Monday, October 30, 2006

TATB Live: Patriots at Vikings

Cue the over-the-top Brent Musburger intro:

You're looking live at TATB Headquarters, in the city of lights, Wells, Me., where within this pasty-white, sleep-deprived blogger beats the heart of a champion . . . !

Can you tell I spent the brunt of the afternoon watching '80s Celtics highlights on ESPN Classic? Anyway, I'm here, couch-bound and ready to roll. I'm stocked with Gritty's Halloween Ale and Triscuits, the infant and toddler beasts are snoozing, and I'm pretty sure my wife packed up the cats and left me an hour ago. Either that or she's in the kitchen making snacks.

Against all odds, we've even picked up on a few relevant tidbits during the pregame show:

• Brad Johnson has a higher winning percentage than Troy Aikman and Phil Simms, yet he's the oldest and lowest-paid starting quarterback in the league. In other words, he might be the best journeyman in recent league history.

• Glad to see Gerald McRaney of "Major Dad" fame is getting work again, even if it is under the pseudonym "Brad Childress."

• Michael Irvin wouldn't pick the Patriots to beat the Maine ThunderThighs of N.E. Women's Prison Football League. Tiki was right about him, but we already knew that, didn't we?

• Bill Belichick has cut off the sleeves on his hoodie tonight. He looks ridiculous, like a middle-aged woman heading off to Curves for her afternoon 1/2-mile walk on the treadmill.

• Tonight is the one-year anniversary of Tedy Bruschi's comeback from a stroke. To commemorate the moment, ESPN ran the heartwarming story of Bruschi's meeting with a young Patriots fan with heart problems. It's about the 54th time in the last six months they've shown this. Another 54 viewings or so and maybe then it won't put a lump in my throat.

You betcha I'm ready for some football, Paris! Let's go, you dirty . . .

Damn, it's loud in the Metrodome - reminds me of the Homer Hanky days during the Twins' '87 World Series run. Hey, is that Les Straker?

. . . well, it's not quite so loud now, is it? Brady goes 6 for 6, the key play being a 46-yard strike to the ever-improving Doug Gabriel on 3rd and 10 deep in Minnesota territory, and a nice grab by Reche Caldwell and his giant freakin' eyes gives the Pats a 7-0. Now that's how you shut 'em up.

Bethel Johnson returns the kickoff for the Vikings to the 31. What are the odds Ol' Million-Dollar Legs, Ten-Cent Head showed up at the Metrodome yesterday morning expecting to have a game?

East Boston's own Jermaine Wiggins with a plodding 10-yard reception on Johnson's first throw. I'm having Snow Bowl flashbacks. And I like it.

Minnesota advances to the Pats 40, where Junior Seau makes a big hit on 2d and 11, and Tully Banta-Cain thwarts the drive on 3rd and 11, forcing a punt. I'm enjoying the Seau rejuvenation (he's leading the team in tackles, if I'm not mistaken), but he does always let you know he made the tackle, doesn't he?

Third and 4 from the Minnesota 16, Brady rolls out under pressure and throws deep down the right sideline to Benjamin Watson, who loses a jump ball to the ageless Darren Sharper. I'd say it's inexcusable, particularly since Watson dropped a pass on previously play (is it too soon to call him "enigmatic Ben Watson" yet?), but Sharper has been making interceptions just like this one for a decade now. Just an excellent player, maybe even a Hall of Famer.

Johnson throws a deep helium balloon to Bethel, who runs the only play he knows: "Run, Bethel, Run!" Three Patriots are there to bust it up. Geez, it's not like they expected him to cut or anything.

Rosey Colvin clobbers Johnson on 3rd and 8, but he dumps the ball off to Tony Richardson (the longtime Chief dating back to the Ed Podolak era, I believe), and Richardson tiptoes his way to a first down at the New England 16. It's gettin' loud again.

Chester Taylor runs a lot tougher than you'd expect someone named Chester Taylor to run. First and goal, Vikings.

I forgot to check during the pregame - is Seymour out? Dammit, where's Mike Reiss when I need him. (Big Sey is dressed, but not starting, Joe Theismann dutifully informs me. Thanks, Joe. Hey, do you think his LT-altered leg aches on rainy days?)

Johnson throws an eephus pitch into Rodney Harrison's bread basket, and the Pats take over at the 2. The interception was so bad, Drew Bledsoe is sitting on his couch right now making fun of him.

Brady has all day to throw, and his accuracy is as sharp as it as been all season. He's already hit Gabriel four times, and he just connected with Watson on a 40-yarder down the right seam with a perfect throw.

Screen pass to Maroney, who does his Tazmanian Devil thing and gains another 15 yards. He might be my favorite Patriots rookie since Curtis Martin . . . and he might be better. Seriously.

The Patriots offense is just eviscerating the Vikings right now - this time it's Dillon banging his way up to the Minnesota 6. It's like Charlie Weis is calling the plays . . .

. . . and of course, being the jinx that I am, while I'm spell-checking "eviscerate," the drive stalls. Gostkowski delivers the 3, though, and it's 10-0, Pats.

How's this for a Man Law, Burt? Anyone who looks like he borrowed Kenny Rogers's face lift should not be setting policy for other dudes.

Well, it's starting to look like Belichick and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have Johnson solved - he just threw another terrible interception, this time to Chad Scott on a badly underthrown pass. I suspect they're going to force him to throw deep . . . and it sure looks like he can't, and probably couldn't when he was backing up Casey Weldon at Florida St. Pats take over at the Minnesota 40.

Dean Pees? Why, of course he does. (Sorry.)

Nothing doing on this Pats drive. Get Brady gone! He's killing them! Bring back Michael Bishop! Vikings take over at the Pats 20 after a punt, and the Vikings promptly go three and out. Are you on the edge of your seat?

Theismann: "I always thought Dan Marino was the master of sliding around in the pocket and avoiding pressure. Tom Brady does the same thing, and it is remarkable how he remains so composed under pressure." See, sometimes even a blind squirrel with a snapped tibia finds a nut.

Third down and 10 at the New England 23. Brady hits Reche Caldwell on the old receiver screen that Deion Branch ran so well. Matt Light absolutely blows up a Vikings linebacker, and Caldwell manages to keep his eyes in his sockets long enough to sprint all the way to the Vikings 40. Just a perfectly executed play. Are we sure Weis isn't in the house?

Finally, a Fred Smoot sighting. He's like Snoop Dogg multiplied by Captain Stubing.

During the pregame, ESPN showed some NFL Films footage of a miked-up Belichick. At one point, we hear him admonishing Watson to catch the ball with his hands, not his pads. Tonight, two passes have doinked off Big Ben's hands, including one just now at the Minnesota 10. Might be time to go back to trapping it against the body, big guy.

Brady has completed passes to eight different receivers tonight, and the much-maligned wideouts have a total of 148 yards with 2 minutes remaining in the half. I know I say this all the time, but I cannot wait to see how well this offense is clicking late in the season.

Brady, under pressure from both sides, throws a sinker to Watson, who catches it with his hands and rumbles into the end zone, capping an 11-play, 74-yard drive. It's 17-0, Pats, and the way this one is going, we can look forward to a fourth-quarter of forced banter between Theismann, Kornheiser, and Mike "Dorf on Sportscasting" Tirico. It's the price we pay for a Pats blowout, and I'll gladly take it.

Suzy Kolber just told us that Brady, "Is not as commercialized as some other quarterbacks." Meanwhile, Peyton Manning hurriedly issues a press release announcing he's now endorsing every cereal but Wheaties.

So far, the Vikings look like they still think they're playing for Mike Tice.

It's halftime, peeps, and if you think I'm watching Chris Berman's "Longest Three Minutes in Sports," you're sadly mistaken. Go have a Schlitz and a pierogie or something.

Okay, we're back . . . and so are the same old Vikings, who plod to midfield before again being forced to punt. (The Run, Bethel, Run! play is not working the way Major Dad Childress drew it up. Shocker.)

One thing I forgot to mention during the first half: When Rodney Harrison introduced the Patriots defense on the telecast, he didn't mention a single player by name. Funny thing is, he wasn't even here during the first Super Bowl, when the Pats made selflessness cool again.

Okay, so maybe this one's not over. Mewelde Moore takes a punt down the right sideline, dodging at least four would-be tacklers and making Josh Miller look like a dorky punter along the way, and suddenly it's 17-7, Patriots. If Brad Johnson had shown any sign of being able to solve the Patriots' defense, I might be mildly concerned . . .

. . . but I'm not, thanks to Maroney, who returns the Vikings kickoff all the way to the Minnesota 20. If Dave Thomas (the tight end, not the Wendy's founder) hadn't gotten in his way while trying to block the kicker, he'd have gone the distance. Have I mentioned that Maroney brings great joy into my life?

