Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sleeping with the Enemy?

After spending much of the weekend at Dartmouth College's Family Weekend, I got some new perspectives on the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry. Well, maybe they aren't so new, but here are some thoughts from the enemy.

  • Most are not holding Joe Torre responsible for the Yankee decline
  • Most believe this slump to be a) temporary and b) related to injuries
  • Some do wonder if Mariano Rivera could, in fact, experience an age-related decline
  • While most respect A-Rod's meteoric start, they don't necessarily embrace him in the Yankee tradition

Kevin Youkilis wondered whether Sox fans were too quick to judgment. At this point in the season, we have a larger sample size and we can note some observations.

  • The reformation of the pitching staff has been the greatest contribution to the team's success
  • The bullpen breadth and depth has improved via the return of Papelbon to closer (and his judicious use), and surprising effectiveness of Okajima, Donnelly, and Pineiro in particular. Timlin and Snyder haven't had enough opportunities to make any sweeping assessment and Romero has been shaky.
  • Alex Cora's strong play has compensated for Pedroia's struggles.
  • Ortiz and Lowell's production has compensated for Manny's sluggish (but improving) start.
  • Terry Francona's steady management, and use of the entire roster gets overlooked and his 'control' of the complex personalities on a high payroll, high maintenance roster is admirable.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Beckett 'Gets It'

Last season Josh Beckett came to a new league and got the customary rude introduction. His ERA soared above 5 (5.01), and he had the highest WHIP ratio (walks and hits/inning pitched) since 2003. Yes, he did finished sixth in the AL in starts and had sixteen wins, his career high. But if you asked him if he were happy with his performance, i don't think he'd applaud.

He could have sulked, but apparently he studied his mistakes, worked on his complementary pitches, and has developed an effective straight change and thrown his overhand Uncle Charlie to complement his 96 mph fastball. The results? He gets it. A five and nil April, with less predictability creating major problems for AL hitters.

Meanwhile, while Coco Crisp heals and Jacoby Ellsbury continues to tear up Double A (.431, two for five tonight), Wily Mo Pena delivered a tape measure homer to spearhead a 5-2 victory.

Jonathan Papelbon notched his sixth save with a four-batter ninth as the Sox head for the Big Apple.

Coming into tonight the Sox were fourth in runs scored in the AL, and fourth in OPS. The offense has averaged five runs a game, not spectacular, but adequate with improved pitching. Meanwhile, the Sox were second in the AL in E.R.A. at 3.27 and first in K/BB ratio, which predicts future E.R.A. more accurately than E.R.A. itself.

Of course a trip to the Bronx creates new problems, and Daisuke Matsuzaka will get another introduction to New York hospitality.

CSI : Crimson Sock Investigation

Gary Thorne's 'revelation' that Curt Schilling's bloody sock effected a cheap, cinematic trick borders not on the ridiculous but the absurd. But wait, we now have a potential cottage industry for psychological advantage imagery that the Red Sox can exploit.
Here's Jonathan Papelbon coming out of the bullpen, no machete at his side, just donning the Jason Voorhes goalie mask. Jason clearly represents one of Hollywood's best closers.
The Sox like to vary their uniforms, for obvious commercial reasons. They had the stupid new hat design, the Spring Training red shirts with blue cut outs, the Green Shirts the other day, and of course, the early season uniform above. Can you see Wily Mo in the suit? Maybe it's just wrong on Pedroia. That's intimidation.

"Zorro" batting gloves would be a nice touch. The logical figure to debut the gloves? "Don" Orsillo, from the broadcast booth.Now every 'trick' isn't going to work. The 'arrow through the head' just looks silly, and unless the Sox hoped to incapacitate the team through uncontrollable laughter, they really should eschew this prop.

Calf implants give that 'jacked' look, but I'm not sure that would translate into intimidation.

The Sox remain on the cutting edge of imagery, with Tom Werner of Hollywood, Theo 'Master of Disguise' Epstein, and John 'Cost is No Object' Henry. They would never resort to anything as tawdry as a painted sock or Red Sox Nation cards. Well, not the sock.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"If You Want Economy, You Have to Pay for It"

Curt Schilling has treated Sox fans to a metamorphosis of sorts this year. And while it hasn't always been pretty, the power pitcher continues to work on his conversion to a more complete, partially reinvented version...Schilling 1.1

Schilling has always thrown strikes as a mature pitcher, and he has traded strikeouts for balls in play, adding a changeup to his formidable repertoire. My college coach, Loyal Park, emphasized the use of the changeup to make people hit the ball, not miss it. "It's just that simple."

Schilling went seven innings tonight with an economical 90 pitches, followed capably by the subcompact Hideki Okajima with two strikeouts and the truck, Brendan Donnelly who also retired three straight.

As usual, Oriole Park held a lusty contingent of Bosox Boosters who enjoyed watching the Sox return to competence and winning. Alex Cora (.368) had a pair of hits at a homer, while Kevin Youkilis (3 hits) and Big Papi (2 and a key RBI) also added multihit games.

