Thursday, September 29, 2005

TATB Live! (Sort of)

Figured we'd bust out something new tonight, a little live blogging off the Sox/Jays game. I've been meaning to do this with the Pats one of these Sundays, but tonight's as good a time as any for a couple reasons:

1) This Sox game is as crucial as they come in the regular season, what with them tied with the Indians for the wild card and trailing the Yankees in the AL East with four games to play;

2) Mrs. TATB, apparently inspired by the revelation that hyper-hypo home-improvement hunk Ty Pennington is currently in town with his crew from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," is madly painting the living room walls while imagining that he's going to show up here any moment, admire her craftsmanship with the semi-gloss, and rescue her away from this sports-addicted doofus she married. I'll let you know if it happens, unless I'm distracted by a Sox rally at the time.

Anyway, here goes . . . something. Play ball, blog on, go Sox, and such. - CF

Matt Clement sails through an impressive first inning, but we barely have time to enjoy it before Tom Caron checks in from the NESN studio with the first bad news of the night. Jason Giambi, who in rediscovering his, uh, "confidence" has decided to forgo the customary pinstriped Yankee jersey and now wears only jorts, an American Chopper tank top and a weight belt to the plate, crushes a three-run homer to put the Yankees ahead 3-0 in the first. Meanwhile, Travis Hafner, who deserves to finish in the top five or six in the MVP balloting, depending upon your view of Mariano Rivera's contributions, cranks a two-run shot to put Cleveland up, 2-0. Something of an ominous start, I'd say.

Jays 1, Sox 0: Jason Varitek, who's performance lately has fallen somewhere between atrocious and Marc Sullivanesque, spots Eric Hinske trying to steal third and promptly airmails his throws behind Bill Mueller. Hinske, who would be lucky to finish third in a sausage race, lumbers home ahead of Manny's tardy throw, and the Sox are playing from behind for the 43d straight game. (All right, I made that stat up. Might be correct, though.)

* T.C. checks in with more bad news: Indians, 4-0. Yankees, 4-0. I wonder if he's familiar with the phrase "kill the messenger."

Jays 2, Sox 0: Aaron Hill, a .273 hitter who somehow turns into Robin Yount against the Sox, doubles into the corner. Frank Catalanotto, a .294 hitter who somehow turns into George Brett against the Sox, doubles off the wall. Dammit, the Jays are more comfortable here than there are at the Building Formerly Known As The SkyDome. I'd say it's time Clement puts someone face down in the batter's box, but I don't think he has it in him. (He does escape a two-on, one-out jam, however, keeping it from getting out of hand. No complaints about his performance thus far.)

Jays 2, Sox 1: Good Guys get one back, Tony Graffanino scores on an Edgar Renteria fielder's choice, made possible when Johnny Damon barreled into second to break up what could have been an inning-ending double play. It's good to see Damon looking like his healthier self lately; his Gray's Anatomy worth of injuries has been one of the underplayed angles during the Sox's recent offensive struggles, and it's reassuring to see him playing with zest again.

* Have I mentioned the Sox are facing the immortal Scott Downs tonight? He's a retread, a former Cub and Expo, I believe, and he beat the Sox a week or so ago. But at least he's a distinctive retread. With his '80s-style permullet flowing out of the back of his cap, he looks like the lead singer in an REO Speedwagon tribute band. Somehow, he's keeping the Sox off-balance despite a repertoire that Lenny DiNardo would snicker at, having just whiffed Papi on a slow curve for the second time tonight. Papi has looked lost lately, and you have to wonder if his back is acting up at the most inopportune time. Damn thing must be killing him from carrying the likes of Kevin Millar all summer.

Clement cruises. Good time to get some momentum going. And one more thing: S-A-C-C-U-C-C-I . . . SACCUCCI! IT'S THE NAME TO DRIVE!!! (Now just try getting that out of your head for the next half hour. Enjoy.)

* Mmmmmm . . . paint fumes.

* Nothing doing in the fourth for the Sox. Where the hell has all their power gone, anyway? And in a related story, how come Trot Nixon gets no crap for morphing into an injury-prone, lefty-phobic, subpar defensive outfielder who has 20 fewer homers the last two seasons than Manny has in this one? What is it again that gets him off the hook? The scowl, or the dirty hat? I always forget.

Jays 4, Sox 1: Guess who goes deep? Yep . . . Frank $*&@&*#*@**@#**$*@*(!**#**@**@*!**$*@*@**$%**@**!*!*!*$*@*!*$*%*%*@**!*$***@****@*#*$*%*%*%*%*%*%*%**@*%**@*@**!*$*** Catalanotto. Who else? He's hitting over .600 against the Sox in this series - with six consecutive hits at one point - and if he doesn't have a baseball-sized bruise between his shoulder blades before the night is through, then I seriously have to question the pride of this manager and this team. Enough is enough.

* All right, hell, I'd settle for walking the guy.

* My wife just walks into the room wearing a gas mask. I didn't even know we owned a gas mask. Betcha Ty is into that sort of thing. Perv.

* Bases loaded, two outs, 3-2 count, the appropriately named Gabe Gross at the plate with a chance to bust the game open. You could make the argument that this is the biggest pitch of Matt Clement's career, and certainly of his Red Sox career. I'm expecting a slider in the dirt myself. Sometimes reality trumps hope, people.

* Grounder to first, and Millar even caught the damn thing. Maybe there is hope after all.

* Nixon leads off the bottom half of the fifth by hitting a 32-hopper to first on a 3-2 pitch. Now, I'm no Papa Jack, but I think Trotski might have more success against lefties if his right foot weren't in the Sox dugout every time he takes a swing.

* While Damon digs in to the batter's box, roving reporter Eric Frede checks in with a snippet of a postgame interview with Damon from last night. When the clip is over and Frede's duty is done, he flaps his mighty ears and flies back to the press box. (We kid, we kid - TATB did a radio show a few times with Frede during his pre-NESN days in New Hampshire, and he's as likable and professional as as he comes across on TV. And his ears really ain't that big, either.)

* Gross robs Renteria of extra-bases with a leaping catch at the wall for the final out of the inning. Is it possible that the Blue Jays are as good defensively as they look against the Sox, or are we just so used to the Sox's awkward-to-awful outfield defense that everyone else looks like Andruw Jones by comparison?

Clement gives up a leadoff single, and his work for the night is done. Coulda been worse, I suppose. He worked out of a few jams, which isn't always his forte. Unfortunately, now the Sox's flammable bullpen is involved. (And surprise of surprises, Mike Myers strands two, and the margin stays at three. Final line for Clement: 5 innings, 8 hits, 3 walks, 2, Ks, 4 runs. Eh. If this is his last start of the season, let me sum it up this way: I'm not looking forward to two more years of this guy.)

* Don Orsillo just informed us in hushed tones that Aaron Small has allowed one hit through six innings, and the Yankees lead the Orioles, 6-0. You know what this means? Aaron Bleepin' Small, Career Minor Leaguer And Not A Particularly Good Career Minor Leaguer At That, is going to be 10-0 after tonight. I'm not going to say he sold his soul to the devil, because Small is supposedly a devout Christian, but it certainly appears he sold his soul to Steinbrenner at the very least. Funny thing is, not even New Yorkers are buying that this guy is legit. When I guaranteed my buddy Duckler - a Yankee fan right down to his Chicken Stanley longjohns - that Small will be back in Columbus next season, he actually agreed with me. Considering I think he might still argue Kevin Maas's Hall of Fame chances if the mood struck him, he caught me off-guard there for a minute. Reasonable Yankees fans confuse me.

* T.C. tells us it's 8-0, Yankees, and 6-0, Cleveland. You know, maybe these updates aren't such a good idea anymore. So, hey then, how about you STOP #*$**@**** TELLING US THAT HIDEKI MATSUI WENT DEEP AND THE YANKEES ARE STILL DOING REALLY WELL TONIGHT, OKAY???? WE GET THE POINT!!! THEY'RE WINNING!!! BIG!!! AGAIN!!!!! THANK YOU, TOM!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

* Papi hits an infield single into the shift, and the Jays pull Downs, who apparently is in a rush to get to the Journey/Speedwagon/Foreigner triple-bill at Avalon tonight. Can't say I'm sorry to see him go. (Jason Frasor is coming in.)

* Jays 4, Sox 3: MANNY! OPPOSITE-FIELD TWO-RUN SHOT INTO THE BLEACHERS! (Sorry. I don't mean to yell.) Anyway, this seems like an appropriate time to share a thoughtful email I received from reader Steve R. today:

"At some point (hopefully, at least after a round of playoffs) the zealots in this town who have such disdain and near sightedness for all things Francona and Manny will come to the realization that this team is incredibly flawed. Without Manny their record would be Blue Jay-esque and David Ortiz would be getting the Barry Bonds treatment. Is that what Red Sox fans want? Then again, I think EEI listeners and callers make up such a small percentage of legitimate sports fans in this town.

