Monday, June 30, 2008

Jonathan Papelbon: So Very Metal

Not quite as funny as the last one he did, but I will say this (and I'll preface it by saying I'm a heavy metal guy): it does not surprise me in the slightest that crazy Jonathan Papelbon is a heavy metal guy. I bet that he and Julian Tavarez used to listen to Cannibal Corpse and sacrifice chickens together.

Paps also gives some thoughts on picking good entrance music; maybe he should check out this post...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Game 84: I'm Writing This Because Robin's Too Depressed

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Houston Astros 3

And we just lost a series to a sub .500 team that's won one more game than its pythagorian winning percentage would suggest; a team of underachievers with a very harassed shortstop who, in retrospect, might have been worthy of the bus Rafael Palmeiro threw him under (government charges pending). Losing one game to these guys was bad enough, but two...well, to adapt the old saying, lose once to a sub-average a team, shame on you; lose twice to a sub-average team, what the **** is wrong with you.

Many of you might blame Hideki Okajima and his missing splitter, which seems to have gone the way of Old Yeller - if Old Yeller became a zombie dog that kept coming back to haunt the Coates family, howling and foaming at the jaws - and today he certainly was the focal point of the loss, but the problem goes far, far beyond a wild pitch, my friends. Thirteen men left on base, six different times when Sox players left runners in scoring position. I think they loaded the bases twice. How many runs did all of those runners turn into? Two. By solo shots. In two different innings. Rock on. Someone might want to remind these guys Nolan Ryan's been retired for a few years now.

I don't have a stat for you on good teams playing down to the level of their opponents, but I'm not sure I really need to find one: any team that loses series to teams like Baltimore, Seattle, and Houston needs a big ole gut check: you guys will probably do fine in the playoffs when these games really count (and any team involved "counts," too), but don't think that post-season ticket is guaranteed...guess who's back in first place?

Game 83: When Statistics Are Wrong

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 10, Houston Astros 11

Statistics is the science of using past performance as a predictor of future results, where increasingly massive amounts of data and more and more complicated equations can tell you what's likely to happen most of the time. Collect the right information and you can establish patterns: see that Mike Lowell's hitting style will smack double after double in Fenway, find that Manny is at his most dangerous when he's facing an 3 and 0 count. These patterns tell you the story that will happen most of the time, or at least a plurality of the time. The rest of what goes on is the excitement of the game.

Ironically - after my ponderings on long relief yesterday - "the rest of what goes on" was what happened yesterday: like Matsuzaka two days ago, Lester lasted five innings (he didn't pitch as well, but that's a different matter), already breaking the average of six innings that Red Sox starters have created. However, his relief couldn't pull the same trick two days in a row, giving up another five runs over four innings; Hansen might have been able to hold the fort - a good sign, by the way, for his potential future as a closer - but his was a solo effort.

So much for statistics; did we really just lose a slug fest to the Houston Astros? Here's a team battling the Reds for the position of cellar dweller of the NL Central, rocking a slugging percentage some thirty points behind the league-leading Chicago Cubs (and about 45 points behind the Sox, who are second in the AL in bashing things), scoring runs in a tit for tat that could have been a Sox/Yanks game from a few years ago. Good job on Boston's part playing down to the other team's level.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Game 82: Screw Long Relief

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Houston Astros 1

The positive for Dice-K: no runs and two hits in his second start back, which is like a 10,000 percent improvement over what he did last time. The negative: three walks, only four strikeouts, and a cap at 87 pitches, with a caveat: with a three run lead going into the fifth, you'd have to figure that Francona felt it was better to risk the lead over his pitcher's arm. Type of strategy I approve of, so I'm not going to complain. My fantasy team's pitching staff also approves.

What remains a bit odd to me is that there's no long relief; the Sox blew through the relief corps last night instead. Except for Okajima, everybody pitched well, so no harm done last night, but either there's a deal in the making for a long arm to absorb middle innings for nights like last night, or - here's my moment of inspiration for the week - the Sox are bucking conventional wisdom and keeping a higher quality set of arms on staff to spread around innings when necessary and give Francona more tools on a regular basis, when the team needs to put out a fire.

Here's why I think that idea makes sense: in addition to needing to sacrifice an arm in the bullpen to carry an extra bat on the bench as a substitute for Papi's injured arm, the Sox have a starting staff that averages a fraction of a percent under six innings, which means they're less likely to need long relievers. Instead, they need pitchers to make it through the seventh, eighth, and ninth, which means power arms that can get people out but generally can't last longer than an inning. As a result, stocking up on those types of pitchers - and I think we can agree that Hansen and Delcarmen qualify - makes more sense than having long relief on hand.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Game 81: Grumpy Old Men

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Arizona Diamondbacks 0

Now I’m no stat guy (that’s more of an Eric thing) but I think the combined ages of the two starting pitchers in this match up was somewhere in the range of 300 years. They have been called veterans, vintage and seasoned. But honestly Randy Johnson? HE’S OLD! Tim Wakefield? OLD! These guys are just freaking old.

Fortunately that doesn’t mean that they aren’t freaking good, too. Randy went 6 and gave up 2 earned. He looked pretty good, but the Sox had some chances they couldn’t capitalize on (read: Lugo forgot how to run bases). Wake was masterful. He had the knuckler moving and diving and made the snakes look silly. 7 innings, 2 hits 1 walk and 6K… NO RUNS! That’s a champ and a half. Sox completed the shut out with a good inning from Delcarmen, a bad partial inning from Hansen (2 walks and a single) and a big K from Papelbon (who got a save that I don’t really understand). That’s a pretty damn good outing if you scratch the Hansen meltdown. His roller coaster outings still scare the crap out of me.

As good as the pitching was, the Sox bats were pretty quiet for the majority of this game. Moss had the first two RBI’s (both made on outs) and the rest of the Boston crew seemed content on leaving men on base all night. That is, until Kevin Cash stepped up to the plate with two men on in the bottom of the 8th. KABOOM! Cash was money and blasted a shot over the monster. This homerun was not only huge on distance (in the parking lot!) but it was also huge for the man himself because it was the first he has hit since 2005! Way to go Mr. Backup catcher. Sox win the series and end the home stand on a high note. Even the geezers have to smile.

More Reasons to Love Papelbon

Watch this interview with Papelbon, where he answers reader questions sent in to Comcast Sports Net. Enjoy the Pirate names and the fact that Craig Hansen's pirate name is too filthy to be mentionable on a family show. Laugh and disuade yourself of any fear that a.) this team has lost the loose edge they had in 2004 and b.) our closer is getting any less crazy as time goes on. I expect him to start wearing costumes during interviews on a regular basis any day now.

