Monday, August 28, 2006

Nine innings: 08.28.06

Playing nine innings while wondering how close the Sox would be to the Yankees if Mike Timlin were still alive . . .



1. After the Yankees debacle, I was reluctant to write the Sox off, in part because of the hangover New York carried to the West Coast, and in part because I felt like a damn fool for believing in this team's legitimacy as a contender through the summer. I talked myself into believing that maybe the Yankees would lose a couple in a row . . . and maybe the Sox would win a couple in a row . . . and the momentum would shift once more . . . and wouldn't you know it, that late September four-game set would carry all the implications and feature all the drama that an autumn Sox-Yanks series should. Well, turns out the stay of execution was brief, and after watching them sleepwalk through Seattle this weekend, I'm ready to concede truth. For the first time in four years, the Sox will not play in the postseason. They're cooked, done, finished . . . dead-men walking, or more appropriately, swinging and missing. We'll save the autopsy for another day, not that the causes of their demise aren't readily apparent. The kids were too young, some of the veterans were too old, the most prominent newcomers didn't live up their advance billing, and the bench and bullpen were fatally flawed. And beyond the historic slugging feats of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, there wasn't a hitter in the lineup that would strike fear in a Portsmouth Little Leaguer. Injuries ravaged the roster, particularly the late-August losses of catcher Jason Varitek and pitcher Tim Wakefield, perhaps the two steadiest rocks in the clubhouse; I will never underestimate their particular contributions again. The team - and the season - was lost without them. You might have noticed that I do love baseball, and no matter how disappointing a season may be, I always lament its conclusion. So I'll watch the rest of the way, of course, to see Papi chase Jimmy Foxx, to see if Dustin Pedroia is more than an Eckstein-in-waiting, to gauge the usefulness of Eric Hinske and Kyle Snyder and other fringe candidates for next year's roster, to deny summer's conclusion for one more day. And I'll remind myself that this is what Theo Epstein desired during his power struggle with his mentor - a chance to take a step back and build the ballclub's foundation, rather than sacrifice the future for a risky win-at-all-costs present.

2. In Theo we trust? Er, not so much at the moment, as you probably gathered. While I remain grateful that he is the Red Sox GM and confident that he will build this franchise into the "player development machine" he so desires, there is no denying that he really hasn't done much right in terms of player procurement since 2004. (I'm likely going to get into that in my next post, hopefully Monday night, so I'll spare you the Edgar Renteria Sucked rehash here.) He must be held accountable for this top-heavy team, and after showing such a deft touch in his first seasons on the job - for a time, I was convinced that on his watch, the Sox would have the financial savvy of the A's, player development touch of the Twins, and the resources to acquire the superstars they desired - I catch myself wondering if something has changed that has led him to making such rock-brained evaluations as A Rudy Seanez sequel is just what we need! or Forget what the Indians say, Coco Crisp will be a marvelous center fielder! It's funny, what I admired most about Theo is that he seemed open-minded to the various different ways of evaluating players. I imagined that in one ear, he had Bill James giving him a player's statistical projections, and in the other, Bill Lajoie would offer a shrewd veteran's scout's take, and then Josh Byrnes and the other trusted lieutenants would weigh in, and then Theo would consider all the information and make his best judgment on the merits of a certain player. I'm not quite sure that's how the front office worked, but it's how I perceived it to work, and it seemed like a clear-headed and wise approach. So I wonder, with Byrnes, Lajoie and Peter Woodfork having departed during and immediately after the offseason tumult, if Theo is getting the feedback and discussion that he needs, or if he is surrounded by enough advisers who aren't afraid to tell the boss that they think something is a bleepin' stupid idea.

3. In a strange sort of way, the collapse justifies Theo's decision not to swap the Lester/Hansen/Delcarmen trio in a major move at the deadline. As the Yankees (and the Mariners . . . and the Royals . . . and the Devil Rays . . . ) have revealed, there simply are too many holes on this club for all of them to be repaired in one fell swoop. Sure, maybe, say, Roy Oswalt might have helped to the point that the recent freefall would be 9 losses in 14 games rather than 11 in 14. . . but still, by my accounting, they'd still need a No. 5 hitter, a decent fielding center fielder (enjoy your new home next year, Coco), a lefthanded reliever, at least two reliable righthanded relievers, a capable defensive catcher, and a fifth starter. Let's be blunt (and hyperbolic): John Henry could have annexed the Marlins at the trade deadline and the Sox still would barely have enough talent to match up with their superiors in the American League. They just aren't good enough right now.

