saw into left field, moving Youkilis to second. Two batters later...

Mike Lowell drops a single in front of Ben Francisco. You have to feel a little sorry for Ben. He didn't just get a late break; he was playing too deep, misread the ball and broke the wrong way before sprinting to potential recovery. To his credit, he came about as close as Nixon did to selling his dive and I have no doubt that things were but a better reaction away from a totally different outcome. However, the ball bounced for a single, Youkilis motored in from second, scoring the game's only run. Francisco went on to compound his night's misfortune by striking out looking on three pitches to end the game. I bet he's having a swell night.

Game 99: Jon Lester, No Longer a Clubhouse Cancer

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Cleveland Indians 2

The return of Jon Lester is the biggest feel good story of this Red Sox season. No, not just because Joel Pineiro was DFA’ed and Tavarez was sent to the pen… the man came back from cancer to play baseball! If that doesn’t make you sit back and say “wow” then you must have been completely desensitized by the millions of human interest stories that this has spawned. Actually, that may have happened. I mean this guy is basically Lance Armstrong without steroid allegations and Frenchman hatred. That alone should be enough to saint Lester.

Now combine that with the fact that he pitched pretty freaking good

Yeah it’s amazing. He got into a few jams (highlighted perfectly with shots of his mother doubled over in the stands with her head in her hands), but like the Houdini he was last season, he managed to wiggle his way past the walks (the ump was AWFUL). Some well timed double plays and some HUGE strikeouts were all he needed to secure his first of what I hope will be MANY victories this season. Rejoice for the healed Jon Lester and take him to the hallowed halls of Sox lore. Move some bloody socks and Ortiz walk-offs… we’ll find some room.

Lester isn’t alone in this comeback parade. Timlin looks like he is officially back from the old folk’s home with another inning plus of solid relief, Delcarmen is back from his vacation of suck he had with the White Sox and the offense is back even without Papi (still resting the sore shoulder) and it’s all because of Manny swinging a big stick again and Coco hitting everything in sight (10 hits in 3 games). This is the Sox team I signed up for! 4 wins in a row baby!

So the win was great, and the story was great, and the atmosphere was great, but we need to realize this may not be a permanent thing with Jon boy. How long the golden child Lester will stay with the big club is uncertain. When Schilling comes back in August it will either be Gabbo or Lester sent down to make AAA starts cause it’s no use wasting either of them in the pen. However long it is, it’s great to have Jon “Tough as Nails” Lester back in the rotation. Just keep him away from Cheryl Crow and everything will work out fine.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Like A Swallow Returning to Capistrano… Only Without Birds

You may (or you may not) have noticed a slight change to the banner on this site. I must confess that it’s all my fault. For too long have I suffered behind enemy lines, gutting out Red Sox commentary in the trenches of Brooklyn surrounded by pinstriped enemies. I needed a respite, a return to my native land and a chance to recharge my batteries in friendly confines. Doing so, I leave Eric behind to fight the Yankee masses with his keen intellect, jaw dropping wit and oblivious straightforwardness while I hone my craft of debauchery and putdowns back in Boston.

Besides the small residence change, this site will remain mostly the same except I may have a chance to report right from Fenway with some frequency… if I can scrounge up some tickets. Anyway, if you want inside scoops and snide comments, you are gonna be talking to me. If you want an outsider’s opinion with facts, figures and the NY spin… check with Eric. Ahhhh who am I kidding? We aren’t reinventing the wheel here. The fact that I’m moving to Boston only really affects the title of this thing… and we already fixed that didn’t we?

“Here comes the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

Keep those Sox on… wherever you are.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Game 98: When Wakefield Wins, All Other Pitchers Suffer

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 8, Chicago White Sox 5

So, um...I guess it's a good thing that the Red Sox might have had their turning point this weekend and brought back their "we kill everything" offense, capable of eating lead and crapping bullets and scoring runs by the metric butt-load, or we might have a had problem seeing things through to a win. Seriously, what was with the pitching of everyone not named Wakefield (or Okajima) today? On the plus side, White Sox starter Jon Garland (remember when you had that one good year, Jon Garland? And that one other one? And you've been an average pitcher ever since?) was not up to today's task, surrendering three runs and the lead for the rest of the game to the Man-Ram in the first and three more runs in the fifth, while sacrificial lamb Charlie Haeger finished out the rest of the game with two runs of his own.

Meanwhile, Wakefield pitched great through six, but ran into some ugly trouble of the three run kind in the top of the seventh that ended his night after one out. So far, so good. Manny Delcarmen hits the stage to start the power trio action we've come to know and love and...well...let's just say that if someone told me that aliens had kidnapped MDC for the day and replaced him with a body double who couldn't find the strike zone, I wouldn't be surprised. It takes Delcarmen five batters to record an out; Francona pulls him for Okajima, who calmly takes the situation carefully in hand and gets the next four outs as easy as breathing. Ok, Papelbon time. The three run difference is no object. We're good, everything's cool, everything is...why is he giving up hits? Why are the bases loaded and nobody out and Jim Thome at the plate?

I must admit that I blacked out a bit here and I had to go back and watch Thome's at-bat again. I'm still not sure how Paps managed to blow that third pitch fastball by him, what with Thome sitting on speed with a 2-0 count, but I'm thinking that pitch might have been powered by pure awesome. After that, I guess Cinco Ocho took over, because neither Thome (strikeout) nor Konerko (game-ending double play) looked like they stood much of a chance. Three out of four games, ending a slump and a 21-run weekend? I'm a happy man.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Game 97: I Think That Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Gave This Team the Runs

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 11, Chicago White Sox 2

So in a game where the Red Sox score 11 runs… how is it that Manny (2 walks) and Ortiz (didn’t play but the MRI was clear on his knee) had NO HITS? Well thanks to the amazing offense from Coco, Lugo, Drew and Hinske the Sox were still able to score more runs then I ever could have hoped (even with the umps blowing the Lowell out a home call). I can’t verbalize how much I love seeing the dregs produce when the heavy hitters struggle. It’s like losing your wallet on the subway, but then finding three grand in the street.

