Thursday, September 28, 2006

Questionable: Owens (hand, overdose)

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free sniveling whines for you . . .

1. So rather than being a desperate man's cry for help, it appears today's T.O. Suicide Watch was just one more melodramatic episode in the tragicomedy known as Terrell Owens's life. I trust there's more truth in his words than in the police report, especially since he was back at work and seemingly in good spirits yesterday. Still, I'm left with a couple of questions beyond the obvious one: What the hell was he thinking?: 1) During the day-long Very Special Sports Center, why wouldn't it have been appropriate if NFL expert and Friend of T.O. Michael Irvin was referred to as a "crack reporter"? 2) When T.O.'s inept publicist made reference to "a man of his statue," that was some sort of obtuse reference to Drew Bledsoe, right? 3) Do you think Bill Parcells ever thinks to himself, "Tuna, why can't The Player just grow the hell up and be responsible for himself? Man, how much easier would this job be if only Terrell could be more like Terry Glenn."

2. You know I've been counting down the innings until Jerry Trupiano is WAY BACK . . . WAY BACK . . . GONE!, but after 13 years with Red Sox, the man deserves better than finding out that his contract won't be renewed by the sludge-stirrers at the Inside Freakin' Track. And if Glenn Geffner is his replacement . . . well, let's just say I'm skeptical. With his P.R./House Organ background, I'm wondering if he'll spend more time pushing Red Sox Nation Membership cards then telling us what's happening on the field. I want Trupe gone . . . but it shouldn't be too much to ask to have him replaced by someone better.

3. I wonder if any of the teammates who were so heroic in questioning the severity of Matt Clement's injuries are the same ones who are ripping Manny under the cloak of anonymity. It's funny, whenever I see an unattributed quote from one teammate questioning another's toughness, I seem to recall Curt Schilling labeling Scott Williamson a ----- for not pitching through pain, only to look like a complete jackass when Williamson needed Tommy John surgery. You'd think they'd learn.

4. Things I never thought I'd write, Chapter 86, Vol. 1918: The Red Sox would have been better off signing Derek Lowe after the 2004 season than Pedro Martinez. D-Lowe has 16 wins, including a huge one last night that kept L.A. a game back in the NL West and a game up in the wild card. Lately, he's been an ace . . . something you haven't been able to say about Pedro for some time now. After last night's 2 2/3-inning, 7-run debacle, I'm beginning to fear the end is near for the best pitcher I've ever had the privilege of watching. That wasn't Pedro last night; that was John Burkett.

5. Do I think Tom Brady is injured? Let's put it this way: You're going to turn on the TV at 1:05 one of these Sundays only to be blindsided by the sight of Matt Cassel lining up over center. Brady looks frustrated, he has little zip and none of his customary touch on many of his throws, and the Pats are bringing in the likes of Vinny Testaverde and Tommy Maddox for clandestine workouts. You do the math.

6. Not that I'm jealous, but the Yankees batted future batting champion Robinson Cano ninth last night. He'd hit either third or fourth for the current skeleton-crew version of the Sox, depending upon Manny's health/whims that particular day. But the point is this: Theo has a long winter's worth of work to do if he intends on bringing down the Empire again anytime soon. The gap, since Oct. 2004, has widened, and not in the way we envisioned.

7. It's not officially football season in New England until Randall Gay is on injured reserve with what you were sure was a minor injury.

8. Alex Gonzalez wants a three-year deal? Thanks for all the Web Gems and good luck wherever the road may lead you, slick, but for that kind of commitment we're looking for a shortstop who can make all the plays and avoid those gruesome six-week stretches of being an automatic out. Whatever happened to that Cabrera cat, anyway?

9. It's no exaggeration to suggest that Albert Pujols saved the Cardinals' season last night. Which I suppose means Tony La Russa will cling for one more year to his fraudulent genius label rather than be remembered as the modern day Gene Mauch, overseer of one of the biggest gag jobs in baseball history. Bummer. Maybe Tony Big Brain will get his comeuppance next year.

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

The Red Sox led the league in runs scored for the first three seasons of Papa Jack's reign, and now his job is supposedly in jeopardy after one hiccup of a lost season? I don't like it, and I don't think Papi will either. Can you say scapegoat?

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pats-Broncos, live

All right, as promised, TATB is in the house, and hell yeah, we're ready for some football. We're stuffed full of pesto pizza, are well-stocked with the appropriate football-watchin' beverages (no daiquiris in this house, Jeter!), and as my wife likes to remind me, I'm in the ideal physical condition to be planted on the couch for the next three hours. Now if I can just forget the frightening image of that she-male singer Pink warbling from my TV, I'll be all set.

Prediction? Well, I always have faith in the Belichick Pats . . . but Denver, 5-1 in their last six against New England, always scare the hell out of me, and Mike Shanahan might be the second-best coach in the league. Rod Smith usually has something like 17 catches for 287 yards against the Pats, Champ Bailey should be avoided at all costs, and Denver's D as a whole is fast and mean - they made the Patriots look positively old in the regular season last year. But if Tom Brady plays like Tom Brady, Jake Plummer plays like Jake Plummer, and the Maroney/Dillon duo gains enough ground to keep the Broncos honest, I say the Pats eke it out, 21-17.

Let's do it:

• Sez Al Michaels per his pregame introduction: "With the Red Sox off the radar, it is officially and exclusively football season in New England." All right, I guess I'll buy that . . . at least until Manny's next trade demand or some other news of significance emanates from Yawkey Way, and then the Sox will bounce the Pats back down to the bottom of the sports page again. I'm not saying that's how it should be. That's just the way it is.

• The Broncos' offensive lineman don't talk to the media and thus don't cooperate with the familiar Name/College personal introduction. Rather, they are introduced by Michaels as still headshots appear on the screen. So, yeah, they are exactly the kind of jerks you'd think a jacked-up pack of cheap-shot artists would be.

• Denver takes it at the 20 after Stephen Gostkowski clobbers the opening kickoff into the end zone. Even the most ardent Adam Vinatieri fan has to admit the rookie is an upgrade there. Denver gets one first down, Plummer completes a couple of crossing patterns (they killed the Pats with crossing routes last year during the Duane Starks debacle), but they end up having to punt after two series, pinning the Patriots at the 1.

• No one is doing much of anything early . . . and yet John Madden is not yet audibly snoring, despite inhaling three whole turkeys during the pregame. I think I heard his stomach growling, though.

• The Charlotte Observer erroneously reported that Bucs quarterback Chris Simms is hospitalized in critical condition after taking several hard hits in today's loss to the Panthers. Peter King sets the record straight, saying Simms is in the hospital but is not in critical condition. King resists the temptation to tell us to trade Carson Palmer for Simms in our fantasy league, since Simms has "miraculous healing powers."

• Andrea Kremer checks in with some inane report from the sideline. Gotta say, I lost some respect for her when I saw her standing on a milk crate to look taller while interviewing Drew Bledsoe a few years ago. She's like Shelley Smith's Mini-Me.

• At 5:08 of the first quarter, we get our first mentions of Deion Branch and David Givens. I thought it would be sooner. Props to NBC for avoiding the beaten-to-death storyline. Or maybe Madden and Michaels thought they were still around until now.

• No Chad Jackson tonight. Geez, did this kid get his hamstrings transplanted from the cadaver of Vincent Brisby?

• John Lynch nearly picks off a Brady wobbler near midfield. The Pats came thisclose to signing Lynch after the 2003 season when he was let go by Tampa, but the Pats reportedly backed off due to concerns regarding his history of neck problems. Bet Belichick wishes they'd taken the chance. Not only would Lynch and Rodney Harrison have made a deadly pair of safeties, but he'd have made Harrison's injury last season much easier to overcome.

• My wife is being quiet. Too quiet. Whoops, she speaks: "Can I change it? I'm kidding. We need another TV in this house. This is boring. Have you published yet? You should hit publish."

(Hitting publish while gently weeping . . .)

• Third and 9, Denver, from their own 2. Plummer dodges Mike Vrabel in the end zone, then slithers around Junior Seau for the first down. Very, very impressive improvisation, the type of play Plummer does so well. Have to admit, I'm a longtime fan dating back to his Arizona St. days, and with his job in jeopardy after a shaky start to the season, I expect him to play well tonight. He might not be that reliable, but the dude is resilient.

• My wife, scanning through the TV listings menu: " 'Misery' is on. We saw that on our first date." Me: "Damn, that couldn't have been more appropr . . ." WHACK!!.

