Monday, December 29, 2008

Catching Problems? Bring in Josh Bard, Of Course!

Imagine you're the Red Sox (fun, right?). You have, as Robin pointed out in strongly-worded commentary bordering on hysteria, no catchers on your 25 man roster: your captain is on the market awaiting a multi-year offer that may never come and your backup - who, I should note, is one of the few catchers out there with the ability to catch the knuckleball pitcher who you still have on staff - hit the bricks for the shelter of your rivals because you made the odd decision to non-tender after his best (if admittedly not superb) season yet. What do you do?

Try and sign Josh Bard, apparently. You know, the guy the Sox sent to San Diego two seasons ago to get back Mirabelli because they realized not everyone can catch Wakefield. Um, duh? To Theo's credit, he's since admited that trade was a mistake, and given how that season turned out - and the lingering questions about the team's construction - who can blame him, but I'm starting to wonder where the strategy is in all of this mess. First, the Sox fail to come to an agreement with Varitek, which wasn't much of a surprise: things are very different in the personal and professional lives of Jason Varitek, and he wasn't going to give the Sox the same satisfaction of an easy deal like he did four years ago. Then, the aforementioned non-tender for Cash, the resultant lack of catchers...and Boston's decision to try and sign Bard, who has bad ankles and a checkered past in Boston that automatically rules out his playing one every five with Wakefield, all while insisting that they're still going after Varitek. Anyone else confused?

I could see Boston's using a Bard signing as an opportunity for both catchers to compete for the starting position - trading away the loser at the earliest opportunity - but that would only make sense if Varitek had agreed to play in a Red Sox uniform next year. Even then, unless Bard has some sort of resurgence, it's not like either catcher is particularly attractive trade bait, and if Bard performs well, why would Boston want to get rid of him except to fill a hole they should have already plugged by the start of the season? I feel like the Sox are trying to buy insurance for a car they may or may not own in the next four months, but maybe I'm missing something?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Don't Look Now...

...but I think the Sox just got played. Hard. In fact, if Sean McAdam's article in the Herald is to be believed, Boras shopped Boston's final offer to New York just to see if he could get a little more value, playing for time by fudging details about Teixeira's need to think a little more before he made a decision. In the end, Boras' powers of persuasion and Cashman's recent desire to be a one-man economic prop made the difference, and now the Sox end up looking like the desparate dude at the bar running up a skyhigh tab buying the hottest woman in the bar drinks all night, only to find out she's been using him to keep her friends in booze before she leaves with the guy with the better lines.

So the front office ends up looking a little stupid, but frankly, I'm relieved (well, partially relieved. I would have preferred to see Teixeira go to the Nationals and play hell with the NL East next year, but that was probably just a Boras-manufactured pipe dream anyway). As I said before, having Teixeira's bat in the lineup would have been great, but seeing either Lowell or Youkilis replaced by the merc-of-the-month would kill just a little more of this team's soul. The 2009 Red Sox might not hit as hard without Teixeira, and they'll certainly face more of a challenge from New York, but I feel like they'll have just a little more soul.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Will He or Won't He: I Don't Really Care

I have been observing the Texeira dealings with what I can only call abstract interest, as if I were a scientist watching the battles of ants in a jar to confirm or deny a hypothesis. Maybe I'm under the same spell as Allan Wood, but the maneuverings of the Red Sox negotiation machine in their latest battle with Scott Boras no longer hold the drama that they did in the past. The fallout is a little more interesting though; it seems like once again, we're being used to score points.

Despite their necessity - business does seem to win baseball games and baseball championships, and Lord knows we do love the ends if not the means - I've grown a bit weary of the churn process of bringing stars to Boston. Mike Lowell has somehow gone from toast of the town to spare part in one year, rendered obselete because of a hip problem that may very well be old news come the spring? I like winning, but I like Mike Lowell, too - and in many ways, I'd rather have the cast of characters I've come to identify as my team come back next year than the possible latest and greatest.

In addition, while it's possible the tough economic climate and the looming threat of layoffs makes me a bit more sympathetic, I can't help but think of how bad I'd feel if my company were openly negotiating to replace me with someone else. I realize if the situation were reversed, Lowell wouldn't necessarily have any loyalty to the laundry, but I think that - particularly after the Manny fallout from this summer - seeing the front office do its best to once again crap all over a star player is really shortsighted.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Surviving Grady is Right...

...AJ Burnett and Bronson Arroyo really could be long-lost brothers. Maybe it's the angle - and props to them for finding one of the more unflattering pictures possible - but there's definitely something about the facial hair, chin structure, and slightly shell-shocked expression that speaks of a family resemblance to the dearly departed Brandon.

Speaking of Burnett (and thanks - again - to Surviving Grady for the tip), the NY Post reports that the righty chose New York due in part to the evangelism of Johnny Damon, who played up his view of the superiority of the Big Apple to the Hub and how he need not "fear the media unless [he] give them a reason," which I think is just precious. I have no doubt that the Post is reporting this story in an effort to give Boston fans a minor case of green envy heartburn, but I'd like to think Captain Caveman has done us Sox fans a good turn: when Burnett is turning in another mediocre season next year (and despite his high-quality career statistics in Yankee Stadium and even more impressive numbers in Fenway, I think Burnett is highly overated), we'll have ourselves a good laugh about how much he'll will have to fear from the New York media.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Forthcoming Uncontrollable Laughter

I believe the news in this article is a good demonstration of the powers of bad juju on the boomerang return. Poor Manny, getting his comeuppance for chasing the benjamins. I guess there really is a point where a team won't take a rider on a good product with a really piss-poor reputation, huh?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

On Amateurs and the Agreements of Gentlemen

The Nippon Baseball League is a little upset about Boston's decision to sign Tazawa: they feel that a gentleman's agreement regarding the cherrypicking of talent has been violated by the pursuing and capturing of one of Japan's more high-profile amateurs.

I'll admit to some bias here, but that reaction seems like sour grapes. Like other professional sports, baseball has really become a global concern, bringing with it the sink-or-swim mentality of marketplace economics to the sale of product to consumers. When it comes to producing that product - to the hiring, training, and molding of groups of athletes into competitive baseball teams - the group with the most capable production staff is going to find the best materials. The realities of this situation aren't predisposed to American domination, either: from my understanding, the NBA is starting to find itself on the losing end of this global equation in basketball: the salary cap, which (supposedly) creates a more equitable playing field within the league, is now preventing NBA teams from competiting effectively with other leagues when it comes to signing talent. In other words, the NBA has a competitive disadvantage they may need to address.

The solution for the NLB, as for the NBA, is the same: offer an environment that makes your league more attractive (through whatever methods you think would be best to entice players) to the talent pool. Crying about broken agreements just makes you look lost and out of touch.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Batting Second, Playing Second Base...For the Forseable Future...


Not that I'm surprised, mind you. Why go through the irritation and bother of arbitration or free agent negotiations when it's crystal clear that even thinking of ditching El Caballito would be tantamount to career suicide? Congrats to the short people's champion on his $6+ million a year pay day.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Surprise, Surprise: Tazawa Signs With the Sox

Welp...looks like we got ourselves another pitcher. Actually, we've got ourselves another two pitchers, but anyone excited about Wes Littleton and his rapidly declining ERA+ and climbing WHIP might need to get themselves treated for baseball withdrawal. But no, the pitcher in question is, of course, the result of Boston's far eastern fishing expedition, the man who landed in Boston so he could (supposedly) pitch with idol Daisuke Matsuzaka: Junichi Tazawa.

Frankly, I don't know what to make of Tazawa: the Globe reports that in addition to a low-90s fastball, "[Tazawa] is said to have good command of both a breaking ball and changeup, the latter reportedly having the action of a split-fingered fastball," but then they go on to use Craig Hansen as a precedent for signing an amateur to a major league contract...and we all know how that experiment turned out (whether or not you want to blame Hansen's ultimate failure in a Sox uniform on his own inabilities to adapt to major league hitting or his overexposure in 2006 is a point for debate, but the end result is the same). Tazawa will start out in the minors and his contract is a paltry $1 million a year, so I guess if he doesn't pan out it won't be a big loss.