Speaking of finding gold… is it too late to jump on the Kason Gabbard bandwagon? The only run the Pale Sox scored on him should have been unearned (awful fielding from Wily Mo, somebody him out of MY misery) and he allowed only 3 hits in 7 innings. Combine this with Schilling looking good in AAA and Tavarez running out of crazy magic, I think this means Julian gets sent to the pen while Gabbo is here to stay. Oh and I hope Tavarez doesn’t know where I live because he’d kill me in my sleep for saying that.

Finally, I am not 100% sure these last two games are complete signs that the Red Sox have found a way to turn the “we can’t score runs” thing around. Not to take anything away from the great performance of the lineup OR from the masterful work from Gabbo… but the White Sox suck. I mean they REALLY look awful and lost out there. Who the hell walks in 3 runs?? That’s madness. I’ll need at least a week more at this level and some other teams to test the waters with before I can start screaming about how we’ve turned a corner. But who knows? I hope this is the norm and not some fluke like Wily Mo’s grand slam earlier this year (I heard he’s on roids now! Somebody help me spread that rumor).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Game 96: Turn It Back Around

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 10, Chicago White Sox 3

In 2004, the year I started this blog, there was a turning point game; a game where the Red Sox said, "eff this, we're too talented to hand over the season like a bunch of wussies." That game, which has gone down in history as The Fight Game, was the Gettysburg or the Stalingrad of the 2004 campaign and after that things slowly started to build until - with a few bumps in the road - the Red Sox won the World Series. Every year since Robin and I have looked for the turning point game and, regardless of our poor track record, I think I'm ready to name tonight's game, this year's prime contender. Here's why:

The First Inning Sets the Stage: Josh Beckett pitches an iffy first inning, but the Sox come roaring out the gate against Contreras, who's had much more success against Boston ever since leaving New York for Chicago. With two out and two men on, J.D. Drew mashes a high fly ball that lands on top of the Green Monster and bounces back on to the field. Everyone at home can see Drew's hit a home run; hell, everyone in the Park can see Drew's hit a home run...except for umpire Tim McLelland, who's under the impression that a skyward bounce is somehow indicative of a ball that's bounced off a vertical surface. I'm guessing McLelland, or the other three umpires, who back him up after a conference, didn't do too well in high school physics. Drew snags a double while Big Papi scores, but Manny, home run trot on the mind, gets thrown out at home to end the inning. Terry Francona gets heated enough to earn an ejection.

Chicago Opens the Wound: after a perfect second, Beckett opens the third by surrendering two singles and a home run to Jim Thome. The home run lands far enough back in the bleachers that the umpires are able to figure out the right call with relative ease, leaving me fan to groan at our collective misfortune. 'The way this
[expletive] team's been hitting, we're not gonna score any [expletive] runs. We're gonna lose because of those [expletive] umps!' I'm sure you were saying similar things to your own TV sets or radios, possibly sprinkled with more profanity. A psychic pall descends.

The Sox Get Their Chance: Two and a half more innings pass and the only excitement comes from Julio Lugo stealing second in the bottom of the third. Not good at all. Then, in the bottom of the fifth something weird happens: after Tek walks, Eric Hinske pulls a David Ortiz and tries to bunt away from the shift, down the third base line. He knocks it foul. Now, I guess either the White Sox didn't think he'd try again, because the shift doesn't move, giving Hinske the opportunity to try again. He punches it down the left field line and puts runners on first and second. Julio Lugo (the mighty Julio Lugo) tries a sacrifice and ends up with a bunt single as Contreras fouls up the throw to first base. Bases loaded and Coco Crisp comes up, ready for action.

Turning Point Part 1: Crisp's triple down into the right field corner accomplished two very necessary things; things so vitally important I have to put them in list form:
  1. It shifted the momentum of the game back towards the Red Sox. Before that hit, we were looking at a bases loaded, nobody out, we're probably going to score two runs at best before we end the inning situation. After that hit, tension dissipated from the shoulders, fingers unclenched and moods became much lighter because we'd all started hearing the dulcet tones of our favorite song, "This Game is Now in Hand."
  2. It restored confidence. Suddenly, this wasn't the slumping team that couldn't drive in runs; this was the surging team that could knock 'em in when things really mattered.
Turning Point Part 2: Beckett went six innings in this game and struck out a season high ten batters. Contreras, for reasons unknown, went seven and a third. To finish his night, he loaded the bases with Drew, Lowell and pinch hitting Kevin Youkilis, then put the final nails in the coffin by serving up a grand slam to the overjoyed Julio Lugo, whose stock in Boston is rising as fast as his batting average.

Tonight Drew, Crisp and Lugo played starring roles in ending a three game skid and improving upon a post-All-Star break record that's been just plain ugly. That the Red Sox did so after a terrible call and a poorly-placed pitch summoned fears of yet another loss is impressive enough; that Drew, Crisp and Lugo, three guys with plenty to prove in this second half, proved the value of their bats by leading the charge makes this game the possible mid-point to fall glory.

Game 95: I Wonder What it’s Like to Be a Rain Maker

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Chicago White Sox 4

I really thought (hoped?) that rain was going to wash this one out. After the last few debacles the Red Sox have put together this month I think a precipitation fueled respite would do them well. Unfortunately, my rain dance didn’t have the staying power and it cleared up just enough for them to squeeze this in.

Maybe it was the delay, but Dice K was all over the place and his wildness was aided by the WORST strike zone of the season. The disaster that was the top of the 6th was as much the umps fault as it was Dice K’s crazy outside pitches. Thankfully MDC and Lopez were able to stop the bleeding.