Score after the first quarter: New England 0, Denver 0, but the Pats are moving the ball . . .

. . . until Maroney is stuffed on fourth and 1 from the Denver 36. Have to admit, I was giddy to hear Shanahan say the Pats got a steal in Maroney and that Denver would have taken him had Jay Cutler (supposedly No. 1 on their draft board) not been available. I mean, you gotta respect the Broncos' acumen with running backs. Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell . . . when was they last time they missed on one?

Oh . . . right.

• Plummer is 0 for his last 7 pass attempts. Shanahan, who in his sunnier moods looks like Norman Bates, appears to be ready to wallop him to the ground with his clipboard, choke him with his headset, then repeatedly stab him with his pencil. Hey, how do you think he got rid of Danny Kanell?

• . . . and then in his typically schizophrenic manner, Plummer suddenly finds a rhythm, hitting someone named David Kirkus twice, eventually getting all the way down to the New England 9. Then Rod Smith (who else?) gets seven on third and 6 to set up first and goal at the 2.

• The Pats hold 'em to 3, thanks to a holding penalty, Ty Warren's continued spot-on impersonation of Richard Seymour, and a blind-side blitz by Rosey Colvin that forced an incompletion. Not a bad way to salvage things, and with 7:20 left in the half, it's Denver 3, New England 0.

• That ubiquitous but heartwarming Dwyane Wade commercial just came on for the 20th time . . . you know, the one where he gives all the stuff to the youth program. I say to my wife, "That's Dwyane Wade. He's one of the best basketball players I've ever seen." Her reply: "From 'A Different World'?" You know, I bet Shaq would like that joke.

• Not sure I heard correctly, but I think Al Michaels just said Chris Simms had a blood transfusion. Yikes. We'll put a moratorium on the jokes. [Turns out it was a ruptured spleen, and his season is likely over. The truly frightening/astounding thing is that after feeling extremely ill during the game, he returned to lead a fourth-quarter drive. We sure can't question this kid's toughness again.]

• Denver hasn't given up a touchdown this season, but the Pats are making a bid thanks to Maroney, who blew up for 31 yards on a screen pass to get to the Broncos 19. The Pats haven't had a back who can move like this kid since Curtis Martin was winning over Bill Parcells.

• Andrea Kremer climbs back up on her trusty Oakhurst crate and tells us Dillon has returned to the locker room with an "arm" injury. That could be anything from a scratch to amputation at the shoulder in Pats-speak, but she says he's probable to return. Either way, looks like it's on Maroney for now.

• Three straight incompletions, and Sisson . . er, Gostkowski comes out and promptly gets his second consecutive field-goal attempt blocked. Madden immediately blames the poor field conditions, but man, that's tough to excuse considering the field is always in lousy shape. Whoever's fault it is, I know this much to be true: Somewhere, Glenn Ordway is chortling through a mouth stuffed full of Cheez Balls.

• Third and 8, Denver, from their own 48. You know what comes next: Rod Smith, 18 yards, first down. I swear, if this guy gets to Canton someday, his personal highlight film will come entirely from games against the Patriots.

• At the 2-minute warning, NBC just showed Brady's stats: 10 for 15, 115 yards. Not. Good. Enough.

• On third and 1 with 50 seconds left in the half, Javon Walker gets a step on Ellis Hobbs in single coverage, and Plummer makes the kind of throw we've come to expect from Brady. The result: Touchdown, Denver. Gutsy call, and the visitors lead, 10-0. Suddenly it's mighty quiet in Foxboro.

• The Pats' 2-minute drill stalls at midfield, Brady rips off his chinstrap Peyton-style and absolutely looks like he's moping, and home team trots off the field to scattered boos. I'm guessing this isn't quite the way Belichick drew it up.

Score at halftime: Denver 10, New England 0

• Maroney takes the kickoff back to the 23. I HATE having him taking kickoffs. He's too valuable, especially now that Dillon has been downgraded to questionable. Put Faulk back there.

• Pats go three-and-out, and John "I'd Take A Knee Here" Madden, just jostled from his halftime nap, is writing the team's eulogy already: "The Patriots just can't get anything going. Cris Collinsworth was just talking about it at halftime, the whole body-language of Brady and their offensive players and their sideline . . . they just don't look like the champion Patriots we're used to seeing." Now, normally I'd rip him for this sort of thing . . . but I think I wrote about it myself three paragraphs ago, so I've gotta agree with him here, if only to avoid being a hypocrite. Truth is, Brady looks like he's thinking about Deion Branch with every incomplete pass. And as great as Brady is, don't you dare suggest that he doesn't have horrible body language sometimes - slumping his shoulders, staring at the ground, looking like he'd just lost his beloved Fido. Hell, the coaches supposedly talked to him about it last week.

• Uh-oh. Rodney Harrison leaves with an injury. Great. Next play, Plummer targets his replacement, James Sanders, and Sanders obliges, interfering with Kirkus for a 30-yard penalty. That's smart football on Denver's part, and horrible coverage by Sanders. I'm pissed.

• Chad Scott makes a big hit to bust up a pass to Walker on third-and-7, preventing a first down. Shockingly, Rod Smith did not drop out of the heavens to catch ball milliseconds before it hit the ground. He's slipping in his old age.

• Three and out again, with Brady overthrowing a slightly open Troy Brown on a flea-flicker. Say this for the Broncos' defense: They know how to defend a team with no wide receivers.

• How's this for a horrifying thought: What if Brady's weekly listing on the injury report (probable, arm) actually isn't a superstition or an attempt to tweak the NFL rulesmakers, but a clue that maybe a physical problem is the reason for his subpar play? I tell you, the way he's throwing the ball, it's time to consider it.

• Denver is pinned at the 2 when Darrent Williams pulls a Deltha O'Neal on the punt and barely avoids a safety. Says Madden: "This is where Bill Belichick needs to be a defensive genius." Plummer promptly hits Rod Goddamn Smith for 10 yards, thanks to a Chris Canty-like 11-yard cushion by the maddening Asante Samuel.

[begin whine] Samuel is hit with a phantom pass interference call, and I just had a flashback to last season's playoff game, when the refs sometimes seemed hellbent on making the Pats play 11 men against 13. Is Shanahan the head of officiating or something? Cripes, it would be really swell if the Patriots got a call against Denver one of these seasons. [end whine]

• 5:16 remaining in the third quarter, and Brady's deep post to Reche Caldwell is tipped away at the last second to stall another series. Yup, at this point I'm left to report near-misses, almost-completions and Reche Friggin Caldwell sightings. This is going fantastically well!

• Did Ben Watson dress for this game? He did? Really? You'd think someone being hailed as Antonio Gates + Ben Coates + the Elder Kellen Winslow would be, you know, noticeable.

• Harrison is back, and Tedy Bruschi has been all over the place. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.

• They just showed the replay of Watson running down Bailey in last season's playoff game. Astounding, astounding hustle and athleticism. One of the most impressive plays I've ever seen, even if it was ultimately meaningless. I hereby apologize for bitching about him a minute ago.

• Brady, incomplete deep to Doug Gabriel. Good to know he's active. I honestly wasn't sure. [Edit: Turns out he didn't play in the first half.] Anyway, another three-and-out. None of the quick-slant, timing stuff is working. (Where have you gone, David Givens?) Josh Miller is their best offensive weapon. I wonder if Pink can play receiver. Or linebacker.

• Madden, who's surprisingly insightful tonight: "The Patriot offense just looks like they're frustrated. They're having trouble getting anything going, and it looks like it's affecting them. Watch their body language - they're all just kind of hunched over and walking off the field. Football is a game of passion and emotion, and when you lose that, you don't have anything . . . I hate to use the word sleepwalking, but they're sleepwalking out there." Gotta say, the Human Turducken is absolutely correct here. I thought the long faces were supposed to be limited to the Broncos' helmets. Not so far. After three quarters, it's 10-0, ElwayFaces.

• The Broncos are starting inside their own 5 for the third time tonight. Doesn't logic suggest Plummer should throw a stupid-ass pick one of these times? He's playing with the poise of a quarterback who's very secure in his job. Quick, put a shot of Cutler on the JumboTron.

• And this one's over. Plummer, a split second before he's turned into snakeskin by Richard Seymour, hits Walker down the left sideline on third and 6, and the ex-Packer who nearly became a Patriot in the offseason splits the useless Sanders (in for a cramping Eugene Wilson) and the overmatched Samuel, and goes 82 yards for the backbreaker. Denver goes 97 yards in five plays, it's 17-0, and the camera catches Belichick expressing the sentiments of New England fans everywhere: "You've gotta be ------- kidding me."


