Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Congratulations Philadelphia...

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Few Late-in-the-Day Thoughts

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

And We're Back

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'm All Out of Love

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

Did that just happen? Did that just really happen?

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

Papi needs surgery. Like NOW.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Deliverance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Redemption: Thy Name Is Beckett

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2008

Princes of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Conspiracy Theory of the Day

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sign of the Boston Sports Apocalypse

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All These (bad) Things That I’ve Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you can hold on… hold on.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bad Moon Rising

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Game Metallica

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

Funeral March

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Magic Man. Or Men.

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

That's one, bitches.

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

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beating the Rays, Or The Evolution of Moneyball

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Game Under the Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ALDS Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Beating the Rays: A Prequel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 06, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For No One

My mind does ache. And now, a breakdown of the game, in the form of a mental debate:
  • The negative: It's after 1 AM, I have to get up for work tomorrow, and I don't even have a victory to make the exhaustion worth the trade.
  • The positive: Yeah, losing is no fun, but we're still ahead two games to one with one more in Fenway and we made the Angels eat through their entire bullpen to get that win. If K-Rod or Scot Shields even looks at a baseball before some time next week, their arms will probably fall off.

  • The negative: But we had so many good chances! That first ill-begotten lead, later on when Ellsbury only failed to take second because he's too goddamn fast, later on after that when Ellsbury struck out looking because the ump had some sort of chip on his shoulder or vision impairment that kept him from seeing a ball a foot out of the zone and the winning run would have walked home in the next at-bat...
  • The positive: At least we were efficient about it. Four runs on thirteen baserunners is a lot better than the five runs on 21 baserunners the Angels had to offer. We just have to get to tomorrow's starter early and we're golden for another trip to the ALCS.

  • The negative: We were beaten by Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, the very definitions of FAIL in these past three games. I'd feel better about losing to Groucho and Harpo than those two.
  • The positive: Francona might have been better going to Byrd than sticking with Javier Lopez for a full inning, but the bullpen did a great job: they kept the Angels off the board for seven innings without forcing the Sox to pull in one of the starters they might need for tomorrow.

  • The negative: Beckett looked like reheated ass on the mound tonight. This was not the post-season Josh Beckett to which I am accustomed.
  • The positive: No, but tonight's frustrations were a team effort. We'll shake 'em off and get 'em tomorrow.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Continuing Robin's angels and metal themes from Wednesday's game...

ALDS Game 2: Boston Red Sox 7, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5

I think we should make it a rule that J.D. Drew should hit one really dramatic home run per playoffs, because it seems to do really good things for the team. Tonight's contribution might not have been as surprising as the $70 million home run (you know: given that home run and all he did for the team in June and the home run tonight, maybe it's time to retire that nickname), because I had high expectations for Drew as soon as he came to the plate, but that long bomb off of K-Rod (note to baseball writers: if you vote for K-Rod for MVP because of that save record, you are a fool. And tonight is a small demonstration of why.) was definitely Papi-like in its clutchness.

Speaking of long bombs, was there something in the air tonight that kept balls in the yard? If I remember correctly, there were four near-misses (three of them by Red Sox) to go with the two home runs and all four of them looked like sure things when they left the bat. Maybe it was the camera angle playing tricks with the mind. Or maybe there are air demons in Anaheim we don't know about. If there are, they probably come from Disneyland.

A few other thoughts:
  • Once again, I take back all of the bad things I said about Jon Lester in my preview on Wednesday. It was just the numbers talking, I swear. I do not take back what I said about Matsuzaka, who made tonight's outing the closest three (and then two) run game I've ever seen.
  • Jason Bay is amazing. Pure, bottled awesomeness who gets the hits we need. My friend Don and I were talking about him before Game 1, wondering whether or not the pressure of his first time would get to him. Clearly, we needn't have worried: he's 5 for 9 with two home runs, a double, and five RBI.
  • Dustin Pedroia...well, I refuse to speak ill of Dustin Pedroia. Snapping an 0 for 8 is nothing for the Horse.
  • Terry Francona made up for his tactical error in the eighth (sending Masterson back out to start the inning, leading to a need for a comeback and a six out save) by pinch-running for Ortiz in the ninth. It's a good thing, too because for a second he looked like he'd been out-managed by Mike Scioscia.
Josh Beckett. Fenway Park. Sunday night. Going for the sweep. If we don't send the Halos home with a broom after taking two from them in LA, we won't be able to hold our heads up when we walk down the street. Time to extend that baseball-best streak of 11 straight post-season wins against a team to twelve and get that ALCS ticket stamped. GO SOX!!!


