Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm Still in Shock

Robin will have some more in-depth analysis later this evening, but this post in the Projo Sox Blog sets the tone well: the Sox just traded half of one of the most successful offensive dynamos in history for a slightly inferior replacement part in the hopes of jumpstarting a season that's hitting the rocks. Ignoring the three for one price, Ramirez for Bay is like switching out a neon sign with intermittent voltage problems for a compact fluorescent on a stable line: Bay will get the job done, but I don't think he'll be as fun to watch.

In the Midst of Trade Deadline Tension, Kevin Millar Brings Comedy

Goddamn it I love Kevin Millar. Can we find some way of bringing him back without putting him on the roster? Maybe just to do press relations between the players and the media?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting No-Hit in the Big Game

Having an opposing pitcher shut you down is one of the most humiliating ocurances in all of sports. The 0 that pops up next to your teams name in the box score is a constant reminder that:

a). You just witnessed an amazing moment that people will talk about years from now.


b). Your team was on the ass end of it.

Now you may be thinking I am talking about the near miss the Sox had facing Lackey the other night, but this is more of a metaphor. Sure, Lackey went into the 9th and was 2 outs away from a traditional no-hitter, but that threat was ended when Pedroia lined a single into the outfield and Youk hit a bomb into the monster. Goodbye shut out, goodbye no hitter, hello plain old demoralizing loss.

No, the real no-hitter the Red Sox are facing right now is the “Front Office No-Hitter”. It’s is dangerously close to the trade deadline and NO DEALS have hit the horizon that have looked like ANYTHING the contenders in this league are making.

Angels (who swept the Sox as I typed this) got Teixeira who just so happened to be the power piece they needed. Well done there… weren’t they already the best team in the league?

Meanwhile the Yankees (remember them?) hit the jackpot with Nady and Marte from the Pirates (who they basically gave nothing) and replaced the hurt Posada with Pudge “freaking” Rodriguez from the Tigers for…. KYLE FARNSWORTH??? Come on! That’s like trading in a dime for 5 nickels.

But lest I forget, the Red Sox made a pretty big pickup too. Yep Boston recently received the “Screw this place, I hate it here” Manny for almost nothing! Just when you thought he was out of your hair, grumpy Manny popped up again and the media came with him. Now I know this looks like the end of the road for Manny… and maybe it is… but does anyone honestly think the Red Sox can trade him for any value? As Eric pointed out, the trades offered look pretty silly.

But then again, at this point the Sox would almost be right to trade Manny for 30 cents on the dollar because I really don’t think that $20 mill option is getting picked up and you would like to get SOMETHING for his years of service (besides him hating Boston suddenly and being hated back) and with the way the front office is swinging and missing… they aren’t gonna make any real contact before the deadline is long past. I think we need to get used to third place (behind the Yanks and Rays) and forget about the playoffs this season. Hell, in the abbreviated words of Jim Mora:

“Playoffs? Playoffs? I'm just hoping we can win a game…”

Clay Buchholz and Game Score

I spotted the following headline this morning: "Red Sox’ Buchholz had good stuff, but Lackey was better." 'Odd,' I thought, 'How do you figure?' Could a guy who gave up five runs really have "good" stuff? As it turns out, there's some room for argument. Consider the facts:
  1. We're viewing Buchholz's start behind the blinding glare of Lackey's near no-hitter. Given the circumstances, only a pitching duel would make Clay look good.
  2. Buchholz might be responsible for five earned runs, but only three of them scored when he was on the mound - the other two came home after Craig Hansen took over in the seventh.
  3. Buchholz's line without those two additional earned runs (6.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 90 pitches/57 strikes) qualifies him for a quality start, a statistical measurement of quality.
  4. Buchholz left the game with runners on first and third and one out. It's possible a pitcher with better control than Hansen might have prevented the runner on first from scoring, but the runner on third seems likely to have scored no matter what.
Point number four is the difference: if those two runs don't score, Buchholz ends up with a decent-looking night. Should he be punished for the two base runners his relief allowed to score?

Fortunately, we can give that whole argument a miss by relying on a statistic instead: Game Score. Game Score figures out the value of a pitcher's start by starting with 50 points, adding points for positive actions (innings pitched, strikeouts) and subtracting points for negative actions (hits, walks, runs). Results above 50 are considered quality starts - "good" in terms of the article headline. Last night, Buchholz scored a 41. He did not have good stuff.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Laughing at Trade Rumors

Ah, the trade deadline; a time when teams stop, reassess their position, and make the decision to upgrade their arsenal or find the best way to screw their competitors with a fire sale. With Manny's name flying around the rumor wire like a kitten chasing a laser light we're looking at a particularly vibrant crop of rumors this year, but there are a couple of other areas (*cough* bullpen *cough*) that deserve some attention, too. Here's my thoughts on the latest rundown:
  • Manny for Miggy: Wasn't this trade a bad idea two years ago? Why would it be any better now, when Tejada's not only having a subpar season, but has in fact become a demonstrably poorer hitter in the two years since 2006 and is only likely to get worse (Mitchell Report, anyone?)? Revising DC's metaphor from the time, trading Ramirez for Tejada would be like getting 75 cents on the dollar. And I'm being generous. Good thing both sides have shot this rumor down.
  • Manny for Andruw Jones: So laughable I'm not even going to comment on it. I will, however, mock the gentleman who suggested (in the comments section) that the Sox trade Manny for Jones, Chin-Lung Hu, and Andy LaRoche. I understand that LaRoche is supposed to be a bit of the second coming, but since neither he nor Hu have been hitting very well (to put it mildly) and Jones is a bit of a joke and the Sox would need to replace Manny now to have a chance of getting to the playoffs this season, I'm not sure why that deal is anything close to a good idea. Good job, buddy. We're all glad you're not in the GM's chair.
  • Manny to the Mets (for prospects): Same general problem as Manny for LaRoche and Hu, but worse because the prospects aren't named, preventing me from judging their relative value. Besides, the Sox aren't rebuilding, they're trying to win another ring. Everyone does understand why trading for prospects is a bad idea during a playoff run, right?
  • Ron Mahay / Doug Brocail: Mahay was pretty good with the Sox a decade ago, though his K:BB ratio and WHIP did start to get pretty ugly in 1998. He's also phenomenally streaky, but importing a replacement part with an ERA+ of 140 percent above average for 2008 definitely has my attention. Brocail is far less enticing: his best years were in the late 90s, he gives up a run for every three men he allows on base, and he's 41, which kinda makes him like a Mike Timlin the Sox would have to trade players to get. On the plus side, he does have almost a strikeout an inning...I still can't see the value, though. It's also unclear who Boston would lose to gain the services of either one of these two pitchers.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Salty hasn't really proven himself to be much of a hitter in his first two seasons, but he's also playing backup backstop to Gerald Laird and his Bat of Power, so he hasn't really had much of a chance to shine. Coming to Boston might give him the chance to improve his eye and train to be Varitek's eventual successor, but can he catch a knuckleball?

Kevin Youkilis' Chin Beard Begs to Differ

I could go all Fire Joe Morgan on this piece, but I'l just say that if Adrian Walker thinks the Red Sox don't have a place for weird and eccentric players anymore, he hasn't been watching Kevin Youkilis.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Manny Versus the Knights of the Keyboard

Glad to see my prediction about slug fests in Boston came true, even if we lost one of them. Oh, and the close loss, too. It's like I'm a goddamn psychic or something.

But losing two out of three to the Yankees at home isn't important; beating on Manny Ramirez is! Red Sox sports pages are full of stories today adding their own twist to Manny's comments about his dissatisfaction with the supposedly adversarial relationship between himself and the owners of his contract, from Ken Davidoff's shrugs ("they've done this dance many times before") to Sean McAdam's full-blown blockbuster trade exploration (Manny for Pat Burrell sounds interesting, but only because Burrell's a rental having a career year) to Dan Shaughnessy's triumphant crowing. No doubt there's some meat to this story - I certainly don't deny that Manny said what he said - but what I find fascinating (and more than a bit repugnant) is how quickly these situations turn into a firestorm of ugly, escalating geometrically like the payload of a nuclear weapon. It's always the same, too: Manny says something, the press reacts, Manny reacts, the press reacts and all of the sudden it's World War III, sports writers want Manny's head on a pole (and they write like everyone else does, too) and Manny wants to play for a team where the local columnists have better things to do with their time than write scathing polemics.