• (Oh, it was because I was behind on my DVR . . . and it was a long drive to boot. I'm ashamed. Leave it to me to miss their only touchdown. Have I mentioned I love Doug Gabriel?)

• Pats get the ball back, but go three-and-out. Arggh. I'd like to witness one highlight tonight. Five minutes left and they need two scores. Not looking good.

• The Pats' dink-and-dunk down the field, but on fourth and 1 from the 20 with 1:07 remaining, Brady's 55th pass of the night falls to the sod, and the suspenseless defeat is complete. Final score: Denver 17, New England 7. Good think the AFC East stinks, or it might be time to worry why the Patriots quarterback has had three subpar games in a row and looks like he's trying to throw the damn deep ball all the way to Seattle.

• So what are our instant conclusions from this? Well, obviously, that Denver is, at the moment, a superior football team. They've beaten the Pats, the closest thing to a dynasty in the modern NFL, six times in their last seven meetings, and Denver very well could have won the lone game they lost. They should be the favorite every time they play the Patriots from here on out, and their Genius Coach is one step ahead of our Genius Coach. Maybe by the time the playoffs roll around New England will be a worthy (and even superior) opponent, but right now they have a long way to go to even pretend to be a Super Bowl contender. The wide receivers and the quarterback look like they are working from different playbooks, the defensive backs are tripping all over each other, and the big names on defense aren't making big plays - or even stopping the Tatum Bells of the world - when the situation pleads for it. I trust that, given good health, the Patriots will be a better team at the end of the season than they are right now; that's usually the case with a Belichick team, and hey, they are 2-1. But three games into the season, they hardly look like the team we hoped they'd be, and they've got some long yardage to go to get there.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Easy like Sunday morning

And with that horrific but appropriate Lyric O' Lionel planted in your head for the rest of the day, here's an abbreviated edition of Nine Innings, along with a programming announcement: Wife and kids permitting, I'm going to attempt to live blog the Pats-Broncos game tonight, so be sure to check in around 8:15ish and keep refreshing, because I'll be writing . . . and I apologize for this . . . All night long . . . All night . . . Yeahhhh . . .

1. I'm reluctant to weigh in on any recent anti-Manny missives for obvious reasons, so let me just direct you to Seth Mnookin's reasoned take while I say this: Ripping Manny is one thing - hell, even I'd admit it's justified if it turns out the whole patellar tendinitis thing is a cover-up for his indifference - but it drives me absolutely nuts when Trot Nixon is held up as the definitive example of Mr. Team, The Dirty-Hatted Embodiment Of What Manny Should Aspire To Be. I mean, can we be serious here? Yeah, Nixon hustles on all those routine grounders to second . . . but he also can't stay healthy, doesn't appear to take conditioning seriously, has suffered a mysterious loss of power, was subpar before his injury, missed six weeks with a strained freakin' biceps muscle, and has been atrocious after the injury to the point he's hurting the team by so "courageously" playing through the pain. He's going to make a hell of a mediocre Oriole next season, and I can't wait.

2. A-Rod claims that he will not waive his no-trade clause to leave New York after this season, but wouldn't it be just like him to make such a faux-tough-guy pronouncement while behind the scenes, his other face tells Scott Boras to start pushing for a deal? I'll bet you Derek Jeter's little black book that A-Rod is Anaheim next season. It makes perfect sense. Getting rid of A-Rod for, say, Chone Figgins and a pitcher (hopefully not Ervin Santana), would be a great deal for the Yankees simply from the addition-by-subtraction standpoint. And Anaheim is the perfect place for A-Rod. Owner Arte Moreno covets star-power and needs a slugger behind Vladi, it's a very good team, A-Rod could go back to playing short again, there's no pressure, and with all the phonies in L.A., he'd feel right at home.

3. Cla Meredith says he started pitching well again once he realized he should disregard everything the Red Sox tried to teach him. Gammons says Craig Hansen looks nothing like the unhittable sinker/slider power pitcher who ruled the Cape League two summers ago. And there's no need to list the staff's worth of pitchers who have thrived once they've departed Boston. So I ask: Is it possible that neither Al Nipper nor Dave Wallace really has any clue what he's doing?

4. I didn't think it was possible to admire Big Papi any more than I already did, but after he came up with the idea of posing for photos before a game for $100 a pop to pay for a sick little girl's care at Dana Farber, well, it's heartwarming to know he's as clutch off the field as he is on it.

5. You bet I hope Keith Foulke is back in Boston next season. That recently revealed split finger looks like a legitimate out pitch, and as Theo has learned the hard way, half the battle in building a bullpen is finding the right reclamation projects. After two lost seasons, right now he looks like a decent bet to find his old form in '07. Hey, if Todd Jones could come back and be useful, anyone can.

6. And will we're on the topic of renovating the bullpen, I have to admit I'm intrigued by the rumors that the Sox covet Houston closer Brad Lidge. Sure, Lidge has had an inordinate number of peaks and valleys this season - he's the current embodiment of a heart-attack closer - and he's probably still spooked by that Mars-shot he gave up to Albert Pujols in the playoffs last season. But he has an astounding 98 strikeouts in 68.2 innings, which suggests that his stuff is still filthy even if his confidence is shaken, and he's only 29. Assuming the price is reasonable, I'd call him a good risk with a potentially great reward.

7. The Herald floated the notion this week that Matt Clement could be in the mix for the closer role next season. Riiiiight, just as soon as Theo signs Schiraldi and Slocumb to be his set-up men. Other than the fact that Clement 1) takes forever to warm up 2) generally stuggles in his first inning of work, and 3) has the intestinal fortitude of a newborn kitten, it's a brilliant idea.

8. Wasn't that thrilled with "The Office" season premiere at first - the Michael/Oscar stuff was just a little too over the top, and the dynamic was off without Jim in the Scranton office. But upon further viewing, I've come to think it's one of the better episodes yet, both in terms of humor (Creed's free-love flashback just killed me, and Roy's Nolte-esque mug shot was classic) and the subtle ways in which Jim and Pam are shown longing for each other (the empty chair, Jim commenting on his new view when his old view was lovelier). Two seasons and one episode into its run, and I have no qualms about saying "The Office" is my second-favorite comedy of all-time, after "Seinfeld" and well ahead of the dated "Cheers."

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

A wicked fun snippet from Bob Klapisch's current column on

"[Reggie] Jackson doesn't mind getting in A-Rod's face on occasion. And, to be fair, Rodriguez does listen with respect. He did just that with Giambi, too. But all Giambi was doing was filling a conversational void created by the one Yankee who could have -- and perhaps should have -- confronted A-Rod.

"That would be Jeter, of course. If there's anyone who could make Rodriguez understand the difference between greatness and greatness under pressure, it's the guy batting almost .400 with runners in scoring position. But anyone hoping for a Jeter-Rodriguez summit shouldn't hold their breath. The cold war between them is even more pronounced than the one with Mussina. Jeter reportedly has never forgiven A-Rod for the disparaging remarks he made in Esquire in 2001, and as one Yankee official said, "There is no coming back from one of Derek's grudges. Once you're gone, you're gone."

"Rodriguez shouldn't feel that bad, really. Jeter apparently did the same to Mariah Carey a decade ago, cutting off their relationship so abruptly -- and remaining so determined not to let the singer back into his good graces -- that kids created the slang-verb "Jeter-ed" to mean getting forever dumped.

So personal grudges take priority over what's best for the New York Yankees? The evidence is mounting, McCarver. The captain has no clothes. (In the spirit of fairness, Klapisch also wrote this insightful piece on why Jeter is so guarded and aloof. And I do give Jetes credit for ditching Mariah. After all, she's loonier than A-Rod and has a more unnatural physique than Giambi.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Collaborate and listen

This was originally intended to be a "First and 10" column, but I figure that probably wouldn't be so timely now, four days and countless rehashes after the Pats' 24-17 win over the Jets. Heck, you might say it'd be more like "Last and 10"! (Ha! Ha-ha! . . . knee slap . . . c'mon, it's late.) So instead I've cranked out a monster notebook - kind of a meld between a "First and 10" and a "Nine innings," with a few other ridiculous notions and harebrained ideas thrown in for good measure. Dig in, and as always, thanks for reading and sharing your take:

• Bill Belichick has his team right where he wants them: At 2-0, in first place, and with countless rolls of film documenting their flaws and follies from their ugly victories Weeks 1 and 2. That said, I have no idea what to expect in this Denver game, other than that it's a good policy to stay away from Champ Bailey. The Broncos are historically tough on the Patriots - Tom Brady is 1-4 against them in his career - and Denver has not allowed a touchdown this season. On the other hand, Jake Plummer has suddenly remembered he's Jake Plummer, and he's about one more ill-advised throw away from permanently ceding his job to Jay Cutler. I suppose I'll give the nod to the Pats because they are at home and last season's playoff loss is a motive for revenge, but I don't feel particularly good about it.