Chip Caray just called J.D. Drew's power "Mantle-like." I love J.D. Drew (especially right now), but I have no idea what this statement means. Especially since Mickey Mantle's career isolated power total is about 40 points higher than J.D. Drew's. And that's a big difference.

Fun fact: when Mickey Mantle was 36 (his final year, in 1968), he had a .237 batting average, but still managed to get on base about 39 percent of the time, which means a ridiculous number of walks. '68 was Mantle's worst season after his rookie year and he still managed to be 42 percent better than the average player.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Off-Day Thoughts: Pedroia and Ramirez

In the future, when baseball analysts want to gush over a player of small stature who may or may not be worth the spilled ink, they will not discuss his grit or pluck. Instead, they'll call him a caballito and develop a case of the self-satisfied grins, while we all laugh at the possibility that Ortiz actually was screwing with Buck Martinez, punking a whole generation of writers and broadcasters in the process.

Bill Simmons might very well be crazy (although you no doubt knew that): ESPN just published his 9,000 word summation of Manny and the Aftermath in what has to be one of the most exhaustive eulogies ever written by a fan. The first part is a bit cathartic, planting the blame on the ownership and the media for their roles in the debacle, but check out the second half (starting with the "A lesson in revisionist history" section) for Simmons' point: Manny may or may not have manipulated the situation and - no matter how this post-season turns out - he definitely won the war even as he lost the battle, but the real blameworthy individual is Scott Boras, the man who Simmons sees as the evil genius behind the forced trade that broke his heart.

Whether or not Boras nudged Manny into his final confrontation with Boston's management is a matter for conspiracy theorists (although Simmons' premise that Boras could only benefit from signing Manny if he got the slugger a new contract by any means necessary has merit), but Bill has one indisputable conclusion: Manny's departure for LA demonstrates once again that no matter how much we love a player, his first priority will always be to his wallet, not to his fans. Whether or not we can blame anyone for making that choice (especially since we'd all end up doing the exact same thing) is another matter.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Send Me An Angel

ALDS Game 1: Boston Red Sox 4, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 1

Ahhh feel that? That’s October baseball. Playoff baseball. The leaves are turning and the dirtdogs are barking. It’s my favorite time of the year.

Before I get into the meat of the game log and not to rub it in, but that’s 10 postseason wins in a row against the Angels of wherever they claim to be from. The Red Sox just have their number. I know they have the best record in the AL, but I LOVE to seeing them in the first round.

Tonight was almost all about Jon Lester. I know everyone has gushed like pink hat wearing tweens about the guy… but he deserves it. He is a freak of nature. He can’t be beaten by base runners, pitch counts or cancer. I am pretty sure he is the government’s answer for Chuck Norris if Chuck ever goes “bad”. I mean it! Norris goes rogue and the president presses a big red button and deploys Jon Lester.

He pitched 7 innings of guts and glory with no earned runs and a belly full of bees. It would have been a SCORELESS 7 if not for Jed Lowrie and his awful Tony Graffanino imitation. That dumb error led to the only Angel run and almost got me calling Jed “Rat Boy” for the rest of the playoffs. He looks like his last job was teaching 4 turtles ninja skills. The only blunder that topped that was the bad running by Vlad in the 8th. Only a dummy tries to take 3rd on Youks arm.

On the offensive side of things, the injuries really took their toll on the Sox lineup. J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell were both too injured to play in this game. That didn’t stop them from STARTING… but they were sure as hell hurt. Lowell can barely run. Papi is also a shell of himself and if it wasn’t for the insurance RBI in the 9th he would have been another 0-fer.

