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...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Seven things I Hate about 86 Things I Hate about the Red Sox

I get it.

We've been celebrating a little bit too long and perhaps a little bit too loudly. We haven't acted like we've been there before.

But in fairness, we haven't. And it seems to me that the backlash has become just as exaggerated and stupid as the less restrained aspects of the celebration itself. In the spirit of this self-perpetuating gum-flappery, I'm going to look at David Schoenfield's Page 2 column from yesterday and, in the words of Hank Hill, "tell him whut."

2. Manny Ramirez's sudden and magical October transformation from absentminded, dim-witted slugger who makes costly baserunning gaffes to lovable, dreadlocked slugger who just plays the game with a little flair.

I don't think anybody's denying Manny's absent-mindedness in the field; to imply otherwise is to grossly overstate the extent of any purported "transformation." Further, to apply "dim-witted" to Manny's approach at the plate is short-sighted. When he's right (and he's right often enough to finish in the top five in OPS every year) few batters do a better job of working a pitcher. It's not like he just grips and rips.

5. Curt Schilling's bloody sock. Hockey players mock this.

I'm not real interested in Schilling's views on national politics or his relationship to his personal savior, either. Given that hockey players are presently taking the season off, though, I can't see how what they mock or don't mock has a bearing on this occasion. How many of them have risked an untested medical procedure at an advanced age to turn up like El Cid in the biggest game of the season?

23. "Yankees suck" T-shirts. Even more pathetic, lame and embarrassing.

Whatever you think of the t-shirts (and I can see the sense of both the pro and con camps), it's simply a mistake to assume that only Red Sox fans wear them or endorse the sentiment.

30. The ESPN specials. OK, we get the picture: Red Sox fans, prior to last season, had suffered immense, gut-wrenching, knee-dropping pain.

Who is Schoenfield writing for again? I forget. At any rate, it's not like Yawkey Way commissioned these specials. I don't exactly blame Tim McCarver's long and creepy on-air valentines to Derek Jeter on the Yankees. That's what the mute button is for.

36. All the bandwagon fans. As recently as 1998, the Red Sox ranked just ninth out of 14 teams in the American League in attendance.

This is just ignorant. At the time, Fenway's capacity was a shade over 34,000. The Red Sox drew 2.3 million fans that year, or 83 percent of total capacity. Keep in mind the Sox finished fourth the year before. Schoenfield's beloved Mariners drew 2.7 million in 1998. The Kingdome could also hold almost twice as many people as Fenway, and the Mariners had won the division the year before. Are there a few coat-tail riders under shiny new Boston caps? Most assuredly. Does this discount the devotion of the core base of fans? Not in the least.


10. Ted Williams. The best hitter of his day. But a bad apple. In other words, an old-school Barry Bonds.

45. Fans booing Ted Williams back in the day.

Can't have it both ways here. Either Williams was the beta version of Bonds, and so deserved the boos, or he didn't deserve fan hostility, and so was something less objectionable than Bonds.

59. Dan Shaughnessy's updated book.

Crap. Have to concede this one.

82. The strange infatuation with former reliever Rich "El Guapo" Garces.

C'mon, every team's fan base has a player like this. It's what separates the RAHs from the ROOTs, and El Guapo's as good a place to draw the line as any.

I don't doubt that there are reasons to hate my team, as there are reasons to hate any team. Free tip, though: the statute of limitations has expired on the use of the number 86 with respect to Red Sox misery. Even Yankees fans seem to get this. So let's keep a sense of proportion about these things, shall we?

The Aches and (Labor) Pains of Being a Red Sox Fan this Spring

So there has been a tightness in my chest and a pit in my stomach that has been missing this spring. Perhaps a Yankee fan out there has spotted them? Seriously, I can't recall the last spring where baseball was just fun for me. Alright, actually I can. 1997. But it feels like F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I just don't have that sinking feeling in my gut every time I check a Red Sox score. I wash my Red Sox shirts on a regular basis, rally caps have been cast assunder and Jeter voodoo dolls shelved... for now. The smack talk has even taken a brief reprieve.

I'm sure come post- All Star break, the pit will slowly start to grow in my gut, and I may have trouble catching my breath come the 5th inning of a game. I don't think I could consider myself a true fan if the symptoms didn't return. I suspect the smack talk will return sooner.

As for the superstitions- it's just not baseball without them. I must confess, I have already caved in that category. And it's not the Jeter voodoo dolls. My second daughter was born exactly one month after Game 4 of the World Series. Coincidence? Most likely. But one can never be too sure. My husband and I are expecting our third child early November. Go Sox!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Portrait of a Loss as a Singing Kettle

Some innings (mostly of the one-run variety) resemble someone flushing a toilet while you're in the shower. You're scalded momentarily, but you get over it and keep scrubbing behind your ears. Some innings are like a shaken two-liter of soda; they're barely started before it seems like you need to mop the whole floor.

The fifth inning Matt Clement had today against the Blue Jays was a tea kettle inning. Part of this effect comes from the mind-numbingly deliberate pace at which he starts working with runners on base. Part of it is the fact that nothing was hit really hard. The heat just keeps rising, gradually but undeniably, until you hear this long whistle and you're down two runs.

Sometimes the line between a tea kettle inning and a shaken soda inning is fine indeed. It looked like the Sox might have a soda inning going in the top of the ninth: the tying runs already in, runners at the corners, and Manny at the plate. Alas, the Blue Jays faithful found themselves stirred, but not shaken.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Evening In

As I still dwell in the outer darkness of television with no cable, my only chance to actually see the local nine regular like is UPN 38's Friday night broadcasts. I'll use this as an inducement to report in on a weekly basis. Deal? Deal.