• Three thoughts on Tom Verducci's must-read regarding Alex Rodriguez's bizarro struggles, which aren't limited to the ballfield; to a man, his teammates seem to have no use for him, to the point of open contempt: 1) Excuse the pop psychology, but after reading this, you simply can't come to any other conclusion but this: there is no Alex Rodriguez, fallible human, regular guy. His entire persona is tied up in the deceptive image of A-Rod, the perfect ballplayer and Mega Man, and so when he fails or struggles, he simply is not secure enough in himself to come to grips with it. (Hell, he even refuses to use the word "slump.") Yeah, the guy's a mess. 2) Jason Giambi, who seems about as genuine as a chronic cheater can be, comes across as a team-first leader. 3) Derek Jeter, the captain in title if not clubhouse conduct, does not, at least where A-Rod is concerned. Does pettiness count as an intangible?

• The Sox's decision to recall Devern Hansack from Double A Portland is one of those nice stories that remind me why I like sports. Hansack, an affable 28-year-old from Nicaragua, is a journeyman's journeyman: he was released after a couple of uninspiring years in Class A with Houston, did the vagabond ballplayer thing for a while in baseball hotbeds such as Holland (do they wear wooden cleats?), then returned to Nicaragua to play a little ball and get on with the rest of his life. Well, a Sox scout spotted him in a winter league, recommended that Boston sign him, and long story short, he blossomed into the ace of the Sea Dogs' championship team late this summer, winning the clinching Game 5 against Akron and looking like a pitcher with legitimate big-league aspirations. As the Portland Press Herald's Glenn Jordan (who is dearly missed on the Sea Dogs' beat, IMO) details here, it was kind of neat how the Sox informed him his improbable dream was coming true. (Update: My buddy Mistler has another fine first-person take here.)

• Peter King's column used to be staple on my Monday mornings, but ever since his wide-ranging NFL insight began regressing into a grating collection of anecdotes about his massive Starbucks intake, Montclair Freakin', N.J. softball, travel whines, Brett Favre man-love and atrocious fantasy football advice (Chris Simms? C'mon, we know you've known his old man for 20+ years, Peter, but cripes, the kid is on the verge of losing his job to Major Applewhite), he's become a pathetic parody of himself. He seems to have a remarkable sense of self-importance, and for proof, I offer you this as one example of many:

This is going to do nothing but make you envious of me, and so I'm not sure if I should write it or not, but I relate it only to let you know how thankful I am for the charmed life I lead, and to remind you that the next time I complain about anything job-related you need to put me in my place and tell me what a fool I am.

Last Wednesday, at the conclusion of the league meetings, I had a 5:15 p.m. flight on Continental from Phoenix to Newark. Being the baseball nerd that I am, I decided to stop in at the Arizona-Oakland exhibition game in Phoenix for a few innings, in large part because Randy Johnson was hurling. And so here came Miguel Tejada to the dish. Cool moment.

Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner versus reigning AL Most Valuable Player. Here's the pitch. Long drive to right ... twisting ... curving foul ... deep ... and 10 feet foul, over the fence. I thought -- and I have my reasons why -- what a good thing it would be to have that ball.

There was a moderate crowd on this toasty Arizona afternoon. And, after the inning, I walked out to the bleachers down the right-field line and looked over the fence that stood between the main ballpark and the back fields where the A's train. I asked a fan where the ball was that Tejada hit, and he pointed to the first main field, where a ball sat between home plate and the first-base bag. At the same time, a kid, maybe about 7, asked some other fans where the ball was; I heard him. And those fans pointed to four foul balls sitting in sort of no-man's land between the backstop on the first field and the fence where I was. I knew this couldn't be true, because the ball went over the fence barely foul, not 35 feet foul the way it would have had to if it was where the kid thought it was. And so I walked to the area outside the right-field stands where a guard and an A's official were making sure no fans got down to the lower fields and the players' parking lot. I asked if I might be able to get the Johnson-Tejada ball. The official said no problem, and I walked down, past the alerted guard, and onto the pristine field to get the ball. Behind me, all of a sudden, I heard the running footsteps of the kid, who'd apparently snuck behind me and got past the guard, too, and he scrambled past the backstop to get the ball he was sure was the one Tejada hit. I picked up the True Ball, and I told the kid: "I'm sure you've got the one Tejada hit," just so he'd feel good about it. And when the guard saw him walking back up the ramp toward the stadium, he tried to stop the kid, but he was too quick and slipped back into the stadium. (Just like I'm sure I would have done if I was a kid and had an MVP foul ball.) I thanked Matt sincerely, told him the ball would be put to good use, and went back to watch a couple more innings before catching my plane.

And now you know why I have the best job on earth.

Geez, I guessing King's editors cut out the part where he shoved the kid to the ground after he raced past the scone-stuffed, out-of-touch jackass. What. A. Tool. If I ever meet King, I vow to you that I will kiss his ass right up to the point where I tell him I loved him as Norm on "Cheers." Might not be original - the similarity is uncanny - but you know it would infuriate him, in part because George Wendt has him by at least 80 pounds these days, and in part because King surely thinks he's the bigger star. Gotta do something to puncture that bloated ego, people.

• And in a related note, how many so-called experts are revising their trendy Dolphins-Panthers Super Bowl prediction at the moment? I suppose the Panthers could recover should Steve Smith return to good health, but why Daunte Culpepper continues to fool people into believing he's an effective and winning NFL quarterback is a mystery to me. He's perennially overrated. Just like his team.

• I'm not saying Chad Jackson will replace Deion Branch, in terms of production or reliability. But from what I saw Sunday, it's at least a legitimate possibility, and for the moment, that's good enough for me. The kid clearly has tremendous skills. We'll learn about the rest soon enough.

• That said, I do miss Branch and David Givens, and I can't help but shake my head in disgust at the vocal minority who feel the need to denigrate their abilities and accomplishments simply because they are no longer a part of our team. Branch and Givens weren't the most physically gifted receivers in the T.O. sense, but they were smart, fearless, dependable winners who deserve nothing but plaudits for what they helped the Patriots accomplish in their four seasons here. I'll remember them well, and I don't understand why anyone wouldn't.

• Happy 50th, Big Papi. Thanks for bringing a little bit of electricity back to Fenway in this lost September, and for reminding me once again to never take you for granted.

This made my day, not only because he is again healthy and doing what he loves, but because this column, from the fresh insight to the (completely justified) list of Very Special People, is absolutely classic Gammons. Damn, I sure did miss him this summer.

• Derek Jeter is going to win the AL MVP award whether he deserves it or not, but even Yankee fans will admit their dreams of Championship No. 27 hinge on the right elbow of their real MVP, the indispensable Mariano Rivera. To put it another way: Given a choice between having Jeter or Rivera healthy for the postseason, I think even New Yawkers would relegate Jeter to the status of World's Highest-Paid Bench Coach.

• Just how long has Junior Seau been around? The Chargers selected him with the fifth pick in the 1990 draft. The Patriots selected a linebacker themselves five picks later. Hey, anyone heard from Chris Singleton lately?

• While the Dodgers' four-straight-homers-in-the-ninth comeback was historically wonderful, and Nomar's I-love-this-game reaction after hitting the walkoff winner was a pleasant revelation, the best thing about that ball game's conclusion was the graceful, egoless call by the incomparable Vin Scully. After using his patented "She's gone!" as Nomar's shot cleared the fence, he was silent for a good 30-45 seconds as the cameras captured the Dodgers' pure jubilation. Then he cut in with a wry "And, oh by the way . . . the Dodgers are in first place," and signed off. It was simply perfect. Trupiano and the rest should be so elegantly articulate.

• The Reggie Bush saga, among the increasing list of USC improprieties, suggests to me that Pete Carroll has about as much institutional control with the Trojans as he did during his Pushover Pete days with the Patriots. He's a swell guy, a clever defensive coach, and a charming recruiter, but he commands about as much respect as a poodle in a dog pound.

