Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Take 10

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

1. I'm not a skilled enough writer to approach such topics without sounding trite and melodramatic, so I'll keep it brief: David Ortiz is the best thing ever to happen to the Boston Red Sox, and I cannot articulate the sadness I would feel if his heart scare turns out to be something more serious than the exhausting effects of carrying this baseball team all summer. Be well, Papi.

2. Deion Branch needs the Patriots if he's ever going to cash in on the payday he desires. And despite what the Smerlases of the world might tell you, the Patriots need Deion Branch. Which is why they'll get this thing worked out before the season's opening kickoff.

3. You know a player created a lasting legacy when he spends nearly three times as many years with the Jets as he does the Patriots, and New England fans still admire him unconditionally anyway. If this is the end, thanks for those three wonderful seasons, Curtis Martin, and we'll see you in Canton. You left long ago, but you'll always be one of New England's own.

4. Carl Pavano could drive his Porsche off the Brooklyn Bridge, make a public proclamation that Derek Jeter smells way better than Alyssa Milano ever did, and sever his right arm off with a hacksaw just for the sport of it, and I'd still wonder if the Yankees might consider taking Matt Clement for him in straight-up swap of overpaid enigmas.

5. And in a related note, players I hope will turn in their Red Sox gear for good come the conclusion of Game 162: Clement, Mark Loretta, Javy Lopez, Doug Mirabelli, Coco Crisp, Javy Lopez, Mike Lowell, Julian Tavarez, Javy Lopez, Jermaine Van Buren, Gabe Kapler, Javy Lopez, Javy Lopez, Javy Lopez, and Javier Lopez. (Temporarily spared for sentimental reasons: Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, and Trot Nixon.)

6. Back in his New England days a decade ago, do you think Bill Parcells ever thought there'd come a time when Terry Glenn was the more professional, mature and mentally stable of his starting receivers? She's come a long way, baby.

7. Seems to me there are few things more aggravating to a Boston sports fan than a smug, ill-informed contrarian with a pulpit. (And somewhere, Gary Tanguay is disagreeing with me just for the hell of it.)

8. The Bruins rarely get much more than a passing mention in this space, but between the rave reviews of new boss Peter Chiarelli's roster-building skills and the cool news that longtime Friend of TATB Fluto Shinzawa is now the pointman on the beat for the Globe, I haven't looked this forward to the dropping of the puck since Neely was in his prime.

9. Seems to me the same people who were breathlessly comparing Al Jefferson to Elton Brand just a year ago are now the same fickle folks pushing the Celtics to include him in any reasonable deal for a veteran. Give him time, people - sophomore struggles and aching ankle aside, he's still only 21.

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

There is absolutely no way the Sox should permit Jonathan Papelbon to pitch for the MLB All-Star team that will tour Japan after the season. I may be mistaken, but the last Sox closer to go on this trip was Tom Gordon in '98. You might recall he tweaked his elbow during the tour, and was a lost cause in '99. The Sox should write Papelbon a check for $100,000 - the coin he'd make for participating, and admittedly, the reason he wants to go - and tell him to get some R-and-R. After this grind of a rookie season - it must be grueling, being a one-man bullpen - it's the best thing for him and the ball club.

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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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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Three random Seattle Mariners baseball cards . . .

. . . while wondering if J.J. Putz is a stage name:

Claim to fame: Duh. Even the pink hats know this one.

Fun fact: After his homer off Donnie Moore in the '86 ALCS, shattered the professional sports record for the Highest Celebratory Vertical Leap (5 feet 4 inches), a mark later eclipsed by Michael Jordan after his jumper over Craig Ehlo in the '88 playoffs.

Claim to fame:
Walloped 268 home runs in the 13 big-league seasons, including a league-leading 45 in '79.

Fun fact: Went entire '86 season without showering just to win a $20 bet with teammate Ken Phelps. (Okay, I made that up. But he looks like it could be true.)

Claim to fame: Junkballing lefty went 5-3 with a 3.36 as a 21-year-old rookie for the '76 Red Sox . . .

Fun fact: . . . but was such a colossal goofball the Sox left him unprotected in the '76 expansion draft. He won exactly one more big league game.

Among his transgressions/sins/highlights:

• Nicknamed "Tall Boy" not so much for his height (6-foot-5), but for his predilection for a certain beverage of the same name.

• Went AWOL on at least one road trip in '76, which naturally went over real well with manager Don Zimmer, a fun-loving guy if there ever was one. (Snort)

• Wasn't a member of the hilariously insubordinate Buffalo Heads, but Bill Lee fondly describes him as their best pledge.

• Childhood buddies in Jacksonville with the rockin' rednecks from Lynard Skynard. (This explains a lot.)

• Apparently did not show up for his '77 Topps photo shoot, thus giving the world's worst airbrush artist a chance to work his magic and earn a few pesos.

(For more on Tall Boy, check out Gammons's classic "Beyond the Sixth Game." Also, a shiny new Nine Innings column should be posted late, late Sunday . . . )

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Javy Lopez is Dante Bichette with a catcher's mitt

. . . and five other semi-coherent thoughts regarding the Yawkey Way carnage . . .

1. I have a hard time coming to grips with Derek Jeter's legitimacy as an MVP candidate, for reasons you are probably familiar with by now: He's spent his entire career blessed with enormous riches in terms of teammates, he's never had to be THE GUY to carry a lineup, he smells like fresh-cut lillies with just a hint of watermelon, he's fawned over by the media to the point that his cultivated image has become the reality, etc., etc. But even the most irrational Jeterphobe must admit he was just plain brilliant in the big moments in the series, just as he has been in most every big moment throughout his Hall of Fame career. While I still believe Papi is the true MVP as long as the Sox don't quit - they would have, what, 10 fewer wins without his late heroics, and hey, you try winning with a lineup of Manny and the seven dwarves, Jetes - the Yankee captain's candidacy, for once, goes well beyond the intangible. What a player, what a season, what a series. But just to be clear, I still hope he gets hit by a meteor.

2. In the spirit of optimism (or maybe desperation), a few things that make this team worth watching, still: Dustin Pedroia's arrival . . . Mike Lowell's golden glove at third . . . the fearlessness of Jonathan Papelbon, who actually managed to be heroic in blowing the save the other night . . . Manny and Papi, walloping their way to history . . . Wily Mo's scary power (when he's up, the Monster seat patrons turn into ducks in a shooting gallery) . . . Schilling, throwing 95 mph heat on the black past Father Time . . . the majestic moonshots Josh Beckett so charitably gives up . . . Coco Crisp's Oscar-worthy thespian skills, for when he does fail to make a diving play, his wincing/limping/grimacing routine really does convince us that his career may indeed be over and amputation may be necessary. . . okay, I'm struggling here . . .

3. This Week's Reason Jerry Trupiano . . . Ah, hell. You know what? The Troop is so astoundingly, insultingly, mind-numbingly incompetent at this point, I'm not even going to waste the keystrokes going into deep detail here. It will just make me angry and I'll end up sucker punching the cat again, and we wouldn't want the furry fella to have to eat his Meow Mix through a straw. I'll just say that if you heard his call of Juicin' Giambi's 10th-inning homer the other night, you probably thought: 1) It was a fairly routine flyball, because there were no typical Troop "Way Back" histrionics; 2) That Crisp caught the ball; and, 3) That the jabbering idiot was the only one in the ballpark that didn't know it was gone, because in the middle of his confused call, 35,000 people groaned in unified agony. At this point, the Sox could pair Joe Castiglione with Gilbert Gottfried, and I'd consider it an aural improvement.

