Friday, October 28, 2005

Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose

The reign officially and appropriately ends one night with the Changing of the Sox. And not 12 hours later, the Chicago's star slugger as well as two of the supporting players in Boston's Idiot Trilogy file for free agency.

So much for taking a moment to savor the season. The Hot Stove League waits for no one anymore.

Most years, we'd be cool with that. We always found the trades and transactions of the offseason to be nearly as compelling as the games themselves. I think it dates back to TATB's childhood, when he'd eagerly await getting his Topps Traded baseball card sets just for the sheer thrill of seeing the players in their new, unfamiliar uniforms.

(Woo, check this out! . . . Fisk as a White Sox! . . . And Winfield as a Yankee! . . . Whoa, and Hobson as an Angel! . . . Don't they look awesome!)

(You know, what say we skip the psychoanalysis of that little flashback, okay?)

This year, though, the anticipation is absent, mainly because the list of probable free agents contains a lot more question marks than exclamation points. While Johnny Damon, Paul Konerko, and Billy Wagner certainly are A-List talents, and A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan will be compensated as such - there just isn't a lot of star power here. There isn't a lot of anything, really. Depth-wise, the class falls somewhere between "mediocre" and "should be a playing for the St. Paul Saints." Even George Steinbrenner likely won't reach the limit on his Visa.

For the Red Sox, this could be problematic. Maybe we were too blinded by their 95 victories during the season, but only after they were whitewashed by the White Sox did we come to realize the truth: the Red Sox are a team in transition. Damon may not be back. Kevin Millar certainly won't be without a ticket or a NESN gig. Bill Mueller's contract is up, as is Mike Timlin's. They need a first basemen, a second baseman, an entirely new bullpen - and perhaps a center fielder and a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher as well. Geez, of all the years to have a lousy group of free agents.

Fortunately, though, it looks like their most important free agent is sticking around, and among all the aspects of his job that Theo Epstein does well, he is particularly adept at finding quality players at a Dollar Tree price. Mueller, Timlin, and some clutch cat who answers to Big Papi were part of Theo's first Filene's Basement free-agent class before the '03 season. Their immense contributions don't have to be rehashed here.

Obviously, there's not another David Ortiz out there - that's a once-in-fan's-lifetime gift from the sports gods - but there are some unsung, underappreciated or undervalued free agents who could help the Red Sox next season. It's just a matter of figuring out who they are. Here's our attempt:

Kyle Farnsworth, reliever, Braves: The Sox reportedly inquired about Farnsworth before he was dealt from Detroit to Atlanta at the trade deadline, and his outstanding performance for the Braves surely did nothing to cool their interest. While there are some questions about his character - he reportedly could give Livin' La Vida D-Lowe a run for his Budweiser off the field - he's one of the hardest throwers in the big leagues, and you, me and Dave Wallace know the Sox could use a few of those. He's be the ideal eighth-inning power setup guy they've been lacking, and he's capable of closing if Keith Foulke still is not. He's also the best open-field tackler in the big leagues, so maybe in his downtime he can give Monty Beisel some tips.

Bobby Howry, reliever, Indians: Not that I'm suggesting the Sox recycle this washout from their 2002-'03 ballclubs, but his success the past two years with Cleveland just goes to show yet again that assembling a bullpen is a total crapshoot. Last year's trash is this year's treasure, and if Howry (and to a similar extent, fellow ex-Sox-turned-Indian Scott Sauerbeck) isn't proof enough, consider that Todd Jones - he of the spinning curveball and other assorted junk during his ineffective time with the Sox -had a sub-2.00 ERA and 40 saves for the Marlins this season. Who will be this year's Jones, this year's Howry? Will it be Rick White? Scott Sullivan, maybe? Ricardo Rincon? About the only truly appealing sorta-under-the-radar reliever is San Francisco's Scott Eyre, the rare bullpen lefty who's in the big leagues because he's damn good pitcher; he's not some southpaw stiff whose repertoire consists solely of smoke and mirrors and who thanks his lucky stars at night that his dad tied his right hand behind his back as a kid. (No offense, Mike Myers.) B.J. Ryan should be atop the Sox' list of priorities, but if they don't get him, I hope they bag Eyre as a consolation prize.

Octavio Dotel, reliever, A's: One of the best arms in baseball. Unfortunately, Dotel's moneymaker currently has a scar on the elbow, courtesy of ligament replacement surgery that knocked him out most of this season and was originally expected to keep him out all of 2006. However, recent reports indicate he may be back in time for opening day, and pitchers who have the surgery bounce back with relative ease these days. Some even claim to have better stuff than before. Just ask Burnett's agent. Some big-market team with an extra few million or so in the piggy bank will take a flyer on Dotel. I hope it's the Red Sox, particularly if they miss out on Farnsworth. Dotel's had his hiccups as a closer, but as a setup guy, he could be what Matt Mantei '04 and Scott Williamson '03 were supposed to be: Lights. Out.

Kevin Millwood, starting pitcher, Indians or Paul Byrd, starting pitcher, Angels: I happen to believe Burnett - a hipster doofus version of Matt Clement - will be the Sox's No. 2 starter next season. John Henry has a soft spot for him since their days with the Marlins, and he'll be more than willing to meet Burnett's price for the sake of sentiment. But if Burnett does not end up here, you have to figure the Sox will sign another starter, with Bronson Arroyo and perhaps Clement being dangled as trade bait. Which brings us to Millwood, who was excellent all year for the Indians and is the closest thing to a No. 2 starter on the market - perhaps even including Burnett. I also wouldn't be shocked if the Sox pursued the Angels' Byrd, who acquitted himself well in the postseason and has been on the Sox' radar before. Plus, the Kelsey Grammer clone could also make a few bucks on the side selling autographed pictures to sucker tourists at the Bull and Finch Pub.

Olmedo Saenz, first base, L.A. Dodgers or Eduardo Perez, first base, Devil Rays: They Sox can do better than this, and likely will. (TATB is all for any trade that brings Adam Dunn to Boston without Manny leaving as a consequence.) But Saenz and Perez are veteran, underrated righthanded sticks - not to mention accomplished Sox killers- and even though they are both north of 30, I suspect they could flourish in a part-time role, say, if the Sox decided to bring back Helmet Olerud as the lefty half of a platoon. Now, I don't want this to happen. I'm just saying it wouldn't be as bad an option as some would portray it if it does. (And If it's lefty the Sox covet, Erubiel Durazo might be a good match for Fenway, though he makes Papi look like Keith Hernandez at first base.)

