Sunday, April 29, 2007

'The Moss of old is back.'

Since I'm struggling to wrap my head around the notion of Randy Moss as a Patriot (I can't stand him! . . . But I love it!!), here are a few semi-coherent thoughts while relishing a damn fun weekend for a New England sports fan . . .

• First off, here's what I wrote about Moss back in October, when the rumors that he could be coming to Foxborough began swirling:

"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."

Sixth months later, the most talented, enigmatic, downright-pain-in-the-ass receiver outside of Dallas really is a New England Patriot, and while I stand by every word I wrote back then, maybe it's not such an effort to approve of this trade after all. As we discovered during a conference call today in which Moss seemed truly awestruck by his new situation, there are fresh reasons to be optimistic that this might be a case of getting the right player at the right time. Moss said all the right things about his admiration for the Patriot Way, his respect for Brady, and his hunger to win a championship at this point in his career, and his nod to Troy Brown by saying he tells people he's the second-best receiver in Marshall University history is a nice start toward endering himself to his doubters. But perhaps the most telling sign that he gets it, that playing for the Patriots is important to him, is that he took a pay cut of approximately $15 million bucks to come here. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is - pro athletes nowadays don't sacrifice that kind of coin unless they are committed to the cause. It's more proof that the Patriots have accomplished Bob Kraft's stated mission: to become like the Niners of '80s, a championship contender every single year and the desired destination for talented veterans who are hungry to win. Further, I suspect that he has already been informed that if he doesn't bust his ass on every route, block when he's supposed to block, and avoid running over too many meter maids with his car, he won't be here long. Bill Belichick has never been afraid to discard a disgruntled player (Terry Glenn, 2001) or admit a mistake (Duane Starks, 2005, whom cost the Patriots more in trade than Moss did), and given the depth of the receiving corps, Moss is luxury rather than an absolute necessity. The Patriots have all the leverage in this partnership - there really is no risk here, unless you're one of those Baby-Ruths-in-the-pool who think he could actually have a divisive impact in a locker room full of veteran leaders capable of putting him hin place. Please. Right now, the Patriots have a giddy, hungry player who, judging by the reported 4.29 in the 40 he ran for Belichick recently, is committed to being the game's most unstoppable receiver again. If he can maintain that commitment through February, just give this team the Lombardi Trophy and get it over with.

• Leave it to Rodney Harrison to sum up the Moss deal without any b.s.: "I've always said, if he comes in, doesn't work hard and acts like a primma donna, it's not going to work. But if he puts the team first and works hard, he has the talent to do special things for us. It comes down to the small things, and buying into what we're all about here."

As Marshall's greatest receiver would say: Bingo.

• It became obvious with their willingness to unload their first-day picks that the Patriots thought the talent level was lacking in this draft. Which, after all the dealing was done, makes the Patriots' final haul from their 2007 draft picks look all the more impressive: Brandon Meriweather, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, San Francisco's first-round pick in 2008, Oakland's third-round pick in 2008 and a bunch of second-day picks. If my two favorite draftniks - Mel Kiper Jr. and WEEI draft maven Larry Johnson - don't give them an A+ for what they accomplished, then they aren't paying attention as much as they pretend to be.

• If you caught 'EEI's very special draft coverage this weekend, I'm guessing you realized I was being, well, a snarky dinkus regarding that LJ/draftnik line. From what I heard during my commute to Carl Everett's favorite newspaper Saturday, their coverage was predictably pathetic, from the mangled names (it's Vince WilFORK, not WilFOLK - geez, you'd think Johnson would know how to pronounce his favorite utensil) to an appaling lack of general knowledge (I'm pretty sure every specific comment they offered on a particular player came word for word from the ESPN Draft Guide) to idiotic opinions (the Patriots should draft Brady Quinn if he was available). It made me wish, once again, that I had the iPod hookup in the car, or that Felger's station had a signal better than a ham radio. What a disgrace.

• Other scattered thoughts from the draft: I cannot believe the Dolphins used the ninth pick for Ted Ginn Jr., an undersized receiver who wouldn't go over the middle if he was driving a Hummer. They trade Welker for a second-round pick, then draft a replacement who very possibly will be less productive in the first round. Brilliant. Something tells me the Pats won't have to worry about the Dolphins for awhile . . . Dallas made a killing by taking advantage of Quinn's slide and dealing the No. 22 overall pick to Cleveland for the Browns' No. 1 next year, which might well be the No. 1 overall. But I can't blame Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel and the Browns for making the swap, either. They're likely goners if Cleveland has another terrible season, so why not trade a pick that they may not be around to make, especially when it brings them a local hero who they probably considered drafting 19 picks earlier . . . I liked the Panthers' draft, getting Miami linebacker Jon Beason at No. 25 (I wonder if the Pats would have taken him at 28 if he was available), then USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round . . . I ran this by Mrs. TATB while watching ESPN's first-day coverage, and she agrees: Steve Young has more Botox in his forehead than the entire cast of "Desperate Housewives" . . . You say JaMarcus Russell, I say Akili Smith - big arm, questionable work ethic, bad situation. And why is it that Quinn reminds me so much of Joey Harrington, circa 2002? . . . The Giants are the perfect spot for Zak DeOssie: close enough for his old man to see him play (and for one of his former teams, too), and far enough away that we don't have to hear about it all the damn time.

• I don't know who it was who recommended Hideki Okajima to the Sox - I'm guessing it was Craig Shipley - but whoever it was deserves a little extra something in his paycheck. Okajima was almost an afterthought on the Sox' roster entering the season, the other, less talented newbie from Japan. But man, what a revelation he has been. He hasn't given up a run in 11 appearances, he's holding hitters to a .139 average, and most tellingly, he again shut down the Yankees this weekend even though they are now familiar with his stuff, having seen him a couple of times now.

• I've said it before and I'll say it again: Alex Cora is the best utility player the Sox have had in my lifetime. Every time Terry Francona puts him in the lineup, he makes the manager look smart for doing so.

• I still think the Yankees will get it together once their pitching staff returns to health, but I'm beginning to think Joe Torre may not survive the wrath of Georgie Porgie (provided he's not currently pulling a "Weekend at Bernie's" on us) to see that day. And frankly, I'm not sure how I feel about that. Torre receives (and deserves) much of the credit for the Yankees' success before the turn of the century, but judging from what I've seen this season (and in the postseason since 2002), his ineptitude at handling a bullpen puts the Yankees at something of a disadvantage against the game's better managers. I fear that Torre's firing, followed by the hiring of a superior tactician, might be exactly the jump-start the Yankees need.

• I'm with Wally. Sure, it's a great commercial, but the sight of Papi in a Yankees cap is revolting.

• As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Chris Singleton, No. 55 for the Patriots in 1990, was taken eighth overall in that year's draft, three picks later than the man who wore No. 55 for last season, some dude named Seau. Should we mention that the Patriots could have had Seau 17 years ago, but they traded down to get Singleton and the equally legendary Ray Agnew? (Seriously, where else do you get this kind of minutiae?)

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Questionable content

Digging through the email box (and the cobwebs in my mind) to answer questions both real and imagined . . .