Not that it mattered. For the 100,000th time this year the Sox couldn’t get anything done with men on base. Sure they got 11 hits… but it was 11 singles! Just a disaster. Maybe Eric was right because Youk was a knife in the back tonight. I now cringe when he is batting with men on. Cringe and change the channel if there are two outs.

By the time Oki came in and gave up an uncharacteristic homer to Konerko this was already decided. I have no IDEA what happened to this crew but they have shifted from the team that has the chance to win ANY game to a team that better get runs early because they are taking the 7th, 8th and 9th innings off.

Yanks lost too so they are still only 6 games back… but for how long? For the first time this season I feel real fear on this issue. Where are my big hits? Where are my win streaks? Maybe I should pray for rain for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Game 94: Kevin Youkilis is in a Slump

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Kansas City Royals 6

More than the fifth wretched Tavarez appearance in a row (the specter of Lester is rising, Julian), more than the blown lead in the fifth that saw KC answer a Boston set of four with four of their own, this game was about one thing: Coco Crisp smacking a triple in the bottom of the eighth that missed a home run (and the glove of an inexperienced Mark Teahen) to tie the game by a foot and a half, then Julio Lugo flying out to end the inning and stranding Crisp on third.

This statement is not meant to be an indictment of Lugo - for once - as the slow-starting shortstop is currently the hottest hitter on the Sox, with eleven singles, two doubles and a home run over his last 26 at-bats, but a statement about the state of the team. As Robin reminded us yesterday, low-hanging fruit like the Royals is an opportunity for easy pickings, not bashing yourself in the head with eighteen men left on base over two games. The Yankee threat looms large and the complacency I mentioned after the first game is a killer.

I do wonder how much of the lost spark stems from Youkilis's post-All Star Game slump, which continued this evening with an 0 for 3 with a walk. Since the restarted last week, Youkilis is batting .150, with four walks and six strikeouts over 23 at-bats. It's an upsetting situation, for while Youkilis has struck out and walked about equally all season, he's not only on pace to have his best season yet, but has been the redeeming life of the lineup all year. Tonight there were times where he looked lost (his lone strikeout) and other times he got unlucky (a hot shot handled by Mark Grudzielanek at second), but nothing indicative of the hoped-for breakout. Seeing the Red Sox play under .500 in seven games since the All-Star break and lose three of those games by one run while Youkilis falters calls to mind potential correlations that I'd really rather not see.

Game 93: A Sad State

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Kansas City Royals 9

The Royals? We got our asses kicked by the Royals? This is like coming in second in the Special Olympics except you KNOW you’re retarded. Where’s the short bus and the rubber pants because the Sox are ready to take the slow road to head-slapping-town.

Honestly I don’t have the time or the patience to go into how much of a disaster this was (Wakefield I am looking at you) because I am moving and causing a drastic change in the blog format (more on that to come later).

This was seriously the worst thing that could have happened. Doesn’t anyone realize that the Yankees are breathing down our necks (only 8 games back now)? Don’t people know that a .500 record isn’t going to cut it for the rest of the season? Hasn’t the bench duo of Hinske and Mirabelli been bad enough to induce vomiting in most rational humans?

These are the dregs and we are supposed to beat up on the dregs. This calls for ultimate phony parental crazy guilt.


The Sox don’t have the best record in baseball… is that what you wanted? To be second best? How can you do this to this to our nation/family? Haven’t we cared for you enough? Haven’t we been there through thick and thin? DO YOU WANT TO SEE US IN PAIN??? Look… you’ve made your mother cry. She’s crying because you fail. Just go. Do whatever you want, but don’t come crawling back here expecting a playoff run. God, you make me so crazy.

See? Scary wasn’t it? More losses like this and there's more where that came from. You’ve been warned, Red Sox.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Game 92: Summertime...and the Living's Easy

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Kansas City Royals 0

Kason Gabbard throws a complete three-hitter, strikes out eight and doesn't allow a hit until the fifth inning? The Red Sox scatter so many home runs around the park they make Fenway look like a bandbox and do all of their scoring via the long ball? We must be playing the Royals.

Ok, that was a little harsh. Kansas City may be the perpetual cellar-dwellers of the AL Central, but they don't even have the worst record in baseball or even in the American League! Surely having old Gabbo out there making guys look silly really means something in the scheme of things and isn't just because he's facing the Royals, right? And the resurgence of Big Papi's home run swing, Manny going deep (perhaps in an effort to top Frank Thomas's record of most home runs against the Royals) and P-Dawg's might-mite drive into the Monster Seats; surely those are not just signs of a big dog taking down a little one, right?

Here's what I'd like to believe: that Kason Gabbard isn't a fluke with an abnormally high strikeout rate that will self-correct as he suddenly self-destructs, that one day he'll make a solid third or fourth starter for the Sox, or the trade bait to a killer acquisition that doesn't come back to haunt us. I want to believe that Manny's about to hit the hot streak to end all hot streaks, to stand and deliver the way he hasn't for the past month. I want to believe that Papi's hamstrings are no longer so hamstrung, that three doubles and two home runs in the past 21 at-bats are the sign of the hitting apocalypse for any pitcher unlucky to face him in the near future.

I want to believe these things because if last night was a trick of the easy summertime living and the Royals' facility for destruction, if Chicago comes to town to dominate and the Sox go to Cleveland for more of the same, or for (an even worse) mix of on-again, off-again .500 baseball, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. Not because of lost ground in the AL East, but because slipping into complacency as the Dog Days creep towards us means that the Sox have let the easy summertime living smother them. Good win, boys, but don't let the fire go out for a moment.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Game 91: Charter Member of the Run Support Group

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Toronto Blue Jays 2
Is there some support group I can go to? Someplace I can stand up and say:

“Hi. My name is Robin… and my team isn’t as good as they should be.”


Yeah it’s that bad. 11 hits and only one run? The double plays were killer, the out at home was killer (Ortiz both times? I cringe) and the men LOB was killer killer.