Nomar Garciaparra, shortstop/third base, Cubs: Nomar! Back in Boston! Brilliant! Or so I thought. When I bounced the idea off my wife, she said, "Nomar? Really? Isn't there anyone better?" Talk about taking the wind out my sails - I was as mopey as Nomar that night in New York when he had the best seat in the house to watch Pokey and Jetes alternate "Web Gems." Thanks, beautiful. All, right, I suppose I'm being slightly facetious with this idea - Nomar will never return to Boston as long as Larry Lucchino has a corner office. But on a couple of levels it's at an idea worth entertaining. First, his stock is at an all-time low. If you understood the fundamental premise of "Moneyball," it's that Billy Beane emphasizes bringing in players who are a good value, who have a trait or a talent that is underappreciated and thus underpriced. Nomar fits those criteria now - and here comes the inevitable "if" - if-if-if he can stay on the field. His reputation and career have been damaged by injuries; he's had more odd ailments in recent years than Tyrone Poole, and he looks so rickety at shortstop that Dusty Baker moved him to third base, shifting him in favor of the immortal Neifi Perez. Which brings us to the other part of the plan: If he came back to Boston, he would have to move to center field. Yes, seriously. No, I did not pick a bad day to stop sniffing glue. Think about it: Center field would be better for his health, it is not unprecedented for a shortstop (Robin Yount did it, and Captain Jetes ought to), and he could fill the void left by Damon. Is it unrealistic to think it might happen? Well, mean ol' Mrs. TATB apparently thinks so, and I imagine Nomar and Lucchino would, too. And frankly, I'm not even sure I'd want it to happen. While Nomar, who's 31 years old now, is still productive when in good health,, I had my fill of first-pitch popups the last time around. I guess by suggesting this, I'm just trying to making a larger point:

It's going to take some extremely creative thinking - and a little bit of luck, too - for the Red Sox to enter 2006 with a better team than the one that ended this past one so anticlimactically.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tonight, tonight

A belated congrats to our Brothers In Sox, the class of major-league baseball from the first pitch to the last this season . . .

. . . and trust us when we say, on the first anniversary of our ballclub's championship, that it's a feeling you'll cherish long after the moment has passed.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Nine innings 10.24.05

Playing nine innings while wondering when someone - an opponent, an ump, a teammate, William Ligue Jr. - is going to sucker punch the relentlessly annoying A.J. Pierzynski . . .

1) There's no doubt that despite his recent Schiraldi Moments, Houston's Brad Lidge is one hell of a pitcher. The cat might have the tightest slider since Dave Stieb, and he'd probably be an excellent major-league pitcher armed only with his sizzling fastball. But can Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Thom Brennaman, Bob Brenly, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens, Bombo Rivera, and whomever else is in that overstuffed Fox broadcasting booth please stop referring to him as "the best closer in baseball." I've heard that precise statement twice now this postseason, and even if Lidge hadn't given up game-winning homers to Albert Pujols and Scott Podsednik (now there's two names you never thought you'd see in the same sentence) in his last two appearances, he's still got about seven years of meritorious postseason service to go before he can even be mentioned in the same breath as that cutter-throwing machine in the Bronx. You'd think McCarver, who never misses a chance to slobber over Mariano Rivera's "elegant gait," would scoff at such silly talk. Then again, I'm pretty sure he's asleep by the third inning most nights.

2) Flipping channels the other night, my clicker happened to stall on ESPN Classic while it was showing the official 2004 World Series video - you know, the one where the Red Sox win it all at the end. Great flick, two thumbs up, four stars, and all of that. I've probably seen the hour-and-a-half video, oh, 20 times by now, which prompted my wife to say, "How many times are you going to watch this thing, anyway?" (Come to think of it, her gripe might have had something to do with the fact that it was her birthday.) I answered, "Oh, at least 500," - and now I'm thinking that was a conservative estimate. Maybe it's because the Season After is behind us now, and the reign is about to end, but I found myself enjoying the thing more than I have since the first viewing. Suddenly, Millar's you-better-not-let-us-win-this-one routine induced chills again, Cabrera, steady and stylish, was where he belonged, D-Lowe was proving gutsier than we ever knew, Foulke was meeting every challenge and then some, Schilling was transcendently heroic, Pedro was flashing that megawatt smile, and all of it was just so . . . perfect. And when it was done, I came to what I suppose is a rather obvious conclusion, but a meaningful one nonetheless: The farther away we get from that moment, the more precious it will be. I guess it took the end of this season to make me realize how much I missed the last one.

3) The thought of George Porgie steaming as his refugees battle it out for the championship he suddenly can't seem to win is a lovely notion, of course. Unfortunately, the oft-repeated statement that four-fifths of the Yankees' 2003 rotation - Clemens, Pettitte, El Duque and Contreras - is pitching in this World Series is just not true. In 2003, the Yankees rotation looked like this: Clemens (33 starts); Pettitte (33); Mussina (31); Wells (30); Jeff "Ed Whitson" Weaver (24). Contreras made just nine starts, while El Duque wasn't even New York property; he missed the entire season with the Expos due to an injury. It's interesting that four ex-Yankees are pitching in this series, but their histories as employees of the Evil Empire aren't quite as intertwined as we have been led to believe.

4) And the winner of the Gorman Bagwell Andersen Award for stupidest transaction of the past season goes to . . . Bill Stoneman of the LA Angels of A, for this beauty that found its way into agate type Dec. 17, 2004

Los Angeles (AL): Waived pitcher Bobby Jenks and shortstop Alfredo Amazega.

Seriously, what was Stoneman thinking? HOW COULD HE RELEASE THE GREAT AMAZEGA!!!???? HOW COULD HE???? HE'S THE NEXT HONUS WAGNER!!?? All right, I kid. It was brain-dead stupid to give up on a kid with the ability of Jenks, no matter how checkered his past. (On the plus side for Stoneman, that was also the day he'd learned he'd lost out on the bidding for Matt Clement. So it wasn't all bad.) And because I'm usually making a jack-booted idiot out of myself on this site, here's proof that I actually recognized this as a lousy move (if not the drastic mistake it is proving to be) at the time. This is a snippet from an email I sent to my cousin Kris the White Sox Fan when Chicago signed Jenks. If you want my cuz to vouch for this, he shouldn't be too hard to find. He's the guy who was sitting next to the White Sox dugout last night in a Bob James throwback jersey, stirrup socks, and no pants. McCarver was smitten. Anyway, the email:

The White Sox picked up a really interesting prospect today, a kid named Bobby Jenks from the Angels. He throws in the high 90s with a nasty breaking ball, but he's supposedly a raging boozer, not all that bright (to be politically correct), and he was raised by what sounds like the Unabomber's extended family. He should fit in nicely.