Brady. Troy Brown. Touchdown. That's how you answer, sports fans. Vintage - VINTAGE - Patriots football. It's 24-7, Pats, and it's so quiet in the Metrodome, you can hear Bryant McKinnie wheezing.

Brady is 20 of 30 for 278 yards, with 3 TDs and a pick, and let me say right now that the numbers don't do his performance justice. This is far and away as well as he has played this season (though he was pretty damn good last week, too), and I'm glad to report to the 'EEI mouthbreathers that his body language is also excellent.

The Vikings stall again, Johnson's pass being batted down on 4th and 3 at the New England 40. How soon before Matt Cassel is warming up in the bullpen?

Hey, just saw that Belichick's kid got busted for weed. Think when his father confronted him about it after picking him up at the police station, he replied, "It is what it is, dad"?

Have the Patriots run tonight? Seriously, I think I remember one Dillon carry, and that's it.

Caldwell catches a receiver screen at the Minnesota 10 and is promptly stripped by Smoot - terrifying words to countless women in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Hey, a Chad Jackson sighting. Did you know he graduated from Hoover High in Alabama, the school featured on the MTV show "Two-A-Days"? I wonder if he had the same ridiculous-looking comb-down hairdo as the rest of those Hoover kids. (And as I'm writing this, Jackson becomes the fourth different Pats receiver to catch a TD tonight, catching a bullet at the Minnesota 5 and scrambling into the end zone. Nice play, rook. It's 31-7, Patriots, and I say bring on the Colts.)

The first play of the quarter sums up Brad Johnson's night perfectly: He drops back to pass. He looks deep, only to realize Bethel Johnson is off chasing a tennis ball somewhere. He looks short. Everyone is blanketed. He looks up, just in time to dodge Colvin . . . but another Patriot buries him. In desperation, he throws a pass toward Taylor in the flat. It hits Mike Vrabel right between the 5 and the 0 on his jersey. Interception. Again. Maybe he should be the lowest-paid starter in the league after all.

Robert Kraft. Blue shirt. White collar. Sartorial splendor!

All right. here's the deal. When the Pats pull Brady, I'm pulling the plug on this baby. It's winnin' time for the Pats, and sleepin' time for me.

Twenty-four point lead, nine minutes left . . . and Brady's still in, and he's still throwing. Either Belichick wants the QB and his receivers to get in as much in-game work as possible, or he's trying to teach Childress a lesson for so obviously tweaking him by listing 20-something players on the injury report this week. I suspect the latter.

Heath Evans nearly breaks one . . . but Smoot comes in from behind and pokes out the ball. I'm not even going to attempt a joke here.

Fourth and 5. Brady drops back to pass, gets swarmed, and fumbles. It's unnecessary, and it's also a sign. Get him the hell out, before the catastrophic becomes reality.

And in an item completely unrelated to the last, the line has done a terrific job tonight against the Vikings' vaunted front seven, particularly considering Stephen Neal and Russ Hochstein didn't play. Belichick and Dante Scarnecchia really know the secret to piecing together a cohesive line.

Cassel's in . . . and I'm outta here, but not without a quick summary of the night: Brady (29 of 43, 372 yards, 4 TDs) played like the best QB in the NFL for the first time this season, and not coincidentally, he and his receivers were on the same wavelength all night. This offense could really be something if this rate of improvement continues. And the defense was stellar from the first snap forward - they knew what the Vikings were up to and made Brad Johnson look like Rob Johnson all night. Bottom line, this was an extremely encouraging victory, and one that reaffirms that this team is again a legitimate championship contender. Bring on the Colts, and thanks for reading this far. We'll do it again soon.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

There isn't one of these lines/That I would erase

Picking at a few leftovers while wondering if David Eckstein secretly longs to be a dentist . . .

• Though I suppose it means we'll be inundated with another half-dozen groan-inducing books on the genius of Tony La Russa, I truly was happy to see the Cardinals win the series. Not only are they a remarkably stable and accomplished franchise - truth be told, I didn't realize this was their 10th title - but their fans are famously classy. That was never more evident than in 2004, when a certain baseball team that matters somewhat around here won the Series on their turf, and St. Louis folks not only were gracious losers, but the Cardinals allowed Sox fans waiting in anticipation outside Busch Stadium to come inside and watch the celebration they'd been waiting years to witness. If that isn't justification for wishing them well in turn, I don't know what is. (Although the fact that the Official Muse of TATB is a Cards fan certainly might qualify. She's the one on the right, wiseass.)

• Taking just a couple more wild swings as we lament the end of baseball season, and dreading the cold days spent awaiting the next one's arrival. Here's hoping the rumors the Sox have significant interest in Mark Mulder are false. He's not nearly the pitcher he was in his Oakland heyday, and it's doubtful he will be again. His stats have declined for a few years now, his fastball is fat, he has a chronic hip problem, and he's coming off shoulder surgery. Do we need another Steve Avery here? Bad idea, Theo. Bad, bad idea . . . How bummed must Tigers fans be about losing the clinching game of the World Series to one of their all-time enigmas, Jeff Spicoli-Weaver. Come to think of it, I can't imagine Yankees fans, Dodgers fans, or Angels fans were too thrilled watching him finally pitch up to his ability, either. Are we sure that wasn't really Jered Weaver out there? . . . The Yankees did us a favor this week by picking up Gary Sheffield's option, with the intention of trading him and keeping him from the Red Sox. Sheffield is aging, divisive, and judging by the postseason, rapidly declining. Let him become someone else's problem . . . Hard to believe now, but the Blue Jays thought so little of sore-armed Chris Carpenter that they released him after the 2002 season. Think they'd like to have him paired up with Roy Halladay at the front of their rotation these days? . . . Though I can't resist the temptation to note that half of his eight "hits" were due directly to pure luck or poor defense by the Tigers, I can't argue against Eckstein's selection as the Series MVP. I just wish Fox and every damn middle-aged knight of the keyboard would quit portraying him as America's Gritty, Gutty Mascot. The over-the-top fawning over this oh-so-adorably average ballplayer almost rivaled the verbal backrubs Captain Fist-Pump used to get every October. You know, back when the Yankees made the Series.

• Yup, I think I've booted the Dunkin' Donuts large iced coffee regular habit for good, thanks for asking. It's been a dozen days without a single relapse, the hellacious headaches have subsided, and you would not believe how much more alert I feel. Of course, I need six naps a day now and I'm still sniffing glue like a madman. But let's just work on one vice at a time here.

• Hey, what say we call this segment Four Downs With Finn! Awesome title, huh? Whaddaya mean it's taken? 1) Sure, Peyton Manning still looks like he cuts his hair with toenail clippers, but man, did ever expose that speedy and talented Denver defense today. Well done, Doofus Spawn of Archie. And thanks for getting it all out of your system this week. 2) Got a chuckle out of watching the Colts' sideline react to Adam Vinatieri's predictably perfect game-winning boot. You didn't need to be a lipreader to decipher what Tony Dungy was saying: "Right . . . down . . . the . . . middle." It was quite a contrast to their playoff loss to the Steelers last year, when Idiot Drunken Vanderjagt's last-second kick shot off in the direction of French Lick, and virtually everyone from Dungy to Manning to Johnny Unitas In The Great Beyond reacted the same way, mouthing, "He missed it," followed by a disgusted headshake, like that was just what they expected to happen. I'm not sure the Patriots made a mistake in letting him go - I'm a Gostkowski Believer - but given their recent history, the Colts certainly were wise to sign him. 3) Tell me you didn't enjoy watching Romeo Crennel remind Eric Mangini of his not-so-lofty place on the Parcells/Belichick Coaching Tree this afternoon. Take that, son. Now go do your homework. 4) Oakland 20, Pittsburgh 13. Now that's what you call a lingering Super Bowl hangover.

• One more NFL rant: I believe in Reggie Bush and remain convinced that Houston made a franchise-altering blunder in passing him up for generic Mario Williams, but jeezus, I think he has more combined commercials and ESPN highlights than he has total yardage this season. I believe the hype with this kid . . . but does there have to be so much of it?

• Further proof that Paul Pierce respects the game more than the old-school, better-in-my-day wheezers and geezers would have you believe: "I think [my teammates] really have to understand the history of the game. And Red is a big part of the history of the whole NBA — not just the Celtics, but the whole NBA." Amen.