Game 80: Comeback City

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Arizona Diamondbacks 4

I can't believe it took eight innings to get the Diamondbacks' third starter, but I'll take a comeback win at the hands of the Arizona bullpen, thank you very much. Pedroia, Lowell, and Varitek combining for four runs in one sustained burst is the kind of thing that really breaks the back of a game, and might be the morale killer the Sox need to win the series today against Randy Johnson. Actually, check that: if Johnson pitches against the Sox the way he did the last few times he faced them, we don't have anything to worry about.

Robin pointed out a couple of days ago that this team runs hot and cold like a shower hooked up to a bad plumbing system with the toilet running; last night only emphasizes the point, by showing off the opposite: lacking Ortiz (swing that bat, buddy) and Youkilis, seemingly down for the count with the Rays breathing down their necks for first place, they motivated, put together the runs, and got the win. If this team makes it out of June still in first, it won't be just a minor miracle; it'll be another demonstration - following the one this same group of guys gave last October against Cleveland - that this particular team has the component parts to be repeat champions. Take out some pieces and the tower doesn't fall - that's got to be an excellent sign.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Game 79: Losing the Duel

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Arizona Diamondbacks 2

What can you say about this one? When two gunslingers of this caliber face each other down, you know the result is going to be heart wrenching for one of them. Tonight, it was Beckett and the Sox that got the wrong end of the Dan Haren. You can’t blame Beckett. He went 8 strong with just two earned (both in the 7th) and had 8K to fill out his quality start.

But the Sox bats could not muster any offense against the combined might of Haren and his pen. The best shot came in the bottom of the 8th with the bases loaded… and all we got was a sac fly from the hot hitting J.D. Drew. All together the Red Sox only got 4 hits, 2 walks and one lousy run on the evening. A disappointing waste of a powerful performance from the Boston Ace.

The other loss on the night was Youk, who took a weird bounce to the face during toss before the 5th inning. His eye swelled up like a balloon and he was quickly pulled for Moss. We need ya Youk. Rub some steak on it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Game 78: Inconsistency and Redemption

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, St. Louis Cardinals 3

I don’t want to go over the great start the Sox got from Jon Lester (very solid through 7), or the dumbfounding brilliance of Sox cast off Joel Pineiro (Sox couldn’t touch him), so I am just going to start at the top of the 9th. 3-2 ballgame, Sox ahead, 2 outs, 2 strikes, Papelbon dealing…

9 times out of 10 that ball game is over. OVER! Done… as in “the game is done, I can watch Mythbusters now!” So when I see what happened on Sunday, I know in my heart of hearts that it is an aberration. An event happening against the norm. Something that only rarely occurs and I don’t have to worry about it.

Knowing all that… I still flipped out when Paps let the tying run cross the plate. I screamed, I hollered, I clamed the game was lost.

So imagine what my reaction was in the 9th through 12th innings when the Sox got a man on 2nd with NO OUTS and still couldn’t score. Sure Tek blocking the plate was amazing and Hanson stepped up in a big spot, but it doesn’t change the fact that I was a mess and I think I had good reason.

My biggest problem with this team is the lack of consistency. The Red Sox of 2008 go through amazing stretches of brilliance, followed up by trashy showings of mediocrity. For example, after a good run on the road in NL parks, the Sox return home only to be trounced by a St. Louis team that had just lost 3 straight to Kansas City! So as big favorites, the Sox show no clutch hitting in game one, display a pitcher who still needed so rehab starts in game 2 and blew a game in the 9th for a series finale. That’s what I call inconsistency.

But here is the flip side of that coin. The Sox aren’t consistently BAD either. That tide does have to change eventually… and if you were watching the 13th inning of this game, you could see the waves roll gently over the rocks as Youk blasted the winning run over the monster. I think the Red Sox kept this game going for just long enough that they were able to outlast the “bad” they have inherently built into this team and were able to display the winning ways that have them planted first in the AL East.

All is forgiven thanks to Youk and his 13th inning bomb. He was waiting for the luck to turn and the balance to shift and took advantage of the karma alteration at just the right time. Nothing quite matches the jubilance of a walkoff HR and my only hope now is that this energy carries into the next series… so we can avoid the next inevitable downslide for just a bit longer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Game 77: Too Soon?

No official commentary - or even speculation - about why Dice-K's command was so poor yesterday that reporters noticed it during his warmup tosses in the bullpen, so I'm feeling free to make up my own reason: Matsuzaka might have been physically fit enough to return from his rotator-strain-induced hiatus, but he wasn't psychologically ready for anything bigger than a simulated game with a member of the Red Sox coaching staff at the plate and John Ferrell calling out advice from the coach's box next to first base.

How else do you explain someone going from hero before his DL trip to zero his first day back, handing out walks like a Tammany Hall politician handing out free meals for votes, coverting baserunners to runs so quickly it revises ideas about relativity, digging one of the biggest holes Boston's had to try to escape from this season, all - and this is the really impressive part - in the course of one inning and some change. Bad day at the office doesn't start to cover the gap: he just wasn't ready to return, and I suspect he's only back because Colon is on the DL and there was no one else to pitch - an ironic situation when the Sox have so much quality starting pitching lying around. Why not bring back Buchholz? He seems to be doing pretty well in AAA...but that might be a solution anyway.

By the way: did I call Timlin on the DL or what? Of course, because Timlin is such a huge badass, he a.) won't admit his knees are the source of his recent pitching problem and b.) didn't want to take the time off anyway. If the schizophrenic duo of Delcarmen and Hansen can continue to hold the fort while he's gone, I think we shouldn't have too much to worry about.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Game 76: Short at the Generator

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, St. Louis Cardinals 5

Rain-drenched triple bases loaded just-missed fest with a last-second failed comeback? My favorite! But despite being powered by Celtic green and channeling the spirit of Milli Vanilli through the lip-synching talents of Papelbon and Delcarmen, there was not quite enough love for the Boston bats last night. However, Mike Lowell's right: this lineup is allowed to have this kind of short in the power circuit once or twice a season because of the most of the time, they'll either score the runs to put the team on top, or just get out pitched. The occasional lapse into no man's land in between is permitted, but don't make it a habit. We're all still recovering from the heart damage we suffered in 2004. Also: Julio Lugo, you're not allowed to crow about your first home run of 2008 when you make two more errors in the same ball game. Just not cool.

So, Curt Schilling - how about that? I admit to complete surprise about the need for surgery, mainly because modern medicine seems to keep throwing us softballs when it comes to athlete injuries. A player (or a Boston player, anyway) might be out for a few weeks or even a month or two, but "season ending" hasn't been a much-heard term for Red Sox Nation in the past few years. So season ending/career ending is a bit of a shock. I just figured even with the setbacks, rehab was still going to be the way to go and Schilling would be back for the playoffs when we really needed him.

