Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stuff I Just Wonder About

Why does almost every ballplayer have to have some unique brand of facial hair? After awhile, I wonder whether the clean shaven look might actually express more individuality.

For example, as a younger player, struggling to make a major league roster, Youkilis is fairly clean shaven

As an established player, somehow it looks as though Youkilis' face has acquired some furry mammal.

Almost every major leaguer wears batting gloves...but not everyone. I guess the argument must be for more comfort in cold weather, better grip in warm humid weather, and more endorsement opportunities in all weather. Coco Crisp doesn't usually wear batting gloves though, although he's looking a lot like Wally Pipp these days.

Today the radio conversation centered about the role for Mike Lowell next year...In the newspaper, it sounded like John Henry has a warm, fuzzy spot in his heart for Lowell. Does the same pertain for his wallet?

Would you really want A-Rod here? Or wouldn't A-Rod be better suited in the NL?

Is Carlos Pena a possible returnee?

And if you sign another veteran to an extended deal, does that freeze out Jed Lowrie for the foreseeable future? Is Lowrie good enough defensively to play on the left side of the infield in the majors?

I hate talking about the future while we're so enamored about the present, but isn't that what we all do? Did Curt Schilling put his home on the market because he's looking to downsize or know that next year has a different role for him. He can still pitch and win (using the Rick Reuschel/Frank Tanana conversion model) and there are plenty of franchises (Arizona an obvious destination) where his veteran influence would be great.

So Clay Buchholz has a weak shoulder? I don't recall ever having a tired shoulder as a young player, but most glass was safe confronting my pitches in the Intercity League in the mid-70s.

I can't ever recall hitting a lefthanded batter in hundreds of innings from Little League, Babe Ruth, summer leagues, high school, or college. Good control or bad memory? Years ago after a guy had hit a Grand Slam the previous time (not against me), the catcher instructed me to knock him down. I was a young guy and the catcher was a real veteran, so I said okay. The batter (lefthanded) took the first pitch fastball right down the middle. I figured I didn't really have the stomach to throw at batters. Whatever. The next pitch almost took his head off. That's just bad control.

Have you ever seen a Sox team with three guys in the lineup who could run (Ellsbury, Crisp, Lugo)?

Doesn't the AL playoff feel totally wide open? Any team could win. I'd hate to be making odds on this one.

As for the NL, it's schadenfreude for the Mets, who will rank with the '64 Phillies if they blow it. The '78 Sox take a beating, but had an incredible run down the stretch to force the fateful playoff with the Bombers and Bucky $*#&ing Dent.

Billy Rohr, where are you now?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Stepping Into Liquid

We share finite space and time in an infinite universe. And in that space, we struggle together on a hostile planet to share moments of joy and sadness, achievement and loss, hope and despair. Amidst that vastness, our lives become united in our shared experience called Red Sox Nation.

Red Sox Nation has never represented membership cards, Sox Appeal, or even the media frenzy surrounding tonight's celebration of an American League East champion ship. People drive a little more courteously, smile more easily, and food even tastes better when our boys win. We suffer the defeats less well, although the World Series of 2004 vanquished memories of Loserville.

The 'panic button' never came out this year, and as close as the competition came, I always had the same assurance for coworkers and patients, "the Yankee fans experience what we formerly owned", the anticipation of something that would not happen, the corruption of broken dreams. Mariano Rivera, Sox nemesis incarnate, failing in the clutch, and the lowly Orioles dismissing the mighty Bombers.

Tonight the Sox from grizzled veterans like Schilling and Timlin, basking in the dwindling sunshine of lengthy careers, celebrate anew with rookies Pedroia, Ellsbury, Moss, and even Matsuzaka and Okajima.

What benefit victory? A chance to rest for Ortiz and aching knees, for Youkilis and a sore hand, and for those like Lowell and Varitek who suffered the marathon to get to the postseason.

The doubting among us will say they've done nothing yet, that tonight's events only serve as a prelude to uncertainty and more sore shoulders, balky knees, and strawberries. But those who follow this team season in and season out, night and day, remind them that is simply why we watch, to find out how it ends. Tonight the Sox stepped into liquid, champagne.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pushing It

I haven't written as much lately, not out of criticism but from other obligations.

I haven't put up the 'Panic Button' JPEG all season (as far as I can remember), because there hasn't been a reason to panic. In 2004 the Red Sox had a flawed team and the GM corrected the problem with defensive acquisitions in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientiewicz. This year, the team has shown consistency concerning inconsistency, as they can be world-beaters or invisible.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Julio Lugo, and Coco Crisp have given the team some offensive dimension they have never had (at least in my 45 years of watching), real speed. When any of the three get on, you just sense that they are running. And Remy correctly points out (between cashing in scorecard money) that Ellsbury steals not only with speed, but technique. The franchise wants to manage expectations on Ellsbury, but you have to see what is out there, too. Yes, he does have some holes in his swing, but we hope that he can cut them down.