• Thanks to Jim's warbling on The Office an episode or so ago, that atrocious so-called song "Lovefool" by the Cardigans has been stuck on repeat in my ear for a good week. Well, I'm glad to report that it has at last been muted . . . and replaced by Jon Bon Jovi's latest piece of earnest, irresistible American cheese, "Who Says You Can't Go Home." You bet I'll take that tradeoff. At least hearing Bon Jovi reminds me of cruising the mean streets of Bath, Me. during high school, kicking ass and taking names. Okay, so I was usually candlepin bowling, chickening out on making a move, and hanging out in the McDonald's parking lot . . . but you get the point. I was a cowboy, on a steel horse I rode, and I was wanted dead or alive, dammit. The song's tolerable as far as earworms go, and yeah, I'm glad Bon Jovi somehow endures. Anything to make these old bones feel young, people.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because sometimes, it really is random.

* * *

• I'm hoping to write something worth reading on Red Auerbach Monday afternoon, then live-blog the Bethel Johnson Bowl Monday night, so be sure to check in during the game if not before. Programming on this station is always subject to change, of course, depending upon the sleeping patters of a blue-eyed angel/devil of a 2 1/2-year-old and her 2-month-old bro, but I'll do my best to get both posts cranked out.

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"The Yankees won [26] championships. What did it take them, a hundred years? Red won nine in 10. He was the best coach in the history of professional sports. Period." - Bill Russell

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Friday, October 27, 2006

They're not saying "Drewww . . ."

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free . . . ah, you know the drill . . .

1. As far as our Old Friend Drew's Dallas demise is concerned, I was initially bummed to see the second-best quarterback in Patriots history suffer the indignity of losing his job to the legendary Tony Romo in the middle of a nationally televised game. But the more consideration I gave it, the more I realized that's what happening to him now is his own damn fault. If you connect the dots over the course of his stagnated career, you realize he never, ever improved from his second season in the league forward. He didn't. He's the same flawed fireballer he was in '94, albeit with having lost a few MPH off his fastball. He still can't throw a screen pass without bouncing it, he still holds the ball too long, he still locks in on one receiver, he still lacks that Marino/Brady poise under a heavy rush, he still bolts for the hills of Montana the minute the seasons final whistle blows . . . and the only conclusion you can come to is that football didn't mean enough to him to work on the aspects of his game that demanded his attention. He always thought that blessed right arm would be enough, and I'm still not sure he's realized it isn't.

2. Three things I've learned from this World Series, which finally delivered some fun last night: 1) Adam Wainwright '06 equals Todd Worrell '85. The kid with the duck-for-cover curve should inherit Jason Isringhausen's job next season. 2) Albert Pujols, sadly, is turning into a surly, arrogant dinkus. 3) Jeff Suppan looks much more confident in his middling stuff than he did during his Schiraldi-eyed, tongue-swallowing stint with the Sox in '03. And I actually mean that as a compliment.

3. Did you ever think back in 1996 - or even a few years ago, really - that reformed headcase Terry Glenn would be healthier and/or more reliable than Bledsoe and Curtis Martin at this stage of their careers? Or that Troy Brown, special-teamer extraordinaire and little more a decade ago, would be on the verge of becoming the franchise's all-time receiving leader? Sometimes, as the great philosopher Joaquin Andujar once said, youneverknow.

4. Kudos to a couple of readers who pointed out that I left an intriguing name off my list of semi-sleeper free agents the Sox should be considering: Justin Speier, the 32-year-old righty reliever who's had two straight terrific under-the-radar seasons for Toronto. He'll probably command pretty good coin considering the dearth of quality bullpen help on the free agent market, and I hope the Sox are in the bidding, though I must admit one thing about his profile is rather alarming: the pitcher he is most similar to statistically? Some bum named Seanez. Yeesh.

5. I'm feeling pretty good about the Pats' chances against upstart Minnesota, though I'd feel much better if I didn't have this nagging suspicion that Richard Seymour won't be playing again until November. Jarvis Green is a fine backup, but against Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, the Patriots will require their defensive anchor if they have any intentions of stopping the run.

6. I'm not sure which stunned me more from this biting column from the usually placid Tom Verducci: That he'd actually consider voting for Ken Caminiti for the Hall of Fame (say what?!?!), or that he all but accuses Kenny Rogers of using performance enhancers without anything but the slightest circumstantial evidence.

7. Dammit, I'm trying to give Doc Rivers the benefit of the doubt here, but then he goes and does something so blatantly stupid and M.L. Carr-eque, such as playing creaky-kneed Wally Szczerbiak 30-something minutes in a meaningless preseason game, or claiming defiantly that he won't have a set rotation when his young team so obviously needs the structure, and again I catch myself wondering how the hell he ever won a coach of the year award in Orlando.

8. Captain Fist-Pump wins the Hank Aaron Award. And somewhere in the backwoods of Texas, Kevin Millar demands a recount.

9. I just never know what's going to fill the email box. Got 20-something messages today regarding my verbal drooling over The Office's Jenna Fischer, with the vast majority agreeing that she's the most underrated hot chick on TV and the minority revealing that they somehow manage to read this website despite being completely freakin' blind. Glad you're with me, people. Which reminds me: TATB's new mission in life is to get an email from her at some point, since that that CNN/SI weenie Stewart Mandel did, and well, we saw her first. So what are you waiting for - make it happen, TATB readers! Ah, I suppose I'll just have to settle for that restraining order.

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

I'm pretty sure La Russa the Player would be the most self-satisfied .199-hitting benchwarmer you'd ever meet. Well, except for Mirabelli.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quiz me

Sorting through my email, both real and imagined . . .

• From reader Chris L.: To borrow a phrase from the late, great Pedro Martinez: Where you been, man?

Yeah, about TATB's nine-day hiatus . . . um, sorry about that. I do have a prepared list of excuses if you're ready for them. I've been working until 2 a.m. a lot more recently, which is cutting into my early-hours writing time. I've been sick as hell - I swear, my 2-year-old brings home virus strains from day care that are yet to be discovered by our finest scientists. (I'm convinced my little Leah is the Typhoid Mary of the bird flu. Whooping cough, too.) On top of that, I've been trying to go cold-turkey with my Dunkin' Donuts coffee addition, which is giving me headaches so painful, I'm pretty sure Albert Haynesworth has been playing kickball with my head. Oh, yeah, and I went to the Foxy Lady one night. Talk about viruses.

• The Foxy Lady. Nice.

Yeah, it was a blast, if only because it was a retirement farewell for one of my favorite co-workers, and let's just say his sendoff was memorable. But I have to admit, peelers aren't so much my thing anymore. Maybe it's my rapidly advancing age, but part of it is the realization that they are such a financial scam - one I went to for a buddy's bachelor party in Portland a month or so ago gave you change only in the form of $2 bills. Think about that for a minute and then tell me they're not trying to get everything in your pocket right down to the lint. (Well, okay, not everything in your pocket.) And being a dad, Chris Rock's famous line about "a father's only duty in life is to keep his daughter off the pole," strikes me more as wisdom than comedy these days. I'm all for looking. But I ain't spending, especially $2 at a time. God, I sound old.

• So I trust you paid Mo Vaughn, the Fonzie of the Foxy, his proper respects?

Nah, we hit the one in Brockton. This was Triple A version. There's no Mo-level talent here. More like a Pat Dodson kind of place.

• From reader Jon J.: You buying the Rajon Rondo hype? He's looked amazing, but you keep hearing that Kentucky wasn't sad to see him go.

The hype is a little much right now - people are talking about him like he's the reincarnation of Penny Hardaway. (Wait . . . you mean Penny Hardaway's still alive? Really? L'il Penny, too? They haven't been seen in years.) That said, his athleticism is off the charts, he always seems to make the correct decision with the ball (something Delonte West struggles with), and he's so quick that he will score even without an adequate jump shot. And don't forget, Tubby Smith is a complete nimrod when it comes to coaching guards - if I recall correctly, he kept his own overmatched kid Saul at the point for two years, at the expense of the team's ultimate success. And the knock that Rondo played no defense in college is a complete lie. Every time I saw him play, he was bounding into the passing lanes and terrorizing whomever he was guarding. He is an excellent defender now, and he always has been. I'm sure he's got some flaws that veteran guards will expose, but he sure held his own against some guy named Kidd tonight, and along with Big Al, Sebastian Telfair and Gerald Green, he's one of the kids with enormous upside who make this team so intriguing. But to answer the question, I dig the hype, even if I'm reluctant to believe it for now. Anything to get people interested in the Celtics is okay by me.

• From reader Mike J.: Curious what your take on the NFL is after this weekend. The Pats haven't looked all that great, but you have to feel pretty good about things considering what's going on in Pittsburgh, Miami, Seattle, etc. The list of contenders for the Super Bowl isn't long.