From reader Steve K.: The Sox just *****-slapped the Yankees again. They're on pace to win something like 110 games. I'm a believer. This team looks stacked, and Manny's not even hitting yet. So when do I get my playoff tickets?

You know, I like to pretend I'm the voice of reason around here, never too high after a big win, never too low after an agonizing loss, yada yada . . . but damn, it's pretty much impossible for even an accomplished cynic not to be sky-high about the 2007 Red Sox's long-term chances right now, isn't it? Just consider the positives in this 15-7 start: Josh Beckett is having an April matched only by Pedro and the Babe in Red Sox annals, and not only does he look like a pitcher who's found his groove, but he's talking like one, admitting he made the mistake of throwing "hard, harder, and hardest" during his first season in Boston . . . The expensive new guys, from Julio Lugo (he's been nothing less than dynamic) to J.D. Drew (their most complete player) to Daisuke Matsuzaka (who flashes an ace's knack for limiting the damage in the innings where his command goes on the fritz), have justified every zero on their paychecks so far . . . Papi is still Papi, god bless him, and the offense will find another gear when Manny finds his form any moment now . . . Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell look rejuvenated, suggesting that reports of their demise (ahem) were greatly exaggerated . . . The middle relief, in particular Hideki Okajima, has been far better than expected, and Joel Pineiro looks improved with each appearance . . . Jonathan Papelbon is doing a spot-on Goose Gossage imitation. All he needs is the fu manchu . . . and Terry Francona continues to be the most underrated manager in the game, especially considering all of the b.s. about bloody socks and the like that he has to put up with here. So, uh, yeah, we're pretty enthusiastic about the summer ahead. Does 120 wins sound unreasonable?

From Greasymustacheandastainedtanktop, Mom's extra bedroom, The Bronx: Yo, please tell me the standings are printed upside down. This ain't really happening, is it? My whole self-image depends on the Yankees' success! If they suck, why, that means I do too! YO!

It's all true, Greasystache, and can you imagine where they'd be without A-Rod's otherworldly start? Oh, right . . . last place. Heh. But I think we all know better than to write the Yankees off in April. Once the weather heats up and Hideki Matsui gets healthy, their lineup will be relentless enough that they'll win a lot of 12-9 games, and Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina should steady that wretched rotation with 30 or so wins between them. And you have to figure they'll add a few bullpen arms and whatever else they need at the trade deadline. However, and I hesitate to say this, but something feels different this time around, doesn't it? Maybe it's that Joe Torre already seems to be managing out of desperation at the expense of his bullpen's health, or maybe it's the fact that Mariano Rivera (zero saves) is 38 years old and suddenly looks very hittable, or maybe it's the fact that bringing up a clearly not-ready-for-prime-time Philip Hughes reeks of desperation . . . but these just don't look like the Yankees we've grown to loathe so much. Yeah, it's only the season's beginning. But from what we've seen so far, it's not out of the question that in the Bronx, it's the beginning of the end.

From reader Dave R.: I know it's pretty much impossible to guess what the Patriots will do in the draft. But you don't you figure they have to take a linebacker at either #24 or #28? It's their only legit weakness.

Knowing Belichick and Pioli, they'll probably take another tight end and a punter, thereby causing Mel Kiper's head to explode. (We're guessing his hair would remain intact, however). Actually, I think they will take a linebacker at 24 - I'm just not sure which one it will be, though if I were throwing together a mock draft, I'd probably go with Jon Beason from Miami, who's said to be fast, versatile, and devoted to football, all traits that would make him a nice fit in Foxboro. I do think it's entirely possible that they'll take two linebackers in the first round, since Michigan's David Harris has reportedly been climbing up their draft board in recent days and there might be other appealing alternatives such as Penn State's Paul Posluszny. All things being equal, though, I hope they add some depth in the defensive backfield with the 28th pick, though I have no idea whom they might favor from the Griffin/Houston/Meriweather group. Oh, and about taking another tight end: I was joking earlier, but if Miami's gifted Greg Olsen is on the board, I bet the Pats will at least give him some consideration, especially if Dave Thomas's injury is more serious than we know. Given the depth of their roster, they may be in Best Player Available mode from the beginning. So I guess what I'm saying is that we have no freakin' clue what will happen, though it's worth noting that Belichick, in a delicious bit of candor, revealed on WEEI this afternoon that there are players projected to go in the first round whom the Patriots have rated as late-round picks or free agents. Seriously, how cool is that? I'd pay good money to get a peek at their draft board. You know it looks like no one's mock draft.

From reader John W.: Chad: A couple posts ago, you said you weren't ready to pass judgment on Glenn Geffner. Ready yet? I am. I hate to sound like an old fart, but he suuuuucks. It's not that he's new or young... and although he's an internal hire, he doesn't come across as too obvious a homer. But he has no sense of pacing. He's constantly talking too fast, frequently tripping over his own tongue. He tries way too hard to fit nuggets of predigested data in between pitches. At its best, baseball on radio has a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Sure, you can get excited when there's a key play; but otherwise, you gotta take time to breathe. He almost... emphasize almost... makes me long for the Trupiano era.

Slowly nodding in agreement . . . Actually, I'm still trying to give Geffner the benefit of the doubt, if only because I was so anti-Trupiano that it probably wouldn't be good form to rip his replacement so soon. So I'll leave it at this for now: I think Dave O'Brien is outstanding, and I wish his ESPN commitments didn't keep him from doing all of the Sox games. As for Geffner . . . well, the less said the better, I suppose, and that goes for him and his excessive dependence on the media guide as well as me. Assuming settles down, talks slower and less often, and lets Castiglione lead the way, he should at least be tolerable. Hey, at least he's not Troop.

From SlappyVonPurplelips, Scott Boras's lair: Is Tom Brady the Derek Jeter of football? Because if he is, that means I'll have to hate his guts too, even though he's never made me change positions or hung me out to dry with the fans or borrowed my rouge without returning it or anything.

Well, no, because Tom Terrific's teams have won championship(s) since he became captain, so that's a major difference right there. But I get where this question is coming from: Pretty-boy Brady just signed a $12 million deal to endorse Stetson cologne. Pretty-boy Jeter has his own brand of cologne called, I believe, One-Step Range To The Left. (Whoops, Google informs me it's called Driven. Close enough, I say.) Anyway, here's the difference. Stetson goes for a rugged, masculine image, something out of the wild west. Driven is produced by Avon, which caters to girly-girls, blue-haired grannies, and Yankee infielders. Edge, Stetson, though if they make Brady wear a stupid cowboy hat or cuddle a friggin' goat like GQ did, we'll have no choice but to call it a draw.

From reader Kevin J.: Dreaming that there is some luck of the Irish with the ping-pong balls May 22 and we're vindicated for losing out on Duncan 10 years ago, who do you take? Oden, or Durant?

Oden, without a moment's hesitation. His presence would improve the Celtics' defense so much immediately that even Gerald Green might look like a competent defender with Oden watching his back. Listen, I love Durant and he'd be hell of a consolation prize in the No. 2 slot, but the claims that he's a once-in-a-generation player are more than a little hyperbolic. He'll be a great scorer in the NBA, a perennial All-Star who combines some of the best attributes of Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, and Dirk Nowitzki. But Oden is a game-changer on defense, an undeniable presence whom you can see eventually anchoring a championship team. He is the franchise player this franchise is desperate for.