Schilling works in a contract year, with a lifetime of preparation and experience, and he puts forth his bid for a 2008 contract. Money in the bank for 38 I'd say.

The Pawsox and SeaDogs both were rained out. Mike Rozier and Lancaster have deuces wild, tied up 2-2 in the 2nd, and Greenville is idle. The immediate news we await is Jon Lester's performance at the Triple A level for a pair of rehab starts, while Jacoby Ellsbury has been burning up Double A so far this season. Rumor has it that Coco Crisp is headed for the DL, although I don't think we're dealing with the Wally Pipp story here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When 5 Against 1 Doesn't Win

Julian Tavarez provides a soul-comforting presence for Manny Ramirez, but he hasn't replicated last season's salary drive starts, as the number five starter lost to Toronto ace Roy Halladay.

The Red Sox fell behind early, scuffled to catch up, and just looked sloppy in the field as the Blue Jays overwhelmed them 10-3. The Sox scored three but committed four errors, while Vernon Wells had a good week with a 5-4-4-3 line including a home run.

The good news? Hideki Matsui returned to the Bombers lineup, in time for their fifth consecutive defeat, as the D-Rays danced on the Tampa rivals 6-4. The New Yorkers plucked Phil Hughes from the minors to start Thursday, despite earlier promises not to rush their prime pitching prize package.

Meanwhile, down in A, Greenville got smacked 8-0 despite a shutout relief inning from Josh Papelbon. Lancaster has the early lead over San Jose behind Justin Masterson, who hasn't allowed an earned run in the first three frames. Jacoby Ellsbury (.434) had a pair of hits in Portland's loss, but Clay Buchholz allowed only 2 hits in five innings and fanned 8 on the fast track to the Show. Buchholz lowered his E.R.A. to 2.35. The Rochester Red Wings completed a tough night for the Farm Sox as Devern Hansack got roughed up for ten hits and five runs in six innings. Brandon Moss raised his average to .306 in the defeat.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Mean" Reversion

A baseball season has its ups and downs, and almost predictably, the Red Sox dropped a 7-3 decision to the Blue Jays, coming off a five game losing streak of their own. So the symmetry of streaks fell with the Red Sox.

Frank Thomas, a Hall of Fame hitter, struck the big blow with a Volvo Sign smash off loser Tim Wakefield, whom the Sports Radio Gang fantasized would be starting the season 15-1, a la 1995.

Just as you may read some idiotic comments here, they fly like an eagle out of Nitwit Radio. After lambasting Joe Morgan for his broadcasting, Gerry Callahan immediately followed with a non sequitur that Coco Crisp's effort on A-Rod's homer was more impressive because he didn't catch the ball. Maybe Gerry was the one who hit his head on that one.

On a sad note, author David Halberstam who wrote October 1964, Education of a Coach, and other terrific books, died today in an automobile crash. Halberstam told stories of sports in the context of life, the former about the Yankees-Cardinals classic 1964 season and the latter reviewed Bill Belichick's evolution.

Sports gives us 'breathing room' from life's travails. For a few hours a day, we can forget about our problems, and focus on somebody else's. Our heroes triumphs allow us to share their victories. Our imperfections seem smaller when stars align in our teams' favor or the great ones have clay feet.

Insomnia Rules, Sox Chase Wright, Sweep Bombers

On Sunday Night Baseball, the Sox swept their archrivals, 7-6 in a playoff intensity game against the disheveled AL East champions.

It was BACK-to-BACK-to-BACK-to-BACK JACKS off Chase Wright in his fourth start at the AA level or above. Ramirez, Drew, Lowell, and Jason Varitek all hit tape measure shots in a stretch of ten pitches.

And Jonathan Papelbon, working his fourth game in five days, was the "Anti-Thermos" cooling off A-Rod who fanned twice against Daisuke Matsuzaka, inducing a groundout to Lowell to end the game after delivering heat from 95-98 MPH.

Matsuzaka had his ups and downs, with better breaking stuff, but still victimized himself with a few hangers, including Jeter's first homer of the season.

Dustin Pedroia made a defensive gem in the eighth snaring a line drive to snuff out a rally, and had a pair of hits.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Theme's the Thing

The early season showdown between Boston and New York yields tasty themes for fans, journalists, and columnists.

Kings of the Hill. The Bombers have reigned supreme in the AL East for about a decade, and Hub fans can only hope that karma has changed. Since 2001 however, The Rivalry has spawned but one World Series winner, and the New York no longer cloaks itself in the mantle of invincibility. The Red Sox have the better starters, and all things being equal...sans resume'...Papelbon now exceeds Rivera in the Fear Factor.

The New Guy. Admittedly, the Gothams bring their JV, without Matsui, Posada, Wang, and Mussina and and they have a fearsome lineup top to bottom. Pavano? The Connecticut Yankee has done little except draw a paycheck since moving from New England to New York. The Sox new guys, Drew, Lugo, "Darkman" Okajima, and tonight Matsuzaka have gotten their feet wet without taking on water. Okajima, content "to be a hero in the dark", threatens to take on legendary status from relatively unknown status.