The real Hot Stove starts when, now?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Burning Burnett

Beckett, Lowell, possibly D-Train and now Burnett? Is Boston's strategy for 2009 to recreate the 2003 Marlins? Actually, I should be grateful I can make that joke; were we still living under the Yawkee Trust, reassembling another club's championship team six years later might have been an operating strategy. This Thanksgiving, as every Thanksgiving since 2003, I'm grateful for the ownership of New England Sports Ventures.

But really: what's with the interest in Burnett? His post-2003 payday netted him over $13 million in 2005, but the return on that princely sum hasn't been anything spectacular: ERA+ of no more than 119 (or 19% better than the average pitcher), a pedestrian set of career graphs, only two seasons with more than 30 starts, and years worth of troubles in his pitching shoulder and arm. 2008 was his most durable year, but he's 31 years old: what the Blue Jays got this year was probably the most anyone will see in the future. I really hope the Sox are only in this contest to drive the price of acquisition up for Toronto or New York.

Meanwhile, fun Mark Teixeira metaphor for you to chew on while you watch the rumors swirl: replacing Manny with Teixeira would be like if Brady got with Gisele first...and she turned out to be crazy. In other words: I'll get excited about Teixeira if he ends up in Boston, but thinking he'll replace Manny is the kind of self-delusion we all engage in so we can sleep at night.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

“MVP”edroia, “KC”oco and a Requiem for My Dream

Let’s do things in order of importance here. First things first… Dustin Pedroia has finally finished his “I told all you doubting Mother#&%#s” tour around the MLB. The 2007 AL rookie of the year now has a gold glove, silver slugger and the 2008 AL MVP to place in his already crowded trophy case. No longer the Wonderboy… Dusty P is the prime time, Alpha dog that combines that amazing talent with a powerful will and a heaping pile of grit. He must have all these qualities… because why else would a 5 foot nothing bald guy be the MVP of ANYTHING?

Thinking back on his season, there are so many moments when I thought “what the hell is he going to do next?” His cockiness is hilarious, his energy is infectious and his hair was ridiculous. There were also hundreds of moments when I though he was going to have to carry this team himself. My favorite was that series with Chicago at the end of August when Dustin forgot how to make an out. Seriously, for 2 games the Sox second baseman was a wrecking crew. 8 for 8 with 2 walks!!!! They needed to douse him in ice water for fear he would light the rest of Fenway on fire.

So even though it was a weird year for MVP choices, I think Pedroia was just a valid as the others. The twin Twins had a good season and Youk was just as much as a banner carrier, but that scrappy (a hot button word I know) bastard deserved the award. Now I am excited to see what he is going to do to prove he’s even better than this.

Second order of business: wishing Coco Crisp a fond farewell. This needed to happen and the returns were nearly exactly what the Sox needed. Ramon Ramirez is a solid set up pitcher and fills a pretty big hole in the bullpen. As for Coco, her really went above and beyond this year and really helped along the Jacoby rebuilding process. He is a defensive wiz, a speed demon and really a hell of a guy… and will continue to be so in exile on the island of Kansas City. Thanks a lot Coco! Have fun on that perennial last place team. Really… hell of a guy.

Finally, the lame news. I am taking a step back from this blogging thing. Yeah big shocker if you looked at my last few weeks… but anyway this isn’t me giving up on the team or anything… I just don’t have the same need to freak out anymore. Let me explain…

When I was living in Brooklyn, if I talked about the Red Sox to a guy in line at a deli, first he would beat me senseless, then he would scream “GO YANKS”… not exactly the way to get things off my chest. But now that I’m back in Boston, I regularly accost hapless misanthropes about hot stove deals and they are happy to receive my insane ramblings… hell… they have some of their own! It is a relief that I cannot describe. Unfortunately, this leaves me at a loss for my venting in this forum or I feel like I am repeating myself. Now combine that with an added work load from my real job (and other normal excuses) and there isn’t much time or energy left for the blog.

So no more regular posts for me. I’m sure I’ll be back in some crazy form or another eventually (sooner if the Sox get Teixeira), but until then let me leave you with GO SOX and KEEP YOUR SOX ON. You know the deal.

Coco No More

The Sox confirmed that they traded Coco Crisp to the Royals for reliever Ramon Ramirez. Unless you're far more familiar with the ins and outs of the Royals bullpen than I, I'm sure you had a similar first reaction: who? Fear not: once you take a look at the numbers, dealing Coco straight up for a no-name reliever makes sense. At 27, the right-handed Ramirez has three calendar years' experience in the majors - two in Colorado, one in Kansas City - with phenomenal numbers (ERA+ above 140, K:BB ratio of about 2:1, WHIP and ERA that have both fallen over time) over sixty-plus appearances in both 2006 and 2008. The catch is 2007, when Ramirez hurt himself twice: a sprained right elbow in April and a right elbow inflammation in September, and spent of the rest of the time sucking wind. Clearly he healed well enough to continue his march forward this past year, but a guy with a damaged wing who relies on low-90s hard stuff to make his living is a potential liability as he gets older. The Herald believes there's a possibility of Ramirez figuring as a set piece in a larger trade later on.

In addition to confirming the long-term decision to support the Jacoby Ellsbury Project in Boston, this move means happy trails to Covelli Crisp, the little engine who never quite could in Boston. To be sure, he had his hot streaks, particularly in the second half of this season, when he picked up the slack from Ellsbury's rookie/sophomore struggles, but the guy who came to Boston to replace Johnny Damon never really established himself after breaking his finger in early April, 2006 in Baltimore. Best of luck to you in KC, Coco; I hear they're big into OBP now. We'll always have 2007 and the time you almost broke your wrist sliding into the triangle.

Speaking of Baltimore: glad to hear the Orioles are acknowledging their home city now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hey, We Got Ourselves an MVP!

Short people everywhere, including yours truly, are walking with a bigger spring in their step today. In a decision that did not surprise this writer in the slightest, the BBWAA selected Dustin Pedroia as the 2nd second baseman to win the AL MVP in 49 years, placing him among an elite (or, low-numbered anyway) group of second basemen to win the fun-for-bragging, but ultimately meaningless award. Finally, after the years of the David Ortiz MVP controversies, one of our own gets the respect we deserve.

Not that I'm complaining about lack of respect, of course. By the way, speaking of complaining, The Gator's still pissed about 1988. He's not shy about calling out Canseco, either. Love the cheesy music in background of that video, by the way.

While you're at it, take a look at the list ESPN put up of other winners of the RoY and MVP trophies. Pretty good company for any baseball player, I would say.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Manny and the Baseball Industrial Complex

Some friends and I were watching JFK last night, getting beaten over the head with the movie's theories-as-facts presentation and its insistent theme that the military-industrial complex killed America's White Knight president because he wouldn't play their financial game. I don't have this blog to discuss politics - historical or otherwise - so I won't get into my thoughts on the subject, but I bring up this particular selection from Oliver Stone's cinematographic resume because of the headline I spotted on after we finished watching the movie: "Sox made move to suspend Manny."

In the piece, we're told that - as cited in an ESPN report - the Sox delivered a letter to Manny (with copies to MLB, the MLB PA, and Scott Boras) on Friday, July 25, telling him he would be suspended without pay for refusing to play starting the following day. Two hours later, Ramirez called the team and told officials he would play. Six days later, Boston sent Manny packing to Los Angeles.

I'm not particularly interested in analyzing the ins and outs of the circumstances leading up to the trade any further, but what really struck me about this announcement was the timing: its similarity to the Machievellian tactics used by the hidden Them in JFK to discredit the main characters. Why else would the Sox leak this information now, if not to sabotage Manny's contract negotiations in a "you hurt us so we'll hurt you" ploy of power? I'm not saying that what Ramirez did at the end of July was right, or that he should be rewarded with a fat contract, but this move seems like stooping to his level. Frankly, I'm a little disgusted.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Filling the Slugging Gap

David Ortiz misses Manny. Or Manny's bat, anyway. Sort of. He won't come right out and say it, because he's far too polite, but he's happy to hint about it obliquely. It's pretty clear that he - like Bill Lee - believes the only thing standing between Boston and another ring this year was Manny's ability to hit the long ball. They both might have a point: do a straight-up substitution of Manny for Bay in the ALCS and the difference is, quite frankly, embarrassing. We all deluded ourselves into thinking we wouldn't miss Manny because we had Bay, but those numbers give that delusion the lie: Bay, while good, is no replacement for Manny's greatness.