From Petey M., Flushing, N.Y.: Where you been, man?

Hibernating. To be honest, I've been overwhelmed with some real-world stuff lately, including having a tree wipe out the power lines in our neighbor's yard, leaving us without power without 3 1/2 days. Let's just say I'm a lot more sympathetic to Nicholson's character in "The Shining" after that experience. The Fox column (latest edition here, if you didn't see it) also has interfered with my blogging productivity more than I thought it would. But now that we have lights and electricity and such, I vow to be a more consistent correspondent over the next few weeks, particularly since the affiliation/link should be starting up soon.

From reader Jeff P.: Keep running all the dolled-up pictures of Jenna Fisher [sic] you want, Finn. You'll never convince me she's anything more than plain, especially by Hollywood standards. She does do a good job on the show though ... so what do you think will happen in the final episodes? Will she hook up with Halpert or what?

First of all, People magazine disagrees with you, Steve, and yes, I'm glad to see they received all of my letters of nomination. Second, Stevie Wonder called, and he wants his retinas back. (I know, that's a comeback only Costanza could love. So sue me.) Anyway, here are a few predictions for the season's final three episodes:

Jan reveals she's pregnant with a Michael Scott spawn: Terrifying twist, huh? A couple of the cast members have mentioned that Jan will have a major life change soon, and I can't help but remember that she kept saying she felt queasy in the episode at the boss's house. I am a little surprised they'd play the baby card so soon, though.

Karen will be offered a corporate job in New York, and Jim will have decide whether to stay or go: The gorgeous Rashida Jones, who's done the near impossible by making Karen immensely likable as the woman standing between Pam and Jim, landed a lead role in a pilot on Fox, and reportedly will only be on The Office on occasion next year, if it all. Sending her to New York seems to be a convenient way for the writers to ease out her character while causing a compelling cliffhanger at the season's end.

Pam will tell Jim exactly how she feels: For all of Michael's antics and Dwight's beet-and-Angela-loving weirdness and Jim's prankster geniality, good-hearted Pam is the show's fulcrum, and the underlying theme this season has been her quest to overcome her fear of rejection and summon the strength to take some chances and get what she wants out of life. The show's savvy writers have a talent for taking us in a perfectly believable direction that we didn't see coming, but it's difficult not to assume that everything that has occured this season (the reconciliation and final breakup with Roy, her overhearing Oscar's snarky comments at the art show about her not being honest with herself) is setting up a situation in which she takes the ultimate chance and puts her heart on the line for Jim. In fact, given Jenna Fischer's habit of subtly tipping off her blog readers to upcoming crucial Jim/Pam moments, we can probably pinpoint the episode when it will happen, considering she recently wrote this: "The episode not to be missed is Beach Day [May 10]. Seriously. Don't miss it."

From my own simple mind: Anything else you wanted to add, dummy?

Just this: While I wasn't a Hardy Boys savant and never imagined that Mo Lucas and Billy Ray Bates were my friends (though I did feel a certain kinship with Kevin Kunnert), my experience with David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game" was remarkably similar to Hollywood Sports Guy's remembrance today. "Breaks," Halberstam's compelling, meticulous account of the post-Walton Portland Trail Blazers and the addled NBA of the late '70s, was one of the first grown-up books I ever read, and I love it as much today as I did when I was 13 years old. (The Swen Nater/Sidney Wicks airport scene is worth the cover price alone.) When I heard the terribly sad news that Halberstam, a far more accomplished writer and journalist than anyone who attempted to pay tribute to him, was killed in a car accident early this week at age 73, I immediately thought of "Breaks," my affection for that book, and my admiration of the man who wrote it. I'll make the effort to read it again soon, my own silly little flashback/homage. If you haven't read it yourself, please do, particularly if you've enjoyed Halberstam's other renowned sports books like "The Summer of '49" or "October, 1964." There's no book I'd recommend more.

As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Sparks was a pretty decent corner for the Giants and the Cowboys in the '90s, but mark these words: his 17-year-old daughter is going to be more famous and have a more lucrative and successful career than her pop ever did. While beatboxing Blake Lewis remains my boy on American Idol, I have to admit my wife was right all along: Jordin Sparks is the class of this year's underwhelming crop of contenders, and she deserves to win the thing, something Mrs. TATB was saying when Entertainment Weekly was putting Jordin's odds of winning at something like 100-1. The girl can sing the hell out of just about any song, and unlike some of AI's better vocalists through the years, she has the right look. Her old man - who, frighteningly, is only six months older than me - surely must be prouder of her than of anything he ever accomplished on the football field.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

TATB Live: Dice-K vs. Norwich Navigators ace Chase Wright

Let's see . . . the clicker has settled on ESPN, our ass is planted in its usual spot on the couch, a couple of Red Stripes are within reach, and in anticipation of the fun the next few hours might bring, the broom is at the ready. Yep, we're officially in Live Blog mode. Play ball, yo.

But before we get rolling with this matchup of career one-game winners, thought I'd let you in on a couple of possible bets tonight, if you are so inclined:

• Dice-K and the Sox are heavy favorites at -170. Vegas does not love Chase Wright.

• The over/under on the number of times Gold Glove winner Derek Jeter's defensive problems are mentioned on the telecast: once, followed by a lame excuse that includes a reference to intangibles.

• The over/under on the times Joe Torre will get caught by the cameras "digging for treasure": Nine (once per inning).

• The over/under on the number of Dice-K pitches Joe Morgan misidentifies as "that's a cutter, Jon": (Searching without luck for the infinity symbol on my keyboard.)

Wager wisely, and let's go. (Sweep . . . sweep . . . sweep. . . ):

Well, that's not how it was supposed to start. After retiring Benedict Damon and Jeter, Dice-K walks Bobby Abreu, drills A-Rod (because the Sox do hit .300 hitters), then leaves a flat changeup on the outside corner that Jason Giambi pokes into the left-center gap to score two. It's 2-0, Yankees, and suddenly I catch myself wondering how you say "performance enhancing drugs" in Japanese. (By the way, Giambi is already sweating like he just stepped out of the sauna. The man is a walking armpit. Must be a side-effect of one of his vitamins.)

In terms of build and delivery, my first impression of Chase Wright is that he reminds me of Jon Lester a little bit, though the Sox's lefty throws harder. And like Lester at times last year, Wright seems hesitant to trust his stuff, which is why he starts out by walking Julio Lugo and Kevin Youkilis. Can't say I blame him - he's only the ninth Yankees rookie in 15 years to start a game at Fenway. The other eight either burst into tears or spontaneously combusted from the stress of the experience. True story. Domingo Jean was nothing but a grease spot and a pair of spikes by the time the Faithful got done with him.

All right, this Wright kid is officially . . . what's the term? . .. oh, yes, a puke. After getting Papi and Manny to pop to Abreu - both on very hittable pitches - he gets two strikes on J.D. Drew, then throws him a slider in the dirt, a good pitcher's pitch. Drew checks his swing, but before the third base umpire can rule whether he went, Wright hops off the mound and is halfway to the dugout before the ump rules no swing. Save that cocky ---- for when you have more than one (1) win above Double A, kid. (Drew whiffs on the next pitch to leave two runner stranded. Wright resists the temptation to do an Eck-style fist pump and point.)