Okay, so it's not exactly a review straight out of Baseball Prospectus. But at least I knew who he was and what he threw, which still puts me ahead of the Fox analysts. Hell, I keep waiting for McCarver to take one look at him and say, "Pardon me, but when did the White Sox get Sidney Ponson, and my, what an elegant gait he has. (Thud.) Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."

5) I'm rooting for the White Sox in this thing, in part because their fans (the real ones, not the ones who were wearing Cubs t-shirts a month ago) have long been Red Sox fans' kindred spirits in terms of unfulfilled hopes, but mostly because I want Kris - a White Sox fan as fiercely loyal and only slightly less perverse than he's usually portrayed here - to experience the overwhelming joy that I felt when those hopes were finally fulfilled last year. But man, it ain't easy. While the White Sox have their share of admirable players - Mark Buehrle, Jermaine Dye, and the amazing Paul Konerko to name three - I've had a tough time swallowing Ozzie Guillen's act since he flashed the choke sign to Indians fans on the last day of the season, and I have a really tough time rooting for Carl Everett at anything, though I might side with him in a fight-to-the-death with Pierzynski. The White Sox have more first-ballot Hall of Fame jerks than any team not dressed in pinstripes. It's a good thing Clemens is on the other side to balance it all out.

6) Considering the deals he obviously cut with the likes of Podsednik, Chris Burke and Aaron Small this season, I'd say the devil himself might have the makings of a pretty decent general manager. Maybe the Red Sox would be interested if Theo gets away. Have to figure he's already pretty familiar with Lucchino.

7) Wouldn't it have been great if we could have skipped last night's 2,837,883d promo for a very special "Prison Break" and returned to the action before Pierzynski was throwing the ball back to Jenks after the first pitch of the somewhat important ninth inning? It's pretty obvious Fox does this deliberately - coming back late from a commercial break has been an ongoing problem for sometime now, and I seem to recall them missing a David Ortiz home run last season. Considering they think this is acceptable, I can almost foresee the day when their baseball "coverage" is going be condensed highlights of What Just Happened (sponsored by Levitra) wrapped around three hours of commercials and promos for their unwatchable shows.

8) If you have any ideas on how the Red Sox can improve themselves this offseason, well, hell, send them along, because I'm having a hard time coming up with any. The free-agent list of position players reads like a who's-who of future Hanshin Tigers (sayanara, Millar), it seems highly unlikely that anyone is going to offer true equal value for Manny, and their desperation for a top-shelf starting pitcher may lead them to the cruel late-season realization that A.J. Burnett is nothing but Matt Clement with better stuff and a cockier attitude. This is a crucial offseason for the Sox, and with the Idiots Era apparently in past tense now, what happens in these coming months will go a long way toward determining how competitive the team is in the next five years. In other words: Management needs to quit screwing around with its negotiating ploys and ego trips and give Theo want he wants. Doesn't he deserve to make more than, say, Alex Cora?

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

You know, Larry Andersen probably could have helped the Red Sox' bullpen this season.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Throwback column: May 18, 2003

I'll have a new nine innings column up Monday afternoon. In the meantime, here's a Roger Clemens . . . well, hatchet job that I pecked out during my Concord Monitor days; I think the column that has some relevance to tonight's events. I had all but forgotten about this piece, but it slipped into my consciousness while watching the Rocket get rocked in Game 1 of the World Series, then predictably suggest that his shoddy performance was due to a hamstring injury. My attitude toward Clemens has softened since I wrote this - I used to think of him as a duplicitous doofus, while now I just think of him as doofus - but it is rather pathetic that every big-game failure and every confrontation he has dodged at his own convenience can always be blamed on something other than his own lacking performance. I appreciate his rare ability, and all that he did for the Red Sox, but I have a hard time calling him the greatest pitcher ever until he learns to be accountable. Considering he's 43 years old, something tells me the day will never come. - CF

* * *

May 18, 2003: The question is taunting and familiar: "WHERE . . . IS . . . ROJ-AH?" The answer is, too: He's taking the easy way out, somewhere far from here.

"Historic Fenway Park," as the new owners like to market it, should have played host this week to another magical, memorable moment.

On the same mound upon which he built his Hall of Fame resume, against the franchise for whom he won 192 games, dressed in the uniform of Boston's eternal enemy, Roger Clemens could have gone for his 300th career victory. At historic Fenway Park.

It would have been a beautiful confluence of mystery and history, of symmetry and coincidence. It would have been a guaranteed Instant Classic no matter what the outcome.

Everyone who treasures baseball tradition wanted to see it happen. Everyone, that is, except for the one man who could have made it happen.


Roger the Dodger strikes again.

Big shock there. It became clear, as the hype and anticipation swelled, that Clemens had no interest in achieving the milestone at his old stomping grounds.

First, he oh-so-casually mentioned to some reporters that he'd heard "a rumor" that if he won No. 299 against Texas this past Thursday, his next start would be pushed back a day. That way, he could go for No. 300 at Yankee Stadium instead of at Fenway.

A rumor? Real clever, Rog. Doesn't he know that every single rumor on the planet begins with the New York media? Yet they had heard nothing of it. Neither had Yankees Manager Joe Torre. Eyebrows - not to mention suspicions - were raised.

Then, it was reported that Ma Nature might come to his aid. Rain was in the forecast for Thursday night. Reports that Clemens was spotted doing a rain dance on the Yankee Stadium mound remain unconfirmed.

Ultimately, he took the easiest escape route. He pitched against Texas, but he did not win. After five innings and a 5-3 deficit, Torre gave him the hook. And got him off the hook.

The Yankees lost. Boston lost. Baseball lost. Clemens got a no-decision and the scenario he wanted. Now he can go for No. 299 - somewhat of a lesser feat than 300, from what I understand - on Wednesday at Fenway. If he wins, he can go for 300 on Memorial Day at home against the Red Sox.

It's the same opponent, but the Clemens-vs.-Boston battle doesn't quite have the same luster away from Yawkey Way. It won't feature the same confidence-melting pressure that comes with a hostile crowd and a bitter rival. Which is the point, of course.

I am not claiming Clemens is happy he failed to beat Texas and dodged the Boston spectacle. I am simply pointing out that such a curious twist fits his profile.

It's always something with him. He never misses a chance to stumble into the middle of some unnecessary drama, some self-inflicted subplot that puts an asterisk next to his accomplishments.

Clemens has two World Series rings . . .

. . . but the debate rages as to whether he asked out of Game 6 in '86. And there is no debate that he had to finagle a trade to the World Champion Yankees in order to finally call himself a champion.

He has won 298 games . . .

