Thursday, May 31, 2007

Beer for my horses

Just a quick note to let you know that I'll have something new posted Friday, despite my ongoing battle with the bird flu. (Or perhaps whooping cough. Seriously, my 3-year-old is the modern day Typhoid Mary. It's getting ridiculous. The boy in the plastic bubble had a better immune system than I do.) Anyway, if I don't get a chance to write about the differences between this season and '78 - something I've been looking forward to doing, if only to rip Zimmer - then I'll do a live blog of the Sox-Yankees game tonight, so be sure to check back in. In the meantime, I think I finally understand how Wade Boggs found Margo Adams attractive.

Update: I'll definitely be writing live off the Sox' matchup tonight with the reincarnation of the '62 Mets, so be sure to check back in around 7ish.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Nine innings: 05.28.07

Playing nine innings while looking forward to the Yankees' trading-deadline fire sale . . .

1. Think Dr. Charles has anything appropriately cheesy planned for Trot Nixon's return to Fenway Park today? Maybe have noted baseball songsmith Terry Cashman crank out another silly, simple tune ("The Dirty-Hat Ditty," perhaps?). It certainly seems like NESN intends on playing up the Trot angle tonight, from a pregame one-on-one interview with Tom Caron to having ol' No. 7 miked up for some goofy batting-practice banter. Who knows, maybe they'll even bring back Brian Daubach for a reunion with his old partner in grime. While we here at TATB never quite understood why Nixon was such an unconditional darling of the Dirt Dog crowd (from flipping the second out into in the stands twice to failing to hustle home before an inning-ending out could be recorded at another base twice, he always seemed to run neck-and-neck with Manny for the team lead in boneheaded plays), we always respected him for his sincere appreciation of playing in Boston, his big-moment ownership of Roger Clemens, and the fact that he was One of the 25, and the one who happened to deliver the big hit in the clinching game. No, he may never have been our favorite, but today, we will tip our dirty Sox cap his way. After 13 years in the Sox organization, we owe him that much.

2. Kevin Youkilis is batting .353, he has seven straight multi-hit games, a higher OPS than sluggers named Morneau and Teixeira . . . and you know what? I'm beginning to think he's actually this good. It's funny, but the scouts who were skeptical of Youkilis as he rose through the Red Sox system noted that for all of his patience at the plate, they didn't think he was a skilled enough hitter to always make the most of it when he did get a hittable pitch. Well, here we are three years after Youkilis first arrived in the big leagues, and it seems like the guy never misses his pitch - he's a line-drive machine. I realize he got off to a similarly scorching start last season before wearing down in the second half, but I've seen enough to be convinced that he's ready, at age 28, to put up excellent numbers all season long.

3. There are a few things about Dustin Pedroia that annoy me - the swing-from-the-heels approach to hitting, the sense that his tough-guy gripe about A-Rod's slide comes from an incurable case of what my dad used to call "little man's disease" - but I have to admit, he's winning me over as a ballplayer. He's better than advertised defensively, certainly superior to rangeless predecessor Mark Loretta, and if his classic at-bat against Eric Gagne yesterday is a fair measure, there are very few pitchers who will overmatch him despite his unorthodox uppercut swing. I'm not sure I like him yet, but I'm beginning to appreciate him.

4. Well, I guess Pedro Martinez won't be getting a bedazzler for Christmas. If you missed it, the greatest pitcher in modern Red Sox history recently weighed in on the comeback of the second-greatest pitcher in modern history, and Pedro's opinion was basically this: Right now, Roger Clemens looks like a fat, old junkballer. To which we can only say that we hope Pedro is as good a scout as he is (was?) a pitcher.

5. Speaking of Pedro, and to a lesser extent Johnny Damon, it might be time to give Theo Epstein his due for the unsentimental manner in which he refuses to overpay for the club's popular but aging stars. Pedro, of course, crumbled physically in Year 2 of his four-year deal with the Mets, and the years of playing with reckless abandon sure seem to be taking a heavy toll on Damon in his second season with the Yankees. We're not saying Pedro and Damon are finished as premier players . . . but at the moment, Theo looks shrewd for letting them leave. Kinda makes you wonder what his post-2007 plan for Curt Schilling is, doesn't it?

6. Brief Celtics aside: I vow that in 2017, when the Celtics inevitably stink and the next franchise big man (Shazaam O'Neal?) is the prize of the NBA lottery, I will not get caught up in the hype or daydream of said franchise big man in green and white until David Stern's nerdy underling pulls the Celtics' card out of the envelope as the No. 1 pick. The crushing letdown from realizing Tim Duncan, Greg Oden, or Kevin Durant will be some other franchise's grand prize is simply too much to endure again.