The reason the Red Sox are in the position that they are in is that their starting pitching staff is a collection of 3-5 starters, the bullpen and bench, strong points from last year, were decimated by injury and the execution of a number of highly questionable moves by the baseball operations staff.

Mantei, Halama, Remlinger, Bradford, Harville, Miller, Clement, Wells, the immortal Blaine Neal, allowing Pedro to go, totally underestimating the severity of Schilling's injury - those are not Terry Francona's moves. He was given a poor hand by his GM. This doesn't even call into question the whole Renteria/Cabrera issue. Renteria has been solid the last couple of nights but his fielding has been a major disappointment all season long.

I could care less what spin-meisters and marketers have to say. I am interested only in the product on the field. Hopefully, the media will seek out Theo and his staff and call into question his 2005 off-season and in-season maneuvers. I recall him saying that he didn't want the Red Sox to get "complacent". Well, they did not get complacent, but I feel that they certainly got worse.

I am a huge Manny fan and think he's underappreciated in this town. I can tell you do too. Go Sox.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

* Cleveland wins. Whoop-de-damn-doo. Let's just worry about the Sox taking care of their own business. (Scoreboard watching sure isn't much fun when T.C. keeps pounding you over the head with lousy news.)


Call it hyperbole if you wish, call it a giddy overreaction after having just watched him gas his way through the top half of the inning, but trust me when I say I wouldn't type it if I didn't believe it: Jonathan Papelbon is the best pitcher on this team right now. (Sorry, Wakes. We can never completely trust a knuckleballer.)

* Tony Graffanino reaches on an infield single, and you'd think a steal might be in order if not for the fact that Graffanino appears welded to the bag. Too bad the Sox don't have, oh, say, a Dave Roberts-type this year. (So Graffanino steals with two outs. Shows what I know. Unfortunately, he's left stranded at second when Renteria's hard line drive to first finds Hinske's mitt. Luck is in scarce supply for the home team again tonight. They're due for a few bloops and bleeders to fall their way, and we can only hope Renteria's rocket wasn't their last, best hope.)

Papi-Manny-Varitek this inning. It's now or . . . well, you know.

* T.C. checkin' in with another unwanted update: Yankees win, 8-4. Go eat one of Jim Rice's sweaters, T.C.

* Sox 4, Jays 4: Seriously, what is there to say at this point? Papi wallops a majestic game-tying home run in the eighth inning - the 20th of his 47 homers to tie the game or give the Sox the lead - and it's so damn commonplace, so damn familiar, so damn expected from the man at this point, that all you can do is think of Joe Castiglione's favorite refrain: "David Ortiz has done it again!" Well, that, and you can also run around the living room yelping "Papi! Papi!" while your gas-mask wearing wife looks at you like you're the weird one.

* Yo, Manny-bashers: You just saw him bust his a$$ from first to third on 'Tek's single there, right? Okay, good. If you think he doesn't care after watching his guts-out performance the past two weeks, you either haven't been paying attention or refuse to admit what you see.

* First and third, no one out. The Splendid Helmet hits a too-shallow fly ball, Mueller whiffs, Vernon Wells makes a Torii Hunter-quality catch on a Nixon shot into the gap, and a primo opportunity is wasted. Crap. Hopefully it's not the last hurrah.

Papelbon - aka The Best Damn Pitcher On The Sox Right Now - mows through the Jays in the ninth, giving up a dinky two-out double to Human Sausage Hinske, then getting the relentlessly annoying Gregg Zaun to popup to third to end the inning. (And if you didn't watch the ball settle into Mueller's glove and think some combination of Nettles/Yaz/'78, well, you're not as old as I, my friend.)

Sox 5, Jays 4: And when it was over, when Papi had offered Example 2,987 why he's the very definition of Most Valuable, when his opposite-field single found the outfield grass and Damon sped toward the plate and the home dugout spilled onto the field and Fenway rocked and rollicked and rejoiced, when "Dirty Water" and "Tessie" and the joyous sounds of significant, important, meaningful baseball filled the fall air, when it was all over and the Red Sox had won on a night when it looked like all was lost, what's left to say but this:

Damn, that was fun. What say we do it again soon?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nine innings: 09.28.05

Playing nine innings while wondering why the hell I ever rooted for the Indians to catch the White Sox . . .

1) When something goes wrong with the Sox or Pats, the sad WEEIzation of our sports culture demands that we rant, drool, rant some more, ignore all common sense and logic, disregard the facts for the sake of a poorly formed argument, and finally, assign blame. So it goes with the hot-button talk-radio topic of the moment: Terry Francona's use of the bullpen. Francona has been flame-broiled in recent days for, among other things, not pitching Jonathan Papelbon in Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader after he'd thrown 25 pitches in Game 1; refusing to use Manny Delcarmen and his 1.80 WHIP in the late innings; not using Craig Hansen; using Craig Hansen; and trusting anyone named Chad. Some of the beefs are legitimate - Papelbon suggested during the postgame show after Tuesday's day game that he'd be ready for the nightcap, and Francona should not be resting the kid's arm at the expense of a chance at a crucial victory. But the more you want to blame Francona for the bullpen's failures, the more you realize he's trying everything he can to stabilize this season-long mess, and it's really not his fault. Who knew that the invaluable Keith Foulke would suffer the first lost season of his fine career, that dependable Alan Embree would help the Sox more by joining the Yankees, that hard-throwing Matt Mantei would crumble with injuries? It's certainly not Francona's fault that the Sox have only one reliever remaining from the crew they began spring training with, Mike Timlin. Nor is it is fault that retreads like Bradford and Harville have not done the job despite repeated chances, that Hansen suddenly looks like he left his slider on campus, that Delcarmen can't be trusted until he has better command. Sure, maybe Francona puts them in a position to fail sometimes, but isn't that one of the hazards of a relief pitcher's job? It's not the manager's fault that few have been able to do the job competently.

2) In the aftermath of two consecutive excruciating losses to the Blue Jays, it's easy to think negatively, that the Sox will go into the three-game Armageddon with the Yankees trailing by two games in the AL East, lose Friday, and perhaps end up on the outside of the postseason looking in when the dust has settled. Fine. Be that way. I prefer to take the optimist's approach. Maybe it's the lingering-for-a-lifetime memory of what happened last year, but even with evidence mounting on a daily basis that a championship repeat is highly unlikely, I'm thinking positively about what awaits the Sox on the immediate horizon. In fact, this delicious scenario has been rattling around in my tin can of a mind for some time now: The Yankees come to Fenway needing just one win to clinch the East. But the Sox - somehow, improbably, amazingly - find a way to pummel them three straight. Then the Yankees lose to the Indians (and surprise starting pitcher Rick Waits) in a one-game playoff for the wild-card and are excluded from the postseason, and all those New York fans who crawled back out of the septic system when the Empire slipped into first place last week are as shocked and silent as they were that beautiful New York evening last fall. Sound unlikely? Well, sure. But I think we all have seen stranger things happen. Think positive, people. Contrary to what Michael Kay and Al-Yankeezeera want their grubby little minions to believe, last year was not an aberration.

3) Now, we here at TATB don't normally advocate headhunting. We think Don Drysdale was a self-absorbed bully, Sal Maglie was a meathead, and Bob Gibson was lucky he didn't kill someone. But we will concede that there is a time and place for a well-placed fastball, one that comes close enough to a batter's noggin that he can smell the smoke as it sizzles beneath his nose. For example, Pedro Martinez's knockdown of Hideki Matsui in Game 5 of the ALCS changed the whole tenor of the series; one 96 MPH high-and-tight message (okay, 91 MPH), and suddenly, the Yankees' bats went limp. I bring this up now because . . . well, because it's about time a few of these Blue Jays batters got a taste of the dirt in the Fenway batter's box. Toronto has one player batting above .275 in its starting lineup - Frank Catalanotto - yet this collection of mediocrities look like the '27 Yankees when they face Sox. I mean, there's no shame in getting beaten by Vernon Wells or Catalanotto, but . . . Reed Johnson? Gregg Zaun? Gimme a break. These are not top-quality ballplayers, and they have no business beating the Sox time and time again. Sox pitchers should have knocked them down - and down a peg - a long time ago.

4) How is it that Bronson Arroyo usually has such pinpoint command of his 19 different versions of a breaking ball yet he couldn't spot a fastball if Eddie Vedder's life depended on it? Arroyo's downfall tonight, as is usually the case when he struggles, was his inability to throw the fastball in the general vicinity of where Jason Varitek wanted it. Catalanotto crushed a couple of badly misplaced heaters, as did Eric Hinske, as Arroyo allowed three homers and never gave the Sox a chance. Common baseball knowledge says controlling a fastball should be a lot easier than snapping off a slider on the outside corner, yet for Arroyo the opposite is the case. You'd think any pitching coach worth his video machine would have solved this mystery by now.

