Friday, April 29, 2005

Seeking an Even Keel

"That was too easy," my Mom said after Game 4 of the World Series.

"I don't care," I responded. If the Series itself had been unexpectedly smooth sailing, the arduous journey that had brought us there--three months of .500 baseball, a 3-0 deficit in the LCS--more than made up for the luxurious bask of the sweep.

Even so, Mom had a point, which is why I'm not lurching around my apartment like I'm on the bridge of the USS Enterprise while it's under attack. Yes, it's tough losing forty percent of your starting rotation in the space of 48 hours. However, this stroke of misfortune has generated something that had been missing from my attitude toward the team this year: curiosity. I'm eager to see how the boys will handle it. I wonder if the boys can handle it.

Six weeks ago, a lot of folks were just assuming that the Sox would be around in October. There was even seem grousing from non-Boston fans that the Fenway crew was starting to feel a little inevitable in an Evil Empire kind of way. Now, instead of having a postseason ticket handed to them, the Red Sox will have to scrap and claw like everyone else, without the advantage of 17 to 20 million dollars worth of starting pitching for the next month. I'm looking forward to it, because I think these guys have a chance to prove that it's more than just a payroll. They have a chance to show that they can earn it even when it's not easy, and I think they will.

*****

Tonight's game, however, didn't provide a lot of evidence to reward a hopeful fan's confidence. It was closer than the 7-2 final score would indicate, but just enough went wrong that it never really felt like it was going to be our night. Chan Ho Park, he of the lethally bloated contract, rustled up a bunch of groundball outs against a line-up that seemed a little pull-happy. Tim Wakefield gave his usual professional effort, but he made that one bad pitch to Soriano, and he didn't have the margin for that kind of error tonight. Hopefully Arroyo can turn things around tomorrow.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Turnabout

Culled from last night's sloppy 5-4 loss to the D-Rays.

Top of the fourth: Manny comes up to the plate with the left back pocket of his extra-baggy unifrom hanging inside out. All he needs is a shopping cart full of empty cans to complete the ensemble.

Top of the sixth: In hindsight, this innocent looking frame was probably the key to the game. Kazmir had been in charge through three, but had thrown roughly fifty pitches over the fourth and fifth, raising his total to eighty-three. The Sox work some counts in the sixth, and they probably get an extra inning against the ever-inspiring Tampa bullpen. Instead, three outs on eight pitches, and Kazmir has enough left to keep the door shut through seven.

Bottom of the seventh: Julio Lugo gets thrown out trying to go from first to third on a wild pitch. That's his second out on the bases tonight. Throw that in with Bellhorn getting picked off of second and the Rays losing a runner on the front end of a double steal, and I suspect that somewhere Wendell Kim is twitching on the floor in the throes of an out-of-body experience.

Top of the eighth: Manny ends up with his first triple in a year and a half because Alex Sanchez is playing center field with a dowsing rod instead of a glove. Interesting choice, that.

Bottom of the eighth: You've got to say this for Matt Mantei: he might not retire the first guy he sees, but he makes up for it with all the wild pitches. Yes, yes he is on my fantasy team. Why do you ask?

(As a sidenote, it's not until the scary unintentional brushback pitch after the third wild pitch before Dave Wallace makes a trip to the mound. What was he waiting for, Mantei to slice his finger and write "Ankiel" on the back of his jersey in his own blood?)

Bottom of the ninth: I've barely had time to enjoy the tying ninth inning rally when I recognize the name of the pinch hitter leading off the bottom half against Embree.

"Isn't he the guy who took Johnson deep twice earlier this week?" I think to myself.

Indeed he is, and indeed he does, on the very first pitch. It wasn't cheap.

Hmmmph. That's okay guys. We'll get 'em tomorrow.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Of balls "borne darkly, fearfully afar"

(I had thought I could keep this rant in check, but eh.)

Before the Red Sox signed Edgar Renteria, I’m sure they ran an obscene variety of numbers: OBP vs. left-handers in innings one, two, and six; Zone Rating in day games following night games with pitchers sporting a GB/FB ratio of 1.68 or better; and so forth.

I’d be willing to bet they ran a bunch of numbers on David Wells before they signed him, too: DIPS on nights after all-you-can-eat lunch specials by restaurants within a three-mile radius of his home park; rates of decline by lefties over forty years old throughout history; and so forth.

So why can’t we get a freaking tale of the tape on home runs hit at Fenway Park? Are Theo and company the only people on Earth who aren’t interested?

There are two likely answers to this question. The first is that, no, they’re really not interested, and, from a sabermetric point of view, I can get why they wouldn’t be. Length of home runs simply isn’t useful information when it comes to making hard decisions with respect to personnel. I’m a little curious about the fact that so many of Manny’s extravagant forays beyond the 475 foot mark seem to come on breaking balls, because it runs counter to the old truism that a fastball turned around goes farther than a breaking ball sitting there asking to be walloped. Intriguing as this might be, though, I doubt very much that it would be make-or-break data in contract negotiations or free agent acquisitions.

The rest of us are interested in this information, though, because we're baseball fans, and baseball fans get to have animated conversations about useless things that fall outside a general manager's purview. Who threw harder, Walter Johnson or Nolan Ryan? Who was slower from first to third, Piano Legs Hickman or Kevin Millar? These kinds of generation-spanning head scratchers (as Bob Ryan has often observed) represent one of the most unique satisfactions baseball gives to its fans. Not having measurements on home runs like the one Manny hit Tuesday night hinders the pursuit of these conversations.

This brings me to the second likely answer to the absence of tales of the tape at Fenway, one that has also occurred to Big Papi (scroll a little): The Legend of the Red Seat must be preserved at all costs.

To which I say, no it does not.