7. Brief Patriots aside: Since I've been telling anyone who will listen that we never would have heard of Bryan Fletcher had Junior Seau remained healthy - the one thing he can still do at an elite level is shadow tight ends and running backs in pass coverage - you bet I'm glad the Patriots are bringing him back for another year of graduate school. In a supporting role, Seau's still a very useful player.

8. As if Red Sox fans needed another reason to adore Orlando Cabrera.

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

PLoved this story by Joe Posnanski (for our money, one of the two or three best sports columnist in the country - he actually seems to like sports, go figure) on the legend of Bo Jackson. if you didn't see Jackson in his too-short prime, well, you missed something truly special, but Posnanski does a wonderful job of recapturing it, particularly with the Harold Reynolds anecdote. The only time I saw Jackson play in person was in the spring of, let's see, probably '89 or '90 at Fenway, when me and a bunch of my UMaine buddies made the four-hour drive down from the Orono hinterlands for the sole purpose of seeing him (and George Brett) play. As usual, Bo did not disappoint, smashing line-drive home run off Wes Gardner that dented the back wall in centerfield, about 20 feet from where we were seated in the bleachers. I've never seen anything like it - or anything like the man who hit it, for that matter.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Nine innings: 05.21.07

Playing nine innings while hunching that Manny is about to break out of it big-time in the Bronx . . .

1. Ten-and-a-half games? Nice, but not enough. Not nearly enough. When these three games are over, I want the Yankees reeling. I want the deficit at 13.5 games come Wednesday night. A month from now, I want it at 20-something, and by September, I want them chasing the Devil Rays. I want them blasted in the 120-point headlines on the back and front pages of the Post and Daily News. I want George "Weekend at Bernie's" Steinbrenner's publicist issuing harshly worded press releases chock-full of unintentional comedy. I want the newly unemployed Joe Torre sitting on his porch in Hawaii, wondering where it all went so wrong and if his legacy is irreparably damaged. I want the Rocket to have second thoughts and a convenient hamstring "tweak." I want Matt DeSalvo and Tyler Clippard to realize they aren't Aaron Small, 2005. I want Suzyn Waldman muted. I want Brian Cashman to wish he'd gone to nursing school like he secretly dreamed. I want A-Rod to bicker behind the scenes with Derek Jeter while counting the days until he escapes . . . er, opts out. I want Robinson Cano to continue his Chuck Knoblauch impression, I want Johnny Damon to continue hemorraging body parts, and I want Mariano Rivera to mournfully long for those golden days when no one could touch his cutter. Is that too much to ask? Well, yeah, probably. But you get the point. For once, the Sox have a chance to deliver an early-season blow that the Yankees may not be able to recover from; if the Sox can rough them up over the next three days, the aftermath in the Bronx is going to be gruesome. So why not daydream big? It might make it all the sweeter should it become reality.

2. All right, I'll admit it. My pre-Boston perception of Julian Tavarez couldn't have been more wrong. I thought he was a hothead, a lunatic, a selfish clubhouse cancer and unpopular teammate who didn't particularly care about winning. Oh, he's still a hothead and a lunatic, but it's become apparent that he's an endearing and extremely well-liked hothead/lunatic, one whose tantrums usually are the direct result of his frustration with letting his teammates down. It's funny, but he has many of the same characteristics, both positive and self-destructive, as Oil Can Boyd had back in the day. From his comical one-sided dugout chats with Dice-K to his part-time gig as Manny's unofficial spokesman to his willingness to pitch in any role and situation that the team requests of him, it's clear that Tavarez and the Red Sox are a good fit. Who knew? Surely not me.

3. Where have you gone, Dennis Eckersley? Maybe I've just had the coincidental misfortune of missing the Eck's NESN studio appearances recently, but it seems to me the likes of Dave McCarty, Jim Rice and Ken Macha have been getting more airtime lately. Even Jack Welch has been coming down from the Muppets balcony to throw his ill-informed two cents in. (Or two billion cents, given that's probably what he's paying for the privilege.) No Eck? This is not a good thing. With the Sox in the Bronx and the anticipation running high, I'd better see the original slickermaster on my TV tonight, offering the sharp insight and unfiltered opinions that make him the best baseball analyst there is, including everyone currently employed in Bristol, Conn. The Eck retired from pitching nine years ago, but in his second career, he's still the go-to guy in a big game.