This was an abomination. The Sox wasted a great Beckett performance (8 innings, 8K, 2 ER) and to who? Jesse Litsch? Who the hell is that? This guy is going to be rotating TIRES in a few weeks while the Sox are going to be attempting a playoff run. It’s the clutch hits people. The “close and late” situations that this team used to excel in are now the anchor around our neck.

Now I want to know WHY this has become such an issue. I know Papi has the knee issue (it’s a torn meniscus in his knee that his causing the power outage) but it wasn’t JUST him carrying the Sox past the 8th inning was it? Where are the clutch hits from the other guys? Lowell? Youk? Manny? Anybody wanna get a late inning RBI? Am I crazy for even ASKING this of you guys?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Game 90: Seventh, Eighth and Ninth

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Toronto Blue Jays 4

This year's team does seem to have a wonderful effectiveness against their AL East opponents, don't they? In stark contrast to the 2006 campaign, when it felt at the end like they couldn't beat anyone on the East Coast, Boston now stands with a combined 21 and 10 record versus the AL East. As of today, if you arrange the winning percentage of Boston against the four AL East teams in order from top to bottom, it matches the league standings. Thus our team's dominance.

Back in May I gushed happily about Okajima and Papelbon and their ability to lop two innings off the end of a game with their filthy, filthy dominance. More recently, I've found a new thing to love about the Red Scare: Manny Delcarmen. MDC entered this year a question mark, a subpar 2006 behind him, consigned to Triple A until he found the stuff that brought him to the majors for the first time in 2005. I recall reading about a turning point game where he and Craig Hansen gave up a pile of runs; MDC resolved afterwards to fix the problems and move back up. Fortunately for us, he did so with aplomb.

As of today, the Red Sox starting rotation has pitched 551.2 innings over ninety games, which works out to a bit more than 6 innings per start. In a close game - say Red Sox on the over by three runs - the likely scenario has shifted twice over this season in wonderfully unexpected ways. At the start of the year, we'd expect the starter for six, some combination of the Red Scare for the seventh and eighth and then Paps in the ninth. Then Okajima became a dominant force and the first shift occurred: now the Red Scare only needed to cover the seventh inning in tight games.

Today, I'm ready to declare the second shift as past and the seventh inning covered, MDC style. It's been 8.2 innings, seven appearances and almost a month since he's surrendered a run. In that time, opponents have managed a paltry four hits and two walks, while striking out 12 times. Close game, Red Sox on top? Opponents now have six innings to score some runs...if they're lucky.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Game 89: Crazy Train… Last Stop?

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Toronto Blue Jays 6

Theo: This is it fellas. This is the final straw. He hasn’t won since June 20th and I think it’s apparent to everyone that this is the end.

Francona: Whoa whoa whoa, let’s not be to hasty here Theo. Are you sure you want to do this?

Farrell: Yeah I mean, tonight it was kinda Snyder’s fault. Are you sure you want to tell Tavarez he’s going back to the pen?

Theo: Absolutely! We got Jon Lester waiting in the wings, Schilling is coming back soon and besides, I am tired of all the crazy shenanigans this guy pulls.

Francona: Ok whatever… but you have to tell him.

Theo: FINE! Call Tavarez in here. I’ll tell him what’s what!

Farrell: Ummm hey Julian! Could you join us in here for a second?

Tavarez: Yesh? Was up skip?

Francona: Well Julian we got some things we need to…. Oh my GOD! Why are you dripping with blood?

Tavarez: I dunno. Why? You gots a problem?

Francona: NO! I mean, no… umm Theo here wants to tell you something.

Theo: Yes that’s right I wanted to ummm… tell you Julan that uhhhh… hey are you drinking that blood?

Tavarez: Yeah, I gotta or it gets all on the ground.

Farrell: I’m gonna be sick…

Theo: …yes… well as I was saying (gulp) ummm… you did a hell of a job without much offense tonight and… ummm well I think you should know that we don’t blame you at all and this all falls on the shoulders of Kyle Snyder.

Tavarez: I know man, I know.

Theo: You do?

Tavarez: Yeah. Who blood you think this is?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Game 88: Thank God Baseball is Back… Cause the All-Star Break Sucks

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Toronto Blue Jays 4

This is the worst week of the season. The only national sport being played is baseball and they take a week off in the middle of the season to blow their own horn. This is a showcase for players that would much rather be hanging out with their families or nursing sore hamstrings. The Home Run derby is an even BIGGER waste of time especially this yeah cause nobody could hit a homerun with the shadows and the park setup. Good job to all you morons that froze your ass or burned your face off while sitting in McCovey Cove waiting for a HR ball that would never come. I’m looking at you Eric Byrnes. Screw you and your goddamn bulldog. Your parents must be proud.

Ok enough vitriol. The season has restarted and we have the second place Toronto Blue Jays and their ace Doc Halladay vs Wake… again. Why must the torture of the innocent knuckleball thrower continue?

Wake didn’t have his best stuff tonight, he gave up a run early and the long ball was prominently involved in the 5th and 6th innings, but none of that mattered thanks to the Sox offence.

Yep that’s right! The Sox had an extended Halladay (oh get it? It’s a joke about the break AND his name! Amazingly clever!) and took the bluebirds to task early and often. Manny and Ortiz had a combined 5 hits, 3 runs and 5 RBI. That’s the “O” we needed from the middle of the lineup. I really hope now is the time for Manny to break loose of his slump and knees of Ortiz to NOT break loose so we can score runs like this every game. Lugo even got two hits and his average above .200! Shock and awe!