Here's the real mindblower though: with the exception of last year (when we all rightly focused our ire on Eric Gagne and his string of disasters), Manny and the sports press have done this little dance every year since 2003. Every year the problem resolves itself, Manny goes back to hitting, the dogs go back to their kennels, and we wonder whether or not we'll have to deal with this same BS the next year, because we all know full well that Manny's a linchpin in the offense. You'd think by now that both sides would have learned enough self control to stop sniping at each other and keep these escalations from happening in the first place. Of course, that assumes two things: that Manny has the foresight to keep his mouth shut and that writers will stop waving their red capes at every possible opportunity. Somehow, I think that kind of self control is something neither side is willing to acquire.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Game 104: The Camel's Back

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 0, New York Yankees 1

That's it. We're done. Stick a fork in us; we're sick of this crap: losing close games, bitching about the bullpen, bitching about the offense, close games ending on a strikeout looking or a double play or whatever crap our team decides to throw up that night. We're tired of having games be seasons, of having a freak out over every loss and a far too self congratulatory win. We're tired of Manny's knees, Papi's wrists, Youkilis' theatrics (that's a lie: we're never tired of Youkilis' theatrics), Varitek's terrible slump, Beckett's 9 and 7 record that's a couple lucky breaks away from being 14 and 2, Wakefield's lack of run support (now in its sixth year!), and all of the other grief that comes with the "diehard Red Sox fan" label. And we're sick of having twenty regular readers after four plus years of writing this blog.

But these are just excuses. The love is still there; the desire burns fresh in our souls like Fenway franks on a grill (they boil those franks, don't they?) on Lansdowne street. To be brutally honest: there's so much we're glossing over because we're dissecting Buchholz's poor location and Ellsbury's wild swings. So here's what we're going to do: we're not quitting, so you can untie that noose and get down off that chair: your lifeline is still here. Instead, we'll be recapping series, not games. We'll be writing posts on things like Pedroia's height, random stupid statistics, and newsworthy dramatic garbage. We're gonna have fun, god dammit. So you'll be seeing a new format round here, and we think you're going to enjoy it. In fact, to quote Robin's impression of Terry Francona: "he's a good kid. You're gonna like him. As a matter of fact, he's a good person. I like to have him on my team, I like to have him in the clubhouse, and that's somethin' special. That's not somethin' you see every day."

So here comes the new boss, same as the old boss. Again. But first, we've got a wedding to attend. Eric and Petra, congratulations (about 12 hours early). We love ya, and wish you the best. We'll be back with the new version of fun on Monday. GO SOX!!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Game 103: Bullpen as a Sweeping Brush

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Seattle Mariners 3

I do love extra-innings victories. Particularly ones with authority, where the Sox score multiple runs and put together a real inning - men on base, multiple hits, maybe a walk or two - making something to really drag out the pain so the opponent doesn't just feel bad for losing, they feel terrible. I'm a little heartless that way. Anyway, our revenge against Seattle is complete, Boston's winning percentage is above .500 at Safeco for the year for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth, and the Sox can all go traipsing back to Boston to prepare for this weekend's series. Hurrah.

I'm not such a fan of using the entire bullpen (or about two thirds of the bullpen, anyway) to gain this victory, but I can't complain too loudly on any count: we won, we swept, we returned with our heads held high, and we can hope that the equation X + Y != Z, where X is Beckett pitching after a complete game, Y is a well-used pen coming off a cross-country flight, and Z is a pitching disaster. We might also want to factor in the red hot Yankees and their propensity for chewing up pitching on a normal day, and maybe have a bit of a freak out. I'd prefer to follow the example set by the pre-Fenway red hot Twins, who left with their tails between their legs and have been a .500 team ever since, but we all know that's wishful thinking: there will be a slug fest in here somewhere, and probably a close loss, too. We really have no right to expect anything less.

Game 102: Pinch Me, I'm Dreaming

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Seattle Mariners 2

Nope, not still asleep. Red Sox beat Seattle again, scored the same number of runs, had the same length of effort from the starter (thank you, Dice-K), the same flawless success from the bullpen (same to you, Paps and Okajima), even had the same two-run homer to double the score, but that wonderful deja vu isn't your head telling you were up too late last night and you're now hallucinating from too little sleep: your 1:00 AM bedtime paid off in winning spades.

You've no doubt figured this little twist out for yourself, but it's worth repeating here: while we might be making way too big of a deal out of Boston beating up on a team that looks at a .500 record as an unreachable cieling in 2008, I'm pretty sure it's been years since we won two games in Seattle, let alone two games in a row. A sweep would be something of magnificent proportions, even if it took Boston playing what could be the worst Mariner team this decade to get it. But more importantly, achieving that sweep - or even just winning two games after the series of disappointments in LA - means coming home to face the Yankees bathed in confidence. Heck, these games might be the linchpin pulled to send the Sox on a rampage through the nine games they have at home, tearing through New York, LA, and Oakland like grass through a mower.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Game 101: Sox Win In Seattle (yes you read that right)!!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Seattle Mariners 0

Oh I’m so happy I can’t feel my arms! Woo Freaking Hoo! For some reason that I cannot explain (except I can and will later) the Red Sox were able to overcome the BLIGHT that is playing in Seattle and edged the mighty (last place) Mariners for a win to stop the skid. I fully expected a down-home West Coast slide to continue late into the week… boy am I pleasantly surprised.

Jon “Cancer Killer” Lester is quickly becoming a linchpin in this staff. He gave 7 and a third strong scoreless innings and put the Sox in a perfect spot to get the win. He did scatter 8 hits (yeesh) but his stuff was solid enough to save our laboring bullpen.

Offensively, there was so much “winning Sox” stuff that happened that harkened back to the win streaks earlier in the season. Manny with a multiple hit game, Jacoby stealing a base, a big RBI hit for a rookie nobody (Lowrie) and a homerun for the captain himself. So much for Tek changing his name to Jason “Twilight” Varitek. The el capitano stepped up and used his unassuming .218 BA to launch a 2 run bomb and give the Sox a lead they would never relinquish. Not all the nostalgia was good… the Sox managed to do the old “leave a bakers dozen on base” routine, but they got the job done.

Another blast from the past was the multiple stress free innings save from Papelbon. The Paps picked up his 29 S with 15 pitches over 1 and a third. No walks, no hits, no runs. Just like the old days.

This is how I like it. This is what I want for the other 61 games this season. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Game 100: Not So Fun in the Sun

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5

Hey, it's like deja vu all over again! With some variation, we had a staked lead, a meltdown, and - you guessed it - a loss! I guess we should be glad that the starting pitching and the relief pitching handed off the duties of blowing the game this time, and that the offense pulled their all too familiar road trick knocking in a small enough number of runs to try - and fail - to tip the balance between winning and losing. The Sox aren't the Angels, people; their pitching isn't good enough to win an obscene number of one or two run games. It's enough to give you hives, really, or maybe just make you homicidal. I'm sure Robin's drinking himself into a stupor right now just thinking about it.

Let me drop some knowledge on ya: on the road, the Sox have 300 more at bats, but only thirty more hits than they do at home. They're five percent (i.e., 50 points) more likely to get on base at Fenway; nine percent (or 90 points) more likely to hit for power. Boiling things down to my favorite metric, OPS+, the away version of the 2008 Red Sox are 13 percent above the average team, while at home, they jump to 22 percent above average. That's not the sort of difference you want to see at this point in the season, no matter how many home games the Sox have left. I'm not looking forward to these next three games against Seattle.

How Tall is Dustin Pedroia Anyway?

The media does seem to love to talk about how tall Dustin Pedroia is not. I generally don't mind it - I'm 5' 8" myself, so references to Dustin's diminutive height give me the type of joy that parents who live their dreams vicariously through their talented if unwilling children must feel - but I'm a bit confused: how tell is our young second baseman anyway? The official record says 5' 9", but I've heard 5' 8" on many occasions, and just now the venerable Peter Gammons called him 5' 6", with "tiny hands," which makes me think that Pedroia is some sort of species of baseball elf. Maybe Pedroia's height is a moving target; a daily changing figure that represents Dustin's ever-changing figure the way a snapshot of electrons circling an atom represents one moment in their ever-changing orbits. Or maybe people are getting lazy with their scouting reports.

