Saturday, March 12, 2005

Snow daze

I'm not saying this relentless snowfall is driving me mad flake by friggin' flake, but on my slow-speed commute from Maine to Boston today, I'm pretty sure I got passed by two Iditarod teams, Yukon Cornelius (with Bumble riding shotgun), and, most surprisingly, cross-country skiing sensation Dorcas Wonsavage. Go figure.

Since when did Mother Nature become such a vindictive old bat, anyway? The way she's mistreated us New Englanders this winter, I'm thinking she's got to be a Yankees fan.

Fortunately, as I inched along I-95 South, trying to avoid become the next lucky contestant to skid into a Green Monster-sized snow drift, my radio offered the promise of sunnier days ahead. The Sox were taking on the D-Rays in Ft. Myers, Joe and Jerry sounded chipper, and damned if you couldn't almost feel the sunshine. Even on a day when the New England weather is at its worst, it's always easy to get lost in baseball.

So then, a few hardball thoughts before I head back to my igloo . . .

- Sox pitcher Matt Clement's historical comparisons on include such luminaries as Dustin Hermanson, Sidney Ponson and Jeff Weaver. Yikes. Then again, he's also statistically similar to Jason Schmidt and Bruce Hurst. Conclusion: Clement could go 20-6. Or he could turn into the modern-day John Dopson. Or he could win the Derek Lowe Award as the most aggravatingly inconsistent Sox starter. Glad to be of help.

- In the context of sports, the news that Rick Ankiel is abandoning his pitching career qualifies as a tragedy. The casual fan probably knows the young Cardinal lefty for his meltdown against the Braves in Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS, when he walked six batters in 2-plus innings, threw five wild pitches in one inning, and never quite recovered from his nationally-televised implosion. What the casual fan probably does not know is how ridiculously talented this kid was at 20 years old. In 2000, his first and last full season, he pitched 175 innings, allowed 137 hits, walked 90 (bad omen there) and struck out 194. Comparisons to a young Koufax were not uncommon. Alas, after the playoff meltdown, such heady praise seemed silly, and it gave way to comparisons to Steve Blass, a successful Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher in the '70s whose radar went inexplicably askew. Ankiel, just 25 and unable to overcome whatever demons he battles, will go back to the minors and try to make it as an outfielder. Our best wishes are with him. Dude's due a break.

- The Sox play the Cubs at Wrigley Field June 10-12, a historic series that will almost certainly drive overinflated pomposities (Ken Burns, George Will, etc.) into a hyperbolic tizzy about baseball's two most cherished and cursed franchises, encountering each other at last, and oh, how truly wonderful it would be if only it were a harbinger of a Fall Classic, and so on blah blah poetry blah big stupid word blah. Don't get me wrong, I think Sox-Cubs is quite cool. I'm just more interested in the tangible stuff, like what happens if Johnny Jesus's hair gets tangled in the ivy.

- Yep, I'm sticking to my guns: Curt Schilling will be on the mound opening night for the Red Sox. The only thing that could keep the great orator away would be if he's still fillibustering Congress.

- I'm starting to think we'll see Oil Can Boyd in a Sox uniform again before we ever see Wade Miller.

- Johan Santana, 2005, will roughly equal Ron Guidry, 1979. Eighteen wins, eight losses, 2.78 ERA. Terrific, but no longer transcendant.

- Which brings me to the fantasy baseball segment of the program, and this question: Which pitcher would you choose first if you had to take one? Santana? Makes the most sense, but what if he reverts to his previous very-good-but-not-great form, as I previously suggested? Randy Johnson? The stork's knees are shot, and besides, the Pinstriped Pituitary Problem will get very mad when we talk back to him. Schilling? The balky ankle. Pedro? The balky shoulder. If I had to take one, I think I'd go with the Cubs' Mark Prior. He's had his injuries, and Dusty Baker seems intent on annihilating his gifted young staff as some sort of perverse tribute to Billy Martin and the wasted Norris-Langford-Keough-McCatty-Kingman A's of the early '80s. But my hunch is that Prior has got one or two Cy Young seasons in that right arm before Dusty sends it off to the glue factory.

- Other than the possibility of his swollen head popping like a bloated tick any day now, I can think of only one realistic way that Barry Bonds doesn't catch Henry Aaron: his knees deteriorate to the point he can no longer play. Remember, patella tendinitis is said to be a tell-tale sign of steroid use. From what I understand, Jason Giambi suffered from it last year, and the same injury led to the rapid demise of Mark McGwire's career. Bonds's knees have relegated him to DH status this spring, and I wonder if this ailment is going to get progressively worse. An injury might be the only thing that can save baseball from this embarrassing charade of a home-run chase. I'm rooting for you, injury. Go, patella tendinitis!

- Man, I'm sure looking forward to Kevin Millar leading the American League in foul home runs again. If the left-field fair pole were moved 30 feet to the left, he'd be the greatest normal head-sized slugger in the game.

- Nick Cafardo had pleasant piece in the (gratuitous plug) Globe the other day on Sox roster fodder Josias Manzanillo, a jovial 37-year-old journeyman who, amazingly, made his professional debut in the Boston organization 22 years ago, at age 16. However, likely due to good taste and common sense, Cafardo avoided mention of the most nutwor . . . er, noteworthy moment of Manzanillo's career. Try not to cringe as you read this, fellas, and notice whom the batter was that, uh, crushed the ball in that particular at-bat. Oh, the agony this man must know.

- The more I think about "Faithful," the more ticked off I become that a ball-chasing poseur like Stewart O'Nan is now considered a relevant representative of Sox Nation.

- Gone, but not forgotten: I hope Derek Lowe loves L.A., and and the same goes for Orlando Cabrera with the L.A.A.O.A. I think Dave Roberts deserves the sunshine in San Diego and a statue in Boston, and while Doug Mientkiewicz may have stolen The Ball, he left us with enough memories as souvenirs. As for Pedro Martinez . . . I'll miss him, too . . . but I hope his right arm tears off at the shoulder on his first pitch as a Met, and Reds leadoff hitter D'Angelo Jiminez smokes the limp appendage into center field for a base-hit. I know I should be past this by now, but I'm still disgusted at his graceless, petulant departure from Boston, particularly his trashing of Terry Francona. It's hard to respect someone demands it himself, yet offers none in return.

- In parting, I've gotta give a quick Tizzle-style heart-tap/finger-point to reader MWalter, who thoughtfully and without solicitation sent along these slideshows from the ALCS and World Series. I'm sure you probably saw them sometime during the postseason's joyous, hazy aftermath - the were all over the Sox message boards at that point - but maybe you forgot to save them as I did. It's some really magical stuff. Watching the ALCS version earlier today, I felt the same surge of pure, unfiltered happiness that I felt that beautiful night. I was almost giddy again, to the point that I found myself becoming sentimental over a picture of Ricky Gutierrez. It's amazing how fond we are of each and every player on the 2004 Red Sox, and I'm beginning to realize that the fondness is only going to grow over time. (Yes . . . even for Petulant Pedro. Eventually.) No matter what happens this season, we will we always have last year.

Of course, I wouldn't mind having this year, too.