4. It seems like every lefthander with a fastball that probably wouldn't earn a speeding ticket is labeled The Next Jamie Moyer, particularly if said lefty has a quality breaking pitch, a sneaky changeup, and the requisite savvy to make batters look foolish despite a limited repertoire. And while that probably does Moyer a disservice, given that he's pitched his way to 220 major-league wins while so many Kevin Mortons have come and gone, I must admit that they more I see of Kason Gabbard, the more I think he can be one of those shrewd, successful southpaws - yes, in the Moyer mold - who seems to find a way to win without ever overwhelming anyone. He couldn't have been more impressive Sunday, and he's been a consistently effective pitcher for over a full season now. Considering Terry Francona is an unabashed fan, I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of Gabbard in Boston.

5. Jason Giambi is in a 1-for-26 slump. And the Yankees, who curiously okayed his agent's request to omit all contract language regarding performance enhancing drugs when they originally signed him, are rumored to be looking for a way out of Juicin' G's deal after his mildly incriminating comments about steroid use this week. Hmmm . . . this cycle, so to speak, sounds vaguely familiar. I fully expect a miraculously rejuvenated Giambi to hit, say, 12 home runs next month, then tell us his sudden power surge is due to his decision to quit eating cheeseburgers for breakfast, or some other such nonsensical attempt to obscure the truth.

6. While the eminently likable Wily Mo Pena has occasionally mixed in a prodigious home run or two among his numerous strikeouts and fielding mishaps, it's fair to say he's probably not going to approach his potential until he escapes this growth-stunting bench role in Boston. He needs to get 550 at-bats for a team with no real postseason aspirations, one that can afford to let him learn certain hitting skills on the job, such as how to recognize a slider before it hits the dirt. Unless J.D. Drew runs into another wall or Manny's hamstring starts barking, there's little he can do to contribute to the cause here. I bet he's gone at the trade deadline for a better-fitting piece.

7. Saw this on the always insightful Fragile Freddy blog, and thought it was such a smart and original idea that I'd pilfer it for myself: If he hasn't already, Theo Epstein should contact the Braves about Jarrod Saltalamacchia, their outstanding catching prospect who is stuck behind Brian McCann, and see if perhaps the Sox can put together a package to bring the just-turned-22-year-old to Fenway. Saltalamacchia is rarity in that he's a legitimately elite prospect both behind and at the plate, and with Jason Varitek now 35, and George Kotteras struggling mightily at Pawtucket, the Sox are somewhat desperate for a legitimate catching successor. I doubt the Braves would trade their consensus top prospect unless they received a ransom in return . . . but you have to figure they will move him at some point, and the Sox are as reasonable a destination as any.

8. We like to break this out every now and then, just for the sake of good karma. (And also because it will never, ever get old.)

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

Larry Wayne Jones is 35? Really? Geez, as if my rickety bones don't feel old enough these days. I suppose he has been around for a long time now, but seems like just yesterday the Braves were getting spindled and mutilated by the Baseball America types for choosing a Florida kid nicknamed Chipper over can't-miss Texas high school pitcher Todd Van Poppel . . . who, of course, did miss, spectacularly.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Two great seasons

So tell me, which empire is more anxious right now: that decrepit, ancient dynasty crumbling in the Bronx, or Jordan's Furniture and its marketing wizards who, at least according to the accounts here, might be wondering if they made a multimillion-dollar miscalculation by pandering to Sox fans?

The Yankees' problems are well-documented, particularly if you are one of those Boston fans who engages in a little bit of schaedenfreude and checks out the New York tabloids each morning. (Some variation on "JOE MUST GO!!" seems to be a rather popular headline theme these days.) And we admit we chuckle at the thought of Jordan's shrewd "We're betting on the Red Sox!" promotion backfiring to the point that a second world championship in four years would force them to fork over enough free loveseats and sectionals to furnish every spare room in New England. Talk about a win-win situation.

Now, it's not like we're not setting aside a portion of our paycheck to save for World Series tickets just yet . . . but man, what's happening at Fenway Park right now is pretty amazing, isn't it? The Sox, 28-12 and 10 (ten!) games ahead of the Yankees at this writing, are just plain feelin' it, as evidenced by Thursday's doubleheader sweep of the AL champion Tigers. In the first game, the hero was the fifth starter, Julian Tavarez. In the second win, the hero was the fifth outfielder, Eric Hinske. When the roster's afterthoughts are sharing turns in the spotlight, you know times are good.

