Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Nine innings 05.31.05

Nine innings while wondering when Randy Johnson turned into Jamie Moyer . . .

1) Raise your hand if right about now you're feeling guilty about dumping on Edgar Renteria during his slow start. (Slowly raising hand.) The cat knows how to break out of a slump in style, huh? During a three-game set in the Bronx, Renteria went 10 for 22 with two homers and six RBIs, raising his average all the way to .295. It was our first extended look at at how potent a force he can be in this lineup, not to mention a reminder that it was foolish to dismiss eight years of excellence on the basis of two awkward months. It struck me that the warm round of applause Renteria received at Fenway last night was more of an apology for our impatience than a thank-you for a job well done. To paraphrase a particularly annoying saying Yankees fans like to toss around, Renteria is a true Red Sox now. He's been booed, he's been cheered - and he's stuck it to the Yankees on their turf. Welcome aboard, Edgah.

2) Let's see . . . Bronson Arroyo has been shelled so thoroughly in his last two starts, you have to wonder if he's tipping his pitches . . . Tim Wakefield is coming off one of his excruciating Bad Timmy starts in New York, having walked seven . . . Wade Miller was lit up by the Blue Jays, reminding us that it's going to be a long road to dependability . . . so, yeah, guess we can shelve that "Who goes to the 'pen when Schilling returns" argument for a while, huh? This week, everyone but David Wells and the shockingly terrific Matt Clement looked like he belongs in the bullpen - in Pawtucket.

3) Glad to see Wells switched numbers with Renteria, giving up No. 3 and ceasing to pay homage to his hero and kindred spirit, Babe Ruth. The single digit looked just plain weird on a pitcher's jersey, and besides, doesn't Boomer know that Babe references around here are so 2003? In a related note, how is it that Wells can look like Whitey Ford in one start and Betty Ford in the next, yet appear to have the exact same repertoire, location and stuff in both games? Can anyone answer this for me? Anyone? Bueller?

4) Not that I'm certain John Olerud is the solution at first base, and not that I'm advocating trading Kevin Millar to Japan for homesick Gabe Kapler, but I've seen more quality at-bats from Mr. Magic Safety Helmet in three games than I've seen from the KFC Cowboy in two months. Just sayin' is all.

5) I want to tip my cap to A-Rod for revealing this week that he is in therapy, particularly since he said he made the revelation so kids won't feel that there is a stigma attached to getting help. (Especially kids with purple lips and a penchant for slapping people when things aren't going their way, I presume.) But the cynic in me can't help but wonder if this is one more ploy to restore some luster back to his tarnished image. I hope it's not, I do, but A-Rod's history of insincerity and calculation when it comes to public perception has to make you wonder, as the Bergen Record's Adrian Wojnarowski articulates so well in this column.

6) Yo, Tito: We love ya, man, and you earned a few managerial mulligans last fall, but hey, just a word of advice: Alan Embree and his mysteriously shrinking fastball against any decent righthanded hitter? Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. That ball Gary Sheffield hit Friday night was going so fast it turned to talcum powder before it cleared the fence. Embree has been awful this year. It's time to give Matt Mantei more responsibility at his expense.

7) I appreciate that the Sox's braintrust searches for creative solutions to its roster problems, and I agree that there needs to be a way to get Kevin Youkilis and his ready-for-prime-time bat into the lineup more often. (Suggestion: Kevin Millar, first baseman, Hiroshima Carp.) But trying him at second base is not the answer. Youkilis has subpar range at third base. At second, he'd make Todd Walker look like Roberto Alomar in his prime. Besides, I can live with Mark Bellhorn and his baseball-repellent bat, as long as he continues to turn the double play well and get on base at a decent clip.

8) All right, Yankees fans, you can put down your crayons, slip back into your comfy Jeter Jammies, and yell to mom upstairs in the living room that you won't need a ride to the post office today after all. Yes, you can save all your barely coherent letters and emails, because I was kidding there about Johnson turning into Moyer. Of course that's silly. He's really more of rich man's Mark Hendrickson, wouldn't you say? Tall, mediocre, doesn't strike anyone out . . . ah, still kidding, Vinny. Still kidding. Ha-ha. (Nudge.) Actually, it's becoming apparent that the AL East race will come down to which team's aging ace performs closer to his peak self. If Schilling comes back and approaches something close to his 2004 level, the Sox win the division . . . unless Johnson, who has been good but not great, finds his Cy Young-worthy form of 2004. Then the race is on.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

. . . as Joe Castig would say: "Can you be-LEEVE it?" Yep, the insufferable
Tim McCarver, who comes across as the Yankees' No. 1 superfan/apologist/rumpswab on the Fox broadcasts, actually played for the Red Sox. If you asked him about it, I bet he'd deny it ever happened, then spew some pre-programmed incoherent babble about Derek Jeter's "calm eyes" or Mariano Rivera's "elegant gait." What a windbag.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

Remembering the 1,837 American men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saluting all soldiers past and present who put their own lives on the line in the name of freedom.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Liner notes

Nine appropriately themed songs heard on the kickin' stereo TATB handyman Buckethead Craig (pictured at bottom) installed in my state-of-the-art ark . . .

"Raining On Sunday," Keith Urban
A long-distance dedication to the Portland Sea Dogs, who have already had 9 home games rained out this season and are looking at certain quadrupleheaders come July.

"Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season," Jimmy Buffett
Alternately known as "Trying To Get A Word In Edgewise With That Windbag 'Curt In The Car.' "

"November Rain," Guns 'N' Roses
I know it's hard to keep an open heart/
When even friends seem out to harm you/
But if you could heal a broken heart/
Wouldn't time be out to charm you?

Now, is it me, or is Axl foreshadowing the 2003 ALCS loss, Grady's stupidity, and the Red Sox's ultimate redemption there? Ah, you're right, he was probably just writing about heroin again.

"A Pirate Looks At 40," Buffett
Lloyd McClendon's honest guesstimate at how many games his team will win the rest of the season.

"Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain," Willie Nelson
Let's see . . . loved this song since I was five years old. Willie rules. Yep, that's all I've got here.

"Purple Rain," Prince
Coincidentally, "Purple Rain" happens to be A-Rod's favorite shade of lip gloss.

"It's Raining Men," The Weather Girls
Hey, didn't this used to be Jeter's at-bat music?

"Blame It On The Rain," Milli Vanilli
Silly me, I always forget: On Halloween, is A-Rod "Milli" and Captain Jetes "Vanilli," or vice versa? Or do they just go by Rob and Fab?

"Blowin' In The Wind," Bob Dylan
C'mon, after three straight Jeter/A-Rod jokes, you think I'm going to touch THIS one?

(Seriously, is this rain ever going to stop? Ever? I'm beginning to wonder which we'll see first: A crisp, well-played game by the Sox, or sunlight. Either way, I'll be back with an actual sports column Friday night, assuming my laptop stays above sea level. - CF)

"Dude, like what the @$^*'s an ark?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The enemies list

Reed Johnson. A game-winning three-run walkoff homer by Reed Bleepin' Johnson. His second homer of the night, no less, and the Sox lose, 9-6.

Reed Johnson. Figures. This guy is a classic fourth outfielder, a so-so field, so-so hit, so-so run scrapper out of the Darren Bragg mold. He is extraordinarily ordinary, a player who should never beat you . . .

. . . yet he kills the Sox at least once or twice a season. Or at least it seems that way.

Johnson's not the only one, either. While I was fuming over his predictable heroics, I got to thinking about other subpar, non-descript and just plain lousy ballplayers who have tormented the Sox in recent years.

Let's see, there's A-Rod . . .

Whoops, wrong list. Here's the real hit list I came up with:

Miguel Cairo, Mets second baseman: This infernal pest looks like the result of a drunken night of passion between Derek Jeter and a lawn gnome.

Gregg Zaun, Blue Jays catcher: Buddies told me he showed up at the festivities for the Pats/Panthers Super Bowl in Houston acting as if he were some sort of major celebrity. Is it really possible to forget that you're only Gregg Zaun?