I think you have to be jacked and pumped about the Patriots' long-term chances this season. Think about it: They're 5-1, the rest of their division would struggle in the Eastern Maine Women's Football League, Chad Jackson and Doug Gabriel look like they're now studying the same playbook as their quarterback, Asante Samuel is playing like he deserves a new contract, and the offensive and defensive lines are controlling the trenches. And don't forget, this team will get better. Every Patriots team in the Belichick Era has been better in the second half than in the first. With Denver's QB and left tackle issues, Pittsburgh's Super Bowl hangover, and the reality that Colts remain the Colts no matter how many times we're assured that this is their year, really, honest, we mean it this time . . . well, like I said, I'm jacked and pumped about the Patriots' long-term chances this season.

(Quick aside: Why is it that when a player leaves for the riches of free agency the Patriots are "cheap" and "don't pay their players" but when someone such as Dan Koppen foregoes the open market to sign a perfectly fair and lucrative contract, the theory parroted by the usual suspects is that he made a mistake by not seeing if more money was out there. Seems a bit disingenuous, no?)

A few other scattered NFL thoughts: We gave Peter King some grief for suggesting we pick up Bruce Gradkowski and Damon Huard in fantasy football, but it looks like Ol' Vente Latte Face himself knew what he was talking about . . . In a related note, has Sports Illustrated printed a retraction of its NFL preview after picking the friggin' Dolphins to go to the Super Bowl? . . . I simply cannot believe J.P. Losman was ever a first-round pick. He's terrible in so many different ways . . . Ben Roethlisberger must have nine lives, and I think he's used about six of them . . . Tiki Barber, whose retirement revelation certainly came at a curious time, had better realize that the only reason anyone cares what he has to say is because he's the star running back for the New York Giants . . . How does Peyton Manning fit practice in amid all his commercial shoots? . . . Joe Theismann is going to punch Tony Kornheiser right below his combover one of these Monday nights, and then, for the first time this season, they will actually be interesting . . . Thirteen years after they rescued the Patriots together, it sure looks like Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells are drifting away together . . . If Bledsoe retires because he's lost his job for the moment, well, he's not the competitor I thought he was. Then again, he hasn't improved since his second season, so maybe he was never much of a competitor at all.

• Did Bill Walton ever attempt to get stoned with a killer whale?

You know, I'm thinking there's a pretty decent chance he did.

• From reader Kristin B.: Who do you like in the World Series? I need to know, so I can pick the opposite and win stacks and stacks of cash.

Oh, okay, mock me, laugh at me, and disregard my opinion like I'm an incoherent Tim McCarver craving a Metamucil fix. Fine. But after going 0 for 4 on my picks in the first round, at least I got the Cardinals over the Mets right in the ALCS. I'll have you know, if you haven't heard already, that not one of ESPN's 19 alleged experts predicted that the Cardinals or the Tigers would reach the World Series. So as far as idiots go, I'm in good company. Anyway, I took the Cardinals in 7 here, and three games in, I'm sticking to it. So bet accordingly. Oh, and one more thing: After watching this postseason, I feel a lot better about the Sox's chances for a speedy recovery next year. These days, even the best teams have major flaws.

• So what was that disgusting stuff on Kenny Rogers' hand?

My wife said it looked like cat poop, which tells you we have too many damn cats in this house. You, me, and George Brett know it was pine tar, and the only reason Tony La Russa didn't make a bigger deal out of it is because he has at least one pitcher who does the same thing. Jeff Spicoli-Weaver is my guess. It's not a major offense anyway, but La Russa's always had a pretty high tolerance for cheaters.

• From reader Kevin G.: Any sleepers the Sox should go after in the offseason? A-Rod doesn't count.

You know, I was looking over the free agent list the other day, and . . . well, let's just say I understood why they re-signed Mike Timlin. There's just not a lot out there, particular for relief help. A few names that at least made me go "Hmmmm": Frank Catalanotto, Gregg Zaun, Octavio Dotel, Miguel Batista, Mark De Rosa, Aubrey Huff, Gil Meche, Ray King, Mark Mulder, J.C. Romero, Jamie Walker and Randy Wolf. See, I told you there was nothing.

• Finally, from my buddy CJ: Finnski, one of these days were going to have to have an in-depth analysis on your infatuation with the chick from The Office.

A'ight. Is this explanation enough, punk?

Or how about this?

Yes? No? Okay, then, here's my in-depth analysis. In her sweet and subtly subversive portrayal of Pam, the good-hearted secretary, Jenna Fischer reminds me so much of a girl I once married; her voice and mannerisms are a dead-on imitation of the chick currently sitting to the left of me on the couch and insisting that Clinton on "What Not To Wear" is not gay. Yeah, it's about that simple; she reminds me of my wife. Of course, I could add that in real life she's melt-the-elastic-on-your-boxers hot, comes across on her excellent MySpace page as grounded and grateful as anyone in Hollywood could possibly be, and beneath the office-crush persona has a sense of humor that is definitely Rated R. Seriously, some stuff is so hilariously vulgar that I probably shouldn't link to it, so let me just suggest Googling her recent "10 Things You Don't Know About Women" column for Esquire, as well as her trailer for the movie she wrote and directed, Lollilove. Jim Halpert would not believe those words are coming out of Pam's mouth.

• As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Gotta say, I like the hiring of John Farrell as pitching coach, for reasons both logical and abstract: he's long been one of Gammons's Very Special People; everyone in the game raves about his deft touch with young pitchers; he's not named Al Nipper or Dave Wallace; during his pre-arm injury days with the Indians, he was a kick-ass pitcher in Strat-O-Matic; and lastly, in 1984, straight off the Oklahoma State campus, he helped pitch my Maine Guides into the International League finals. If those aren't attributes of a great pitching coach, frankly, I don't know what are. I'm slightly more skeptical about the Dave Magadan hiring, not only because he was described as "too intense" when the Padres replaced him as hitting coach, but because I think Papa Jack got royally screwed.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Late night menu

How about a Reyes-quick Nine Innings on the MLB playoffs . . .

1. Prompted by the rejuvenated, follically blessed Magglio Ordonez's ALCS-winning walkoff tonight, I offer you this Great What-If Question: How would Red Sox history be different had the Manny, Nomar and Jon Lester for A-Rod and Ordonez swap not been (mercifully?) derailed by Donald Fehr's minions in the winter of '03? I'm assuming it's safe to suggest there'd be no Faith Rewarded video, but how else might have history changed? Discuss.

2. Talk about your unsung heroes. Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen batted .320 with a .919 OPS, clubbed 19 homers, drove in 85 runs and scored 100, swiped 20 bases, and selflessly moved to an unfamiliar position, first base, after Sean Casey was injured in the ALDS. Unfortunately, he does not play in the Bronx and has not mastered the fist pump, the calm-eyed stare, or the Throw A-Rod Under The Bus Maneuver, and so his great success remains largely anonymous, particularly to Tim McCarver and the Fox nitwits still lamenting the Yankees' early exit.

3. I don't have my copy of "Moneyball" in front of me, but if I recall the anecdote correctly, A's GM Billy Beane shattered a chair in a fury when, against his wishes and philosophy at the time, Oakland selected high school pitcher named Jeremy Bonderman in the first round of the 2001 draft. That considered, you have to wonder what piece of furniture he punished last night.

4. Quite a few columns coming out of the NLCS suggest Albert Pujols is becoming as surly as he is talented. Take it for what it's worth - this particular column reads like a scorned reporter getting his revenge - but I think I might understand why Pujols would be in a sour mood. I was grumpy when I was approaching my 35th birthday, too.

5. I simply cannot believe Darren Oliver is still in the major leagues, let alone as a mildly effective long reliever. He looked cooked when the Sox had to take him and his rich contract from the Rangers as "compensation" for making Carl Everett extinct in Boston. I'll consider it one more hint that I should tie my two-month old son's right arm behind his back immediately. Oliver is one more example of the Jesse Orosco Rule: Lefties will live a long and lucrative life in baseball just as long as they are occasionally effective.

6. Judging by his stellar guest stint on Baseball Tonight this week, when Vernon Wells's baseball career concludes in a dozen years or so, he should have a seat waiting for him as a studio analyst. He was excellent - polished, insightful (particularly in discussing pitchers' stuff), articulate, and quick-witted. Of course, ESPN being ESPN, they'll probably instead hire Eric Byrnes, who in the same gig looked and talked like he just rolled out of Spicoli's van.

7. I ran that last theory by one of my work buddies. His well-considered reply: "If Byrnes is Spicoli, does that make Gammons Mr. Hand?" Well, yeah, I say that's reasonable if we're remaking "Fast Times" with "Baseball Tonight" personalities . . . though I must draw the line at John Kruk re-enacting the Phoebe Cates pool scene.