So can they keep it up? Can they run away with this thing and take all suspense out of the summer? Let's put it this way: If you can promise that they will stay reasonably healthy, I'll guarantee that they'll win their first AL East title since the managerial days of that mustache-farming, Canseco-coddling egomaniac, Kevin Kennedy. The offense is leading the AL in runs despite limited contributions from Manny and J.D. Drew, and even if the likes of Mike Lowell and the criminally underappreciated Kevin Youkilis cool off, they should put plenty of crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Plus, their elite starting pitching will prevent long losing streaks, and while their lengthy lead gives them the luxury to let ace Josh Beckett's "avulsion" heal, this time around there is no shortage of depth in the organization. Kason Gabbard (a Francona favorite) and TATB binky Devern Hansack should at least be replacement level fill-ins, and they might prove better than that. There will be no gruesome Kevin Jarvis cameos this year.

If you have any complaints about this team, then I guess Rick Pitino was right - we really are the fellowship of the miserable. While it might be tough to shake the old habit of grumbling about Wily Mo Pena's whiffs or Coco Crisp's ongoing struggles or whatever it is you rail against, we need only to cast an eye to toward the Bronx to see what legitimate woes look like. And you know what? While it's against my upbringing in the Nation to write off a franchise with the resources of the Yankees - you know they'll pick up another Bobby Abreu, someone else's salary dump, at the deadline if they are anywhere near the playoff hunt - they look like a dead team walking to me, and I don't think they have the necessary resolve, camaraderie, and pitching depth to pull themselves out of this hole. If they lose two of three to the Mets this weekend and two of three to the Sox in the next series - and please, baseball gods, let this happen; let the Sox leave cleat marks on their throats - someone will jostle Georgie Porgie awake long enough for him to finally fire Joe Torre. And while Yankees fans are desperately clinging to the irrelevant past, citing 1978 as an example of Yankee ingenuity, deep down they must know that Bob Lemon isn't walking through that door (and if he did, he'd be old, grey, and, um, dead.)

It's not like Don Zimmer is conveniently clutching his throat in the opposing dugout, either, which brings us to another crucial element of the Sox team: it's outstanding manager. Terry Francona long ago established himself as the finest Sox manager of my lifetime - outwitting Mike Scioscia, Torre, and tony La Russa consecutively in the postseason, as he did to a surprisingly little amount fanfare in '04, tends to go a long way toward enhancing a manager's reputation. But this season, everything he has touched as turned to gold, from his deft handling of the Dustin Pedroia/Alex Cora situation at second base to his willingness to give Hideki Okajima a prominent role when most of us assumed he was just here to caddy for Dice-K, to dealing with all the ancillary stuff that comes with managing in Boston. One of these days, Tito will get his due as one of the best in the game.

From the manager, to the lineup, to the pitching staff, it's all good, and provided the disabled list doesn't beckon too often, I just don't see anything but sunny days ahead. What is it that the Pink Hats - oh, and all right, a few of us secret sentimentalists, too - like to sing in the seventh inning? Good times never seemed so good. Yeah, that sounds about right. Mr. Diamond's sequined sentiments couldn't be more appropriate - and here's guessing they'll last all summer long. Who knows, maybe even right up until the joyous moment you realize the couch you're planted on to watch the Sox win the World Series just became a freebie.

* * *

All right, now for the important stuff: Thursday's season finale of "The Office." Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I probably anticipated this week's episode with more eagerness than I will any Sox game this season before October. And I have to say, it was at least as satisfying as, oh, an early-season sweep of the Yankees - you know, back when they were good.

Now, if you're among the clueless masses who prefer mind-numbing dreck like "Grey's Anatomy,"" well, just surf on over to Cats That Look Like Hitler or wherever you usually roll after stopping in here, because today we simply must discuss this heartwarming, ribald, subtle, downright hilarious television masterpiece. I don't care if you don't care, because I do, and you should.

So many snippets from last night's show are replaying on the DVR in my mind: Jan's upgraded "chariots" . . . Michael selling his condo on eBay . . . Creed's blog . . . Schrutebucks and Stanley Nickles . . . "I'm not gay" . . . that slippery weasel Ryan's classic kicker ("You and I are done") which was foreshadowed by his refusal to get Michael coffee ("I don't do that anymore") . . . and of course, Jim's interview, when he discovers Pam's sweet callback to the Office Olympics episode and has his moment of clarity about following his heart back to Scranton.

