Nine innings: 08.16.06
Playing nine innings while vowing never to take Tim Wakefield or Jason Varitek for granted again . . .
1. So here we are, arriving at our annual Baseball Armageddon. The Sox are two games back and three in the loss column heading into today's much-needed offday, with the Yankees prancing and preening into Fenway tomorrow for what in preview appears to be a season-defining five-game set. While there is fun in the anticipation, I can't say I'm feeling particularly encouraged about the Sox' chances of taking, say, three of five and reassuring us that they plan on making the AL East race a photo finish. The Sox have looked way too much like the Pittsburgh Pirates lately, you know? Then again, David Wells's vintage victory over Justin Verlander and the Tigers tonight did restore some measure of my optimism, and maybe the Sox do intend to put their recent K.C.-Tampa debacle behind them and again begin playing like the team that owned the American League's second-best record for much of the summer. Had they again lost in a lifeless manner tonight, I may not have been able to resist the temptation to write this team off as fatally flawed, sluggish, pitching-poor, exposed as a pretender rather than a contender. But now, after watching Papi hit one more crucial home run, after seeing Jonathan Papelbon nail down his first easy save in some time, after watching the necessary Wells bleed another victory out of that blessed left arm . . . well, maybe the darkest clouds have passed and this team is about to find it's mojo again. Yeah, I know, I'm really taking a stand here, huh? Hey, with this schizophrenic team, your guess is as good as Theo's. We'll know the truth about their intentions in five days and, minimum, 45 innings from now. This much we are certain of: the rejuvenation couldn't arrive at a better time.
2. Seth Mnookin's "Feeding the Monster" didn't become a best-seller by accident. The thing was promoted to the point of saturation - by the time I actually read the book, I felt like I had already heard or read every key detail, whether the info came from an excerpt in the Globe Magazine or ESPN.com, an online chat, or during one of Mnookin's radio and TV appearances. The dude was everywhere - hell, I'm still waiting for the excerpt in "Tiger Beat." (Yep, still a subscriber.) That's not to say I didn't enjoy it (I did, with a few minor nits) and it certainly did have it's share of small revelations and reminders of details that escaped my memory. Two that made me raise my eyebrows: 1) Bill Mueller was among those unhappy with his playing time last season and even considered pursuing a trade. Guess he wasn't always the selfless saint he was portrayed as. 2) Theo damn near traded Derek Lowe for Matt Clement at the trade deadline in '04. Somehow, I think Buck, McCarver and the Fox nitwits would still be able to hammer us over the head with Curse of the Bambino references had that trade been consummated.
3. Maybe it's because I still vividly remember that heartbreaking picture of him consoling Tim Wakefield after Game 7 in '03, but Mike Timlin has always seemed to me to be the I-got-your-back type, a loyal and accountable teammate, one never to make excuses for his own failings. So I have to say his comments about the Sox offense needing to score more runs were as disappointing as they were disingenuous. You'd think he'd realize that the Sox hitters might be more productive if they got to fatten up their stats against the BLEEPIN' PATHETIC RED SOX BULLPEN like the rest of the league does!!! Geez, the hubris.
4. The next time you catch me beeyatching about Coco Crisp in this space, please, remind me of a couple of things: 1) I was so giddy about his performance in the spring and pre-injury that I got all Peter King-on-Favre about him, waved my pompons and bleated that he was charismatic, electric, and would own the city of Boston. 2) The broken knuckle very likely is still affecting him at the plate, and to his credit, he hasn't used it as an alibi once. 3) He's been pretty damn good lately - he chipped in with a go-ahead two-run double and a key bunt tonight - and maybe the best is yet to come. This isn't to say I don't have my complaints about him or wonder if we were slightly misled regarding his true abilities, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt for now. He could be the wild card.
5. If I hadn't seen him play previously, I'd be suspicious that Sal Fasano is really a composite of all Yankees fans, created in a cloning lab in the bowels of Yankee Stadium by Steinbrenner's minions.
6. About the grating doofus in the booth during the Sox telecast the other night (and I don't mean Orsillo this time): Does anyone other than Lenny Clarke actually find Lenny Clarke funny? Why the hell hasn't someone told him that loud doesn't equate to humorous? Denis Leary must be a good and loyal friend to let this punchline-challenged blowhard ride on his coattails all these years.
7. Regarding Jason Giambi's alleged mustache, a topic of mockery on PTI tonight: Is he actually attempting to grow that thing, or is it a side effect? With his scientifically swollen build and disconcerting facial hair, looks like a female East German swimmer from the '84 Olympics.
8. Well, looks like some reinforcements are on the way. The Sox signed former Tigers (and Northeastern) first baseman Carlos Pena tonight, the Jays' Eric Hinske is reportedly on the way though NESN didn't confirm it after the game, and there are multiple rumors that the Sox will acquire reliever LaTroy Hawkins from the Orioles in the next day or two. My take? I like the Pena signing - he's got some pop, is excellent defensively, and still has time to live up to his potential. It's a low-risk, high-reward gamble. Hinske? He's due something like $5 million last year, which is a lot of money for someone who seems to regress at little more each season. But he mashes righties, and the Sox are desperate for a decent lefty stick off the bench (though it should be Trot Nixon, assuming he can recover from his latest bizarre injury). As for Hawkins, he's the classic million-dollar arm, plug-nickel head. He throws in the mid-'90s, but he's got a well-deserved rep as the guy you do not want on the mound in a crucial situation. But I suppose he can't be any worse than Seanez or Tavarez, right? As far as spare parts go, it's not a bad haul.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
Daddy Wags. Get it? C'mon, indulge me just one more hackneyed reference to fatherhood here. Please?