Joe Morgan: "Watching Matuzaka now, you can just tell he's a good pitcher." You know, I was going to mock him for stating the obvious, but that might be the most insightful thing he's ever said. Sure doesn't take much to win an Emmy these days, does it? Dice-K cruises through the second, thanks in part to a nice running catch by Wily Mo Pena in center, who puts a sizable dent in the Monster after a minor post-catch collision.

Wright's starting to look like one of those ----balling lefties who've made a habit of tormenting the Sox the last few seasons. He's got a good change, a decent slider, and a fastball that touches 92. It's a more than adequate arsenal, though his command is shaky at best. (Exhibit A: He just walked the virtually unwalkable Pena as I was writing this.) Still, he gets out of it. Future Pawtucket mainstay Dustin Pedroia's first extra-base hit of the season, a rocketed double into the left field corner, goes for naught as Lugo grounds to three-time Gold Glove winner Captain Jetes, who flashes his two-step range and retires Lugo at first. Calm Eyes!

Uh-oh. Early trouble for Dice-K in the second. Damon singles up the middle, then Dice-K plants one in Jeter's back. It didn't look intentional - Jeter is a notorious diver - but now he has to deal with Abreu, A-Rod, and the Walking Chemistry Experiment with runners on. Man, they don't have lineups like this in Japan.

Abreu whiffs. A-Rod whiffs. And Juicin' G. should have been retired, but his broken-bat flare to right nicks off a retreating Pedroia's glove as Damon crosses the plate to make it 3-0. Pedroia, who had shifted to shallow right already for the pull-heavy Giambi, absolutely should have made the play, and if he were taller than 5-foot-6 or blessed with better range than a lawn gnome, he would have. (Robinson Cano whiffs to end the inning.)

I thought my dad was the only person on earth who still wore those goofy glasses that tint depending upon the level of sunlight, but Gammons, doing his sideline/insight thing tonight, also has them on. I wonder if Gammons also hikes his tube socks up to his knees while wearing shorts and sandals. That's my dad's sartorial trademark, you know.

Morgan is prattling on about how Wright can't keep getting away with throwing only his changeup for strikes. Meanwhile, Papi just popped up, the Sox have but one hit, and Jamie Moyer has 218 wins . . .

. . . and Manny just wallops a changeup to the Mass Pike to make it 3-1, Evil.Do I have to give Morgan credit for making a reasonable point there? I do? Damn.

. . . Um, geez, I guess I do, because J.D. Drew creamed another Wright meatball over everything in right-center to make it 3-2. Like I said, you can't live on the changeup alone. Nope, not in this league.

. . . Holy ----. Back-to-back-to-freakin'-back, with Mike Lowell hitting the longest yet, an absolute bomb that should be landing in your swimming pool at any moment. Oh, and that Joe Morgan? Love him! Give him another Emmy. He knows his stuff.

. . . All right, now this is getting ridiculous. Jason Varitek makes it four homers in nine pitches - the first time the Sox have ever hit four consecutive homers - and Chase Wright is morphing into Bobby Sprowl before our eyes. Theo Epstein's reaction sums it up best: "Oh. My. God." Wily Mo whiffs trying for five, but it's 4-3, Sox, and this one just got fun again.

Nice, easy uneventful inning for Dice-K - in other words, just want you want your pitcher to do after the offense has just given you a lead.

Torre manages to get through his between-innings interview without sticking his finger in his nostrils. Progress, Joe. Progress.

Colter Bean, an enormous (6-foot-7) slopballer who spent a spring as a Rule 5 pick with the Sox a few years ago, is in for the Yankees. We're going to assume Chase Wright is either curled up in the fetal position in the shower or on a bus to Scranton. Probably the former.

Papi's wearing No. 42 tonight as the Sox are paying tribute to Jackie Robinson after rain washed out the original day of homage. Papi's one of the select few players I think should be permitted to wear Robinson's number on a regular basis - it just seems right to me that his number would be on the field, rather than permanently retired - though seeing the 42 on Papi's back is giving me Mo Vaughn flashbacks. Anyway, Mo . . . er, Papi is stranded on second after a double, and it's still 4-3, Sox.

So it turns out Francona's dad, Tito, was involved the only other time in history that one pitcher gave up four consecutive home runs. Also, Drew was one of the Dodgers that hit four straight homers to win that memorable game in the ninth inning last season. Baseball always seems to have cool coincidences like that, doesn't it?

Jeter dinks a hanging slider (according to Morgan) into the Monster Seats, and it's 4-4. And no, that's probably not the only time "Jeter" and "dinks" have been mentioned in the same sentence.

Someone needs to tell Jon Miller than Dice-K doesn't throw a freakin' gyroball. I realize that working with Morgan all these years has probably broken his spirit, but he's starting to get annoying with the inane references to something that doesn't exist.

Dice-K throws several pitches that aren't gyroballs, striking out Abreu and A-Rod and getting Giambi to pop up to escape the inning. Time to up the dosage, G.

My wife just realized her Sunday night habit of watching "Desperate Housewives" was sacrificed for the sake of this blog, though it looks like the DVR saved the day. I actually find the show funny and well-written in a hammy sort of way, and of course there are other reasons for a guy to watch as well. Teri "They're real and they're spectacular" Hatcher, a pretty decent comedic actress, would probably get my vote for the show's hottest babe, if only because I've seen one too many frightening photos of Eva Longoria without makeup.

(What, you haven't seen the pics?)

(Well, trust me, you don't want to. You'll never look at her the same way again.)

(You want to see them? Really? Are you sure?)

(Okay, if you insist, but don't blame me if your retinas burn.)

(All right, it's not that bad. But it's not quite what she's selling on the show, either. Wonder if Tony Parker knows about this.)

Oh, and the Sox don't score.

The number of Yankees I've liked over the years is roughly the same as the number of championship rings Alex Rodriguez has won, but I have to admit, I really am coming to appreciate - okay, like - Robinson Cano. Not only is he a line-drive machine who's going to win a batting crown or two, but he seems like a terrific kid who appreciates his place in the world. He also plays the game the right way, as his shrewd first-to-third baserunning on bloop single that fell in in front of Drew just put the Yankees in position to go ahead, 5-4, on a double-play grounder by Melky Cabrera.

Andy Pettitte, who started Friday in the opener of this series, is coming in in relief. Hmm, Torre knows he has a recent history of elbow problems, right? He remembers that an MRI that made Pettitte's elbow look like pastrami is the reason why the Yankees let him go after the 2003 season, right? Guess this is one of those April must-wins for the Yankees, because otherwise this really doesn't make much sense. When Pettitte's visiting Dr. James Andrews in July, let's remember this one.

Jon Miller just referred to Pettitte as "Clemens." Does he know something? Was there a formal union over the winter? Should we get them something? Candlesticks make a lovely gift. The new Mr. Clemens gets Papi to hit into an inning-ending double play, so I suppose the move works for now.

