Sunday, April 16, 2006

Solsbury Hill and Memory Lane

Today while the Sox were beating Seattle, the trivia question asked who were the last two Sox pitchers to begin 3-0 (Schilling and Beckett have now done it)? The answer was Tim Wakefield and Vaughn Eshelman, who was another of the southpaws who never made it with the Sox. Eshelman's career doesn't deserve much of a mention, but you can click and read it.

The best lefthander of the 'real' modern era (1967 on) for the Sox has been, yes you guessed it, Bill Lee Some have come close, including Bruce Hurst and John Tudor I'm sure 'The SpaceMan' still has nightmares over the Leephus he fed Tony Perez in Game 7 of the 75 series. Hurst would have been MVP of the 1986 series if it weren't for...well, anyway. Tudor, the local product, won 21 games for the Cardinals and had his best years for the Cardinals.

How many lefthanders have come and gone? Well, there was the Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater thing, and so many failures from Matt Young, to Bobby Sprowl, Bobby Ojeda (who later won 18 games for the Mets), to literally one-hit wonders (Billy Rohr), Rogelio Moret (nervous breakdown), Jim Burton (ouch), and more recently Casey Fossum. Even Cy Young Award winner and Series MVP Frank Viola couldn't get it done here.

The Sox haven't really managed to beg, borrow, or steal lefthanded pitching. Meanwhile, there's always the nightmares like Jesse Orosco who could probably come in now, collecting Social Security and get out a lefty.

Beckett got it done again. Peter Gammons had picked him as his preseason Cy Young, so maybe 'the Commissioner' does know something. He's certainly backed away from his total defense of Barry Bonds, although the differences between Barry and the rest of the cheaters were 1) he was a better player, 2) he's chasing records, and 3) he's a surly guy on a good day. Meanwhile, Papelbon came in for another 'Solsbury Hill' save, as in you know, "my heart going BOOM-BOOM-BOOM...I've come to take you home."

Do the fans have to give Willy Mo Pena the Bronx cheer every time he makes a play? He hasn't been Ken Griffey out there, but the Sox haven't exactly been overwhelmed with great defensive outfielders over the years. Manny isn't as bad as people think, Damon wasn't great, and aside from the arm it was scary to watch him in the domes. Trot Nixon is a high-effort guy who is an average outfielder. Mike Greenwell was one of the really terrible defensive outfielders of our time, but the Gator had a lot of media friends.

The infield defense has been tremendous, with everyone from Lowell to Youkilis getting it done. Dustin Mohr has filled in about as well as could be expected.

If you want to complain, look at Jeremy Reed, the guy the Sox were so hot after on Seattle. He doesn't look like much of a hitter, and his defense was atrocious this weekend.

The offense wouldn't look quite as terrible if Manny had started hitting. We all know it's not a matter of whether the sun shines, it's just a matter of how hot it's going to get.

The great DiNardo Experiment starts tomorrow in the 'non-rubber' game of the series, as today was the 'rubber game' in my distorted world. It seems as though the Sox always lose on Patriots Day, so I hope that history doesn't repeat or even rhyme.

Who were your favorite players growing up? I loved Yaz and later Dwight Evans, El Tiante, and Jim Palmer and Frank Robinson. Didn't get to see Al Kaline play a lot, but he was a class act all around. Vida Blue was another guy who intrigued me, as well as the great trio of National League hurlers, Koufax, Marichal, and Gibson. It was hard to like Gibson (1.12 ERA in 1968, 22-9 that year, with 24 career homers) who wrecked the Sox. I think in his greatest year (1968), he went 22-9 and LOST seven games 1-0. I also remember that he pitched one game where he went a couple of innings and gave up five earned runs, or his ERA would have been about 1.00 for an entire season.

Maybe that's why I enjoy baseball so much, because I can look back and compare contemporary 'greatness' with my vision of greatness. Sometimes they aren't so far apart, but I agree with the concept that overall the quality of athletes and training improves, creating a narrower standard deviation of play around the improving mean. And that's today's trip down memory lane.

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