5) Considering that today is the closest thing to a must-win game the Sox will have until . . . well, until tomorrow, I suppose . . . don't you find yourself wishing that anyone but Matt Clement were taking the mound? He seems like a nice guy, and for the most part he has been what the Sox thought they were getting when they bought him as a free-agent in the offseason, but his jittery mound presence and inability to trust his stuff don't exactly inspire faith in the most crucial moments. If there's any consolation, it's that the same words were written about Derek Lowe this time last year. (Positive. Thinking positive here . . . )

6) I like to imagine that Jerry Remy's Fall Rivah pronunciation of Edgar Renteria's last name - "Anothah errah for Rent-A-Rear, Don" - was actually the RemDawg's subtle way of critiquing the Sox shortstop's disappointing performance. Lately, though, Renteria has looked like the player we thought we were getting when the Sox signed him away from the Cardinals in the offseason. Sure, his defense still gives us Luis Rivera flashbacks, but he homered tonight, had five hits yesterday, and seems intent on avenging his so-far subpar season with a hellaciously hot stretch run. 'Bout time, I say.

7) I'm not sure if it's possible for Curt Schilling to use up all the goodwill he earned last October, but the more he runs his mouth at inopportune times, the more it seems he's intent on finding out. Just shut up and pitch already, big fella. We like it better when you save the drama for the games.

8) Manny Ramirez, the last 10 games heading into last night: 7 homers, 14 RBI - and only one of the homers came in a loss. David Ortiz will get the MVP votes (and if there is any justice, the award), but it has been Manny who has carried this team down the stretch. Wait . . . what's that you say, John Dennis . . . Denise . . . Dentillo . . . whatever your name is? Oh, wow . . . you're right! He didn't run hard on a two-hop grounder to the pitcher that time, did he? Well, then, trade the bum!! Get him gone!!! Seriously, this aside is intended for you oblivious morons (yeah, I mean you) who want Manny outta here after this season for no reason other than that he doesn't run out the occasional ground-freakin-ball: You'll miss him. Oh, yeah, you will. You may be too stubborn to admit it or too blinded by your scrappy heroes' false hustle to realize it, but if you are are true Red Sox fan who wants nothing more than to see this team win, you'll miss him. Just not nearly as much as Papi will.

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

Clement is maddening, no doubt. But at least the Sox didn't trade the second coming of Vida Blue for him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rookie mistake

I'm not sure what's scarier: That poor, naive Robinson Cano listened to A-Rod's fashion advice, or that he really seems to dig his new pompoms.

(Update: I'll have a TATB notebook posted in the next day or two, promise. Your patience is much appreciated. And to the many of you who expressed concern, a grateful tip of the cap and a heartfelt thank you. - CF)

Friday, September 23, 2005

TATB Hall of Fame inductee Lyman Bostock

Twenty-seven years ago tonight, in the backseat of a car trapped between a shotgun-toting madman and a red stoplight in Gary, Indiana, a brilliant young baseball player took a final, terrified breath. Maybe you are familiar with the tragic tale of Lyman Bostock, a gifted, charismatic outfielder who batted .311 in three seasons with the Minnesota Twins and one with the California Angels, a player on the cusp of superstardom before he was so senselessly murdered at the age of 27.

Or maybe you are not familiar with him. Of the 500 or so the columns I pecked out during my nine years at the Concord Monitor, none generated a greater response than did this one, which I wrote about Bostock during the historically star-crossed Angels' journey to the 2002 World Series championship.

From the day it was published until now, I'd estimate I've received well over 100 emails and letters regarding the piece. Some readers shared personal tales. One, identified only as Dan, recalled bugging Bostock for an autograph after a night game during the '78 season. When Bostock learned that Dan, 11 years old at the time, was waiting for a ride home that was late to arrive, he took him across the street, bought him a slice of pizza, and waited with him until his dad showed up. "Honest to god, Lyman died later that week, on the beginning of their road trip in Chicago," wrote Dan. "I've never cried so much in my life."

Another came from Patrick Reusse, the Twins beat writer at the time for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and now a well-known columnist. He said Bostock was warm and gregarious and the likable kind of cocky, an athlete who actually enjoyed the give and take with the media. "He'd yell, 'Here comes Poison Pen!, whenever I'd come into the locker room," said Reusse in an email. "Then he'd spend the next hour happily jabbering my ears off . . . What happened was just so horribly unfair. I still think about him now and then, when I run into Larry Hisle or Rod Carew or some of the Twins that played with him. I don't know how anyone who knew him could ever fully come to grips with it."

But much of the correspondence has a common theme: Sounds like Bostock was great player and a hell of a guy. So why haven't I heard more about him? It's a question I can't completely answer, though I suspect that if he'd played for the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers, he'd occupy a far more prominent place in our sports consciousness, perhaps on par with Thurman Munson.

At the very least Bostock ought to have his own "SportsCentury" episode by now. So far, ESPN hasn't delivered, which comes as something less than a shock in this corner. Leading up to the 25th anniversary of his death, I pitched a revised edition of my column to's Page 2. After shuttling the piece between editors and an occasionally zapping me an email letting me know where it stood, I was politely informed that they wished they had a place for the piece, but it so happened that Page 2 on that particular date already had a full slate of articles focusing on a specific topic, and, well, the Bostock story didn't really fit the theme. They weren't lying. The special topic was "Metrosexuals in Sports," which included this ridiculous piece by ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg on his metrosexual pride. Worldwide Leader? Sure. Pass the hand cream, Stu. Boo-yeah.

Maybe someday ESPN will give Bostock his due, even if it comes only in the form of a half-hour biography on ESPN Classic. Maybe someone will write that long-overdue book about him, maybe he'll be remembered as much for how he lived as how he died, and maybe his legacy will be something more than just a tragic footnote. Maybe.

But on this sad anniversary, we're satisfied with any fond memory of Lyman Bostock, no matter how small or faded it may seem. As long as it's not forgotten, then the man won't be, either.

* * *

Update: Sorry we've been slacking with the posts lately. Sometimes real life interferes with my little blogging world, but be sure to keep checking in the next few days. I've got lots of groovy New England Revolution posts planned, as well as a 3,000 word recap of the Suns/Monarchs showdown in the WNBA Finals! (All right, and maybe something on the impending Sox-Yanks Armageddon as well. But only because you asked.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Nine innings: 09.19.05

Playing nine innings while wondering if the Red Sox will make the postseason only if the White Sox don't . . .

1) Bubba Bleepin' Crosby hits a walkoff homer in the Bronx, Manny Ramirez whiffs for the final out in a one-run loss in Tampa, and the Sox's lead in the AL East shrivels to a half-game with fewer than two weeks of the regular season remaining. So much for that old baseball cliche: It's a marathon, not a sprint. The sizzling Yankees, winners of seven of eight and playing so well that they even look like they like each other on occasion, seem intent on sprinting the rest of the way, which certainly doesn't bode well for the weary, heavy-legged Sox as they approach the finish line. There are two games remaining in their grueling 30-games-in-30-days journey (they've gone 16-12 in the stretch), and we can only hope they salvage this upcoming pair in Tampa, then spend their well-deserved off-day Thursday resting, relaxing, and psyching themselves up to fight for their playoff lives. The 'EEI banshees and certain other proponents of the Sky Is Falling commentary will tell you the Yankees have all the momentum now, that all the pressure is on the Sox. Maybe that is true, but I draw the line at the suggestion that should the Sox fail to make the playoffs - should they cede the division to their enemy in the final weeks of the season - last season's ALCS comeback will be looked at as an aberration more than a seismic shift in the rivalry. Despite some staggering problems - the shoulder injury that has rendered Johnny Damon ineffective, the inadequacies of the pitching staff, Edgar Renteria's upcoming 50th birthday party - I'm still willing to parrot the T-shirt slogan of the moment. We Still Believe, Keep The Faith, Why Not Us?, whatever. For no matter what is troubling the Sox at the moment, I can't help but believe they are poised to dominate the Yankees in Georgie Porgie's delusional golden years - I love that the able Gene Michael is now on the distant outskirts of the inner circle - and I believe last year did signal an epic and long overdue role reversal. That's not to say I'm not chomping my nails and worrying that the Yankees will charge into Fenway, what, 10 days from now with a three-game lead in the division; hell, read on, and you'll discover that the rest of this column isn't as optimistic in tone as this item. It's just that after last year, I'm pleased to find myself thinking of other delicious ways the Sox can destroy their plans. Who knows, maybe letting the Empire creep back into this thing is the Sox's way of setting them up for one huge letdown (and, hopefully, one colossal Georgie Porgie meltdown.) Is it likely? As likely as anything else. If there's anything we learned last fall, it's this: Anything is possible. Let the sprint begin.

2) Which reminds me: the comparisons of what seems to be happening now to what did happen in 1978 are valid only to the miserable souls among us who have been at a loss the magic of 2004. It. Is. Not. The. Same. Dammit. The Sox had a 14.5 game lead over New York in '78; the Yankees have been within striking distance all season, and even when the Sox held a 4-game lead not so long ago, didn't we all know, deep in our hearts, that 2005 regular season was coming down to those final three Sox/Yanks games at Fenway?