In an effort to lessen that gap, Ortiz wants the Sox to sign Teixeira. Pursuing the ex-Angels first baseman comes with a few logistical problems - does Boston have the desire to spend the money, what would happen to Mike Lowell - but first, is Teixeira (or any other big bat) an acquisition the Sox need to make? Teixeira has certainly been a more consistently successful hitter than Lowell, with an OPS+ that hasn't fallen below 126 since his first year. He's also much more of a power hitter, fitting Ortiz's desire for protective, Manny-style bat, while Lowell's isolated power numbers, even with all of those doubles, have never returned to their Marlins-era peak. But Teixeira isn't Manny: as an example, until this year, Teixeira never had really stellar plate discipline, and his K/BB ratio only climbed after coming to the Angels. Bringing him to Boston, particularly at the expense of another player, seems like Theo's attempt to replace Pedro with the gaggle of cheaper, less effective pitchers that plagued Boston in 2005. Besides, a order heart of Youkilis, Ortiz, Drew, Bay, and Lowell (although not necessarily in that order) sounds pretty deadly already...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bill Lee Cares Not About Your Opinions

An excellent idea for anyone looking to create an Internet sensation: put a microphone in front Bill Lee for a few minutes, give him a starting point, and let him hold forth. Kinda like what happened at the Red Sox Hall of Fame induction ceremony a few days ago. I had read Lee's Little Red (Sox) Book a few years ago, but I had forgotten about how much Lee does not give a crap about what anyone thinks about him: he's here to speak his mind and be clever, all at the same time. Does Lee blog at all? Because if not, he really should.

A few life lessons from The Spaceman:
  • Winning is everything. No, really.
  • When marrying Canadians, make sure the first one is cold before moving on to the second one.
  • The Boston media gets the New York media's sloppy seconds.
  • We should all be grateful to star players for gracing us with their presence, no matter what the result.
After watching this video, my friend Fred had a good point: Lee's vitriol about Manny may be a bit unfounded, but it's a comment on the long-held Red Sox tradition of crapping on star players when they leave town. After doing a quick mental tally, I can only think of two stars who escaped the pariah treatment when they left the Sox: Williams (he got while playing, instead) and Yaz, who both left because they retired. But Fisk, Lee, Pedro, Damon, Nomar, Manny...they either suffered the Vader force choke from management or the rabid dog attack of the fan base on their way out. It's not a particularly pleasant legacy to contemplate.

Whatcha Talkin' 'Bout, Willis?

John Farrell is a no go with the Mariners coaching, announcing that he's withdrawn his name from consideration. It's a good thing, too, because we're going to need him: the Sox are thinking a Lugo for Willis trade with the Tigers (thanks to Joy of Sox for the tip). I remember a time when the mere idea of seeing Willis suit up in a Sox uniform had me declaring AL East locks; two years later, I'm thinking it'd be a good way for the Sox to drop a part that's outlived its usefulness and grab a pitcher who could be another Bartolo Colon...a younger, lighter weight Bartolo Colon who doesn't eat his way on to the DL (seriously: almost three months for back stiffness? How badly do you have to beat yourself up to do that at age 35?) or stomp off to the Dominican in a huff before the playoffs.

While it's true the D-Train struggled most of this year after hurting his knee in April, or that many of his stats - particularly against righties - have been on the decline even without his poor 2008 campaign, there's some hope: Average Against and BABIP have both fallen, K/9 is particularly good against lefties, HR/9 is really good against lefties...and the guy's only 26, with plenty of time to turn his career around. Unless there's some chance we'll be able to trade Lugo for a catcher, I say Willis is worth a rider. Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Man With the Golden Glove

Lest it be forgotten, Dustin Pedroia is:
I'm not sure what makes me happier: remembering Pedroia is on this team for years to come, or comparing him to the lopsided second base options that plagued this team in the first half of this decade. Now we wait for the MVP results...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Your Move, Mr. Epstein

We all know that Scott Boras is a.) Satan and b.) a very good agent (although whether or not he's better for his clients or himself may be up for debate), so we should be used to opening shots like this one:
Agent Scott Boras told reporters that New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada’s four-year, $52.4 million deal, which was agreed to last offseason, will serve as a benchmark for any team looking to land Varitek.

“It’s probably representative, age-wise,” Boras said, “and it’s also representative of what a player on a winning team (is worth). You’re not going to have many catchers who have the performance levels and a 60 percent winning percentage on a franchise and have won two world championships and caught four no-hitters. The idea of it is that there just aren’t many in the marketplace that can lead a club like Jason Varitek and that’s going to be his value.”

But still, hearing Boras make value arguments is like getting a Novocaine shot: you know it'll hurt, but you've forgotten exactly how much until it happens. Seeing Boras dance around the bad and spin the good hurts, doesn't it? Almost makes you want to see the Sox offer more than two years...until you remember that enormous risk outweighs emotional connection.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Douchebag Alert: Brett Myers

This article reminded me about the thing I regret the second most about the Sox not going to the Series: missing the opportunity for 38,000 people to give Brett Myers his vocal comeuppance. What's even better is that I have even fewer qualms about casting Myers as the bad guy than usual, because the guy is completely unrepentant:
"But you know what, I really don't care what people think about me. ... If people don't like me, they can deal with it. This is who I am."

Myers told Nightengale that on the night in question, he and his wife went out to dinner, had a lot to drink and began arguing. While Myers disputed the police report that he hit his wife and dragged her by the hair, he did say this: "When you're both heavily intoxicated, that stuff does stuff to you you're not supposed to do."

To sum up: Brett Myers has a core of wife beater wrapped in a pitcher shell; a shell occasionally stripped away by the evils of the drink.

Actually, the point of this post was not to engage in fish barrel shooting, but to raise a larger question: why is Brett Myers still a professional baseball player? A jury of his peers may not have had the opportunity to hand down a conviction, but this particular incident isn't shrouded in any sort of mystery: people saw the attack go down. I'm not saying Myers should be blocked from ever working again, but putting him on a big stage on a regular basis seems like tacitly supporting wife beaters everywhere. Especially when, you know, he doesn't seem repentant in the least.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Congratulations Philadelphia...

...given the recent revelations about Beckett's oblique and Lowrie's wrist, plus the more obvious injuries (oh, and the fact that you have a pretty well-made team), you probably would have beaten us, too.

Try not to burn the entire city down in the celebration riots.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Few Late-in-the-Day Thoughts

  • Holy crap. Explains Beckett's rapid decline and Lowrie's subpar numbers in one fell swoop. It's starting to look like every game the Sox won in the playoffs this year was a minor miracle. Also: I get cranky enough when I have to sit in an office chair with a sore oblique. I can't imagine trying to pitch with a torn one.
  • Scott Boras agrees with me. I suspect that statement is like saying that after Barbarossa, Stalin agreed with Churchill that Hitler needed to be stopped (and yes, that makes Scott Boras Stalin to my Churchill): we've got vastly different agendas but the same general goal. Actually, having anywhere close to the same goal as Scott Boras makes me feel filthy.
  • Tito is going to have back surgery. I'll let you make the connection between back pain and poor judgment.

And We're Back

Or I am, anyway. Robin's still hiding under a rock somewhere, slugging whiskey and singing sad songs about bases-loaded ground outs. I needed a break from baseball for a few days, but I'm otherwise whole in mind and body. Disappointed, yes and happy to root against the Rays, but more than cognizant of how much of a miracle it was to even fight back to Game 7 with three shaky starting pitchers and no starting third baseman.

Of course, I felt a little differently that night. I think the end of Game 7 was the only time all playoffs I had to turn off the sound on the TV, because I was getting so worked up about the slurping noises coming from the broadcast booth about David Price that I was moments away from throwing a chair through a window. And those windows have bars on them, so it would have been a doubly-wasted effort. Here's the thing about David Price, which Caray, Martinez, and Darling seem to have missed: he's Craig Hansen three years ago. So he's struck out Yankees at Yankee Stadium...and he's gotten a post-season win and a post-season save before accomplishing the same achievements in the regular what? The Yankees weren't particularly good in September and more importantly, no one's seen this guy pitch more than a couple of innings. Sure, he could be the next pitching Jesus, but he could also flame out as quickly as Hansen and find himself pitching for a AAAA team in two seasons.