Schilling claims he has no regrets; that he's not pissed, but I think that's BS: he's working the crowd the way he always does, and either he's planning on coming back with whatever contending team will take him, or he's absolutely ripped that history's judgment is going to be that he's the guy who pushed the stakes a little too far and flamed out in an awkward way. So, to recap: either I'm delusional, or Schilling's not done with the public eye in Boston by a long shot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

For Red

Boy do I love a parade! We are going to take a little hiatus from Red Sox coverage as DC breaks down the Celtics Championship. Just another Trophy for Titletown! (read: Boston). His words after my italics:

Make no mistake about it, sooner or later Phil Jackson will probably pass Red Auerbach’s record for championships and in the process a small part of every true Boston Celtics fan will die. But this mass murder wasn’t going down this year! No sir! Not on KG’s watch! Not as long as Ray-Ray could still find room to shoot! Not while The Truth still had air going in and out of his lungs! No no Philly-boy, you sit your butt down and remember who you’re dealing with… hell, that man owns the floor you’re playing on! And trust me, somewhere up in the great Boston Garden in the sky; Red’s just now finishing up the biggest victory cigar he’s ever sparked up.

That’s right sports fans, the quest for banner number 17 was completed last night in an absolute beat down of the bad guys from LA. The “New Big 3” took care of business like they’ve been doing for the last 9 months. It’s been a long time coming, but this series reminded me just how much I hate the Lakers. Put them on the short list with the Yankees, Manning Brothers, Rocky V and wedding DJs who don’t own a Journey cd. This team has been a joy to watch all season long. They put egos aside and played basketball how it was meant to be played. They played defense, passed the ball and radiated the passion and intensity that we’re always complaining today’s athletes are lacking. On this team the stars were the hardest working role players and the hardest working role players were allowed to become stars. Thanks to the New Big 3, we got to spend this winter and spring watching a style of basketball that this town hasn’t seen since THE Big 3, and for that we should be eternally grateful. They woke up the leprechaun and gave back our Celtic Pride!

Unfortunately, this blog (being a baseball site) has totally ignored the Celtics all season, so I have the task of wrapping up an entire season and team before any of this has really sunk in. And what better way to do that then an old fashion, player by player wrap up with some Red Sox analogies thrown in for those of you who are yelling “Hey, this is supposed to be a baseball blog!” Ok let’s get this started, at the bottom…

Brian Scalabrine & Scot Pollard: These guys get lumped into one person because let’s face it, they were nothing more than unattractive, really tall cheerleaders for the bulk of the season. For all you Sox fans out there, think of Pollard as Kevin Millar. He’s hilarious, he has wacky hair, everyone loves him and he’s an extremely mediocre player. Scalabrine looks like Michael Rappaport and they pretty much are on the same level of talent when compared to their peers. Let’s just say, he’s no Pacino.

Tony Allen: This guy is insanely athletic! I’m pretty sure he can jump through the roof which would make him excellent at installing skylights in your living room. The best part about him is that he totally drank Doc’s special defensive cool-aid and has become a great on the ball defender. Unfortunately, he typically goes a little too fast for himself on offense and frequently loses control of his own body resulting in turnovers and Celtics fans losing control of their bowels.

Sam Cassell: Brought in mid-season because this team lacked a veteran backup point guard (and let’s face it, he’s KG’s buddy), Sam-I-Am didn’t provide a whole lot on the court. However, everything you read says this guy is one of those veterans who brings chemistry, guts and a winning attitude while somehow keeping everyone loose. You need those guys. My guess is that the best thing Sam did was harass Rondo in practice, teaching him how to be a big time playoff point guard similar to the way Mike Timlin made Papelbon crazy enough to be a deadly closer.

PJ Brown: Another mid-season acquisition, Old Man Brown started the season out of basketball. Seriously, this guy was bagging groceries or walking dogs or sitting around with millions in the bank when the Celtics came calling. This guy is Billy Mueller. He’s simply a solid pro. You win with him and you don’t even realize he’s the one who’s getting the job done. He grabs boards, plays solid defense and makes the young punks on the other team earn their lay-ups by slamming them with a hard foul.

Glen Davis: Oh I’m sorry, you don’t know who this is? Ok let’s try this…

Big Baby: Ok back on track? Excellent. For those non-basketball fans, let me explain something. The NBA draft is pretty much a one round draft. They pick 4 rounds, but really, all the good players are in the first round. That being said, Big Baby was an absolute steal in the 2nd round. This guy is an unassuming worker. He obviously loves to play and has become an absolute fan favorite because of it (seriously, has this guy stopped smiling since the day he was drafted?). He’s on this team to bang bodies and get rebounds and he does it without complaining about his erratic playing time or his lack of scoring opportunities.

Leon Powe: This is the feel good story of the Celtics. It seems like every championship team has one, and Leon is it. The guy had such a hard life that the NBA did a special piece on him at half time of Game 2. On the court, Leon is a leaner and more athletic version of Big Baby. This guy is totally jacked! He plays great defense, jumps in on all the hustle plays and every now and then will score some points. The Celtics are most likely hoping that one or both of these guys (Powe and Baby) will become younger versions of PJ Brown.

Eddie House: This guy is the definition of contagious energy. He’s like a kindergartener with extreme ADD on the last day of school after polishing off a case of Red Bull and a dozen double chocolate donuts for breakfast. He’s the guy the Celtics decided should stand at the end of the row during pre-game introductions just to fire up the starters and the crowd. If he was on the Red Sox he’d be the one making up all the crazy hand shakes in the dugout and lighting Manny’s hair on fire just for kicks all while leading the team in triples. He’s Orlando Cabrera from 2004. He’s also a backup point guard with questionable ball handling and defensive skills. But he’ll nail more back breaking threes then you can ever imagine and is turbo charged hustle. Just writing this paragraph makes me want to start running around waving my arms.

Kendrick Perkins: This guy is an absolute stiff! I hate the fact that he’s our starting center. He’s big and immobile, has very few offensive moves and is constantly getting into foul trouble at which point he sits on the bench and pouts. Of course, if you ask him (and he always assumes that the refs have) he’s never committed a foul in his life. I’ve never seen anyone give the innocent act as much as this guy. Honestly, if he punched you in the face, he’d follow it up by telling you that he’d never met you. We did learn in this series however, that he’s a necessary stiff. Our defense looked helpless during Game 5 without him clogging up the middle. This is likely because the one part of his game that is good is that he’s an excellent shot blocker.