. . . yet has won just nine of 22 postseason starts and probably won't be able to beat Dave Stewart at a game of pinochle 50 years from now.

He is a master intimidator, a maestro of chin music . . .

. . . who fears facing the music himself. Just ask Mike Piazza. Three seasons ago, he drilled the Mets' star catcher in the head during a regular-season game. When the Yankees faced Piazza's Mets in the World Series later that fall, Clemens hurled a broken bat at Piazza, claiming he thought it was the ball. Meanwhile, Torre rigged the rotation so Clemens wouldn't pitch at Shea, and thus, have to dig in against the revenge-minded Mets pitchers.

He had a chance to stick it to his former team in the 1999 playoffs . . .

. . . but gave up five runs in two innings of a 13-1 loss, departing in the third inning with a supposed injury. The delightful turn of events brought the "WHERE IS ROJ-AH?" chant from the Fenway Faithful, along with this whiny lament from Clemens's wife, Debbie: "Why do they have to be so cruel (to Roger)? What did he ever do to them?"

If Mrs. Rocket isn't self-aware enough to understand, then her husband - whose nickname, you might have figured, is not short for Rocket Scientist - probably isn't, either. In fact, a lot of folks probably don't understand why we despise him so.

Fans in, say, Cleveland, might shake their heads when they hear us rail against the Rocket. Typical whiny New Englanders, they say. Gotta dwell on the past. Can't they just forgive and forget?

Well, no. Not yet. Because Clemens won't allow it. He keeps feeding us more reasons to loathe him.

Fools are always welcome to play for our Red Sox - hey, toss me a ball, Trot - just as long as they don't play us for fools. Clemens, in all of his clumsy disingenuousness, has tried to do just that.

For years, he claimed he would never leave Boston.

Then, he claimed he would leave Boston only to go home to Texas.

Then, he signed with Toronto, which even he had to know was some distance from the Lone Star State.

Then, he claimed he chose the Blue Jays not for the $32 million they slapped on the table, but because his wife loved the shopping. (Toronto is the Milan of Ontario, apparently.)

Then, once in Toronto, he got his bloated torso back into shape, fireballed his way to two Cy Youngs, and forced a trade to the Evil Empire, where he's pranced around in pinstripes ever since.

At least he is where he always belonged. Clemens is arrogant, talented, rich, less than honest, self-absorbed and for the most part, overwhelmingly successful. A born Yankee, really.

Forgive and forget? Sure we will, as soon as he admits the Red Sox meant as much to him as he did to us.

We've given him the chance to do so before.

Remember when he first came to Boston as a visitor? July 12, 1997. Final score: Toronto 3, Boston 1. Clemens, looking just plain wrong in a gaudy Blue Jays uniform, whiffed 16. He rose to the occasion. Sox fans rose to their feet in tribute.

In the aftermath, Clemens claimed it was just another game, even though everyone in the ballpark caught him shooting hate-daggers toward Dan Duquette's luxury box. The stubborn oaf still couldn't admit he cared.

Five years later, he still can't. And so we'll never know how this potentially classic chapter would have played out. Perhaps he would have whiffed 16 again to earn that 300th victory on his old turf. Or perhaps the Red Sox offense would have pummeled him into the showers by the third inning, leaving him stalled on 299 and derided with the old familiar taunt.

But before the We'll-tell-the-grandkids-about-this moment could arrive, Clemens let us down, one more time for all the old times.

Roger the Dodger got us again.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The end of the Idiots

After the eulogies have been spoken and the obituaries written, after every significant moment in between Edgar Renteria's mismatched pair of season-ending groundouts has been rehashed and reconsidered, after all the fingers have been pointed and the culprits identified, after the superior White Sox celebrated on our sod and the last hair leapt to its death off Terry Francona's weary head, we are left to accept a simple fact, one the clear-eyed realists among us suspected all along:

The 2005 Boston Red Sox weren't good enough.

It's rarely that simple around here, in this ear-splitting age of sports-radio yelping and uninformed so-called analysts, but this season needs no autopsy to reveal the cause of death. The champs never had the proper ingredients - talent, luck, depth, an ace, a non-flammable bullpen - to cook up another championship again. It was painfully apparent at the end, when the White Sox whupped 'em in three straight, doing all the little things (and the big things) Our Sox did last season, not to mention shaming anyone so arrogant to assume Boston would win the series based solely on the smugly conceived, vague reasoning that they had "playoff experience." The White Sox hit better than Boston, fielded better than Boston, and their pitching was so superior that El Duque, the last man to make the roster, likely would have come into this postseason as Boston's ace should they have been so fortunate to have him. The better team won. As it should be.

If this team's demise caught anyone by surprise, they either weren't paying attention or are as stone-skulled oblivious as Jerry Trupiano. Considering that the closer (Keith Foulke) endured a personal and professional meltdown and the ace (Curt Schilling) suffered the consequences of his Bloody Sock Heroics and won only eight games . . . considering that a rotation of No. 3 starters couldn't fill the void after Pedro chased the Mets' dinero and Edgar Renteria arrived as Offerman 2K5 . . . considering that Bill Mueller got slower as the season grew longer and Trot Nixon crumbled physically once again . . . considering that the bullpen was doused in gasoline and Kevin Millar should have been, well, hell, I'm still trying to figure out how they won 95 games.

Best I can surmise, it's due mostly to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz doing their uncanny Ruth/Gehrig routine in the 3-4 spots, with honorable mention going to Mike Timlin (did he pitch every day?), Jason Varitek (a fast fade at the end, but a typically rock-steady year on the whole), and, I suppose, Francona (the man's loyalty is maddening, but he did an able job considering the season-long shakiness of the pitching staff).

As valiant as many of the individuals were, though, the team did not deserve to play on, and as the leaves pile up in the yard and the crisp air resigns us to the reality that summer is but a warm memory, we are left longing for just one more game, one more inning, one more pitch. Last year excepted, the end of a Red Sox season always sinks my spirits, leaves me with a strange melancholy that strikes occasionally and often randomly, such as when the radio dial rests on the last few beautiful moments of "Layla" (the original, obviously, not Clapton's inexplicable pandering to the Easy Listening nitwits), or the terribly tragic scene in "Dazed and Confused" when (sob!) the kegs run dry.

Even though the ending to this movie was foreshadowed long ago, this year I'm finding it even harder to let go, for one reason above all others: We have arrived at the end of something bigger, something unique and transcendent and unrivaled in the modern history of Boston baseball.

This is the end of the Idiots.

