Nine innings: 07.18.06
Zipping through nine innings while hoping the tunnel ceiling stays off my head . . .
1. He's the closest thing we've ever seen to our native son Carlton Fisk, so tough and stoic and dependable that you almost forget he's not a New Englander born and bred. So it's only appropriate that Jason Varitek, the backbone of this Red Sox renaissance and the smell-the-glove symbol of the franchise's refusal to take any more crap from the pretty-boy Yankees, be the one to surpass Fisk's record of 990 games caught in a Red Sox uniform. Everyone appreciates Varitek, from the pitchers who rank ahead of his own offense at the top of his priorities list, to the manager who can't help but speak of his own player in reverent tones, to the fans who see in him play the game with the dedication and passion not of a multimillionaire star, but of a working-class grunt desperate to hang on to his dream job. He might be the most universally respected Sox player of my lifetime, and while his struggles at age 34 make you wonder just how much of a toll those 900-plus games have taken, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox without him. Hell, it's hard to remember the Red Sox without him. If that isn't a legacy to be proud of, I don't know what is.
2. Some granite-skulled electronic media nitwit - usually an underling of Ordway's - starts yelping the theory at about this time each year, and before long it becomes a common theme on the local airways: The Red Sox had better hold off the Yankees, because this is the year the wild-card doesn't come out of the East! Well, guess what? The wild-card is coming out of the East, I guarantee it. The White Sox, who have hardly looked like World Champs against the Sox and Yankees, will overtake the Tigers in the Central, most likely after fearless GM Kenny Williams makes a blockbuster deal before the deadline. I expect the Red Sox and the Yankees, with some minor pre-trade-deadline repairs, to keep rolling, and I expect the Tigers are due for some difficulties in the second half: the annual Magglio Ordonez injury, a dead arm for rookie Justin Verlander, a severe self-inflicted cigarette burn by Jim Leyland. They have been very, very good, but I want to see how they handle adversity before I give them any autumn advantage over the Yankees or either colored Sox.
3. In terms of what he's actually accomplished compared to what he acts likes he's accomplished, is there a more annoying player in baseball than Oakland's Nick Swisher? He bitches at the umpires more often than Papi and prances around with a self-satisfied smirk almost as often as Captain Jetes. What a sausage. He's really going to be insufferable once he has more than a decent half-season on the back of his baseball card.
4. I wish the Cubs would get on with their fire sale already, because I'm thinking they might deal a couple Red Sox of the near past who could benefit their old club in the immediate future. Scott Williamson - healthy again, pitching well, and with something of a postseason track record if I recall correctly - might be the ideal low-cost, high-reward addition to the Sox 'pen. Williamson could do what Tavarez and Seanez have failed to do - act as the sixth- or seventh-inning bridge to Timlin, Delcarmen and Papelbon, and get a key late-inning strikeout when the situation demands it. And the other Cub the Sox should be interested in? Why not Todd Walker? Reader Mike L. suggested this a day or so ago, and at first I didn't think it made much sense. Why would they Sox need another second baseman when they already have Loretta and Cora? But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Walker would be a terrific lefthanded stick off the bench, something the Sox could use at the moment. Further, Walker loved it here, has had nothing but wonderful things to say about Boston, and I think at least in the short term he'd embrace the role. Now, I admit, maybe sentiment is a factor here - I always felt bad that Walker, so clutch in '03 postseason despite Grady Little's idiotic insistence on platooning him with Damian Freakin' Jackson, missed out on the joy of '04. I'd like to see him come back and be a part of a team that had a shot at winning it all, and I think Walker would like that too.
5. Yes, I'm still glad they didn't re-sign him for that many years and that much cash. Yes, I still think Coco Crisp is a wiser long-term investment, even if it sometimes seems he's getting paid by the commercial. Yet . . . after watching Johnny Damon come through time and again during the Yankees' recent stretch of stellar play, I have to admit I've caught myself wondering how much larger the Red Sox' lead would be if he had resisted the forces of evil (and Steinbrenner's cold millions) and remained in Boston. Three games? Five? Seven? . . .
6. I would rather listen to that eardrum-assaulting Taylor Hicks commercial on an endless loop on my iPod than hear one more word about that freakin' World Series ball. Let it go already, fellas. Let it go.
7. If Tim Wakefield's back injury is going to be a lingering problem - and after watching him grimace his way through four innings Monday, I have to believe it will be - then Jon Lester's wild-child brilliance goes from being the feel-good film of the summer to an absolute necessity. And for all of the kid's talent, I'm not quite sure he's ready for that burden.
8. While his numerous blog posts and radio appearances, as well as excerpts in the Globe Magazine and ESPN.com, have saturated me with the juiciest details from his peek behind the doors of Fenway, I still cannot wait to read Seth Mnookin's "Feeding the Monster" from prologue to epilogue. I'm convinced, from what I've read and what I've heard, that this is the book Sox fans have been waiting for, one that offers unfiltered insight and answers lingering questions (what really made Nomar so sour? rather than offering the usual worn-out anecdotes and rehashed history. (I do wonder, however, if the title ticks off Rob Neyer any, since he wrote "Feeding the Green Monster" several years ago to much less fanfare. He does tend to get uppity about these things.)
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
Looking at Oakland's bookish manager now, you'd probably never have suspected he was once a ballplayer. Math teacher? Now that's more like it.