3 . . . actually, I suppose there is one valid comparison to '78. Now, like then, the inept defense of one of their infielders is killing them. In '78, it was the counterproductively macho third baseman Butch Hobson, who foolishly tried to play through floating bone chips in his throwing elbow and ended up making 44 errors, most of them of the heave-it-into-the-box-seats-variety. (Quick anecdote: Legend has it a certain young baseball fan began wearing a batting helmet - yes, a batting helmet - 24/7 after getting conked by an errant Hobson grenade while visiting Fenway as an 8-year-old boy. And that, my friends, is how one John Olerud came to be known as the Splendid Helmet! He took one in the coconut from Hobson as a kid! No, really. It's true. That's my story and I'm sticking . . . oh, all right, I made it up. But it should be true.) As it was, Hobson didn't come out of the lineup until he went to Don Zimmer and tearfully begged him to take him out of the lineup because he was killing the team. "Toughest sumb---- I've ever managed," said Zimmer, who, for TATB's money, is the dumbest sumb----- who ever managed. Which brings us to this year's version of Hobson, in terms of spirit-crushing mistakes if certainly not toughness. Edgar Renteria made his MLB-leading 29th error tonight, whiffing on a routine groundball in the eighth inning and allowing the crucial eighth run to score. It was his third or fourth careless error in the past week, and I'm not looking it up only because I really don't want to get into any more detail than that. Frankly, I'm disgusted watching him play right now. It's tempting to compare him to el busto Jose Offerman, but that would be giving him too much credit. Offerman had an excellent first season in Boston before turning to stone. If Renteria's hurt - and there are whispers that he might have a back problem - he needs to go to Terry Francona (assuming he hasn't already) and let him know it might be a better idea to let slick-leathered Alex Cora play for a few days. If he's not hurt, then I don't even want to think about having to watch this guy botch routine grounders and nonchalant throws from the outfield for three more years. Where have you gone, Orlando Cabrera? A Nation turns its lonely eyes to you . . . or hell, even to Ricky Gutierrez at this point.

4) Enough with the fits and starts, the nagging frustrations, the small strides, bursts of brilliance, and windy postgame press conferences explaining it all. The Sox need Curt Schilling to be Curt Schilling tonight, and if he isn't anything resembling the pitcher who won a pivotal role in "Faith Rewarded," well, maybe this year's movie will have an abrupt and unfulfilling ending. (See, I told you I could get all melodramatically negative on you. Can I get my own show on 'EEI now?)

5) Every time I find myself getting ticked off at Tito Francona for bringing the likes of Chad Harville - a classic good-stuff, no-command journeyman - into a close game, my mind reminds me of the sad truth: Don't blame him. He has no one better to bring in to that situation. Hopefully, Craig Hansen, whose debut last night certainly justified the hype, can be that dependable guy Tito has spent the better part of five months searching for. In fact, he'd better be.

6) He was one of the heroes of my childhood, and my heart and mind agree that he deserves a plaque in the Hall of Fame. But on the nights when the Sox experience an agonizing defeat (or an exhilarating victory, for that matter), I require postgame analysis with more insight and passion than Jim Rice is willing or able to provide.

7)Random Pop Culture Observation: I'll never get tired of that NFL Films-style commercial where the creepy Burger King mascot picks off a Drew Bledsoe pass, takes it all the way, and celebrates by busting out the Deion Sanders Happy Dance in the end zone. Bledsoe's looked adequate tonight against the Redskins, but judging by the BK commercial, if the Cowboys have to play any fast food franchises this season, he's in deep trouble.

8) All right, I'll contradict my previous volumes of praise and just admit it: Manny cannot turn on a good fastball anymore. Oh, he's still a hell of a hitter, and I still believe Gammons went so overboard in bashing him earlier this season that I'm convinced it was personal. But there's no denying the reality: Manny used to kill the Jesus Colomes of the world - guys with nothing but heat - and he more than held his own against pitchers of much greater accomplishment. I remember a time during his electric first few months with the the Sox, he beat the Yankees by hitting a rocket though Mariano Rivera's 5-hole, and I recall being amazed during that entire at-bat that Manny was right on Rivera's best stuff. Now? Now I'd rather see Kevin Millar come to the plate against a pure power pitcher such as Rivera, and no, I'm not kidding. I don't know what it is or why it is or when it happened or if there is a way for Papa Jack to correct it, but Manny, as the song goes, is not as good as he once was.

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

Man, that Hobson recollection and all this '78 talk is giving me severe flashbacks to when I was eight and The Gerbil - with an assist from Bucky Dent, yeah yeah - ruined my first summer as a Sox fan. And you wonder why I'm so cynical. By the way, is it wrong to say I wish Pedro had finished the job when he had the chance?

Wake me up when September ends

A six-pack of scattered thoughts while flipping between the Pats and Sox on a lost Sunday . . .

1) So much for that undefeated season, huh? The '72 Dolphins can rest easy - at least those who haven't been lost at sea recently. What was the difference between the Patriots and Panthers today? Carolina played like a victory would avenge their Super Bowl loss and cure their heartache. The Patriots played like it was the second game of the season against a team outside their conference. In other words, the team that wanted it more won. I suppose there's some shame in that, but I'm not going to spend any time searching for it. We should know by now that the Patriots absolutely will recover. Tom Brady will stop doing that Kyle Boller imitation, Corey Dillon will find his sea legs, and Bill Belichick will have all 53 of 'em frothing at the mouth in Pittsburgh next week. A few more of these stinkers, and maybe then I'll put some stock in all the gun-jumping "Maybe they miss Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel" blather that will fill the airwaves today. But not until then. Three Lombardis in four years get you the benefit of the doubt in my world.

2) Watching the wretched Matt Clement (two wins since the All-Star break, three straight losses) recently, I suddenly understand why Dusty Baker yanked him from the Cubs' rotation down the stretch and replaced him with the immortal Glendon Rusch last fall. Yep, that's right, Clement was replaced by that Glendon Rusch, of whom Dennis Eckersley, filling in for the RewDawg on a telecast a few years ago, said, "This guy has nothing. He s----s." The same could be said of Clement lately - for someone with top-notch stuff, he leaves way too many meatballs hanging in the middle of the plate. If I had to rank the Sox starters in order of whom I'd want starting a win-or-hit-the-golf-course game, he'd be a distant fifth. Pretty sad indictment of someone with his ability.

3) So I'm couch-bound for the 7th straight hour today, watching a Chris Myers interview with Drew Bledsoe, when Mrs. TATB walks into the room, glances at the TV, and says, "Hey, he still plays?" All right, I guess you had to be there to appreciate the humor, but the interview was pretty compelling stuff. Bledsoe was typically accountable and engaging - traits that actually began to bug me in his final days in New England. Let me explain: while he took the blame when he or the team played poorly, he never did much in terms of extra preparation to improve the situation. I thought it was disingenuous - taking accepting fault actually often absolved him of responsibility in the public's eyes, and I began to think he was shrewdly conscious of it. After watching him in the hour-long interview with Myers, though, I think it was simpler than my paranoid mind made it out to be. In retrospect, I think he took the blame sincerely, but was misguided in believing his God-given talent would be enough to overcome any on-field shortcomings, and thus never put in the proper effort to improve. Which is why, at age 33, he's humbled, starting over with his third team, reunited with a coach he couldn't stand the first time around, and desperately trying to remind people that, yes, he still plays. Me, I'm rooting for him again, now that he's out of the division and away from Belichick's dastardly schemes. I've never understood the perception around here that if you like Brady, you have to dislike Bledsoe. Ask me, they're both pretty damn admirable athletes, particularly considering current standards. I mean, obviously you want Brady running your team, but it's easy to forget Bledsoe is the second-most successful quarterback in franchise history, and if not for his arrival, we'd be indifferent to the St. Louis Patriots right now. We owe him something for that alone.

4) And the award for Best Statistic Ever goes to . . . Derek Jeter, for making the last out with tying run on base or at the plate eight times this season, the most recent coming today when he pulled his tired little jackknife act on a called strike three over the inside corner. Let's see you spin that number into one of your windy Jeter-lovin' Madlibs on "clutchness" and "calm eyes" and "intangibles" and "looks positively dashing in his pinstriped Spandex," McCarver. C'mon. Do it. If anyone can twist a game-ending out into being beneficial for the team, it's you.

5) Troy Brown may have lost a step or two or three, and yeah, maybe I did think his most enjoyable contributions on Sunday afternoons would be those wryly humorous Dunkin' Donuts commercials. ("Your new ring is almost ready, Mr. Kraft.") Which just goes to remind me of something I should have learned many seasons ago: Underestimate Troy Brown at your own peril, you big dummy. Perhaps it's because he's healthy, or perhaps it's because he's freed from the selfless burden of rescuing the defense, but through the first two games, he's playing like the invaluable receiver of a couple seasons ago. He had six catches against the Raiders, took a short pass 71 yards yesterday, and certainly looks like he'll be a fantastic third receiver for weeks to come. Oh, right, and he also managed to remind me of this: He's everything David Terrell is not and will never be, and I feel like a fool for ever suggesting he'd see the field ahead of a healthy Troy Brown.