The last three seasons have almost felt like one long continuous season, different acts in the same play. Call it the Idiot Trilogy, if you will. It began in the offseason prior to 2003, when Theo Epstein acquired a locker room full of supposed role players to add to his Manny/Pedro/Damon/Varitek core: Mike Timlin, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Todd Walker (who begat Mark Bellhorn), and a happy-go-lucky, but underachieving slugger discarded by the Minnesota Twins. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the day the Red Sox signed David Ortiz was the most important day in franchise history. He has meant that much to the Red Sox, and that's not diminish the contributions of the others who came here along with him in that crucial winter of '02-'03. Dan Duquette, being an android and all, never realized that personality mattered, but Theo did immediately. He understood that it's of utmost importance to find players who can cope with the daily media crush and the intentions of well-meaning but sometimes suffocating fans, to find players who not only can handle the pressure of playing in Boston but embrace it. For those who still recall the sickening Everett/Lansing/Kerrigan 2001 Sox all too well, it was refreshing to see the young general manager put a premium on character and chemistry as well as talent.

And it surely didn't hurt that his philosophy proved successful immediately. The Sox won 95 games but lost in soul-crushing fashion in Game 7 of the ALCS in '03, then, a year later, came back against the same rival that stole their dreams the previous season and merely pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of professional team sports. Vindication never tasted so sweet, and as the Sox celebrated in the Bronx, then, four victories later in St. Louis, you found yourself wishing this special collection of players and people could stay together forever.

They will, of course - in our DVD players, on those framed newspapers on the wall, in our memories. But the reality of pro sports is that very few stay in one place anymore, and the departures began only weeks after the champagne flowed. Pedro, who said in the World Series DVD that he'd rather win one ring in Boston than three anywhere else, apparently decided he had a good shot at four or more rings in New York, and signed with the Mets. Other names on the roster changed, too - the steady and spectacular Orlando Cabrera was an all-too-brief flash across our sky - but the core heading into '05 remained much the same.

That will not be the case next year. The Red Sox are team in transition; they've aged before our eyes, their roster is dotted with question marks, and the contracts of four of their everyday players have expired. Leadoff hitter/center fielder Johnny Damon, the epitome of the Idiot mentality in that he relishes the impression he plays as hard off the field as he does on it, is the marquee free agent and seems to be intent on cashing in every last Benjamin; he's setting himself up to be the Yankees' 2009 equivalent of Bernie Williams, 2005. You hate to see him go - he's a pleasant guy and a wonderfully original player (rugged dude, wimpy swing, slick glove, peashooter arm) who thrives in the biggest moments - but his body already seems to be betraying him. Should he go, we'll simply tip our cap and say thanks for the memories, man. Unless he goes to the Bronx. Then we'll pelt him with batteries. (Just the little ones, though. No DieHards. Stay classy, Boston.)

Others are certainly on the way out. Millar will, if there is any justice, be a platoon DH for the Nippon Ham Fighters next season. (You know he'll learn to say "Cowboy Up" in Japanese.) Mueller, whose contract also is up, is welcome to stay, though that's the sentimental fool speaking; it's probably 26-year-old Kevin Youkilis's time to show what he can do third base, and frankly, it was Francona's failing that he didn't use him to rest creaky-kneed Billy Ballgame more this season. Timlin is a free agent, though he's already talking about coming back, and we'd all like to see Tony Graffanino return, for his steadiness as well as a deserved shot at redemption.

Then there's Manny. Despite carrying the Sox with a sweet September, despite homering twice in the final, futile attempt to stave off Chicago, despite his consistent Hall of Fame-level production and a contract that he damn near justifies, I suspect the Sox will finally succeed in their annual disingenuous attempt to unload him. And that, to paraphrase Rick Pitino, will stink and suck and stink. I hope Papi gets a nice, shiny plaque or something for leading the league in intentional walks next season, though I hold out a shred of hope that the Sox will come to their senses and realize that fair payment for Manny is one of these names and nothing else: Albert Pujols. Mark Teixeira. Miguel Cabrera. I could be forgetting someone, but I think that's it. Weird that their teams would consider them untouchable, huh? Vlad Guerrero? Maybe, though it seems to me he's Manny with a better arm and half the charm. Carlos Beltran? He's a rare talent, but the Sox would be wise to pass. Those who want him don't know him, and they won't like him when they do. You might notice that Mike Cameron and Aubrey Huff didn't make the cut. If Manny goes for 75 cents on the dollar, he'll be taking 45 homers, 144 RBIs, a piece of Big Papi's mojo, and the Red Sox's chances of making four postseason appearances in a row with him. But, you know, at least they'll be rid of that contract.

Yet as crucial as Manny is, and to a lesser extent Damon, the most important personnel decision concerns the man who will decide their futures. Theo Epstein's contract is up on Oct. 31, and we cannot make this point clearly enough: If the Red Sox let him leave, it will the most unforgivable personnel blunder since the Babe . . . well, you know. Maybe this wasn't Theo's finest season of his three as general manager - Renteria was a disappointment, he should have known that Matt Clement (whom I'd trade for Carl Pavano in a New York minute) does not have the temperament to thrive here, and he never adequately patched the bullpen despite taking a flyer on every mediocre Tom, Dick and Chad he could find. But he also had a damn near impossible act to follow - the epic, crucial Nomar-for-Cabrera/Mientkiewicz deal proved he is beyond fearless and was a catalyst for the championship run - and for those who say he doesn't deserve anything close to what the Sox offered Billy Beane four years ago, we'll counter with this: In Theo's three years on the job, the Sox have made the playoffs three times, getting out of the first round twice and winning the World Series once. The A's next playoff-series victory under Beane will be their first. No, Beane doesn't have equal resources. He doesn't have an equal resume, either.

You know it, so do I, and cross your fingers that John Henry gets it too: Theo is the absolute ideal general manager for the Red Sox, the perfect person at the perfect time. In times of tumult - and you know that there inevitably are plenty on Yawkey Way - he is an articulate voice of clarity and reason, radiating calm and never failing to say the right thing. In times when a crucial personnel decision must be made, he solicits and considers the opinions of the old-school scouts and the Baseball Prospectus numbers-crunchers, then makes his own reasoned call. And best of all, he's one us. He understands. If he leaves . . .

(I hate even writing those words.)

. . . good god, if he leaves, I'll have no choice to believe it's because his former mentor is envious that his protege has surpassed him, if not in the boardroom then certainly in the eyes of the public, and that the only solution to that is to puncture his pride with a lowball offer, just to remind him who's the boss. Yes, I'll have to wonder if in Larry Lucchino's eyes, Theo will always be the eager intern from Yale, the underling who has no business ever usurping his power. Yes, I'll have to wonder.