It seems ridiculous now, given the ultimately well-executed story arcs that began back long before we'd ever become familiar with the pig-latin version of Rainbow Connection, Scrantonicity, or Prison Mike, but there was much talk early in this season that it wasn't living up to the standard set by Season 2. But in the end - make that at the end - it might have surpassed it. Casino Night, last season's flawless Steve Carell-penned finale, remains the most perfect single episode of any television show I have ever seen. Yet the last two installments this season were nearly its equal, meshing writing that makes a hack like me wonder why I ever bothered learning how to type with the perfectly cast actors (right down to the most minor supporting player) who give life to their words.

Which brings us to Ms. Fancy-New-You-Know-Who. You dopes give me a hard time (that's what she . . . ) about my fanboy odes to Jenna Fischer, and when I say cheeseball things like she's the most appealing woman I've ever seen among all the ones I'm not married to, well, I probably deserve it. But I challenge you to watch as her face transforms from shock to radiant, affirming joy in that wonderful closing scene above without crushing on both the character and the actress. That culminating moment alone should earn her an Emmy nomination. (And of course, as several emails noted - some laced with more snark than others - it's our duty to wish the Official Muse of TATB, Non-Wife Division a speedy recovery after she broke her back in four places after falling down a marble staircase in New York earlier this week. She's fortunate she wasn't hurt worse, and it sounds like she should be okay by the time the show begins filming again. Just a guess, but the sight of Jim pushing her around in a wheelchair in next season's premiere would have been a twist even the Office's ace staff of writers would have trouble working into the script.)

Anyway, at the typically pitch-perfect understated end, it all came full-circle, didn't it? Last year, Pam gave Jim a reason to leave Scranton. This year, she gave him a reason to come back. And so we come to a necessary question now that "it's a date" and they are apparently together at last. Where do they go from here? Requieted love has sent more popular shows into a death spiral (David and Maddy, anyone?), but I have complete faith that that will not happen here. The writers are too adept to fall into the Rachel/Ross melodrama, and besides, there is as much potential with Pam and Jim together as there is with them apart. And it's not like there aren't other open-ended plot points worth looking forward to - or did you forget that Ryan is now poor, shellshocked Michael's boss and whacked-out Jan is his roommate? To pilfer a line from a previous Thursday night NBC show of note: It's gold, Jerry. Gold. Season 4 can't arrive soon enough.

* * *

Couple of quick links in case you've wondering where a wise all week. Here's the weekly FOX column, beginning with an ode to Rockies slugger Matt Holliday, and here's a short piece we wrote for Red Sox GameDay about the Sox's worst position-by-position defensive players of all-time. As always, thanks for reading, and I really should be around here more often now that the relationship with is official. Honest.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nine innings: 05.12.07

Playing a quick weekend edition of nine innings while waiting for Tito to take away Curt Schilling's internet privileges . . .

1. Josh Beckett is the most dominating pitcher in the American League. Tim Wakefield is on one of his unhittable hot streaks. Dice-K is showing the aptitude to make the adjustments required for him to live up to his reputation. And the bullpen has been the season's most pleasant surprise. I don't know how much of this is directly attributed to the work of new pitching coach John Farrell, but I will say this: His staff is making him look extremely competent right now.

2. The more I see of Dustin Pedroia, the more I think the comparison to Jody Reed is spot-on. Pedroia, like the former Sox second baseman (1987-'92), is a small, slow-footed converted shortstop who nonetheless has more pop than you'd expect. Reed made a habit of scraping fly balls off the Monster, averaging 43 doubles from 1988-90, and Pedroia, whose unorthodox swing-from-the-heels approach generates a ton of fly balls, looks like he might have the same knack.

3. Enough will the foolish suggestion that he could handle center field for any length of time should Coco Crisp suffer another injury. Wily Mo Pena is absolutely the worst outfielder I have ever seen at catching - make that attempting to catch - fly balls. And if he's charging a ball that's still in the air, forget it - just hope stays in front of him after clanging off his glove, or chest, or forehead. Mark my words: He's going to Canseco one off his coconut and into the stands before his time in Boston is done.

4. All right, I'll cut to the chase: If Roger Clemens fulfills the media's daydream-du-jour and makes his first '07 start at Fenway Park in the Sox/Yanks series June 1-3, I'll order one of his wife's unbelievably tacky sequined Yankees jean jackets - yes, you read that right, and A-Rod undoubtedly owns a closet full of them - and wear the "bedazzled" disaster to work every day until the AL East is clinched. My point: Why does everyone forget that a season debut against the Sox is just the kind of high-pressure event that Roger historically dodges?