• Bob Ryan referred to ol' No. 80 as "the venerable Troy Brown" Sunday, and I thought that was perfect. That stiff arm he unleashed on Jets DB Derrick Strait was straight out of a Walter Payton highlight reel, and he remains the savviest third-down receiver ever to run a pass pattern for the Patriots. It seems like he's been around forever - and on these days when he seems ageless, you almost wonder if he will be.

• Buster Olney, whom I respect and whose work I enjoy even though he rarely seems to be right, thinks the Sox are going to make a run at Eric Gagne if he doesn't remain with the Dodgers. I'm not sure if I like this, to be honest. While Gagne is as good as it gets when he's healthy, he's not healthy all that often, and I can't help but notice that he's considerably smaller than he was when he converted from a mediocre starter to lights-out closer in '02. I'm just afraid the risk outweighs the reward in this case, and the Sox need a sure thing more than they need another question mark in that bullpen.

• I'd be glad to be wrong, but from what I've seen of Dustin Pedroia and David Murphy, the Sox will be all set for a utility infielder and a 4th outfielder for the next half-decade or so.

• All right, here's my take on HandshakeGate: I'm fairly certain Bill Belichick is pissed Eric Mangini dismissed his advice and took a job with the hated rival, one that in the aftermath of the HC of the NYJ debacle, once questioned his mental well-being. I'm fairly certain Mangini is taken aback and a little bit hurt by his mentor's petty you're-dead-to-me routine. And that's all the bandwidth I'm going to waste on this made-for-Ordway storyline.

• The moment the ninth inning of Game 162 of the Red Sox season is complete, Terry Francona seriously needs to go into hibernation for about three months. The man is wearing every crushing loss, devastating injury, and unjust break on his face; he looks like hell, pallid and drawn, and he's not exactly the picture of health in the best of times. Get some rest, Tito. The Nation knows you've earned it.

• The rip job Padres GM Kevin Towers dropped on Doug Mirabelli the other day comes as no surprise to anyone who's been around the Sox's washed-up backup catcher for any length of time. Mirabelli's an accomplished blowhard with a ridiculously inflated perception of his own abilities; Francona couldn't wait to be rid of him after the 2005 season, and I'm sure he's just thrilled to have him chirping in his ear now. Man, this trade just gets better and better, doesn't it?

• After making the mistake of watching "Sports Final" Sunday, I'm not sure what Bob Lobel openly disdains more: The Red Sox, the Patriots, the fans, or Steve Burton.

• Not sure if this is a legit rumor or just wishful thinking, but it's worth noting that Sox media relations honcho Glenn Geffner used to do radio play-by-play for the Padres. Hmmm. Anyone know if Trupe's contract has been renewed yet? Please say no . . . please say no . . .

• Okay, the important stuff. Here's my prediction for tonight's season premiere of the official sitcom of TATB, the Emmy-winning "The Office": I'll drool and grin like a jackass every time Pam is on the screen, my wife will roll her eyes and tell me I'm much more of a Roy than a Jim, I'll counter by noting that Angela reminds me of her, but much warmer, then I will be ordered to sleep on the couch . . . in the driveway. Hey, it's kind of our Thursday routine, you know. As far as the actual show is concerned . . . I say Jim transfers to Stamford after Pam breaks his heart and stays with Roy. I say it's several episodes (or seasons) down the road until Pam admits her true feelings, probably only after Jim has a new best girl in his life. If you want more of my pathetic insight, well, hell, stop by. That'll be me babbling on the couch, down by the mailbox.

• As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

When I was a kid, way back in the days before Flying Elvis stole Pat Patriot's gig, my dad would insist that Russ Francis was the best all-around tight end in the game - better than Kellen Winslow, Ozzie Newsome, Dave Casper, all of them. I took it with a dose of skepticism - he also insisted Stanley Morgan was better than John "J.J." Jefferson, my third-grade football hero, and I knew that couldn't be true . . . except, ultimately, it was. And don't tell my old man, but I think he might have been right about Francis, too.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, September 15, 2006

Value judgment

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free half-formed thoughts for you . . .

1. Might as well face it, my man Ryan was right: Jeter's winning the MVP. (Fist pump! Smirk! And why not . . . another fist pump!) And you know what? Other than the fact that it gives the Bleacher Buttafuocos and Jeterphiles more reason to prance around in their reflected glory, I've got no problem with it - this season, the Captain's stats actually justify his reputation. He has the second-highest VORP in the league behind Travis Hafner, his production in the clutch is typically dazzling, and you, me, and Timlin know he did his part to shovel dirt on the Sox during that five-game debacle. I'm not really sure why Papi felt the need to diminish his accomplishments - maybe he tried some "Driven" and it gave him a killer rash? While I understand Papi's frustration - Jeter, for all he has done, never has and never will be been burdened to carry an offense the way Papi has - he came across as petty in his criticism, no matter what his tone or the context. If he doesn't regret airing his grievances now, he will by the time this series in New York is over. It's going to get ugly. (For the record, my MVP vote would go to the Twins' exquisite lefty, Johan Santana. There is no one more valuable than him.)

2. So a year ago, Tom Brady puts his money where his mouth is, taking a below-market 6-year, $60-million contract to remain a Patriot, explaining that he's willing to forego the Peyton bucks in order to help keep the core of his team together . . . and then his two favorite receivers say sayonara barely a year later while the team remains roughly $10 million under the cap. And you wonder why this Branch thing was weighing on his mind last week.

3. It's a bummer to see Francisco Liriano shut it down for the season, not only because you never want to see such a charismatic and gifted young pitcher derailed by arm problems, but because I thought his return made the Twins the only legitimate challenger to the Yankees.

4. I suppose it's prudent business for the both the Patriots and the Sox to place a specific value on a player and refuse to exceed that number even if it means losing him, but I can't help but wish they should leave themselves just a bit more flexibility in certain situations. For example, I don't understand why the Red Sox, with their vast resources, were willing to give Johnny Damon $11 million per year, yet were reluctant to go a million or two higher than that. And had the Pats predicted the market better and attempted in good faith and logic to sign David Givens a season or two before he became a free agent, I suspect they'd have him at a much cheaper rate than the Titans ended up paying.

5. You know how it pains me to write these words, but at the moment I have no doubt they will be proven true over the winter: Manny Ramirez has played his final game for the Boston Red Sox. And if the thought of trading him for 75 cents on the dollar pisses me off like this, I can't imagine how Papi will feel when it all goes down. (By the way, is it weird that I find myself almost hoping Manny needs knee surgery just to spite all the WEEI wannabe med students who refuse to consider that he might not be jaking it?)

6. What the Sox should do, of course, is retain Manny then go out and get proven No. 5 hitter with 30-homer potential. (I enjoy the Wily Mo Experience, but he's got a long way to go before he can help anchor a lineup.) So I offer you this suggestion: Alfonso Soriano . . . second base . . . Boston Red Sox. Whaddaya say? I know he's Offermanesque defensively, but he wants to play second again, and I might be willing to sacrifice some glove to get that phenomenal bat in the middle of the Sox' order.

7. Don't tell Mrs. TATB, but I'm pumped and jacked like Trojan Pete that I just led Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson and the rest of my Seattle SuperSonics to a 69-13 record on ESPN NBA '05. Hey, did I mention I'm 36, with two kids, a mortgage, and for now, a wife? Yeah, I know, I'll make a note to grow the hell up and re-evaluate my priorities . . . right after my Sonics' playoff run ends.

8. From the Brushes With Fame (If Not Quite Greatness) file: Back in our Concord, N.H. days, TATB logged many turnover-filled hours on the Green St. hoop court with a live-wire named Mike Carri . . . whom you may now know as Mike "Boogie" Malin, the hipster doofus who just connived his way to the $500,000 grand prize on Big Brother All-Stars. We're glad to report he played that game pretty well, too, and in the real world he's much nicer guy than the character he plays on TV.

9. I'm convinced that if Gabe Kapler's involvement with the Sox next season solely consists of sitting to Tom Caron's left during the postgame show, Tito would still find a way to get his dead bat into the lineup twice a week.

10. As for today's Completely Random . . . er, Media Guide Mugshot:

From party-hearty linebacker, to master of the long snap, to sycophantic bully of a co-host, you are a real man of genius, Steve DeOssie.

(And with that I fully expect to get the following message in my email box later today:)


Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

First and 10: What's the catch?

First and 10 while wondering if Tom Brady is pissed about the Branch deal . . .