Frank Catalanotto, Blue Jays outfielder: Yep, another Jay. The unbalanced schedule breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds comtempt. When healthy, he's a decent lefty hitter with a sweet swing, and I've always thought he'd be a nice role player with the Sox, if only to keep him from tormenting them.

David Eckstein, Cardinals shortstop: Gritty, gutty, scrappy, vastly overrated by stray former members of the Jeff Frye Fan Club, and possibly the only albino dwarf in the majors.

John Flaherty, Yankees catcher: Busted up Pedro's no-hitter in '99 while a Devil Ray. Has no business hitting Pedro now, then, or ever. No dummy, rumor has it he's been wearing a steel-belted earflap against the Sox ever since.

Tanyon Sturtze, Yankees pitcher: Looks like a rat on steroids, but rats on steroids are more appealing. Kapler, Trot and Papi should have finished the job during the brawl. Worcester should be ashamed. (Can you tell I don't like him? Can you? You can? Okay, good.)

Enrique Wilson, Cubs infielder: .245 career hitter who had an inexplicable run of success (read: blind luck) against Pedro a few years ago. Lucky Pedro never tried to bean him, because his bulbous head makes for one inviting target.

Jerry Hairston, Cubs second baseman: While an Oriole, tied Jeter for the league lead in smirks three years running. Largest differential between actual ability and self-confidence among any player currently active in the majors.

Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie, Orioles outfielders: Mantle and Maris against the Sox. Kutcher and Romine against everyone else.

Kyle Davies, Braves pitcher: Scouts and the Baseball Prospectus devotees tell us the kid has a hell of a future, but he has no business shutting out a veteran Sox lineup for five innings in his major-league debut.

Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays pitcher: Last year's version of Davies. At least he's tormenting Mets fans, always a worthy cause.

Rodrigo Lopez, Orioles pitcher: Former ace of the Culiacan Tomato Growers of the Mexican League was 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA against the Sox last year. He can go back to the mighty Tomato Growers any day now.

David Newhan, Orioles outfielder: An obscurity striving for mediocrity, he had 116 hits last year. At least 113 of them came at Fenway. However, his dad is a legendary sportswriter, so he's got that going for him.

Eric Byrnes, A's outfielder: Steve "Psycho" Lyons crossed with Jeff Spicoli.

Erubiel Durazo, A's designated hitter: WHAT THE %&#* IS HE STARING AT?

Gil Meche, Mariners pitcher: Career pattern: Shut down the Sox, have elbow surgery. Shut down the Sox, have shoulder surgery. Shut down the Sox, have arm amputated. Shut down the Sox . . .

Carlos Pena, Tigers first baseman: Writes my buddy Nuts:

he's hitting .190 with three homers overall, .996 with two homers against the sox. he even had a good hall of fame game.

Works for me.

Ted Lilly, Blue Jays pitcher: Ron Guidry against the Sox . . .

. . . Ron "Horshack" Palillo against everyone else.

David Wells, Red Sox pitcher: The heir apparent to Ramiro Mendoza for the Danny Cater Embedded Yankee award. Theo, what say you just tell him he can go back to New York now and we'll all pretend this never happened, okay?

If any of you, my 14 beloved readers (up from a dozen!), have any other Sox opponents you'd like to see get the business end of a Louisville Slugger, send 'em along. The TATB henchmen will get right on it.

* * *

Today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

. . . apparently, D-Lowe modeled for the Sears catalogue before the whole baseball thing panned out.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Book smart

On a sleepy Saturday suitable for catching up on some reading, a few interesting snippets from notable recent baseball books . . .

- From "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis. (One more time for that insight-free nitwit Joe Morgan: Billy Beane did not write this book, and you might do your job better if you actually read it):

"One thing led to another, and before long, Billy Beane had agreed to run the Boston Red Sox. He would be guaranteed $12.5 million over five years, the most anyone had ever been paid to run a baseball team. Billy hadn't yet signed the contract, but that was just a formality. He had already persuaded (the Oakland) owner to let him out of his contract, and started to overhaul the Red Sox. In his mind's eye he had traded Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to some team that didn't understand that a .293 batting average was blow to the offense when it came attached to a .330 on-base percentage. He'd signed Edgardo Alfonso to play second base and Bill Mueller to play third. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek was gone and White Sox backup Mark Johnson was in his place. Manny Ramirez's glove was requisitioned by general management, and the slugger would spend the rest of his Red Sox career as a designated hitter. All in his mind's eye."

* * *

- From "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" by Buster Olney. (Buster Olney? Yep, definitely a stage name):

"Pat Gillick, then the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays - the first of (David) Wells's many teams - was sure that if Wells had been more disciplined, he would have been one of the game's great pitchers, someone who might have won 300 games. But from the outset, managing Wells was a nightmare. . . . If the pitching coach called for 10 wind sprints in the outfield, Wells might do five, if he did any at all. His eating habits were atrocious, he drank copiously, and his weight ballooned. He tended to think of himself as the beleagured victim of anal-retentive geeks. But his habits constantly put his bosses - from Gillick to Toronto manager Cito Gaston to Joe Torre to Mel Stottlemyre - in the position of having to demand accountability from him, which in turn would anger Wells. He would defend himself with his respectable statistics, but Gillick and others recognized his far greater gifts and were frustrated by the waste, his unreliability and selfishness. Most years, he was a pitcher with grade A ability who was getting a lot of C minuses. In a tense meeting in 1998, Wells once accused Torre and Stotlemyre of not having any faith in him, but in a sense, they and others believed in more in David Wells than he did."

* * *

- From "Diehard" by Stuart O'Nimrod. (Featuring sporadic passages by BEST-SELLING AUTHOR STEPHEN KING!!!!):

Dear Red Sox Diehard's Diary: Today I finagled some choice seats to Fenway Park!!!! Just told the Sawx (that's how we diehards say it here!) P.R. person I was writing a book with BEST-SELLING AUTHOR STEPHEN KING!!! and, voila! Must be in the front row! We were on that tall part of fence in the outfield - you know, the Monster Wall!!! Best seats in the house!!! Says who? Says a Sox diehard, pal!!! Gosh, I've loved them sooooooooo long . . . almost a fraction of my life, at least! (Curse YOU, Babe! If only Quinn Buckner caught that grounder in '87!! Booooo, Bob Boone, Yankees third baseman and breaker of hearts all across New England and certain parts of Connecticut!!!!!) Yeah, the Sox (Sawxxx!) are my passion sort of, mostly because they've kinda been a part of my life at certain points and stuff, I guess. I watched them some in college, especially on the nights they pre-empted "Gimme A Break" (R.I.P, Nell Carter - sniff!!!) and I used to see their scores on ESPN a lot (boo-yeah to you, Stu!) and I've REALLY been following them since my publisher convinced my man S-King (that's BEST-SELLING AUTHOR STEPHEN KING to you!) to do this book. The Pittsburgh Pirates are my first love as far as sports and that stuff goes - shhhh, don't tell my publisher - but no one's buying "The Rennie Stennett Story," know what I mean? So I'm a Sox diehard now!!! Diehard! That outfielder Matt Damon - he looks like Jesus! See? Love 'em. What else? Details, details . . . oh, Sox (Sawx!!) outfielder Gabe Kaplan looked at me today - I melted like a giddy school girl! I did! And I caught some balls during batting practice with my giant butterfly net!!!! (Usually I just use it to chase butterflies, but since I'm a diehard and all . . . it's handy!!!) Oh, and I guess I should mention that thing that you probably saw on the news. Yeah . . . that. I really didn't mean to shove that kid off the Monster Wall, honest. But when a baseball - hit by the great Dauber, no less - is coming your way, all is fair in love and batting practice home runs, know what I mean? Anyway, Pedro Ramirez was there to break the little bugger's fall, so it's all good. I even almost thought about giving him one of the 67 baseballs in my net. Some of the so-called fans around me were yelling at me, but what would the kid do with a baseball with two broken arms?? It's not like he'll be playing Little League anytime soon. Geez. Okay, that's all for this chapter. Gotta go email Steph - I mean, S-King! Gosh, I really hope he stayed awake for the game this time. It was at 1 p.m., after all. Wake up, BEST-SELLING AUTHOR S-KING!!!!! This diehard can't do this book alone!!!!"