4. So is the conventional wisdom is that Manny bailed? Funny, it seems to me he's about the only one who showed up.

5. This happens more often than my inexplicably swollen ego would like me to admit: I get a day or two off from work, plan on writing something in-depth about whatever the drama of the day is in Boston sports . . . then I pick up the paper, and damned if ol' Ryan hasn't already put it all in perspective, with his inimitable passionate-yet-graceful phrasing and cut-to-the-chase common sense. Today's column was everything I wanted to say, only better said. Read it.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Sox may be dead, but TATB is live, baby . . .

Probably should have dropped a mention of this earlier, but your lazy but loyal blogger here is writing about tonight's Sox-Yanks epic as it happens, given an occasional assist from the DVR.

I tried this once last year, during a late-season Sox-Jays game, and not only did I have a blast and get a lot of positive feedback, but if I recall, the Sox pulled off one of their defining victories of the season. (Pretty sure that Ortiz cat was prominently involved.)

So with the kids snoozing, the chance to chronicle the dumb crap Joe Morgan says in a given three hours too tempting to resist, and a change in mojo absolutely necessary for the Sox, here goes . . . well, something. I'll update the post every inning or two, so be sure to check in periodically . . . you know, if by dumb luck you actually stumble upon this as I'm doing it. Man, I really do need a better PR department.

* Johnny Damon (not sure if we should refer to him as Traitor, Sox Killer, or simply $*&$&#&@&&#$&&face at this point) starts the festivities by grounding out to first, the first time in the series he hasn't led off with a hit. He also shattered his bat. Please be symbolism. Please.

* Schilling goes 0-2 on Jeter, who smells like apricots with a just hint of lime tonight. The Captain works the count to 3-2 before he's called out on strike three. Predictably, he breaks into his Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am-How-Dare-You-Call-That-A-Strike routine, ducking his head, lingering in the batter's box to offer a few suggestions to the ump, then smirking, shaking his head, and looking out at the pitcher as he walks away. Same act, every time.

* K-Zone shows the pitch to Jeter was a perfect strike on the inside corner. K-Zone, of course, does not measure intangibles.

* Schilling is dealing - 96 and 97 mph on the corners - but the Yankees are making him work. (Damon fouled off a pitch that was damn near in Mirabelli's mitt.) After whiffing Bobby Abreu on five pitches, Schilling is on pace for 198-pitch perfect game. Take that, Bill James. Seriously, where else do you get this stuff?

* Both children, apparently made aware that daddy is both awake and motivated for once, have decided to start howling in unison, so here's the abbreviated version: Coco makes his obligatory leadoff out (he'll make a great Pittsburgh Pirate one day); Loretta singles hard to center; Papi singles hard to center; Manny (who is hitting over .500 with 7 homers against New York this season), rockets a liner to the wall, scoring Loretta; Youkilis singles, scoring Papi; Lowell hits into his obligatory double play. (And I'm pretty sure his left foot fell off running to first base. Danged rigamortis.)

* "This is what the Red Sox needed, to get off to a good start." You know, normally I'd mock this as stating the obvious, but for Joe Morgan, it's actually pretty astute.

Morgan, three seconds later: "It was important in my opinion to get off to a good start." Okay, Joe, we get it.

Morgan, roughly 10 more seconds later: "You had to get off to a good start here if you're the Red Sox." He's officially beaten this horse into Alpo. Bottom of the first, and I'm already longing for Remy.

* Did I mention I have company tonight. Yup, Mrs. TATB is in the house, and she was kind enough to offer this pearl as her first question of the night: "If I was on the Red Sox, would I be the worst player?" Instinctively, made some wise-ass comment about most big-leaguers having played ball beyond the North Berwick, Maine girls' Little League, but given more thought, there's a pretty good chance she's a better defensive catcher than Javy Lopez. Red Sox 2, Yankees 0

* The perpetually sweating Jason Giambi doubles to left center, and as he lumbers his way to second, I'm reminded of the title of one a Seth Mnookin blog post a few days ago: Jason Giambi Is A Gutless, Steroid-Using Punk. I liked that title. The oft-updated site ain't bad either.

* Morgan, in attempting to praise Melky Cabrera, a completely worthwhile pursuit: "The Yankees [before Abreu] were getting a lot of production from Cabrera, from Bubba Crosby . . . they did get a lot out of Bubba, and they owe him a debt, because he did do a lot to help them stay afloat early." Bubba Crosby, 2006: .207, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .258 OBA, designated for assignment Aug. 15. I'm not suggesting he doesn't do his homework, but I suspect Joe wouldn't know Bubba Crosby from David Crosby.

* The basket case known as A-Rod, sweet-swinging Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada leave Giambi and his chemistry set stranded at second, but Schilling's pitch count is piling up.

* Mike Mussina is pitching for the Yankees. Probably should mention that at some point. Not much good usually happens for the Sox when Moose is involved. He mows through Wily Mo Pena, Mirabelli, and Alex Cora in order. (Regarding Mirabelli, that trade keeps getting worse and worse - as you probably read in the papers this morning, Cla Meredith has emerged as a bullpen force for the Padres, having allowed something like 1 run over his last 17 innings. This trade pisses me off so much, I won't even mind when Lobel catches on to this and asks his patented, "What would we do with guys like that?")

* Tarp's on the field. Rain delay. Bonnie Bernstein gives the weather report from the Sox dugout as Papi and Youkilis ham it up in the background. Glad to see they're loose. The Red Sox, I mean. You guys are sick.

* This sucks for the Sox - not only do they have the early lead, but the more this drags on, the less likely it is that Schilling returns to the mound. Fortunately, staff meteorologist John Kruk is live from the ESPN studios to tell us, in between bites of a Nutty Bar, that Schilling will definitely stay in the game no matter how long the delay. Thanks for the wisdom, Krukie. Got any Star Crunches left?

* Fifty-seven minutes later, ESPN returns from a commercial to find Schilling delivering a live pitch to Cabrera. Guess the rain delay is over. The Worldwide Leader, my foot. Anyway, Schilling looks no worse for the delay, breezing through 1-2-3.

* Bonnie chimes in on Mussina's 1-hitter against the Sox back in the Despicable Summer of 2001. Ugh - thanks for the reminder. I've never been more disgusted with the Sox than I was late that season, and that night in particular. No matter how bad this season gets, it won't get that bad. Carl Everett, of course, broke up the perfecto with two outs in the ninth, then acted like himself (insert your own vulgarity) by pumping his fist and acting like he did something noble. I'm glad to see that after Seattle released him a few weeks back, he was left unclaimed. It's about time that jerk's career went the way of the dinosaur.

* Jon Miller still calls a better game than most broadcasters, but he's lost his best fastball. All these years of listening to Morgan remind us that he played for the Reds and misidentifying "cutters" must have broken his spirit. There was a time when Miller was as good as it got, Vin Scully being the lone possible exception. And if you remember the hilarious Strat-O-Matic games that occasionally filled radio time on the Sox broadcasts during the '81 strike, you know exactly what I mean.

* Jeter singles, then Abreu hits a rocket off the wall, but Manny plays the carom flawlessly and holds him to a single. "Manny is very adept at playing the wall," Miller informs us, and I catch myself thinking none of the Fox broadcasters would praise this play or even realize that it is indeed the truth. Morgan resists the urge to mention that George Foster played left field for the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.

