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. . . ):

FIRST INNING
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.)

SECOND INNING
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!

THIRD INNING
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.

FOURTH INNING
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.

FIFTH INNING
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.

SIXTH INNING
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.

SEVENTH INNING
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.

EIGHT INNINGS
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.

NINTH INNING
"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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