It seems as long as the Red Sox are playing the AL East they look like mighty titans whipping the hapless villagers… but against any team in the top two of the Central or West and they fall apart like a Swedish armoire. Is it too much to hope that the Red Sox face the Blue Jays, Orioles and Devil Rays in the playoffs?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Rise of Cinco Ocho

Cruising around the Internets yesterday, I came across this article on Red Sox Monster that discusses Jonathan Papelbon's new nickname/on-mound persona, as taken from an interview Paps did with Fox Sports Network's Gary Tanguay. In that interview, Paps says that when he's pitching, a second personality called Cinco Ocho takes over and keeps him just on the edge of sanity so he can pitch with all of the intensity we know and love. It's a little bit crazy (especially coming from a guy with hair that looks like it recently made friends with a light socket), but as I was commenting to some coworkers yesterday after Papi's bat presentation to Vlad during the Home Run Derby, I love it when athletes step out of the public relations mold and show some personality. From (presumed) Cinco Ocho namesake Ocho Cinco (and all of the other characters Chad Johnson has developed) to the hijinks of Kevin Millar, Julian Tavarez's bowling technique and all of the weird things that make Manny be Manny, athletes that move beyond the standard lines ("we played a great game, these are a great bunch of guys, we give it our best every day") and stand above the crowd (without being jerks, anyway) are a lot more fun to watch.

So long live Cinco Ocho, especially if he can keep making hitters look goofy. Maybe he and JT Killer can start a "barely restrained psychopaths" club together. That'd build some team spirit, right?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Game 87: The Unkindest Cut

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Detroit Tigers 6

The last time Detroit swept the Red Sox, it was 1992, the year the Sox fielded the worst team (73 and 89, with a sweet .451 winning percentage) since 1966; a team that was so bad it's gone on to be the worst Red Sox team in 41 years. That's not to say the 2007 edition of the Olde Towne Team is anywhere near as bad as the 1992 edition, or that the 2007 team is even a bad team; it's just an indication of how much the Sox crapped the bed this weekend.

After decreeing a night of excellent pitching and no hitting on Saturday, the baseball gods swung things over and turned Sunday into a slug fest, complete with a Matsuzaka meltdown like we haven't seen since the end of May. Actually, it was worse than that far-off day in May, because Dice-K never had a rhythm to fall out of as he careened from batter to batter and hit to hit like a drunk stumbling home after scoring the Mezcal worm. After the fourth inning this game was dead to rights over, with the fifth and sixth becoming mere mourners at the graveside...

Until just as suddenly, the order of things snapped around and the Sox started hitting well and pitching even better. Timlin, whose eight inning scoreless streak beggars the imagination, continued his dominance over two (two!) innings yesterday, keeping the Tigers in check while Boston clawed its way back into the game. Lugo jacked one, Jeff Bailey (I know! Shame on me!) jacked one for his major league hit and the Tigers started going through relievers like a nervous teenager through clothes before a big date. Top of the ninth, Tigers leading by one and on comes Todd Jones, closer extra-ordinaire. Jones hasn't been as effective this year as he was in 2005 and 2006, so there's a good chance to blow things open and steal the come-from-behind win.

Two singles and a throwing error mix with a pair of outs to put runners on first and third with two out as J.D. Drew comes to the plate. He's drawn a walk and scored a run today, but the 0 for 4 hangs over his head as he takes his cuts. First pitch: foul ball. Second pitch: strike on the inside corner. Third pitch: Jones leaves it out over the plate, high in the heart like an offering to Drew's bat. He swings, he connects, he...pops out. Damn it. Forget what Shakespeare said, this ending was the unkindest cut of all.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Game 86: Are You Frickin' Kidding Me?

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Detroit Tigers 3

A battle for the ages: the American League's best offense versus the American League's best pitching, each team ranked among the top teams in their opposite area. This game was a tiger and shark battle, a microcosm of the wars between ancient Athens and Sparta. This was a damn epic game.

And yet it ended not only so suddenly, but in such ridiculous fashion. I've watched and re-watched and re-frickin-watched that first pitch that Papelbon threw, the one that hit Sheffield and - as much as I love the Papal-Bon - led directly to the end of this game in the thirteenth. I've watched and watched, looking for Sheffield to lean into that pitch, to make the win a cheap shot and justify my disgust for the ending...but I can't see it. Tek set up in the middle, Paps let his control slip and three batters later, the game ended. End of story, no matter how much I'd wish it otherwise.

On the plus side: congratulations to Big Papi for smashing home run number fourteen in the first. Ortiz's struggles with power generation over the past month have been the stuff of aching hamstrings, but it seems that the night off did the big man some good: watching the replay showed the weight drop to the knees and the killer swing working in glorious synchronization for the first time in a long time.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Game 85: The Evening After

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Detroit Tigers 9

One thing I've noticed about blowouts is that unless the offense delivering the beating - a.k.a The Beater - is "go get a bucket of water they're burning up" hot (a standard of offensive prowess measured not in wins, but in sweeps, plural), they'll always come back to Earth in the worst way the next day. We're talking full on post-beating hangover, with a couple of runs scored if you're lucky. In fact, if The Beater is really unlucky, they'll immediately go into a four or five game slump because they're so worn out from punishing The Beatee.
A sidebar: determining the crossing-over point from offensive explosion to blowout seems to be something in the range of a ten run advantage, where The Beater's starting pitcher goes six or seven (or more) innings without surrendering more than a few runs. Number of at-bats might also be a factor; if The Beaters come to the plate five times and start sending in the scrubs in the seventh inning, you know a blowout is taking place.

The Sox suffered the expected post-blowout hangover today, coming up wretched against the Tigers right from the start. Tavarez went from the crazy-eyed psycho with the surprisingly low (for a fifth starter) ERA of 3.48 over ten starts to a shell of man shelled for eight runs (including a grand slam to Marcus Thames) over four and two-thirds. My guess is that Comerica Park doesn't have a clubhouse conducive to blood sacrifice and JT Killer missed his regular "contribution" to the baseball gods.