* The walking science project . . .

. . . crushes a three-run bomb to right, his 35th of the season. In fairness, the pitch was such a meatball that Jeremy Giambi probably could have hit it. Fortunately, no further damage in the inning, though Schilling has thrown 76 pitches already. Given the flammable state of the Sox 'pen, I imagine he told Tito his max pitch count is somewhere around 250.

* Manny leads off with a sharp single, which means he's now 8 for 11 in this series and 25 for 45 (.556) against the Pinstripes this season. I'm reluctant to jab those who take glee in criticizing his big-moment performance, but dammit, don't the numbers speak for themselves?

* Mussina against Wily Mo. From a baseball standpoint, it's a classic brains-against-brawn matchup. Brains wins this round, though Brawn did work the count full and got a pretty decent pitch to it before popping up to right. All in all, a good at bat for Wily Mo. Small progress.

* Mirabelli flares one to right, scoring Youkilis (single) and tying it at 3-3. Chicken parms all around. Red Sox 3, Yankees 3

* Francona, during the in-dugout interview between innings, after Miller asked him if Jonathan Papelbon would be available for two innings tonight: "Two? I was thinking about four." I almost hope he's not kidding. By the way, have I mentioned that I think he's the best manager the Sox have had in my lifetime? I blame him for none of this.

* Schilling cruises . . . and better yet, Morgan and Miller are speculating that Mussina might be done after the camera catches him seeking out the trainer in the dugout. A break at last?

* Sweet. Mussina is out, Ron Villone is in . . . but wouldn't you know it, the one time those dugout interviews actually might be useful, the audio kicks out during Joe Torre's explanation of what happened. (Something about a tight groin . . . he might have been talking about Jeter and A-Rod's personal chemistry, though Mike Lupica suggests they aren't exactly pals.) Morgan, being an intrepid, Emmy Award-winning journalist and all, shrewdly skips the opportunity to ask a follow-up question on what may be THE crucial development in this game, and instead asks him some ridiculous question about Abreu. M-O-R-O-N.

* Papi. Red Sox lead, 4-3.

* Seriously, do I really need to say anything else at this point? Hell, if you didn't see the home run, you already have the image of it burned into your mind's eye - the quick and mighty rip, the knowing bat flip, the majestic trajectory - having witnessed it all so many times before. And it NEVER gets old. Red Sox 4, Yankees 3

* Abreu, whom I'm really wishing had remained somewhere far away from this rivalry, singles to right. After Giambi, who's sweating so profusely that I can smell him through the TV, strikes out, Abreu rolls over to third on a wild pickoff throw. But Schilling dodges the bullet - A-Rod swallows his tongue before coming through with the requisite infield popup, and Cano pokes a flare over second that Alex Cora hustles to track down. Somewhere, RemDawg takes a drag and yells to the gimp in the basement, "Alex Cora, he does something to help the Sox win every time he's in the game." The gimp squeals in muffled agreement.

* Jeter gets a whiff of Giambi and, being a great captain and all, offers him a sample of "Driven." Giambi says thanks, rubs some on his leg and injects the rest into his left buttock.

* Good lord, Morgan is actually lecturing us that we can't blame the Sox's problems on the Curse anymore. If you think I'm going to spend a single moment of my existence transcribing a blithering idiot's take on a television-driven myth, you've come to the wrong corner of the internet, folks.

* The wet look is definitely working for Bonnie Bernstein. Did I mention my wife went to bed about two hours ago? Hey, at least I'm still wearing pants. Anyway, Sox leave a couple, and we move to the. . .

. . . where Schilling has an easy inning precisely when he needs one, getting two fly balls (including one by the always scary Jorge Posada), then getting a called strike three on Nick Green on his 109th pitch of the evening. When ESPN comes back from commercial, Schilling is wearing his warmup jacket and shaking hands in the dugout - sure looks like his night's work is over. If anyone other than Papelbon comes out for the eighth, Francona should be tarred, feathered, fed to locusts, and dangled from the Monster seats on the spot, my earlier praise be damned.

* Mike Myers in for the Yankees. You already know I believe the Sox should have re-signed the slinging lefty, who did his job well for the Sox. I consider his inexplicable departure one more small mark against Theo, post-World Series.

* Someone is warming up in the Sox 'pen. It's . . . (sniff, sniff . . . do I smell gasoline?) . . . (oh . . . oh, no . . . oh, the humanity!!) . . . Timlin. Good lord . . . NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! (Someone heat up the tar and collect the feathers, I'll put the locusts on alert . . .)

* With runners on first and second and two outs, Scott Proctor comes in for the Yankees. He's the frontrunner for Joe Torre's annual Setup Man I'll Burn To A Blackened Crisp By September award, given the last two years to Tom Gordon and Tanyon Sturtze. (Sturtze, by the way, was Giambi's best pal on the Yankees. Not suggesting anything, of course, particularly in regards to the 5 mph he added to his fastball in his early 30s or the bizarre shoulder injury . . . nope, nothing to see here . . .)

* Suddenly, a chance to break it open. Loretta singles, one out later Manny is intentionally walked, and Youkilis gets the fifth run home with a single. But after a Cano error leaves loads the bases with one out, Wily Mo whiffs (yup, slider down and away) and Mirabelli flies out to Abreu. These are opportunities a struggling team lets slip away.

* "In my day we didn't have bases, we had rocks." That makes me laugh. Damn, it's getting late.

* With Damon, Jeter and Abreu coming up, who's on for the Sox . . . yup, Timlin. WHAT. THE. *$&#*?


* Damon gets an infield single when Loretta shows his Stonehenge range, and Jeter, diving over the plate as usual, gets drilled on the hand. First and second, no one out, and The Other Javier Lopez is coming in to face Abreu. I just punted the cat.

* Lopez gets Abreu 1-2, then walks him. Didn't see that coming. Did I mention that Lopez has walked 6 in 8 2/3 innings this season and just got recalled to the Sox today? Yup, he's just the guy I want in this game.

* Hey, look . . . coming out of the bullpen . . . it's Jonathan Papelbon!!! And he's pitching for the Red Sox!!! Dude, I didn't even know he was still on the team!!!

* (Deep breaths . . . deep breaths) . . . Giambi just crushed a majestic bomb that deflected off the moon, and somehow landed in Gabe Kapler's glove on the right field warning track for a sac fly. (Whew.) That looked very gone off the bat, and it capped a classic power-vs.-power at-bat in which Papelbon touched 98 on the gun and Giambi expertly worked the count in his favor and got his share of healthy hacks. Compelling baseball, that.

* A-Rod walks. God, you've gotta make him swing there, especially with Cano coming up. And if that last sentence isn't an indictment of his status as the reigning MVP, well, nothing is.

* Cano whiffs on a split, the location of which Morgan predicted. I have to admit, Morgan is making a little bit of sense tonight. Then again, I haven't eaten in five hours and the other cat is starting to look like a rotisserie chicken, so I may be slightly delirious.

* Posada whiffs on a nasty splitter, and Papelbon escapes the bases-loaded, no-out jam by allowing a single run. Somewhere, Dick Radatz is smiling. (Of course, Radatz might also say Papelbon is a **#** pansy for pitching just two innings, but that's how it goes.) Red Sox 5, Yankees 4

* Is it overstatement to say the fate of the Sox season depends on what takes place in this half-inning? Probably . . . but at the moment, it sure sounds like the truth to me.