* * *

As for a Not-All-That-Random Card of the Day . . .

Damn, can you believe he wanted to dump Varitek? For the 1,918th time, say it in unison . . . thank goodness for Theo.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

TATB Notebook: 05.19.05

Touching all the bases while wondering who will see the field first, Barry Bonds or Curt Schilling . . .

I know Tom Brady is considered a "steal" for the Patriots for his new sticker-price of $60 million, but pardon me while I go through the incredulous routine again and wonder how they stole him in the first place. I know he was scrawny, and I know he started but one full year at Michigan, and I know his arm wasn't the strongest . . . but man, five years and three championships later I still cannot fathom how all these experts let Brady become a sixth-round pick, chosen behind 198 players, including lesser-pedigreed so-called quarterbacks such as Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn. Didn't anyone other than Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli put any stock in the many things he obviously did well as a Wolverine: his leadership skills, his accuracy, his intelligence, his readily apparent passion for football, his desire to win? I'm waiting for answers, Kiper. And yes, you're damn right this qualifies as gloating.

- Just when I was about to give in to the temptation to use "Edgar Renteria" and "Jose Bleepin' Offerman" in the same sentence, the Red Sox's thus-far disappointing shortstop drove in the winning run against Oakland Tuesday night, at last looking like the clutch player the Cardinals lamented losing. But I'm still surprised at how ordinary Renteria looks defensively. He has seven errors, would have at least 10 if not for the generosity of the official scorer, and frequently makes fundamentally poor decisions, such as backhanding a ball that he should get in front of easily. Renteria has two Gold Gloves to Orlando Cabrera's one, but anyone who watched Cabrera make routine and spectacular plays with equal aplomb last season knows the better gloveman is no longer based in Boston.

- The TATB take on who's staying and who's going among the Celtics' key personnel:

Ricky Davis: Staying. He's 25, behaved himself for the most part (the tranquilizers were a good idea, Doc), is in the top 10 percent of players in the league talentwise, and is ideally suited to play Danny Ainge's preferred fast-break style. Ainge would rather clone him than trade him.

Paul Pierce: Staying. Ainge will shop Pierce, but ultimately he won't get an offer close to equal value. (Ray Allen is not equal value. At least Pierce attempts to play defense, which is more than Jesus Shuttlesworth can say.) And that's a blessing. Listen, Pierce is a strange guy, moody and pouty, and his leaderships skills are severely lacking if not non-existent. But Celtics fans sometimes forget how damn good he is, just because we've become so familiar with his warts and flaws. Hopefully Ainge will give him a chance to prove he learned from his inexcusable yet overblown meltdown in Game 6 of the Pacers series. Other than Al Jefferson's glorious future, Pierce is the best thing the Celtics have going for them, still.

Gary Payton: Going. It was fun at first, but by the end, the Glove didn't fit.

Antoine Walker: Going. The Prodigal 'Toine's return was wonderful at the beginning, wasn't it? He was thrilled to be a Celtic again and he made rebounding and moving the ball his priorities. He seemed content to just try to fit in. But when he got more comfortable and the going got tough, he reverted to his old atrocious habits - ill-advised threes, six-dribble "power" moves, more ill-advised threes. For a long-time Walker defender, it was disheartening. It's almost as if he can't reconcile himself with the fact that he's not the best player on the court, can't restrain himself from trying to take charge even when the moment doesn't call for it. If 'Toine couldn't fully commit to changing his game this time around, with his desperate desire to remain in Boston at stake, it's obvious that he never will. Too bad. He's as accountable an athlete as Boston knows, and it was fun to see him again. But he sealed his own fate. It's time to go. This time for good.

- Anyone who thinks the Sox should move Bill Mueller to second base to replace the struggling MarK (Get it? K! For strikeout?!) Bellhorn has a short memory. Mueller has had two knee surgeries in the past year. Putting him at second base is a surefire way to get the Scalpel Hat Trick. Besides, as maddening as Bellhorn's strikeouts (45 in 117 at-bats) can be, he still gets on base at a respectable .350 clip, has 13 doubles, and plays a better-than-adequate second base. I'll take that from my No. 9 hitter every time. Especially from one who has proven capable on the postseason stage.

- Here's hoping John Olerud and his Magic Safety Helmet have enough left to force a lefty-righty platoon at first base. It's absurd that Kevin Millar and his Not-So-Magic Chicken Bucket have started all but one game this season. I don't want to trash the guy, because his "You'd better not let us win this game speech" before Game 4 of the ALCS still gives me chills, and he is important to the team's makeup. But he really needs to start doing something other than grounding to third and hitting long foul balls, or Theo Epstein may be tempted to check in with the Chunichi Dragons to see if they're still interested.

- Four words to torment a Knicks fan by: "Miller for three . . . yes!" This hoops junkie is going to miss the best 6-foot-8, 135-pound, jug-eared, Cheryl-huggin' sharpshooter in league history. I suspect Spike Lee will too.

- Four more words to torment Knicks fan by: General Manager Isiah Thomas. Yup, way too easy.

- If Steve Nash is the NBA's MVP, why is it so easy to make the argument that Amare Stoudemire is the Suns' MVP?

- It's easy in retrospect to say David Wells (1 1/3 innings, 9 hits, 7 runs against Oakland Wednesday) should have made a rehab start. Here are two good reasons why he shouldn't have: 1) Jeremi Gonzalez. 2) John Halama. When those two are the alternatives, I'll take my chances with Boomer every time.

- Patriots.com still lists Tedy Bruschi as a starting inside linebacker, but I suspect the more telling sign regarding his future is the fact that Belichick/Pioli have stockpiled the position to the point that there are 17 different linebackers on the depth chart. Safety in numbers, or something like that.

- From the Department of the Appropriate and Obvious: Patriots linebacker Wesly Mallard played collegiately at Oregon. That's right - Mallard was a Duck. (Groan.)

- If NESN is looking to add an articulate analyst to the Sox pre-game show - and I've got my doubts that a decent command of the language is a prerequisite - they should find a way to get John Valentin into the mix. During one three- or four-minute chat with WEEI's Dale Arnold and Michael Holley earlier this week, ol' Val offered more perspective and insight on what it's like to be a ballplayer in Boston than a certain former left fielder has in three or four seasons.

- An update on Peter Gammons's bizarre bashing of Manny on WEEI last Thursday: A couple of readers emailed to let me know that Gammons apologized on 'EEI's Sunday baseball show. While he apparently didn't clarify why he was so offended by the reasonable statement that Manny is one the best righthanded hitters in baseball, it was big of him to apologize. Not everyone of his stature would do so.

- And while you digest the preceding nonsense, today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Swung the most memorable trade in Yankees history, swapping families (yes, families - wives, kids, hamsters, etc.) with fellow pitcher Fritz Peterson. Now that's a "Yankeeography" I might watch.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Psycho II

I'll have a new column up at some point tonight. In the meantime, a question: Does this present-day spaz . . .

. . . remind you of a certain four-time ex-Red Sox and mortal lock for the Sports Spaz Hall of Fame?

Two of a kind, a generation apart. Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time before Byrnes pulls his pants down on the field.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nine innings: 05.16.05

Playing a late-night nine innings while waiting for Roger Clemens to "accidentally" show up for an Astros game in his Yankees jersey . . .