Theo put the guts of this ballclub together, and it rewarded us three of the most enjoyable seasons of our lifetime. Should he depart along with so many of his players, then the truth will haunt us through the long winter and beyond: All along, we had the wrong men pegged as idiots.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Nine innings 10.11.05

Playing nine innings while suspecting that Chris Burke's Astros teammates call him Corky . . .

1) Those who think the rumor that the Sox will trade Manny for Carlos Beltran is a swell idea simply aren't familiar enough with Carlos Beltran. Sure, he is a phenomenal talent - I imagine most fans' most vivid recollection of him was his Willie Mays imitation in the postseason for Houston last year - and at his best he might be the most complete ballplayer around. But there's the catch - way too often for someone of his ability, he's not at his best. He had a terribly mediocre (.266-16-78) season with the Mets after signing a 7-year, $119-million contract in the offseason, a contract, by the way, the would be a far greater albatross than the three years remaining on Manny's deal. And not only does he underachieve, but he often appears disinterested. You can say the latter about Manny, but you can never, ever say the former. This is not meant to demean Beltran - he is a breathtaking talent, and maybe he would thrive in Boston after getting away from the dirty airport runway the Mets call home. But at the moment, postseason with the Astros looks like one dazzling, perfectly timed salary drive, a tease of what he might be rather than what he is. If the Sox make this deal, only to get the New York version of Beltran rather than the Houston version, Red Sox fans who haven't done their homework on this guy could be in for a rude awakening, particularly when they realize he's here at the expense of Manny and free-agent Johnny Damon, whose position he will take over. When Beltran does something inexplicable - such as failing to run out a two-hop grounder in Tampa - and he's got 20 fewer homers and 60 fewer RBIs than the harmlessly goofy, historically productive guy he was traded for who occasionally pulled the same nonsense, don't say I didn't warn you.

2) Hey, what say we quit acting as greedy and self-absorbed as Yankees fans and please stop talking as though White Sox bopper Paul Konerko is all but a lock to come to the Red Sox as a free agent? While I suppose there might be 70 or so million reasons that could entice him here, all indications are that he has about as much interest in calling Fenway home as Carl Everett does. Yeah, yeah, we know, Konerko was born in Rhode Island. So? He moved to Arizona as a teenager, and has said time and again he'll either re-sign with the White Sox (likely) or kick back on the west coast (he did come up as a Dodger). Need more evidence? Let's see, he's also revealed that his dad was a Yankees fan, has suggested in the past that he's really not that enamored with the Fenway experience, punishes the Red Sox as if he doesn't like them very much, and, oh yeah, plays for a better team. I mean, c'mon, we New Englanders pride ourselves on being perceptive - what else does he need to say for us to get the hint? Thanks, but I wouldn't play in this hellhole in front of you psychos even if you guaranteed me I could face Matt Clement every single game. It's arrogant of us to just assume he'll come here despite every indication that such a notion does not appeal to him at all. (And for those of you who think he'd be an adequate replacement for Manny: He had, arguably, the best year of his career, though 2004 was very similar. Manny hit five more homers and drove in 44 more runs. Give it up.)

3) Read somewhere in the last few days that A-Rod wears No. 13 in homage to his boyhood idol, Dan Marino. Perfect. Two historically productive, blessed-from-the-heavens athletes who mysteriously melt when the moment arrives to separate the champs from the chumps. The only way that connection would be more appropriate is if it were revealed that Marino had a fetish for purple lip gloss.

4) . . . and speaking of A-Rod, how predictable was the first part of that Yankee ninth inning Monday night? Trailing 5-3, Captain Jetes leads off with a rocketed single to left, then aims his patented awe-inspiring fist-pump A-Rod's way, mouthing the words, "Let's go!" . . . A-Rod nods, digs into the batter's box with that practiced and just-too-perfect look of intensity of his face, chokes the bat so hard a sawdust pile forms near his feet . . . and promptly hits into a spirit-crushing 5-4-3 double play. I'm pretty sure Jeter gave him a fist-pump in the back of the head on the way back to the dugout. Seriously, someone needs to slip Jeter some truth serum or ply him with enough of his favorite Berry-Berry Daiquiris that he's willing to reveal his honest feelings about A-Rod. Jeter's annual post-defeat, subtle but transparent digs at his teammates - such as some version of the disingenuous "I've said it before, a lot of the players who won those rings aren't here anymore" - are getting repetitive, seeing how we've heard them five years running now. Time to rip someone, Cap'n.

5) I'm willing to give Edgar Renteria the a clean slate next season, though the Sox did him no favors by waiting until after the season to reveal he was hampered by a back injury. I suspect if an injury were such an issue, we would have heard about it sooner if only to protect him from the boo-birds and talk-radio banshees, and that the real truth behind his dismal first season in Boston can be found in this quote from Theo: "We expect that Edgar will report to camp in top condition." Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think there might be an insinuation there.

6) And in a related note, these playoffs have been a reminder forgotten how much pure fun it is to watch Orlando Cabrera play the game. Oh, I know he actually had a worse offensive season than Renteria, and I know Angels fans spent the early part of the season pining for David Eckstein, who apparently quit baseball to become a dentist, but I think they'll tell you now what the Yankees have realized two years running: Cabrera is at his best when the spotlight is the brightest, when the games matter the most. As Joe Buck said last night: "Cabrera is becoming quite a postseason stalwart." He sure is. And, man, that dazzling defense - what the Sox would have given for a shortstop who was either steady or spectacular, let alone both. I'll just say it already: they should have kept him.

7) Bet no one was happier to see Jason Giambi win the AL Comeback Player of the Year than Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds. Gives them something to shoot for, so to speak.

8) What else is there to say about the Sox? The better team won, the four best teams remain in the playoffs, and that's how it's supposed to be. It's the justice of the baseball gods, and that's that, right? Well . . . okay . . . there's actually a lot more to say about the Sox, and the reason I've been sporadic with my posts the last few days is that I've been pecking away on a longer column that attempts to put the season into perspective. I've always enjoyed doing the season wrap-up column - they're kind of fun to look back on a few years later, at least until the name "Grady Little" catches your eye and rekindles the rage - and I want to get this one right. Can't say I have yet, but it should be posted in the next few days. As always, thanks for putting up with my madness.