While I'm waiting for the game to start, a couple of dribs and drabs from this week.

After the over-reaction to the events of Wednesday afternoon, most people seem to have come to their senses and concluded that reports of Mariano Rivera's demise are so far exaggerated. I'm a little surprised that we're not talking more about Judo Chop!'s game-breaking error. Rivera has a track record of handling the hot lights of the rivalry to fall back on. Judo Chop!? Let's see...getting thrown out pointlessly trying to steal third early last season, instigating a bench-clearing brawl in July, the play from Game 6 that made his name in this space, and now this. Tune in next week when Judo falls for the hidden ball trick. I wonder if the phone's been ringing at Casa de Brosius.

Nate Silver over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) ran some numbers to determine who got the most bang for the free agent buck this off-season while handing out long-term contracts. Surprisingly, Edgar Renteria rates as one of the five best signings of the year. Keep this in mind as he gets his Sox legs under him.

If Johnny Damon keeps this up, some day soon he's gonna look in the mirror and find Ben Affleck staring back. You're plenty visible at the top of the order every night, JD. We won't forget about you if you turn down that appearance on The Apprentice.

Yeah, I heard Pedro's noise about not wanting his ring. It gets harder and harder to believe he was one of the most engaging and quotable sports personalities in town his first three years here. Going to have a monster year with the Mets, though.

Okay, game time!

Top of the first: The Red Sox draw first blood on a Kevin Millar sacrifice fly after loading the bases on a single and a pair of walks. Characteristic patience from our guys; Toronto's David Bush throws (by my unofficial count) twenty-five pitches in the first.

Top of the second: Yikes, and away! 'Tek crushes one loud, long, and lost off a window in right field. I don't know what the tale of the tape on that one will be, but man was it starched.

Bottom of the second: The Paper Airplane loses a little focus after retiring the first five batters, letting in a two-out run on a double and single. The Blue Jays lineup is chock full of lefties tonight, so even if he isn't facing big names, this will be a good test for him. He's given up the corn rows in favor of, well, hard to say. A straight and strangely oval plate of blond hair is hanging out the back of his cap; it looks more than a little like a roadkilled tribble.

Bottom of the third: The Blue Jays match Trot Nixon's leadoff homer in the top of the frame with a leadoff blast from nine-hole hitter Russ Adams. Inconsistent night for Arroyo so far: great movement on the pitches, but he's having difficulty locating. Two batters later, he stops to pick up--this is too good to be true--a paper airplane! My minions are everywhere in our neighbor to the north. Arroyo promptly finishes off the side.

Bottom of the fifth: Still 3-2 Red Sox. With two out, Arroyo breaks a string of eight consecutive batters retired by walking the number nine hitter. It's not the kind of mistake you want to see a guy make in a one-run game. But he gets around it, retiring the next batter, and it feels like we've dodged a teensy bullet.

Top of the sixth: Bases loaded, one out, and 'Tek is at the plate. He has the most at-bats with the bases loaded of any active player who has never hit a grand slam. (Forget the exact number; it's over a hundred, and he trrails only Blanche DuBois, who's at 130-something.) He doesn't make it happen this time either, although a fielder's choice provides an insurance run. Still, they had the bases loaded and nobody out, and only pushed one guy across. This is the kind of missed opportunity you often regret later, although they just might get away with it tonight.

Top of the seventh: Blue Jays pitcher Brandon League induces what should be a double play ball from Nixon, a crisp roller right back to the mound. League turns and throws the ball directly into right field. He missed his guy by fifteen feet, and that's not even an exaggeration. The Sox make the Jays pay to the tune of two more runs.

Bottom of the seventh: Renteria spares Alan Embree some wear and tear by spearing a hot liner ankle high to end the inning. The last Red Sox Gold Glove winner? Tony Pena in 1991. Whatever else he brings this year, maybe Renetria will end the drought.

Bottom of the ninth: Man, oh man. Keith Foulke just gave us the ol' Mitch Williams memorial save. Entering the game with a three-run lead, he gives up three straight singles to make it 6-4 Sox. A ground out, a healthy drive to right, a walk, a hit batter (on an 0-2 pitch no less), and another ground out later, the Sox have an unexpectedly narrow 6-5 win. The hits don't worry me so much--they were all rollers with eyes--but that extra bit of wildness at the end was hairline-retracting. Still, it ended up in the right column tonight, so what the heck, we'll take it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Kazmir To The Braves?

This is the scariest thing I've seen in a long, long time...at least they'd give up Marte, though:

Apr. 1 - The Devil Rays are in talks to trade left-handers Scott Kazmir and Bobby Seay to the Atlanta Braves for third basemen Andy Marte and outfielder Ryan Langerhans, Peter Gammons reports. The Devil Rays, who have been looking for a power hitter to no avail, contacted the Braves earlier this week about parting with top prospect Marte.

“Our pitching is here,” manager Lou Piniella told the newspaper. “We’re not going anywhere for pitching. But we need to add another bat. We’re very thin, and one injury will really create a big problem for us.”

Marte, the Braves most promising prospect, would supplant Alex Gonzalez at third base to begin the season. While the Devil Rays had Kazmir penciled in as their number three starter, all indications are the Braves would have him start the season in Richmond, the home of their AAA minor league affiliate. Seay would remain in the Braves bullpen.