Dice-K whiffs Abreu on a nasty gyroball* to set the Yankees down in order in the seventh. Looks like Scott Proctor is coming in for the Yankees. Meanwhile, Pettitte is phoning Tommy John to ask for advice on how to comb his hair now that he can't lift his arm over his head.

* - Not actually a gyroball, but who would expect an Emmy Award-winning baseball broadcaster to recognize a forkball, anyway?

Manny greets Proctor with a hard single to right. When Manny starts smoking the ball the opposite way, it's a tell-tale sign that he's about to go on one of his patented tears. And it looks like he will get one more at-bat tonight. Just sayin'.

Drew inside-outs a curveball that scrapes off the wall in the left. Classic Fred Lynn double right there, and yes, Drew does remind me a lot of Fragile Freddy, for reasons mostly good.

Well, maybe those of us who have been fretting that Mike Lowell will suffer an offensive decline this season should shut the *%*% up for a while. Lowell just cranked his second homer of the night, three-run line shot off the base of the Coke bottles, giving the home team a 7-5 lead. Did we mention that this is - er, make that was - Proctor's 12th appearance in 17 games? Leave it to Torre to ride his horses until they turn into glue . . . in April. As it is, Proctor's out, and Luis Vizcaino, this year's version of Antonio Osuna and Felix Rodriguez, a hard thrower with a penchant for melting down, is in.

After giving up a single to A-Rod on a 2-2 pitch, Dice-K's debut against the Yankees comes to an end with this line: 106 pitches, 7 innings, 8 hits, 1 walk, 7 Ks, 5 earned runs. Acceptable, though hardly an ace-like performance. I was mildly surprised he got a standing ovation, but then, he's leaving with the lead. I'll really complain when we start giving every damn home run hitter a curtain call.

The Yankees aren't going to surrender quietly, are they? After A-Rod's single, new folk hero Hideki Okajima gives up a single to left center by Giambi, bringing longtime Sox pest Jorge Posada to the plate as a pinch hitter. Suddenly, I'm sweating like Giambi.

Walk. Loaded. Okajima out, Donnelly in, Cabrera up. Hold me.

Cabrera grounds into a fielder's choice in which that little weasel Miguel Cairo swipes at Lugo to prevent him from turning two, and it's 7-6, Sox.

Suddenly, I feel kind of bad for all of the Pedroia short jokes. That was one hell of a clutch play. Then again, he probably wouldn't have been able to make that diving stab to rob Josh Phelps of what surely would have been a go-ahead two-run single had he not been so low to the ground in the first place. (Sorry. Old habits, you know.)

Papelbon is getting loose, with Damon, Jeter, and Abreu due up in the ninth. A few insurance runs here sure wouldn't hurt. Maybe four homers in a row, if that's not too much to ask?

Phelps is now catching for the Yankees, the first time he's caught in the big leagues since 2001. So far, he actually looks like he knows what he's doing.

Manny ropes hit No. 3 tonight. The hot streak is officially underway. Unfortunately, he's left stranded, and it comes down to Papelbon against the heart of the Yankees' order, just as it should, I suppose.

"Gritty at-bat by Damon," Jon Miller says, and I guess he's right, though I thought it was an unwritten rule that only David Eckstein can be called "gritty" after hitting a routine fly to left.

Now that's a fastball. Sit your intangibled ass down, Captain. Two outs.

Abreu walks on a high 3-2 fastball that looked like it was about 102 mph. Remember how A-Rod recently said that it always seems to come down to him, good or bad? I think he was onto something.

Mr. Clutch reverts to his Fenway form and bounces an 0-2 pitch to Lowell, and the Sox have their first sweep of the Yankees at Fenway since 1990. A hell of fun game, all in all. As for parting thoughts: It would have been nice if Dice-K could have spun a gem, but thanks to an offense that got a lot of production this weekend from some players (Coco Crisp, Lowell, Varitek) who had been concerning us, we're certainly satisfied with the final results. Hey, he's 1-0 lifetime against the Yankees, the Sox are 3-0 against the Yankees in '07, and it's starting to look like this could be a very interesting summer at Fenway. Nothing to bitch about here. Speaking of which: Remind me to pick up the New York tabloids tomorrow, will you?

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Out of the darkness

Should have a Nine innings column posted tonight, now that our 3 1/2 days of electricity-free living have mercifully ended. In the meantime, here's the link to this week's FOX column. And for the kind few who have asked, the column runs every Friday and usually can be found fairly easily on the MLB page.

Until later, here's hoping a certain fellow Sox blogger can keep A-Rod from hitting one to Worcester tonight. Slappy McPurplelips sure is locked in, huh?

UPDATE, Sunday, 3:38 p.m.: Sorry 'bout yet another unfullfilled promise - some real-life stuff took precedence yesterday. I am hoping (wife-permitting) to LIVE BLOG Dice-K's start versus the Empite tonight, so be sure to check back in around 8 p.m. I think we're going to be able to pull it off, wife and kids permitting. I vow to bring at least as much insight as Joe Morgan.

- - TATB Management

P.S. - Okajima's a find, no?

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy trails, No. 11

Catching up on some things while waiting for the impending monsoon/blizzard/hurricane/locusts/etc. . . .

A half-dozen years ago, before Mo Lewis's helmet was violently introduced to his rib cage and New England Patriots' destiny was forever altered, would you have ever thought that Drew Bledsoe's retirement would barely register a blip on the Boston sports radar screen? I suppose a certain fade to irrelevance is natural when your successor achieves all the things that you were supposed to somehow couldn't. Still, it left us a bit disappointed that Bledsoe's departure from the NFL after 14 seasons wasn't more of a story around here.

I mean, sure, we all know about Bledsoe's flaws - he had the mobility of the Route 1 dinosaur, he was reluctant to alter his let-it-fly game to fit the Belichick/Weis offense, he was a rocket-armed prodigy (he started as true freshman at Washington State) who didn't always seem to care that much about enhancing his secondary quarterbacking skills, and it was largely his own fault that he never quite became what his talent (and that legendary Minnesota game) suggested he could be. The truth is, once Tom Brady took a few games' worth of snaps, it was apparent to everyone but Bledsoe's blind loyalists that the new guy was just the jolt of energy the franchise needed.

But without No. 11, we probably never get introduced to No. 12, for had Bledsoe not arrived in New England in 1993, along with a certain gruff coach with a fondness for doing his own grocery shopping, who knows what might have become of this franchise. Maybe it would have ended up in St. Louis (though if I recall correctly, Bob Kraft was already close to purchasing the team when Parcells was hired). More likely, the Patriots would have continued to be the sport's preeminent laughingstock under the "leadership" of Rick Mirer.

In his early years, Bledsoe gave the Patriots immediate on-field credibility, a signature player who, when he was on, was the most breathtaking pure passer east of Green Bay. Through the seasons, we came to appreciate other attributes: he was as tough as old shoe leather, he played hurt (quick, name another quarterback who won a game in the last seconds with a pin sticking out of his finger), and that in the face of personal disappointment, he still remained a good teammate. If you weren't happy for him after the 2001 AFC Championship game, then you weren't a Patriots fan.