1. I'm having a tough time coming to a logical conclusion regarding the Deion Branch soap opera, in part because the whole damn thing is so illogical. I don't understand why Branch and his agent never offered a counterproposal to the Patriots' two perfectly reasonable offers . . . unless Branch simply wanted to get the hell out of the organization. And if that's the case . . . why? He was playing with the best QB in the league on a championship-contending team, one set up well for the present and the future. There aren't many better situations in the league, so why was he so willing to smile, shrug, and napalm the friggin' bridge? And while Seattle gave him one more year and slightly more money than the Patriots' best offer, he has to know he's one torn ACL away from never seeing the end of that contract, that a long-term NFL deal isn't worth the paper it's printed on. And on the other side of the negotiating table, why did the Patriots ultimately "give in" and give him what he supposedly wanted? Do they really think they can win with a foursome of Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Clarence Weathers, and Carlos Pennywell at receiver? Do they think Branch, small and daring to the point of disregard for his body, has a short shelf-life? Do they think the first-round pick is better than fair value? Did they believe he'd hold out until Week 10 and that they'd might as well get something for him now? Are they so arrogant as to believe that Tom Brady, Richard Seymour and 51 Ordinary Joes would form a productive roster in their system? I desperately want answers, not that I'm expecting any: Belichick offered no insight today (there's a news flash) and Branch handled himself with class during his introductory press conference in Seattle. So I guess, until the truth and real motivations eventually leak into the newspapers, I'll have to settle for these few things I do know:

• Anyone who bashes Branch's ability is a fool. I've been hearing people (okay, mostly 'EEI mouthbreathers) claim his hands were questionable, he wasn't really an elite receiver, that he was injury-prone . . . and you know what? It's complete and total b.s., nothing more than the ignorant rantings of scorned nitwits. He was a fantastic player for the Patriots, one who rose to the occasion in the biggest moments (21 catches and one MVP in two Super Bowls, the game-opening 50-yard warning shot at Heinz Field in '04), a selfless teammate who put winning first (he was in tears at the end of the Denver playoff loss), and he was much tougher and more fearless than any sane receiver his size should dare to be. Deion Branch was everything we'd want a Patriot, while his departure was ugly, it's too bad he's not still one of ours. I'll miss him.

• It was shameful when Ty Law, for a long time the highest-paid DB in the NFL, bitched that he needed a new contract so he could feed his family. But when Branch says he needs to money to "take care of [his] kids," well, as a father myself and one who can't imagine what he has gone through, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

• Getting ahead of myself here, but . . . a Pats-Seahawks Super Bowl would be something, wouldn't it?

2. I'd be an idiot to question Scott Pioli's team-building methods, but I must admit I do wonder why the Patriots don't try to sign their young, talented free-agents-to-be a year or two before they test the market. I'm fairly certain David Givens would still be here - and at a considerably lower hourly rate than he got from Tennessee - had he been offered a contract a year or two ago, and I fret that upcoming free agents Eugene Wilson, Daniel Graham, and Dan Koppen will be the next to get an offer from elsewhere that they can't refuse. It seems to me that once a player proves he is going to be the player you hoped he's be when you drafted him - or even exceed those expectations - it would save a lot of drama and maybe even a few dollars to renegotiate his first contract before it expires. The only downside, so far as I can tell, is the fear of signing someone long-term, then losing them to injury, but that strikes me as a risk worth taking.

3. One of the many benefits of having Rodney Harrison back is that Eugene Wilson also is back, if you follow. After Harrison blew out his knee in Pittsburgh and was lost for the rest of the '05 season, Wilson had to take on so much more responsibility. While he played adequately, he was no longer Eugene the Hitting Machine, the apparent budding star who thrived in Harrison's shadow. With Harrison back directing traffic, calling signals, and relieving Wilson of the burdens that weighed him down late last year, here's hoping he finds that ol' ball-hawking, Riddell-cracking form. I missed him almost as much as I missed Harrison.

4. From the midpoint of last season through this Sunday, Rosey Colvin has been exactly what the Patriots thought they were getting when they signed him to a rich free-agent deal before the 2003 season: a tireless, smart, havoc-wreaking, pass rusher. So this is what he looked like before he busted up his hip.

5. As talented as he is, it's a bit much to expect Ben Watson to make up for the lost production of Branch or Givens - let's see him catch more than four balls in a game before we send him off to Canton, okay, fellas? (Holy crap, I think I just channeled Parcells there.) However, I'm not saying I expect the Patriots offense to shrivel even though they lack a proven starting receiver. From what I saw of Laurence Maroney and a healthy and determined Corey Dillon Sunday, the Patriots are going to run the football with more effectiveness, authori-TAY, and balance than we've seen around here since the "New England, the Patriots, and We" heyday of Craig James and Tony Collins.

6. I'm curious if there's anything to the thinly-sourced rumors that the Patriots might be interested in disgruntled Raiders receiver Jerry Porter. His stats last season were remarkably similar to Branch's, but he seems considerably less graceful off the field than he is on it. Porter, already inactive, allegedly behaved like a jackass in the closing moments of their embarrassing loss to the Chargers, laughing as Aaron Brooks was sacked for something like the 37th time. The Patriots aren't afraid to take a flyer on talented so-called malcontents - Dillon and Bryan Cox come to mind - but Porter's apparent open disrespect for his coach and his team might convinced them he's not worth the time.

7. If Ellis Hobbs plays the rest of the season the way he played Sunday, he can start making plans to jet to Hawaii the week after the Super Bowl. He made the dangerous Lee Evans disappear like . . . (let's see, a Linda Evans joke would be lame here . . . so would a Copperfield/magician joke . . . god, I crack myself up . . . okay, play it straight . . . thinking of a lousy receiver now ) . . . um, Reche Caldwell.

8. My apologies to LaMont Jordan, but every time I see No. 34 take a handoff for the silver and black, I immediately begin having Bo Jackson flashbacks. (Too much Tecmo Bowl in my formative years, probably.) I can't imagine what effect this must have on Brian Bosworth - he must go all fetal and weepy every single time No. 34 gets the rock.

9. From the Damning With Faint Praise Dept.: Junior Seau has already made me forget all about Monty Beisel. Yup, faint praise. Now if he'd just quit jumping on every pile and acting like he made the initial hit, I might be cool with one of my favorite enemies being a Patriot and having the temerity to wear Willie Mac's digits. (I know, Seau had 'em first at 'SC, blah, blah. Hey, I'm wearing a 55 Pats jersey as I write this, and it ain't a Seau shirt, you dig? Could be a Don Blackmon, though.)

10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

I rarely give ESPN much credit in this space - as the alleged worldwide leader, you'd think they could do better than the likes of Skip Bayless and DJ Boo-Yeah, among many other irritants - but they deserve an attaboy for having the foresight to add Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil to their second Monday Night Football crew. I thought they were downright terrific during the Chargers-Raiders clunker. And in a major upset, Vermeil made it through the telecast without once bursting into tears.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, September 11, 2006

Changing seasons

We've gathered, from our occasional radio gigs and various other cool/frightening correspondence with our readers, that TATB is perceived as primarily a baseball site. Not so. While baseball is our lifelong passion, a bond with our dad, and all those other saccharine-but-truthful sentiments that make the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin all frisky, the truth is we're pretty freakin' crazy about football, too. As a matter of fact, the first post on this site, back in Nov. '04, was a rant about Drew Bledsoe that was expanded from an email I had sent a buddy, and the Nine Innings baseball column that is sort of the anchor of the site actually derived from our First and 10 Patriots column, which will be making its 2006 debut Tuesday. So like the rest of New England, while we focus on the Sox through the summer, our mind turns to the Patriots with the arrival of fall, particularly if the Sox, you know, suck. With that certainly being the case this September, consider this post the official notice that we are changing seasons. We're ready for some football . . . right after this transitional round of Name Association:

Mike Timlin: He was one of my favorite Sox during the best times in '03-'04, seemingly as steady and reliable off the field as he was on it. But I really wish he'd stop claiming he "made a great pitch, good location, they just hit it" blah blah blah during his late-season streak of Slocumbness. I'm not sure if he's in denial or he's making an excuse, but it's relentlessly annoying when someone I thought was accountable refused to acknowledge that he just threw another meatball with the game on the line.

Manny Ramirez: Here's hoping he stays healthy and motivated enough to remain in the lineup these final 20 or so games, because the hunch here is that it will be our last opportunity to see one of the greatest hitters of all time perform in a Red Sox uniform. You, me, and Gammons know the front office has always wanted to unload him. The late-season collapse, the mystery surrounding his injury, and the general manager's desire to rebuild will be their justification for finally doing so. And unless they get equal value - yeah, right - I'm going to be beyond pissed when it happens.