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

Yep, Craig Biggio is that old - he actually played for the Astros when they wore a version of those rainbow atrocities they called a jersey. I'd be tempted to call this the worst uniform ever, but the '76 White Sox and '78 Padres beg to differ.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Baby, I'm a lost cause

History will remember them as a resilient crew, not only for their historic comeback against the Chokin' Yankees last year, but their escape from an 0-2 hole against Oakland in the ALDS a year previous. But I have a hard time believing the defending World Champs are up to the task again, for one reason more than any other: Pitching, duh. They simply don't match up well with the well-armed White Sox, and shame on us for ever suggesting this series would be a breeze. Never have I missed Pedro and D-Lowe more than I did suffering through Matt Clement-Scarlatti first inning on Monday, and while I appreciate Tim Wakefield's versatility and team spirit, I'm not thrilled about the notion of relying on a knuckleballer when the season hangs in the balance. Hell, the White Sox left a kid off their playoff roster, future ace Brandon McCarthy, who's as good or better as anything Boston can wheel out to the mound right now. The sad reality is, the better team is winning this series, and the better team will win the series. It's been a hell of a reign, and I'll forever respect Tito Francine ballclub for winning 95 games with a staff of No. 3 starters, a flammable bullpen, and a first baseman suffering from rigamortis. But unlike '03 and '04, when I believe Our Guys were the best team in baseball both seasons, they are no longer good enough, and certainly not capable of winning three straight against a superior foe. There's nothing wrong with that; if there's anything we've learned the last two years, it's that the superior team deserves to win.

* Those who are eager to compare Tony Graffanino's error last night to Buckner's blunder in the '86 series are the same miserable souls who never quite came to grips with the fact that the so-called curse came to a screeching, irrefutable, permananent halt last October. Cut the guy some slack and get some perspective, people; this is Game 2 of the ALDS the year after a World Series championship, not Game 6 of the World Series with a 68-year drought on the line. Oh, right - it rolled through his legs! Now I get it. My bad.

* My cousin Kris the White Sox fan, appropriately giddy to the point that he is now forgoing wearing pants at all times, likes to needle me that the Red Sox play "Nintendo" ball while the alleged Go-Go White Sox play the game the way it is supposed to be played. He is wildly wrong, of course - one look at Small Ball poster boy Scott Podsednik's puny on-base percentage tells you that - and the truth is being revealed further in this series: The White Sox are at their best when they are mashing the ball, not when Ozzie Guillen is foolishly sacrifice bunting with one out in the first inning. (Their usual stellar pitching doesn't hurt, either.) Fact is, they're beating the Red Sox at what's perceived as their own game, even though one crucial statistic suggests a different conclusion: Chicago hit 200 homers this season, one more than Boston. Hey, who knew it was their game too?

* Which reminds us of a larger point: The vaunted Boston offense has devolved into Manny, Papi, and a bunch of guys who aren't pulling their weight, and haven't for some time now. I appreciate Bill Mueller as much as the next citizen of the Nation, but I'd like him a lot better if he'd had a meaningful hit or two since July. If Tito made any glaring mistake at all this season, it was not working Kevin Youkilis into the lineup on a semi-regular basis. Mueller's creaky 35-year-old knees would have surely appreciated the rest, and Youks should have been given Kevin Millar's at-bats beginning three months ago.

* Aaron Rowand is a hell of a center fielder and a tough out, and it's about time he's finally getting some recognition on the national stage. Still, every time I see the guy, I picture him behind the wheel of some souped-up pickup truck with a fancy gun rack and one of those Calvin-peeing-on-Jeff-Gordon's-No. 24 stickers on the window. He looks like such a redneck, I bet even Trot Nixon makes "Deliverance" jokes about him.

* And while we're mocking the appearance of White Sox players - hey, something about this series has to bring us joy - Bobby Jenks looks like the illegitimate spawn of Sidney Ponson and Butterbean.

* John Dennis and his 'EEI partner, Gerry Callahan (who used to be one of my favorite columnists until I realized he's either a wretched lout of a human being or plays one all too well on the radio), spent the morning absolving Graffanino of any wrongdoing while trying to pin blame for the loss on Manny Ramirez (who drove in the first two runs but, in their eyes if no one else's, dogged it and turned double into a single) and Edgar Renteria (no coherent explanation why, though if you know D&C's history, you have your suspicions). Before I could slam my car into the nearest telephone poll in a desperate attempt to make the noise stop, Karl Ravech of "Baseball Tonight" came on and shut them the hell up, noting that Albert Pujols - yes, the sainted Albert Pujols, Gammo's Exhibit A on how The Game Should Be Played during his anti-Manny rants - lollygagged to first himself recently. Ravech added that Manny had no better than a 50-50 shot of getting to second anyway, and suggested they were hassling Manny for the sake of hassling Manny. Dennis was, perhaps for the first time since he was hatched, silent. Callahan responded with a witty "Right," then changed the subject. Karl Ravech, we salute you.

* Is it me, or does Mark Buehrle look like he could be Derek Jeter's big, goofy, pasty, uncool older brother? He has the same "calm eyes." Tim McCarver is going to be smitten.

* Does Chris Berman get paid per word or what? Good heavens, man, pause for breath, and maybe you'll deflate enough that your suit jacket actually fits. I'm pretty sure that the baseball telecasts on the Hell Broadcasting Network feature Berman is doing the play-by-play, calling everyone by fifth-grade humor-level nicknames and hollering BACKBACKBACKBACK!, while trusty HBN analyst Joe Morgan drones on semi-coherently about the '75 Reds and cutters and sliders and his favorite kind of Fig Newtons. (Obviously, Jerry Trupiano and McCarver handle the later game.)

* As for today's Completely Random Baseball card:

Maybe Mike Piazza wasn't the worst defensive catcher in the Dodgers' system a decade ago after all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Five quick thoughts/predictions/delusions regarding Sox vs. Sox, Chapter 1 . . .

1) If David Ortiz has more official at-bats than walks when this series is over, then that tells you he wasn't up in many key situations, because that nutjob Ozzie Guillen has all but admitted he plans on giving him the extreme Barry Bonds treatment. Which of course means it's up to not only Manny, but Varitek, Nixon, and the zombie formerly knowns as Kevin Millar to produce runs. I forever believe in Manny, and 'Tek seems to be snapping out of his funk, but the notion that Papi may not get many chances to be a hero is troubling. For all the talk about the depth of mighty Red Sox offense, it's really been two guys having phenomenal years (Manny, Papi), one guy having a very good year (Johnny D.), and quite a few guys who were not as productive as they'd been in the past.

2) I'm afraid this version of Jose Contreras is quite different from the stage-frightened meatball artist that the Sox used to knock around while he was a Yankee el busto. His command - along with his confidence - has improved significantly, and he has a splitter Curt Schilling would kill for right about now. I expect him to pitch well today. Which means that at the first sign of major trouble for Clement - who usually either has it, or he doesn't - it's imperative that Tito get him the hell out of there and get Bronson Arroyo in, because the Sox (Red) can't afford to fall behind, 5-0.