5. Nick Markakis, the Orioles' second-year outfielder, put on a show against the Sox tonight, rapping four hits while robbing Jason Varitek of what looked like a possible home run. It won't be last time the Sox get beat by this kid - it's damning with faint praise considering the Orioles' player development failings, but Markakis is already the best young position player they've come up with since Cal Ripken Jr. 26 years ago.

6. Roy Halladay, out four-to-six weeks with appendicitis? Might as well start the firesale now, J.P. Ricciardi, because baseball season in Toronto is officially O-V-E-R.

7. Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 569th career home run tonight. Considering that the perception around baseball is that Junior's achievements are on the level - unlike some of his oversized contemporaries, he hasn't mysteriously improved in his mid-30s - I say that's a greater accomplishment than anything soon to be on Big Head Barry's resume.

8. Quick programming note: TATB, in its ongoing quest for world domination, is now linked up with, a development we're pretty excited about for obvious reasons. (You can find us on the Red Sox page. Just scroll down a little, and there we are under Nation On The Net.) The only likely change around here is a positive one: I'll be more diligent about writing regularly, given the obligation and opportunity that comes with the new association. Also, we'll have better snacks in the break room. Anyway, for those of you have been coming here since I had something like 30 readers a month, thanks for spreading the word, sticking it out while we found our voice, and making good things happen for the site. Your contributions to this are greatly appreciated.

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

Because you can never go wrong with Dewey.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Check out Glenn Hubbard's enormous snake!

You know, that headline didn't quite come out right now that I read it again. Ah, well. Anyway, check out our latest Nine Innings column on FOX Sports here to read about this card as well as other baseball items of mild interest. (Do I know how to sell the thing or what?)

We should be back here with a post about your Boston (Kicking --- And Taking Names) Red Sox at some point tonight. Man, if the rest of this season is as fun and rewarding as the first six weeks, it's going to be a heck of a summer at Fenway. Can they really be as good as they've looked?

Oh, and one more thing for my fellow "Office"-philes: How about that Fancy New Beesley last night? Her hot coals-inspired speech ("Maybe I should be your boss, Michael") calling out her selfish co-workers and spilling her honest feelings to Jim ("It's weird between us, and that sucks") was absolutely pitch-perfect - and please, just give Jenna Fischer her Emmy nod now. This season's theme has been about Pam's desperation to overcome her paralyzing self-doubt, and Fischer has absolutely nailed her character's nuances and underlying sadness at every turn, culminating with last night's revelatory moment. Now I just hope the season finale is as compelling as it has been set up to be . . . also, and that sad-sack Toby eventually gets to see Pam in her two-piece, Jim stops giving her the frigid shoulder, and that someone finds Andy before a big tuna gets him.

-- TATB Management

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nine innings: 05.09.07

Playing nine innings while feeling a whole lot better about the Hanley Ramirez trade these days . . .

1. Okay, so maybe we went a little over the top with our Kinison-like rant in ripping Roger Clemens the other day. It's just that of all of the things about Clemens that aggravate us - the convenient "tweaks" when a game isn't going his way, his knack for shrinking when the moment calls for him to stand tall, his demand for more perks than any diva in Hollywood, his phony aw-shucks demeanor - it's the oaf's chronic dishonesty that bugs us the most. Why did he have to stand there in Steinbrenner's lair and, peering smugly at the Yankee Stadium peons below, try to claim that he's back with the Yankees because they so quaintly "came and got him out of Texas"? Why can't he just admit that it's about what it has always been about with him: THE MONEY, STUPID! There's nothing wrong with that, particularly in this day and age, and yet the disingenuous rube thinks he's fooling us by claiming it's about everything but the cash. Who's he trying to kid? Remember when his name came up in the Jason Grimsley case? His first concern was that it was going to cost him endorsements. He's made $100-something million in his career, Koby, Kielbasa, Klambake, Kareem, and all the other "K" kids are financially set for several lifetimes, and yet he's more worried about losing his five-figure gig pitching Preparation H than about how being pegged as a juicer would affect his legacy. And still, in the face of his transparent greed, he has the hubris to act as if his cause is something far more noble than further engorging his bank account. What a fraud. Let me just make one more point before I go ballistic again: Had the Red Sox somehow outbid the Yankees in this charade - and given the desperation in the Bronx, that was not going to happen - you know he'd have fed us a similar line of Texas bull about how much coming home to Boston means to him and all of that treacly, Dr. Steinberg-scripted nonsense. Would we have eaten it up? Well, I suddenly find myself looking forward to watching Randy Moss play for my favorite team after years of despising the guy, so in the spirit of the truth I'll admit that, yeah, I'd swallow a heaping helping of hypocrisy and probably cheer Clemens, even though I'd hate myself in the morning. Hey, we sports fans are suckers for sentiment. Just ask Roger.