* Cabrera, fast becoming a chronic pain in the ass, leads off with a double to right center, and alertly moves to third when Mirabelli fumbles a splitter. It's hustle like that that earns you coveted postgame fist-pumps from the Captain.

* Bernie Williams, a longtime chronic pain in the ass, whiffs on the next pitch. A good omen? Maybe, but I tend not to believe in such things with Damon and Jeter lurking in the on-deck circle.

* And as I write the words, "Traitor Johnny whiffs," wouldn't you know it, Jeter punches a patented bleepin' bloop single five feet in front of Kapler in right to tie it. When he's in the Hall of Fame someday, it had better say "uncanny knack for dinky clutch hits" somewhere on his plaque. I believe the word here is "demoralizing" . . . but Papelbon needs to suck it up right now, forget that his manager completely botched the eighth inning, and give Papi (and Manny, in the unlikelihood that Papi doesn't smoke a walkoff of Rivera) a chance in the ninth.

* He does, whiffing Abreu. Considering he gave up the tying run, though, maybe the cocky fist-pump coming off the mound wasn't quite so necessary. Red Sox 5, Yankees 5

* Rivera in. Papi up. This is one hell of a game, eh?

* . . . yup, and it just got a little bit better. Papi hits a one-hopper at Giambi, who thoughtfully plays it into a double. (He's got the range and hands of the Venus de Milo.) As Papi plods toward second just ahead of Bernie Williams's water balloon of a throw, for a brief moment it seems time has slowed down.

* Torre didn't achieve this lot in life by being a dummy. He walks Manny. I'm sure Michael Kay is blathering about this being a genius move.

* Youkilis bunts into a fielder's choice at third (hey, you try bunting Rivera's cutter), but Posada obliges the Fenway faithful with a passed ball, moving the runners to second and third after all.

* Pena gets four freebies, loading them for pinch-hitter Eric Hinske. A new Fenway hero in the making? Nope, no chance. Strike, ball, strike, strike, sit. And on the next pitch, Mirabelli predictably leaves 'em loaded, chopping feebly back to Rivera. There will be no chicken parm on this evening after all.

* Hansen in. HGHiambi homers. Gee, didn't see that coming. This one's on you, Tito. The goddamn loyalty to Timlin is the same flaw that convinced you it was a good idea to keep running the likes of Millar and Embree out there last year. If EVER there was a game to use Papelbon for two, this was it - hell, you said so yourself during the game. You're a fine manager, but you had a horrible night exactly when your team could least afford it.

* Cano doubles and Posada hooks a liner around Pesky's Pole (is it me, or has that thing been much more friendly to visitors than the home team this season?) and it's 8-5. To his credit, Hansen looks awfully pissed for someone who grew up in New York. Yankees 8, Red Sox 5

RED SOX 10th
* So, hey, how'd Brady look last night? And Maroney? How about Dillon? Think they're deep enough at linebacker? Whaddaya say, 12-4? 13-3? Man, can't wait for football . . .

* And there it is . . . Papi flies out to right to end it. Remember that symbolism we were looking for way back in the first inning? Looks like we found it here. Not even the man who has rescued them so many times can save this defeated team now.

* * *
(Postscript: Just caught Tito's postgame press conference. Wow, is he a beaten man. He explained all too reasonably that he went to Timlin and Lopez in the eighth because Damon/Jeter/Abreu were "something like a combined 4 for 49 against them." Which is all well and good, except it forgets one crucial factor. The Mike Timlin pitching for the Red Sox right now is a far cry from the steady setup man of the past three seasons. He's 40 years old, might be hurt, is additionally weary because of the WBC, and cannot get the outs now he got in past seasons. This is one instance where past performance MUST be disregarded, because this simply is not the same guy. Tito should have known better.)

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Three completely random baseball cards . . .

. . . just for the hell of it.

Those kick-ass disco sideburns . . . the you-want-fries-with-that? uniforms . . . the fact that it pictures one of the smoothest cats ever to play in the big leagues . . . the joy it gives me to remember that Steinbrenner hated him so blindly that he ended up getting suspended for hiring a creep named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on the slugger he derisively labeled Mr. May . . . yeah, I'd say this Dave Winfield '78 Topps card is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the rare ones on this site that actually belong to me. Got it signed outside the players' parking lot at a Sox-Yanks game in Sept. '82, when I was 12. If I recall correctly, the other two autographs I collected that day were Brian Denman and Bobby Ramos, neither of whom will be joining Winfield in Cooperstown anytime soon. So the dude is forever all right in my book, Robin Givens's mom be damned. And I suppose there is one Yankeeography that I'd actually enjoy watching, though something there's a better chance of Horace Clarke getting a monument than of Steinbrenner greenlighting a fawning bio on his old enemy.

* * *

Anything to bring on a little bit of good mojo tonight, right?

* * *

I was all set to make a "bleepin' icewater" joke here, but then I remembered a segment on Bobby Sprowl from Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders (which I reviewed for the Globe a while back - definitely worth checking out) in which the author disputed a couple of common perceptions about the kid lefty's role in the '78 collapse. It's interesting stuff:

Oddly enough, among all the mistakes Zimmer might have made in 1978, the one for which he’s best remembered — pitching rookie Bobby Sprowl against the Yankees in the fourth game of the “Boston Massacre”— was not a mistake. Or at least it wasn’t Zimmer’s mistake.

As the story goes, when explaining why he’d selected Sprowl to start against the Yankees, he said something like, “The kid’s got ice water in his veins.” [For the record, I remember the quote as "Ice water. Bleepin' icewater."] Sprowl walked four batters in the first inning and got yanked. The Red Sox wound up losing 7-4, their fourth straight loss to the Yankees, which made the two clubs dead even in first place.

But Zimmer didn’t say that Sprowl had ice water in his veins. Not exactly. According to a 1983 Peter Gammons column, Zimmer said, “The minor league people say Bobby Sprowl has ice water in his veins.” That’s a distinction worth making, I think.

Sprowl started three games, but the only one anybody remembers is the start against the Yankees. In his debut, though, he’d turned in a quality start — seven innings, three earned runs—against the Orioles, but the Red Sox lost to Jim Palmer. In his third start, he didn’t pitch particularly well, giving up three runs in five innings, but the Red Sox beat the Tigers on Jerry Remy’s RBI single in the eleventh.

And that was it. Sprowl didn’t pitch again that season, not even in garbage relief. He opened the ’79 season in the minors, and was traded to Houston in June.

Sprowl was an odd choice. The Red Sox’s farm team in Pawtucket had the best pitching in the International League (park effects notwithstanding). Sprowl posted a 4.15 ERA in fifteen games. Meanwhile, the Pawtucket staff included Chuck Rainey (13-7, 2.91), Joel Finch (11-8, 3.18), Burke Suter (11-6, 3.24) and (most interestingly, considering the future) John Tudor (7-4, 3.09). Yet none of these guys pitched at all for the Sox in ‘78.

Pitching Sprowl might have cost the Red Sox the pennant. But 1) he pitched poorly just once, 2) in that game the Red Sox scored only four runs, and 3) either way, it was hardly Don Zimmer’s fault.

Hey, think Tudor might be available to start tomorrow?

(My apologies for the haphazard layout here. Blogger keeps crashing my computer when I try to post photos today.)

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Hey, the post-Massacre Sox DID come back to tie the AL East in '78 . . .