Meanwhile, the already tired offense went into a bit of a super scrub mode. With Papi benched (but only for tonight; he has to make sure Manny gets to San Fran) and Youkilis in some kind of quadriceps limbo, Francona did the lineup shuffle, mixing in career minor leaguer Jeff Bailey (Jeff who?) to play first in place of the (now) over-worked Hinske. Bailey, described by Francona as someone who "looked to me like he could hit someone who’s throwing decent" ("You're gonna like him. He's a good kid.) turned out to be just as stymied by Tigers rookie Andrew Miller (Andrew who?) as the rest of the crew, but he's got working-class hero vibe written all over him, so the papers love his story. I have no doubt we'll hear all about the virtues of never giving up on your dreams over the next two games and then, unless he hits something fierce, we'll probably never hear of Bailey again.

Anywho, moral of the story: you always pay the Piper for a blowout, Detroit needed to win this game far more than Boston needed to avoid losing it, everyone's in break mode and we'll now be lucky to win one game this weekend. Go Sox!

Game 84: I Love Playing the Rays

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 15, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4

What better way to celebrate a night on the town than with a pants-down spanking of the teal trouble makers from the Florida Bay. Eric and I ventured to the always fantastic Sox bar Professor Thom’s (proud owners of the handmade Roger Clemens bobblehead doll you see to your left) to see Beckett get his 12th win in grand fashion. Nothing cures a hitting slump quite like a visit with the Rays and a three game sweep was just what the doctor ordered after a disappointing run last month. Why can’t we play these guys every week?? Wait… I guess we are pretty much going to after the All-Star break.

So much crazy stuff happened tonight I'm gonna break it down for you in bullet form:
  • Beckett was nasty through 6 innings, had 9K’s and at least one fan that the bar who was willing to look past the fact that (in her words) she would be a one weekend girlfriend.

  • Drew was 2 for 2… in the first inning. I was still on my second beer when he got his second hit. I want to see a stat for that.

  • Coco Crisp had a grand slam in the first, but came up with the bases loaded 2 other times in this affair and only managed one more RBI. I honestly can’t tell if that’s good or bad.

  • Even Lugo got in on this beat down. The shortstop that stops short got 2 RBI but also managed to ground into a killer double play just to make sure we didn’t forget who we were dealing with.

  • The Rays catcher Navarro smashed his face into Beckett’s shoulder during a collision at first base. Beckett was fine (and continued to pitch) while Navarro broke his freaking jaw. Call me poetic, but I think this incident was a metaphor for the game overall.

  • Lowell had 5 hits, 5 RBI and about 500 comparisons to George Clooney. Most of the bar patrons were certain he would be the classy gentleman at your Red Sox social gathering. I’m not convinced.

  • As much as I bash Timlin, he looked good in his 2 innings of relief tonight. I suppose an 11 run lead is enough to make me comfortable seeing him pitch.

  • One of the best moments of the evening goes to Okajima (who didn’t even pitch) because he was the recipient of the final fan vote for the AL All-Star game. Oki tipped his hat to the Fenway crowd while they gave him a standing ovation. However, the applause was slightly muffled due to rampant carpel tunnel syndrome caused by constant and repeated online voting. By my calculations, everyone in Boston and Japan voted for Oki at least 9 times.

That’s the final home game before the All-Star game in San Fran. Now we head to Detroit as the 1st place Tigers host the 1st place Sox. I’m not really a betting man (if I was, I'd see that BetUS.com gives the Tigers the advantage), but I would wager the Sox could use this little momentum boost to ride into Detroit for a few wins - say maybe 2 out of 3?

Come get some you overstuffed striped cats.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Game 83: Beautiful Beatdown by/of the Bay

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5

J.D. Drew made a discovery today. Perhaps looking to honor our country's founding (231 years young, woo!), maybe in celebration of an 80-degree day that threatened rain from start to finish, possibly because he finally realized the golden opportunity available to him, Drew cracked his fourteenth double of the year - off the Green Monster. I can't find the data to back this up (besides his doubles split at Fenway: he's hit seven so far), but I think today might have been the first time Drew pulled the ball to left instead of trying to drive to right.

Why is this discovery so exciting? Because, if properly exploited, it will make Drew into the disgustingly good doubles hitter Mike Lowell was last year (career high 47, 24 in Fenway) and continues to be this year (on pace for 42 doubles), with an equal (or better) propensity for Monster Shot double doubles. Hitting those doubles will create situations like today, where Drew doubled to score Cora in the fourth and came home to score on the next at-bat when Mike Lowell hit a Monster Shot of his own, factoring in two runs of the beating Boston gave to Tampa Bay today. When Drew learns to succumb to the Monster's siren call, he'll tighten up the center of Boston's formidable lineup even further, providing new and exciting run scoring opportunities that the Sox have lacked, especially in the past month...and that's a very, very good thing.

Another very good thing? Manny Delcarmen and his one and a third, three strikeout, no hit perfect hold today, putting out the fire that Wakefield started - the one that Lopez tried to put out with gasoline - and assuring glorious victory in Boston over the hapless Rays for the second day running. In eight and a third innings pitched this year, MDC gave up two runs - in one appearance, the game against Seattle where he was in too long - and four hits. He's the special surprise at the bottom of the cereal box, the unexpectedly awesome call up you (or I, at least) wanted to see succeed and now he's doing it. Brendan Donnelly might find that his job's in danger when he gets back from the DL.

Game 82: It's The End of the World

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1

Madness! Utter madness! It is pandemonium folks. The sky is falling, the seas are rising, men and women are spontaneously combusting. Dogs and cats living together! It’s mass hysteria. Say your prayers, count your blessing and cross your fingers because it’s the end of the world.

Yep that’s right… Julio Lugo got a hit. What’s even crazier? He got two hits. Even CRAZIER? He got a really big hit. With two outs and two runners in scoring position, the much maligned shortstop got an RBI base hit up the middle off his old teammate Scott “Sox Killer” Kazmir. Just as this happened the new airline/pork industry merger was approved, the Devil announced a new NHL franchise in the deepest pit of hell, and Scarlet Johansson baked me an amazing batch of chocolate chip cookies… in the nude. Yeah, I was shocked too.