Josh Beckett: Of course I'm going to give this deal time, even as I try to wrap my head around the notion that "prospects" Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez have a better shot at the postseason than does the alleged contender that traded them. But for those Beckett bashers among you who are trying to figure out just who in the front office signed off on this trade, here's Seth Mnookin's take from his hugely (and deservedly) successful book, "Feeding the Monster":

"The Beckett trade appeared to be a fantastic one - young, proven arms are rare commodities in baseball - and the local media reacted accordingly . . . [But] it didn't take long before details about the trade began to emerge that made it seem less of an obvious steal. An MRI of Beckett's shoulder . . . revealed serious concerns about his rotator cuff. Assistant to the general manager Jed Hoyer, in constant consultation with Epstein, had been wary about making the trade, but Lucchino has been eager to get it done. "It was clear what was going on," said someone with an ownership stake in the team. "You had the people who were looking out for the long-term interests of the club advising to hold off, and the people who wanted to get the focus off the front-office fiasco pushing to make the deal."

Funny, Lucchino didn't seem too eager to take credit for it when Gerry Callahan asked him point-blank recently if this deal was his baby. What did Steinbrenner call him all those years ago? A chameleon? Huh. Interesting.

Kason Gabbard: For someone who was considered little more than minor-league roster filler - he spent two mediocre seasons in Portland and wasn't rated among the top 30 pitchers in the system entering 2006 - he sure did look like he belonged during his masterful seven shutout innings against Chicago. If he pitches well again tonight . . . well, I'll at least admit he's the pitcher Abe Alvarez was supposed to be, and maybe more.

Julian Tavarez: The Sox could do worse for a fifth starter next season. Of course, I sure as hell hope they do better.

Jonathan Papelbon: It's just a tired arm? Honest? (Exhaling). So I'm guessing the Japan trip is out of the question?

Javy Lopez: Well, guess we learned the hard way why Maddux couldn't stand him. Lazy and useless is no way to go through life, son.

Junior Seau: I've never been much of a Seau fan - he became hugely overrated once his amazing athleticism could no longer make up for his lack of discipline - but I'm glad he's a Patriot. Know why? Because it's been absolutely delightful to listen to the 'EEI hypocrites try and pretend that they haven't mercilessly ripped the guy for years. Who knew men so bloated could backpedal faster than a young Mike Haynes?

Laurence Maroney: Not a bad debut, eh? He's so ridiculously talented - and apparently such a deferential, egoless kid - that the proud Corey Dillon is willing to split the carries and play the role of mentor. A mighty running back tandem! Who da thunk it?

Kevin Faulk: For a player with a habit of fumbling at the most inopportune times, he sure does have great hands. (Dammit, do I ever make sense?)

Deion Branch: The conventional wisdom among Pats fans seemed to be that Branch was getting bad advice, that he's a levelheaded kid who was being manipulated by an agent with an agenda, and he'd come to his senses and accept the Patriots' perfectly fair offer (3 years, $17 million) once he realized the season would go on without him. But now? Now I'm thinking Branch is just one more lunatic diva of a wide receiver, a T.O. wannabe. There's simply no other explanation for the way he's allowed his agent to try and shoot his way out of Foxboro.

Doug Gabriel: Is it wishful thinking to believe that the talented but underutilized ex-Raider will be the right player at the right place at the right time? Yeah, probably. If he doesn't do the job and Branch doesn't come to his senses, the Pats may be starting Donald Hayes and Bert Emanuel by Week 6.

Gil Santos: His booming pipes are still among the most distinctive in the biz. ("Brady back to pass . . . down the middle . . . "CAUGHT! . . . TROY BROWN!") But - how can I say this delicately? - he and Gino could use a little more help from the spotter in identifying players. It's one thing to accidentally confuse Reche Caldwell (the new No. 87) with David Givens (the former No. 87), especially in the season opener. I just worry that one of these days, he's going to have Brady completing a pass to Randy Vataha, and neither he nor Gino will catch the mistake.

Hanley Ramirez: He's been predictably inconsistent, but having accumulated 59 extra-base hits, 46 steals, 107 runs, while batting .286, there is no debating that he has exceeded all expectations in his rookie season. He sure looks like a superstar in the making. Anyone else care to argue that Dustin Pedroia is a better prospect? Anyone? Bueller? C'mon, you were out there this spring . . .

Jermaine Dye: Can you believe the Royals once had a Dye-Johnny Damon-Carlos Beltran outfield? Do they have anything to show for trading three of the most valuable players in baseball this season? No, Mark Teahen does not count.

Daunte Culpepper: Trust me when I say I would have written this before his gruesome two-pick fourth quarter Thursday: He is the most overrated quarterback of the past dozen years, a player who put up impressive numbers because he could heave the ball deep to Randy Moss when all else failed. His carelessness is going to drive Nick Saban crazy. Or crazier.

Drew Bledsoe: He's the second-best quarterback in Patriots history, he was crucial in the rejuvenation of the franchise, and it's with admiration that I consider him the most normal star athlete I've ever encountered. But isn't it an indictment of his dedication that he's still making the same stone-skulled mistakes that he made in '93? The ending of last night's Dallas-Jacksonville game couldn't have been more predictable.

Peyton Manning: If he delivered in big games as often as he does in his numerous funny commercials, he might have some accomplishments that actually justify his reputation. (Friend of TATB Tom Curran puts it much better here.)

Terrell Owens: If you think there is any chance of this T.O./Tuna/Bledsoe marriage actually working, let me suggest that you read Tom Friend's stellar piece in the recent ESPN Magazine. T.O. is a petulant, misguided teenager, and shockingly, Parcells is not exactly willing to play the role of guidance counselor. This is going to be as ugly as a Jerry Jones facelift, people.

Adam Vinatieri: The sentimental fan in me already misses him. But I'm not so sure the Patriots will, and anyone who suggests he'll mean two or more victories to the Colts this season is either an imbecile, Peter King, or both.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

In 11 major-league seasons prior to 2006, Kevin Jarvis won 34 games, lost 47, had an ERA of 5.97 . . . and made nearly $10 million. Frankly, I'm not sure if this is an example of why this is a great country, or an example of what is wrong with it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Five years later

This was my first column for the Monitor in the days following 9/11. I'm not sure how well it holds up over time, but it captured my sentiments during the horrifying, heartbreaking aftermath, and I remain proud I wrote it. - CF

• • •


God, yes, I want the New York Yankees to win the World Series. How could any American not? The Yankees are America. They are capitalist, a melting pot and, in recent years, a monopoly. They are ordinary and extraordinary individuals who thrive as a team. They are arrogant and resilient and hated for their success. They are a superpower.

They are us.

No sports team is more symbolic of our nation than the Yankees. And it is sickeningly obvious that the terrorists who intended to blow our country apart had a sadistic eye for symbolism. They attacked our military center, the Pentagon. They targeted the White House. They wiped out the World Trade Center towers, the two tallest buildings in our tallest city.

It's a small miracle that the Statue of Liberty still stands. Or Yankee Stadium.

Normally, this would be grounds for treason, a Red Sox fan switching allegiances to the Yankees. But what's normal anymore? We are all numb, having wept through an impossibly sad and tragic time, one in which our games never seemed less important.

My television remote is usually locked on ESPN. It has scarcely visited there the past 10 days. The Bottom Line sports ticker was replaced by MSNBC's streaming news updates, Stuart Scott's smug self-reverence replaced with Tom Brokaw's gentle reassurance. And the scoreboard was replaced with a horrible new statistical category: the death toll.

So this is what it takes for a sports fan to gain perspective. Was it just a few weeks ago I was chiding friends for admitting they were rooting for Mike Mussina during his perfect game bid against the Red Sox? It all seems so ridiculous now, so trivial, so small. As a survivor of the bombings told columnist Bill Simmons: Oh, for the days when my greatest fear was Derek Lowe.

Of all the brilliant political cartoons in our newspapers in recent days, few touched me as deeply as this one. It pictured two kids sitting around a playground, swapping trading cards. One kid says to the other: I'll give you two Bonds and two Jordans for one New York firefighter.

The cartoon's message is obvious, painfully so. I'll never again refer to an athlete as a hero - or, for that matter, a villain. That's been the standard term for the Yankees around here, but no more. There are no real villains, not in sports, not by the frightening parameters that define the term now. Since the attack, so many so-called bad guys, many of whom I've skewered, have revealed themselves to be goodhearted, decent, compassionate men (the despicable Carl Everett being the obvious, oblivious exception.)