Besides, he's only got two pitches and his fastball has enough outside arc on it to double as a sail.

Anyway, after I turned off the noise from the box, I realized that even if the announcers seem to have contracted a huge case of the idiots, the Rays probably have more than enough sense not to overexpose their hot new prospect, and more importantly that they were winning/had won because the Sox couldn't string together enough hits to score two runs with the bases loaded. We were defeated by our own inability to keep the momentum running - and perhaps our manager's loyalty to one Jason Varitek.

What of Varitek? I've talked with a few people about this issue and I have two thoughts:
  • The only reason I can think of why Francona did not choose to pinch hit for Varitek was his concern over long-term employee relations. The Captain had already made (albeit minimal) signs of his displeasure about exiting for a pinch hitter public, which suggests there was much more discussion going on behind the scenes. Since it's still not clear whether or not Varitek will be coming back to Boston next season, it would be best not to burn any bridges. It's not a particularly good theory, but I'm running with it because the alternative revolves around Francona pulling a Scoscia (yes, I went there) and forgetting how to manage in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of Varitek coming back, what do we think? This year's free agent catcher class features a whole host of catchers a year or two over thirty, but some of them have club options and none of them are particularly outstanding hitters...and hitting seems like it would be the only balance we could have against losing Varitek and his sway over the pitching staff. I'm thinking no more than a two year deal with a permanent spot in the nine hole would be in order, while Boston does its best to acquire or train a solid backup in the minors.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'm All Out of Love

ALCS Game 7: Boston Red Sox 1, Tampa Bay Rays 3

Did that just happen? Did that just really happen?

So many things to say... no heart or energy left...

Papi needs surgery. Like NOW.

Jacoby was not playing for a REASON. He was a mess.

Cora lost cause. Casey lost cause. Timlin lost cause. MDC the lostest cause.

Tek.... oh God... I don't know. Don't make me do that now.

Can't blame Lester. Can't blame Tito. Can't blame anyone.

I hate everything about Tampa. I hate the new fans. I hate the cowbells. I hate mowhawks.

I got nothing left. No juice. No gusto. No guile. Maybe in a week I can bounce back.

...But now? Ugh... I got nothing...

No Deliverance

ALCS Game 6: Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Tampa Bay Rays 2

Followed my love from coast to coast/Chased by demons, chasing ghosts/And when I wound up facing the sea/Heard the waves crashing, laughing at me
Tonight was the prove it game: the game where the Rays could shut the door, kill the momentum, make Boston's fourth straight setup to an ALCS comeback (since '86 and going strong!) a dream and nothing more. The Rays had "Big Game James" Shields, unlucky - and unlikely - victim of Game 1, raring back to send his team to their first World Series berth and cap the penultimate chapter of a truly unlikely season. The Sox had Beckett; Beckett the martyr to the unknown drag, Beckett the now uncertain post-season hero, his record of kick awesome postseason starts tarnished by this year's October activities. Boston had the momentum, but Tampa Bay had the odds.

I waded into that icy black/I saw there was no, no coming back/No deliverance
At first, it seemed as if the very fates were conspiring against Boston: a problem in Atlanta kept the TBS off the air just long enough for B. J. Upton to go big long style on a Beckett fastball, putting the already uncertain denizens of Professor Thom's (including yours truly) into a tizzy of desperate anticipation: what sort of Beckett would we be getting tonight?

Ducked my head under, started to drift/Let the tide take me and down I went/I saw great wonders shunned from above/I saw blind monsters twisted in love/No deliverance
Fortunately, the Sox seemed to have (finally) anticipated Beckett's potential malaise on the mound: his fastball speed dropped a good five miles an hour after Upton's home run and the man with the fireball arm suddenly became a junkballer, throwing curveballs and cutters and low-90s fastballs with just enough bite on them to keep the Rays low on the board through five. It wasn't the prettiest performance and it was certainly far from the dominance that brought Beckett to Boston, but it the job done.

And when I saw her, bathed in light/A host of angels knelt at her side
Meanwhile, "Big Game James" was anything but: four pitches into the second, Youkilis answered Upton's home run with a deep fly of his own, sending the crowd - a mix of diehards, pink hats, and douchebags of various stripes (so help me God, if Professor Thom's falls victim to its own success and I have to watch another game with such a group of poseurs, standing around blocking the view on the screens while they chat amongst themselves, I will be forced to firebomb. There's nothing worse in sports than a bandwagon fan with no substance. I'm pretty sure I was getting dirty looks from one woman in front of me for clapping, for chrissake. You don't like it? Don't go to an effing sports bar!) into extacies and setting up a push that connected firmly to another run scoring drive by Pedroia, Ortiz, and Youkilis in the third. As Shield's pitch count mounted, the Sox started to circle in the water, never quite taking the big bad bite but doing enough damage to keep all of Tampa Bay's relief corps on their toes. Even the Rays' second home run, miraculously knocked in by Jason "Tampa Bay Rays MVP" Bartlett and his magical ability to lean into a pitch, Derek Jeter style, weren't enough to slow Boston down for even a half inning: Bartlett's solo shot quickly found an answer in a two run screamer by El Capitan in the top of the sixth. Okajima and Masterson shut the door; Papelbon delivered electricity in ten pitches and sent the Ray running into the night.

She said "You have forsaken all you believe/Crossed earth and oceans to be with me/I'll be your lover, I'll be your wrack/And now you're never coming back."/No deliverance
So, here we stand:once again contemplating the world a mere step away from the World Series. One good game; one solid Lester outing separates us from sweet comeback number four and a showdown with Philadelphia. Boston has the momentum, has time and experience on its side, has the capacity to make this thing one and done and take the pennant. No deliverance for Tampa Bay, guys. No deliverance.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Redemption: Thy Name Is Beckett

So it comes down to this. ANOTHER “win or go home” moment for the 2008 Boston Red Sox and we send Josh Beckett to the mound to defend our teams honor. Any year before this and that is a BOON. A gift. An omen.

But this year the great Beckett looks fallible. He is no longer the instant big game winner he once was… but that’s the pattern right?

In 2003 he was the young upstart beating the favorites. The David v Goliath.
In 2007 he was the dominant power monger at the height of his excellence.
In 2008… well… this is Beckett’s “Year of Adversity”.

Everyone and their mother knows he isn’t at 100%. He is injured or tired or SOMETHING… but he isn’t the lights out guy anymore. So that must mean that this will be his “Bloody Sock” performance. His ultimate sacrifice game. This will be Josh Beckett’s time to push into a legendary group of baseball players and prove that he is ready to stand among them in playoff history.

I just hope he has enough left in the tank to pull it off… cause if he can… someone get the bronze ready… we got a statue to make.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Princes of the Universe

Presenting! Terry Francona's The Highlander! Watch, as one man from Georgia, supported by a cast with such dashing and daring characters as Youk, Pedey, Big Papi, Bay State (does anyone actually call him Bay State?), Coco, and Rat Boy, fights to keep his dreams of a 2008 World Series berth alive - or at least give the Rays a run for their money - in the face of Terrible Aggression, Rayhawks, female Rayhawks, and B. J. Upton!

  • J.D. Drew as Connor McLeod of the Clan McLeod, the Scottish warrior with the bat and excitement response of steel!
  • David Ortiz as Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, the Spanish swordsman who looks Scottish but is actually, in fact, Dominican.
  • Evan Longoria as The Kurgan, the bad guy so bad ass he needs no introduction - nor pitch high in the zone.
Holy crap, what a way to end a game. I will admit without shame that while I headed into tonight with at least some hope of a good showing to brighten what had been an otherwise abysmal stretch of baseball, by the seventh inning I was reduced to praying for a run, making and burning small sacrifices of peanuts and crackerjack on my living room floor in the hopes that the baseball gods might let us live without the indignity of a skunking.