Game 99: Complete (game) Disaster

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 4

99 times out of 100 when you see complete game by Beckett in the box score, you jump for joy at the big win he laid down on some poor bastard. Well Saturday, Beckett went the distance but the poor bastards were from Boston.

All it took was one bad inning (the 7th) and the Sox fell hard to the Angels again. The offense had it’s chances but couldn’t put up more than 2 runs on the LA pitching. Meanwhile, Beckett looked solid, but ran into some trouble when Vlad homered and then some back to back singles in the aforementioned 7th (one should have been an error on Lowrie) ended with a 3 run double. It might have even been worse if not for an AMAZING catch by Coco.

But enter the soon to be free agent K-Rod and the game was over. Ugly. I hate losing these close games. Tonight the Sox try to prevent the sweep. Honestly, I’m not that hopeful.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Game 98: Playoff Atmosphere?

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 11
Don't look now, but I think Buchholz, Aardsma, and Lopez were a little less than effective last night. Actually, that's not fair: Aardsma hadn't pitched in seven days and he came into the game with men on first and second looking for the out to end the fifth inning. Giving up a walk and hit, especially in the scheme of things with the Angels scoring runs left, right, and sideways? That's small potatoes.

Last night was a warmup; it was a return to tough working conditions (best team in the AL West, game on the west coast) after an extended break, a time to get back into form with only a team workout to prepare. Sure, the Sox blew the chance mightily, but it's not a time to fret. Just get mad, and get even. The Angels announcers kept calling it a playoff atmosphere last night; let's get one of the best playoff pitchers of the Wild Card era on the mound and make that playoff atmosphere a reality. Let's beat the Angels but good.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Third Order Wins, The Second Half, and Playing With Luck

As we await the start of the second half of the season tonight at 10:05, I thought I'd share some observations about the current AL East standings, using a statistic I learned about yesterday: third-order wins.

About Third-Order Wins
For those of you unacquainted with any wins of any order beyond what you see in the newspaper box score, third-order wins are one of those statistical measurements that attempts - like the majority of non-mainstream baseball statistics - to give a more complete picture about the abilities of a baseball player (or, in this case, a baseball team). Specifically, third-order wins compute a team's win/loss record using two other stats: AEqR and AEqRA.

AEqR (Adjusted Equivalent Runs) measures the number of runs a team generates per out, adjusted for the quality of opponents they faced; AEqRA (Adjusted Equivalent Runs Allowed) measures the number of runs a team allows per out, adjusted for the quality of opponents faced. The adjustments relate to how well the opponent team pitches or hits; runs scored against a team like the Rangers, for example, will count less in AEqR than runs scored against a team like the A's, because the A's have a much better pitching staff than the Rangers. The inverse is true of AEqRA; runs scored by a team like the Red Sox will count less towards an opponent's AEqRA than runs scored by a team like the Blue Jays, because the Sox have a much better offense than the Jays.

Third-order wins combines AEqR and AEqRA into another stat that uses the measurements of runs scored and runs allowed to come up with adjusted win and loss totals that reflect how a team should be doing. Why do these numbers matter? Well, the difference between a third-order win and loss total and a real win and loss total tells you how lucky or unlucky a team's been; team with a real win total lower than their third-order win total have been unlucky, because they've acculumated fewer wins than the number of runs they've scored says they should. The cool thing about all of these numbers is that they can quantify a gut feeling about a team's performance into a measurement.

The 2008 Red Sox and Third-Order Wins
So, when it comes to luck, how are the Red Sox doing so far? Not too well, unfortunately, which shouldn't come to a surprise with anyone familiar with the tender ministrations of the Red Scare. The Sox are currently 57 and 40, but their third-order wins total put them at 62 and 35. Five games difference is bad enough, but rating the rest of the AL East by the same scale, the Sox would be five games up on the Rays instead of a paltry half game. These things are supposed to even out in the long run, which means one of two things: either we're all screwed and the adjustment in luck means less runs scored or more runs allowed in the second half of the season, or we're playing with house money
and Boston's record is about to jump ahead of the competition. Personally, I'd prefer the later

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Can I Get a Witness: All-Star Game

As promised, Yankee Mike's extensive All-Star Game recap, giving the blow by blow of the live experience. Enjoy.

I was lucky enough to be at the All-Star Game two nights ago, and since it was basically a farewell to Yankee stadium, I was really excited to go. The festivities at the start of the game were really cool to watch and I took the attitude going in that while it would be a wonderful experience, it's an All-Star Game, and I've never really cared about the outcome.
Bud Selig's status: Happy - things are off to a great start.
Boy was I wrong. The first couple of innings went quickly, with the pitchers really dominating, and although the AL managed a few base runners, neither team really threatened to score. In the top of the fourth, Ichiro reminded everyone why he wins the Gold Gloves every year, throwing an absolute strike from the right field corner to nail Albert Pujols, but Holliday homered to make it one to nothing in the fifth and AL ERA leader Justin Duchscherer gave up a sac fly in the sixth to update deficit to two.
Bud Selig's status: Embarrassed - he was on the field for a cancer charity event and they mispronounced his name, and he got booed because New York crowds are fun.
The AL is now building an all too common Yankee Stadium theme: the home team is not scoring any freakin runs. The NL is rolling, looking ready to end their stretch of 12 winless years in the Midsummer Classic, with the NL ERA Leader Edinson Volquez on the mound. JD Drew has other ideas, though: he pulls off the impossible. Not the home run: a standing ovation for a Red Sox player tying a game at Yankee Stadium. The place went nuts when the ball cleared the wall in right and now the crowd is really into the game.
Bud Selig's status: Smiling - the game is good, and the crowd is finally into it.
Papelbon promptly gives the run back in the top of the eighth - every Red Sox used in middle relief or a setup role has struggled this year, why stop now? - (Ed note: Dioner Navarro and a cascade of boos from the "home" crowd helped), but fortunately for the AL, Clint Hurdle called on Billy Wagner to pitch the bottom of the inning. Now, to Hurdle's credit, he let Brian Wilson get the first 2 outs, bringing Wagner in the lowest pressure situation possible. Like clockwork, the bigger game, the more important the stage, the more likely Wagner is to fold like a cheap house of cards. Single, stolen base, double, and seven pitches later we're tied again.
Bud Selig's status: Elated: The game is exciting and Mariano Rivera will probably get to pitch a meaningful inning.
Not only meaningful, but stressful, too: Rivera comes in to the loudest ovation of the night, and promptly picks up a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play. In the tenth, he made things a little more interesting but picks up a 6-4-3 double play, compliments of the Texas middle infield.

The bottom half of the tenth rolls around, and courtesy of a brace of errors by Dan Uggla, resulting in "Hit it to Uggla"and " Uggla MVP" chants, the AL loads the bases with no outs, and the crowd figures ballgame is over...but continuing yet another all too common trend at the stadium this year, the AL fails to get the clutch hit and score the run. Aaron Cook pulls a Houdini act, gets three straight ground balls and escapes, leaving the bases loaded. AL count for runners left on in extra innings: three.