. . . and five other semi-coherent thoughts that aren't so blindly optimistic . . .

1. Nine walks. Nine. I know the Yankees lineup is patient and disciplined, the scourge of any pitcher with the slightest hint of a command problem. Still, how in the hell does a major league pitcher - an accomplished, talented, 26-year-old major league pitcher at that - walk nine hitters in five-plus innings? How, Josh Beckett? How? How do you walk A-Rod - who's strangling the bat so hard these days the damn thing is turning purple - with the bases loaded in a 5-5 game? It's pathetic, inexplicable, and goddamn aggravating. And let me tell you, I'm getting really tired of Beckett's standup guy routine after his scheduled every-fifth-day shellacking these last few weeks; he's starting to remind me of Drew Bledsoe at his worst, when he always accepted fault and yet never seemed to do a damn thing to make sure it didn't happen again. I miss the glowering jerk who yelled at the mountain known as Ryan Howard in spring training and showed no fear; that pitcher took crap from no one. The Beckett I thought the Sox were getting would have brushed back anyone he felt was too comfortable or taking big hacks against his fastball. Where'd the cockiness go? Where'd everything go? Man, I was so convinced that Beckett-to-Boston was the perfect convergence of player and team; well, he somehow has 13 wins, and I can't remember three of them, they seem so long ago. And now he's out there walking nine guys in a must-win game, pulling a Matt Young, regressing further from start to start and pitch to pitch. I'm not giving up hope here - Beckett has too much going for him for this to be permanent. I'm just pissed, and I want to rant. I wouldn't mind if once in a while, he did too.

2. At 1:01 p.m., we're walloped with the requisite Babe-Bucky-Boone opening montage. At 1:09, the fawning interview with the Mary Kay of shortstops commences. At 1:13, the intrepid Jeanne Zelasko tells us it's "shocking" Jeter (most similar statistical comp: Ray Durham) has never won an MVP award. At 1:14, Kevin Kennedy adds a touch of sanity by saying Big Papi is the real MVP and should win . . . and then I remember Kevin Kennedy is wrong about everything not related to mustache grooming or Jose Canseco. At 1:15 p.m., I head to the refrigerator to concoct my new favorite drink, Gin and Drano. My, I do love me some Fox baseball coverage. And to think, the pregame was the highlight of the day.

3. Happy freakin' trails, Rudy Seanez, and hey, how about bringing your whack-job partner-in-arson Tavarez back to the NL with you? Thanks for nothin', and see you in three years, when the Sox inexplicably forget how useless you are on a decent team and bring back your 58-foot curveball and arrow-straight heater for a third time.

4. So how's it going to go with Schilling today? Well, hopefully he restores a little professional pride for this team and uses Pitch No. 1 to knock Johnny Damon on his ass, thereby setting off a catfight between Mrs. Curt and Mrs. Johnny worthy of a lucrative soft-core pay-per-view rematch. Sadly, though, I have a hunch that Schilling's start, like so many others of his recently, will unfold like this: The Sox will scratch out a run or two early and carry a slim lead into the sixth or seventh. Schilling, after looking toward the bullpen and noticing that Mike Timlin is completely engulfed in flames, will stay in the game even though he is clearly gassed after 120 pitches. And . . . thaaaaaa Yankees will find a way to tie it up. We all know what happens after that. Sorry for the pessimism, but I've seen this movie before.

5. On the bright side, Gammons was at Fenway today, and judging by his pregame chat with Joe and Jerry in which he referred to the Yankees as "some of the best people on the planet" and the Red Sox as "some of the best people in the game," he's well on his way to a full recovery. I just hope watching this hideous affront to Red Sox fans and aficionados of a well-played ballgame didn't cause a setback. In all seriousness, it truly was reassuring to hear him sound so well, and typically, he made a thoughtful point about the Red Sox: Everything that they expected to go right has gone wrong, and there's not a whole lot they can do about it at this point.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

What, 10 runs ain't enough for ya, Timlin? . . .

. . . and five other semi-coherent (and rage-fueled) thoughts from the second disaster of the day . . .

1) Man, the Sox bullpen sucks. It's goddamn killing them, and there's not a thing you, me, Theo, Tito, the Eck, or Dick Radatz from beyond the grave can do about it. Craig Hansen, one year removed from the Big Freakin' East, should be honing his stuff at Pawtucket. Mike Timlin '06 looks like a righty version of Alan Embree '05. Rudy Seanez stinks, he pretty much has always stunk, and he never should have been signed. Julian Tavarez is one more player whose lack of mental toughness should have immediately convinced the Sox to cross him off their shopping list. Even Jonathan Papelbon, god bless him, looks weary, and I'm fairly sure prodigal savior Keith Foulke's last effective pitch came that magical October two years ago. There's no shame in getting bounced around by the Yankees - their lineup, even when it isn't entirely healthy, is a fearsome beast from top to bottom. But someone needs to be accountable for failing to put together a bullpen capable of coming through at least once in a while. (Tell me, again, why there was no place for Mike Myers on this team.) Right now, with this collection of meatball artists and arsonists, it's a miracle they're only 3 1/2 back.

2) The notion that Derek Jeter is a legitimate candidate for MVP of the American League is of course ridiculous, given the talent that surrounds (and outproduces) him. But man, did he ever outshine Big Papi tonight. Jeter's three-run go-ahead double in the seventh inning was vintage Jeter: he fouled off a couple biting fastballs, got the pitch he wanted, and whacked it with his patented inside-out cricket swing toward the Wily Mo Pena defensive circus in right. This time, the patented fist-pump-and-smirk combo was entirely justified, and the grapefruity scent of "Driven" filled the air at Fenway. Sometimes, my friends, you have to give the devil his due.

3) It can't tell if Jon Lester can't throw strikes or is afraid to throw strikes, but I'm sure as hell leaning toward the latter. Listen, kid: Throw. Thefrigginball. Over. The. Plate.

4) Remember my proclamation - oh, when was it, two days ago? - that I wasn't going to gripe about Coco Crisp anymore? Bleep that. The difference between Coco and Johnny Damon might ultimately be the difference between the Sox and Yankees in the AL East. I'm a Theo apologist - a task that is becoming harder and harder as I ponder all the Clements, Renterias and Seanezes that he's tortured us with - but even he cannot deny, at least on this day, that the Red Sox really screwed up by allowing Damon to defect.

5) The admirable Alex Cora had a fine night. So did Manny and Mark Loretta. And the Jimmy Fund collected over $2 million, with the pledges still coming in during the late hours. So what say we just end today's debacle on a positive note, and I'll be back at ya again today . . .

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Thanks for nothin', Jason Johnson . . .

. . . and five other semi-coherent thoughts from the first of five . . .

1) Well, that went about according to plan. Johnson pitched adequately enough for man who really doesn't belong on a big-league mound anymore, the Sox bullpen was predictably atrocious in his stead, and Chien-Ming Wang (who reminds me of D-Lowe without the issues; he's actually an underrated Yankee) weaseled his way out of trouble time and again. The Yankees had a tremendous pitching advantage in this game, and it would have been a true coup for the Sox to steal it. They didn't. We move on. Get 'em in Game 2. (Doesn't it freak you out when I'm all reasonable in the face of disaster? For the record, I was convinced a decent fire extinguisher would have limited the Hindenburg to minor smoke damage.)