Then came the bottom of the seventh inning. Remember the feeling you had before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, where you basically declared "$#&% it" and decided to watch just to see how things turned out? That's how I felt when I wrested control of the TV at the start of the bottom of the seventh. Then things started happening. Pedroia comes up with two outs and a man in scoring position and does what almost no other Red Sox has done this series: he knocks him in. Papi comes up: we're all thinking "big spot, big spot, 2004, Mr. Clutch Hit," but we're all thinking about that wrist, too, about that sub-.200 batting average and the deadfish way his hits seem to have these days. And maybe we're thinking about that triple from last night, too, because somehow hard-cursing Grant "Lord" Balfour decides right now would be a perfect time to challenge Big Papi with a fastball in the heart of his ball-crushing zone. And like J. D. Drew last year, the totally improbable happened: easy as pie, Ortiz dropped that ball right into the grandstand and cut the Rays' lead in half.

Bottom of the eighth: we have our runs now. Now I'm starting to get greedy. I want that tie game, I want that win. I want to go back to Tampa and show these Rays why this decade belongs to the Boston Red Sox. I want J. D. Drew to hit a two-run homer. Surprisingly, so does Dan Wheeler, because he gives Drew a pitch about as fat as the one hit by Ortiz and suddenly, we're a run shy of the biggest comeback the Rays have allowed all year. Kotsay doubles on another fat offering and now it's up to Coco: two outs, momentum on the line. His battle with Wheeler is the stuff of legend and hitting instructional videos - ten pitches, fouling fastball after fastball after fastball until he finally got the perfect offering - but his result is what truly mattered: a smash down the right field line that was enough to score Kotsay and tie the game.

Francona, in a move that walks the line between genius and idiocy (and seems like genius because they won), had brought in Papelbon in the seventh and eighth, so he turned to Masterson for the ninth. Masterson, being the fine, upstanding citizen that he is, decides a collective heart attack is what's best for all and proceeds to put men on first and second before finally inducing a double play to escape. The heart of the order is up for the Sox now, but I'm pretty close to panic, with visions of Javier Lopez or - saints preserve us - Mike Timlin coming in to protect the lead in the ninth. All around the country, Red Sox fans jacked up on adrenaline are pleading for the same thing: no extra innings.

We almost got 'em. Watching Longoria make that grab on the third base line was like watching a ninja eviscerate a kitten: you admire the form, but you don't feel too good about the result. A long night looms...and then the throw sailed wide. Just like that. Youkilis goes to second and we're seeing the third example in as many innings of the type of breaks grabbing we've enjoyed so much in the past four years. Bay walks, Joe Maddon decides to play the odds of a lefty/lefty matchup with Drew despite the history and once again, a battle ensues. Howell can't throw anything but junk and Drew's seeing the ball so well he'll keep fouling off pitch after pitch until he finds the one he wants...until he hits the ball to right field. Until we win. Pandemonium. Dancing in the streets. Princes of the Universe. Go Sox.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Conspiracy Theory of the Day

Here's a fun conspiracy theory for you: you know those Rays fans who started showing up during the playoffs, filling the seats of a stadium that had locked whole sections during the year? What if they aren't Rays fan at all? What if they're Yankee fans (because we know Florida is full of both Yankee and Red Sox adherents), reveling in the chance to stick it to their rivals with some vicarious cheering? Something to chew over as we wait for the game to start.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sign of the Boston Sports Apocalypse

Ok, I take back every hopeful thing I've said or thought about this series turning around in Boston's favor these past few days: clearly we're in big trouble. I'll spend the rest of the next two days quietly waiting for the hammer to fall...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All These (bad) Things That I’ve Done

ALCS Game 4: Boston Red Sox 4, Tampa Bay Rays 13

Breaking down the Red Sox players using lyrics from a semi-emo pop alt band? I guess it’s the best I can do with this mess.

When there’s no where else to run/ is there room for one more son
To Tim Wakefield the Game 4 starter. And the answer is no. He was supposed to be our stopper and he couldn’t go 3 innings. More runs, more homers, more of the same. He left the Sox with their backs up against the wall. That might have even been his last appearance in the Red Sox uniform. That thought alone has put a damper on the entire postseason in my mind.

If you can hold on, hold on
To Masterson and Oki. Maybe one of the brightest spots in these disasters, these guys have done a pretty good job of keeping runs off the board. Can’t complain about this part of the pen.

I wanna shine on in the hearts of men
To Jason Bay. The other bright spot this October. Everyone misses Manny (his bat anyway) but the offensive and defensive prowess of Bay has made the Sox look a lot less wimpy then they actually are. The thought of having him for another year keeps me out of the knife drawer after these games end.

I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand
To the injured Mike Lowell. The Sox offense was really missing his bat. I know Kotsay has been nailing those line drives, but the Lowell blasts off and over the wall could have really helped this series. His surgery next week hopefully can fix his hip issue… otherwise the Sox are going to need to make some major acquisitions in the off-season.

Another head aches, another heart breaks/ I am so much older than I can take
To the captain Jason Varitek. This man looks 10,000 years old at the plate. When Cash hit that MEATBALL into the monster seats in the 3rd inning, the first thing I thought was “wow I think that would have blown Tek away.” His bat speed could be compared to molasses dripping off a table. Oh… and there is no one to really take his place in the Sox minors… awesome.

And my affection, well it comes and goes
To Jacoby Ellsbury and the pink hats that love him. He was hot for the ALDS and has become a black hole in the ALCS. So much so that he didn’t get the start tonight and Coco took the spot. The pretty boy can’t look more lost at the plate and that’s the last thing you want out of your supposed leadoff hitter.

I need direction to perfection, no no no no
To Jon Lester who had the No-No early this season, looked great against the Angels… but sucked against the Rays. I am confident he will be back on top next year… but boy does he look burnt out.

Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
For Sean Casey who has been put to the VERY bottom of the Sox bench. Is he hurt? Is he banging Francona’s wife? Did he murder someone in Istanbul and is currently serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison? We may never know, but we do know he isn’t getting the bats that his slap single style deserves.

Yeah, you got to help me out
To Mike Timlin, Javier Lopez and Manny Delcarman. SOMEBODY help me understand why these guys have jobs. They have been nothing but awful and it hurts my SOUL watching them pitch. Delcarman alone may make DC turn into a homicidal maniac. As I write this he is asking me if “this will incriminate him in court” during a trial that may or may not happen… if they find the body that is. All scary stuff.

You’re gonna bring yourself down/ Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
To Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedrioa. These two have done everything in their power to drag the Sox into the post season and are kicking and flailing wildly to keep them there. Check out the body language on these two. They look like they are frustrated beyond all imagination and THEY WON last year. I think they might go on a 4 state killing spree after this thing ends.

I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
To the hollow men: David Ortiz and Josh Beckett. These two guys were the ROCKS that this team was based on… and neither of them has come through in this ALCS. Beckett looked so bad in game two that people clamed he was hurt. And I almost wish he was because at least that would explain it! I could not imagine another scenario where I WANT the ace of a staff to have a game hampering injury. As for David Ortiz… well maybe it’s the wrist injury and maybe it’s the loss of Manny’s protection… but I know Pig Papi, and THIS man is NOT Big Papi.

Over and out, last call for sin
To the Red Sox and Dice-K. Game 5 is perhaps the last game of the season for the Sox and it is up to Matsuzaka to help pick this team out of the gutter. Do I trust the big import to shut down the rolling Rays? Not really. But there is no other option now. Smoke’em if ya got ‘em.

While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
And this one is for the Tampa Bay Rays. Watch your back fellas. The Sox were in this same exact hole last season against the Indians and we know how that turned out. Now I know this isn’t the same team and they don’t have the same pop and drive… and well… talent… but the Rays better win ASAP, because you don’t want to give the Sox some life… that’s all I am saying.

If you can hold on… hold on.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bad Moon Rising

ALCS Game 3: Boston Red Sox 1, Tampa Bay Rays 9

Due to the circumstances of the day, I ended up listening to the game rather than watching it. In retrospect, doing so was probably the best decision I made all day, sparing me from what were no doubt the shrill cackles of Chip Caray as he and his broadcasting fellows presided over one of the uglier post-season losses I've had the displeasure to witness. Instead, I slogged through the wreck with the dulcet (and by dulcet I really mean high pitched but still welcome through nostalgia) and laconic tones of Joe Castiglione, supplemented by partner of the day Dale Arnold. It was Dale who pointed out the full moon rising over Boston, giving the night - and this post - its theme.