He did what? Aside from participating in the bunt-to-bunt attack, Coco Crisp actually appears to be throwing the ball better than most high school softballers. While nobody will confuse him with Reggie Smith, he is reaching the cutoff man this season. Alex Cora has been kryptonite, and we can only hope he's starting in the fray tonight.

George of the Jungle. Strangely absent from the mix, tycoon Steinbrenner lies lower than a serpent's belly. Why? Tarring and feathering venerable Joe Torre with his subprime lineup both at the bat and on the mound is clearly beneath the Volatile One. We can only congratulate him on his restraint, or be thankful for an Everlast bag for him to work on.

A-Rod. Rodriguez has been A plus Rod so far this season, a Boras-induced contract year. If the Bombers were riding a tidal wave of victories, he'd be more popular than Tom Brady, although not with the ladies, of course. A-Rod has gone deep more often than Lloyd Bridges and has almost twice as many RBI this April as he's had in 9 post-season series. One can only wonder whether he'll be wear a Halo next season.

Kid Stuff. It's been almost 30 years since the Boston Massacre, highlighted by the sacrifice of Bobby Sprowl to the Gotham horde. Back in 1978, New York outscored the Sox 42-9 en route to a four game sweep during their improbable recovery from a double digit deficit. Sprowl was the victim in Game 4, as the Sox went down 6-0 after four frames and couldn't recover. Perhaps turnabout is fair play, with Karstens and now Chase Wright offered to the Baseball gods.

Just as Mark Douglas reminds us that "the market can do anything," we recognize that anything can happen in baseball, although Jeffrey Maier probably won't be there to snatch any victory from defeat. It makes for great theater; we can't ask for more.

The Curse of Mister X

Last summer while attending a conference in Vail, I got to talking baseball with a former Bomber employee who had worked out of Tampa. From a professional courtesy standpoint, I'll call him Mister X. Well, we got to talking about the playoffs, and I commented about how well the New Yawkers had played recently.

Mr. X provided plenty of reassurance. He explained how Mr. Steinbrenner had fired him in the fall of 2001, without getting into the details. And he promised the Gothams wouldn't win the World Series. "It's the curse. My wife cursed them just before the 2001 Series."

Alex Cora's looper over Derek Jeter Friday reminded me about the curse, which realistically has had pretty good staying power over the last six seasons. The finest embodiment of the curse came on the carbon copy by Luis Gonzalez in Game 7 against the Diamondbacks. So maybe all this DL stuff, bloop hits, and Okajima magic isn't accidental. Now you know.

Truth About Cats and Dogs?

No Red Sox pair of wins over the Bronx Bombers can create disappointment. Moreover, we've seen virtually apocalyptic events over the past forty-eight hours.

First, the Red Sox had consecutive bunt base hits. We're not talking Freddy Patek and Willie Wilson here. We're talking the Boston Red Sox. Second, the Sox had a pair of two-run deficits erased in consecutive innings against their AL East rivals. I guess 'it happens' applies.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Spending money like drunken sailors (as a former Navy doctor I know something about this), the Sox have a premium price rotation, and the 'luxury' of economy at only a few positions, specifically first and second base. We used to lampoon the Spankees for their pecuniary propensities, but the Sox aren't any different.

Pleasant developments category. Jason Varitek has regained his confidence and Coco Crisp has embraced his speed with bunt basehits, stolen bases, and solid defense. I doubt that he's looking over his shoulder, but Crisp might note that Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .475 at Portland in limited action so far. To paraphrase what I've written elsewhere, "we second-guess a stupid manager and celebrate a manager whose decisions keep working." Talent goes a long way to training up managerial IQ. And good starting pitching works better than dining on seafood to build brain cells. I've been in Francona's corner for keeping the success and the problems in-house. No doubt managers who don't end up in the outhouse.

A couple of good wins and better weather hasn't hurt my enthusiasm for the National Pastime.

Question marks.

I've already eaten plenty of crow over the Julio Lugo acquisition, although the site remains anonymous. But my skepticism over the other half of the DP combo (Pedroia) remains undaunted. I don't consider Julian Tavarez as a 5th starter much of a question mark, because who among us can name all the 5th starters of even the AL East. Heck, I don't even know if the Gothamaniacs have a clue whom their fifth starter even is.

While we all anticipate the return of Jon Lester and wish him the best in life, Lester has great potential and a short resume'.

When Lester does return, who goes? The sample size is small, but it doesn't take so much to see through our lying eyes. JC Romero lives on the bubble.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Post-season Reds versus Blues, What They're Saying

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are having a bit of debate over the merits of A-Rod, chasing the All-Time home run record, and off to a potentially record-breaking April. With 12 round-trippers already, the Bomber third sacker is only two away from Albert Pujols' April record of fourteen. But what about October, goes the saying?

Here's a sampling of a few of these guys.