Rajon Rondo: The starting point guard on this team is the guy Boston fans want to embrace and love but he’s just so damn frustrating. Rondo’s ball handling, passing and defense are amazing in large part because he has extraordinary quickness and freakishly long arms. This guy looks like Stretch Armstrong. The frustrating thing is that Rondo’s jump shot has not evolved and he looked terrified to shoot the ball throughout the playoffs. It got so bad that other teams weren't even covering him and he still wouldn’t shoot. This lost him crunch time minutes in the finals. That being said, the Celtics don’t win the championship without this guy and he’s going to be our point guard of the future. His development should be incredible too with Sam Cassell, and former point guards Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge all hanging around.

James Posey: I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this guy wasn’t even a starter. Why isn’t he listed with the rest of the bench?” Well, that answer is simple: I LOVE me some James Posey!!! This guy was the 4th most important player on the Celtics throughout the playoffs. It got to the point where you just KNEW he was nailing any open three pointer he put up. But more important that that, James Posey is our defensive MVP. Don’t believe me? Call up Lebron, Kobe, Lamar Odom and Tayshaun Prince and see what they have to say. This guy took a pay cut to come here and play on this team. All season long Posey came off the bench as a defensive stopper. When we needed a big board or someone to dive on a loose ball, there was Posey chomping down on that mouth guard and getting on the ball. This is the guy who does all the little things. This is the guy that true Celtics fans adore and casual fans are apathetic about. Sox fans… this is your Timmy Knuckles. Pats fans… this is your Troy Brown. This week, the Celtics should end their victory parade by sitting James Posey down in Government Center, stand the Big 3 right behind him and have him sign a contract in front of millions of screaming fans.

Ray Allen: With apologies to the Basketball Jesus, has there ever been a player with a prettier stroke from 3 point land than Ray-Ray? Watching him shoot a basketball is like watching JD Drew swing a bat. Even when they miss its still the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. For all you overbearing parents out there, if you want to force your child into basketball, make them sit and watch video of this guy shoot. Trust me, they’ll thank you later… once they get over that “I hate you” stage.

Kevin Garnett: I honestly don’t think I can say enough about this guy. He has single handedly made me a die-hard Celtics fan again. This guy is the most intense athlete I have ever seen. Imagine Papelbon only if he started screaming and head-butting V-tek during a mound visit. Imagine Youk only if before every game he was shown on camera yelling and throwing baby powder into Jerry Remy’s face. I genuinely think there have been times this year that some of the Celtics players were terrified of this guy. Imagine how much he must scare the OTHER team! This guy is a bull and anyone not wearing green might as well be waving red capes at him (and we know how that generally ends up). This guy has passion to spare and plays the game with enough emotion that you get the feeling that his teammates are willing to play hard just so they don’t let him down. Watching this video makes me feel like I could run through a brick wall if KG asked me to. KG is the hardest worker on his team. How many superstars can you say that about? If Doc Rivers and super assistant Tom Thibodeau mixed the defense cool-aid then it was Garnett who filled the glasses, handed it out and told teammates to drink it or else. Finally, he has embraced the history and tradition of the Celtics which has made for a lot of amazing moments like this.

Paul Pierce: Nobody had a better playoff than Paul Pierce. This guy put his ego aside all season, welcomed all the newcomers with open arms and then secured his place in Celtics lore. This guy has worked and worked for so many terrible Celtics teams that you got the feeling he would literally have to die on the court before he’d allow his team to lose. This guy wasn’t out for stats, he has those. All he cared about was winning this title and he earned it. Pierce lived up to his nickname: The Truth. He had more than his share of “hop on my back and I’ll carry you” moments and by the end of the playoffs it was clear who the Finals MVP should be. Paul Pierce has now permanently taken up a place in the hearts of every Celtics fan along side all the other greats.

In a lot of ways, this very special Celtics team was overshadowed by negatives. The NBA officiating scandal and the bone-headed way David Stern has handled it along with the late start times made the finals extremely difficult to watch. Parents were forced to choose between putting the kids to bed or allowing them to stay up and watch history, decide between the health of their children or helping them to experience the rebirth of a great rivalry. I myself was routinely going to work on less than 4 hours of sleep because these were games that I refused to miss. Honestly, given the opportunity I would go back and do it all over again. These were fun games to watch and for the first time in years I can honestly say, I can’t wait for next season!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Game 75: J.D. Drew Is a Power Unto Himself

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Philadelphia Phillies 4

I have a solution to the global energy crisis. There is an untapped clean power source that is being developed in Boston right now that could help fuel the entire world.

Let’s all plug in to J.D. Drew… cause he’s as hot as the Sun.

I don’t know if he got Papi’s life energy “Highlander style” or what, but this guy is a beast that cannot be stopped. This afternoon he went 4-5 with 4 RBI and 2 runs. His biggest hit was a 3 run shot in the first to give the Sox a lead they would not relinquish.

Unfortunately, another guy with a hot bat got cooled off due to an injury. Coco Crisp got pulled for Brandon Moss after Coco hurt his hand swinging. He’s day to day.

Masterson pitched a good, but WILD 5 innings for his 4th win and held the Phillies to 4 singles and 2 runs. Masterson is another hot player and he better stay this way because Bartolo just hopped on the 15-day DL with a case of “I’m too fat to swing a bat”.

I guess the biggest negative I can pull from this day game was the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appearance from the bullpen. Embattled reliever Craig Hanson faced 3 batters, saw 2 of them score and didn’t get any outs. Ugly. Meanwhile, embattled reliever Manny Delcarmen pitched 2 great innings and basically saved the game from getting out of hand. What I wouldn’t give for some consistency out of these guys. I guess you can’t have everything.

Oh and by the way... just in case you wonder if we watch any OTHER Boston sports, our buddy DC has a Celtics post raring to go. Gotta love those parades!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Game 74: Okie-Dokie Indeed

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Philadelphia Phillies 0

A Boston team finally wins a championship at home: congratulations Celtics!

Right before he came out to pitch, CSN showed a whole mess of statistics about how awesome Papelbon is: lowest career ERA in the MLB for a pitcher with 150+ innings, third behind Bob Stanley and Dick Radatz for franchise record in saves (a lead that he should take by 2009 with far fewer innings than either predecessor), only Red Sox with thirty-plus saves on two different years, turned water into wine twice during the 2007 playoffs, etc. Clearly my little Saturday soul-searching post was a bit of unnecessary existential wankery, or the Phillies were looking to pull off a major stats curse. In any case, the closest the Phils came to mounting a Pap upset was Ryan Howard pulling a 3 and 2 before striking out, and it was all downhill for them from there.