2) Sure, his silly error opened the late-inning floodgates, but I have no problem reiterating this belief regarding Mike Lowell: With the bases loaded, two outs, and the Sox hanging on by a run in Game 7 of the World Series, there is no player in recent history I'd rather see have the ball hit his way . . . with the possible exception of the guy to his left, of course.

3) Got this email from a former Monitor colleague before Eric Hinske's three-double debut. I thought the deal was a shrewd one, but I didn't quite realize how useful Hinske might be until reading this:

I was amazed at the underwhelming response (regarding this trade) this morning. Doesn't anyone know that this guy's GOOD. Hinske's slugging and OPS numbers are both among the top 35 in the American League (200-plus at bats). The only Red Sox ahead of him are three fellows named Ortiz, Ramirez, and Wily Mo. And Hinske's power numbers are better than Abreu's, and Hinske has more homers than Abreu in 2006 -- in half the at bats!). And that's not even considering the fact that this guy kills Yankee pitchers not named Mussina. (Guess who now is the current Red Sox player with the best lifetime average against that skinny reliever who wears #42.) Since Hinske plays four positions, he can give he can give Youk, Lowell, Wily Mo, Coco (Wily Mo would move to center) and maybe even Manny a break once a week without hurting the offense. Thank you J.P. Ricciardi. (And thank you for picking up half the Hinske tab for 2007.)

One game in, gotta say I agree with every word.

4) Say what you will about the 'EEI radio hosts straining themselves to pat each other on the back, but no one can dispute the Jimmy Fund is the worthiest of causes, and so I will give Ordway and the rest a tip of the cap for all they do on this noble day. Even a black-hearted cynic like me finds his allergies acting up when hearing the stories of some of these uncommonly courageous children, and as a dad myself, it saddens me to even imagine the heartbreak these kids' parents must feel. Of course, it can be rather humorous to hear Joe and Jerry attempt to interview a child during his or her visit to the radio broadcast booth. Castiglione seems at a loss without being able to read the kid's career stats out of a media guide, while Trupiano never fails to remind me of Peter Graves in Airplane when the kid visits the cockpit: "So, Joey, do you like gladiator movies? . . . ever seen a grown man naked? . . . wouldn't you say Albert Pujols is ruggedly handsome, even chiseled? . . . "

5) You know it's a big game when NESN hauls Jack Welch out of his million-threadcount mothballs for the occasion. Oh, sure, he may look like the two grumpy coots in the balcony on the Muppets, but trust me and Tom Werner, inside that shriveled noggin, he's got the baseball insight of Gammons multiplied by the Eck. I mean, why else would NESN have him on? I'll say this much in seriousness: He's better be forking over at least a million bucks to the Jimmy Fund for the privilege of pretending he's a diehard/expert on a day like today.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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, 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?

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Friday, August 11, 2006

The book on Alex Michael Finn

Called up to the world: 8:01 a.m., Friday, Aug. 11, 2006.

Key statistics: 7 pounds, 5 ounces; 19 inches long.

Scouting report: Bright blue eyes, light brown hair, just like his mom . . . content to eat, sleep and wear a diaper, just like his dad . . . prefers to leave the crying to the babies of Yankee fans . . . big sister Leah is already smitten . . . pretty much assuredly will be forced to throw and bat left . . . eligible for MLB draft in June, 2024 . . . Sox are unbeaten in his lifetime and surely will remain so . . . most certainly is not named after Alex Rodriguez.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Royal pain

That's not "Cops" guest star Maurice Clarett. That's me after tonight's Red Sox debacle. Cripes, talk about feeling bleepin' maced and tasered.

Now, I think most of you TATB regulars would agree that I'm usually pretty clear-headed, even optimistic, about the Sox. But right now . . . well, it's 3:23 a.m., they've lost two walnut-crushers to the Triple-A Royals in a row, my commute home from work took a Big Dig-inspired detour through freakin' New Jersey, and I'm feeling pretty damn irrational at the moment.

No, I definitely am not in the mood to attempt to soberly and coherently answer any questions about this slumping and slumbering team. Instead, I'm going to ask a few of my own for once:

• Why did Joey Gathright, a martial arts black belt and all-around ass-kicker if he so chooses, have to prove a peaceful warrior and not beat the living hell out of Julian Tavarez when the lunatic Sox reliever sucker-punched him in spring training? Can you imagine the pain we as Sox fans would have been spared had Gathright unleashed the pain on Tavarez when he had the chance?

• Why are hitters as pedestrian as Esteban Friggin' German suddenly teeing off on Jonathan Papelbon's fastball? Has he lost velocity? Did he borrow Beckett's? Is he tiring? Or are his recent semi-struggles (the kid's ERA still is under 1.00, after all) merely a hiccup in the long season rather than an alarming trend?

• We all know Joe Castiglione sounds like his family pet died when the Sox lose ("PAHHH-ped him up . . . this'll do it . . . sigh"). So after four agonizing defeats in a row, might he be distraught enough to shove the increasingly insufferable Jerry Trupiano out of the booth? Will Uncle Joe finally snap tonight, when Troop obliviously tries to regale us with his all-royalty team in the ninth inning of a tense one-run game? ("You'd have to have Jeff King, of course . . . heh-heh . . . and Mel Queen would be the pitching coach . . . guffaw . . .")

• Has Javy Lopez ever caught in the major leagues before? Really? More than 1,300 games? Huh. Are you sure it's the same Javy Lopez? For sure? Because this guy looks like he's trying to catch the ball with a boxing glove.

• How come Josh Beckett couldn't go seven? Or even eight? Doesn't Tito know his bullpen is engulfed in flames?

• Could Mike Lowell have picked a worse time to revert to his feeble 2005 Marlins form? And will he come out of it, or was the first-half rejuvenation really a mirage?

• Why would anyone ever give Papi anything to hit in any situation? Just walk him, deal with Manny, breeze through the other seven duds, and there you have a recipe for shutting down the Sox these days, no?

• I know Coco Crisp is the fastest member of Red Sox Nation ("Dad!"), but how come no one told me he'd appear to be the most indifferent too? And why the hell is he playing so shallow in the ninth-inning of a one-run game?

• How the hell are they going to fix this 'pen before the winter? How? And I know relief pitching is a crapshoot, but is Theo ever going to build a deep bullpen?

All right, that's it for now. Feel free to rant in the comments or attempt to talk me off the ledge or whatever. I'm going to bed before I get the urge to kill a drifter or a middle reliever or something . . .

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Five random 1977 Topps baseball cards

Very special all-time great quotes edition . . .

"We've got a problem here. Luis Tiant wants to use the bathroom but it says no foreign objects in the toilet." - GRAIG NETTLES

"(Garry Maddox) has turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he's miserable and depressed." - HARRY KALAS, Phillies announcer.

"If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out." - GEORGE BRETT

"He's so ugly, when you walked by him, your pants wrinkle. He made fly balls curve foul." - MICKEY RIVERS, on former major leaguer Danny Napoleon's looks.

"The more self-centered and egotistical a guy is, the better ballplayer he's going to be. You take a team with twenty-five ---holes and I'll show you a pennant. I'll show you the New York Yankees." - BILL LEE

(A tip of the ballcap to Baseball World, and for helping us find these. Also, more hilarious Mickey Rivers quotes can be found here.)

(Oh, and one more thing: The Sox stink, huh?)

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Heating up some leftovers . . .