I'll list the number of playoff series, at bats, and OBP, SLG, OPS, Homers and RBI

A-Rod (9 series) 132 at bats, .362/.485/.847 6 HR/16 RBI

Ortiz (8 series) 143 at bats, .383/.552/.935 8 HR/32 RBI

Manny (16 series) 307 at bats, .353/.492/.845 20 HR/48 RBI

Pujols (11 series) 189 at bats, .429/.593/1.022 13 HR/35 RBI

Bonds (9 series) 151 at bats, .433/.503/.936 9 HR/24 RBI

Conclusions? If you prorate to 600 at bats for a season of postseason, then A-Rod has the worst production, particularly with respect to RBI, while obviously Pujols has been fairly prolific concerning the OPS, but has only 3 more RBI than Ortiz in 46 more plate appearances.

No matter what, A-Rod won't go broke over it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Nothing Lost In Translation

The Red Sox retooled their franchise in the offseason with an international cast, adding Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, and an unknown lefthander, Hideki Okajima. As they renewed their ancient rivalry with the Gothams, it was the lefty who saved the day.

So often we abuse the term 'team effort', but that told the story, with a cast of heroes, most unsuspected. Curt Schilling struggled, yielding 5 runs, including a pair of A-Rod blasts. And the Red Sox trailed 6-2 going into the home eighth, when they 'erupted' for a Wee Willie Keeler rally, hitting 'em where they ain't, capped off by a game-tying triple by the newly minted Coco Crisp. Crisp later scored on an Alex Cora imitation Luis Gonzalez flare over Derek Jeter to send the Sox into the ninth ahead.

The fateful ninth, no longer a source of angst or weltschmertz for Red Sox Nation, brought Okajima to face the heart of the Bomber lineup, Jeter, Abreu, and A-Rod. Okie induced a groundout from Jeter, Abreu walked after getting some close pitches, and A-Rod got sawed off on a soft liner to Cora. Finally, on a 1-2 pitch, a splitter down, Okajima got the game-ending strikeout and his first American League save.

Jason Varitek had a big night with a home run and three RBI, and the 'soft' part of the lineup (six to nine) drove in all seven runs.

Yes, it's only April. But wins amidst the showers count as much as those down the stretch, and the Sons of Joe Torre wasted a fine performance from Andy Pettitte and a pair of A-Rod homers. All is right with the Sox world tonight.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why Grown Men Play a Game

As I watch the NESN replay of today's game, the emotional aspects of the 'game' transcend the physical events. Sure, these guys make a ton of money, but most do care about winning and losing.

  • Manny Ramirez homers in the eighth to tie the game, and he was excited as a dog with his head out the window on a Sunday drive.
  • Buddy David Ortiz was at least as excited as Manny, giving him a Papi Bear hug in the dugout.
  • Mike Timlin turned over a double play with Alex Cora in the middle for a big fist pump in the bottom of the eighth.
  • Alex Cora showed his disdain for Lyle Overbay who took him out with an illegal slide, and evidently brought determination with him to the plate with a ninth inning game-winning triple.
  • Dustin Pedroia's ninth inning bunt didn't advance the runner, and DP had some choice words for himself, "fine" or something like that.
In a sense, Sox fans have lost a bit of our edge since the 2004 Championship. Many of us don't have the same hunger, the desperation, and sense of impending doom that once flowed like blood in the streets. Of course, with the Bombers coming to town tomorrow, all that can change pretty fast.

Somehow Jason Giambi blew up into the Incredible Hulk again (must be those protein shakes), A-Rod is in double figures for homers already (contract year?), and we can only hope for a Bobby Sprowl redux performance from Chase Wright and the rest of the patchwork Big Apple Mound Patrol.

And the TRIVIA question somebody gave me today (I didn't get it):

Which three current major leaguers have at least two hundred homers and have done it while playing for only ONE manager? (Scroll down for answer)

Atlanta: (Bobby Cox) with Andruw and Chipper Jones
St. Louis: (Tony LaRussa) Albert Pujols

Monday, April 16, 2007

Early Season 'Truths'

We're only eleven games into the season, so grand pronouncements aren't warranted, but we can make some salient observations, based on 'truths'.

1. "Hitting is timing; pitching is about disrupting timing." Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka have shown us the importance of changing speeds, and working both sides of the plate. Beckett in particular looks like he 'gets it', with addition by subtraction via taking a few MPH off his offspeed pitch.

2. "The best defense is a good offense." Fenway's home cooking brought back the offense, and as much as I argued against the obsession with Lugo, he looks pretty good offensively.

3. "The race is not always to the swiftest, or the battle to the strongest, but it pays to bet that way." The early argument was that the Sox played .500 against the weak sisters (KC, Texas, Seattle), but they put the hurt on the Angels, whom (I think) SI picked to be the AL Champion. The Angels don't have Bartolo Colon, and obviously Vlad G wasn't en fuego, but nonetheless, they have a blend of youth and experience, and they ARE one of the best teams in the AL.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Of Symbols and Meaning

Often we confuse symbols with their meanings. In other words, we honor the symbol, and forget what the symbol truly represents. And in the process, we naturally become 'conflicted'.