However: the big story of the night has to be Okajima, pitching around a one out hanging Okie-Dokie that he left up in the zone for Jimmy Rollins to rip down into the corner for a double. Sure, Lester pitched, well, frickin' excellent, but that's old news (for which we are all eternally grateful). As we all know, Okajima's problem this year has been allowing inherited runners to score, but his ERA is higher right now than at any point before August of 2007, and at this point when he hits the dirt, I get nervous. Seeing Rollins on second seemed to be the confirmation of my worst fears, but I'm happy to be proved wrong: line out to Drew, strike out on a foul tip, and we're out of danger and into the ninth. We'll just ignore the lurking specter of overexposure that may be compromising Okajima's AL performance and how he has a "first look" advantage against NL players for tonight, shall we?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Game 73: Disastrous Lack of Long Relief

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Philadelphia Phillies 8

There is a problem with the Red Sox and tightness: somehow they keep tightening up at odd times, like say, right before a game starts. Makes me wonder what the trainers are doing or not doing to cause all of this muscular distress. Past few days it was Manny - not that his absence mattered against the joke that is the Cincinnati Reds - today Youkilis felt the stinging lash of back spasms before game time, and then Colon...well, let's just say that the only way his back pain could have come at a worse time would have been if he'd been mid-windup and seized up on the mound, somehow letting loose a wild pitch that scored four runs, blowing a lead that led to a one run loss. Actually, if only: at least we'd have had an entertaining, painful loss.

Instead, we had Mike Timlin, looking like a plucked chicken on the mound. It occurred to me in the middle of Timlin's latest meltdown that we have no middle reliever: we gave him up and he's resurfacing in the land of beer. Instead, we have whatever guys can serve in a tough situation, including a power reliever who's been in pro ball for more than twenty years and pitches like he's got back tightness of his own (by the way, if he goes on the DL, you heard it here first). The result is a write-off like tonight's disaster, where the offense makes Cole Hamels look like a pitching genius after giving up back to back dingers and we waste bullpen appearances on a game we have little chance of winning.

So: we need a middle reliever for odd situations like this one. Anyone have any suggestions about where to look?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Game 72: I Love Me Some Interleague Play!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Cincinnati Reds 0

The Red Sox have some awful numbers on the road this year. They are just terrible away from Fenway. On the flip side, since 2006 the Sox have gone 28-8 in interleague play. It looks like that fact alone might be enough to cancel out the homesickness.

Beckett was dealing today. He had a little trouble with walks in the first 2 innings, but settled down for 7 scoreless and 6 K. He is and remains the ACE of this staff. Great showing from Aardsma and Timlin too. Did Mike Timlin see that I called him out and now wants to step it up and prove me wrong? Well he closed out a 9-0 game… so I won’t freak out about it just yet.

Meanwhile, Reds pitcher Homer Bailey lived to his name and gave up 3 long balls in this blowout. Who needs Manny and Papi? This was a great display from the crew of red hot Sox hitters. Drew (who needs SPF 600 at this point) went deep and had a couple of runs. Crisp (who seems energized after the fight game) had another homer and 4 RBI. Finally, Jacoby (who is a freak of nature) had homer to his name and 2 SB brining his league leading total to 33 and he now holds the Red Sox rookie record.

Sox win the series and now move on to Philadelphia. Yeah, unlike the awful Reds, the Sox now face a NL division leader. I hope the inerleague record can hold up.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Game 71: Blown Saves and Great Closers

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Cincinnati Red 4

Does it hurt you when Jonathan Papelbon blows a save the way it hurts me? Because it should. Third blown save of the year, thirteenth of his career; that's a lot of hurting that no one wants to have. But why does it bother me so, particularly when it's a meaningless statistic in a game that the Sox eventually won with a pair of home runs in the tenth inning? I believe - for me, anyway - it all goes back to an inferiority complex ground into me in the late 1990s.

Who is the greatest closer of our generation; one of the greatest closers of all time? Mariano Rivera, the ace in the hole, the machine, the bug bear of so many missed chances against the Yankees, coming in to slam a door that had seemed to swing open for a momentary opportunity. Jesus, this sounds like an epitaph. Anyway, without Rivera, the current generation of the Yankees / Red Sox rivalry wouldn't exist. Nothing new there, but since that generation started during my formative years, I've always wanted a Red Sox answer to the enigma of Rivera.

Fortunately, we've got one - or I like to kid myself into thinking we've got one. The Era of Papelbon is well established, and barring injury or accident or phenomenal decrease in powers, he'll be enshrined as one of the most terrifying pitchers to face when the game gets close and late: walks and hits together don't even come close to equaling total innings, runs per inning is totaled in tiny fractions, and it isn't a game if Paps doesn't strike someone out. And those are just numbers: throw in the legend of Cinco Ocho and a mystique grows. But the mystique is so fragile...and every time he blows a save, I get a little shaky. But I still have faith every time he comes out to the mound, so we're cool. Even Mariano's blown a few in his day, no?

Game 70: A Rough Start on the Road

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Cincinnati Reds 3

Welcome back to Cincinnati: time to lose a tough game to a sub .500 team. Hard going when a good half of your lineup was what one might politely call "light hitting," leading to a regretful condition where thirteen batters scrounged up five base runners over the course of the evening...four of whom ended up stranded on base. To recap: offense, not so much.

Masterson's line was the odd part of the loss. Justin's a sinker ball pitcher, and because he's been pretty effective so far, he gets ground balls and ground ball outs and winds up surrendering two runs per start - and getting wins, which is why we keep coming up with clever post titles based on his name and success. It's been a good time, and one that will continue in the future, but...

...but he gave up almost as many fly ball outs as ground ball outs (4 to 7), and he struck out nine guys, which is about fifty percent more than his 2008 per-start average. Oh, and - most telling - he gave up two home runs, again topping his 2008 per-start average. In other words, it seems like someone was throwing hard, up in the zone. That the Reds only ended up with three runs seems like a statement about their hitting (or, to be more positive, about how effective Masterson's pitching can be even when he's not on), but with no hitting on the Boston side, a loss was approaching a foregone conclusion.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Game 69: Loving That Intensity

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Baltimore Orioles 2

I was all set to call this a "new" Lester standard: Lester the escape artist no more, Johnny (I thought) pitches better when he's got a close lead to protect. However, I see the numbers disagree with me: Lester's about the same whether he's leading by one run or four. I guess you could say he let off the intensity a bit after Lowell hit his grand salami in the fifth, but can you blame him? The Orioles handed all of us four runs by choosing to give Manny an IBB to load the bases, forgetting all too readily that Mike Lowell is the Man Who Hits Doubles (and double doubles) and that the Green Monster is tailor made for his swing.

Speaking of tailor-made: J.D. Drew may have hit yet another home run (continuing to bury the "I have no intensity" statements that we've all ascribed to his character), but tonight was a breakout for Kevin Youkilis; after falling into a bit of a dry spell (before tonight, three for his last twenty with two walks), he went all twos tonight: two for two, two walks, two runs, and two RBI...and one big home run with that sweet swing into the Monster seats to tack on two more to the score.