3) My biggest fear in this series is that the despicable Carl Everett plays a significant role in bringing down the Sox (Red). I hope Clement puts one under his chin during his first at-bat today, then when Crazy Carl gathers himself and shoots Clement his patented Crazy Carl glare, Clement yells back at him, "That one was from my friends the pterodactyls!" I do have unusual hopes, don't I?

4) Sox second basemen have a history of coming up monstrous in the postseason. Marty Barrett woulda/coulda/shoulda been the MVP of the '86 World Series, TATB favorite Todd Walker cranked five homers in the '03 playoffs (and might have had more if not for Grady Little's typically hare-brained decision to start Damien Jackson against lefties), and we all know what legendary things The 'Horn accomplished last year before his superpowers mysteriously deserted him this spring. I bring this up for one reason: I'm expecting similarly clutch things from Tony Graffanino this postseason. Not sure why - just a baseball vibe, I guess - but he does seem like one of those unsung, Mark Lemke-types who carves out a little piece of baseball history for himself in the playoffs.

5) You want a prediction? Fine, I'll give you a prediction, punk. Final score today: Sox (Red) 5, Sox (White) 4: For all the talk about the weakness of the Boston bullpen, it'll be Chicago's suddenly vulnerable relief corps that coughs it up today. In other words: Isn't it about time that Dustin Hermanson remembers he's Dustin Hermanson?

Go Sox. (You know. The red ones.)

Update, 2:42 a.m. . . . and unfortunately, Matt Clement remembered he's Matt Clement. He seems like a swell guy and all, but if he never pitches another meaningful game for the Sox, I'd be cool with that. He's too high-strung and erratic to succeed in big moments; at least Derek Lowe, whose mound mannerisms Clement duplicates, had the Spicoli thing going on, a goofy calmness which worked for him under pressure. Frankly, I don't know what was worse - Clement's wimpy performance, or Tito Francona's inability to realize after, oh, the five-run first inning (see item 2 above) that his pitcher didn't have anything - stuff, confidence, poise, control, whatever. Just a frustrating day at the ballpark all around. Fortunately, Big-Game Boomer, who is here precisely for situations like this, gets the ball tonight, and a split in The Cell would be satisfactory, all things considered. I'll post a Five Quick Things thingy pre-game, and I'll either write live during the game or post a full column in the wee hours afterward, so be sure to check in.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Nine innings: 10.02.05

Zipping through nine innings while wondering when Joe Torre forgot there's no crying in baseball . . .

1) So if the next few days play out the way we think it will, the Yankees will face the talented, tested Angels in the ALDS, while the Sox (Red) will claim the wild card and take on the other flawed Sox (Whiteys) in the other first-round series. So tell me again why the Yankees were celebrating so joyously today?

2) How's this for a cruel irony? Cleveland's playoff hopes depend in part on old friend Jaret Wright beating the Red Sox today. Indians fans remember Wright as one of their all-time enigmas; the hard-throwing, hot-headed Clemens wannabe who started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series as a rookie, looked like a future ace, but was too immature and injury-prone to make the most of his talent. Sox fans remember him as the pitcher the Indians refused to part with in exchange for Pedro Martinez, thus opening the door for the Sox to wheel Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to Montreal for the Best Pitcher Since Koufax in the winter of '97. And now Pavano and Wright are overpaid, underperforming Yankees. The baseball gods work in mysterious ways.

3) Enough's enough, Tito. Play the Splendid Helmet, even against lefties. Give Kevin Youkilis the at-bats he's long deserved. Hell, give Carlos Quintana a call and see if he's interested in a comeback. But please - we beg you, please - quit writing Kevin Millar's name on the lineup card. He's murdering this team, with both his impotence at the plate and with his stainless steel glove. Then again, we've been saying that all summer to no avail, haven't we? At this point, our best hope is some sort of household accident. Where's Irving Fryar's wife when you need her?

4) TATB got quite a few emails the other day after opining that Jonathan Papelbon is currently the best pitcher on the Sox, some agreeing with us but most asking how we could overlook Tim Wakefield. Well, we said it then, and unfortunately, it proved true today: You can never completely trust a knuckleballer, no matter how well he's pitching at the moment.

5) The idiots at Fox had the nerve to play REM's "Everybody Hurts" over a montage of somewhat solemn but mostly disinterested Sox fans in the seventh inning. It might have pissed me off had it not immediately been identified as one more blatant attempt to pander to their New York audience. McCarver and his fellow pinstripe-polishing morons are still trying to deny last year happened, aren't they? Man, I wish Fox had never gotten involved in sports broadcasting - do they do anything that isn't intended to give the viewer a migraine? I won't even get into detail on their grating "GameBreaks," in which uneventful moments from the White Sox/Indians game took up a larger portion of the screen than did the Red Sox/Yankees. Vin Scully and Tony Kubek must wonder where the once-traditional Saturday Game of the Week went so horribly, loudly, garishly, unwatchably wrong.

6) And speaking of grating announcers, Jerry Trupiano needs to A) Shut up, B) Shut the (bleep) up, or C) Go away. Not only is he up to his usual aggravating antics - howling "THERE'S A DRIVE!!" on every damn routine flyball, talkin' Cardinals at every opportunity, showing up for work, you know, the usual stuff - but he's also taken on a condescending tone toward Joe Castiglione when things are going wrong for the Sox, at one point admonishing him during the Jays series, "Relax, it's a game." It was so inexplicable, so stunning, so wrong, I almost drove off the road when I heard it. It's pretty clear Trupiano has no sense - or worse, no regard - for the feelings of his audience. Bottom line: I hope he spontaneously combusts. On the air. And Castig has "accidentally" misplaced the fire extinguisher.

7) The following comment is today's reason why remains TATB's favorite blog that isn't, well, TATB:

Going into his last start of the season, Randy Johnson needs to win 14 of the two remaining Yankees games to reach his John Kruk-predicted 30-win mark.

Whaddaya say, Randy? Let's prove Krukie right!

"Oh, Randy, don't listen to them . . . I think you're beautiful."

8) My eyes could be deceiving me, but it looks like Jason Giambi has regained the "four" pounds he lost last year when he quit "eating" "hamburgers". (And feel free to substitute, at your own discretion of course, "30" for "four", "injecting into his rear end" for "eating," and "every foreign substance up to and including battery acid" for "hamburgers.") In a related note, I'm pretty sure the Giambino was wearing an "A-Rod Loofahs My Stretch Marks" t-shirt under his jersey today.

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

"I'll take the roast duck with mango salsa . . ."

(I know. Damon/caveman jokes. So last year.)