For example, every nation honors their flag. Burning the flag may be morally repulsive, but not as repulsive as burning innocents in the name of a cause, whatever that cause may be. "We had to burn the village to save it." Or something like that.

Let's consider 'Red Sox Nation'. The Boston Red Sox are a business, worth multiple hundred million dollars, with real employees, not only on the field, but front office, middle management, and lower echelon people with real lives. The Sox have debt service to carry, cash flow, public relations, and so on. The 'B' on caps, Red Sox logos on shirts, jackets, and sweatshirts inspires pride in fans, anger in some opponents' fans, and excitement in the merchandising department. Nobody would get terrifically excited if somebody burned a Red Sox jacket in effigy. Maybe marketing would even see it as free publicity.

The inevitable firestorms between players or teams that escalate (witness the Sox - Rays over the years) seldom make us recall the career ending beaning Kirby Puckett, or the devastation affecting Tony Conigliaro, Paul Blair, or others. We confuse defending 'honor' with destroying lives. "Playing the game right" takes on bizarre meanings.

Sports and business intersect far more often than we realize. The Rutgers womens' basketball team came into prominence not only because of their success, but because of the financial arrangements between the NCAA and the broadcast networks. The NCAA and its members earn hundreds of millions of dollars from the interest, and a select number of schools become celebrities. Money drives the train.

So when Don Imus took his ill-conceived verbal hatchet to the Rutgers ladies, he didn't destroy them, but rather set in motion a chain of events where sponsors withdrew their support for him. An ill-advised and ignorant juxtaposition of words destroyed a career which alcohol and drug abuse could not. Ironic, isn't it...the law of unintended consequences at work.

We all wish we could retract things we've said or written. All of us. Is Curt Schilling's opinion on global warming, US attorneys, or NAFTA any more or less worthy than mine or yours? Maybe you are a government professor or wrote a thesis on international trade.

Clearly his opinion on pitching far outweighs ours, as his credentials speak for themselves. Does he split infinitives, use the subjunctive case properly, or begin sentences too often with prepositions? Maybe we're just splitting hairs.

In other words, when we fans wax poetic on baseball, we speak first from the heart, often from limited experience, and seldom from expertise. Our expertise usually belongs somewhere more central to our experience, whatever that may be.

The questions that Imus' unraveling raise include:

  • what are the boundaries of free speech (are they moral or financial)?
  • what symmetry issues exist (if as a balding, middle-aged guy I call Imus a scarecrow Chia pet, am I out of line or just not funny)?
  • is there a limit on penance and forgiveness?
  • where does intent lie (does a tasteless joke make you a bad person?...bad people can in fact say bad things)?
  • does public radio versus pay radio (satellite broadcasting) make a difference?
  • did the 'networks' only become indignant when the advertisers withdrew?

I don't contend that Imus got a bad deal because he made a harmful comment (in the context of a career full of them), but rather that he wore neither a journalistic suit or a cowboy clown suit. Serious journalists in clown garb attract attention, and sometimes heat. He tried to be serious and a clown simultaneously, and serious words said in jest may hurt all the more.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pap Shmears Angels, Wakefield Gets W

The Sox stopped the Halos 10-1 tonight in a game closely contested until the eighth.

My how times have changed. Bill James' theories about CLOSER BY COMMITTEE were ridiculed. The basic premise didn't involve the need for TALENT, but the time to use it in the critical juncture to win the game. And Terry Francona showed that he hadn't forgotten to read the manual. He brought on Jonathan Papelbon with runners on the corners with one out in the eighth, Sox leading by 3, facing the dangerous Vlad Guerrero and Garrett Anderson. Papelbon fanned the Angels rightfielder on four pitches and got Anderson to line out.

Mike Timlin came in for the garbage time action as he gets back into his rhythm.

John Lackey looked like he had studied Felix Hernandez for four innings, but the Sox got to him in the 5th, as Doug Mirabelli homered into the Sox bullpen.

The Sox have to hope for a break in the weather to get the rest of the series with the Angels.

Over on the Sox newsgroup, a poster asked whether the knuckleball moves differently in cold weather. As a pitcher who threw the knuckler in New England springs, I don't have much of an opinion on this one. The weather NEVER got warm enough to know. And I always used it as a complementary (change of speed) pitch. It clearly made a big difference which way the wind blew however, as wind in your face helped a lot. But of course, when the hitters got a hold of it under those conditions...

One computer simulation of the season showed the Sox winning a 100 games.

Tim Wakefield's effort extends the Sox 'quality starts' run on the homestand, with Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield all turning the trick. The Sox lowered their team E.R.A. to 3.12 with tonight's effort. For anyone who doesn't know, you can calculate E.R.A. by multiplying the earned runs allowed by nine and dividing by the number of innings pitched. But you knew that.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


The old saying goes something like evaluate your team the first two months, find out what you need and acquire it the next two, and play for the playoffs the third. Trapped in our football mentality, we easily slip into temptation, needing to win every day - impossible in baseball.