6) Remy said it today, and if you've been paying attention the last five seasons, you probably recognize the signs yourself: A few at-bats where he misses crushing a pitch by thismuch, a few more at-bats where he tattoos a couple of heat-seeking missiles to right . . . and then, a majestic home run that ends up shattering a car window on the Mass Pike. Yep, we're not the only ones who took Saturday's monstrous homer as a suggestion that Manny is on the verge of going on one of his patented tears - and you, me, and RemDawg damn well know such a streak couldn't come at a better time. The Sox, pretty much to a man, are flailing and failing at the plate - today they lost to slopballer Kirk Saarloos (aka Aaron Small, West Coast version) - and if not for Big Papi's nightly statement that he is the very definition of American League MVP, they might be chasing the Yankees rather than holding on to a tenuous 1-game lead in the loss column. With Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller, and the more-useless-by-the-day Edgar Renteria doing little to help the cause at the moment, it's looking like the offense will rely on Manny and Papi even more than usual in the final 13 games. Papi has proven up to it, time and again, game-winning homer after game-winning homer. But he sure could use some help from his goofy sidekick. With one breathtaking blast, all signs indicate Manny is up to meeting the challenge.

* * *

Brief State of the TATB Address: New column coming tonight, homies. The topic? Most likely a career retrospective/scantily clad pictorial of Rosie O'Donnell. Hey there, mama! Meow! Of course, if the photo shoot falls through for some reason, our fallback plan is to crank out either a TATB Notebook or a long overdue First And 10 column on the Patriots. Anyway, be sure to check back in. Maybe you'll get to see Rosie in all her glory. Hell, if that doesn't get this site over 100,000 hits, nothing will.

. . . which reminds me . . .

TATB is in its 10th month now, and we recently exceeded our first-year projections/wishes/pipe dreams for unique visitors and page views on the site by 50 percent. So I just want to say thanks from the bottom of my cynical, black little heart, which I'm pretty sure grew three-and-a-half sizes today upon noticing our progress. Seriously, thanks. You freaks, geeks, shut-ins and pencil necks made this first year more fun and rewarding than I ever expected, and it is endlessly appreciated from this side of the keyboard.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

It's rare that the Patriots' current No. 12 reminds us of the inept quarterbacks who wore the number before . . . but today was just one of those Matt Cavanaugh afternoons for Brady.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nine innings: 09.16.05

Playing nine innings while resigned to the fact that the AL East race will to come down to Game 162 against you-know-who . . .

1) Considering the Yankees are now a game back in the loss column . . . considering they've made up three games in 7 days . . . considering the Schilling we saw last night was the pistol-whipped-by-Royals version and not the shutting-up-55,000-New-Yorkers version . . . considering Nixon, Mueller, Varitek and Olerud seem like lesser ballplayers in comparison to Zaun, Hillenbrand, Hinske and Reed Freakin' Johnson at the moment . . . considering Papi's back is starting to ache from carrying this whole damn team himself in the late innings . . . considering maddening Manny continues to foul off or flail at pitches he used to hit to the Mass Pike . . . considering Clement seems to be preparing for his annual September swan dive . . . considering the bullpen should be torched for the insurance money . . . considering valiant Johnny D. now needs Manny as a cutoff man . . . considering Francona is experimenting with his bullpen and resting players as if the lead is 10 games . . . considering I keep wondering if Guidry will be pitching against Torrez at Fenway in a few weeks . . . considering all of this . . . well, no, I guess I'm not as nervous as I should be about the Sox's postseason chances. Why do you ask? Something wrong?

2) If you're one of those soulless few who chose to boo the tattered remains of Keith Foulke a few nights ago, I suggest you pop in that "Faith Rewarded" DVD you damn near wore out over the winter, remember how he threw something like 1,918 pitches in the final four games of the ALCS, remind yourself that he had the fearlessness, talent and guts to close out a World Series, traits so many (Stanley, Schiraldi, Burton . . . you know the names) before him lacked, and then ask yourself if the heavy burden he put on his right arm in the postseason is the reason that right arm has betrayed him now. If you give all of this the proper consideration and still boo the man, well, maybe you're a tougher critic than I. Or maybe last October didn't mean as much to you as it did to me.

3) From sources respected (Gammons) and not-so-respected (we won't be cruel), we've been hearing a lot of talk lately that Jason Varitek is the "true MVP" of the Red Sox. To which we reply with a favorite word from the Luis Tiant Abridged Dictionary: Boolcheat. While Varitek certainly brings all of those intangible characteristics that we mock Yankees fans for lauding in Jeter - leadership, hustle, well-timed fist pumps - the reality that not too many tangible things are working in his favor right now. He's in an ill-timed slump at the plate (6 for 44 in September), and while the pitchers rave about throwing to him, the frazzled state of the staff certainly doesn't indicate any steadying influence on his part. Hell, the biggest winner, Tim Wakefield, is caught by Doug Mirabelli. I don't mean this to demean Varitek - he still ranks among the top offensive catchers in baseball, he's ready to glove-slap A-Rod at a moment's notice, and of course, we all know he is extremely valuable. Just not the most valuable, not with Damon and Ortiz in his dugout, and it's silly to suggest as much.

4) You're prepared already, I hope. Sometime in the immediate weeks after the World Series, we'll get word that the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez has edged the so-much-more-deserving-it's-not-even-worth-debating David Ortiz for the AL MVP award. You realize this, right? And you know that shortly after the announcement, the news will trickle out that Papi would have won the award but for some Steinbrenner-scrubbing Yankees beat writer who left him off his ballot entirely. And of course, said writer will go on "SportsCenter," undoubtedly looking like he just rolled out from under a Central Park bench, and justify his decision by claiming a DH doesn't deserve the MVP because he doesn't play defense. And surely you know that it will be revealed soon enough that said New York writer voted for Ron Blomberg for MVP in 1973. You're ready for all of this, right? Good. Hopefully, we won't get so peeved if we're prepared for it.

5) All right, I'll say it if you won't: Edgar Renteria is either hurt, fibbing on his birth certificate, or on the verge of becoming a colossal bust of Jack Clarkian proportions. Yeah, sure, Mr. James, we know his offensive stats are right around his career norms; this isn't about offense. It's about a two-time Gold Glove winner who seems to strain to bend over to field the ball, a player who leads the majors with 27 errors, a player who, when he isn't airmailing a routine throw to second base is, to paraphrase a suddenly popular saying, kicking groundballs up around his face. It's terrible to say, but I hope it's soon revealed that he's got a creaky back or some other injury he's trying to play through. Compared to the alternative explanations for why he's been so erratic - and that's the PG-rated word for his performance - it's the best we can hope for.

6) Sticking with the creaky shortstop theme, did anyone think they'd see the day when Nomar would move to third base, ceding his position to the immortal Neifi Perez? Hard to believe it was fewer than two years ago that it was unthinkable, if not downright blasphemous, to consider asking him to switch when the A-Rod/Red Sox rumors started heating up. It's been a humbling couple of seasons for ol' No. 5, to say the least.

7) The more I see of Tony Graffanino, the more he reminds me of another pretty decent second baseman that once called Fenway home. Marty Barrett, anyone? Much like the Barrett, a steady staple of the talented mid-'80s Sox teams, Graffanino is equally capable of lining a double off the Monster or jetering a single to right. Defensively, he catches everything hit his way and turns the double play gracefully; also like Barrett, he has the range of a particularly immobile kitchen appliance. Strengths and flaws considered, yeah, Graffanino was a pretty shrewd midseason pickup on Theo's part. Too bad he can't pitch.

8) Is it possible that the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians will all make the playoffs? Considering the epic collapse that seems to be in the making with the once-mighty Chicago White Sox, it may be. Chicago, which held a 15-game lead in the AL Central on August 1, now leads the flamebroiling-hot, wild-card leading Indians by just 4.5 games in the division, with six remaining to play between the two ballclubs. Further, while Cleveland's schedule is cupcake city - they have six games remaining with the Royals - the White Sox still must contend with the rival Twins seven more times. The pressure is certainly on - the crew on "Baseball Tonight" has been giddily mentioning them in the same breath as the Mother Of All Collapses, the '64 Phillies - and it seems to be having an effect. High-strung manager Ozzie Guillen, who has the potential to be a modern day Gene Mauch, questioned pitcher Damaso Marte's toughness, then the White Sox went out and lost to the feeble Royals for the second day in a row. After the game pitcher Mark Buehrle said, "We keep on playing like we're playing, we're not going to the playoffs." I hate to say it, because the mental image of my cousin Kris The White Sox Fan crying himself to sleep while wearing his Craig Grebeck jammies breaks my little heart . . . but I think Buehrle is on to something. You read it here first: The White Sox will not be going to the playoffs.