2. Unless David Ortiz actually enjoys the WEEI-driven conjecture about his own enhanced performance since he became a Red Sox, he'd be wise to refrain from any further head-scratching proclamations that he doesn't believe Barry Bonds knowingly used steroids. We appreciate Papi's good (if ill-informed) intentions, but he must realize than any time a slugger of this era speaks up in defense of Bonds, he immediately becomes a target of steroid suspicion himself. As for a certain other Sox player who weighed in on Bonds Tuesday, let's just leave it at this: When Curt Schilling had his chance before Congress to opine on steroids' impact on his profession, he clammed up to the point that we half expected him to pull the Sammy Sosa No hablo Ingles routine. Please, spare us the sanctimony now.

3. The pining for Alex Cora to play every day has died down now that Dustin Pedroia has begun to look like he belongs, and that's a good thing. While Cora is certainly a valuable member of the roster - this isn't the first time I've said he's the best utility player the Sox have had in my lifetime, and it won't be the last - he's a 31-year-old who has a .246 average in 10 big-league seasons. As a certain local football coach might say, he is what he is. The Sox are wise to give Pedroia an extended chance, and should he prove incapable of handling it, Cora should remain in the reserve role in which he thrives, while someone out of the Graffanino/Grudzielanek/Loretta cookie-cutter is brought in to take the majority of the at-bats.

4. If you thought you've been saying, "Did you see that catch Coco made?" on a frequent basis lately . . . well, according to Bill James via Seth Mnookin, there's a good reason for that, and it's not because you're suffering a flashback to that excruciatingly ubiquitous NESN commercial of a season ago. Crisp has been dazzling in center field lately, averaging roughly one Web Gem every other game or so, and at the plate and on the bases he's starting to look like the dynamic player the Sox coveted as Johnny Damon's successor. Hmmm, maybe he's going to thrive here after all.

5. You've probably heard this by now, but it's worth hearing again, because this hilariously shrill snippet of Yankee propaganda is so over-the-top that even Georgie Porgie mouthpiece John Sterling seemed taken aback. This will never get old. Heck, I'm putting it into heavy rotation on the iPod just to bring a little more comedy to my day. And for the record, I'm pretty sure Suzyn Waldman is what Glenn Geffner would sound like if he worked for the Yankees, idolized Liza Minnelli, and had a more masculine voice.

6. Toronto's Vernon Wells is becoming the Joe Carter of era, an outstanding all-around player who spends an inordinate amount of his time absolutely slaughtering Red Sox pitching. And like Carter, his predecessor by a generation as a Blue Jays signature player, Wells is an affable star whose ego has not swollen in proportion to his salary, as this fun story indicates.

7. Thirty-one games into his Boston tenure, Julio Lugo is the same guy I saw all those years in Tampa Bay: occasionally exciting, often erratic, and not someone you're terribly interested in having on your favorite team. I'm not going to go all Lobel on you and wonder why the Sox let Alex Gonzalez depart, because his currently stellar offensive numbers will be subpar once the summer is over. But I still don't understand Theo Epstein's fascination with Lugo, let alone for the 4-year, $36-million price tag.

8. Despite his Mark Clear imitation in his 2007 debut last night, we're going to stick by our binky and repeat our preseason prediction that Devern Hansack will be a valuable contributor to the Red Sox pitching staff this season. His command was clearly on the fritz last night; judging by what I saw of him last summer in Portland, that's highly unusual. Hansack is a strike-throwing machine with good movement on his low-90s fastball, a decent changeup, and a tight, sharp slider that is a major-league out pitch, as Frank Thomas found out last night. He's 29, with an unusual backstory and hardly the Baseball America pedigree, but you can hold me to this: Given a fair chance, Hansack will succeed in the big leagues.

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

Macha, the less-than-beloved former A's manager who once employed Terry Francona as his bench coach, is the latest addition to NESN's cadre of studio analysts. The early verdict: Though he's got about as much charisma as a sanitary sock, he brings an insider's knowledge when he talks about players' strengths and weaknesses. We still wish The Eck had the gig every night, but Macha has the potential to be a decent second option.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Yanking the chain

Nice thumb, Rog. Very Fonzie-like. Way cooler than the finger you gave us today.