Toronto simply stuffed them with terrific pitching, and having Crisp and Youkilis out of the lineup makes a difference, as both work pitchers, especially Youkilis.

If somehow you could magically subtract Lugo's o-fer streak, then he's had a serviceable season. Drew has shown signs of life, but for the most part looks Nixonian against lefties. If you had to have Kielty or Gabe Kapler for a season, who is probably the better all-around player. I'd guess Kielty.

Are they a better overall team with Ellsbury in left, Crisp in center, and Drew in right than with Manny in the lineup? I'd love to hear what the pitchers think.

Worries? Of course, as fans we always have concerns. I try to distinguish 'better players' versus playing better.

C Posada versus Varitek (edge Posada offensively, Varitek defensively, overall Yankees)
1 Giambi versus Youk (edge Giambi offensively when healthy with performance aids, Youk defensively) neutral now
2 Cano versus Pedroia (edge Cano at the bat, Pedroia with the glove), overall Cano
SS Jeter versus Lugo (Jeter at the plate, defensively not much difference as Jeter overrated defensively) edge Jeter
3 A-Rod versus Lowell (A-Rod MVP offense, Lowell better defensively), edge A-Rod
LF Manny/Ellsbury versus Matsui (edge Manny offensively when healthy, Ellsbury defense) overall neutral
CF Cabrera versus Crisp (offensively similar, defense edge Crisp) overall slight advantage Crisp
RF Abreu versus Drew (edge Abreu offensively, Drew defensively) edge Abreu
DH Damon versus Ortiz (major edge Ortiz)

The Yankees had a better lineup in 2004, too, but it's all about the pitching. Beckett should get the Cy, and Schilling has been working with diminished stuff, and Lester has pitched better. Is Matsuzaka's problem mental or physical, as he hasn't gotten the calls all year, and does that result in fatigue. Wakefield looks hurt.

Oh yeah, the first round is Cleveland or LAA. I'd rather have LAA, as I don't want to see Sabathia and Carmona back-t0-back.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Double Oh Sox

The Red Sox clearly admire the Patriots, especially their intelligence gathering, surveillance, and scouting defense operations. The Sox could have charged into the playoffs, guns blazing, but have taken a sub rosa approach, stealthily creeping toward Nirvana.

Power hitter Manny Ramirez? Nowhere to be found. Manny could have a full beard or have shaved his head like the Dali Lama for all we know. Manny may have bought the entire '24' series on tape, promising not to return until he's seen every episode. Starting Centerfielder and Gold Glove candidate Coco Crisp, has the Hellenic Flu, after crashing into the turf so much this season.

The Real J.D. Drew? Drew has played possum the whole season, only recently coming out of his self-imposed hitlessness cocoon in preparation for the second season. No more Nancy Drew to kick around.

Julio Lugo? While we speculated that Julio had compromising photos of management to earn a big contract, he's had his moments the second half. We're still waiting to see if he too is holding back, waiting for October magic.

Kevin Youkilis? Just when we need him, he's been playing pinata for the Yankee pitching staff, resting up as part of the Sox' grand plan. What does Youkilis want to hit? They'll never know before the season ends.

Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima? The Japanese imports got off to fast starts, with Matsuzaka looking like Matt Clement the first half of the season and Okajima an All-Star. They've shut it down the second half, lest the New York media be gathering information for the stretch.

Tim Wakefield? Sixteen game winner, and as we approach the second season, all of a sudden, he's got nothing? That's just not possible.

Eric Gagne, former power closer from the Dodgers and the Rangers. Gagne has revealed nothing, refusing to show AL hitters fastball strikes or any secondary stuff. He's pulled a Sergeant Schultz for the Sox, "I know nothing."

The Indians, Angels, and Yankees could erect cameras all around Fenway and stalk the Sox on the road, and they'll get nothing. The Sox have pretty much shut it down, camouflaging critical parts of their operation.

The Sox did make a tactical error, allowing Clay Buchholz to throw a no-hitter, instead of keeping him under wraps. Theo Epstein wanted to put him on a sixty pitch count, echoed by the Player Development Gnomes, but fortunately Terry Francona put the kibosh on that one.

All these other teams, playing well, showing off in September just aren't showing any tactical savvy whatsoever. We've got 'em where we want ' our sights, er lenses.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Random Observations

The Red Sox have shown admirable resilience...against the weak sisters of the American League. But you do have to beat up on the bad teams to get to the playoffs. As Mickey Mantle told Roger Maris during his 'real' home run chase, "hit 'em with your wallet'...and the Sox and Yankees do.

Worries? Pitching consistency from the starting rotation after Josh Beckett. Curt Schilling has morphed into Rick Reuschel, as his fastball has moved into the 80s from the 90s. It's a lot harder to get people out with guile and experience than with the former and a 93 mph heater.

Does Clay Buchholz have top of the rotation stuff? I made the Jim Palmer analogy here long before it became fashionable.