4. What's up with Manny? Should he be playing? Is he healthy enough to play? Is he aware of the perception and the bleep-storm he is causing? Damned if I know. I'm as vexed as anyone else about all of this; while I'm an unabashed Manny fan, I admit I'm frustrated and skeptical regarding this knee injury. On one hand, his track record of needing an occasional three-day weekend each summer suggests that maybe he decided this was a nice time for a rest, pennant race be damned, and there is a vocal percentage of the media that insists he is taking a selfish respite at the worst possible time. Considering that he has cried wolf before, it's a logical perspective, though it strikes me as all too personal at times. But on the other hand, he was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis, an affliction considerably more serious than a sore hamstring or a dislocated eyelash or whatever. This is not something to be messed with. As Gordon Edes (who, as usual, is the voice of reason in all of this) pointed out the other day, that's the same injury that led to the rapid decline of Mark McGwire, and former Sox John Valentin was plagued with tendinitis not long before blowing out his patellar tendon. If the injury is legitimate - and the only the most cynical conspiracy theorists will suggest it is not, that the Sox are covering for him - then I can deal with him missing a few days. It'll never happen, but if only he would just come out and say, "Listen, the goddamn knee has been killing me all season, I've played through it, I want to be out there but it keeps getting worse, so get the hell off my back," I'd feel a whole lot better about defending him. Instead, the storyline lingers.

5. All right, I admit it. I've got the Emmys on in the background as I peck away at this. (Go ahead . . . insult my manhood, I can take it. As long as I've got my cat and a fresh batch of berry-berry daiquiris, you and this cruel, judgmental world can BITE ME!) Um . . . anyway, just wanted to note the three original Charlie's Angels just popped up on stage during an Aaron Spelling tribute, looking all Botoxed to hell and, in Farrah's case, slightly deranged. Not that their facial muscles are moving or anything, but it sure looks to me like they hate each other. I imagine this is what a Jeter/A-Rod reunion will be like 25 years from now, only cattier and with cheaper perfume. (And for the record, Cheryl Ladd was hotter than the three original cast members combined. Right, kitty?)

6. As if there wasn't enough fallout from the whuppin' the Yankees put on the Sox, now we have to deal with this: Yankees fans, silent since October, 2004, are back to being their old obnoxious selves; yup, they've got their self-satisfied swagger back. I can't tell you how many Yankees hats I saw here in the tourist stop known as Wells, Me., in the days after the beat-down, but I can guarantee you it's more than I've seen all summer previously; it took all my willpower not to turn a couple of the Buttafuocos into hood ornaments. And I won't even get into talking about my frontrunning neighbor, who is quick to take down the Yankee flag above her doorstop when things aren't going well for the Bronx Billionaires, yet always seems to have the thing waving proudly milliseconds after a victory over the Sox. One of these nights, I'm going to swipe the flag and replace it with . . . well, I don't know, something tasteless. I'm open to ideas. [Note: I like the pirate flag suggestion. Just bizarre enough to work.] Sports Guy likened this smug-Yankee-fan phenomenon to mosquitoes returning to ruin a pleasant summer. It's a fair analogy, but then again, I've never encountered a single mosquito who has a spotty mustache, accessorizes a knock-off Jeter jersey with knock-off gold chains, and smells like a combination of stale Driven and James Gandolfini's undershirt. But I'm sure they have 'em in droves in Jersey.

7. He is by all accounts a sincere, swell guy and a respected teammate, and as One Of The 25 his name will be fondly recalled here long after his playing days have ended. But it's become painfully clear these past few weeks that Gabe Kapler no longer is worthy of a roster spot on a team with even marginal postseason aspirations. His ax-chop of a swing has always been homely - how did he manage a 28-game hitting streak in '00? - but now it is more ineffective than ever, and his Achilles' injury clearly has robbed him of much of his agility on the bases and in the outfield. I'll remember him well, but the Sox need to do better than this fading sentimental favorite next year.

8. This Week's Reason Jerry Trupiano Should Be Stricken Mute: Yeah, as if there's just one reason. To list all of this dope's transgressions during this frustrating week might just test the bandwidth limits of the internet, so we'll narrow it down to this Troop Gem from today: While trying, in his subtle-as-a-sledgehammer way to insinuate that Manny's injury isn't severe enough to keep him out of the lineup, he cited Cal Ripken as a dependable player who was there for his team every day. Fair enough, if a tad obvious. But then he felt the need to add a second example. Who'd he come up with, you ask? David Ortiz, perhaps? Derek Jeter? Miguel Tejada? Good guesses all, but nope, nope, and nope. Give up? Here are Troop's words, spewed in all seriousness: ". . . and the late Ken Caminiti, he'd do anything he could to play through an injury." Well, yeah, he would do anything he could - including enough cocaine to form his own cartel, and enough steroids to fuel the entire Giambi family. The guy was a friggin' crackhead who admitted he juiced his way to an improbable '96 NL MVP award - and this is a player Troop cites as an ultimate gamer, someone Manny should aspire to emulate. Unreal.

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



While this might be the most disappointing conclusion to a Red Sox season since the incompetent Joe Kerrigan "managed" the reprehensible 2001 crew right down the toilet, at least this team and the individuals remain determined and likeable for the most part. Hey, small victories.

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