8. I've always thought Tony La Russa's managerial reputation vastly exceeded his accomplishments (how did he not win more than one title with the Juicin' A's of the late-'80s?). But if he commands enough respect from Bill Belichick that the Patriots coach swaps his trusty hoodie for a dorky La Russa gamer, well, maybe I'll give "3 Nights In August" a read after all.

9. Two takes on today's news that Steve Lyons was fired by Fox for making racially insensitive comments to Lou Piniella on the air the other night: It must have been a last straw type of thing for Psycho, because while his comments may have been offensive to some people, Fox isn't exactly known for holding itself to a classy standard. I bet he kept "accidentally" pulling down his pants at company picnics or something. 2) Please tell a racist joke on the air, McCarver. Please. And if it's not too much to ask, maybe that smug nepotism case Thom Brennaman could repeat it . . .

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Friday, October 13, 2006

The weather is here, wish you were beautiful

Quick thoughts (and a couple of links) on a perfect New England autumn day . . .

Randy Moss to the Patriots? Something tells me Tom Brady would punt Reche Caldwell to the curb and sign off on this in a heartbeat. Me, I'm intrigued . . . but wary. It's one of those rumors that as a fan, you get excited about even though common sense suggests you probably shouldn't. We all know Moss, for all of his talent, is a complete and total mutt. Those lobbying for the Patriots to deal for him will remind us that Corey Dillon was a malcontent in Cincinnati who has been a model teammate in New England (just ask Laurence Maroney), but Dillon's frustrations with Cincinnati primarily stemmed from losing. Moss strikes me as a player who couldn't give a damn about his team's place in the standings, and I know I'm not the only one who spent words the last few seasons telling people I'd rather have Deion Branch and David Givens catching passes (and blocking . . . and playing selflessly . . .) for my favorite football team than someone like Moss, or Terrell Owens, or any other members of the Insane Receiver Posse. I could talk myself into being excited about Moss becoming a Patriot. But it would take something the player himself too often lacks: effort.

• Though I caught only the end of the interview, it was a pleasant surprise to hear Mo Vaughn on WEEI yesterday. For someone who lived so large, he's been laying pretty low since a blown-out elbow, bad wheels and his affinity for bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches conspired to prematurely end his career at age 35. I hope this is an indication that Mo is ready to become a prominent public figure in Boston again. It seems several eons ago now, what with all the Sox drama in recent years, but it actually wasn't even a decade ago that he in many ways was the Red Sox, their anchor in the lineup, the community, and the clubhouse. He was an accountable, affable, humanly flawed slugger, relentlessly dedicated to both the Jimmy Fund and the Foxy Lady. He was Big Papi with a few more demons and less aptitude in the clutch. And his importance as the first African-American player to emerge as the face and the soul of the Red Sox cannot be overstated. Mo, who made roughly $85 million in his career, sounded as if retirement is treating him well, and he says he's in better shape than he was toward the end of his playing days. He sounded happy to be away from the spotlight, but here's hoping he finds a place next to Tom Caron on NESN, or a prominent talk-radio gig, or something to keep Mo in Red Sox fans' consciousness. I shouldn't need a random reminder to remember how much I liked him.

• I can't recommend enough this piece by Lisa Olson (yes, that Lisa Olson) in the New York Daily News on Cory Lidle. I thought it was far and away the best-written and most heartfelt piece I read on the tragedy, and it gave insight into his personality that was lacking in many of the other columns. She also does a remarkably conscientious job of reporting - she assumes the 6-year-old boy is Lidle's son, Christopher, but because she isn't certain, she tells us she isn't certain. Trust me when I say such forthrightness is uncommon. And of course, the spot-on shots at the Yankees' arrogantly impersonal stars (this means you, Captain) are always good for brownie points with us.

• So I'm on my way to do some errands (Errand No. 1: Iced coffee, Dunkin' Donuts) this afternoon with my 2 1/2 year old daughter when the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" falsettos its way through my speakers. I think little of it . . . until I look in the mirror and, to my delight, catch my daughter grinning and "picking the apple" so perfectly that Travolta surely would shed a tear at the sight of it all. I suppose I must admit at this point that, yes, a few of our retro records were salvaged on Disco Demolition Night, and yes, she may have heard the coke-and-a-smile, decadent-'70s anthem coming out of her daddy's iPod once or twice . . . and yes, her dancin' fool of a father may or may not have been wearing a white polyester jump suit as he taught her the appropriate dance moves. But I've already said too much.

• As for last week's Completely Random Tabloid Cover:

Well, if you really insist.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Notes mode

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free half-formed opinions for you:

1. Three scattered thoughts on the Pats: 1) I love the Jabar Gaffney signing. If he caught 55 balls last year playing with David Carr, he's more than qualified to be a third or fourth receiver for Tom Brady. 2) Stephen Gostkowski hasn't won my confidence when it comes to putting the ball through the uprights, but his booming kickoffs are justification enough for a secure place on the roster. He gives the Patriots a tremendous advantage in field position. 3) I'm glad to see Hank Poteat found work during the bye week, signing with the Jets. I trust he'll be released from Manginiville in time to rejoin the Pats next weekend at Buffalo.

2. The more I hear from Lou Piniella during his playoff stint in the Fox broadcast booth, the more I wish the Yankees had hired him to replace Torre. Piniella is everything the Yankees don't need at the moment - he's rash, temperamental, and judging by his broadcasting gig, shockingly ill-informed. Maybe Joe Torre isn't the greatest game strategist, and perhaps he hasn't a clue how to deal with A-Rod, but for the most part he's done a remarkable job of cajoling the Yankees' egos through the years, and his departure from New York would have been to the Red Sox' advantage. Rats.

3. I'm torn on whether or not I want the Yankees to deal A-Rod. On one hand, retaining The Cooler pretty much assures the Yankees of another tense summer, and further, I dread the thought of them getting, say, a budding ace such as Ervin Santana and a couple of quality prospects in return; hell, Santana straight up for A-Rod would make them a better team immediately. On the other hand, A-Rod's availability makes it more difficult for the Sox to deal Manny, and unless Theo can coerce Anaheim into giving up Santana (unlikely) or Texas into trading Mark Teixeira for the Sox's man-child, then I'm all for bringing Manny back for another drama-filled .310-35-120 season. His bat is worth the antics.

4. Billy Packer long ago claimed Rajon Rondo as his Binky/Mancrush - I'm pretty sure he talks in his sleep about the size of Rondo's hands - but if the Celtics' off-the-charts-electric rookie point guard can play as well when the games count as he has in the first two preseason games, a smitten Tommy Heinsohn might take over the wheel of the bandwagon. Heck, from what I've seen, he might quickly nudge aside Ryan Gomes as my favorite Celtic. While my expectations for this team hover around 40 wins, I'm looking forward to watching them play. I've always appreciated Paul Pierce's game, and Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, and Rondo will be entertaining despite their raw skills. Now if Heinsohn could just refrain from referring to Rondo in the same breath as Bob Cousy until he's played an actual game . . .

5. I'm not saying Stephen Jackson is the biggest numbskull in the NBA, but if you happened to mention to him that shooting a gun in the air isn't a good idea because, well, those bullets do fall back to earth, I'm pretty sure he'd look at you quizzically, call you a b----, and shoot his semiautomatic way up into the pretty sky again.

6. Judging by the taunts in my inbox, more than a few of you noticed that on my first-round playoff picks, I pulled an A-Rod - yep, I went an embarrassing 0 for 4. I feel like such a know-nothing boob that suddenly, Steve Lyons and Thom Brennaman are actually starting to sound insightful. So as a matter of repentance, I offer this: I think the Cardinals and A's (despite their 2-0 hole) will advance to the World Series, I suggest you bet the opposite, and once you're rolling in dough, we'll call it even, okay?

7. It's a good thing the White Sox let Frank Thomas go before cutting their sponsorship deal with 7-11, or . . . (and let me apologize for this in advance) . . . the Big Hurt might have been forced to change his name to the Big Gulp!!! (I know, I know. Groan. Sorry. I figured at least once I had to put a joke on here that my dad would laugh at.)

8. This probably does little to help my credibility, but as Alexis Gomez was circling the bases tonight, I was scrambling through the pages of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, trying to figure out just who the hell he is. If the Tigers keep playing like this - and Jim Leyland keeps pushing all the right buttons in between drags on a Marlboro - I'm going to have to concede that all those fawning puff-piece articles on The Wisdom of Leyland might have been entirely justified.

9. The same words rattled around in all of our minds today as the story of Cory Lidle's fatal plane crash unfolded on our TV screens. Surreal. Tragic. Bizarre. Chilling. Yet in times like these, I never know how to string them together properly without sounding trite. So let me just say that my heart aches for his family, especially his 6-year-old boy, and I'll leave the rest to a writer who can comment with much more wisdom than I can.