So much for the theory that Roger Clemens would go back to the Astros to avoid alienating fans in New York and Boston, huh? It's apparent beyond a doubt now that he has roughly the same affection for Boston that Alec Baldwin has for Kim Basinger. . . and after today, I'm fairly certain the feeling is reciprocated by the vast majority of Sox fans, even those who have a No. 21 jersey stashed in a closet somewhere. Heck, Benedict Clemens was dead to me before. At this point, I'm prepared to track him down when he's reincarnated just to boo his sorry . . . well, you know.

Contrary to what he or his agents might say when trying to pit one team against the other in negotiations, we now know with 100 percent certainty that he has absolutely no sentiment for his days for the Red Sox. None. The premise that he might return to pitch for Boston out of some melancholy desire to mend those Green Monster-sized fences and win back the approval of the fans who cheered his first big-league victories has long been based in fantasy.

Today, that fantasy was punctured by a reality that we should have grasped long ago. Clemens's allegiance has never tilted toward a particular city or fan base, be it Boston, New York, Houston or Albuquerque. The Rocket's is not about a team, but to a person: himself. He's a Yankee - again - because New York, it all of its DeSalvo/Pavano/Igawa-fueled desperation, gave him roughly $18 million bucks and the cushy come-and-go-as-you-wish-your-highness schedule for four months of work. Had the Red Sox offered him, say, $33 million, the use of John Henry's jet, and all the free ballpark wieners the "K' kids can eat, let's just say there's a pretty good chance he'd have shown up at Fenway this week to patronize us with some non-sequitur-loaded speech about how it's good to be home in Boston again, duh-huh.

He's nothing but a money-chasing mercenary. And you know what? In a sense, I'm glad he pulled WWE villian act and returned to the Bronx. The greedy, spotlight-craving, incredibly successful Yankees, and the greedy, spotlight-craving, incredibly successful pitcher. It's a perfect marriage, always has been, and it adds even more juice to the rivalry. Besides, it makes it easier to justify the vat of venom I've been storing with his name on it since 1996, when he told us the only place he'd ever leave Boston for was dear old Texas . . . then thought we wouldn't notice when he skipped over the border to Canada once the Blue Jays threw the most money at him. Gotta love that Rocket Geography, where Toronto borders Texas if the money is right. And that was but the first on a long laundry list of transgressions: His manipulation to get traded from Toronto to the Yankees, the ultimate slap in the face . . . the smug rubbing of the Babe's monument after Game 7 in 2003 after his teammates saved him from a shameful farewell . . . today's contrived look-at-me moment where he told the roughly 55,000 mustacheod Buttafuocos at Yankee Stadium that it was a "privilege" to play for them. Seriously, how many more times does he need to rub it in Sox fans' faces?

As much as some fans might have wanted Clemens to come here to be the most accomplished fourth starter in baseball history, we'd be hypocrites to begrudge the Yankees this move. This is obviously a much-needed emotional jolt; the New York bench looked like a bunch of giddy Little Leaguers as he blathered through his speech today. The question is, will he deliver a jolt when he returns to the mound? There's no doubt he'll be superior to the alternatives - the Yankees will become the first major-league team to use 10 starters in 30 games when DeSilva starts today, and rumor has it Sam Militello was about to take a turn in the rotation. The situation in the Bronx is dire, yet surely salvageable given their talent, resources, and the long season ahead. If Clemens can just be steady and reliable, the Yankees' loaded lineup will produce enough runs to make him a winner more often than not . But if they think they are getting a legitimate No. 1 starter, a true savior, they're going to be disappointed. The last time he pitched a truly big game, he lost to Jeff Freakin' Suppan, for heaven's sake, and even Yankee fans will concede he's never entirely shaken his reputation as a bully who shrivels in the biggest moments. Further, Clemens's ERA's in his final two seasons in New York were 4.35 and 3.91, and he's going to be 45 on August 4. Unless he's found the fountain of youth or his buddy Jason Grimsley has concocted something even better, it's fair to wonder if he can hold up until October.

Me, I'm looking forward to watching him limp off the Fenway mound with a mysterious "cramp," his old standby bailout move when thee Sox are lighting him up. (See: Game 3, 1999 ALCS). In the meantime, promise me this, Nationites. Tell me you will not get caught up in his annual, ego-feeding charade again next season. Tell me you'll ignore the talk-radio banshees and the press-box GMs who pine for his return and the easy story. Tell me that the next time he pitches at Fenway Park - which may be as soon as June 1 - you'll ring his ears with chants so clever and cruel ("Where is Rog-AH? In the show-AH!") that Debbie Clemens will reprise her tearful whine from the '99 ALCS: "Why do they treat him like Hitler? What did he ever do to them?"

The better question is this: What hasn't he done?