• Got quite a few emails along these lines today: You really think the Sox are making the playoffs, or are you just being positive to counter the Ordways of the world? Honestly, yes, I do believe the Sox will make the playoffs, though the wild card seems more likely now that the Yankees have finished collecting the entire 2003 Topps All-Star team in pinstripes. In wallowing in the Sox' problems, we tend to forget that competition has plenty of flaws too. The White Sox seem to have lost a little of their special karma from last year, Jim Thome has nagging injuries, just about all of their talented starting pitchers are curiously underachieving, and David Riske is prominently involved in their bullpen, which as we know firsthand is never a good thing. And the Twins? They are more pretender than contender if Francisco Liriano is indeed ailing, and it sure looked that way last night. I'm not denying that we should have concerns about the Red Sox. The pitching is obviously a disaster zone at the moment, and the Lorettas and Lowells need to prove they have the crunch-time character of the Damons and Muellers. And the limp and limping offense at the moment is all too reminiscent of the stretch run last season, when it consisted of Manny, Papi, and seven slumbering mediocrities. I do think it's temporary this year, though. Kevin Youkilis is stinging the ball again, Coco Crisp is hitting at a .364 clip over his last 14 games, and Wily Mo Pena will have his monstrous moments. I know they're not permitted for long around here, but slumps happen, to good players and good teams. They're going to be fine.

• I never thought I'd be glad Ken Huckaby cleared waivers, Corky Miller (1 for his last 50-something) is the worst so-called major-league player I can recall seeing seen since Marc Sullivan was doing his nepotism thing 20 years ago. I've seen bleepfaced guys in the batting cages at Funtown with better swings.

• Funny how those yowling that the Sox should have done something, anything at the trade deadline never seem to tell us exactly what they should have done or who they should have acquired. It's the first rule of being a bleep-stirring banshee: Never let reality, facts or common sense get in the way of a good whine.

• Yes, I'd still rather have David Wells than Cory Lidle. You will too.

• Peter King regressed into self-parody several trips to Starbucks ago, but he officially lost me as a loyalist of his once-great Monday Morning Quarterback column today with this staggeringly ignorant comment:

I honestly think Jason Varitek is a bigger loss to the Red Sox than Manny Ramirez would be.

Ri-damn-diculous. And this from an alleged Sox fan - albeit one who recently claimed Derek Jeter is the best player he will ever see. I bet the fool wears a pink hat to Fenway. What say we stick to fawning over Brett Favre and leave the baseball writing to grownups like Verducci, okay, Mochachino Boy?

Jump throw . . . fist pump . . . calm eyes . . . intangibles . . . grapefruit. Yup, glad to see we're not the only ones making sport of Captain Jetes. And somewhere, Peter King is fist-pumping a scone down his gullet.

• I have to admit, I always perceived Omar Minaya to be just shy of incompetent, based on the mocking he absorbed in "Moneyball" as well as the reports during his time in Montreal that he didn't want to deal with the Sox because he thought Theo hadn't paid his dues. But he's done a hell of a job with the Mets, particularly in comparison to predecessors Jim Duquette and the laughable Steve Phillips, and he deserves tremendous credit for having the foresight to lock up budding superstars David Wright and Jose Reyes long term. Those deals might be considered no-brainers, but if I recall correctly, Phillips said on "Baseball Tonight" prior to the start of the season that the Mets should deal Reyes while he had value. Yeah, thanks for the tip there, Branch Rickey. At the least, Minaya seems blessed with common sense, which puts him several strides ahead of more than few of his peers.

• Not to prematurely switch seasons here, but damn, it puts a bounce in my step seeing Rodney Harrison on the football field again.

• T-minus four days and counting until the arrival of your favorite semi-loyal blogger's second child. For reasons both logical and sentimental, Ortiz "Little Papi" Finn is daddy's preferred name choice (boy or girl), but for some reason mom hasn't quite been convinced yet. Maybe a walk-off or two this week will do the trick.

• As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Heard somewhere tonight that Eck coined the phrase "walk-off home run." I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, especially considering he might have given up the most famous walk-off of all.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

They're a sinking ship! Get it? See the picture? It's a metaphor! The Sox are a sinking ship!!! It's sinking!!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!! (Glug-glug-glug . . .)

Sorry for that outburst there, folks. (Deep breath.) Seems the jackals are already getting to me. I turn on Sports Final tonight, and there's ol' Lobel declaring in all his orange day-glo smugness that tonight's 7-6 loss to the Devil Rays was the most "devastating loss of the season, by far." Naturally, his precious Panic Button, a gimmick about as funny as Lenny Clarke, is visible over his left shoulder. I can't believe he didn't play a clip from the "Titanic" while he was at it. He must be slipping.

It's funny, I used to wonder what certain TV/radio types would do with themselves after the Sox won a World Series and the fanbase achieved a new level of contentment. Well, now I know. They pretend nothing has changed - and if Sox fans aren't miserable, well dammit, they're going to do their best to make us so. Please, remind me to avoid 'EEI today on my commute. I can hear the Big Show bloviating already.

Now, I'm not denying that tonight's loss stinks and sucks, and if not for the foibles of Fausto Carmona and the otherworldly heroics of David Ortiz, we'd likely be sweating out a legitimate slide here. But a quick glance at the standings tells us the Sox are 20 games over .500, two back of the Yankees, a half-game out in the wild card. In other words, right where we expected them to be back in Ft. Myers. Don't you know this is how it happens every damn year? The Sox lead the AL East through much of the summer, the Yankees take it back late, and then all important matters are settled in the postseason.

Only then will we get our answers. For now, some questions . . .

• What the $*$& is up with the bullpen? Seriously, dude, what the #*$*&@*#*?

Here's my solution: Julian Tavarez needs to get himself gone, immediately. He's the human black cloud - every time he comes into a game, some atrocity happens, even if he's pitching adequately. Send him back to St. Louis, or Elm Street, or wherever he came from, and get his wretched karma away from this ballclub, before he accidentally pokes out Big Papi's eye during a walkoff celebration or something. As far as the rest of them? They all have their flaws. Mike Timlin is 40 and meatball-prone, Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen are feeling the growing pains, and Rudy Seanez never should have been offered a contract (though he has pitched well lately). Even Jonathan Papelbon has been human lately, blowing four saves in the last month and a half, and yes, I feel like a leech for even mentioning that. Listen, there isn't a bullpen in the big leagues that isn't having issues of some sort. There's enough to work with here that I believe they'll get it right, despite Al Nipper's involvement.

• Why is Josh Beckett on the cover of ESPN Magazine this week?

Because their in-depth feature on gritty, gutty Matt Clement fell through? Seriously, the timing of this is more than a little curious - does that rag publish three months in advance or something? Even an unabashed Beckett fan - quit staring at me! - has to concede that his first season in Boston has fallen somewhere between enigmatic and disappointing. The consensus opinion is that he'd become an elite starter if he'd just knock off the macho Nuke LaLoosh b.s., stop trying to throw his fastball at 110 miles per hour, and actually pitch a little when he gets into trouble. It makes sense. But it also strikes me as too obvious, too convenient. This mule can't be that stubborn . . . can he? You'd think after giving up 31 homers - one more than Manny has hit, for perspective - and watching his ERA teeter around the 5.00 mark, Beckett would have been open to adjustments long ago. Yet there he was, serving up straight 96 mph fastball after straight 96 mph fastball in his sixth-inning meltdown against Cleveland the other night, and I know I'm not the only one who noticed that neither Terry Francona nor Nipper visited the mound until the Indians had strung together seven straight hits. I almost wondered if he was left out there to learn a lesson. Then again, he doesn't seem to have learned any so far. The reasons for his bizarre, practically bipolar pitching performances remain a mystery.