One final observation: not to knock on the Orioles, but here's the difference between Boston and Baltimore this year, reduced to one set of plays:
with two in the top of the fifth, Ramon Hernandez pops a foul along the first base line at a point midway between first and home. Youkilis and Cash both give their all trying to make the play, running full tilt and then sliding into each other (and into the wall) while trying to get a fix on the ball. It's a 1 to 0 game, and they know that every out counts and every pitch they can save their pitcher can make the difference, even if they get a little dirty. Neither player makes the play, but you can tell they're really trying, that they really care.

Contrast that with a pop foul to the backstop in the bottom of the previous inning, where Hernandez and Melvin Mora both charge in, lose sight of the ball, and end up giving up on an easy out, walking away with disgusted looks on their faces. Caring isn't quantifiable in a stat, so it's messy, but it's all too obvious which team - in June, with the season half over - cares about the game, and which one doesn't. Not surprisingly, the one that seems to care more is in first.

Game 68: What to Do About Timlin?

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Baltimore Orioles 3

How do you tell a hero he’s washed up? What do you do to get rid of a guy who’s been a significant part of 2 World Series wins? How do we let Mike Timlin know his services are no longer needed without him hunting us down with his bow like Van Damme in Hard Target?

Now don’t get me wrong, the Sox won this game handily. 5 runs in the first thanks to a Drew double (so hot he’s officially a second sun) and a Tek 3 run blast (apparently he was sick and left early) that supported a sublime Colon start. The Big Guy went 6 strong and picked up his 150th career win. Make all the fun you can about his weight (and boy do I) but Colon has been a substantial pickup for Boston. With Dice K and Buchholz hurt and Beckett under performing, Colon has stepped up when we needed him.

All that being said, there is NO reason that Papelbon should have been in this game. Leading 6-1 in the 9th, Timlin comes in and falls apart. A lame Pedroia error didn’t help matters, but Timlin let as many runs in as he had outs…2. Anyway with the tying run at the plate, Francona put in Paps to get the final out and put some air back in my chest.

It’s easy to add Timlin to the list of relievers that have had rough patches this season (Oki I am looking at you) but it’s almost more that that. It looks as if Timlin has lost his fire, his demon edge. His contract with the Red Sox is up after this year and I think it’s time he moved on to greener pastures where he can hunt all the animals he wants. Sad… but true.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Game 67: In Which J.D. Drew is the Man...And I Ignore the Rest

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Baltimore Orioles 10

The pitching messed up again. Horribly. Four different guys, trying to staunch the wounds, and only Delcarmen had any luck stopping the blood. Of course, by then it was too late: the heroes of the day had come, reestablished a lead, and gone for the night, and they wouldn't be coming back. Chalk it up to the nasty summer heat - which doesn't seem like much of an excuse for a starter who comes from the humidity-heavy area north of Houston - or maybe bad luck; it doesn't matter: Boston's pitching let this game die on the table.

However: all of that's not important, because despite the crushing defeat, the irritation of once again losing to Daniel Cabrera, the highlight of last night's contest was J.D. Drew regaining the lead by pulling a ball over the right field fence for a two run bomb, a hit that epitomizes what he's done for the Sox since taking Papi's spot at the number three slot.

In that time - somewhere between the 7 and 14 day splits tracked by Baseball Reference - Drew has owned the ball in the wonderful, necessary ways the Sox have needed to keep winning games despite the hole in the lineup. Batting average of .526, OPS at well over 1.800, four home runs in eight games; these are the types of numbers that we thought might come from signing a deal with the Devil and bringing in Barry Bonds, and instead, we had them pre-signed for a large amount without any additional moral or legal repercussions. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?

But Drew's ascension to The Man status makes me wonder how the team can continue to exploit his hot hitting after Ortiz returns - whenever that may be - and whether or not Drew should switch lineup positions at that time. Clearly the third spot agrees with him right now, but what surprises me is how little time Drew's spent batting fifth this season. He's definitely done well enough starting out the bottom third of the lineup, and he's well on his way to making 2008 one of his best seasons, but maybe flip-flopping Drew and Lowell or - to be a little blasphemous - Drew and Lowell and Ortiz might be in the Sox best interest to get the most out of one of their most expensive contracts.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Game 66: Masterson Of the Universe

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Seattle Mariners 1

Young Prince Justin lofts his mighty sword in the air as lighting strikes with metamorphosing power. His slight frame suddenly is host to muscles and poise beyond his years. He glares at the costal invaders and immediately drives them away with a flurry of fastballs and sliders. No longer a flash in the pan myth, the Masterson is the real deal and soon to be staple of the Red Sox rotation.

Well until Dice-K comes back…

All drama aside, I cannot get over how well this kid has been pitching. Masterson looks as good as any of our new batch of young guys and it gives me great hope for the future of this staff. 6 innings, 3 hits and 1 R was the line today for the newest phenom to grace this Sox staff. This was his 3rd win in 4 starts.

Along with the great starting pitching, the relief corps came out today as well. Hansen, Oki and Paps combined for 3 innings, no hits and one walk to shut down the Mariners in this close game. This is exactly what I want from these guys. No drama, just solid, quick innings. It’s hot enough outside, I don’t need rough outings to make me sweat even more.

Finally, I think I need to talk about J.D. Drew. With Ortiz on the DL for the foreseeable future, and rough stretches from Pedroia and Youk, the Red Sox NEEDED someone to step up and grab control of this offense. It seems that Drew has taken over this task. Now hitting in the 3 spot, Drew has been a beast. He hit the go-ahead solo homer today and has carried this team with a .519 BA, 4 HR, 10 RBI line so far in June. Yeah he’s that freaking good. Long gone are the boos and jeers from last years under performance. Drew has solidified himself as one of the premier hitters in the Sox lineup and has done so just in the nick of time.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Game 65: Returning to the Mothership

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 11, Seattle Mariners 3

You know what I like? When it's a hotter than the fiery infernos of hell, with a humidity index that breaks the standard measures of disgustingly soaking, and I'm sitting in the upper bleachers in Fenway learning new meanings of the word "hot," and Manny follows up a J.D. Drew triple in the first (on his way to a double shy of the cycle) with a shot that's up, up, up over the Monster...and into a parking garage. That's the way to follow up a triple, ladies and gentlemen. That's how to get a game started and make me feel welcome back home to the heart of Red Sox country after too long an absence.