Top of the eleventh goes quick, and the AL puts Kinsler on first, but he's promptly caught stealing. Kinsler thought he was safe, and actually stood on second looking really pissed off; it was nice to see the players getting into it. Navarro walks, Drew singles, Young singles, and the game looks over again, but wait for it: McClouth guns down Navarro at the plate, Christian Guzman makes a great play on a chopper, and the inning is over. AL count for runners left on in extra innings: five. Francona and Hurdle are taking years away from their lives as they stare down into their bullpens, seeing fewer and fewer options.
Bud Selig's status: Smug - his plan of "This one counts" is working beautifully, the players actually look the care and so do the fans.
Now the crowd is really buzzing, this has turned into one hell of a baseball game. The NL loads the bases in the bottom of the twelfth with one out, brings up Dan Uggla with a chance to win it, and he whiffs as a part of his super awesome excellent day. George Sherrill comes in, gets Adrian Gonzalez swinging at strikes three, and...inning over. Sherrill is pumped, the crowd is on its feet going nuts and we are headed for the bottom of the thirteenth.
Bud Selig's status: Slight Concern - it's getting really late on the east coast and both teams are starting to run low on pitchers.
Marmol leaves a guy stranded at second (AL count for runners left on in extra innings is now six), Sherrill racks up another quick inning and we head to the fourteenth inning stretch. Brandon Webb isn't supposed to pitch in this game because he tossed 110 pitches Sunday, but in the fourteenth inning, the rules get tossed out. He makes quick work of the three AL hitters. Sherrill comes out for another inning, goes 3 up 3 down, and goes back to the dugout having pitched 2 1/3 innings. For you Orioles fans, that's the first time he's gone two innings all year. I'm sure the O's front office is thrilled.
Bud Selig's status: About to Light Himself on Fire - the AL has only Kazmir (who pitched on Sunday); the NL has only Lidge (a closer). This game needs to end now or A) he will have to call another tie, or B) managers will have to accept the position players' offer to pitch. Rumor has it that Drew offered to toe the rubber, and Hurdle was looking towards David Wright.
Top of the fifteenth: Kazmir comes in, and the word from the radio guys is he can go 30 pitches tops. He gets the NL to go quietly, and now Lidge comes in. At this point, he's warmed up 6 times. I'm sure the Phillies are thrilled right now, too. After McCann makes an appearance, meaning every available guy on both rosters has appeared in the game. Finally, something happens. Morneau singles, Kinsler gets robbed by Ludwick in left (great diving play), Navarro singles, Drew walks (getting another cheer, and yes, it was weird for me too), followed by a pop up to right field. Hart catches it and comes up firing.

Morneau's foot and the ball gets to the plate at the same time. Umpire calls him safe, the fans still there go nuts, the AL players mob Morneau at home and Michael Young at first, and the AL walks off what was one of the most exciting games I have ever seen.
Bud Selig's status: Almost Catatonic - he almost had another All-Star Game farce, which would have A) destroyed the All-Star Game, and B) put the post-season into a bit of chaos. In the end Bud got lucky, this may go down as the best All-Star Game ever.

Murray Chass Reforms Metaphysics, Creates New Equations

I have a post upcoming for you from Yankee Mike and his All-Star Game experience, but first, this little tidbit: those of you who read about sports things on the Internets are no doubt aware of Murray Chass and his new blog. You might even know that his blog is breaking new metaphysical ground by declaring it is not a blog, because Murray Chass hates blogs. Sounds like a classic case of self-loathing to me...

Anyway, while I heard the news yesterday via Deadspin, I refrained from visiting the site until after the guys at Fire Joe Morgan took their crack at Chass, his blog hating ways, and the fact that he thinks any of those "new fangled" stats (i.e., the ones that make a more scientific attempt at explaining the game) are stupid. Then I visited his description page, and discovered a new wrinkle: not only are bloggers stupid, but Red Sox fans are stupid, leading to the following equation: Red Sox fan + blogger = really stupid, where Red Sox fans = stupid and bloggers = stupid. In other words, you're all idiots for being Red Sox fans, and I'm an even bigger idiot for being a Red Sox fan and a blogger. Now, aren't you glad you know?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MLB: Pouring MORE Salt in the Wound, One MVP at a Time

Ah, the All Star Game. A celebration of baseball unity, when members of competing teams get together to defend the honor of their respective leagues, celebrate the best in baseball, obtain homefield advantage for a series they may not play in, try not to end up in a tie (or get hurt), and (most importantly) keep the National League in its place for yet another year.

The fans, of course, will have none of that: Red Sox players in Yankee Stadium will get booed (though I can't fault them there), people will yell threats at Jonathan Papelbon's pregnant wife (that's a little messed up - threaten the idiot, not the idiot's wife), David Ortiz will make hillarious jokes at A-Rod's expense, and Yankee Stadium will shake with the mass cat call: "Overrated," repaying a stray comment in spades. It bothered me a bit, but that was from sheer homerism, and not a rational, logical argument.

However, all wounds found salve in this morning's headline: "Drew snares MVP honors as AL edges NL." In some ways, awarding Drew - Drew the rejuvenated, the player of the month for June, the mid-season MVP, the guy providing a bit over 4 wins over a replacement player in 2008 - the MVP for the All Star Game seemed a logical conclusion to an extended pitcher's duel where no one could knock in a run until two in the morning; he did hit the two run homer that kept the American League from shaming itself with a loss. But there might have other options: Justin Morneau for getting on base and eventually scoring the winning run, or Michael Young for finally ending the damn thing with a sacrifice fly, for example. But the MLB picked Drew, a member of the Red Sox, to walk away with the trophy and the hybrid SUV in Yankee Stadium, to win the crown on rival ground. Conspiracy to rejevenate the rivalry when the two teams meet in Fenway next week? Maybe not, but it's not the only poke in the ribs of Yankees fans I've seen lately...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vitamin Water: Pouring Salt in the Wound, One Picture at a Time

Spotted this billboard on 23rd street on Manhattan's East Side yesterday, presumably riffing on the All Star Game's presence in New York this year. Note one David Américo Ortiz Arias on the right side of the frame, teaming up David Wright as the Best in NY "on the field." Quickly jump to the realization that a beverage company from Queens put a member of the Mets, a rapper from Jamaica, and the most visible symbol of Boston's recent baseball success on a billboard in New York City. Guess someone's marketing director really doesn't like the Yankees...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mid Season Report: The Long Road

Saving the day with a BIG halfway report is DC. His words are after the italics.

It’s that time again kids. Time for the big exhibition that has lost a lot of its luster over the years, but has somehow gained importance (thanks for that Bud). It’s time for baseball to take a couple of days off trot out the “best” it has to offer (assuming each team has at least one of the league’s best players) for a home run derby that never fails to disappoint (other than McGwire bombing the Mass Pike do you remember a single Derby moment? No? Neither do I), and a “meaningful” exhibition that only matters if the World Series goes 7 games or if one of your team’s major players gets hurt. But I digress… this isn’t about the shortcomings of the All Star Game and Festivities. This is about our beloved Boston Red Sox and how they’ve performed in the 1st half of the season. Let’s break it down…

Starting Pitching - This has been the most consistent group so far this year. It seems like no matter who gets hurt, there’s always someone who we can plug in for a couple of weeks and still succeed. This is truly a testament to the great job Theo and the boys have done at retooling the farm system with great prospects. The Sox have used 7 pitchers to start all but 1 game this year (Pauley started 1), and each of them have proven to be successful.

Josh Beckett: This guy has taken last season’s success and reaffirmed his stance as the ace of the staff. Thus far he’s 9-5 on the year but could very easily be anywhere from 9-5 to 13-0. Of his 5 losses, 2 were 1 run losses and all of them were 3 runs or less. If there’s one potential concern about Beckett, it’s that he appears to be giving up more home runs this year than he did last year.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K started the season off looking like a sure thing for the Cy Young award. Then a brief stint on the DL with a tired shoulder and a couple of very rocky starts have raised some concerns. Despite this, he still has the best ERA of all the starters and looks like he’s putting it back together with a great start against the Minnesota Twins. If he can keep it together in the 2nd half, we might be looking at our first Cy Young winner since Pedro.

Jon Lester: This guy seems to finally have put it all together this year. His no-hitter was one of the clear high points of the season. He’s learned how to throw strikes and seems like a legitimate 3 starter for the first time since he came to the big club. All of this makes me happy. All of this makes Robin have a legitimate, potentially sexual, man-crush. Seriously, if Jon Lester ever goes missing, check Robin for a bottle of roofies and a guilty conscience.

Tim Wakefield: Let’s be clear here: Timmy Knuckles is STILL the biggest bargain in professional baseball! He is second on the team in starts and innings pitched, second on the team in strikeouts, and has an ERA under 4.00. What’s that you say? He walks too many batters? Well in the words of Jeremy Grey: Erroneous!!! Granted, he is 2nd on the team in walks, but he also has the second best WHIP of all the starters on the staff (yeah look at that use of stats). So yes, he does give up his share of walks but by no stretch of the imagination does he give up too many to win. And for those of you who point to his 5-6 record let me remind you of this: the Red Sox have lost 11 of Wake’s starts this season by 3 runs or less. What does he have to do to get some run support? The point is that Tim Wakefield gives you a chance to win every time he takes the mound. Beyond that, he basically gives the bullpen a day off every 5 days and he does it all for $4 million a season in a market that dictates $8-12 million for similar numbers. (Note: You’re probably asking yourself “why is this section sounding defensive?” Well I’ll tell you. It’s because every day I hear or read another person who wants to force Wake to the bullpen or to retire after this season to make room for their favorite flavor of the week. It is my contention that these are the same people who would force their parents to stay in a hotel rather than letting them shack up on their couch like a bunch of ungrateful little punks. Remember kids, Timmy Knuckles has earned his spot in this rotation over and over again and if your mother can’t crash on your couch then maybe you should learn to do your own damn laundry!)