More than once I've mocked Jason Sehorn, called him camera-happy, a pretty boy. Last week, Sehorn led his New York Giants teammates on a shopping spree to buy supplies for the rescue workers at "Ground Zero." Keyshawn Johnson - you know, Me-shawn - was among the first of countless NFLers to donate a week's paycheck. George Steinbrenner, derided here as Georgie Porgie, has donated a million dollars and the Yankee Stadium tarp. Bobby Valentine and his Mets have opened their stadium and their hearts to any weary folks who want nothing more than rest and reassurance.

It may seem trite, claiming a Yankee championship would be of any relevance in these solemn hours. But then, I'm reminded of something we've heard again and again this week. Sometimes, sports transcend. The U.S. hockey team's "Miracle on Ice" in 1980 raised the spirits of a nation stuck in the doldrums. Jesse Owens's four gold medals in the '36 Olympics in Berlin upstaged Hitler on his home turf.

The Yankees can transcend, too. They are a part of our fabric, certainly of New York's fabric. You can't turn on the television without seeing someone shedding a tear while holding a picture of a missing loved one. Usually, one or the other is wearing a Yankees cap. Sometimes, both.

The day will come when every plane in the sky no longer draws a wary second glance, when every song's lyrics no longer seem more poignant than you remember. The day will come when the tangle is gone from our throats, the ache from our hearts and the sorrow from our eyes.

The day will come when we're again cheering the Red Sox and jeering the Yankees. Oh, how I look forward to that day.
But right now, there are no rivalries. The only team that matters not only wears stripes, it is representing them.

So I want to see a parade down New York's Canyon of Heroes, what's left of it. I want to see firefighters and policemen and ordinary, extraordinary New York citizens cheering and saluting Roger and Derek and Bernie and Tino, and I damn sure want to see them cheering and saluting back.

I want the Yankees to say, in that symbolic language those terrorists understand, that we are as strong as ever. I want the Yankees to transcend.

God, yes, I want a Yankee victory.

Because a Yankee - an American - is what I am.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, September 04, 2006

Nine innings: 09.04.06

Playing nine innings while finally seeing some familiar names on the lineup card . . .

1. With his spot-on Big Papi imitation tonight, Carlos Pena (of the Haverhill Penas) lived the common dream of New England kids through the ages: to hit a game-winning home run at Fenway Park. He's one of us, and it was chill-inducing to see how much he savored it. Long regarded as one of the nicest people in the game, reacted with genuine joy, as if the moment's realization took him back to the day he first imagined it. "Do you know how many times I'm doing this in my backyard? It's amazing," he said. "I've dreamed of this since I was 12 years old." Now, feel free to accuse me of getting caught up in the good vibes of the night, but I do hope there is a spot on the roster for Pena next season. Frankly, I don't quite understand why he hasn't been able to hold down a big-league gig. He's a terrific first baseman, has a selective eye (though he does strike out a ton), has legitimate power (he walloped 27 homers in '03), and at 28, is still young enough to realize the potential that saw him reach the majors at 23, just two years removed from Northeastern. You'd think he'd at least make a valuable member of the bench. And who doesn't love a local-boy-makes-good story, especially when he's making good for the local team?

2. So the Sox are six back in the wild-card and nine in the division with 24 games left to play. While stranger things have happened, I'd say the more reasonable among us agree that the 2006 playoffs will go on without the Boston Red Sox' participation. And you know what? I find myself feeling strangely fine about this. Maybe it's because of the frightening, life-altering situation young Jon Lester suddenly finds himself in, or maybe it's because of David Ortiz's health scare, or maybe it's something as trivial as a baseball matter, such as the thought that the franchise's future would be better served if Jonathan Papelbon never unleashed another pitch this season. Or maybe it's all of this: the relentless injuries (Ortiz, Ramirez, Nixon, Crisp, Wakefield, Varitek, Pena, Foulke, Wells, Gonzalez, Schilling, Papelbon . . .), poor roster construction (save for Papelbon, the bullpen's performance has been like some bizarre tribute to Heathcliff Slocumb), a lack of suitable depth in the high minors (Kevin Freakin' Jarvis? Mike Burns? Seriously?), and the common-sense realization that this team in perfect health probably wasn't going to star in a sequel to Faith Rewarded. Hey, sometimes it's okay to admit that it's just not your turn.

3. I was going to use this space to rant about Theo's decision to trade David Riske to the White Sox for The Less Famous But Equally Useless Of The Javier Lopezes, but then a kindly SoSHer pointed out to me that the White Sox are extremely reluctant to use Riske in any - I apologize in advance - risky situations, and that he's continuing his career-long trend of pitching well only in low-pressure moments. Then I was going to use this space to rip on Theo for leaving Craig Breslow buried at Pawtucket most of the season while lefty batters continued to make hamburger of the Sox bullpen, but then Breslow went out and pitched exactly like you'd expect someone named Craig Breslow to pitch. So seeing how it's pretty clear that I'm about as clueless at trying to assemble a bullpen as Theo is, let me just say in my wishy-washy way that I wish Cla Meredith were still here, and I'm pretty sure he'd help somewhat seeing that he hasn't given up a run in 20-something innings in the Quadruple A National League, and that maybe this building a bullpen thing ain't so easy after all.

4. A few of us here at TATB headquarters felt like shedding more than just crocodile tears when we heard about the bizarre and tragic death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin this morning. While I'm more the indoorsy type, my wife was a longtime fan of his show, and I always enjoyed watching it with her. You just couldn't help but be drawn in by his uncommon abundance of charisma, enthusiasm, and knowledge, and his rapport with all of his creatures was tangible, truly something to behold. It was apparent that he was one of the lucky few whose life's work also happened to be his true passion. He'll be missed, and I feel terrible for his kids.

5. From a fan's standpoint, I was bummed to see Boomer Wells depart. As a rule, I'm pretty much cool with any athlete who has a Body By Hostess, and it was an absolute treat to watch him pitch when his curveball was working and his creaky knees could bear the weight. He was the anti-Clement, a fearless, efficient, strike-throwing machine, and I wonder how this season might have been different had he made 30 starts. But taking bleacher-creature sentiment out of it, I think the Sox made a pretty decent deal, assuming the reports that catcher George Kottaras is the PTBNL are accurate. While he's struggled in his in-season promotion from Double A to Triple A, he's only 23, he was the Padres' No. 2 prospect coming into the season, is said to be solid defensively but for some supposedly correctable mechanical flaws, and earned an intriguing pre-season review from Baseball Prospectus:

The fraternity of former hot catching prospects is fraught with disappointment - ask Matt LeCroy or Toby Hall. Kottaras resembles a young Craig Biggio more than behemoths like LeCroy or Hall, though, and he looks like he's going to be a pretty fair defensive backstop. His 36 doubles and 69 walks point to some promising line-drive power and a good batting eye, traits that will serve him well at higher levels. With just 101 Double-A at-bats on his record, he won't be a factor in the big leagues in 2006. Look for Kottaras in 2007 - Doug Mirabelli is not a long term solution behind the plate.

Little did they know that last line would refer to the Red Sox and not the Padres, huh?

6. And speaking of our favorite plus-size ballplayers, let me say this: If you don't enjoys watching Ryan Howard, a genuine slugger with a veteran's savvy at the plate (his opposite-field power is reee-diculous), then you are either a David Eckstein-lovin', scrappy-white-guy fetishist, a National League pitcher, or someone who so foolishly had him pegged as the next Sam Horn. Hell, I'm the latter, and he might be favorite NL player at the moment.

7. Three quick thoughts on the Yankees: 1) Typical A-Rod, going on a tear once everything of consequence is in the bag. 2) I'm not saying it's fair or right, but Derek Jeter is going to win the AL MVP, the Gold Glove, and the Maybelline Metrosexual of the Year award. 3) How come Johnny Damon's name doesn't come up in this MVP talk? I'm not saying he should win the thing, but after putting up stellar numbers, leading the 5-game annihilation of his former team, filling the gaping hole in center field that was previously occupied by the mummified Bernie Williams, and bringing a sense of fun and relaxation to the tense Yankees clubhouse, shouldn't he at least be in the discussion?

8. Be well, Jon Lester. An entire Nation looks forward to celebrating your next victory, one that has nothing to do with baseball.

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

Not only did the Sox have to settle for a spilt with the Blue Jays after winning the first two games of the series, but we didn't even get to see John Gibbons punch out one of his players. Talk about a letdown.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,