You know who really deserves the credit for Lugo’s performance? The Fenway crowd. Last night he got a big hand and chants in every at bat. Tonight when he stopped in at first he got a standing “O” and it was genuine. It may just be the double digit lead in the division, but Sox fans seems to have let the negativity slide a bit this year. I mean, an 0-33 stretch of play deserves a little booing doesn’t it? I personally have called for Lugo’s ouster for over a month. I guess kudos are in order for the Sox fans that have decided to get behind and prop up this worthless sack of crap we call an infielder. Good for you people.

Meanwhile, Dice-K threw another 8 inning gem that he can stick in his “I guess I was freaking worth all that money” crown that I’ve seen him wear. If anyone has any doubts that the man for Japan is the real deal… then now’s the time to get all that out in the open so I can laugh at you. That’s 10 wins he’s carrying around now if anyone was counting.

It was a perfect night except for the boo-boo homer that Paps gave up to Pena in the 9th with 2 outs and nobody on. Somebody should remind Jonathan that it can’t be a save situation if YOU give up the runs that make it a 3 run game. Ah well. No harm (except to your ERA), no foul.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Game 81: Now Leading Off...A Hitting Renaissance

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Texas Rangers 3

So something weird happened last night: Kevin Youkilis took the night off, after doctors told him his strained quadriceps wouldn't stopped nagging him until he took some rest. Of course, since Youkilis is a dirt dog and sports a beard powerful enough to hit home runs on its own, the doctors in question probably told the trainer to shoot Youk with a tranq dart to make the news easier (and safer) to pass on, but there he was, on the bench and out of the lineup just hours before game time.

Actually, that wasn't really the weird thing; what's weird was the result: Lugo goes from batting ninth to batting first and it actually seems to help. Lugo went 0 for 2 with two walks and a sacrifice bunt, but he looked a lot happier in the box, showing glimpses of the lead off hitter who hit .308 with a .373 OPS a year ago in Tampa Bay. If last night truly marks the end of Lugo's year-long battle with mediocrity, he'd
join Pedroia, Drew and (I would argue) Crisp as the fourth Red Sox to experience a renaissance when thrust into the lead off role. There's an adage that baseball announcers will sometimes bring up about how a hit-and-run play can force a slumping player to start hitting again; maybe batting first for the Sox serves the same function. I certainly hope so, because it'd be nice to hold on to a shortstop for more than a season again.

The other result of Youkilis sitting for the night was the triumphant return of Eric Hinske, who did what he does best: score unexpected runs on unexpected hits. Pedroia and Manny may have been at the plate when the Sox scored their first four runs (hallelujah!), but it was Hinske who hit the bases-loaded triple that put Boston up with breathing room after Texas scored three runs to break up Gabbard's no-no bid in the fifth. The guy may not make much of an impression as a pinch hitter, but he does toss in the odd and wonderful surprise coming off the bench for a game.

One final note: Robin called me at the end of the top of the fifth to find out the score and pointed out that Boston has an almost perfect record when they score six or more runs in a game - last Tuesday's game is the only exception. "Only two more," he said, "and we're golden." I went and looked after Hinske's triple made things official: last night made 30 games Boston's won scoring six runs or better, which is almost better (point of pride) than every cellar dweller in the MLB right now. Now we just need to score six runs against nemesis Scott Kazmir tonight...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Monthly Recap: Doom and Gloom in June

June Record: 13-14
Overall Record: 49-30

When you look at this month (just under .500) to the two previous months (well over .600) it’s kinda like flying coach after you’ve been flying first class. There’s nothing WRONG with coach. Coach is fine, even if it is a little crowded and the food sucks and your seat smells like the inside of Manny’s dew rag, you are still going to get to your destination. But after you’ve flown first class… everything else looks like crap. Nothing compares to the luxury.

In the month of June the Red Sox have been flying coach. It’s just lucky for us that every other team in the AL East is flying air freight. How can we play under .500 ball for a month and still have a 10+ game lead? That doesn’t seem right does it? Every time I complain about the Sox poor play to the masses of Yankees fans here in Brooklyn I get evil glares and rabbit punches to the ribs. There really is no comparison. The Sox have been mediocre… everyone else has been horrible. Let me break it down for you.

Catcher: A common trait you will see throughout this listing is how poorly the hitting has been. Strangely, the Capitan has not been as guilty as everyone else that steps up to the plate. Tek has had a very good year when you think about what people were expecting from our quickly aging backstop. He is defiantly going to put up better numbers than he did last year and has already surpassed his halfway totals in runs, RBI and HR from 2006. Is he getting the clutch hits and driving in all the runs he can? No… but then again nobody is.

Corner Infield: Lowell and Youk are both going to the All-Star game. I’d say more on that topic but my mind cannot fully grasp how awesome that is. After two shaky fielding months for Lowell, Mr. Salt and Pepper has regained the leather abilities that we’ve come to know him for. As for Youk, he’s perfect at 1st and has gone from being underrated defensively to nationally recognized for his glove work. At the plate these guys have been the two most consistent as well. Due to a finger injury (that will dog him for the rest of the season) Lowell has begun to slip (still leads the team in RBI) and as I’ve stated before NOBODY is getting the needed clutch hits.

Up the Middle: Dustin Pedroia has turned the corner. This guy looks like the contact hitter that he was supposed to be. I am worse than a fish out of water with all the flopping I’ve done with this guy… but he’s been really great. Then there is that short stop guy. He sucks. Flat out terrible. Batting a head explodingly low .089 for the month of June, Lugo could be the worst every day hitter on any team in the AL. I miss O-cabs and Gonzo and even Rent-a-wreck more and more every day. I say we drop him off in the Vermont woods somewhere and cut the losses.