Last evening brought a great pitching performance by a young righthander, Felix Hernandez of Seattle. I don't think a single Sox player reached second, and it could easily have been a no-no, with any luck. Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched okay, but diehards had to wonder about some of those hanging curves and whether the Bombers would go chasing the stuff downstairs. Last night was the second quality start defeat of the season (Wakefield had the other), as the baseball gods remind us of their vicissitudes.

With the weather turning bad, we have to wonder whether the Sox will play again before heading to Toronto Tuesday. And people question the impact of global warming?

I'm sure that auto-Mat must have wondered where the run support went last night, as the offense went into hibernation.

And we find out how much the NFL hates New England and its fans, with FIVE night games making us bleary-eyed.

And just as everyone loves the backup QB (*where have you gone Michael Bishop?), we all love our heroes at Pawtucket and Portland. Visions of Devern Hansack, Bryce Cox, and Jacoby Ellsbury dance in our 'P' brains, with the knowledge that all will dominate major league competition as they do the boondocks. Right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Open and Shut Case

It was a perfect opener at Frigid Fenway, as the Sox, apparently aided by Bill Belichick's Florida presence, put two TDs on the board to paste the Mariners 14-3.

Josh Beckett (2-0) delivered seven quality innings of two-hit ball, allowing no walks and eight strikeouts. Beckett fanned Ichiro three times on fastballs away.

Jason Varitek added three hits to break out of his early season doldrums, Kevin Youkilis added three hits, and J.D. Drew hit his first Boston homerun into the centerfield bleachers.

Terry Francona rested his regulars starting in the fifth inning.

Brendan Donnelly was ejected in the eighth for hitting nemesis Jose Guillen.

Mike Timlin pitched the ninth after having been recalled from a rehab assignment. Javy Lopez was optioned to Pawtucket to make room for Timlin.

Tomorrow night features the Sox-Mariners on National TV (ESPN2) with Daisuke Matsuzaka making his Fenway debut.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Quality Starts

I know that I'm beating a dead horse here, but I believe that relatively exhaustive statistical data shows that the quality start (six innings or more, three runs or less) produces almost 70 percent winning percentage. Conversely, the non-quality start has a far more mundane and much lower winning percentage.

A reader writes that I forgot about Beckett's start. Although I was on vacation, the Box Score I read showed five innings and one run allowed, definitely an excellent start (who wouldn't take that every game?) but not by definition a quality start.

Last year when I was following this, the team with the highest percentage of quality starts (which surprised me initially) was Detroit. It usually takes some digging to find this, but maybe I'm looking in the wrong holes.

Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I do agree that Beckett may be the key to the season, presuming solid starting pitching at the top of the rotation with Schilling and Matsuzaka, and competitive starting pitching at the back end of the rotation.

Why JV Always Will Be Varsity

Last season Jason Varitek went over the 1000 career games mark with the Red Sox. All Sox fans appreciate his contribution to the team, from his leadership to his study of the game and assiduous preparation.

We remember those masterpieces caught with Pedro, and the triple against the Cardinals. We remember how you gave up your body landing in the fungo circle, and blocking the plate, especially against Eric Byrnes. And of course, we remember the "tough glove" administered to that petulant Bomber, A-Rod.

We also know what our lying eyes tell us, that Jason is pressing badly at the plate. Whether it's injury or fatigue-related, Varitek's bat speed is lagging, and the bat head just isn't whipping through the contact zone. Relax.

I'm sure that everyone has a solution - open your stance, get an eye examination, raise your back elbow, ya da ya da. Here's my suggestion, take a day off from the cage and the extra hitting, maybe watch something hilarious like Caddyshack on DVD (heck, you must have Blu-Ray) and lighten up.

Also, excepting this missive, don't read the papers, check ESPN,, or especially listen to sports radio. Don't talk to the paperboy or the mailman, or the cashier at Stop & Shop.

But if worse to worse, you can always remember Mickey Mantle's advice to Roger Maris when it all got to him, "hit 'em with your wallet."

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Fortune .500

As Tony Massarotti would say, it's the Fortune 500 - the guys making a fortune are playing .500. Seriously, in a great baseball game, the Sox hung on to defeat the Rangers 3-2 to close out their opening road trip.

David Ortiz smacked his first two homers of the season, back on a 54 HR pace, and Curt Schilling provided 7 strong innings to win his 208th game, standing at 94th on the all-time list. Schilling's relief, Joel Pineiro struggled, before Javy Lopez got a needed out, and Jonathan Papelbon came in with a dominant close.

Papelbon arrived with runners at the corners with one out and the Sox leading by one. He fanned last years All-Star MVP Michael Young and induced a weak pop by Mark Teixeira. In the Ranger ninth, Papelbon got another infield fly from Sammy Sosa before blowing away Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson on strikes.

Papelbon's second save of the season came at an opportune time as the Sox trail the division-leading Blue Jays by half a game headed into an off day tomorrow.