Clay Buchholz/Justin Masterson: Ladies and gentlemen, the future of the Red Sox pitching staff is in good hands. The whole of Red Sox Nation is totally enamored with these “two yutes”. These guys have made a lot of people jump on the “Schilling isn’t a big loss” team and they’re also the conductors of the “Wake is too old” train. Now let’s come back to reality shall we? These “two yutes” are a combined 6-6 in 17 starts. They have both flashed signs of brilliance but at other times have provided painful reminders of how young they are. Now its looking like Buchholz is returning to the rotation after ripping up AAA during his recovery from injury and Masterson may serve as an internal answer to the problems in the bullpen. I think it’s safe to say that if the Red Sox go for another World Series, then one or both of these youngsters will play a major role.

Bartolo Colon: This is one of those low-risk/high-reward investments that have made Theo look like he grew up watching those Baby Genius videos. The big guy took a minor league contract, stepped in when Buchholz went down and was well on his way to stealing the youngster’s spot in the rotation when he hurt his back with those ridiculous swings during inter-league play. Even still, assuming he can come back healthy, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the fat man. Expect him to finish a distant 2nd for the Comeback Player of the Year award behind Troy Percival but quite possibly also finish with a spot in the playoff rotation.

Honorable Mention – Curt Schilling: People seem to forget just how good, just how important, and just how clutch this guy has been for the Boston Red Sox. When you don’t see someone play for a while and others are able to successfully replace him, then it is very easy to overlook the injured player. They become an easy target for criticism and second guessing, especially when they’re as outspoken as Curt Schilling has been. This case is particularly unique because we may never see Schill throw another pitch. This fact has opened up countless discussions of his place in history. Is he a Hall of Famer? I really don’t know and according to baseball reference’s various Hall of Fame monitors… neither do they. Is he destined to become Governor of Massachusetts or take some other elected office? Who can say? What I do know is that without Curt Schilling we would possibly still be waiting for our first World Series and we definitely wouldn’t have 2 in the past 4 years. This guy brought us those championships, this guy made Joe Buck stop talking about Babe Ruth and this guy made 55,000 Yankee fans sit down and shut up. Make sure you don’t forget any of that! Thanks for everything Mr. Schilling.

Bullpen – If the Red Sox don’t repeat as champions this season it will be because they were unable to straighten out their bullpen. This unit has been in shambles since the season began. The bullpen has already lost 2 more decisions than they did all of last year. They have 3 guys with 3 losses including the closer. They have already had to get rid of 3 bullpen arms (Snyder, Corey and Tavarez) due to lack of effectiveness and the guys who are left have been extremely inconsistent. Basically, you never know what you’re going to get from these guys and that makes things harder on everyone else.

Jonathan Papelbon: Ok, I’ll be the one who says it: Why does Paps look so mortal this season? What happened to 9 pitches, 3 batters, 3 K’s, goodnight, thanks for playing, our staff has a nice spread laid out for you in the clubhouse? This year it seems like facing Papelbon with 2 strikes is an engraved invitation to foul off 10-15 pitches. Guys who wouldn’t even dream of hitting off Papelbon in the past are finding their way on base (yes I’m talking to you Brett Gardner). That being said, this guy still fires me up. As soon as I see him fist pound that fat cop on his way out of the bullpen I believe we’re going to win… which is probably why it hurts so bad when he blows one.

Hideki Okajima: From now on, if you’re on base when Oki comes into the game you should simply be allowed to score while he trots in from the bullpen. Why keep up the charade that he’s going to keep you off the scoreboard? It doesn’t seem fair to make the other team’s players waste their energy running the bases when everyone knows the end result will be more runs on the board and Oki looking like he just crapped his pants.

Manny Delcarmen: With Okajima struggling in the set up role, Manny Jr. has been given the opportunity to thrive as the 8th inning guy; and good god has he blundered it! MDC has been the picture of inconsistency, looking amazing for a couple of outings and then failing to throw a strike the next time out. When he’s having a bad night, MDC can’t find the strike zone with a map and compass. Watching him makes me vomit out of my eyes!

Craig Hansen: I HATE this guy!!! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever hated a Red Sox player as much as I hate Craig Hansen! Remember when he was the closer of the future? Now he’s lucky if he can get 3 outs in 2 games. Much like MDC, Hansen had the opportunity to take over the set up role. And exactly like MDC, he forgot how to throw strikes. This could easily turn into a 5,000 word rant, so I’m going to leave you with this: Watching Craig Hansen pitch makes me homicidal, suicidal, and all other kinds of cidal I’ve never even heard of! Just seeing him warming up in the bullpen makes me start reminiscing about that summer I spent at Camp Crystal Lake!

David Aardsma, Javier Lopez, Mike Timlin, Chris Smith: All have shown signs of being good. All have shown signs of being too old, too young, or too terrible. More inconsistency! Close your eyes and try to imagine the surprise written all over my face.

Starting Lineup - There are a lot of interesting things going on with this group. Three major injuries (Ortiz, Ellsbury and Lowell) threatened to derail the season, but the Sox were able to plug in other pieces and succeed. There is also the nice balance between wise veterans and exuberant youths that gives this team a spark that always seems passionate yet controlled (except when Youk strikes out). Finally, never in our lifetime have the Red Sox had this much speed in the batting order. No longer do the Sox live and die by the home run.

Jacoby Ellsbury: When was the last time that a Red Sox player led the league in stolen bases? I can’t believe how fast this guy is. He is a lot of fun to watch. Every now and then Jacoby reminds us all how young he is, but all in all he’s not playing like a rookie. If he can get his batting average over .300 and raise his on base percentage a bit he’ll get even more opportunities to wreak havoc on the basepaths and possibly give the Sox back-to-back Rookie of the Year Awards.

Dustin Pedroia: After a rough May, Dusty turned it on as spring gave way to the summer months. He hit .356 in June and is hovering around .400 in July including a big time hitting streak. He’s also been money in the field and one of the emotional sparks for this team. Now if somebody could remind him that he’s not real fast I could stop yelling at my TV every time he tries to extend a line drive off the monster into a double.

J.D. Drew: Nobody has come up bigger in Big Papi’s absence then J.D. Drew. Right now he is the Red Sox MVP. His month of June is the best stretch that I remember anyone ever having. To everyone who spent last year trashing him, enjoy your giant plate of crow. He’s been so good that when Papi comes back I would put him in the 5 hole and leave Drew right where he is: cleaning up hitting in front of Manny.

Manny Ramirez: Manny just keeps on doing his thing and I love it. His average is down a bit, but he’s still the best hitter that I have ever seen. Yes he’s wacky and occasionally rubs people the wrong way, but he’s also leading the team in RBI’s and home runs. It is not a coincidence that JD started destroying the ball as soon as he bounced up into the third spot in the order. Manny is the engine that makes this little run scoring machine go, which makes the possibility of him leaving us after this year terrifying. I know that his option is a lot of money and I understand that Manny is getting older. But riddle me this: Who’s protecting Papi in the middle of the lineup next year if Manny is let go? I challenge anyone to find a replacement for Manny. And don’t forget the new guy has to be right handed (to break up the lefties of Ortiz and Drew), must be available and probably a free agent (Theo doesn’t like trading his prospects), and he has to fit into our team (sorry all you Mark Teixeira fans you can’t have 2 first basemen). I’m not saying that they must keep Manny, I’m just saying it’s hard not to and they better have a plan to replace him.