1) Damon, Renteria, Ortiz, Ramirez, Nixon, Millar, Varitek, Mueller, Bellhorn. Yep, 35 games into the season, you've got the lineup in the proper order now, Tito. 'Bout time. I like the lefties and righties alternating through the first six spots, with the three switch-hitters at the bottom. I also like David Ortiz in the three-spot and Manny batting fourth, simply because Ortiz gets more frustrated when he's being pitched around than Manny does. And I especially like Millar out of the five-hole. The KFC Kid is too streaky to be depended upon in such a crucial spot, and the way Trot (.337) is swinging the bat, he deserves the prominent placement in the order.

2) You spend enough time hunting and pecking out your opinions on the keyboard, you're going to turn some regrettable phrases now and then. (Yes, I believe my proclamation in this space that "Blaine Neal is freakin' steal!" qualifies as "regrettable.") But while researching Peter Gammons's past comments on Manny Ramirez for the previous post, I found this little comedic pearl of wisdom in his March 31, 2003 column, under the heading "Changes to watch":

Byung-Hyun Kim from closer to starter. Bet the house on this working.

How off-target was that prediction? As Bob Uecker might say, it was "Juuuuusst a bit outside." Assuming Gammons followed his own advice, I trust Karl Ravech or Harold Reynolds was kind enough to take in their stray colleague.

3) As far as the award For Most Annoyingly Smug Opponent, Non-Yankee Division goes, it looks like Bret Boone is going to be the runaway winner once again this year. The dude could change his name to Deion Sanders and he wouldn't be any cockier. Strange thing about Boone, a.k.a. The Master of the Bat-Flip: He's ego seems as large as ever this season, but his upper body is a lot smaller. Wonder if Jose Canseco has picked up on that.

4) No, wise guys, it is not acceptable to refer to the struggling Sox closer as "Keithcliffe Foulkum." The man closed out all four games of the World Series, for heaven's sake. According to postseason-hero-gone-bad protocol, Foulke gets until June before we start panicking and wondering why Theo Epstein can't get a relief ace like, oh, say, Arizona's Brandon "Lights-Out" Lyon. Yep, June. Or at least late May. Okay, next week at the earliest.

(Editor's note: Foulke enjoyed a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning in earning the save Saturday night. Thus, the Red Sox Closer Alert level has been downgraded to "teal.")

5) A .318 average, 7 homers, 15 RBI, and a calming, confidence-building influence on the pitching staff, particularly the jittery Matt Clement. Jason Varitek has been worth every last peso so far, hasn't he, Mr. Henry?

6) The more I see of Oakland pitcher Barry Zito, the more I wonder if he's destined to become this decade's Steve Avery. The similarities - lefthanded, high first-round pick, phenomenal early success in the majors - are uncanny. So, too, apparently is the early decline, the puzzling loss of stuff in their mid-20s. Consider: At at 21 in 1991, Avery was 18-8. At age 23 in 1993, he had his best season, going 18-6 with a 2.94 ERA. He had his last decent season in 1994, and by the time Dan Duquette signed him to a 2-year deal in 1997 (I think the Duke said something about Avery replacing Clemens's on-base percentage) he was, for all intents and purposes, finished. He was out of the majors for good in 2000, save for an unsuccessful 2003 comeback bid with his hometown Detroit Tigers. Zito, meanwhile, had his best season at age 24, going 23-5 and beating out Pedro Martinez for the 2003 AL Cy Young award. But last year, his vaunted 12-to-6 curveball suddenly began avoiding the strike zone and he dropped to 11-11 with a 4.48 ERA. Zito is 1-4 this year with a 5.54 ERA, and simply does not look like same pitcher anymore. He may not fall as far as fast as Avery. But sadly, he's falling nonetheless.

7) Holy cow, what's gotten into Tino Martinez? The Yankees' first baseman has eight home runs in the last eight games, 10 in May, and 12 overall. The smart alecks among us might suggest Martinez, whose bat speed last season could have been measured with a sun dial, has gotten into the remnants of Jason Giambi's goody bag. I think it's something else, though, something more . . . magical, something having to do with mystique and aura and the power of pinstripes. Yep, that's right. I think he's been rejuventated by being in the presence of Captain Jetes's intangibles! The Bamtino! Inspired by Jetes! Eureka! Apparently, intangibles, like many other diseases known to Yankees fans, are contagious.

8) While looking up Mike Timlin's career stats on baseball-reference.com the other day, I stumbled upon the real reason the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and '93. Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. (Okay, with the occasional Joe Carter series-winning walk-off homer thrown in.) The '92 Jays, amazingly, had nine starting pitchers on their staff that won 90 or more games in the major-leagues: Jack Morris (254 wins), David Wells (214 and counting), David Cone (194), Jimmy Key (186), Dave Steib (176), Al Leiter (157 and counting), Todd Stottlemyre (138), Pat Hentgen (131) and Juan Guzman (91). In '93, Dave Stewart (168 wins, 163 of which came against Clemens) joined the staff. And the bullpen wasn't too shabby either, with Tom Henke, Duane Ward and Timlin, who, as mulleted young fireballer, closed out the '92 Series. (The Jays also had Ricky Trlicek, a charter member of the Dan Duquette Who-The-Hell-Is-This-Guy All-Stars.) I can't think of any recent team that featured that many talented pitchers at once. Excluding the mighty 2002 Devil Rays of Tanyon (4-18) Sturtze, Wilson Alvarez and Ryan Rupe, of course.

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Judging by Millar's svelte look, KFC hadn't yet franchised in St. Paul.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

0 Captain, my caption

Something tells me we'll be seeing an "altered" version of this photo at Fenway and on the Internet for years to come . . .

But the question I have is this: What was going through Derek Jeter's mind the precise moment the picture was taken? After close analysis, I've come up with a few possibilities:

"Whoa, hey now! Watch it there, Alex . . . you're touching my intangibles!"

"Geez, if I've told him once, I've told him a thousand times: Just because I'm the Captain doesn't mean he gets to be First Mate."

"When I said I'm impressed by Wang, I meant the pitcher, you idiot."

"When I said I'm impressed by Johnson, I meant the pitcher, you idiot."

"When I said I'm impressed by Moose . . . oh, never mind."

"I knew it was a mistake to watch 'Will and Grace' together last night."

"Those . . . aren't . . . pillows!"

"Uh-oh! Tino looks furious! I'm going to have some 'splaining to do. Note to self: Pick up Whitman's Sampler on the way home."

"Calgon, take me away!"

"Man, Brosius never pulled this $@%*. Where's Varitek when I need him?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

U gut male

News item: Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens tells Jeremy Schaap during ESPN's Sunday Conversation that it's "way too early" to say he'll be with Houston all year, says there is "language in his contract" that will permit him to be traded, shows off his 1999 World Series ring while saying the Yankees are "all about winning" and oh-so-casually mentions that he exchanges email with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada often.

(Not that he's transparent or anything.)

As it so happens, TATB correspondent/lead investigator/man-about-town Rodney Craig . . .

. . . has obtained one of those emails. Because we here at TATB have no scruples, we offer it to you, the dear reader, in its entirety:

To: "Jeetes" (CaptIntangibles2@yankees.com), "Posada" (Pedrosdaddy@yankees.com)
From: RokitRoger22@soullessmercenary.com
Subject: My master plann!!!

Hay Whats up guys,

Just gut your massage about ARod, Jetes. LOL!!! Your rite - he sux and wishes he was u! Not a tru Yankee like us! Slappy! I wish Id hit him in the hed when he played for seeattle in the play offs that year. Goodtimes. Remembur? Buzzzed him 2twice in a row. Duck, jerk!! Duck agan!!!!!! Made him pee! Not really, but LOL!! He has no bizness yellin an cussin at U, Jeetes! U R the captin! Entanjibulls!

yeh, U bet Ill set Arod strayt when I git traded back, once Mr. Stein-- Mr. Stine-- The Boss gits my clevur hints on Espn and picks up the $21,012,090.13 Im doo on my contract. (Not that Im countin! Ha!) Hay Ive gut an idear - maybe we can git ARod drunk on Zima and dackeries (his faverits! litewait!) and haze him when he passes out!!!! Ill rite "Hit me here, Tek!" on his 4hed in magikmarker! Or with his purpill lipstik! Ha ha!!! LOL!!