After six games the Sox have scored 19 runs and allowed 21, Baseball's Pythagorean theorem consistent with their 3 and 3 record. They've gotten three quality starts (Matsuzaka, Schilling, and Wakefield) and wins in two of those three starts.

The Bombers meanwhile added Matsui to their injured list with a hammy, to go along with Johnny Damon's calf injury. The new look Orioles took 2 of 3 from the Gothams who stand at 2-3.

After six games, the Sox have a 3.53 ERA and the pitching staff may be bolstered by the addition of Mike Timlin this week. Clearly the setup spot still seems somewhat up in the air, although heavy bullpen usage lately may have upset Terry Francona's plans, presumably for Brendan Donnelly to get the primary setup duty.

Take Five

Can we take much away from the first five games the Sox have played? With 16 runs and generally not much power display so far, I want to believe that the Sox haven't turned into the NHL.

Does anybody think that Ortiz and Manny won't hit? And the question marks that we all have, about Pedroia, Coco Crisp, and Varitek's offensive decline remain unanswered. The Sox can afford to carry Pedroia's defense if he hits, and if he doesn't, Cora can play. Wily Mo is an easy alternative to Crisp, and obviously there isn't any substitute for Varitek. It's simply not knowable at this point.

Tonight's game isn't a MUST win. Is there ever a must win in April? But just more sharply executed baseball would be timely. The dirtiest four-letter word of all: HOPE.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Revealing Character

"Sports doesn't build character, sports reveals it." - John Wooden

First, I'll gladly admit that I feel I have a dog in this fight. Don Imus, media celebrity, slandered much of women's basketball with racist, sexist comments that do not emanate from clear-headed, intelligent Americans. I won't repeat them, you've heard them already. As a coach of girls' basketball and a parent of former players, I'm offended by Imus' ignorance.

I can only say that our family learned a lot, about basketball and life the wonderful summer that my twins played for Shawanda and Eric Brown's Lady Dolphins, based out of Dorchester. They never felt that they were taking a chance, integrating white, suburban girls onto a formerly all black inner city team. They simply addressed the families, one of whom asked a question about problems. Eric, a muscular Boston firefighter, replied, "there won't be any problems." And there weren't. These girls, shared everything, from practice to playtime, hotel rooms and travel, hopes and dreams, and racial discrimination as a southern breakfast joint refused them entry.

They learned about basketball, but far more about culture, and the team played against some of the best black and white players, yes 'tough girls', some with tattoos, at the AAU Nationals. And they shared memories and dreams, and many still communicate, from colleges like Stanford, Molloy University, Salem State, and Dartmouth. Anyone who doesn't think these girls are tough, and respect that toughness, doesn't have a clue about sports.

But what does this have to do with the Red Sox? The most popular player on the team, David Ortiz, doesn't have a prejudiced or mean bone in his body. Even as he struggles early in the season, Sox fans will have nothing but optimism and kind words for him. Other players, like J.D. Drew will find their identity. But stories are out there about a few players cursing out fans who deigned to ask for an autograph, or one player who belittled and mocked a learning-disabled child at an airport. Maybe they learned from their mistakes, and maybe management has them under the microscope. Somehow I doubt it, because of course, sports reveals character.

So while my respect for Imus simply evaporated, and my contempt for him escalates, I don't simply root for laundry. Tim Wakefield's charity work deserves recognition, as do the contributions of many of the players, from the Shade Foundation, to the Jimmy Fund, and more. But celebrities, while as Charles Barkley said, are not necessarily role models, have the opportunity to demonstrate the kindness, charity, and maturity that can build character in those who identify with them.

I hope that Don Imus doesn't get fired. Not only for the possibility of character redemption, but to stand as an example of how not to do it. Don't be him. Accidental juxtaposition of racial and sexist slurs don't just happen, they evolve from life experiences. And we should strive to teach our children well, and repudiate celebrities and our contemporaries who cross the line...simply because it is right.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Power Outage

The Red Sox surely haven't performed as poorly at Texas as it seems, but today's 2-0 shutout proves Earl Weaver's adage about momentum in baseball lasting as long as the next day's starting pitcher.

Tim Wakefield wasn't bad at all, coming up with the Sox' third consecutive quality start, allowing just one earned run in six innings and another run in the second inning courtesy of a Dustin Pedroia error.

But the Sox offense was pretty much non-existent, with just three hits, one apiece by Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, and Coco Crisp. The Sox have relied on David Ortiz (.133) for a lot of the heavy lifting, and Big Papi has yet to get it going, hitless today after sandwiching a double around the Golden Sombrero yesterday.

Let's just hope my 'extracurricular activity' hypothesis isn't true.


Nehru jackets, bell bottoms, miniskirts. Fashions come and fashions go. But classic elegance and starting pitching escape fashion trends with an immutable permanence.