Outfield: This one is a bit up and down. Coco and Drew have actually picked it up this month. Coco went on a hot streak and then got hurt (figures), while Drew started batting leadoff and to my honest to God jaw dropping shock, started doing MUCH better. Chalk this up to one of Francona’s “this is so crazy it just might work” plans. On the other hand, Manny is still not the same guy that he used to be. His extra base hit totals are low, his RBI (like most Sox hitters) are low and his average still isn’t above .300. I have a feeling he eventually will get really hot again… but it needs to be sooner rather than later.

DH: This is where I really get concerned. Papi is hitting, he’s just not hitting for extra bases. His average is high, his OBP is good, but the long ball just hasn’t been showing up. This has dropped the runs, RBI and maybe even wins for the whole team this year. Papi needs to regain his swing especially against bullpens. The Sox need to get their comeback artist working overtime again so he can continue to make closers wish they hadn’t got out of bed and come to the ball park. That’s what I want when I see Big Papi step in the box.

Bench: What do Mirabelli, Hinske and Willy Mo have in common? An under .230 BA. Besides Cora (who is a marked upgrade from Lugo) the bench has been pretty poor. The new kid Ellsbury hasn’t had enough swings to make an impact yet, but I don’t think he’s going to be tearing the cover off the ball anytime soon. Getting a pinch hit from this crew is rarer than a virgin at the Playboy Mansion.

Bullpen: Another low point this month was the return of Timlin. He’s old, he’s done, it’s over. I love this guy, but it’s time to move on. Donnelly went down with an arm injury (bad), Joel is gone with an ankle sprain (kinda good) and MDC is back with the big club (pretty damn good). Oki has been fantastic as ever and is trying to get his ERA down to a quantum singularity while pitching in every single game and Kyle Snyder has been solid in long relief. Even when losing, the pen has been nowhere near the “Red Scare” we’d thought they’d be.

Closer: Papelbon got his second All-Star invite, and not for no reason. This guy is still nails and sandpaper covered in carpet tacks. You get that? 9th inning comes around and it’s gonna get rough for the other team.

Starting Pitching: It’s been as good as before with one exception. After a near no hitter, Schilling had been ineffective and the DL’ed with arm issues. This was pretty much as expected because of how old he is, but I just wish we got a few more games out of Curt before he went down. He should be back after the All-Star break. Beckett, Wakefeild, Dice-K and even Tavarez have all pitched amazingly well, but they haven’t got a lick of run support to give them the ‘W’ they deserve. Surprisingly, Schillings replacement was not Jon Lester but Kason Gabbard. Gabbo has had one good and one bad outing and it remains to be seen if he is going to stick around or be replaced by Lester when the coaches feel he’s at 100%.

Low Point: I’m not even sure. Getting beat by the Yanks in the beginning of the month wasn’t very fun, but I might just call the sweep we took at the hands of Seattle the worst stretch. The Sox can’t win in that park and it looks like they don’t even try.

High Point: This would have to be Schillings 1-0 complete game victory and one hitter. Curt was one out away when Shannon Stewart knocked a single past the infield to break up the no-no. Even without the bats the Sox have managed to win games with the fantastic pitching. It’s a good sign that even when a team is struggling they still manage to capitalize on their strengths and find ways to win. I just hope July has more of these “strengths” than June did.

Games 79 and 80: Weekend in Hell

Final Scores:

Game 79: Boston Red Sox 4, Texas Rangers 5
Game 80: Boston Red Sox 1, Texas Rangers 2

Ahhhh Saturday and Sunday. The days everyone should be relaxed and resting. Everyone that is but the Red Sox bats. They OBVIOUSLY don’t need any more rest. Games like these two make me wonder how we got so far ahead in the AL East. And thank God that we are because the Sox have been playing flat for about 2 weeks. The mess in Seattle, the near miss in game one of this series and then these two pooch screws can almost be 100% blamed on the inability to hit the freaking ball.

Well I guess it’s not that cut and dry. SOME players are hitting the ball SOME of the time. The inconsistency and less than timely hitting his becoming somewhat of an epidemic. On Saturday the Sox struck early and gave Beckett a 4 run lead. Youk crushed one and Cora got a three bagger. But that lead slipped away and the Sox were helpless to stop it…however they managed to leave 9 men on base. The best (worst) part of this disaster was Lugo (now with a batting average lower than his IQ) trying to steal third in the 8th and running into a really stupid out. This guy needs to be buried somewhere.

On Sunday it was even more frustrating. The game was close thanks to Tavarez pitching out of his mind (again) but the offense was pathetic. 11 more guys were left on base stranded to die without any hope of creating runs…the poor bastards. Hell, this game might have been tied at the end if it wasn’t for a couple of errors by Cora (tough hop) and Drew (fly ball through the webbing). Perhaps the most disheartening was the performance of Ortiz who came up with men on in two big situations and failed both times. It’s like a little kid seeing Santa and having him bend down and look right into the innocent little cherub’s eyes and say “SORRY SUCKER! NO TOYS FOR YOU!” and fly off cackling into the night. It’s just mean, man.

What’s really odd about all this is the type of pitcher that’s killing this team. The Sox DESTROY starters. I don’t think I’ve seen a starter last into the 7th more than 10 times this season (I’d look up the actual numbers... but that’s more Eric’s thing). It’s these bullpens that are taking us apart. Maybe it’s the lack of familiarity with the pitchers, maybe the constant changing of pitchers, maybe it’s the deodorant these pitchers wear…I don’t know for sure. But I do know that it’s driving me out of my tree.

On a positive note, the thumb injury to Coco Crisp (who was getting red hot when it happened) and the DL’ing of Joel Pineiro (best thing for everyone) resulted in the calling up of hot prospect Jacob Ellsbury. The guy is fast as lightning and a wiz defensively. He only has one hit in 8 AB’s so far…but that’s still better than Lugo.

Win Monday and the Sox could salvage the series split…with Texas? That’s awful.