Ok bye. Gotta go beet the Marlins. Mmmm, fish. oh, Andy sez hi.

Out like a giambi,

P.s. - oh, yeh, my boys r good, thanx for asking, Jor -- Geor-- Whore-hay. Kobe is going to UofTexis next fall to play ball. (Chip off the ol' blokhed! Hook 'im horns!). Klint, Kletis, Krayola, Kaopectate, Kreatine, Klamdip, Kareem, Kielbasa, Kookooforkokopuffs and Ken are allso doin well playin ball - and in skool too!! Lil' Debbey helps with there home work. she sez i should stik to pitchin and not worry bout the 3 Rs. i think she meens readin, ritin and talkin like a pirat. ARRRRRRR!!! git it? ha! LOL!!! She sez its to late for me any ways. huh?????

Monday, May 09, 2005

Nine innings: 05.08.05

Sloshing through nine innings while wondering if Cla Meredith has ever heard of Bobby Sprowl . . .

1) Seriously, there's no logical explanation for what Terry Francona did to Meredith today. Still finding his bearings after being recalled from Pawtucket this morning, the 21-year-old reliever one year removed from the Virginia Commonweath campus made his big-league debut in the second game of the Sox's doubleheader with the Seattle Mariners. Wide-eyed and wild, he quickly walked the first two hitters, loading the bases for Mariners behemoth Richie Sexson. I know I wasn't the only one thinking this at that moment: Hit the showers, kid. This is Timlin's time. Unfortunately, Francona wasn't on the same wavelength as the rest of New England. Inexplicably, he left Meredith in to face the Seattle slugger, and wouldn't you know it, Sexson smoked one around the Pesky Pole. With one swing and one stupid managerial decision, a 2-2 tie became a 6-2 deficit, and sweep became a split. Meredith stumbled off the mound looking shellshocked, and anyone watching this unfold had to worry that he was damaged by the experience. Yeah, we're forever indebted to Tito for his managerial mastery last October, but I really hate it when he has these Grady/Zimmer Moments of mind-boggling cluelessness. He's better than that.

2) Considering we were lamenting their slow start not so long ago, it's worth noting that the Sox (18-13) are on a 94-win pace. The most encouraging part of the so-called turnaround: several of the team's lesser lights have seized the spotlight. Take today's first game. Jay Payton, stepping into the lineup after Manny got hit by a pitch, drove in two runs and continued to look like a major upgrade over Gabe Kapler. Ramon Vazquez started at shortstop in place of the injured Edgar Renteria (out with Fred Lynn-itis, also known as a torn fingernail) and, despite a pulled hamstring, made an excellent run-saving defensive play that thwarted a potential big inning. Kevin Youkilis, starting at third as Bill Mueller switched over to second, made a run-saving play of his own with the leather and continues to look like a hitter with a plan. And best of all, Jeremi Gonzalez (pictured above) again proved a capable stop-gap in the rotation, pitching into the sixth and earning his first victory since 2003. All in all, it's hard not to be impressed with the depth and resilience of this team so far. Mighty Orioles beware!

3) Oh, and you can call him Jeremi Gonzalez if you want. But I'm going to keep calling him by the name he used the first time he came around here: Frank Castillo.

4) My commute from Wells, Me. to the Globe office in Dorchester, Mass., as Rick Pitino would say, stinks and sucks and stinks, but tuning into WFAN in New York this week has made it seem miles shorter. Thirty or so games into the season, and Yankee fans are panicking like rats on a sinking ship. (A damn accurate analogy, I'd say.) They can't decide if they want to fire Joe Torre, put out a hit on A-Rod, or start rooting for the Mets like they did in the '80s. It's just delightful radio. The typical call goes something like this:

Host:"Vinny from the Bronx, you're on with Mike and the Mad Dog."

Vinny, who indeed is from the Bronx: "Yeah . . . uh . . . am I on? . . . uh . . . yeah . . . hey-yo . . . I think we should trade Giambi and Kevin Brown and maybe a prospect, like Tanyon Sturtze, to the Cardinals for, uh, Pujols. I hate to give up Sturtze, but we have to sweeten the pot to make it worth the Cardinals' time, you know. And, uh, also, we should also get Griffey, maybe for Tony Womack and Jaret Wright or Flash Gordon and some prospects. And Paul O'Neill should come back from the booth. He looks like he's still in shape and they need his intensity. And maybe George could see if Rickey Henderson wants to play part time in left field. I'm going to hang up now because my Camaro is on fire again, but, uh, what do youze guys think about that, yo?"

(Editor's note: Vinny is a fictional composite of Yankees fans, but honest to the Great Slugger In the Sky, some variation on every single one of those "suggestions" was made by one caller or another this week. The idiocy is off the charts. Yankees fans - the comedy gift that keeps on giving. Oh, and while I think of it, here's a link to the new epilogue for the Buster Olney's excellent book, The Last Night of The Yankee Dynasty. Some great stuff here. For instance, did you know the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead in last year's ALCS? Yep, for real. Read all about it.)

5) Free-agent-to-be Johnny Damon recently assured Sox fans that he won't sign with the Yankees, but something tells me Georgie Porgie is going to make it very difficult for him to keep his word. Damon, 32, wants at least a four-year deal, and that will happen in Boston roughly the same time the NHL relocates to Hades. Considering Damon's success against the Yankees, and considering the closest thing New York has to a center fielder is the tattered remains of Bernie Williams, it makes way too much sense not to be at least a possibility.

6) . . . then again, maybe Damon prefers to keep his identity. He certainly relishes his new "rock star" status, and he must be aware of what happens to free spirits when they go to New York: they get a shower, a shave, and a neutering. Damon was a teammate/frat brother with Jason Giambi in Oakland in 2001, and I suspect his old friend might have told him already that New York isn't for everyone. (And, no, I don't know why I'm wasting so many words on this topic today. Damon is hitting, the Sox are winning, 80 percent of the long and winding season is still ahead . . . this is the last you'll hear about Damon's status from me until there's something relevant to report.)

7) So this is why we've been on the Wade Miller Watch for the past month or so: this guy is one impressive pitcher. Sure, Miller's career statistics indicate as much, as did today's numbers (5 innings, 3 hits, 2 earned runs, 6 Ks). But it was another thing entirely to see Miller with our own eyes, and after watching him unleash a mid-90s fastball and a duck-for-cover curve, it's not a stretch to envision him impacting the AL East race more than Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, Jaret Wright, David Wells and the hotshot free agents who joined The Rivalry over the winter. Yeah, you bet I'm giddy. After the glimpses I saw from Miller today, I'm thinking this may turn out the be Theo's steal of steals, David Ortiz excepted.

8) I know, I know, these things have a way of working themselves out. But . . . what should happen when Curt Schilling and David Wells return to health? Which of the Sox' six capable starters do you send to the bullpen? Bronson Arroyo is the obvious candidate, if only because he is the most suited to handle the transition. Schilling is the ace, Wells is a veteran who would probably resist the role, Miller has to start for his shoulder's sake, and Tim Wakefield's knuckler is a lot more trustworthy in the rotation. Which leaves Arroyo and Matt Clement. I happen to think Clement could be a lights-out reliever in the Scott Williamson mold. In stuff and temperament, he reminds me of Tom Gordon circa 1996, and like Flash, his attention span seems more suited for an inning or two of power relief work. But that won't happen - the Sox have too much invested in him as a starter, and hey, he is 4-0. Which leaves Arroyo. He has a 14-start unbeaten streak and the 11-2 record since the 2004 All-Star break, but it sure looks to me like his quest to establish himself as a top-tier starting pitcher will be undermined by his versatility and selflessness. If only all dilemmas were this pleasant, right?