Mike Lowell: Back in the day, my little brother and I called Billy Mueller “The Pro” because of his quiet, consistent play. After Billy left, I gave the name to Mark Loretta. Well, consider Mike Lowell officially dubbed “The Pro” and revel in all his glory. Watching this guy play baseball is like watching Bob Ross paint. He calms me. He doesn’t get a lot of national attention (it’s a sham that he isn’t on the All Star team), and he doesn’t have enough pieces of flair to work at Chotchkie’s. What he does is play amazing defense, hit the ball and play the role of quiet leader. So from this day forth, in my house Mike Lowell will be known as “The Pro” (unless my girlfriend is talking… she only refers to him as “Smoke show”).

Kevin Youkilis: This is probably the only guy on the team who can rival Papelbon in the category of pure intensity that borders on psychotic fury. It would not surprise me one bit if it came out that those idiots from PETA are suing Youk because of some crazy pre-game ritual involving biting the heads off woodland creatures Ozzy Osbourne style. He’s a fundamental hitter, plays perfect defense and runs slightly faster than Pedroia (which is like a slug racing a snail). If you don’t like Youk, then you probably don’t like hustle and might want to give up on the whole sports fan thing.

Jason Varitek: I cannot believe the way that people have been turning on The Captain lately. I understand that he’s in a terrible slump. I get that all of his numbers are below his career averages. But here’s the dirty little secret: there are almost NO good catchers around the entire league! Seriously, if you’ve recently been blessed with a baby boy and that little man has 2 arms and 2 legs, then do everyone a favor and buy him a catcher’s mitt and have him sleep with the damn thing. As for Tek, he’s not here for his bat ladies and gentlemen. He’s here because everywhere he goes he brings solid defense, a hard-nosed attitude and a giant bag of leadership. Everyone who knows what they’re talking about (coaches, general managers, other players, former players, etc) say that Tek is the most irreplaceable guy on this team and it’s not only because we don’t have a good backup or any catching prospects behind him. It’s because he leads this team, he calls the games and most importantly for the Red Sox, he allows us to rely on young pitchers because he tells them exactly what to do at all times. A couple of them don’t even tie their shoes without looking for Tek for signs. So please, take a moment to send a quick letter to Theo begging him to re-sign The Captain at the end of the season. Clay, Justin, Jon, Manny and Craig are all counting on you.

Coco Crisp: Thank god we didn’t trade Coco! I really like the way this guy has handled himself this season. We live in a world where athletes are constantly pouting, complaining, making trade demands through the media and simply being an all around pain in the ass if they encounter the slightest bit of competition for playing time. Coco hasn’t done any of that. He comes every day and does everything he can to help the team win. Let’s be real here, he’s never going to have another one of those seasons where he hit .300 and smacked 16 home runs. But he will give you some offense, play amazing defense, steal some bases and make some catches that make you thank the lord you can now rewind your TV to watch something over and over.

Julio Lugo: Lugo has become everybody’s favorite whipping boy. He has become so unpopular that last week Robin actually blamed him for an error that was actually made by Cora as Lugo watched from the bench. His defense has been atrocious. His 16 errors are tied for the 3rd most of any player and are the most of any shortstop (Hanley Ramirez has 15). To make matters worse, he has terrible range in both directions and Youk has probably saved him a handful of throwing errors with great defense at first base. However, with regard to hitting, I have to defend Lugo a bit. Now let me start by saying, he has certainly not been great. But the reality is that he’s right around his career numbers. He’s hitting .267 and he is a .271 hitter for his career. He’s on pace for his normal stolen base output and he’s never had any real power. I don’t understand where all the surprised looks are coming from when discussing his lack of productivity at the plate. He’s a #9 hitter! He bats last for a reason! If your #9 is hitting around .270 then you take it and run like you stole something. I never understood Theo’s obsession with this guy and he obviously overpaid to get him. So if you want to blame someone for being handcuffed with a lousy shortstop then Theo’s your man. As for Lugo, he is what he is. He’ll cost you some games in the field, he’ll make some plays for you with his speed (I believe he’s among the league leaders in infield hits), he lays down some decent bunts and he seems to get along well with everyone which is actually more important in baseball than any other sport. Now put away your torches and pitchforks and take a breath. (note from Robin: My torches and pitchforks have become party hats, balloons and streamers... Lugo is out 4-6 weeks!)

David Ortiz: After a rough April, Big Papi was putting it all together when this wrist injury sidelined him. This team would have been cooked if he was done for the season. But all accounts are he’ll be back shortly after the All Star Break. As far as I’m concerned it can’t happen soon enough. That way we can stop hearing all the stupid rumors about Barry Bonds coming in to take his place.

The Bench – What a great group of veteran role players we have this year. I love the way these guys play ball. They make you use words like “solid” and “dependable” which is really all you need from your back up players. It also makes me happy that the young guys who have bounced up and down from the minors get to learn from these guys.

Sean Casey: Great guy, great hitter, great glove, and great nickname (honestly, “The Mayor,” what’s cooler than that?). No real power left in that bat, but he did hit .296 and could probably be starting on some teams. But he chose to come to Boston and everyone seems happy he did. As a special bonus, all accounts point toward Casey being the nicest guy on the team and possibly the league.

Alex Cora: What more can this guy do? He plays everywhere. He doesn’t make errors. He seems to get along with everyone. He could definitely hit a little bit more, but over all how can you complain?

Kevin Cash: This guy has the coolest name in baseball. How many people have you ever met whose actual name sounds like an awesome nickname? He has been doing a great job with Wake’s knuckleball. He only has 10 passed balls which is more than Belli used to allow but he’s also about half Belli’s size.

Brandon Moss/Jed Lowrie/Joe Thurston/The Other Youngsters: Thanks to all the injuries we’ve gotten to see a bunch of the minor league prospects come up to fill in. Of them all, Moss looks to be the most promising all around. I know that everyone is big on Lowrie and offensively he was really good. I’m still not totally sold on his defensive capabilities. He didn’t display a ton of range and personally, I like my middle infielders to be able to get to everything (I’ve been spoiled watching guys like Young Nomar, Gonzo and Pokey). Hopefully I’m wrong and just didn’t see enough of him. I had never heard of Thurston when they called him up. Frankly, I miss those days. I’m not sure if I can put it any plainer than this: He’s terrible!

Well there you have it, the first half in a giant nutshell. We’ve had some really amazing moments (Lester’s no-no and Manny’s 500th home run) and some not so great moments (getting swept in Tampa a couple weeks ago). All in all, things are looking good. If Papi comes back healthy and Drew, Lowell, Youk and Dusty P keep it up then it won’t matter if Tek even bats. At this point it seems like the only thing that can derail this team is the bullpen. They need a set up man for the 8th inning. Could it be Masterson? Time will tell. But they better figure it out before the trade deadline, because if the kid isn’t this year’s Papelbon, then they’re going to need to trade for one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Game 97: Ending On a High Note

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Baltimore Orioles 1

The Boston Red Sox: they'll beat you with their bats; they'll beat you with their pitching. They'll blow a hole in the score so large they'd have to dig up the Back Bay to fill it in; they'll come within 90 feet of blowing a save in a tight game in the ninth with two outs and their closer on the mound. They'll provide thrills, spills, chills, and minor heart attacks that could be avoided with some more consistent dominance and a little more attention to detail. But since they won, since they finished the first half of the season on a high note and regained first place, all is forgiven, if not forgotten. Daisuke Matsuzaka, you did not throw six innings of scoreless ball - or achieve a ratio of 1.5 walks or hits per inning in the process - in vain.

However, we have more pressing concerns: the season's half over. Surprised me, too. Our friend DC will have a recap of the first half's triumphs and failures tomorrow, so I won't steal his thunder by recaping specifics, but to wax philosophical for a moment, it seems utterly imaginable that the season's half over and that the Sox have survived: survived injuries to key players like Ortiz and Schilling, survived the trip to Japan and the miles and miles traveled, survived the world's most skewed home and away records...and now they're in first. I predict a temporary stay unless some things change, but enjoy it! We're doing well! We have several days off before we have to worry about things like bullpens and August. I plan to submerge my brain in some sort of decompressant fluids.

Game 96: Gods For a Day

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 12, Baltimore Orioles 1

That's a little more like it! .300 team hiding in the corpse of a .400 team indeed.