Did we wish, especially during those maddening Pete Carroll years, that he'd have dedicated himself more to improving rather than retreating to his Montana getaway mere moments after the season's final buzzer? Well, sure, and had he done so, maybe he'd be a Hall of Famer rather than a pretty good quarterback with gaudy stats who somehow lost three different starting jobs in the final six seasons of his career. But we've got a feeling that Bledsoe is okay with his football legacy, just as long as he has his family, his health, and his place in mountains. He walks away from the game knowing what we all should remember: there's no shame in being the second-best quarterback in Patriots history.

* * *

I think we've found the early frontrunner for Red Sox quote of the year, plucked straight from Mnookin's blog.

“I’d never do anything like that. There are f----ing kids in the stands."

– Brendan Donnelly, when asked if he’d made an obscene gesture at Seattle's Jose Guillen.

Mark these words: If this guy can still get it done, he's going to be huge here. Donnelly takes *%&# from no one, yet by most accounts he's as down to earth as they come. Sounds like a New England kind of guy to me.

* * *

Other Red Sox remnants: I don't care what Buster Olney says, Dice-K reminds me of a young Mike Mussina more than any other contemporary pitcher. After two starts, I'm putting him down for 17 wins and a 3.20 ERA, and yes, I'm deliberately being conservative . . . Seriously, how sick was Felix Hernandez the other night? That might have been the most dominating pitching performance I've seen since Pedro's heyday. The Sox hitters had no chance. It'll be fascinating to see what he can accomplish if he stays healthy and away from the Cool Ranch Doritos . . . I realize Josh Beckett started out pretty well last season, winning his first four starts if I recall correctly, but right now he looks vastly superior to anything we saw from him a year ago. The true test will come when he has to use his curve and changeup to get outs in a crucial situation, but it sure looks like he's evolving into a pitcher from the mule-stubborn thrower he was a season ago . . . Tito Francona needs to make a point to work Eric Hinske and Wily Mo Pena into the lineup more often, not only to keep the two former regulars from rusting on the bench, but to keep the likes of Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Coco Crisp, and even Manny from wearing down over the long haul. I actually wouldn't mind seeing Hinske take more than a few of Lowell's starts at third . . . There's a fun thread going over at Sons of Sam Horn, with posters recalling the most electric they ever saw Fenway. Mine would be Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, when ol' Trot Dirty Hat hit the walkoff homer off Rich Harden. I was working, and Fenway was shaking so much as he circled the bases that it was hard to line up the keys on the laptop . . . Shhh, don't tell the 'EEI imbeciles, but Francona's shrewd eighth-inning use of Jonathan Papelbon Friday night was straight out of the Bill James/Closer By Committee playbook. You use your best reliever to get crucial outs, whether that's in the ninth inning, the eighth, or the sixth. For at least one night, it worked to perfection.

* * *

The heat seems to be increasing on Danny Ainge these days, and if he gives M.L. Rivers a contract extension without an out clause, I'll agree that he deserves to be scalded. But I've said it before, and I'll say it right up until we know the results of the draft lottery: Ainge deserves credit for taking a dull but decent team that had two quality players and absolutely no young talent or chance of winning anything substantial, and having the Spauldings to blow it up and start over. Three years later, he has an atrocious team with at least a half-dozen talented kids . . . and a potential winning lottery ticket. Given that the goal should be to get that 17th banner my any means necessary, I have no problem with that strategy, even with the inherent risk that they could end up with the likes of Joakim Noah once the ping-pong balls have settled. Hey, if he enters 2007-08 with a starting five of Oden, Jefferson, Szczerbiak, Pierce, and Rondo, with, depending on potential trades, Perkins, West, Gomes, Allen, and Green on the bench, how can you not feel pretty good about about the rebuilding job Ainge has done?

* * *

Damn, there sure are some fringe benefits to being an actor, huh? If I were Will Ferrell, I might never wash my hands again. And as if we needed yet another reason why Jenna Fischer is the Official Muse of TATB (Non-Wife Division), there's her take on filming what we now consider the greatest scene in the history of celluloid:

“The first take is like [Will] said, ‘Okay Jenna, you're married and I'm married and no funny business. Anything that makes you uncomfortable I want you to tell me. I just want you to feel comfortable.’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s just go for it and make it funny.’ He's like, ‘Yeah.’ So we just went for it and as soon as they yelled cut, his hands came off like he was touching a hot iron. He was so respectful. But then around hour 8 [of filming] it's so normal that they yelled cut and we are discussing the scene with the director and I said, ‘Yeah, dude, your hands are still on my boobs.’ And that was cool, but when we went to lunch and he was still squeezing my boobs and then that night at my car... I haven't been in a lot of films, but he said that was normal - but I'm still not sure. I'm not positive that that was right. He said that was okay and he suggested to promote the film he should play with my boobs. I think that's cool, right? That's how it's done. That's what he said. Yeah.”

Cute, funny, and down with some good old-fashioned boob humor? I don't care what you haters say - she is perfect.

* * *

I've received 20 or so emails asking me if there's any truth to the little nugget buried here - not to mention a puzzled query from one of my bosses. While it's always flattering when someone says nice things about your work, there's a part of me that's annoyed by the conjecture, and I suppose I should address it. So let me break down my professional status this way (I'll try not to sound like a Simmonsish egomaniacal dinkus here):

Lets's see . . . I just hooked up an affiliation with FoxSports and, soon, . . . I get to blog here about the Sox and anything else I'm obsessed with (you did read the above item, right?) without having to deal with idiot pro athletes and impossible deadlines that would surely jade the perspective I've managed to maintain as a fan . . . I live in lovely coastal Maine and don't really feel like commuting to freakin' Lawrence . . . I've dreamed of working at the Globe since I was a kid and have so much fun with and respect for the people I work with that sometimes I can't believe I'm so fortunate . . . I work four nights a week now for what I'd guess is more compensation than I'd make there in seven days . . . And because of the short week, I get to spend more time with my wife and two young kids.

But other than that, yup, I'd consider it.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

As far as we're concerned, there can never be enough homage paid to the most courageous man in baseball history.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

The James gang

Since we got an email box full of feedback regarding our recent look at the Bill James Handbook's projections for the 2007 Red Sox, I figured we should revisit the the numbers James and the Baseball Info Solutions wizards projected for last year's Sox, and find out just how accurate they ultimately were.

One more thing: If you liked our take on this year's Handbook, check out my pal Dave D'Onofrio's James/Sox breakdown in the Concord Monitor. He did it first, starting the tradition before the 2006 season, and he does it better.

Okay, let's break it down . . .

Jason Varitek

Projected: .266 average, 20 homers, 75 RBIs in 492 at-bats.
Actual: .238-12-55 in 355 at-bats.
Comment: Injuries played a part, but they always do in the inevitable and rapid decline of a 30-something catcher.

Kevin Youkilis
Projected: .278-14-68 in 500 at-bats.
Actual: .279-13-72 in 569 at-bats.
Comment: Bingo.

Julio Lugo
Projected: .286-9-61, 28 steals in 597 at-bats.
Actual: .278-12-37 in 435 at-bats.
Comment: How did he drive in just 37 runs? That's an Enzo Hernandez-like ratio.