9) As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Touted by none other than Ted Williams, Quinones was supposed to be the next Dave Concepcion. Close. He was the next Onix Concepcion. But he did help bring Hendu in trade, which was thoughtful of him.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Thanks, mom

Here's the thing about all those macho professional athletes we're always praising as gladiators and warriors and gritty, gutty gamers:

They're mama's boys. Just about all of 'em, too.

Pretty obvious when you think about it. First thing an athlete does when he hits the contract jackpot? Buys mom a house. What does he yelp when the sideline camera is in his face? Hi, mom. Worst possible PG-rated insult? Yo mama.

Yep, behind almost every world-class athlete is a proud mom. Sometimes, she even shows up beside him on the field.

During a New Jersey Nets game four years ago, Stephon Marbury and teammate Jayson Williams careened into each other while hustling after the ball. It was an awkward and gruesome collision, with Marbury leg-whipping Williams across the thighs.

As the players writhed in a tangled heap of limbs, the Nets trainer rushed toward the fallen players … only to encounter a third person already at the scene. Ma Marbury had sprung out of her seat, slipped past security and arrived at the side of her precious, wounded baby.

At that moment, it became clear that Stephon's point-guard quickness was a gift from his mother's side of the gene pool.

Marbury was rattled, but okay. Williams? He broke his leg and tore knee ligaments, injuries which eventually ended his career. "I was fine until Mrs. Marbury trampled me getting to Steph," he said later. He might have been joking.

That Marbury story has become part of NBA lore, but my favorite Moms And Sports anecdote is more obscure. It comes from one of those NFL Films specials my clicker always seems to stall on. I can't remember the topic of the specific show. What I do recall is the camera catching the attention of a young, bright-eyed member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, uniform No. 25.

First, No. 25 smiled and spoke the standard line: "Hi, mom."

But then, so sweet and sincere: "I love you."

I was so impressed by his open, unbridled adoration of his mom, I looked up No. 25's name. Turns out it was Fernando Bryant, a rookie defensive back at the time. There's a man who was raised right, I thought.

This may come as something less than a revelation, but I believe - no, I know - that a strong, supportive mother is a crucial and underrated factor in a young athlete's success. Dads are important, of course, but they have it easier. They get to watch ballgames with you, teach you how to gripe about the Red Sox, chuck the football around the yard. Any dad worth his La-Z-Boy will tell you it beats the heck out of cleaning the gutters.

Moms have the tougher job, so much so that some sociologist somewhere coined a term for the various duties of the modern sports mother: "soccer mom." But the reality is that the job description is always growing.

My sports "career" pretty much screeched to halt 15 years ago - all sportswriters are failed athletes, you know - and yet I can recall a résumé's worth of roles my mom filled during my semi-athletic youth.

She was a fashion consultant. When I was in third grade, she convinced me that if I'd stop wearing my favorite argyle socks in my pee-wee basketball games, I might score more points. Also, and my comedic-genius teammates might stop calling me "Silly Socks Finn." Didn't score more, as I recall, but the nickname ceased. At least until now.

She was an equipment manager. For a sixth-grade project, I was assigned to dress up like a character from my favorite book. A costume? No problem for Mom McGyver. She took the cushions out of an old couch and cut out a pair of shoulder pads. Then, she rubbed some mascara on my face, which made for perfect eye black. Finally, she crafted a fake beard out of some leftover felt. I didn't just look like Dan Fouts from Great Quarterbacks of the NFL that day. I was Dan Fouts from Great Quarterbacks of the NFL.

She was a sports psychologist. When I was a splinter-picking scrub on a powerhouse high school basketball team, my mom never failed to say with a straight face that my three points in a 92-58 victory were "three very important points, dear." Her soothing words were usually accompanied by a post-game pizza. Comfort food, you know.

The truth probably came to me sometime in the years after I put away the basketball and began writing about it: Mom really does know best. But as I grew older (if not up), I, too, often took her endless warmth and wisdom for granted.

Maybe I'd forget to make that Sunday phone call, or maybe I'd mail that birthday card a few postmarks too late. I'd feel the twinge of guilt, a reprimand from my conscience, and then I'd move on with my day.

I figured she'd always be there. She always had been before.

Then, reality slapped me in the face. Not long ago, my mom had a health scare, and not a minor one. For a few frightening days, she lay in a hospital bed, helpless. The feeling became too familiar to all of us.

By a miracle of science, or perhaps of something greater, she came out of it. Even her doctor is astounded by her progress. He tells her she is stronger than before.
Me, I tell her she is stronger than any athlete I will ever encounter.

Maybe my mom didn't give me a Marbury-quick first step, but she gives me a better gift. She cares, always, no matter if she is cheering for a slow, clumsy teenaged basketball player, or a slow, clumsy groom trying not to trample his bride during their first dance as husband and wife.

Come to think of it, a certain slow, clumsy writer struggling to do her justice with his words could use her inspiration right now.

Perhaps instead of writing about one more football hero, this mama's boy should take his words from one. So I will.

Hi, Mom.

I love you.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

(Originally published in the Concord Monitor, May 11, 2003.)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just the Pirates being the Pirates, Vol. 61

From Your Favorite Daily Newspaper, Feb. 3, 2003:

Pittsburgh Pirates: Signed RHP Jeff Suppan to a 1-year contract. Designated RHP Bronson Arroyo for assignment.

I had intended to write about Arroyo's emergence as a legitimate top-tier starting pitcher last night, after his spectactular near-no-hitter yesterday. But then those Prozac-addled Celtics got in the way.

I'll likely get around to giving Arroyo a verbal backrub in the next day or two. In the meantime, ponder the above piece of agate and answer me this:

Have the Pirates ever adequately explained their decision to waive Arroyo, 25 years old and coming off an excellent season (2.96 ERA, 143 innings, 126 hits, 28 walks, 116 Ks) in the Pacific Coast League? Or do they just say, "Hey, we're the Pirates. We're dumb that way," and leave it at that?

Answers. I want 'em.

Pluck of the Irish

Scribblings on the notepad from the Celtics' 92-89 overtime victory over the Pacers tonight, an entertainingly bizarre affair Doc Rivers called, "The craziest freakin' game I've ever seen in my life" . . .

As I'm sure you know, the craziest freakin' plot twist was Paul Pierce's ejection for elbowing Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley with 12 seconds left in regulation and the Celtics clinging to a 1-point lead. Since the various details are too much for my chick pea of a brain to comprehend at this wee hour, here's the AP synoposis:

Tinsley hit Pierce in the neck while fouling him, and Pierce appeared to swing his elbow in anger. Referee Steve Javie did not immediately make a call. But after huddling with the other two officials, Pierce was assessed his second technical foul of the game - an automatic ejection.

Reggie Miller hit the technical foul shot to tie the game, and the Pacers got to choose which Celtics player would replace Pierce at the foul line. They selected Kendrick Perkins, a 64 percent foul shooter, and he missed both attempts. The Pacers then had a chance to win, but Miller shot an airball from well behind the 3-point line, sending the game to overtime.

My take on the whole thing? Well, as we all know, the only time it's technically acceptable for a Celtic to physically assault an opponent is when Bill Laimbeer is on the other end of the fist/elbow/knee/pistol. So Pierce was definitely in the wrong.

All right, in all seriousness, it was a reckless, inexplicable, undisciplined, colossally stupid brain cramp by the Celtics' alleged captain. He could have cost the Celtics the season, as I'm sure Ordway and his no-talent toadies will remind us for four excruciating hours today. Hell, even Tommy Heinsohn could not justify Pierce's antics, though he did nearly have a triple grand mal seizure when Pierce was belatedly ejected. ("Ohhh . . . they are not going to do this, are they? . . . THEY ARE NOT GOING TO DO THIS, ARE THEY?")