Look over the headlines today and Kevin Youkilis' first grand slam is at the top of every story, which put me in a contemplative mode about the nature of grand slams. Statistically, knocking in four runs with one swing gets different results depending on your metric: batting average goes up two points, on-base percentage not at all, slugging percentage - the measurement of hits expanded to include total bases per hit - up a more appreciable eight points. If in the unlikely chance that the next ten years or so sees Youkilis hit a large number of grand slams - enough to catch up Manny, for example - history will mark this first fully-loaded moonshot as the start of a rare accomplishment whose category leaders stand in the middle twenties.

But some percentage increases and membership in a club of fortunate home run hitters just about sets the limit on the scope of the statistical value of a grand slam, and there's only so much value we can assign to a hit that we couldn't even tease out of a stat line in fifty years. To take the argument one step further, the grand slam didn't even score Boston's winning run: Manny's two-run homer in the first took the honors by striking what eventually became the fatal blow.

Psychologically, however, a grand slam is huge; a multi-faceted event that can momentum in an instant. Remember the grand slam Vlad Guerrero hit in the last game of the 2004 ALDS? That one hit recharted the course of the game, knocked the Sox off of their cruise control to series victory and gave the Legend of David Ortiz a huge boost. Another example: last fall's $14 millon grand slam, the most memorable moment of the American League playoffs. 50 years from now, mention the 2007 post-season and J.D. Drew's untimely hit will come to mind - and that hit was only a contributor to a non-clinching win. We love our grand slams: they encapsulate moments of sometimes surpreme tension, validating the risk of loading the bases without scoring runs, granting the sublime pleasure of big gifts in big packages. We hate it when the opposing team hits a grand slam: those same moments of tension reversed, hoping and praying that our pitcher can escape the jam with little or no damage. When the big hit comes and the runs score, it's a gut punch, creating what feels like an insurmountable lead out of nothing in course of a couple of seconds.

But most of all we love our grand slams for the instant hero status they grant the men who hit them. Legendary batsman or journeyman stick handler, these men not only accomplished the difficult feat of hitting a baseball several hundred feet out of the confines of a field, but did so with the added pressure of potential runs waiting for the chance to come home. Achieving the mental focus to ignore that pressure, focus on their task, and find the right mistake to drive up and away
gifts these men with the halo of clutch hitting, makes them gods for a day. Not too bad for a guy who happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Julio Lugo: out four to six weeks with a torn quadriceps. Note to Jed Lowrie: many a ballplayer has jumpstarted a career out of opportunities like this one.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Game 95: The Buchh Stops Here

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Baltimore Orioles 7

Welcome back Clay Buchholz… why the hell are you here?

He was ugly in the first, he looked lost in the fourth, and was relieved by a disaster filled bullpen in the 6th. It wasn’t the kid’s night, which makes me wonder if putting him back in the big leagues was the right move… no-hitter or not.

Was he better than Masterson? Maybe yes, maybe no. Is Masterson going to be better than Clay in the long run? Hopefully no. Is this an example of what we can expect from Buchholz? Dear God I hope not.

Look, as much as I want to place on Big Buch’s head (4 earned runs) I need to at LEAST mention the bullpen in this equation as well. Delcarmen and Timlin were up to the old tricks… as in runs scored tricks… for the latter innings. Just awful and awfully familiar.

Forget the fact that the Sox only scored 3 runs at home and that the Orioles are basically a .300 team hiding in a .400 team’s corpse… Boston didn’t want to win this game. Sweeping these orange clad chumps should have been elementary. The Red Sox could have really used this (both New York and the Rays got shut out), but I guess I’ll have to stick to the 1.5 game lead. Big rest coming up… looks like we need it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Game 94: My Favorite Game of the Year (so far)!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 18, Minnesota Twins 5

Before I light this Roman candle, I would just like to say that I LOVE a good pitching duel. I think it’s fantastic when two world class athletes go head to head and embarrass the opposing hitters for 9 innings. Even better than the duel, is a near perfect performance for the home team. Jon Lester’s no-hitter this year was a dramatic moment I will treasure for years to come.

BUT COME ON! Nothing is more fun than an old school ass whooping. Sometimes you got to take the other team behind the tool shed and let them have it with a hickory switch. It really makes me happy to see some double digit separation in scores, football sized run totals, and several players looking to get their 3rd or 4th hit of the day. Just happy times all around.

This game was just what the doctor ordered. After an extended slump, the Sox had the chance to finish a sweep of the Twins and go on a bit of a tare…. And they did it with authority.

Every Sox starter got a hit (23 hits total), every Sox starter got a run and only Brandon Moss failed to record an RBI. This was a box score that gets you in a frisky mood. The big players were Jacoby (4 for 6), Youk (3 for 5, 4 RBI) and Manny (3 for 5, 3 RBI). Even Tek (who has been a void at the plate) got 2 hits today… and when Cash replaced him in the 8th, Cash hit one into the parking lot. Yeah… it was crazy.

Sure the pitching wasn’t that great (Beckett got knocked around a bit and couldn’t get an out in the 6th) but it really didn’t matter after the Sox got a 7 run 7th inning. It was smack-down-tastic!

So we got the sweep, a game closer to the Rays and a day off on Thursday to prepare for a three game series with Baltimore before the All-Star break. What’s not to love?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Game 93: Let's Go

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Minnesota Twins 5

I'll admit it: before the bottom of the eighth inning, I was going to write a post about how, all things considered, it was a better thing than not that Jon Lester matched Matsuzaka's total from last night by pitching seven and a third innings. Sure, there's the whole matter of the four runs and the man left on base who became run number five, the dangerous lack of offense and the looming possibility of a loss that would squander the opportunity to gain more ground on Tampa Bay were all concerns, but I was feeling stoic. Or stupid, I'm not sure which.

Anyway, no worries on that score, eh? One moment it's Matt "The Warrior" Guerrier on the mound, looking fierce and trying to kill a rally in the making, the next Drew's dribbling in a run and Manny's smacking the long bomb and grinning like Sylvester after a post-Tweety gourmet. First pitch, high fastball, by the way. I believe the phrase you're looking for is, "a storm's a brewin'." Particularly exciting for me, but for some reason I thought of Guerrier as a formidable pitcher, particularly against the Sox. His average of two runs per inning lifetime against Boston says otherwise, however.

And then Papelbon - oh, dear Papelbon, with your Cinco-Ocho sneakers and your gameface, which looks so very much like a trout possessed by a demon - well he was pretty much balls nasty, too. Really, if you're ever going to crush a team's morale and make them regret playing small ball, giving up a leadoff double before recording three outs - including the wasted out on the bunt - is the way to go.

By the way, I guess the Sox really are serious about making Masterson into the setup man of the future: Theo's not particularly excited about the idea of cleaning out the farm to get a well-known reliever. I certainly have no problem with that idea - I was talking the situation over with a friend of mine recently and I couldn't come up with a player I'd want to trade just to get that edge - but I (still) think the move to be made is for long relief; a veteran - off the waiver wire, perhaps, or through channels that don't require any particular sacrifice - who can fill a backup role and serve as a role model for all of the kids that Epstein's pinning his hopes on. Someone like Mike Timlin, I guess, but with less wear and tear and able to pitch more than an inning every fifteen days.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Game 92: Just What We Needed

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Minnesota Twins 0

We may very look back on tonight's game as a turning point of our recent troubles. I sure hope so; while troubles look less, well, troubling in the rear view of a hard fought one run win (a win that tastes all the more delicious after the nasty ashes in the your mouth taste of the two losses against the Yankees), taking tonight's progress and building something solid would sure be sweet. One of the ESPN broadcasters closed out tonight's game by saying he believes the Sox will win the AL East, and despite the bombast, I'm too bathed in a euphoria borne of seeing wrongs made right to call him totally off base. Here are the three things that brought the love:
  1. The Return of Dice-K. After a poor return from the DL on the 27th, Daisuke's had two decent outtings punctured by high pitch counts that took him out of the contest after the decision minimum number of innings. With the bullpen doing its best impression of a drunk man drowing in two inches of water, early exits are not what the doctor ordered; Boston needs some coverage for the shellshocked victims, not more exposure. Tonight, Matsuzaka delivered in quality and quantity, keeping the Twins off the board and the relievers in the pen.