Mike Lowell
Projected: .269-16-72 in 465 at-bats.
Actual: .284-20-80 in 573 at-bats.
Comment: And I think we'd all be thrilled - and maybe a little surprised - if Lowell matches his '06 comeback numbers.

Manny Ramirez
Projected: .305-45-141 in 587 at-bats.
Actual: .321-35-102 in 449 at-bats.
Comment: It appears the sabermetric dudes are yet to come up with a variable that accounts for a hitter's unexpected late-summer vacation.

Coco Crisp
Projected: .296-13-64 in 557 at-bats.
Actual: .264-8-36 in 413 at-bats.
Comment: His inaugural Boston season was sidetracked by a broken finger, and we're still yet to see the player who was so dynamic in '04-'05 for Cleveland.

J.D. Drew
Projected: .295-25-70 in 444 at-bats.
Actual: .283-20-100 in 494 at-bats.
Comment: I'm curious why James projected 25 homers but just 70 RBIs.

David Ortiz
Projected: .289-40-132 in 589 at-bats.
Actual: .287-54-139 in 558 at-bats.
Comment: The lesson, as always: Underestimate Big Papi's power at your own risk.

Wily Mo Pena
Projected: .259-21-57 in 340 at-bats.
Actual: .301-11-42 in 276 at-bats.
Comment: The ultimate baseball tease: If he can hit .301 while whiffing in one-third of his at-bats, what might he do if he ever learns to make consistent contact?

Doug Mirabelli
Projected: .244-6-20 in 135 at-bats.
Actual: .193-6-25 in 161 at-bats.
Comment: Projections were based on him playing for the Padres. How I wish they still were.

Curt Schilling
Projected: 14 wins, 7 losses, 3.31 ERA, 193 strikeouts in 190 innings.
Actual: 15-7, 3.97, 183 Ks in 204 innings.
Comment: All in all, a fairly accurate prediction of his comeback season.

Josh Beckett
Projected: 14-8, 3.42, 192 Ks in 194 innings, 17 homers allowed.
Actual: 16-11, 5.01, 158 Ks in 204 innings, 36 homers allowed.
Comment: Who would have predicted he'd allow more home runs than Manny would hit?

Julian Tavarez
Projected: 4.18 ERA in 61 innings.
Actual: 4.47 ERA in 98.6 innings.
Comment: His stats would have been worse, but he pitched well in September garbage time.

Tim Wakefield
Projected: 14-13, 4.11, 241 innings, 173 Ks.
Actual: 7-11, 4.63, 140 innings, 90 Ks.
Comment: Oddly, the projections anticipated career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts for the then-39 year old.

Jonathan Papelbon
No projection, because, dude, you just can't foresee sheer awesomeness!

Brendan Donnelly
Projected: 3.14 ERA in 62 innings.
Actual: 3.94 ERA in 64 innings.
Comment: And he'd have met his projections, darn it, had those meddling kids not caught him scuffing the ball the year before.

Mike Timlin
Projected: 3.63 ERA in 74 innings.
Actual: 4.36 ERA in 64 innings.
Comment: The former Mr. Reliable was never right in season's second half.

J.C. Romero
Projected: 4.25 ERA in 54 innings.
Actual: 6.70 ERA in 48.3 innings.
Comment: The 28/31 BB/K ratio was nearly as ghastly as the ERA.

Kyle Snyder
Projected: 4.87 ERA in 39 innings.
Actual: 6.02 ERA in 58.3 innings.
Comment: Am I wrong to think he wasn't nearly as ineffective as the numbers suggest?

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Dice-K, Agent Zero, and other mysteries

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free Celtics phantom injuries for you . . .

1. Now, I'm certainly not suggesting he'll be as good, because I'm a believer that the 1998-2001 Pedro Martinez was a once-in-a-fan's-lifetime gift from the sports gods, that Petey did things on the mound that we'll never witness again. But - and here we try, probably in vain, to fight off the hyperbole - in terms of anticipation leading up to a start, then having anabsolutely thrilling performance justify every single syllable of hype . . . well, if that wasn't straight out of the Vintage Pedro playbook, I don't know what is. Wednesday just cannot get here soon enough.

2. If you've visited the space for any length of time, you surely realize that the Red Sox could have replaced Jerry Trupiano with Charlie Brown's teacher (Mwah-mwah-MannyRamirez-mwahmwhamwha-mwha) and I would have considered it a worthwhile tradeoff. But the fact that Dave O'Brien is Joe Castiglione's new partner is almost too good to be true - the new guy's got great pipes (as did Troop), but his feel for the pace of the game and professionalism is an immeasurable upgrade on his predecessor, who was more interested in talking Cardinals or putting together his All-Fish team (Troop: "You'd have Tim Salmon in right, Joe . . ." Joe: Groan) than actually attempting to call a decent game. What a pleasure it is to be able to turn on the Red Sox game and not be annoyed to the point that assaulting the steering wheel seems like a good idea. (I'll reserve my review of Glenn Geffner for a later date, since I haven't heard him for more than a few innings yet.)

3. You can't help but appreciate Jonathan Papelbon's willingness to move back to the bullpen, no matter whether he did it for the betterment of the team or because, as he is now claiming, closing is his personal preference. But you have to wonder how his agent feels, given that a quality starting pitcher (or even a not-so-quality rotation filler) tends to make considerably more money over the course of his career than do relief pitchers not named Mariano.

4. I suppose he could become more lackadaisical the more comfortable he becomes in Boston, but from what I've seen so far, J.D. Drew plays the game a lot harder than we've been led to believe. I like what I see - he's the most well-rounded player on this team, whether he's ultimately a Dirt Dog or not.

5. Tito Francona seems to have a lot of faith in Kyle Snyder considering he was pegged as the long relief guy, and I wouldn't be surprised if that faith proves justified. The former first-round pick has always had the stuff to succeed, just not the health.

6. Is it too soon to revoke my prediction that Coco Crisp will bounce back in Year 2 with the Sox? Man, he looks brutal, and assuming the Sea Dogs actually get any games in before June, Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be pressuring him for that center field job sooner rather than later. I realize it's only four games, but if Crisp keeps this up, he might be hitting routine grounders to second for the Pittsburgh Pirates by the All-Star break.

7. With the daffy, dazzling Gilbert Arenas down for the count with a knee injury, the NBA playoffs just got a whole lot less interesting. But at least it gives the him more time to continue to kick Curt Schilling's ample ass in their pursuit of the Dundie Award for the Best Blog By A Pro Athlete. Consider this snippet from a post after his injury:

I told them to cut the leg off a couple times. You know, cut it off and then bring it back to me when it was all healed. Because, you know, Heather Mills on Dancing with the Stars, she had that leg. I was saying I could borrow one of those and finish out the season. But they wasn’t going for that.

Hey, any NBA player who has the pop-culture awareness to joke about McCartney's peg-legged ex is cool with us.

8. Congressman Smerlas? Watching that overgrown hairball Chewbacca his way through a debate would be must-see TV, no doubt. But if he gets elected to any position higher than assistant meter maid, you'll be able to find me in the nearest bomb shelter, because that'd undoubtedly be a sign that end is near.