And oh, what a theme. Jon Lester picked one of the worst days possible to have his first shaky moments in months, surrendering twin bombs to the Devil-enchanted Rays and opening up a gap that was as steady as it was insurmountable. Life disappeared from the Fenway stands, as the faithful watched in disbelief as the man who seemed near to claiming the throne of pitching god stumbled and fell. Like Icarus, it seems that Jon Lester flew too close to the sun, scorching his wings with the burning rays of immortality. Or maybe he just had one of those bad days at the office. Either way, neither he nor relief effort Paul Byrd could do enough to keep the Rays off the board.

Would that the offense could have retained their stride from Saturday and kept the Rays' staff in similar straights! Unfortunately, the full moon's curse hit both sides of the equation, pulling the fangs of Boston's hitters in the cruelest way possible: a hit almost every inning, a run scored but once. The heart of the order got on base once and struck out five times, moonstruck into awful, swing-and-a-miss silence when needed most. It wasn't a pleasant scene.

So we'll go into tomorrow with Wakefield on the mound and the Rays nammering for blood, swarming hungrily like clouds of biting insects hungry for flesh. If the Sox follow past form, they'll surrender that flesh (and another loss) one more time before they have the moment of realization, the head-alignment moment where they start playing a game at a time and don't stop winning until they've steamrollered their American League opponent and whatever motley crew the senior league offers as a token sacrifice on the way to World Series victory. I don't expect history to keep repeating itself, but if the Sox want to avoid the early exit sign now flashing in blinding neon light on the road ahead, they'll need to end this flirtation with the bad moon's curse and get back into the game.

Mid-Game Metallica

WEEI just played the intro from Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be" to open the inning after the Rays lit up Lester like a Roman candle. Truer words were never inferred.

Funeral March

ALCS Game 2: Boston Red Sox 8, Tampa Bay Rays 9

It has taken me over 24 hours to write this because... well I dunno... maybe I just can't accept that the Sox blew that game so badly and I certainly don't know how to put it into words. I could write tomes about the failures of this hobbled ghost of a pitcher that calls himself Josh Beckett. I could narrate epic poems about the shell of David Ortiz. I could even wax frustration over the scrappy Tampa line up that just seems to happy and excited to be here...

But no... I will avoid all of this to talk about Mike Timlin: the second closer on the Red Sox staff. When I say "second closer" it really is the opposite of everything a closer is. He the ANTI-closer. The BIZZARO-closer. The closer from the dimension where Kirk has a moustache. When Timlin enters a game it means the Red Sox DON'T WANT to win. It mean Francona looked at his watch and realized he would rather be asleep... and called in Timlin to put the game away... one way or the other (and it is ALWAYS the other). His entrance music is Black Betty... but it should be a funeral dirge. A march of the soon to dead.

Look, I am not doing this to bash Mike Timlin. The guy is (was) a horse for us. He has 4 rings for heavens sake. He helped bolster the Sox bullpen for years.... but those are years past. Long past. I feel bad about it, but he has no place on a competitive baseball team. After last nights disaster... he should retire before the World Series if the Sox make it or not.

That's enough vitriol. I want to move on to Jon Lester and his cancer killing pitches, I want a win in Boston and I want the drama taken out of this series. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Magic Man. Or Men.

ALCS Game 1: Boston Red Sox 2, Tampa Bay Rays 0

That's one, bitches.

Seriously, though: who else but Daisuke "Magic Man" Matsuzaka can flirt with the unbelievable, taking a no-hitter into the seventh, and do it with four walks? I know we've made our share of Houdini jokes about Lester in the past, harking back to a time when the Man Who Would Be Ace had more close scrapes than Billy Joel's driving record, but Dice-K...well, he takes the cake. Especially when he somehow settles down, finds a groove, and pitches seven innings on 115 pitches after walking the bases loaded in the first inning. Hell, seven innings? It feels like the last time Matsuzaka pitched seven innings, people were insisting that adjustable rate mortgages were a good idea (yes, that was a topical economy joke. We're a versatile bunch).

Then there's Youkilis. The mere mortals around him managed a hit; maybe a walk if they were fortunate. Youkilis had three hits in four chances, knocked in one of Boston's runs, and made Carl Crawford look like a fool, all in one night. Truly we live in fortunate times to have the power of Youkilis on our side, powering our way to victory. I suspect that, Samson-like, he gains strength from the magnificent growth of hair on his face.

Finally: the tag team of Masterson and Okajima, masterfully used - and masterfully performing - in the bottom of the eighth, shutting down the final Tampa Bay threat with a flyout/double play combo that hit the spot so well, we're all still tasting the sweet hours later. It's a good win, folks and a good night. Let's get ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beating the Rays, Or The Evolution of Moneyball

I won't go into series analysis today; the previews across the web have done a fine job giving effective coverage to all angles. Personally, I recommend Paul SF's excellent dissection over at YFSF and Evan Brunell's exploration of key series factors at Fire Brand of the American League, but suffice it to say that all commentary points to another tight ALCS with a good potential for Red Sox victory. Boston in seven games sounds like a good call to me.

No, what inspired me to put fingers to keyboard this morning is an article on The Process, Theo Epstein's term for the Red Sox player development system. As we all know, Boston's heavy investment in its farm system has paid enormous dividends: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis, Lowrie, Masterson, Delcarmen, and Papelbon are all homegrown and all key components in Boston's championship-level success in the past two years. What intrigues me about the Globe's description of The Process - as necessarily undetailed, beyond the description of a consistent manual of development used by every level of the organization, as it may be - is that we are witnessing the next level of evolution in the scientific process of player development made famous (and infamous) in Moneyball.

Moneyball was all about the use of statistics to determine player value. Its development by Billy Beane was the result of the need to produce results in the straightened circumstances of Oakland A's baseball, but a perfect storm of circumstance lead to its adoption by other number-minded GMs across the sport. In the process, it won approval among the population of statistically-minded fans, popularized a revolution in how people watch and comment on the game, etc. But as Moneyball and more vocal stats organs like Fire Joe Morgan make clear, using statistics to predict future performance explicitly denies the use of any other predictive system. You know, like intangibles. Make up. Whatever black magic it is that scouts use when they look at players in high school and college.

We all know that Epstein is a Beane disciple from back in the day. But here's where the evolution comes in: when Theo talks about the club's pre-draft evaluation of player make up:
"We sit down and brainstorm about what we're looking for, which attributes we think make a major league player successful, and then we question our own assumptions," Epstein says. "OK, we think we want players who are tough and gritty. Well, what does that really mean? Can you actually see that in a 17-year-old, in a 21-year-old? Does it look different when he's 17 than when he's 25? We think we want players who are intense and baseball-centric, who are focused on the game. Well, what about players who are too intense and too focused? Do they put too much pressure on themselves?"

In essence, applying science (through sports psychology) to the profiles of players whose statistics attract organization attention, adding a layer of filtering to the selection of players that Boston hopes will do well in the big leagues. Taking the idea even further - since I'm sure the Rays, with their own intensive focus on player development, have a process similar to that of Boston - this ALCS might well be a demonstration of the powers of science in player selection. Given the parity between the two clubs and the expectation of a long, fun series, seeing this type of science in play has to be a good thing for fans of the sport.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Game Under the Lights

A few weeks ago, my grandfather and I were talking about a Francona decision and he mentioned he'll sometimes overanalyze what Francona does because of his experience as a coach and a semi-pro player. Intrigued, I pressed him for some stories; below is the retelling of a game my grandfather played in as a member of a semi-pro team in the Biddeford-Saco area of Maine, featuring one of the star pitchers of the era. All last names have been changed at my grandfather's request. I hope you enjoy.