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

Judging by the vaguely demented look on his face, Norrid, a Partner In Grime of our very own Buckethead on the '83 Charleston Charlies, might have been baseball's version of Carl Spackler. Alas, he was no Cinderella story. Norrid never made the bigs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Top Dawg

It was in the moments preceding Jonathan Papelbon's final two pitches in a harrowing, thrilling 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays that we were reminded yet again how fortunate we are to have Jerry Remy analyzing Red Sox games.

The scene: The Sox were up a run 11th inning, the eventual game-winner coming courtesy of the 387th clutch home run of David Ortiz's Boston career. Papelbon, pitching his third sterling inning of relief (and affirming TATB's long-held belief that he's going to be serious factor down the stretch), had recorded the inning's first two outs and was ahead a ball and two strikes on Toronto's Aaron Hill.

That's when the NESN camera caught Papelbon shaking off catcher Jason Varitek's sign, a surprising sight that had this viewer thinking, "Damn, this kid might be a little too confident if he's daring to shake off 'Tek with the game on the line."

Then Remy chimed in and set us straight:

"In that situation, I don't think Papelbon is shaking off Varitek. Varitek is telling him to nod his head like he's shaking him off in order to give the hitter something to think about."

We hadn't considered such gamesmanship a possibility, and upon hearing Remy's comment, we thought maybe he was speculating.

But judging by what happened next, we're convinced he knew exactly what was Varitek was thinking, on that pitch - a fastball, which Hill fouled off - as well as the one to come.

As the camera again honed in on Varitek flashing Papelbon the signs, Remy spoke with assurance, as if he were calling the pitch himself:

"Fastball up."

Bingo again. Hill swung late at the high heat, and when his popup settled into John Olerud's glove, the Sox had secured one of their most satisfying victories of the season. And Jerry Remy had reminded us yet again that it's a privilege - and sometimes a learning experience - to listen to his subtle, sharp insights about the game.

Now, maybe you think that we're going overboard in our praise, that commenting on a freakin' baseball game is so easy, even a caveman could do it. Fair enough. But to gain proper respect for the RemDawg's subtle wisdom, consider what some other prominent analysts would have said given the same situation.

Joe Morgan, ESPN: "That was a fastball Pimplebone threw there, Jon. When I played for the World Champion Cincinnati Reds, our pitchers like Rawly Eastwick sometimes threw fastballs, too, Jon. Jon? Jon? Are you listening, Jon? I played for the Reds, Jon. Don't weep, Jon. Jon? Why are you weeping? Sparky Anderson never weeped, Jon. Cesar Geromino, my former teammate on the Cincinnati Reds, said men don't cry, Jon. Jon?"

Tim McCarver, Fox: ". . . and Jeter has the calmest eyes, and, oh my, such an elegant gait, and no one in the game looks better in jean shorts, and Red Sox fans call him Captain Intangibles out of respect, and that hipster punk Brandon Arroyo has no business striking him out, and Jon Lieber told me the Red Sox wished the Yankees luck in the World Series after Game 3 last year, and before the game Jeter helped me mix my Metamucil and . . . "

Suzyn Waldman, YES Network:: (High-pitched shrieking heard only by dogs and certain other unfortunate mammals, such as Brian Cashman.)

Proof enough? Yep, you know it: Gotta respect the RemDawg. Oh, yeah - and that Big Papi cat is all right, too.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Apparently, the noggin that that houses RemDawg's fertile baseball mind previously served to sprout a world-class white-guy perm. Who knew?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Nine innings: 09.12.05

Playing nine innings while wondering what baserunning catastrophes Dale Sveum and Adam Stern have planned for the next few weeks . . .

1) Talk about your hard-luck losses. You might favor his near no-hitters in Seattle and Tampa a few years ago - today's 12-strikeout, three-hit gem was the best game I've seen Tim Wakefield pitch in his 10-plus seasons with the Red Sox. He was as dominant as a knuckleballer can be - he struck out four more batters than did Randy Johnson, who was at his vintage best, clomping around the mound like an angry stork and throwing unhittable heat. While it's a bummer Wakefield couldn't get his 16th win (leaving him two short of his career high), it's encouraging that he continued his recent trend of baffling the Yankees. I hate bringing it up, but what happened that black fall night in the Bronx two years ago would have broken a lesser athlete. Seems to me it's only made Wakefield stronger, and his resilience - and ongoing brilliance - against the rival that once devastated him is one more reason the Red Sox are so fortunate he's on their side.

2) A three-game lead with, what, 20 to go? I'll take it. Sure, it would have been nice if the Sox had rolled into New York and taken two of three, pounded a couple more nails in the Yankees' coffin, and departed with a 5-game lead in the AL East. (A sweep? Greedy, and probably too much to ask, though I have heard the Sox beat the Yankees four in a row this one time . . .) If it's possible to come out of the series encouraged after losing two of three, I suppose I am. The reason, of course, is Curt Schilling's vintage performance Saturday. He was as dominant and commanding and confident as he we have seen him in - well, hell, almost a full year now - and we surely do not need to explain that it couldn't have come at a better time, against the Yankees the day after a gruesome loss, in a series the Empire desperately hoped to sweep. In his previous lousy-to-mediocre starts leading up to Saturday, we we're wondering if we'd ever see anymore transcendent performances from Schilling ever again, wondering if he'd sacrificed his twilight for the greater glory last fall, wondering if the old, swaggering ace was gone for good. Well, Saturday he was back, firing like the No. 1 starter the Sox so desperately need - at last, finally, and it's about-damn-time-thank-god - and if his performance at all foreshadows what is to come, suddenly it's not so hard to wonder if that back-to-back thing might be doable after all. The Yankees can have their two-of-three and their glimmer of hope. You and I know the Sox came away with something much more important.

3) I keep hearing how David Ortiz won't win the AL MVP because he's strictly a DH, and thus is less valuable because he doesn't play the field every day. I suppose there is some merit to the argument, particularly in a tight race where a voter is examining every factor closely before casting his ballot, but I also see two fatal flaws in the argument. 1) While voters often note that no full-time DH has won the award since Don Baylor in '79, a lot of absolutely atrocious defensive players have won the award. Don't tell me indifferent Juan Gonzalez (MVP, '96, '98), immobile Mo Vaughn (MVP, '95) or the statue known as Jason Giambi (MVP, '00) are doing more for their teams than Papi is by playing defense. Seems to me that, by being a liability in the field, they're actually doing less. 2) You know it, I know it, and George Steinbrenner sure as hell knows it: There is no player in baseball that you want at the plate with your team down a run in the ninth inning than David Ortiz. To me, that is the very definition of valuable, and his clutchness (clutchitude? clutchability?) aside, his stats make a pretty compelling case standing on their own. If you want to vote for A-Rod, Johnny Damon or Vlad Guerrero based on their impeccable accomplishments, I can respect that. But if you are voting for them instead of Papi solely because they play defense,, well, there's something wrong with your thought process.

4) Got a picture for you . . .

. . . and a question: Was this action shot of Jason Giambi taken yesterday . . . or in, say, 2003? I trust you don't need the answer to understand the suggestion. You bet it bugs the hell out of me that he decided today's game.

5) Telling moment during today's Sox telecast. When Don Orsillo mentioned that "Fever Pitch" comes out on DVD Tuesday, Jerry Remy said, "To be honest, I haven't seen it," before remembering (perhaps, we like to imagine, with the aid of a Werner-administered jolt of electricity though his headset) that it's always good business to promote All Things Red Sox. He offered a few sentiments about hoping to see the movie soon, but it was too little, too late to convince us. Personally, we're with RemDawg. We haven't seen it, and we don't plan to until the flick is digitally remastered so that that giggling fool Jimmy Fallon is replaced by someone whom you believe might have attended a baseball game by choice before. What a terrible bit of casting by the Farrelly Brothers, who, being legit Sox fans, should have known better. A trained baboon in a Sox cap would have been an upgrade. Hell, I'd have even settled for Affleck.

6) Now that they're done with each other until the season's final weekend, the Sox and Yankees each move on to face their other nemesis, and the next three games could go a long way toward determining how close this race is the rest of the way. While the Yankees head to Tampa for a set against the team that has inexplicably owned them this season (D-Rays 11, Empire 5), the Sox take on Toronto, which has played the role this season that the Orioles did last year: bleepin' pain in the bleep. The Jays have beaten the Sox eight times in 12 tries this season, and today's they'll pitch Ted Lilly, who is 8-10 with a 5.65 ERA this season, but who has a long history of channeling Koufax against the Sox. He's allowed three runs in 18 innings against them this season. It'd certainly be nice if they could start hitting him like they should, and if Reed Johnson, Shea Hillenbrand and the rest of the annoying Jays would cooperate and start making a few outs once in a while.