The Red Sox have always sought to alter the balance of power in the AL East. They accomplished it in 2003 with a Thanksgiving Day dinner which yielded Curt Schilling. And last winter, they reaffirmed their commitment to escalation of the uncivil war with the Big Apple taking a big bite by acquiring the plum of free agency by outbidding the baseball universe for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Yesterday, the offseason spending spree yielded its first dividends, with Matsuzaka dominating the Kansas City Royals with a ten-strikeout performance. Part of you says, "it's only was really cold...Mike Sweeney didn't's 'only' the Royals...", but the Angel on the other shoulder says, "the balance of power is broken", and your counterparts south and west are sweating visibly, preparing to retaliate in baseball's version of the Tong Wars.

How did Matsuzaka do it? He mixed in sharp breaking stuff down and in to the lefthanders, with a refined ability to control both sides of the plate with his fastball, reminiscent of Jim Palmer of the seventies. Stylin'. And his next start, at Fenway Park, against Ichiro and the Mariners, becomes a landmark date at Ye Olde Ballpark.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Called it. Almost. A seven inning one run performance by Daisuke Matsuzaka, with generally clean relief by J.C. Romero and a dominating close (the cheapie three run lead variety) by Jonathan Papelbon gave the Sox a series win.

And winning series is the way to do it. Matsuzaka overpowered a KC lineup devoid of Mike Sweeney racking up ten strikeouts en route to his first major league win. And Doug Mientkiewicz won´t be around to abscond with the baseball, now that he´s shagging in Gotham.

The Sox offense isn´t in high gear, but spread around eleven hits, enough to bring around four runs, although so far sounding more like Deliverance`s dueling banjos than the 1812 Overture Sox fans anticipate.

And now it´s on to Texas, which ín the Happy Gilmour tradition hasn´t always been a happy place for the Sox. My theory is that the road winning percentage is inversely proportional to the number of strip joints available, with Arlington being a recognized center of cultural nihilism.

Curse Broken

The Red Sox snapped the curse of Bob Woolmer with a 7-1 payback to the Kansas City Royals last night at Kaufman Stadium.

Josh Beckett did a fine Wade Miller impersonation with 5 innings of 94 pitch two-hit baseball, and Kevin Youkilis drilled a two run homer to help power (8 hits) the Bosox offense. Meanwhile, the pesky Bombers got rained out against Tampa Bay. The Mexican sports programs highlighted A-Rod's garbage time homer on opening day, and the local news version of the Miami Herald cited Carl Pavano's (awful) effort as leading the Gothams to victory. Ouch.

Today, we'll (you'll) get to see Daisuke's debut. Lets hope that he'll deliver a Toyota-like jolt to the Red Sox economy. As they say, if you want economy, you have to pay for it.

So how about 7 innings from Daisuke, a setup hold from Brendan Donnelly, and Pap's first appearance and save!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cheep Shot

Boo-bird Dan Shaughnessy wasted no time throwing Curt Schilling under the bus, blasting the 'Blogmaster' who had a disastrous first outing.

Shaughnessy never met a disappointment he didn't like, as he probably still hasn't recovered from Loserville defeating the Yankees and capturing the World Series in 2004 with an eight game winning streak.

Admittedly, Shaughnessy is 'a columnist' not a reporter, so he'd rather squeal around in the mud than actually chase sports news. And to celebrate his Mad Media style, why don't we just pick on him for a day.

His favorite column has always been the Cheap Shot, although he's also got a reliable second, the comparison column, for example Boston versus Kansas City, lobsters versus prime rib, you get the drift.

To give the devil his due, it can't be easy to get interviews when you're Mr. Negativity. One former Boston beat writer confided that Manny frankly told him that Manny would simply never give the writer an interview. Ever. Okay, so there are twenty-four other guys, Pawtucket and Portland wannabes, the coaching staff, the front office, and so on. You mean if you're having writers' cramp, that you can't get something useful from the RemDawg or even Don Orsillo?

It reminds me of the story of the woman who went up to Winston Churchill and scolded him, "if you were my husband, I'd put arsenic in your tea." Churchill calmly replied, "and if you were my wife, I'd gladly drink it."

Yes, it's understandable that the running feud between Randy Dan and Schilling would erupt in yet more unpleasantries. We trust that it's only the beginning; and Sox fans know which side they want to join.


Pakistan got bounced early by Ireland in the world cricket championship, and the Pakistani coach was found dead in his hotel room. Pakistan was one of the top teams in the world and Ireland described in SI as the Kansas City Royals of cricket.

Well, even a blind pig finds and acorn, as the Royals ruined the Sox 2007' debut with a 7-1 thrashing of the locals. Curt Schilling lacked his customary command, and Gil Meche showed the relevance of the 'quality start', as only a Big Papi double marred his shutout bid. Schilling must have thrown 35 pitches in the first inning and it never seemed to get any better. Inconsistent umpiring behind the plate didn't help, but it went that way for both sides.

The Royals have some sticks including Mark Teahan, Mike Sweeney, and young Alex Gorden, but it was little Tony Pena, Jr with a pair of triples who did the most damage.

I don't know if I were fortunate or not to catch the game on the Spanish ESPN channel, but it looked pretty ugly from here, offensively and defensively. We'll see whether Josh Beckett can do any better.