9. Well, I suppose this means I can't freely rip on Joe Buck anymore. But I'm damn sure going to find out if McCarver is still fair game.

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

When I was a kid, I ripped up and mutilated every Jack Tatum football card I ever got. It was my childish way of paying tribute to a fallen Patriot I was too young to have seen play, but one whose teammates - and more importantly to me, my dad - spoke of with great reverence. There have been a lot of terrific columns written and anecdotes shared about Darryl Stingley the past few days, and I think this heartfelt email, from reader Shaun Kelly, belongs with them.

As a Patriot season-ticket holder throughout the 70's, I had the genuine honor of seeing every one of Stinger's touchdowns he made as a Patriot at Schaeffer Stadium. We used to wait outside the old clubhouse after home victories, and Darryl was always most cordial and polite to all of us who greeted him. Let me tell you, friend, he was a superb wide-receiver who was like Troy Brown with a little more ability.

I used to hate John Madden because he coached the Raiders, but the way he treated Darryl after his injury in Oakland , my attitude changed completely on the man. As you know, Coach Madden visited him every day in the hospital during his prolonged stay in the local Bay Area hospital. Madden then called him continuously for the rest of that year and even retired from the Raiders after the season because the injury so affected him. When he became a broadcaster and found himself doing Bears games in Chicago , John Madden invariably visited Darryl at his home there.

Steve Grogan once told me that Coach Fairbanks immediately took the play (an over-the-middle sprint in which that -------, Jack Tatum, nailed him) out of the Patriots playbook after Stingley's injury because he didn't want to subject his offensive players to hearing the play called in the huddle. Grogan then said, "It's not just that one of our players became paralyzed, it was Darryl. We loved him like a brother."

Stinger has his legs again. Heaven just got a hell of a receiver and an even better human being.

Rest in peace, No. 84.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

2007 Red Sox preview capsule

Foul tips and other observations: Sure, there are questions that only the long summer and the grind of the schedule can answer, but on this, the most optimistic day of the sports year, we'll gladly say it with unbridled confidence: We like this team. A lot . . . The plusses? Start with the starters. Curt Schilling might look like he spent the offseason hanging out at White Castle with David Wells, but he spent the spring pumping fastballs on the black with impeccable command, and he's added a changeup that at the least will be useful. Right now, it seems the only thing that can stop him from winning 15 is carpal tunnel . . . Josh Beckett has as much raw ability as any pitcher in the AL who doesn't answer to "Yo, Johan," he's admittedly more focused and comfortable heading into year two of the Red Sox Experience, and if that filthy 83 mph changeup he's been showcasing this spring is any indication, he's finally got it through his skull that you can't survive in the AL East on fastballs alone. He's going to make John Farrell look very good . . . As for the Dice-K phenomenon, well, hell, what hasn't already been said, written and debated in the last six weeks? This is going to be a blast. The suggestion that he's Mike Mussina with a better fastball seems a reasonable one, though that tailing, screwball-like changeup is uniquely his own. I imagine he'll take his lumps now and then, particularly if he stays in the habit of leaving the ball up too often, but it's apparent that he has the stuff on the mound and off (his sunny personality has been a revelation) to live up to every last word of hype . . . While starting pitching should be the Sox's main advantage over the Yankees, it is far from their only strength . . . Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz remain the most dangerous 1-2 power punch of their generation, provided Manny doesn't suddenly quit midsummer to become a Canadian Mountie or follow some other such whim . . . Papi will try to increase his home run output for the seventh straight season (he'll do it), while Manny is just 30 homers shy of 500 (he'll get 'em) . . . Perhaps Papi will even wallops his way to the MVP award he's long deserved . . . Now that I'm past the sticker shock, I can admit I'm glad that J.D. Drew is a Red Sox. He might be the most complete player on the roster, and (crossing fingers) if he can stay healthy, he'll be the No. 5 hitter they were so desperate for a season ago . . . The bullpen should fall into place now that Jonathan Papelbon earned the season's first big save by returning to the closer role. I was intrigued by the idea as Papelbon as a starter, if only because I'd rather get 180 innings from my best pitcher instead of 80, but most other teams would sacrifice their mascot to have such a dilemma . . . The best guess here is that Brendan Donnelly will emerge as the most reliable setup guy. He certainly has the proper temperament for a late-inning, high-pressure role. The dude is intense . . . I'm not writing off Mike Timlin, either, in part because I'm pretty sure he could kill me and gut me with his bare hands. The fact that the Sox showed absolutely no hesitation in re-signing him after his September meltdown tells you they believe whatever went wrong was correctable . . . J.C Romero looked rejuventated this spring, though the fact that the Sox are carrying three lefties tells you they're not sure they have one they can trust . . . Which brings us to our concerns . . . No. 1 on our list is No. 33 in your program . . . At age 35, can Jason Varitek bounce back from an injury-plagued and ineffective (.238) season? History says no, with little room for argument . . . Even if he struggles at the plate - and his bat looked slug-slow this spring - he's something of an asset because of his defense, knowledge of the pitchers, and the fact that the decomposing Doug Mirabelli is the alternative . . . We also must wonder if Mike Lowell's feeble second half is a sign of an offensive decline . . . If Dustin Pedroia can prove the doubters wrong at one more level . . . If Julio Lugo will show us why the Sox front office long coveted a player whose production doesn't really justify the admiration . . . If Coco Crisp, hitting his prime at 27, will be the dynamic player he was in his final two years in Cleveland, and not the erratic, easy out he too often was in his disappointing Boston debut . . . But hey, every team in baseball has questions (see: Carl Pavano, Opening Day starter), and the Red Sox have fewer than most. Besides, it's bad form to fret and complain today. Winter is gone, the Red Sox are back, and anything seems possible.

Breakthrough player: Beckett. The trade will look a lot better after this season than it did after the last one.

Honorable mention: Dice-K. Is it really a breakthrough if we expect it? . . . Devern Hansack: Strike-throwing machine will be a factor in the bullpen before season is through . . . Pedroia: Loretta was the media's buddy, but let's admit it: he was a singles hitter with no range. The bar isn't set that high . . . Kason Gabbard: If Jon Lester doesn't eventually seize Julian Tavarez's spot in the rotation, this Francona favorite just might.

Breakdown player: Varitek. I do hope I'm wrong about this . . . but I don't think I am.

Dishonorable mention: Lowell: There's a reason the Sox shopped him around in the offseason. It's called selling high . . . Drew: His history suggests we must be concerned, but hopefully, he'll pull a Molitor and be healthier in his 30s than he was in his 20s.

Completely random Bill James stat: Wily Mo Pena had the longest average home run in the American League last season at 411 feet.

Bonus stat: Schilling tied Chicago's Jon Garland for the league lead in doubles allowed (51).

Bonus bonus stat: Kevin Youkilis led the league in pitches per plate appearance (4.43) and was second in pitches seen at 3,009. Cleveland's Grady Sizemore saw 3,019.

And what the hell, one more: Beckett led the league in pitches at 95 MPH or faster (1.072), which tells you all you need to know.

. . . and finally, a prediction: 95 wins, 67 losses, 2d in AL East, AL wild card winner, and several nights of October intrigue.

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