10. As for today's baseball card:

For Yankees fans of a certain age, I'm sure the shock and sadness of today's events also brought some unwelcome flashbacks to Thurman Munson's death 27 years ago. As someone who still remembers Lyman Bostock's death more clearly than some milestone moments in my own life, all I can say is that I sympathize.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Schadenfreude, baby

A few quick notes on the Yankees' shameful demise while suddenly feeling a hell of a lot better about the state of the Red Sox . . .

• Repeat after me: Alex Rodriguez, shortstop, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He simply has to go. It is of course not entirely his fault for what happened here, but he is the bat-strangling poster boy for the Yankees' postseason failings since Game 3 of the '04 ALCS, and it's readily apparent that his physical ability will continue to be overwhelmed by his mental weakness and insecurity so long as he's in New York. He's talking a good game as always and saying he won't go unless it's made clear to him that he's no longer wanted by the Yankees. Don't worry, Slappy. Soon enough, it will be.

• Regarding A-Rod, I'm pretty sure the following is the best-written paragraph you will ever read on this site:

The sheer fact that he takes up too much of the air, suffocating this franchise, himself, with the grandness of his burden, the monumental nature of his frailties, his insecurities, is enough reason for the Yankees to find a trade for him this winter. Even if A-Rod ever produces again in October, it is no longer worth the soap opera that comes with him getting there.

It comes from Adrian Wojnarowski's column in the Bergen Record this morning, and I recommend it to Sox fans and Yankees fans alike. It's fantastically well-reasoned for a deadline piece, and there's enough venom to appease the most bloodthirsty New Yawkah today.

• It's hard to pin any of this on Teflon Jeter, who at least looks like he sincerely gives a damn and always plays his ass off 'til the last drop . . . but at some point, doesn't all the talk about the "businesslike" clubhouse and the 25 players, 25 private planes mentality reflect a negative light on the Yankees' captain? Rather than unifying this team, in tough times he always seems to go out of his way to make the point that this is a "different group" than the 4-time champs, almost as if he's disingenuously distancing himself from the mess. He's a wonderful player, but the more I see, the more I believe his leadership is entirely by example - at best.

• Wonder how many Yankee fans realize the Tigers acquired Jeremy Bonderman in a three-way deal that sent 2003 World Series goat Jeff Spicoli-Weaver to New York.

• As great as Robinson Cano can be at the plate, he plays second base with Mark Loretta's range and half the effort.

• He can beat a cameraman to death with his tripod for all I care. After what Kenny Rogers did in Game 3 - namely, pitched the Game Of His Life when no one thought he'd do it - he's all right in my book from here on out. And somewhere in the darkness/the gambler, he broke even . . .

• By my estimation, Randy Johnson's Game 3 stinkfest made Barry Zito an extra $5 million per year.

• Let's make this clear right now: I DO NOT want Gary Sheffield calling Fenway Park home next season, particularly if its as Manny Ramirez's alleged replacement. He's 38, he's indifferent, he's a mean-spirited pain in the ass, and he's coming off a major injury to his greatest asset as a player, his wrists. No. Thanks.

• Andy Phillips, Yankees spokesman. Somehow, that seems appropriate.

• The fallout from this might actually include the Yankees management finally realizing that collecting every soulless All-Star available is not the best way to construct a team, that maybe you're better off staying the course with the enthusiasm of Melky Cabrera than splurging on an overpriced Bobby Abreu just because you can afford it. Bringing in Johnny Damon seemed to boost their chemistry, but it's readily apparent now that they've got a long way to go to even approach the collegial atmosphere of the Tigers, let alone the joyous idiocy of the '04 Sox. Maybe the Orioles will have mercy and trade them Millar.

• That said, I fully expect the ultimate soulless All-Star, Barry Bonds, to be the Yankees' DH next season. Georgie-Porgie won't be able to resist pimping the Asterisked Chase For 755 on the YES Network.

• There's no truth to the rumor that Torre still has Scott Proctor warming up in the bullpen, you know, just in case.

• There are few things that make my wee-hours, hour-plus commute home from Boston than listening to WFAN after a Yankees gag-job. "Vito from His Mother's Bomb Shelter, you're on with Tony Page . . . "

• Aw, c'mon, Sterling, one more time, just for the sport of it: "Groundball to second . . . Polanco has it, throws to first . . . ballgame over . . . series over . . . THAAAAAAAA YANKEES LOSE!!! THAAAAAAAAAA YANKEES LOSE!!!!"

• As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Introducing the likely manager of the 2007 New York Yankees . . . and what the hell, let's take a moment to note that Piniella is an A-Rod fan, while Mr. Torre is a Jeter guy. Will the fun never end? . . .

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stream of semi-consciousness

First, a disclaimer: Thanks to a late night at the office and two hooting night-owl children, I got about two hours' sleep last night. Then, a postcard-perfect autumn Maine morning coerced me into going out for a 6-mile run when I should have been napping away and dreaming vividly of Crisco-wrestling Jenna Fisch . . . um, so anyway, my point is this: I'm a bigger mess than usual tonight, but after taking in a decent chunk of all three of today's games, I'm itching to crank out a baseball notebook. I'll leave it up to you to determine if any of it makes sense.

Frank Thomas's comeback is a cool story, and hopefully it jogs some memories about how historically excellent he was in his heyday. Consider: In 113 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Big Hurt hit 38 homers in 399 at-bats, scored 106 runs, drove in 101, and walked 109 times with just 61 strikeouts. He batted .353, reached base at a .487 clip, and slugged - get this - .729 - while winning his second straight MVP award. Thomas was perhaps THE dominant hitter of his era, did it without the suspicion of steroids hanging over his head (unlike Mr. Bonds, this dude was huge as a freakin' embryo), and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame five years after he walks away. Yeah, he's one-dimensional . . . but man, what a dimension.

The Yankees' lineup is stacked . . . but I'm not sure it's on the level of the '27 Yankees (or even the '03-'04 Red Sox), as the breathless national media twits are climbing over each other to tell us. A-Rod is a mess, Matsui and Sheffield are rusty, Damon (streaky as hell during his Sox postseasons) and Giambi have been scuffling . . . , ah, you know what? The hell with it. It's the third inning of Tigers-Yankees as I write this. Damon and Jeter just singled, Abreu doubled them home, Sheffield singled Abreu in, HGHiambi homered, and Gehrig and Ruth stepped out of monument park and walloped back to back homers. They could put up 10 runs this inning without blinking. Excuse me while I change the channel.

The Baseball Prospectus-types will tell you that Chien-Ming Wang's breakthrough 19-win season is a flat-out fluke. Because he's a successful starting pitcher who strikes no one out, the analysts who study such things warn us that he's a very likely candidate to collapse into 5.00-ERA mediocrity next season. While I am partial to the benefits of a strikeout pitcher, I don't buy the lack of Ks as a red flag in Wang's case. I believe Wang is a rare exception, a starter will be consistently effective despite constantly pitching to contact. I mean, the guy can throw in the mid-90s. It's just that his sinker is so effective (think D-Lowe's with more sizzle) that the logical approach is to throw it again and again for grounder after grounder, strikeouts (and wear and tear on the arm) be damned.

Oh, how I wanted to bust on my good buddy and chief antagonist Duckler, a certified Yankees lunatic, when he confessed the other day he thinks Robinson Cano is the second-best pure hitter in the American League. (I didn't ask who was first in his mind, but knowing him, he's got Melky Cabrera atop the charts.) But as I considered it further, I realized who it is the sweet-swinging Cano reminds me of at the plate: a young Roberto Alomar. And there's a dose of Rod Carew in that swing, too, though the Yankees' second-year second baseman already has more pop. It goes without saying that when a Sox fan is grouping him in with company as exclusive as a Hall of Famer and a Hall of Fame lock, it's tough to mock a Yankee fan for seeing what you see. The kid is something special.

Those who think Miguel Tejada and Gary Sheffield would be more than adequate replacements for Manny need to hop on Google and do a little research. Not only are they inferior to Manny offensively, but both would arrive at Logan with a ton of baggage. Now, if the Sox want to bring in one or the other to fill that vacant No. 5 hole and complement Manny and Papi . . . well, that is worth considering.

When all is said and done in this Jason Grimsley bleepstorm, Roger Clemens is going to wish he retired three retirements ago, and I write that well aware that the L.A. Times may have a lawsuit on their hands. Power pitchers don't get stronger and faster in their 40s. They just don't. Roger did, and for that, fairly or not, he will never be above suspicion.