• Can we use the injuries as an excuse?

Nah, we'll leave that to the Yankees, who somehow have convinced every teleprompter-reading nitwit from Bristol, Conn., to happy-happy joy-joy McCarverland that their ability to hang around in the AL East despite losing Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui is a wonderful tale of overcoming adversity. Give me a bleeping break. The Yankees have a payroll of approximately $280,987,992.83, and that's not including what they shell out for A-Rod's psychologists, Jeter's cosmotologists, and Giambi's chemists. I know Yankee fans have the curious desire to be both favorites and underdogs, but even they must admit that being able to purchase a Bobby Abreu for fistful of not-so-magic beans is a massive advantage that only they and their accountants hold. You have overcome nothing, okay? If you're looking for sympathy for the devil, obviously you've come to the wrong place. Maybe you'll prefer how the brilliant dudes at Fire Joe Morgan put it:

I am the 2006 New York Yankees! Here is my line-up:

CF Johnny Damon. $13 million.
SS Derek Jeter. $19 million.
1B Jason Giambi. $18 million.
DH Gary Sheffield. $13 million.
RF Bobby Abreu. $13 million.
3B Alex Rodriguez. $25 million.
LF Hideki Matsui. $13 million.
C Jorge Posada. $9 million
2B Robinson Cano. $381 thousand.

(Total for starting nine position players: $123 million. More than the Red Sox' 25 man-roster.)

How is this relevant? Well, when you have a lineup of players worth $123 million, and you lose $26 million worth of player, you still have a pretty (expletive) good lineup. The crazy patchwork lineups the Yankees have been trotting out there, full of (I'm not the good) M. Cabreras, A. Guiels, (the wrong) B. Crosbys, and A. Phillipses, are still anchored by the very expensive Misters Jeter, Rodriguez and Giambi, to say nothing of the fairly expensive Senors Damon and Posada. Spare me the what-a-goddamn-hero-Joe-Torre-is routine. The lineup at the beginning of the year was lethal -- a mockery of the game of baseball, in fact. No "winning culture" accounted for its ability to withstand the loss of two of its better hitters -- and not, I might add, its two best.

Have I mentioned that I love those guys? They make me so happy . . . I am the McCarver to their Jete-Jete. Hey, do you think they'll come out with an FJM cologne? (Ahem.) Um, anyway . . . about the Sox injuries. No, they are not an excuse. David Wells and Keith Foulke are back, Clement was ready to bury himself in a hole on the mound, Tim Wakefield apparently will return sooner rather than later, and Wily Mo Pena may well prove an upgrade on the powerless Trot Nixon. And while Jason Varitek's knee injury is the most painful blow, it's not quite as painful as it would be if he had hit with any authority over the past year, and I have to admit I catch myself wondering why so many pitchers underachieve on his watch. I don't mean to diminish his importance - even if the Captain Dirt Dog stuff is overstated, he obviously means a lot to the Sox for a myriad of reasons. But if Javy Lopez has any fuel left in the tank - a big if so far, admittedly - the Sox will survive until he returns.

• Who's driven?

Why, Jetes is! Also, he smells like grapefruit.

• What happened to the cute little birdy who captured the Fenway Faithful's hearts as he attempted to teach Doug Mirabelli how to take a secondary lead?

Ate him. (Burrrrp . . . dee-licious!) Actually, rumor has it that one of his predatory enemies did him in the day after his moment in the sun. But no worries - you'll be able to buy an autographed copy of his carcass on Remy's website any day now, and for the low, low price of $29.95.

• Should Theo have done something - hell, anything - at the trade deadline?

A trustworthy middle reliever would have been swell, but I'm beginning to wonder if those exist anymore. Other than that, I don't know what the Sox were supposed to do, especially given the rampant mediocrity that made up this year's market. To put it another way, I'd rather gamble that Wells has something left to give rather than take on someone like Jon Lieber. Heck, I'd rather take my chances with Foulke than acquire another journeyman from the Tavarez/Seanez assembly line. As for what they almost did, well, I give zero credence to the Clemens rumors - I suspect that was just the Hendricks brothers being the Hendricks brothers. (Jimi and Elrod, I believe Leigh Montville once called them.) I was opposed to the Lester-Hanson-Crisp for Andruw Jones swap . . . at least until word came that the Sox would then wheel Jones to Houston for two-time 20-game winner Roy Oswalt. Now that would have been an intriguing move. Oswalt has been the unsung ace in baseball the last few seasons, but he reminds me, in stuff and fragility, of Tim Hudson, and I'm not sure that bodes well for his future. Ultimately, I talked myself into believing I was glad the deal fell through . . . but give me, oh, six beers and I might change my mind. (Come to think of it, that's the exact philosophy that caused more than few awkward moments at UMaine back in the day.) I do know this much: as all the rumors flew, I dearly missed having Gammons around to help sort the fact from the fiction.

• How's it gonna be?

Man, you know times are desperate when I'm quoting Third-Eye Blind song titles - we usually leave that pop-hipster '90s nonsense to Bronson Arroyo around here. So let's just put this as plainly as possible: The. Sox. Will. Be. Fine. As long as Papi and Manny keep doing their modern-day Ruth and Gehrig routine, offense will not be an issue, and Schilling and Papelbon give them the top-of-the-rotation ace and door-slamming closer they lacked last year when, by the way, they made the playoffs for the third straight season. I remain convinced they'll make it four, and you can insert your own semi-charmed life reference here.

* * *
As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

No, dear, he's no relation to Big Papi.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eau de Intangibles

Yeah, like I was going to let this pass.

In case you missed it (and a tip of the ballcap to the dozen or so readers who sent this along), here's a snippet from the AP story that answers the question America has long been asking: If you could smell smugness, what would it smell like? Well, here it is, at long last - the sweet scent of Jete-Jete:

"I have been very involved with creating this fragrance -- everything from the blend of scents to the design of the bottle and logo," Jeter said in the news release. " . . . I wanted to make sure the final product was something men would like to wear - and that women and A-Rod would want them to wear. "

The fragrance is a blend of chilled grapefruit, clean oak moss, spice, and Ken Huckaby's cold blood.

Oh, all right . . . I made up that Huckaby part.

(But it could be true . . .)

And Jeter may not have mentioned A-Rod in that last quote there.

(But he should have . . . )

Anyway, a few more rumors and observations that may or may not be entirely accurate:

* Jeter came up with this because he just couldn't take the stench anymore - he had to do something to make Yankees fans smell better.

* A-Rod doesn't care how pretty it smells, he's still Jean Nate man.

* Giambi wants to try it out, but he's waiting for it to come out in an injectible form.

* Poor Joe Buck. You just know McCarver is going to bathe in this stuff.

* Early test samples singed the forest of hair in Joe Torre's nose. Firefighters from three boroughs were required to douse the flames.

* Even when it stinks on occasion, Yankees fans will refuse to acknowledge as much.

* Jeter originally wanted to name it after his uniform number, but quickly realized "No. 2" isn't a very good name for a fragrance.

* Cory Lidle digs it so much, he uses it as an ice cream topping.

* And finally, from reader Kevin B.: "Am I wrong in assuming it comes with a patented fist-pump dispenser?"

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