After the game, Pierce was embarrassed and apologetic, calling it a "bonehead play" and saying it will never happen again. He was wearing what looked to be a jockstrap on his face as he did so, but still, the apology is is good enough for me. Those who will attempt to make it into The Downfall of Sport As We Know It will conveniently ignore one key fact: the Celtics got their captain off the hook by winning this game. It was idiotic, but it was ultimately harmless to everything but Pierce's reputation. Let it go. There's so much more about this ridiculously entertaining/bizarro game to discuss.

. . . and besides, Tinsley kinda/sorta had it coming. He's the worst kind of opponent, a slippery little cheap-shot artist, a flopper, the Claude Lemieux of the NBA. Which I suppose makes Reggie Miller the hoops version of Ulf Samuelsson in this analogy. Maybe Pierce can whip him Neely-style in Game 7.

Upon leaving the court, Pierce ripped off his jersey, revealing a huge tattoo sprawling across most of his back. The whole scene was positively Rodmanesque, which I guess shouldn't be that surprising. Pierce seems so - I don't know, off-kilter? - these days, his demeanor reminiscent of The Last Days of Nomah. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Pierce showed up for Game 7 with platinum blonde hair and wearing a wedding dress.

Great quote by Rivers on the enigma formerly known as CyberToine: "He's just got a quirky game, to be honest. He'll be missing layups and hitting threes, then hitting layups and missing threes. I told him after the first half to keep putting it up because the odds are on your side. We finally got him to at least laugh. I mean, we might as well keep firing the thing up there. It's what we do."

Walker had one of his classic Bad Antoine/Good Antoine games. In the first half, Bad Antoine was a menace to his own team, forcing bad shots, clanging easy ones, shooting 2 for 10 and reminding his detractors why they were happy to see him depart last season. But Good Antoine arrived just in time, scoring 13 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including go-ahead three-pointer as well as the clinching bucket. In a sense, his performance tonight was a microcosm of the 'Toine Experience. Just when his erratic ways have you ready to wish him well in his next life as Charlotte Bobcat, he does something to make you proud he's on your side. If only he could always control that impulse to try and do too much. God love him, but we've been saying that for eight years now, haven't we?

Leave it Heinsohn to succintly pinpoint the unsung star of the game: "Without Big Al tonight, we're done." That's no hyperbole. Al Jefferson, the precocious 19-year-old rookie power forward, had the game of his young career tonight, scoring 11 points and grabbing 14 boards while ruling the low post like a cross between Elton Brand and the ABA incarnation of Moses Malone . . .

. . . You bet that's elite company. But is impossible to overstate how impressive Jefferson was tonight. I mean, he schooled shrewd NBA vets Jermaine O'Neal and Dale Davis with a variety of post moves that looked both instinctive and honed by hard work. I am giddy with the thought of watching Jefferson develop over the next few years - and he took a giant leap forward in that development tonight.

This seems like an appropriate place to list some of the players selected ahead of Jefferson in the 2004 NBA Draft. Devin Harris. Josh Childress. Luke Jackson. Rafael Araujo. Andris Biedins. (Andris Biedins?) Robert Swift. Kris Humphries. Sam Bowie. LaRue Martin. Rebecca Lobo. Mr. Ed. Stephen Hawking. Stevie Wonder. The kid from "Webster." You get the point.

Eighty-eight games into the season, and this one-man jury is still deliberating Rivers's abilities as a tactician. But even his detractors admit it's impossible not to like the guy. Few coaches in any sport are as candid and articulate when talking about the game in detail. His forthrightness and obvious intelligence always seems to restore my wavering faith in his abilities, though even he might admit he's the underdog when he goes clipboard-to-clipboard with Rick Carlisle.

Seriously, how many assistant coaches does Rivers have? Eight? 16? 64? I just found out former Bucks swingman Paul Pressey is on the Celtics staff. If you knew that, you are a better fan than I. Or on the staff.

Tell me again. Is rapper/actor DMX really Gary Payton's evil twin? Or vice versa?

The one thing you notice watching an NBA game up close is just how physical the play is around the hoop. It's basically football for tall guys, which makes what O'Neal is doing all the more impressive. His shoulder has gone the way of Mel Gibson's in "Lethal Weapon 2," yet there he was again last night, scoring 26 points and damn near tying up the game at the end of overtime. He can play for my team anytime. Which reminds me . . . he almost did. Back when Rick Pitino was doing his Napoleon-in-Armani routine in Boston, he reportedly offered the Celtics' three first-round picks in the 2001 draft to the Portland Trail Blazers for O'Neal, who was languishing on the bench. I don't recall why the deal fell through, but something tells me Pitino backed out of it. You know, since it would have made sense and all.

If the Pacers lose Game 7, then this will have been Reggie Miller's final home game. Knowing his history and flair for the dramatic, I was surprised when he airballed a potential game-winning three at the end of regulation, Maybe he is aging after all. He sure hides it well.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No one calls a better game than Mike Gorman. And to think he does it while having the additional duty of electroshocking Heinsohn every time a referee dares wander within an arm's length.

When the Celtics are desperate for a hoop, I want the ball in Ricky Davis's hands. And there you have it: 16 words I'd never have imagined writing a year ago. Davis had a personal playoff-high 22 points tonight, and along with Jefferson, he hoisted his teammates up by their high tops after they fell behind 19-8 early, taking command of the stagnant offense in the second quarter and carrying the Celtics into the break with a 49-43 lead. Say what you will about his flakiness, but he has rare talent, and he put it to good use tonight.

With 2:16 left in overtime, the FoxSportsNet camera spied a fan in the crowd wearing a No. 30 Celtics jersey - the number currently worn by Mark Blount. I'm seriously hoping he was either paying homage to a No. 30 of the past (M.L. Carr, perhaps) or he was wearing Blount's actual jersey, given to him by the overpaid stiff center as he slipped out of the building unnoticed at halftime. Otherwise, that fan is no fan at all.

Bring on Game 7. And if you know what's going to happen, your crystal ball is a hell of a lot more effective than mine.

Update, 3:06 p.m., Monday: Reader Gary suggests that the fan in the No. 30 Celtics jersey was paying homage to Len Bias. Makes sense to me. Hell, the Celtics are liable to get more out of Bias in this series than they will from Blount. - CF

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yankee swap

So let me get this right, Yankees fans. When the Yes Network cues up its next propaganda marathon of "Yankeeographies," the appropriate chronological order to watch them is this:

Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson, Jackson, Mattingly, Capt. Jetes . . . Robinson Cano?

Yes, I jest. But judging by the machinations in the Bronx the past few days, one must assume young Mr. Cano - a 22-year-old second base prospect of moderate note - is the Next Pride of The Yankees.

After all, in order to create a spot for him in the lineup, George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and the Yankees' braintrust:

1) Moved their starting second baseman (Tony Womack) to left field, despite his inexperience at the position or the fact that he had Tommy John surgery two years ago.

2) Moved their left fielder (Hideki Matsui) to center, paying little mind to his often circuitous routes to fly balls.

3) Moved their aging center fielder (Bernie Williams) to a part-time DH role, where he'll be part of an aging three-headed rotation making approximately $30 million this year.

Pride of the Yankees? More like Panic of the Yankees. I know, it's not all about giving Cano a shot. The true, hushed motivation for making all of these moves is to get the remnants of Bernie Williams out of center field. There are lawn ornaments with better range, and his arm now makes Johnny Damon's look like Dewey Evans's. But by putting the novice Womack in left, it looks like a classic example of change for change's sake. How about making a change that might actually improve the defense. Like moving the shortstop to third base and third baseman to short, for instance

This solves nothing. The main culprit for the Yankees' miserable start is not the calcified Williams or the outfield defense, but the underachieving pitching staff. The bullpen is decaying so rapidly, even the girl who loved Tom Gordon is booing him now. And the rebuilt starting rotation is a mess. Carl Pavano has been inconsistent. Jaret Wright, after a one-year hiatus, turned back into Jaret Wright. Marquee offseason acquisition Randy "Big Unit" Johnson has pitched well, but he's ticketed to for the DL with a stiff groin. (Note to self: From now on, try to refrain from using "Big Unit," "Johnson" and "stiff groin" in the same sentence. Thank you.)