Ted Williams was a lot of things, many admirable, some considerably less so. But of all the things that he was and continues to be in the minds of baseball fans, two things seem beyond dispute. He was no worse than the second greatest hitter who ever lived, and he was relentlessly candid. Because he was relentlessly candid he, more than anyone else, would want to know just how far Manny thumped that Roy Halladay pitch the other night. Because he was no worse than the second greatest hitter who ever lived, we won’t forget him, even if Manny or Papi hits one 602 feet. Ted Williams wanted to be part of the conversation. He wanted to compete. It is no service to his memory to stifle the conversation, or enshrine his pre-eminence unchallenged.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why Wakefield Should Know How Mirabelli Feels

It doesn't have to be Game 7 of the ALCS 2003. It can be mid-July in 1997, the Sox are going nowhere, but Wakefield on the mound will send me into fits anxiety and indigestion like no other pitcher. I mean, at least with Wasdin, you just know that dinger is coming. But with that knuckleball, all bets are off.

Timothy Wakefield has gotten a lot of crap from me, and most of it unfairly. However, since that crap is usually flung at a TV screen, or from my seats waaaaaaaay back in the Fenway bleachers, I feel safe in saying it hasn't really troubled him. Also, for all of my lamenting, he has made an appearence on all two of my fantasy teams, precisely for the reason the Sox just essentially signed him for life. Wakefield is a stand up guy who can and will pitch for his team whenever it's asked of him. Even when he's being handed a big ole gopher ball in Game 7 of the ALCS.

Let's talk about that Game 7 for a second. This is the same pitcher who killed the Yankees in two previous starts that series when Pedro and staff were faltering. Wakefield was poised to be the hero of the long sought after Pennant Win for Boston. Then Grady Little happened. Giving Wake that ball AFTER the Yankees tied was the most unfair gesture I've witnessed in the game. "Wow, Tim, we really got ourselves in a jam. Go out there and hold these Yanks off until we can score. And don't sweat it. If we lose, there's always next year. The fans won't mind. I'll be rooting for you from my getaway car." No, Wake, you didn't need to worry about being labled the New Buckner. We cried with you.

Yes, he will give up those dingers. In fact, he's given up the most of any pitcher in a Red Sox uniform. But he also has his All- Star seasons, his stretches when he's just unhittable, and damn if it isn't nice to have that arm to go to in when a game goes to 16 innings and-we-know-you-started-yesterday-but-we-could-really-use-
you-in-there-to-eat-up-some-innings-gee-thanks. So congrats to Wakefield on his new contract, and may we have many years and bottles of Tums together. And duck when you see my crap coming.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Word from John Milton on Patriot's Day

From Areopagitica:

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed on Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixed.

Or, to put it another way, Manny at the plate:



and Manny in the field:


Saturday, April 16, 2005

And now for something completely different

Gleaned from last night's Sox/D-Rays game.

Old-school SAT analogy: Nomo is to brisk as Wells is to A) redolent, B) indignant, C) svelte, D) orange. I think Nomo must be auditioning for my roto-league rotation with all the walks he's giving up.

Thanks to a bit of overzealous outfield play by the Devil Rays, Edgar Renteria manages the rare triple off the left field wall at Fenway Park. I actually saw Todd Walker do the same thing late in 2003, when the carom off the Monster also caromed off the outfielder's foot, but Walker hit it closer to center field than Renteria did.

One of the nice things about getting up 8-0 early in the game is that I'm not consumed by seething resentment as Casey Fossum throws four shutout innings in garbage time. The guy helped bring us Schilling, after all; there's no reason to wish him anything other than the best. Especially if he blooms into the kind of crafty lefty that gets Hideki Matsui out at a key moment, facilitating a rare and humiliating loss for the Bombers.

Wells has the curve in working order this evening, but it helps that by the fifth inning the Rays are taking those "we're down eight and freezing our butts off" kind of swings.

A Dave McCarty sighting! They let him out of the "Break Glass in Case of Blowout" cage, and he responds with a two-run double.

Tonight turns out to be like the mini-bar at Casa de Clemens: nothing but gravy.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Six down, thirteen to go

Tonight's 8-5 victory wasn't a must-have; it's crazy to talk that way in April. Nonetheless, to lose each of the first three series this season would have been tough to swallow. Salvaging this rubber game wasn't huge, but it was a most welcome step in the right direction.

Quickly:

This was a really disappointing performance from Arroyo tonight. Staked to a three-run lead, he fell in love with his breaking stuff, even though he wasn't getting strikes called on it. Whether or not he should have had some more called strikes is not terribly relevant. Major league pitchers make adjustments. Walking Jeter and Sheffield (yeah, he probably should have been rung up, but still) to bring up Matsui was just about the worst thing he could have done. We're going to see much more good than bad from Arroyo this year, but tonight the Paper Airplane simply folded.

Jason Varitek responded the way team captains should in the bottom of the inning. That homer off Johnson was real real gone. Happy 100th, 'Tek.

Okay, I've seen the clip of 'Tek's insurance triple in the bottom of the eighth, where a fan did about the stupidest thing he could do as Sheffield was making a play on the ball. The fan was ejected, and that should be that. This wasn't Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, or July 23 last year. Sheffield kept his cool much better than he might have, and the fan was properly shown the door. Let's not make this a big thing.

Foulke is to be commended for picking up an extra inning tonight.

But.

Someone needs to tell the man he's not an Olympic diver. He doesn't get extra points for degree of difficulty. "That reverse-two-walk-bases-loaded pike really impressed the judges!"

This is the furthest Manny Ramirez has gone into the start of a season without a home run in his entire career. If I'm the Tampa Bay pitching staff, my dreams are haunted by a relentless ticking sound...