So with the sad but unsurprising news that his shoulder is mincemeat, Pedro seems destined to re-enact the demise of his brother's career - Ramon Martinez blew out his rotator cuff at age 30, and Sox fans can attest he never resembled his old self. So chalk one up for Theo and the Trio: they were justified in their decision not to give him four years. Hell, the way it looks now, two might have been too many.

Kinda weird, isn't it, watching the Sox-free playoffs? It's less stressful for sure, watching the games as a pure fan without a passionate rooting interest. Wait . . . what's that? Yeah, all right, you're right . . . it sucks. It's never fun when the party goes on without you. Here's hoping for some October angst next year.

My AL MVP ballot, reconsidered: 1) Joe Mauer: He won the batting title, plays sport's toughest position brilliantly, and dates Miss USA. That's an MVP, folks. 2) Jetes: Though 14 homers is feeble for an MVP and I'm fairly certain the Yankees would be in the postseason even if he had been hurt rather than, say, Sheffield, he did have a sensational season by most any statistical measure, and delivered his usual share of daggers in crucial situations. 3) Papi: If only the team didn't disintegrate around him.

With Pedro a somber spectator and 73-year-old El Duque suddenly knocked out with a leg problem, the Mets might want to consider bailing out Dwight Gooden to pitch Game 2. Glavine and Trachsel aren't up for the challenge of making that sick Subway Series fantasy a reality.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

I've never been much of a Tommy Lasorda guy - it's well known that his public persona is considerably less vulgar than the way he carries himself when the cameras are off - but I have to admit, I dig his "Everyone to the TV!" commercials for the playoffs. Especially the one that makes a fool of that Yankees' college chick.

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The Clu Heywood All-Stars

Or: The Ugliest Player in the History of Each of the Eight Playoff Teams:

Don Mossi:
I just . . . I mean . . . those ears . . . I, um . . . those are ears, right? . . . the poor man . . . yeesh . . . I'm repulsed . . . and yet I can't look away . . .

(Seriously, how would you like to have this on your Wikipedia page):

"Mossi is often mentioned as the ugliest person to have ever played baseball, a fact that earned him such nicknames as "The Sphinx" and "Ears". Noted baseball historian Bill James described Mossi as such: "Don Mossi was the complete five-tool ugly player. He could run ugly, hit ugly, throw ugly, field ugly and ugly for power. He was ugly to all fields. He could ugly behind the runner as well as anybody, and you talk about pressure ... man, you never saw a player who was uglier in the clutch." Curiously enough, his looks have led to baseball cards featuring him to become very popular amongst collectors."

Gary Gaetti:
His reaction to being picked to this team? "Rats." James, in his Mossi monologue, said the old pitcher looked like "Gary Gaetti escaping from Devil's Island." I'm not quite sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure it's funny. (Hat tip: Deadspin.

Jack Morris:
While I won't go so far as to saying his disposition was even uglier than his mustached mug, let's just say chivalry wasn't his thing. From a 1990 Time story on women journalists in the locker room:

CBS sportscaster Lesley Visser drew national attention to another reporter-player clash: a summer rebuff of Detroit Free Press reporter Jennifer Frey by Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris when she requested an interview. Said Morris: "I don't talk to women when I am naked unless they are on top of me or I am on top of them."

Nate Colbert:
While he doesn't look so bad here, Colbert was renowned in his day for being homely, and I found this biographical anecdote while doing a Google search for his name and "ugly":

Nate Colbert was a first baseman by trade and played for several major league teams including the Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, Montreal Expos and Oakland A's. His finest years however came between 1969 and 1974 while playing for the San Diego Padres. Nate was a very good hitter and an average fielder, typical of many first basemen. He was also very hard on the eyes. Some might say Nate was downright ugly. This prompted his teammates to call him "The Iguana".

We now go back over 50 years to May 2, 1954. At Busch Stadium, St. Louis (formerly Sportsman's Park, now known as "Old" Busch Stadium). Nate and his father witnessed The Cardinals' Stan Musial whack five home runs in a double header. The eight year old Colbert remarked to his Dad that one day he'd like to do that. On August 1, 1972 playing against the Braves in Fulton County Stadium Atlanta, his dream came true. In a doubleheader that day Nate hit 5 homers, drove in 13 runs while collecting 22 total bases. Some sportwriters and players called Colbert's performance "The Night Of The Iguana".

Otis Nixon:
I know this is kind of a copout since he played just 42 games for the Dodgers at the end of the '97 season . . . but an All-Ugly Team without Old Man Otis is kind of like a Buffett show without "Margaritaville." It's obvious, even a cliche, but something is just not right without it.

Willie McGee:
Howard Cosell, during the '82 World Series, said he looked like E.T. E.T. immediately phoned home, called his lawyer, and filed a defamation of character lawsuit against ABC Sports, saying, "Yo, I ain't that ugly."

Darryl Strawberry:
Okay, he's not that homely . . . but if you're not seeing Dino from "The Flintstones here, you're not looking.

Derek Jeter:
With those legendary calm eyes, his own perfume, and the undying love of the Tiger Beat set as well as a million middle-aged sports writers, I suppose Metrosexual Jetes is as pretty as McCarver tells him he is. But I'm talking about his soul here, people. His desolate, dark, A-Rod-icing, Huckaby-hating soul. And trust me, that sucker is Randy Johnson-ugly.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

If you didn't get the reference in the headline, it's regarding the character played by former big-league pitcher Pete Vuckovich in "Major League." According to Harry Doyle (the Indians fictional broadcaster, portrayed hilariously by Bob Uecker) Heywood, the Yankees' slugger, "leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair." Line still slays me every time.

* * *

Yankees over Detroit in 3
Twins over A's in 5
Padres over Cardinals in 5
Dodgers over Mets in 4

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Closed for the summer

Appropriate ending when you think about it, what with circumstances conspiring to ruin something potentially memorable one last time. I could be talking about the small picture of Game 162 (Mother Nature washing out Devern Hansack's improbable no-hit bid) or the big picture of all 162 games (an ER's worth of ill-timed injuries derailing a bid for a fourth consecutive playoff berth). And of course, both the season and its finale ended sooner than we expected.

So now we must speak of this 86-win, third-place bummer of a season in the past tense. And while we'll save our deeper analysis and crackpot theories about What Went Wrong for another rainy day, let's spend a few words on the remaining players who made this season what it was, for better or worse:

Jason Varitek
.238, 12 HRs, 55 RBIs: Catchers notoriously decline offensively at age 32, and Varitek followed the well-worn pattern this season; he can't hit a good pitching anymore, and ideally, he'd bat eighth or ninth in the lineup at this point. But Lord, how he was missed when he was knocked out for a month by a knee problem. He's still a stalwart defensively, calls a good game and commands respect, and is worth every penny of his contract even when he's flailing at an eye-high fastball.

Doug Mirabelli.193-6-25: He was washed up last year . . . and yet I bet I Doug Mirabelli still thinks the Sox trade of Cla Meredith and Josh Bard for Doug Mirabelli and Doug Mirabelli's massive ego was a fantastic trade for the Red Sox. Yes, Doug Mirabelli brings new meaning to the phrase "tool of ignorance."

David Ortiz
.287-54-137: What else can be said? When the games mattered, he made sure DH stood for Designated Hero. And when the season was lost, his successful bid to set the single-season franchise homer mark gave us reason to cheer again. When Papi's around, it's always a blast. Please don't take him for granted, because he's a once-in-a-fan's-lifetime gift.

Kevin Youkilis
.279-13-72: He was so steady that it was easy to forget that this was really his first full season - and on top of establishing himself as an everyday player, he made the transition from third base to first with remarkable grace. The Eck noted tonight he thought Youks played Gold Glove defense. Given his immensely valuable ability to work the count and wear down pitchers, The Greek . . . er, Jewish God of Walks should be the leadoff hitter next season. Now if he'd just stop bitching after every called strike . . .

Mark Loretta .285-5-59: He's about as exciting as vanilla ice cream, he has the range of your grandmother's walker, and the stragglers from the Jeff Frye Admiration Society tend to exaggerate his contributions . . . yet he had his share of late-inning highlights, he catches everything hit his way and turns two with grace and precision, and he's still a tough out even though he's primarily a singles hitter these days. My verdict: Sign him for one more year, if he's willing, and let Pedroia shorten that swing down in Pawtucket.

Alex Gonzalez.255-9-50: I'm sorry, but he won't win the Gold Glove. Didn't you get the memo from McCarver? This is the year to fete Captain Jetes for all his excellent years in anonymity, and he's going to collect this award (among others) despite the fact that Gonzalez is the best defensive shortstop in the AL since Omar Vizquel had all his hair. It was a treat to watch him and Lowell turn the left side of the infield into Web Gem Central, and despite his particle board bat, I hope he's back in Boston next season if the price is right.