I can no longer remember the dates, but it was in the summer of either 1947 or ’48. Semi-pro baseball became quite popular in the Biddeford-Saco area, fueled in part by the infusion of Southern service men stationed in the area that had married some of the local girls and went into the shops and mills to work after the war. There was no TV, the race track at Scarborough & Beech Ridge was just starting up, so outside of the movies, the local entertainment was local sports, including both baseball and softball. There was a twilight league game just about every night with anywhere from 300 - 500 fans turning out for the games, with lights brought by the traveling teams that were about twelve feet high. Ira Jones, the manager of the Saco All-Stars, started to bring in outside teams to play against his team. He needed a first baseman/utility player for some of his games and he called me to play against both the House of David and the Colored Giants.

Now, old Ira was nobody's fool when it came to being competitive: for the game against the Colored Giants, he got Tommy Higgins to come down from the "country" (Waterboro, Maine) to pitch for us. Tommy had pitched for the Boston Braves' triple A farm team and was so good he had a chance to move up to the parent club, but refused: at that time he could make more money pitching semi-pro ball at home during the summer than pitching for the majors and he could live at home instead of having to travel.

It was nothing for Tommy to pitch a game a night for anyone that wanted to pay for his services. Promoters liked him, too: he was a local favorite and drew the crowds. Against the Colored Giants, he received $25.00 for the game – a bit more than usual, because the game went into the fifteenth inning and he pitched every inning. Tommy is gone now, but he would say as far as the old timers would be concerned, the pitchers today are only trained to pitch Little League.

I played the first eight innings of the game at first base. Imagine a boy of fifteen (wearing glasses, which was unheard of) playing with some pretty good ball players. Every time I had to look up or look across the diamond, the artificial lights’ glare on my glasses was like the sun shining in my eyes. I must admit, when the game started I was a little nervous, but old Tommy took care of that early: the first ground ball was hit back to him and he ran over and tossed the ball to me, then said "good catch, kid," which gave me confidence. I do not remember getting a hit, but I did have to make one catch in foul territory; it was an adventure, but the ball did find its way into the glove.

In the last of the fifteenth, Tommy and the Saco All-Stars won the game with a score of 2 - 1. Ira paid the travel team their money, Tommy got his money, Ira made his money, the crowd saw a great game, and I had a great experience.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ALDS Aftermath

I feel funny. Not “haha nice squeeze play Scioscia” funny, but unusual sensations and notions funny. After what proved to be an exciting, exhilarating and exhausting 4 game bash up with our angelic whipping boys from Anaheim, I am left with a new understanding and view of this 2008 postseason. What should be a familiar landscape for a Red Sox fan in this decade is most decidedly not for me and it really showed in my post game reaction Monday night. I freaked out! I mean almost to “2004 Ortiz becomes the Highlander” level of freak out.

Why did I react this way? Remember the whole “act like you’ve been there before” adage? Why has this escaped me?

And suddenly I knew. My freak out wasn’t the same sheer enjoyment and joyous surprise from 2004. Nor was it the pure happiness I felt that Sox had earned the fans in 2007 by proving it wasn’t a fluke. No… this 2008 victory freak out was some joy, mixed with a feeling of relief and then covered with a ripe sense of… practiced contentment. That’s right. I am content in knowing that the Red Sox experience in these types of situations will carry a team old and banged up farther into the playoffs.

Think of it this way: The Sox are the old stallion on the farm. Sure there are young colts looking to get rowdy and stir up trouble, and hell, maybe some of these lean young horses are faster and stronger than that old stallion… but what they have in energy, they lack in sheer know-how. The stallion is still a powerful horse that can surely hold his own… and is the first to greet the old farmer for feeding time because he knows exactly were to be. He’s done it before and he knows the routine. Sure it might almost be his time to be put out to pasture… but not this year. Last time I checked this old horse still has some fight left in him.

Hmmm. I think I’ve carried that metaphor as far as it will go. To sum up: the Sox are the old dominant regime and the rest are just upstarts looking at the crown and wanting a piece. Again, a strange position to be in as a fan and I am certainly not used to this. God I hope this isn’t what Yankees fans felt like in 2000. Yeesh, just thinking about that puts chills up my spine.

Anyway, let’s go kick some Tampa Bay pony butt. AL winners 2 years in a row has a nice ring to it. GO SOX!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Beating the Rays: A Prequel

Time to get ready for what will surely be an epic battle for the ALCS, and you know what that means: both sides have to get their trash talk ready. Oh wait, we're good: the Rays fans are already good to go.
That said, I was deeply, deeply disappointed in what I heard from the Fenway faithful during the top of the 9th inning of Monday’s Game Four. With the game tied, it sure sounded like they were chanting “Beat LA.”

Maybe they did that earlier and the night before too, but I’ve been either muting Chip Caray or relegating y’all to the picture-in-picture. But for the life of me, there is no reasonable explanation for why the Sox fans would be chanting that.

I can’t imagine they’re stupid enough to be looking past the Angels and our Devil Rays to a World Series date with the Dodgers.

But that leaves the equally stupid rationale that the LA they were referring to were the Angels.

Seriously Sox fans, were you really comparing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the Lakers?

Let me clear a few things up for ya, David:
  1. Nope, that was the first time in the series. Glad to see you're keeping tabs on us, though.
  2. You didn't mention the context for the chant: the bullpen was either about to surrender the lead or had just done so and was struggling for the last out (I don't remember exactly and I can't seem to get's feed to work properly. If I've got the context wrong, please feel free to let me know in the comments). Either way, fans in the stands were looking at the possibility of another late night, extra-inning loss and a trip back to LA for a tough game five. Reminding the boys in the field about that possibility (not to mention summing up that responsibility in an easily-repeatable chant) definitely falls under the responsibilities of a fan.
  3. Celtics fans may have come up with "Beat LA" during the NBA playoffs, but that doesn't make the chant the province of basketball fans any more than it made "Yankees Suck" the province of baseball fans. Chanting "Beat LA" at a Sox/Angels game might have been contextually appropriate, but saying that a fan base was comparing their overhyped (if angry) foes to a basketball arch-rival completely misses the point: these are the fans that chanted "Beat LA" at a Mariners game in early June, the fans that for six or seven years pulled out a rousing chorus of "Yankees Suck" at sporting events as varied as Patriots games and UMass hockey games. It's a rallying cry. If your team had more than five fans, you might get that.

Monday, October 06, 2008

@#$% It! We'll Do It Live!! ALDS GAME 4

I'LL WRITE IT AND WE'LL DO IT LIVE!!! That's right people, I'm live-blogging for the win. I figure I can add a little extra mojo, a little extra grit and a little extra... I dunno... Bill O'Reilly power? I want to avoid a plane ride back to California and the bleeding eyes I am sure Dice-K will provide. We must now put our hopes on the back of the Jon "big game" Lester and his cancer beating arm. Please end this now. PLAY US OUT!!

Anyway, I will be back at this spot (and DC with a chicken wing dinner and a pile of beers) every half inning to recap, expound, expand, poke fun and wish bodily harm upon Mike Napoli. I mean REALLY? Napoli? I don't know what that means!

See you at 8:27 or whenever TBS decides to put this on.

Start: We are good to GO! Well everyone but Mike Lowell. His corpse has been put on the DL for the rest of this series and the ALCS (if the Sox get there) against the Rays (who just put the White Sox away). It's a HUGE loss, but last years WS MVP wasn't really contributing anyway... so maybe it will be addition by subtraction.

1st Inning: Buck Martinez (not Showalter) just said the Red Sox have 3 jack rabbits? I'm not even drunk yet. I don't think. Good news is that Lester could be ONE of those jack rabbits... he MOWS down the Angels 1, 2, 3... a good sign, a good start. Too bad the Sox bat's were just as quiet. The 1,2,3 bottom of the 1st included a pop up for the Struggling Dusting Pedroia (who might make that his legal name). I bet he's glad they vote for the MVP before the playoffs. Sox 0, Angels 0

2nd Inning: Lester gets Vlad out quick (whew... guy scares the crap out of me), gets Hunter to pop out and then Napoli puts on a 8 pitch battle before he ends up walking. There goes the perfect game. God help me I want to stab Napoli in the face. Rivera proves he's still alive and gets a single to left, but Kendrick ends the 2 out rally with a BIG K. Lester still looks good. HEY my wings just got here! Eating and typing? How is this gonna work? Hopefully better than Youk's eye... he goes down looking on an inside fastball. DREW picks him up with a single and suddenly 50,000 Sox fans wonder why he didn't start yesterday. I think DC wants to kiss his swing, it's so sexy! Bay draws a walk before Kotsay hits into a 1 pitch double play. Damnit! Mike Lowell could have done that! Sox 0, Angels 0

3rd Inning: TBS announcers bore the crap out of me. I think Chip Carey is a robot on painkillers. Figgins gets a one out hit and Anderson moves him over to second. I really liked it last year when he had pink eye and looked like he was 100 years old. Teixeira (who has too many vowels in his name) walks and I am starting to worry we might have the "BAD" Jon Lester showing up. Vlad looks so damn scary. His foul balls go 100,000 feet. These HUGE foul hits confused Kotsay enough to RUN into the 1st base umpire... but PEDROIA save the day and stops a infield hit!! What a dive and flip to first! Thankfully Vlad runs like Jason Voorhees. Pitches adding up for Lester (54).