7) I've gotten the sense through the years that Yankee pitchers, if asked to rank their preferred batterymate options among Empire employees, would submit a list something like this: 1) Joe Girardi. 2) John Flaherty. 3) Joe Torre. 4) Suzyn Waldman. 5) Brian Cashman's mysterious and seldom-seen assistant, "The Gimp." 6) Everyone in greater New York area except for . . . 7) Jorge Posada. It's easy for Sox fans to dislike the guy - he's long been the cockiest Yankee, Derek Jeter-McCarver included - but I'm curious what he does that grates so much on the Yankees' veteran pitchers. David Cone didn't like pitching to him, and neither did Roger Clemens at the beginning of his stint on the Death Star. And now it's common knowledge that he and Randy Johnson (Beavis, you said Randy Johnson - heh-heh) don't exactly see eye-to-eye. Posada used to be a butcher behind the plate, but he's come a long way, and he's always thrown well, so it can't really be his defense. And he seems like a dependable teammate, unlikely to pull a Pudge Rodriguez and send his backup to the pitchers' meetings. I'll have to dig through Buster Olney's terrific book "The Last Night Of The Yankee Dynasty" and see if he makes any mention of this. In the meantime, we'll settle for this conclusion: It's one more reason Posada does not deserve, now or ever, to be mentioned in the same breath as Jason Varitek.

8) We here at TATB believe there are different levels of fear. There's the good kind, like when you're about to ask out a girl and you're nervous even though you're fairly sure she'll say yes. Then there's the fraidy-cat kind, like when you go for a late night jog after watching "Scream" and your mind starts exaggerating every rustle in the bushes and you half expect to see Drew Barrymore dangling from a tree. And then there's the holy-crap-I'm-a-dead-man kind of fear. Like, oh, say, when you notice that your website has had a steady reader from an obscure place such as Torrance, California, and then you happen to pick up that Rodney "Buckethead" Craig baseball card on your desk - the one you've mocked relentlessly for 10 months - and flip to the back, and notice this: Resides: Torrance, California. Gulp.

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

Before he had the good fortune of managing Rivera, Jeter and A-Rod, he had the misfortune of managing the likes of Lenny Randle, Skip Lockwood, and Bobby Valentine. (You just know Bobby V. was an annoying second-guesser even then.) The lousy '78 Mets considered, I suppose Joe Torre, a Hall of Fame lock primarily for being in the right place at the right time, did pay his dues in full.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Know your enemy

It's a heartwarming story, I suppose, at least if you are a Spawn of Suzyn Waldman. Aaron Small, a 33-year-old roster filler who'd pitched for 16 minor-league teams in 16 pro seasons, has emerged as the savior of the New York Yankees' pitching staff, if not their entire season. Heading into last night, Small, who'd received only a couple of Dunkachinos in the big leagues before this season, was 6-0 with a 2.24 ERA for New York since being recalled from the Triple A Columbus Clippers in July.

Of course, Yankees fans being Yankees fans, they're bleating about this guy like he's makes Gibson, Koufax and Pedro look like . . . well, like the rest of their current starting rotation. So while Small's ascent is a heartwarming story - I suppose - I'm hoping the Sox expose him tonight as what the Yankees had him pegged as originally: A middle-of-the-rotation starter in Triple A who has no business pitching a crucial game in Yankee Stadium in September.

That said, I'm not expecting that the Sox will light him up tonight. Hell, if history is any indication, he will probably shut them down. For some reason - poor advance scouting, perhaps - unfamiliar pitchers are Kryptonite to the usually superpowered Sox offense. Anaheim's Ervin Santana, Baltimore's John Maine and Chicago's Brendan McCarthy all dominated the Sox upon first viewing recently, though the Sox roughed up Santana the second time around. The difference between those three and Small is that they are elite prospects with the promise of glory days ahead. The last time such praise was directed at Small, Don Mattingly was the Yankees' first baseman, not their hitting coach.

I suppose I should get to the point here, huh? This whole dissertation on the Life And Times Of Aaron Freakin' Small is my roundabout way of saying I have some additions to the Red Sox Enemies List, which we described previously as "subpar, non-descript and just plain lousy ballplayers who have tormented the Sox in recent years."

While I suspect Small will have earned his spot on the list after tonight's ballgame; the following slugs and annoyances already have:

Aaron Rowand, outfielder, White Sox: Underrated all-around ballplayer - from what I've seen, he deserves a Gold Glove - and a joy to watch, except for when he's killing the Sox with his daily home run. TATB Fun Fact: Looks like he could be Trot Nixon's hillbilly brother. (That's redundant, isn't it?)

Paul Konerko, first baseman, White Sox: Actually, since he once had the hubris to use Jay-Z's Big Pimpin' as his at-bat music - who does he think he is, Dmitri Young? - we'll forgive him for treating Fenway Park like its his own personal batting cage.

Jeff DaVanon/Casey Kotchman, clones, Angels: I'm pretty sure they're the same guy, and sly ol' Mike Scioscia is getting away with having the dude bat twice in the lineup because the only team he hits is the Sox. That, or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Jay Payton, outfielder, A's Give him credit: He had more faith in his ability than the Red Sox did, and once he griped and whined his way to Oakland, he proved his self-confidence was justified. It just too bad Nomar's college roommate had to behave like a first-class jackass in order to get there.

Matt Stairs, outfielder, Royals: He hasn't done much to harm the Sox; I just happen to think he's completely insane, since this real, live big-league ballplayer chooses to live in the Arctic Circle of Hell, a.k.a. Bangor, Me., in the offseason. As loyal reader and (fellow Maine Black Bear) Jim D. said:

"I knew he made his offseason home in Bangor while I was up at school, and never understood why. My only thought was he works at the Home Depot to make a little extra cash. I could have sworn I purchased a Beer Pong Table from him my sophomore year."

I hate when my readers are funnier than me.

Jacque Jones, outfielder, Twins: I'm always surprised by his mediocre statistics. He's got a gorgeous, Griffey-esque swing - all right, I exaggerate, but it's at least better than Terrance Long's - and it just seems like he should be better than he actually is. He does kill both the Sox and the Yankees. The latter is almost enough to forgive the former, I suppose.

Jason Giambi, swollen tick, Yankees: If his redemption is legit, then it's a great story. But the two homers he hit off Pedro in Game 7 in 2003 were not legit. And for that I won't forgive him.

Mark Bellhorn, second baseman, Yankees: Nice Empire-regulation haircut, traitor.

Fernando Rodney, reliever, Tigers: For having the nerve to get Papi out with the game on the line. Doesn't he know he's supposed to follow the script?

David DeJesus, outfielder, Royals: Have you been reading Jay Mohr's column on CNN/SI? No? Good. Don't. You're not missing a thing, unless you have a sick fetish for unfunny comedians. (Which I suppose might explain the career of Lenny Clarke.) Mohr is a Yankees fan - big shock - and his first column for the site was on players on other major league teams who could be "True Yankees" someday. No, I am not kidding. Without explanation, he put DeJesus on the list, along with the likes of Ryan Drese and John Lackey. Why he chose these guys, I have no idea. Maybe it was one more unfunny joke. Either way, I'm pretty sure he never watched a baseball game in its entirety before. Anyway, DeJesus hits the Sox well, and Jay Mohr likes him, so there's two reasons to hope he's sentenced to life as a Royal right there.

Jeremy Affeldt, reliever, Royals: Mows down the Sox like he's Billy Wagner, then, a few days later, literally throws a game away against the Yankees, heaving what would have been a game-ending double play into the outfield as the Royals punt away a five-run lead in the ninth. Does that make him a True Yankee, too, Jay?

Jorge Cantu, second baseman, Devil Rays: Swing like Piazza. Face like pizza.

Julio Lugo, shortstop, Devil Rays: Oh, all right, I'm sorry. That Cantu comment was just plain mean, wasn't it? Come to think of it, all D-Rays are excused from this list for now, based on what they've done to the Yankees this season. When/if Steinbrenner axes Torre after the season, betcha Piniella will get the gig without even needing a job interview. The 11-5 record against the Yankees will be proof enough for Georgie Porgie and his minions.

* * *

Update, 11:14 p.m.: Yankees 8, Red Sox 4. Aaron Small improves to 7-0. If there's any consolation, it's that the Sox will torch his smoke-and-mirrors slop the next time around. The Eck was not impressed, and when the Eck isn't impressed, well, dammit, neither is TATB. As for tomorrow: Schilling will step up. It's time. And frankly, he has to, because Shawn Chacon isn't exactly familiar to the Sox, and we know how that story goes. - CF

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why Joe Morgan Is An Insufferable Idiot, Chapter 2,987,452,876

During tonight's Yankees/Athletics telecast on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," analyst Joe Moron (sure, read that as a typo if you wish) had this to say about A's outfielder Jay Payton:

"He's been very productive here in Oakland, Jon. I really don't understand why the Red Sox would trade a player who's so productive."