Mike Lowell .284-20-80: The best defensive third baseman the Sox have had since Butch Hobson (oh, c'mon, he was my boyhood hero; cut me some slack, people). Seriously, he was Gold Glove-worthy (as are Beltre, Crede, and Chavez), and while he was streaky, his final numbers at the plate are perfectly acceptable. I have a slight concern that he'll have a hard time repeating this output next season, but if the Sox keep Manny and get a legit No. 5 hitter, he won't be asked to do so much.

Alex Cora .238-1-18: He's bright, versatile, and despite a punchless offensive season, he's exactly what you want in a utility infielder. Keep him, I say.

Dustin Pedroia .191-2-7: Some see him as David Eckstein. Others as a young Jody Reed. So far, all I've seen is Brett Abernathy.

Carlos Pena .273-1-3: The Sox should have brought him in instead of J.T. Snow in the first place.

Manny Ramirez:
.321-35-102: I plan on getting into the Manny Situation more in a future episode, so for now I'll leave it at this: If, during one of his patented midsummer tears next season for the Mets or Angels or whichever team the Sox award him to over the winter, some smug dinkus of a Boston sportscaster has the nerve to say, "Why can't we get players like that?" after spending the better part of six seasons trying to drive Manny away, well, I might just have to drive into Boston just to pull said sportscaster's hair plugs out with my bare hands.

Coco Crisp .264-8-36: So at least we know the truth: He was never healthy. I remember how wowed I was by him in spring training and during his pre-injury debut against the Rangers - he was electric - and despite the belief that he's no leadoff hitter, I hope he gets a second season to show his stuff in Boston. He deserves that much.

Trot Nixon .268-8-52: All right . . . I'll miss him. A little. If only for sentimentality's sake. His tenure with the Sox dates back to my college years, he did bust his ass and try to do the right thing, and as Roger Clemens and Rich Harden can attest, he had his moments in the clutch through the years. And of course, he was One of The 25, delivering the game-breaking hit in the World Series clincher. But the truth is that he's crumbled into an injury prone, underproductive, overpaid over-30 albatross, just the kind of player the Sox should be trying to distance themselves from. Trot was the Mike Greenwell of his era, albeit with an extra branch or two on the family tree, and like Greenie before him, his popularity outweighed his productivity near the end. It's time to tip the dirty hat and say goodbye.

Wily Mo Pena .301-11-42: It pains me to say this, because I was in agreement with the Arroyo deal and enjoyed watching Pena's occasional moonshots, but . . . I hope they trade him in the offseason. I have major doubts that he's ever going to develop the plate discipline and pitch-recognition skills to be a consistent hitter; he often looks as if he's made up his mind to swing before the pitch is delivered. And defensively, he reminds me of Kevin Mitchell circa '96, which means I cover my eyes, hope for the best, and usually witness the worst when the ball is hit his way.

Gabe Kapler .254-2-12: I hope he's still reporting to work at Fenway next season - as Eck's backup analyst on the pre- and post-game shows.

David Murphy .227-1-2: Eh. I can live with him as a fourth outfielder, but I'm skeptical that he'll develop enough power to justify a regular role for a playoff contender.

Eric Hinske .288-1-5: This year's version of Butch Huskey, an alleged slugger picked up late in the season who makes a habit of whiffing in crucial situations. But as a patient switch-hitter who historically mashes righties, he should be a useful stick off the bench next season.

Curt Schilling
15-7, 3,97 ERA: He wasn't, as the song goes, as good as he once was, going six weeks without a win and developing a maddening habit of letting small leads slip away in the middle innings. But in the context of his lost 2005 season, 15 wins is a hell of a comeback.

Josh Beckett 16-11, 5.01: Greg Maddux once said the more trouble he is in, the slower he pitches, meaning he uses the hitters' aggressiveness against them. Something tells me Boston's version of Nuke LaLoosh would grunt and call Maddux a *&*%* for believing in that that philosophy. He needs to grow up and learn to pitch rather than throw, or the names Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez could haunt the Red Sox front office honchos the way Derek Lowe and Varitek did Woody Woodward.

Tim Wakefield 7-11, 4.63: The Sox dearly missed his bullpen-saving ability to eat multiple innings at a 4-something ERA clip, but now that he's 40 and coming off his first injury in years, it's time to start thinking about him as a fifth starter rather than as a third or fourth.

Julian Tavarez 5-4, 4.47: If the Sox were beginning the playoffs this week, he'd likely be your No. 3 starter. Chew on that for a moment.

Matt Clement 5-5, 6.61: I can't help but remember Gammons floating a notion at around this point last season that the Sox and Dodgers should consider a Clement for D-Lowe swap. How I wish they had.

Jon Lester 7-2, 4.76: We're all rooting for a victory more important than any he'll ever achieve on the ballfield. Get well, kid.

Jonathan Papelbon 4-2, 0.92, 35 saves: The Sox's collapse and his season-ending shoulder scare have cost Papelbon some of the plaudits he deserves for his historically dominant rookie season, and that's too bad, because he may have been the team's MVP in the first half. While he was virtually unhittable as a closer, at least until he grew weary late in the season, I'm glad the Sox are moving him to the rotation, if only because I'm a believer that it's wiser to use your best pitcher for 200 innings rather than 60. It will likely keep his arm in better condition, too. Prediction: Papelbon wins 17 games next season and is a better starter than any of the Zitos and Schmidts available as a free agent over the winter.

Keith Foulke
3-1, 4.35: Every season, there are always a few seemingly washed-up relievers who, for a variety of reasons, enjoy a major career rejuvenation. (Think: Wickman, Bob, and Jones, Todd.) I'm betting on Foulke to be one of those guys next season. I want him back.

Mike Timlin 6-6, 4..36: When you're 40 and you've pissed away the second half of the season getting lit up by the likes of Kevin Millar, it's time to start plannin' some possum huntin' expeditions for the summer months, if you get my drift.

Manny Delcarmen 2-0, 5.06: Everyone roots for the local boy to make good, but his command is too inconsistent and his fastball is too straight for Hyde Park's own to be considered anything more than a middle reliever at this point.

Craig Hansen 2-2, 6.63: Questions, I've got some questions: Where's the filthy slider that he supposedly used to torment the Big East? Have the Sox mishandled him to the point he's lost his stuff and his confidence? Is he familiar with the work of Calvin Schiraldi? He should start next season in Pawtucket with no pressure and no expectations, and work from there.

Javier Lopez: 1-0, 2.70: He doesn't throw enough strikes, and a lefty specialist who comes in and walks his lone batter is a useless as a Giambi without a chemistry set.

Kyle Snyder 4-5, 6.56: If only he hadn't sacrificed 7 miles per hour on his fastball to the blade of Dr. Andrews' knife. You can see why he was such a highly regarded prospect with Kansas City - his curveball is a legitimate out pitch, and his tailing changeup gives him decent secondary stuff - but unless he gets better command or regains a few m.p.h on the heater, he's nothing but an Arroyo wannabe.

Devern Hansack 1-1, 2.70: Well, that No-Hitter-With-An-Asterisk was certainly a hell of an audition for some role next season. Not only am I pulling for him, but having watched him pitch the Sea Dogs to the Eastern League title, I can say with a certain degree of confidence that he's got better stuff, command, and composure than quite a few established big league pitchers.

Kason Gabbard 1-3, 3.51: Another slopballing lefty who prays to the altar of Jamie Moyer. And yet . . . Jerry Remy is on record as being impressed with Gabbard, and he did pitch very well more often than not. I'm naturally skeptical of a guy who struggled for almost two full seasons in Double A, but he showed enough to earn a second job interview next spring.

Mike Burns: Man, did the Pats show us something today or what? The whole Shutting Down An Offensive Juggernaut With a Shorthanded Defense was straight out of Belichick's 2003 championship blueprint, Maroney is an absolute beast, and Brady did his part to silence the shrill sky-is-falling nonsense from the Felgers of the world. Suddenly, I'm feeling very good about this team . . . and if you think I'm writing this because I wouldn't know Mike Burns if he ran off with my wife, you'd be correct.

Bryan Corey: He pitched well once earlier this season against the Sox while with Texas. So at least I can say I saw him pitch well once.

Kevin Jarvis: He didn't belong in the major leagues five years ago.

Lenny DiNardo: I'm beginning to think he has a lifetime contract as the 12th man on the staff. He's shown me nothing, and he has a World Series ring and some great tales as Bronson Arroyo's wingman to show for it.

Craig Breslow: He's better than Lopez. Then again, I think Tony Fossas would be an upgrade on both of them.

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