Oh, it was glorious. Helped that Wakefield pitched like a demon (if a demon could throw a knuckleball), that the Sox turned thirteen hits into eleven runs, that the Mariners looked about as lost at the plate (from what I could see anyway; everyone was pretty tiny from my perspective) as they did on the mound. Anyway, good game, good day, and in its unconventional (high scoring game in the hot sun that's somehow fun) way, an excellent time. I'd do it all over again.

In all of this enjoyment, however, this is one note of sadness: Kevin Youkilis' record-holding errorless streak is done after some 1,350 games. It happened, as these things do, on the stupidest of routine plays: ninth inning, Papelbon on the mound, a ground ball to second, a flip to first, easy out, and...Youkilis drops it. Just like that, E-3, streak over, first flaw in however many's sad. Not heart-wrenching, children starving in Africa sad, or dog died when you were a kid sad, or even "we're out of beer sad," but just a passing of an era. I stood. Robin stood. Ten other people stood, and we clapped in respect. And that was it.

Game 64: The Bloom Comes Off the Rose

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 0, Seattle Mariners 8

Bartolo Colon has never gone 4 and 0 to start a season before...

He still hasn't done so.

Of course, to be fair, he would no doubt find it much easier to break that personal record if he hadn't helped commit two of the team's three errors last night; it's surprising how quickly six hits and a walk turns into six runs if you're not careful. So, on the balance, pity pluses to the big man for having a decent pitching line marred by three unearned runs and responsibility minuses for committing two of the errors that caused those runs. Summed up, it makes for a crappy night against a terrible team that's deep into confused mediocrity. And to think: not 18 hours ago a friend and I were wishing we could see yesterday's game in person instead of today.

And what of the offense? Seven hits and not a runner crossing plate? Nine men left on base? Talk about your case of the dry heaves. Playing without Manny, Ortiz, and Ellsbury didn't help, but I was ready to assign the blame to the theory posited by Yankee Mike (through Robin) in yesterday's post - i.e, that the Sox are just playing to the level of their opponents - until I looked at King Felix's splits in Fenway. Already a more than decent pitcher against the Sox - 12 earned runs, almost as many strikeouts as baserunners in 35.1 innings ain't bad at all - Hernandez has yet to give up a run in 15 innings in Fenway. Fifteen innings! Sounds like he should be in a Red Sox uniform when he hits free agency...

Speaking (sort of) of missing players: congrats to the Trot Nixon Seven on their suspensions after the brawl two days ago. None of the results surprise me except for Sean Casey; how does a man known as the Mayor end up making enough of an impression on tape to get suspended for fighting? He must have been sneaking in sucker punches like a madman. You know, kinda like Johnny Gomes.

As I hinted broadly above, I will be at today's game. Since moving to New York coming on five years ago, I've seen the Red Sox on the road at Yankee Stadium, and I've been to Fenway on a tour, but I haven't seen the Red Sox play at home. Needless to say, I'm about as excited as a kid about to see their first baseball game and I've developed an entirely irrational desire for everything to go my way: good weather, easy transportation, interesting ball game, a win. We'll see which things come true, but I'll place most of faith in Tim Wakefield. Go Sox!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Game 63: Some Big Distractions

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

Good lord, where do I begin? The Red Sox might not have the fundamentals of baseball first thing in their mind this evening. First, all of Boston is focused on the Celtics and the NBA Finals starting tonight (BEAT LA!!!!) hence the hour earlier start time. There is so much green and red in the stands tonight you’d think it was Christmas.

Also, an interesting point brought up by friend of the site “Yankee Mike”. He said that this Sox team reminds him of the 1999-2000 Yankees. They know they are a good, well rounded team, have a superior lineup, but they play up or down to the level of their competition as they cruise towards the playoffs. What a compliment! Not sure I buy it just yet but it looks like this could be the case.

Injuries have been another issue for this team. In fact, today one of the scariest was Jacoby rolling his wrist after a GREAT catch in center. Ellsbury showed a lot of pain and was immediately removed. Luckily it’s a strain and not a break. Now this wouldn’t have been so problematic if it wasn’t for the biggest distraction…

Coco and the Rays turned Fenway into a MMA octagon.

This whole thing started last night when Coco got his thumb slammed while stealing second. On his next steal attempt he took out Iwamura pretty hard and Joe Maddon had a few choice words. I thought that would be the end of it. I’m a pretty silly fool.

In the third inning, Shields hit Coco right in the leg and Coco went right for Shields face. It was ugly. Catcher Navarro tackled him from behind and Gomes (the freaking DH!) took turns with Carl Crawford beating Coco to a pulp. Not the best showing for a Sox player in a fight. Coco gone (facing a suspension), Shields gone (same) and Gomes too (he better get a few games… come one he wasn’t even in the field). This was a BRAWL and it seemed to fire up… somebody? I don’t know, really. It looked like Coco was battling by himself. Now I’m not saying that the Sox weren’t behind him, but he was the only guy wearing red and throwing punches.

Look, I’m happy we came away with the sweep, but I’m concerned with the roster issues the Sox now face. Too many issues, too many problems and suddenly it could derail what is a great season so far.

(EDIT): Coco called the Rays players: "Little girls" in the after game press conference. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this might not be over...

Oh and Youk and Manny got into a fight with each other after the fight on the field because Manny took so long to come to Coco defense. Can't we all get along... and then fight the Rays? No infighting! I forbid it!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Game 62: Home is Where the Heart is

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Tampa Bay Rays 1

So what is it about being in Fenway that makes the Sox so good? The offense just clicks here in Boston and it doesn’t seem to be centered around one player. EVERYONE looks good at home… and yes, even the people I always complain about.

Crisp and Drew got some big hits tonight and I can say that without the shock and awe that usually comes with a statement like that. Crisp has had two good games in a row and is making a case to be an every day player. Sure I know he isn’t going to replace Jacoby (who also had 2 hits today), but maybe he can be an every day player on ANOTHER team. Until then, glad to have the super sub. Also, loved the hard slide and "talk" with the Rays skipper Maddon. Just classic hard nosed baseball.

Drew on the other hand has been hot for a week now. He suddenly is living up to the potential he is getting paid for. Will he keep this torrid pace up? I have no clue. This guy is hotter and colder than any player I have seen wearing the scarlet “B”. I would like to see him end with 20+ HR and around a .300 average… but I want to win the lottery too, it doesn’t mean it’s in the cards.

This was also a good game for the bullpen. After Beckett left in the 7th (just slipped on the mound, he’s fine) Oki, Delcarmen and Hansen pitched 3 really good innings to close it out. I am happy to see Oki come back to form (did my anger motivate him?) and it’s great to see MDC and Hansen put together some back to back quality relief appearances. If THIS is the bullpen we can expect (much better than the crap we’ve been seeing on the road) then the Sox are going to be tough to beat this year.