Truth be told, this "shakeup" has Georgie Porgie's greasy fingerprints all over it. His daddy did make his money in shipping, so I suppose The Turtlenecked Tyrant recognizes a sinking ship when he sees one - even if he's the one who blew the hole in the bow.

While considering the chintzy construction of your $200 million team this morning, sprinkle this one on your Jeter Flakes, Yankees fans: If not for the intervention of Georgie Porgie, the Yankees very likely would have an outfield this morning of Matsui, Carlos Beltran and Vlad Guerrero. Now that would cover up for a lot of pitching problems. I said this before the season, and I'll say it now: The Yankees will rue the day they passed up 27-year-old Beltran and gave up on 28-year-old Javier Vazquez in order to acquire the 41-year-old Johnson. Once more, the future was sacrificed for the quick fix. This time they are paying the consequences.

Are Red Sox fans are enjoying this? You bet your Brien Taylor rookie card we are, Vinny. And this time we expect it to last, though it's always dangerous to mock the Yankees so early in the season, if only because they have the financial resources to take on more talent. Maybe Steinbrenner can buy Roger Clemens another Hummer. You know, to convince him to be "loyal" to the Yankees should Houston make him available.

Hell, who knows, maybe Cano (2 for 7 in two games) will provide a spark. But the Baseball Prospectus in my mind tells me he is less like Alfonso Soriano and more like Bobby Meacham. And I suspect the Yankees, even in all of their cloudy-eyed desperation, realize this too. Which is why Steinbrenner reportedly already has his Plan B in place.

Welcome back, Horace. This Yankee team is doing a fine job of reminding us of your era.

And for what it's worth, we here in New England think your "Yankeeography" is long overdue.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Nine innings 05.01.05

Plodding through a delayed nine innings (sorry for the late post, peeps) while wondering If the Rocket will be pitching for Us or Them come October . . .

1) The most telling Red Sox stat from 2004 is this gem: The five pitchers that began the season in the starting rotation - Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo - combined to make 157 of a possible 162 starts. That, more than any other reason, is why the Sox plugged away long enough to claim the AL wild-card - their starting rotation remained remarkably effective and healthy from Game 1 to Game 162. They were the foundation on which a championship was built.

Unfortunately, 25 games into the new season and we already know that will not be the case again. Unless you've been living under a rock, in the Bronx, or most likely, under a rock in the Bronx, you know that Curt Schilling and David Wells both went on the 15-day DL this week. Wells is out for a month with a sprained foot, while Schilling has a bone bruise in his surgically repaired ankle, an injury that you have to believe is directly related to the thread-and-duct-tape repair job that enabled him to pitch with a torn ankle tendon during the postseason.

(Quick digression: I DO NOT trust the Sox management when they attempt to downplay an injury, especially after Trot Nixon missed almost the entire 2004 season with back and quad injuries that were first said to be minor. Hell, I think they're still telling us Nomar is day-to-day. Schilling, out two weeks even though he's in a cast? Nope. Don't buy it. See you in June, Schill. End of digression.)

I'm no whiz with numbers, but by my accounting the Sox have 79 years, 550 pounds (give or take a Twinkie), 399 career wins and 40 percent of their current starting rotation on the disabled list. Losing Schilling and Wells sure looks like a hell of a double-whammy on the surface, and maybe it will prove to be impossible to overcome. But my hunch is that the Sox are deep and talented enough to can survive - and even thrive - during the Schilling/Wells hiatus. All they need is a couple things to happen, all of them reasonable:

1) The offense picks up the pitching staff and starts hitting like the 1,000-runs-a-season beast that Theo Epstein strives to assemble.

2) No. 5 starter Bronson Arroyo continues to pitch like a No. 2 starter, something he's done since last August.

3) Keith Foulke remembers he's Keith Foulke, closer of four straight World Series victories, 2004, not Keith Foulke, deposed Chicago White Sox closer, 2002.

4) Jeremi Gonzalez (decent arm, lousy luck) and/or John Halama pitches like an actual major-leaguer.

Seems to me it's not too much to ask. What was it Yankees fans always used to say to us back when they won championships? I know I'm a man, but I can't help it - I want to have Derek Jeter's baby! No, no, the other thing. Championships aren't won in April. Talk to me in October.

Yes, that's it. Championships are won in October, not April. As long as Schilling and Wells are healthy then, the Sox will be fine. There's no need to panic now. We'll leave that for the Fourth-Place Yankees.

2) I'm as late on this as Kevin Millar against a 94-m.p.h fastball, but a week ago, Shaughnessy had a must-read column on Larry Bird, his passion for Boston sports, and most notably, his appreciation for Manny Ramirez. It was refreshing to read Bird's praise of Manny, not only because any insight from Bird is appreciated, but because I think there's certain closed-minded segment of fans and media that read Bird's quotes with raised eyebrows. They forget that Manny's work ethic in the batting cages approaches Larry Legend's on the hardwood, and only consider the differences of the two men in appearance, demeanor and reputation. To them I offer the simple explanation for Bird's admiration: Sometimes only the great themselves can appreciate greatness in others. But the truth runs much deeper than that - and well below the skin's surface.

3) I'm not sure if it's my belief that the first-place Orioles are fraud, my snickering joy in the Fourth-Place Yankees' worst start since The Kevin Maas Years, or the lingering afterglow of last October, but for some reason I'm not nearly as frustrated with the Sox's lumbering start as I would have been in the past. (Dude, check it out - mellow Sox fans!) But I have a feeling that if the Fourth-Place Yankees suddenly get hot, I will too.

4) When Brian Cashman brings Georgie Porgie his morning paper, grapefruit-prune juice cocktail and Metamucil, I bet he pulls one out of Costanza's bag of tricks and says with just a hint of desperation, "Damn New York Times printed the AL East standings upside down again, Boss. Look, Angelos is in last place again! Haha!" We'll know Steinbrenner has caught on when we get another one of those Gen. Patton-crossed-with-Montgomery Burns missives from the bunker.

5) You know Kentucky Fried Millar is going bad when he does a segment with "Red Sox This Week" host Dan Roche on the Sox's new hitting cage, and the teetering-on-dorkdom Roche ends up looking like the better option for the 5-slot in the lineup. You bet I'm glad the Sox signed John Olerud and his safety helmet to a minor-league contract. He's not Doug Mientkiewicz, but he's close, and he should eventually take some at-bats against tough righties away from Millar, something that needs to happen soon . . .

6) . . . and in case you forgot, we owe him our gratitude anyway. After all, Olerud, a late-season pickup by the Yankees in 2004, indirectly contributed to the Sox's comeback in the ALCS. After delivering a game-breaking two-run homer against Pedro in the Yankees' victory in Game 2, he soon suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for the rest of the series. With Honey, I Shrunk The Giambi impotent at that point, the Yankees had to dig up the mummified remains of Tony Clark and play him at first base, a development that certainly benefited the Sox many times over late in the series.

7) Twenty-five games. That's too small a sample size to judge Edgar Renteria, right? Good, because I was about to say that only differences I see between the new Sox shortstop and the man he replaced is that Orlando Cabrera had better hands and range, was more reliable in the clutch, and exhibited infinitely more joy in playing in front of such boisterous (okay, demanding) fans. But of course I won't make such a premature proclamation, because the Renteria Error . . . er, Era . . . has been only 25 games. Yep, way too soon to jump to conclusions. (Gulp.)

8) I really want to like the guy after what he accomplished last October, I do. But the more Curt Schilling bleats, blabbers and embellishes, the more I think the rumor that Randy Johnson wanted no part in coming here because he couldn't stand his former Arizona co-ace is as true as the sky is blue.

9) Finally, today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Gotta love Big Sam, the patron saint of Red Sox fans with a keyboard and an opinion.