Big Papi is now second in the AL in OPS at 1.033...and Kevin Youkilis seems to have a little life back in his bat, with 80 RBIs...and Ortiz has his 30+ homers and 100+ RBI. What about Jacoby Ellsbury, with 2 homers in the minors and 3 Navahomers for our Navahomeboy at Fenway.

Somewhere on ESPN Insider a commentator said Ellsbury will develop into a 20 homer guy.

Will any Red Sox garner Gold Gloves? The push is for Youkilis at first, Pedroia at second, and Crisp in the OF. Crisp might have a shot, but favoritism tends to keep 'winners' winning. Derek Jeter clearly isn't the best fielding shortstop in the AL, but has won several. Jeter's a terrific player and a winner, but not the best defensive shortstop. I'd argue that Daisuke Matsuzaka deserves consideration for a Gold Glove, but I'd rather see the Gold Arm during the stretch.

Does Bill Belichick like to sit next to Terry Francona to get help stealing signs? It's sure lucky that Brady knew that Ricky Manning was going to drop and Deion Branch caught that deep out...and lucky that Vinatieri hit those field goals. Ellis Hobbs sniffed out the kickoff coverage didn't he?

Maybe the Jets need new defensive signals...I mean a poster of a Red Dog when they're going to blitz and an HVAC when going Pre-vent just isn't too subtle.

Do you dig the new small ball with Ellsbury, Crisp, and Lugo? Yeah, I thought so.

There's still something to be said for good old country hardball. It's not so easy for most guys to catch up with the 96 mph heat. Of course, it helps that the Rays' staff can't throw strikes.

Does anybody give Terry Francona credit?

B.J. Upton might end up being the best all-around centerfielder in the AL before long. His hitting is much improved and he has an absolute gun in center. Vernon Wells is having shoulder surgery, so that explains that.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Last Ups

Walk off homers grab the headlines. I still remember feeling awful about Johnny Callison homering off the AL in 1964 during the All-Star game. Who would've thought it?

What of last ups? Keith Foulke stabs an Edgar Renteria groundout and the Sox end eighty-six years of frustration in 2004. That will probably always be the number one finale for the current generation of Sox fans. Clay Buchholz's strikeout of Nick Markakis probably won't achieve the same legendary status, however exciting it was.

In 1978, the great Yaz popped out to Graig Nettles to end the playoffs and the remarkable season that was. Rich Rollins popped out to Rico Petrocelli to send the Sox into waiting to determine the season's fate.

In 1962 the late Earl Wilson pitched a no-hitter. I have this recurrent memory that Frank Malzone made a great catch on a foul pop to end the game. I don't know if I'm right. Was that the right game? Was it the last out? Hey, either way, I was only seven years old. What do you remember about being a seven year old?

In the amazing 1967, Jose Tartabull, with a notoriously weak throwing arm threw out Ken Berry at home to complete a game ending double header in old Comiskey Park.

What's your last up memory?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Star Is Born - Buchholz Pitches a Gem

A star is born. The lanky Red Sox righthander, Clay Buchholz, called up for a spot start, fired a no-hitter tonight to baffle the Baltimore Orioles 10-0.

Buchholz fanned nine, walked three, and hit a batter. Dustin Pedroia saved the no-no with a miraculous diving backhander to rob Miguel Tejada earlier on a groundball up the middle.

As I've written before, he reminds me of a young Jim Palmer. Let's hope so.

Championship Driven

As we turn the page on our baseball calendars, we find the Red Sox with a five game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East. And who among us would not have dreamt about this situation coming down the stretch?

Emerson reminds us that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Baseball's odyssey provides with a framework where we measure consistency over 162 games, not over a month, a road trip, or a series. We're talking about the intersection of run prevention and run scoring over baseball's marathon, not about winning a game in tennis parlance.

What Red Sox fans (and Theo Epstein) must ask is does the team have what it takes to win in October? We lament last week's action as we always do when comparing baseball's Athens and Sparta. After the Red Sox annihilated a flogged and downtrodden Pale Hose, reminiscent of the Boston Massacre of 1978, the Red Sox came up short in the Bronx, leaving with their collective tails between their legs.

The Sox do have questions remaining, mostly surrounding the depth of the starting rotation down the stretch, injuries (Manny Ramirez), and whether J.D. Drew has anything to offer the remainder of the season. It's hard for me to imagine the Red Sox winning a World Series with a corner outfielder producing so little. If it's physical, then so be it, write it off, and get somebody else in there. If it's psychological, let's get Dr. Tom Hanson or some other sports psychologist on the case, today.

Even worse was Joba Chamberlain's classless headhunting earning him an ejection and fine. Sox fans welcome new blood to the rivalry, and anticipate future showdowns among the Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, and Pedroia clan with Hughes, Chamberlain, Cabrera, and Cano. But throwing a hard object a hundred miles an hour at anyone's fragile humanity deserves condemnation and more than a two game suspension. Joe Torre's defense of Chamberlain casts aspersion on his record as well.