Oh, and by the way? First Place!!!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Game 61: Julio Lugo is Not Here For His Glovework

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Tampa Bay Rays 4

Masterson: not so masterful when you're facing a good team, it seems. Or maybe it's just that Akinori Iwamura hits better in Fenway than almost anywhere else and maybe should learn to play shortstop so he can come to Boston and replace the joker we've got playing there now. I'm just saying. Anyway, two sinkers that didn't sink found their way over the way tonight - including one courtesy of Mr. Iwamura - and Masterson had almost as many fly outs as he did ground outs. Maybe he was nervous about Manny's hometown reception post 500 homer milestone. Or maybe he was just so relieved that the doctors chose three weeks of immobilization over three months (or more) of surgery recovery for Papi's ailing wrist in the hopes of a scar tissue heal.

Speaking of shortstops, Robin remarked that ever since the aforementioned Lugo personally blew two saves for Papelbon, he seems to make an exit stage right for defensive replacement Alex Cora. We were curious, so I mined Baseball Reference and found that yes, since May 9, Alex Cora has replaced Julio Lugo at shortstop for every Papelbon appearance except for two: May 10, when Lugo was in the dog house, Cora wasn't available (I believe he was injured at the time?), and the Sox had Jed Lowrie (the once and future successor to the position) make the start; and May 30, when Cora and Lugo did a role reversal. Papelbon's record in that time: eight appearances, one earned run, six saves in six chances. I think the numbers speak for themselves (but I'll say it anyway): Julio Lugo is persona non grata when Papelbon is on the mound.

I wonder who made the call (or the request): was it Francona, adopting his no nonsense pose by putting his shortstop in some sort of extended purgatory for his extremely poor defense, or was it Papelbon, star closer and future ca-drillionaire (good to see that investment is paying dividends, by the way), throwing around some political muscle by getting Lugo off the field when there's a save situation on the line. As odd as he's proven to be, I like the idea of Paps being a bit of a prima donna, storming into Terry's office, slamming the door, exclaiming something like "I can't work under these conditions," and demanding Lugo get the defensive replacement treatment, all while wearing a smoking jacket. I'm a big believer in ball players having personality, you know?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Game 60: Oki Dokie? Nopie… and Much Worse News

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Baltimore Orioles 6

I have said many things about Okajima, the Red Sox 2nd most heralded Japanese import. I have called him a surprise, a gift, the most solid middle reliever in the AL East… but before tonight I have never called him a sack of garbage. I guess it was over due?

On a night where Manny remained red hot, the defense was amazing and the starting pitching from Wakefield was beautiful (7 innings 2 runs), Oki just fell apart. In a 3-2 game in the 8th (Sox lead damnit), Oki Crapi gives up 3 straight singles, a sac fly (tie game), a infield squib that leads into a run down at third, a bases loading walk and then a wall ball double that was a hairs breath away from a grand slam. Son-of-a…

Now before people start defending him with “oh he just had a bad night” and “he’s been so dependable before” let me just cut you off with this: shut up. The biggest weakness of this Sox team is the bullpen and Oki (unfortunately) is part of the problem. This is his first total meltdown, but he has become the king of the inherited runner. Remember Timlin circa 2006? Well Oki has been studying that playbook word for word. Oki’s ERA is still low, but the guys pitching in front of him have been cursing his name. Now I am too.

Bottom line? The Sox should have swept this series… and normally this would put me in a fit…but tonight it’s the least of my worries. The Man, the Myth, the Legend, the Papi… is out indefinitely. I wan to puke just writing this, but the wrist injury is sending Papi to the DL for at least a month. Some say surgery, some say season ending… I say “urrrrrrrrpppp” as my lunch comes back to visit all over the floor. I need a moist towelet.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Game 59: I Believe The Offense Has Returned

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Baltimore Orioles 4

Let it be known: the danger is officially over, and the bats are working again. In the six games against Oakland and Seattle, the Sox scored 14 runs and suffered two shutouts. They smashed through that mark some time in the second inning today, their third game against the Orioles, and added five more for good measure. They hit three home runs - two back to back - knocked out some dude named Brian Burres after four innings and made Steve Trachsel wish he'd retired after leaving the Mets. Rumor has it they also found the lost Ark of the Covenant, and secured the coming of the Messiah, but these statements are unsubstantiated and seem to revolve around Manny hitting career dinger 501 and Ellsbury stealing yet another base.

Enough gloating, though; these games were against Baltimore, whose last place AL East record matches their predicted record (not to mention their Pythagorean) all too well. But why win in Baltimore, when the Sox lost three to a Seattle team that's on a course for the worst in the American League? It all seems, oddly enough, to come down to home field advantage: across baseball, teams playing at home are winning over half their games; in the AL East in particular, the home team's advantage jumps to a staggering 65 percent. Although the Orioles are home for these games, as I pointed out this morning (and as many of you no doubt know), Baltimore isn't exactly unfriendly territory for the Red Sox or their fans, who flock to the seats in droves. It isn't exactly Fenway, but it's close enough to perhaps generate the same level of support seen by home teams elsewhere. The statistics match, too: after today, the Sox have a 60 percent winning percentage in Camden Yards in 2008.

Game 58: Hail To The Past And The Future

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Baltimore Orioles 3

Has there ever been a more perfect pitch for a 500th home run? Dead center of the strike zone, 80 mph pitch, first pitch thrown by a man whose chapter in Moneyball six years ago (not to mention his unusual throwing style) gave him his own footnote in baseball history?

And that drive: wasn't it a classic Manny home run, too? A no doubt rocket to deep right that goes and goes until it hits the seats, while Manny watches it fly before starting his trot around and into history. We all know watching is supposedly verboten, that it shows up the other team, makes you look like an unprofessional punk, etc. but that's just jealously talking here. How could anyone begrudge someone for wanting to watch his own accomplishment?

Was there a more perfect place - outside Boston - for Manny to hit that 500th home run? Fenway Park South, Baltimore, Maryland, where crowds fill to near capacity when the Red Sox are in town and half the stands sports gray / red or white / red combos and hats with "B's" on them; where the guy lucky enough to catch the milestone hit is not only a Red Sox fan, but one hell of a guy, too.

Such is the glorious past; how about the future? The future, also known as Jacoby "I'm Carrying the Team" Ellsbury, whose six steals and a triple in two nights represent the spark plug of almost every rally. Or maybe that's just how I feel, because it seems like every time he gets on base, he ends up on the opposite corner of the diamond - quite possibly causing a throwing error in the process - within two pitches, distracting the pitcher enough for someone else in the lineup to get a run-scoring hit. Six steals in two games; if he does it again today, I'm ready to make him a base-stealing god on the spot.