Jed Lowrie is doing a good job of making me forget why I liked him in the regular season (oh yeah! he's not Lugo!) and pops up quick. Tek also grounds out quick making sure that Theo's eye roll will be that much bigger when he has to sign his extension check in the off season. Boston parents should teach their sons to catch. Jacoby finishes off this disaster by grounding out weakly to the mound... again. Lackey looking locked in. Sox 0, Angels 0

4th Inning: I have NO idea where this umpire's strike zone is. Let's just call it inconsistent. Torii Hunter doesn't care about that though... he just FINDS a way to strike out. Napoli (who just may be the Devil) tries to STAB Jon Lester with a broken bat. He gets thrown out at first for his troubles. I want him to die in a fire that starts in his beard. Juan Rivera fools the announcers by grounding out to third. Fooled me too. I thought he was gonna strike out. Lester looks better.

After going up 3-0, Pedroia grounds out and is now 0-15... I can't even make a joke about that. Good thing Papi has no time for jokes an lines one to dead center. Youk grounds into a double play at third... OR DOES HE??? Bad throw to second and everyone is safe! Lackey is looking wild as Drew battles... but pops out to center and advances Ortiz to third. Some BLINDING speed from big Papi. Bay is a raging pile of emotion (like a wet sponge) and pops out to left. More stranded runners. I would say "this could be a long night" but this game is blazing by. Sox 0, Angels 0

5th Inning: Kendrick grounds out weakly to Youk. "I AM SO HAPPY THAT WASN'T LOWELL" chirps DC. He also asked why Craig Sager dresses like a blind pimp. Aybar and Figgins hit back to back singles... but I was distracted because Chip Carey said about Lester "...this boy has become a man very quickly" and Ron Darling replied "It's true his body has changed." Can't stop laughing. Ouch my sides. A ground out... and in steps Teixeira... BIG K!!!! But a ton of pitches. Lester is up to 84 total.

Hey the lead off man is aboard! Kotsay lines up the middle. I can't get over how much Lowrie looks like a rodent. He pops up after getting a 3-0 count and will now keep the "Ratboy" moniker for the rest of the night (maybe longer). I can't believe how wild Lackey looks... but the hitters keep letting him off the hook. Apparently Tek can't believe it either! Line drive into right! Kotsay to third! I will freak OUT if they can't get this run in. Jacoby does his best... but MANAGES to ground into an out and a RUN.. here comes Pedroia... chants of MVP! AND BOOM!!! High off the monster! Tek scores! I go crazy! Fenway goes crazy! Papi goes... quietly? Crap. But they got 2! Sox 2, Angels 0

6th Inning: I am now drinking for every Frank Caliendo promo. I may pass out and die by the 9th. Kotsay with a crazy diving play to get Vlad for the first out. WHEW! Next up Hunter who hits a dribbler to Youk and it's ANOTHER play Lowell wouldn't make. Napoli works another full count before Buck Martinez reminds us that Lester bounced back from cancer. Napoli sends a deep drive right to the edge of the Monster and into Bay's glove. I hope he breaks both his legs putting on his catchers gear.

Sox seem to be happy with the 2 run lead and get two outs real quick... but Bay pounds one past Aybar. Ugly play. Aren't the Angels supposed to be GOOD at defense? Kotsay taps it weakly to first and bails out Lackey. Sox 2, Angels 0

7th Inning: Is it time to start counting outs? Rivera gets a quick one. TBS announcers start to jibber without making sense while Kotsay makes another great play behind 1st. Good move putting him there tonight Tito... Sean Casey wouldn't have had that. I HATE Aybar's stance. He sticks his ass out like he's farting on every pitch. His ass can't get it past Jacoby. Will Lester (who is a freaking hero) come back out for the 8th? He's up to 109 pitches. DC says yes... I don't know.

A lead off hit for "Ratboy" but the nickname stays. Sorry Jed. Tek pops out to center while DC hopes Hunter brakes a leg. No dice. Jacoby hits a double play ball up the middle and the game rushes along. Nothing like last night. Sox 2, Angels 0

8th Inning: No Lester... but here come comes Oki. I am only a little scared. More "interesting" calls by the umpire. I still have no idea where the strike zone is. Doesn't matter as Oki gets 2 quick ground outs right to Pedroia. Teixeira (still too many vowels) looks really imposing. He looks like a bad guy mercenary from an action movie. Like the guy the hero kills RIGHT before he kills the lead bad guy. He takes first on 4 pitches. Tito has seen enough... here comes Masterson to face Vlad. Pass the beer and the pepto. Crap. He walked him after a 0-2 count. Torii Hunter is up... "Torii" "Torii" "Torii"... WOAH... bad wild pitch! Runners advance and my butt cheeks clench. They just keep showing how well Hunter has been doing with runners in scoring position and it is making me SICK. DAMN DAMN DAMN DAMN DAMN... 2 run single. This isn't happening. There goes Lester's win. All with 2 outs??? Where the hell is Papelbon? Can't he get 4 outs? Oh no... here comes Napoli. I want him to get all of the worst diseases. Masterson looks scared out there and I am eating my freaking shirt. Masterson gets him to pop up but the damage is done... not again... not again...

Can't anyone score on this team? Pedroia's luck seems to have run out and he lines out to second. Papi looks at 2 strikes and makes me wish I could see the guy I remember from 2004. What happened to that guy? Is it the wrist? Is it the Manny trade? What ever happend to that guy... he isn't here. He struck out and stabbed me in the damn heart. Down to Youk and what the hell happend to his power? He K's too and it's pure panic time. I am dying and DC just coughed up a Slimer from Ghostbusters look alike. I would normally find that funny... but not now. Sox 2, Angels 2

9th Inning: Masterson still in and pitching to Kendry Morales. I don't understand either choice. Tito is SCARED of using Papelbon due to the pitch count from yesterday I guess. I hate it. Morales hits a freaking double... oh my GOD. This guy is bearly a .200 hitter! Kendrick bunts him to 3rd with out a problem and that seems to wake up Francona. Nice to see you Tito! Did you remember there was a GAME going on? He pulls Masterson 4 batters too late. In comes Manny Delcarman to try and salvage this mess against Aybar. Let's just say I am not too optimistic... in fact, I hate everything about this. WOAH!!! Suicide squeeze!!! But the bunt misses!!! Tek gets the runner at third!!! Exclamation points!!!! Aybar grounds out to first... what a break! Win NOW!!!

Scott Sheilds looks like Marino Rivera right now for some damn reason. Drew strikes out looking and I call him a name that rhymes with "Goat Plucker". BAY!!!! JASON BAY!!! Double into the corner and it bounces into the stands.... damnit. That would have been 3 EASY. OH NO!!!!! Kotsay gets freaking ROBBED!!!!! Teixeira with a nice grab. AMAZING GRAB. Ugh... here comes Ratboy... freaking Ratboy...

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! RATBOY!!!!! NO MORE!!!! NOW YOU ARE JED THE MAN!!!!! SOX WIN!!! SOX WIN!!!!! LIVE BLOG BABY!!!! Oh crap... they Just started inteviewing Lowrie and damn... he still might be Ratbboy... but its a name of honor. He is THE Ratboy! SOX IN!! ALCS BABY! I am so freaking drained but I feel triumphant. The live blog is life! RED SOX 3, Angels 2.