  2. Okajima Conquers His Demons. I'm referring, of course, to the vicious Inherited Runner oni, a beast that slinks from the shadows in late innings and rips out the tender throats of helpless leads. Deprived of his normal demon-hunting weapon (the still mysteriously absent splitter), Okajima came in to the eighth inning with one out and two runners on. In truly dramatic fashion, he walked Morneau to load the bases before saving the day with a pop foul/groundout combo and - surprise of surprises - not a runner scored. Good thing, too, because the Sox just went into panic mode and sent Masterson down to Pawtucket to make him into a reliever for use "later in the season," which probably means next week or something like that.

  3. Manny Comes Clutch With the High Fastball. Manny and the high fastballs have not been BFFs lately. Problems with high fastballs lead to problems with low pitches, slumps result, everyone cries, the end. Not tonight, though: Manny picked up a single in the fourth off a high heater and - more importantly - another one off a fastball in the heart of the zone in the eighth to score Pedroia and the winning run. Sure, he struck out swinging reaching for an outside fastball in between, but tonight could be the start of something magical.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Game 91: Like These Games Aren’t Long and Aggravating Enough

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, New York Yankees 5

Everyone knows Sox/Yanks games go forever. They last about as long as South American Dictatorships plus or minus a rebellion or rival cue. The last thing we need is extra innings. I have places to be (sleep) things to do (sleep) and people to see (sleep).

The Sox managed to get a three runs off Joba (thanks to a 2 RBI single from a red hot Pedroia) and one off the Yank bullpen (that I used to know by heart, but now I have no clue) but that wasn’t enough.

Wake pitched a great game, gave it up to the bullpen and they proceeded to allow the Yankees to tie it up after a Cano triple. Thank you Lopez. Typical, typical, typical. As always Wake pitched well, Sox couldn’t score enough and the bullpen craps the bed. In fact, it took a GREAT play from Pedroia (a would be game hero) to get Cano out a home on a fielders choice to preserve the tie and keep me from freaking out early.

No… the freak out would come much later in the extra frames (AFTER MANNY STRUCK OUT ON 3 PITCHES LOOKING). Papelbon, looking VERY mortal this year, gave up an 0-2 single to Cano, had the runner moved over and then blew it by pitching 100 pitches to the nobody rookie Gardner. The hit up the middle deflected off a diving Lugo and a confused Pedroia.

Run scores, game over, I lose my cool. Insert closest roommate (happened to be DC) and I yell at him for no reason. Maybe it’s the fact that the Sox are in second and slipping, maybe it was the white wine (I know, high class right?) or maybe it’s because I couldn’t yell at Papelbon… but sorry DC… you deserve better.

At least you deserve closer that can punch out a wet behind the ears 3-for-forever rookie that will get a ticker tape parade by the over reacting Yankee fans.
See… these games bring out the worst in me.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Game 90: Silver Lining?

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, New York Yankees 2

I'm a little conflicted. On one hand, if we're going to lose a game, at least it was a exciting one with a nail-biting finish. On the other hand, Julio Lugo just struck out with the tying run 90 feet away - with the bases frickin' loaded! - after the Sox squandered two chances to break down Rivera and score the second run they needed to push the game into extra innings - or at least the bottom of the ninth. So yeah, little conflicted, a little unsure about how to handle what just went down. Might feel a little better if Sean Casey could play shortstop; I'll take his lack of history against Rivera over Lugo's poor history. He can't though, so I'll take that disappointment and aim it somewhere else.

I know: I'll focus on the positives. Pitching, for example. Masterson might not have won today's game, but not for lack of trying. He might have even come away with the victory if he had kept the ball out of the air more often, or not hit batters like they were going out of style, but still, two runs is nothing to sneeze at. Good Red Sox starting pitching is nothing new though, and these days I'm far more likely to dwell on a poor start than crow about a good one - no need to get repeatative, after all. But starting pitching isn't what's got my blood going today; I'm all up about the relief corps. Mike Timlin, specifically.

Mike Timlin (and his snappy comebacks) came on in the eighth for his first relief appearance since coming off the DL yesterday. His job: keep the Yankees from scoring another run so the Sox could come on in the ninth and blow three chances - ahem - have a shot of taking the lead. His success rate: 100 percent. Bottom third of the linup to be sure, with three guys hitting a combined .241, but since we're so desperately focused on staying positive, I'll take Timlin's successful return as a silver lining. Every comeback has to start somewhere, right?

Game 89: Return to Normality

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, New York Yankees 4

So that was a bit closer to normal, if normal means weird plays like this one, where wall-friendly center fielders almost make the catch that ends an inning and kills a rally, but instead discover the painful things that happen when wrist meets padded wall top. Ball drops out, hangs on the wall, Johnny falls down, and Kevin ends up on third with two runs scored. Watch the video and you'll see the madness, if you haven't already.

What makes this play part of "normality" is that - ignoring the possibility of further changes as situations evolved - if Damon holds on to that fly ball, Game 89 could still be going. All those who enjoy getting a full night's sleep should be grateful.

Seriously though: when we talk about the sort of games Boston and New York should play against each other, isn't a game whose results hinge on one play - on one bundle of nerves, fighting to keep from twitching in the face of massive pressure - the type of game we're thinking of? Not too bad: two days into the series, and we're back to the point where these games get exciting. Not that I'm looking for anything but a sweep, here. Let's just make that clear.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Game 88: A Chance to Refuel

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, New York Yankees 0

I never thought I’d say this: Thank God for the break the Sox got here playing the Yankees. Going head to head against bruisers like the Astros and Rays really can take it out of you. It takes a team like the Yankees to sure up your bullpen and let some energy drain. Goodness knows there isn’t much drama in the Bronx…

Look I’m taking the high ground here. I’m not doing any Madonna jokes, no Lenny Kravitz comments and nothing at all on awful mustaches. I’m not even bashing the Yanks for blowing it in the last season in their historic park. But please excuse me while I give them one in the ribs for not showing up to the rivalry.

Pettitte vs Lester looked like a mismatch, but I guessed the wrong way. While the Yankee ace got tagged fro 6 runs, Lester held fast for the duration. He remained low on the pitch count, only walked 2 (both in the first) and blanked the Yankees in his first start in New York with an amazing 9 inning performance.

On the other side of the scoreboard, Pettitte looked very hittable and the Sox jumped on him early and often. Lugo was the only Boston starter without a hit and big nights from Jacoby, Drew and Crisp allowed the Sox to coast into victory lane.

Am I a little disappointed that the vitriol and fury has diminished a bit from this rivalry? I guess. But honestly, with the way the Red Sox have been playing and the position they are in right now, I am just relieved they have a chance to get a little break.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Game 87: Crippled and Broken

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Tampa Bay Rays 7

Tonight's post inspired by this song.

It's funny - in a totally unfunny, knock your teeth out sort of way - but I'm at a loss to say what the worst part of tonight's game was. I've narrowed it down to three choices; please help me out by voting in the comments (you can also feel free to suggest your own). It'll be like a little game we play to assuage our angst and keep from putting limbs through walls in frustration. Fun!

  1. Julio Lugo's hard, totally illegal slide into second base in the top of the fourth inning, trying to break up a double play. Lugo was so far out of the basepaths when he hit the skids that the umpires ruled Jacoby Ellsbury out at first anyway, ending the inning and taking away a run that had just crossed the plate. Had that run scored, we might still be playing this game right now. It's possible that with a legal slide Ellsbury would have been out anyway - that'd be the idea behind the ruling - but Lugo's used up pretty much all of his store of good will and therefore doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. Next stop: Jose Offerman territory. Woo!

  2. Terry Francona's decision to do a hit and run two plays in a row with Varitek at the plate in the ninth. We all love Tek, but while line drives are his speciality, it's not like they're anywhere close to his most common plate result. Running the play the first time was a good way to surprise the Rays - and it almost worked - but two times in a row, with Mike Lowell at first and outs in short supply, well, that was just foolish. Kinda move Grady Little would pull, and we don't like to see that.

  3. The bullpen. Need I say more? Another meltdown courtesy of our trial-by-fire setup guys. Okajima's appearance so early in the game was disconcerting, but I guess they've got his ego on bed rest and a heart rate monitor right now and needed a lower pressure situation to get him a shot of self-confidence. How's that reliever market looking?
You'll have to excuse me now; I'm going to go have a small heart attack and pace the floor for a little while. Who's ready for the Yankees?