Little Joe, we'll gladly overlook your idiotic juxtaposition of reasoning - the Sox shouldn't have traded him to Oakland because he's been productive for Oakland since they traded him - and simply spell out for you the four most obvious reasons why Payton was dumped by Boston:

1) Manny Ramirez, left field

2) Johnny Damon, center field

3) Trot Nixon, right field

4) He was being a Grade-A pain in the "Steinbrenner," becoming so insubordinate in his role as a fourth outfielder that even his teammates wanted him gone.

Good god, the reason Payton was traded is common knowledge to the novice Red Sox fan, and probably to any fan from here to Oakland who has read a sports section in the past two months. Which, apparently, excludes Morgan. There's a shocker.

Once again, we are left to ponder the question we seem to find ourselves asking around this time every bleepin' Sunday: How can Morgan, in his role as ESPN's No. 1 baseball analyst, be so arrogantly ill-prepared week after week, Sunday after Sunday? It's almost like he wears his ignorance as a badge of honor: "I don't need to prepare! I'm Joe Morgan, Hall of Famer, and I played the game, Jon . . . "

One might find it ironic that he's the "expert" for "Baseball For Dummies," considering he ought to be their target audience, but I'm usually too busy either curled up in the fetal position weeping or punching his visage on my TV screen to recognize humor in the illogical.

If you've been paying attention during Morgan's predictably insight-free appearances on "Baseball Tonight" recently, you may have noticed that Karl Ravech tries - without much success - to hide what certainly seems to be blazing contempt for Morgan. It's the only thing that makes the segment worth watching, frankly. We can only hope a higher-up at the network feels the same disgust as the anchor apparently does - and acts on it.

If firing isn't an option, may we suggest pummeling him mute with a copy of "Baseball For Dummies"? Please?

* * *

In a related note, here's one more link to one of our favorite diversionary causes,, though the latest post may do more to fire you up for the upcoming Sox-Yankees series than anything else.

* * *

Just want to say I'm really enjoying the David Wells era, and only partially because we both have a Body By Dunkin' Donuts. He's a one-man pitching clinic when the curveball is snapping and he's on, and today he was on, spinning a complete-game seven-hitter, walking none and retiring the last 12. It was classic Boomer, and the only way today's start could have been better is if he'd removed his hat to reveal a McMahon-style headband with "Bud" written in black marker. Maybe next time.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Double take

Scattered thoughts on the Pats and Sox . . .

* He hasn't improved a lick in his three seasons as a Patriot, and there are whispers that a Don't-sweat-it-dude attitude is the culprit. That said, I breathed a sigh of relief when Bethel Johnson survived today's final cut. Some thought his removal from the physically unable to perform list last week was Belichick's way of telling him to get his skinny a-- on the field or prepare to turn in his playbook. While he played against the Giants, he was less than impressive. But even as an underachiever, Johnson has contributed immensely to the Patriots the last two seasons - his game-clinching catch against the Seahawks was one of the greatest grabs I've seen since the electric John Jefferson hung up the goggles, and we all know what Johnson did against the Colts two years ago as a kick returner. While he may never be much more than a fourth- or fifth-receiver, his beep-beep! speed alone makes him a valuable member of this football team, and I suspect Belichick knew he was keeping him around even as he tried to scare some semblance of a work ethic into the kid.

* Jonathan Papelbon as the set-up guy? You know we like it. It's creative and daring, and it's so crazy it just might work. He certainly was impressive in the eighth inning against Tampa Bay the other night, striking out the side with blistering heat, including the leadoff batter on four pitches that went 93-95-94 (foul)-93 (sit). The kid still has some kinks to work out - his command comes and goes, and the splitter that Curt Schilling taught him is, unfortunately, a lot like Curt Schilling's splitter right now. But the Sox will desperately need a swing-and-miss guy in the bullpen should they survive into October, and Papelbon, who seems as poised as he is talented, is capable of being that guy. They'll only benefit from giving him the chance to prove it.

* Turns out David Terrell wasn't the second coming of Donald Hayes after all. Hayes, who scored a touchdown in his Pats debut before free-falling into obscurity, was better. Terrell, the former No. 1 pick of the Bears whom certain pigskin pundits (hi there) wanted the Pats to select instead of Richard Seymour five years ago, was among 17 players cut today as the two-time defending champs trimmed the roster to the required 53. It seems the only person who was surprised was the player himself. By all accounts, Terrell carried himself during camp as if he were a lock to make the team, while in the meantime spending more time in the hot tub than on the field. When reporters dared suggest to him in recent days that he may not make the Final 53, he dismissed the notion at first, then later said, "If it happens, there are 31 other teams." Well, actually, Dave, there are 30 other teams, since Chicago would switch to a no-receiver offense before bringing you back. We're not much into name-calling here at TATB . . . but man, what a moron. The guy is Michael Irvin minus the production, which is a pretty damn big minus. He arrived with the Pats with a golden chance to resurrect his career as the third receiver on one of the best teams in NFL history, and opportunities likely wouldn't have been lacking considering his rapport with Tom Brady dating back to their days at Michigan. It was the perfect place for him to prove the Bears wrong. Instead, he wore out his welcome here faster than he did in Chicago. He's got talent. He might live up to it, if he only had a clue.

* Might as well admit it: Keith Foulke isn't going to help. Call it a cruel irony, but ever since we mocked Mariano Rivera at the home opener, the Sox bullpen has been a disaster zone, particularly the closer situation before Mike Timlin took over. Meanwhile, Rivera's been better than ever, which is high praise. He was a great sport for laughing along with us that beautiful day; turns out he may laugh last as well.

* Glad to see Christian Fauria held off Jed Weaver for the third-string tight end position - hey, familiarity counts for something - but all things considered, Mike Vrabel is probably as capable at the position as either of them, at least near the goal line.

* I'm not saying that Major League Baseball is capable of such sinister tactics, but after hearing David Wells's apology (I never knew Boomer was so fluent in Lawyer Speak), I'm wondering if sniveling Bud Selig personally gave him the Randle P. McMurphy treatment. Seriously, that was the least believable mea culpa since that time then-Charger Ryan Leaf half-heartedly read a statement apologizing for his dumbass stunt of the week, then crinkled up the paper and chucked it into his locker. (Insert your own joke about it being one of his few completed passes.)

* Three random Patriots predictions: Stephen Neal will make the Pro Bowl, Daniel Graham will have more receptions than Ben Watson, and the invaluable Kevin Faulk will continue to be underrated by those who remember him as a fumble-prone underachiever during the Pete Carroll Era.

* Okay, maybe we've been a little hard on Kevin Millar in this space. Honest, we didn't mean to be so hurtful when we suggested his physique was made up of 1 percent creatine, 99 percent popcorn chicken, or when we wished that the Sox would release him so he could help Embree and Bellhorn sabotage the Yankees from within. While we realize there is a certain amount of b.s. to his personality - the guy is from freakin' Los Angeles, for heaven's sake, and is not the cow-ropin' Texas cowboy he plays on TV - the truth is, we appreciate that cultivated personality, and have since he was signing autographs and kissing babies by the hundreds during his days in obscurity as a non-prospect with the Sea Dogs. Hell, his "Don't Let Us Win This Game" speech to a smirking and bemused media contingent before Game 4 of the ALCS is one of our favorite moments from last season - it gives us chills every time we see it, still. We just happen to like Millar a whole lot better when he's hitting - and for the first time this season, he's on a legitimate hot streak, having hammered his third homer of the homestand tonight.

* After watching Doug Flutie and Matt Cassel perform with Zolakian ineptitude against the Giants, I'm left with two thoughts: 1) The Pats are ruined should the unthinkable happen to Goat Boy. (Duh.) 2) Rohan Davey must have stunk.

* And in a feature we might as well title TATB's Ongoing Attempt At Copyright Infringement, here's one more from Bill James's '93 Player Ratings Guide. See if you can guess the player, someone who has recent ties to the Red Sox:
"A 6-5 slugger, the third player taken in the 1991 draft, played at Orlando in '92 and had a fine year. Manager Phil Roof said he could be a 25-home-run type, and that may be conservative; with luck, he may be the Twins' cleanup hitter after Hrbek. Expected to spend the summer in Triple A, but the Twins have been known to skip that."

The answer . . .

. . . Dave McCarty. Maybe he never quite became "the 25 home-run type" - he had 36 for his career heading into this season - but at the rate things are going, he might just be the Sox's second lefty out of the 'pen in the playoffs.

* I'm not a skilled enough writer or a wise enough human being to try and put the tragedy in New Orleans into immediate perspective; hell, I'm still struggling to comprehend how such a horrific aftermath could happen in the United States. And unlike certain other internet sports writers, I'd like to think I have more self-awareness than to spew 1,500 words on a "love letter" that, when past commentary is considered, reveals itself as a poorly disguised ego trip. But I feel an overwhelming need to say something, and so I will say this: Please, if you can, donate to the Red Cross or a charity of your choice, and help these poor people piece their shattered lives back together. It's the duty of the fortunate.

* As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Giving the phrase "New Orleans Saint" a whole new meaning.