The GOOD news was coming from Bay and Jacoby. The Sox got on the board thanks to a MAMMOTH 2 run blast from our Canadian friend. He almost looked excited about it too. As for Jacoby, this kid is another type of player in the postseason. He was on base all night. Stealing bases, hitting doubles and taking 3 bases on missed catches… there was nothing he didn’t do tonight… and that includes making amazing catches in center (he FLEW out there). He is like Apache Chief and when the playoffs roll around, you know he is screaming INYUK-CHUK!

With the 3 run lead, the ball went to Papelbon and the Paps delivered. He struck out the side to end any drama. He used his fastball (overpowering) and even found his splitter to get a big K. Soooooooo tasty! This was just a fantastic win that would be even sweeter if it wasn’t after 2 in the morning. So let’s wrap this up and let me get some shut eye so I can dream of the Angels and the rally monkey they can’t get off their back.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Taking Stock: Beating the Angels?

Last year, I weighed the odds, considered the statistics, and made what turned out to be a conservative prediction: Red Sox over the Angels in four games. This year, it is Boston's lot to play the Angels in the first round once again, with an eye towards continuing a streak of nine straight playoff victories and advancing to the next round (although, as Hart Brachen so rightly put it, all of these games are pure gravy to those fans smart enough to enjoy the good times while they last), and my lot (enjoyable, to be sure) to make another prediction.

Because he is a clever person, Soxlosophy's Jonah Goldwater rounded up the major statistics involved in this upcoming series in a post yesterday, but here's some additional factors to consider:
  • The Power of Teh SuXX0r: In 13 post-season games (going back to that infamous ALCS in 1986), the Sox have a collective ERA of 2.82 and collective splits of .281/.366/.451, while the Angels have a collective ERA of 5.59 and collective splits of .232/.299/.341. In other words, the Angels have been pretty terrible in the post-season (particularly last year, when the broken and beaten remains of the offense cowered under a rock before the might of everyone not named Matsuzaka or Gagne), generally falling far short of their regular season production. This trend is great news for the Sox, who beat the Angels once in nine regular season games in 2008...and that one win was back in April, in Boston.
  • The Dice-K Factor: Speaking of Matsuzaka, we'd better hope that Friday's starter doesn't repeat past results when he faces the Angels in Game 2: in 9.2 innings (including the start in Game 2 of the ALDS last year), he's given up nine runs and hasn't gone any deeper than five innings.
  • Seeking the Better Lester: I have a two-part excuse for why Jon Lester has been the opposite of filthy awesome against the Angels in his career: first, 14.2 of his 19.2 total innings were from before 2008, when he was the inconsistent Houdini who danced on the edge of disaster start after start. Second, his only start against LAA came in late April, when he was still in this blog's doghouse for having a (in retrospect) Matsuzaka-level lack of efficiency. Since then, of course, he's become the savior of this rotation and his more recent performance gives me hope that tonight will not be a blowout.
  • Injuries: Drew, Lowell, and Beckett all sound like they're healthier now than they were at the end of September. Having Drew and Lowell back could raise the lineup out of their September doldrums (yes, that's right: the team's splits dropped 30 points in all three categories in one month) and give Boston a fighting chance to beat some potentially devastating pitching, while Beckett remains the standard bearer for playoff excellence who could be in a position to keep the post-season alive come early next week.
  • Lackey and Santana: The outcome of the first two games probably depends more on which versions of Lackey and Santana show up to the first two games. Lackey's already broken from his poor past against the Sox with two strong wins in 2008, but if he reverts to form, Boston has a chance to take a crucial first game. Santana is having an excellent year, but he's never been particularly effective against Boston. Games 1 and 2 could very well be high scoring affairs that eat through bullpens and make Game 3 that much more important.
Prediction: There are too many what-if factors for me to feel comfortable calling this one for Boston. We'll see what happens tonight, but right now I'm calling it for the Angels in four.