Friday, June 01, 2007

TATB Live: Sox vs. '62 Mets


The rain has stopped after a half-hour delay, the Sox have taken the field, A-Rod has finally arrived after a delightful afternoon with a worn-out peroxide case at the Foxy Lady . . . and I've got the laptop, the clicker, and am fully prepared to be glued to the couch for the next three hours. So let's play ball already. But before we get this thing going, a few quick thoughts:

• The Sox's lead over the Yankees in the American League East is 13.5 entering tonight. Come Sunday night, here's hoping it's at 16.5 and Joe Torre wakes up Monday morning to learn that the classy New York tabloids are demanding Georgie Porgie roll some heads. Sox fans have been waiting a lot of years to spend a nice summer without concerning ourselves with the Yankees. Don't waste the opportunity now - win tonight, win tomorrow, blow 'em out Sunday, and stick a fork in 'em for the rest of the year. Who needs the drama besides the 'EEI banshees?

• I always think of Tim Wakefield as something of a Yankee killer, perhaps because of his efforts in the 2003 and '04 postseasons (Aaron Boone excepted), but he has a 7.84 ERA against the Bombers this season and has won something like one of his last eight starts against them. My point: Now would be a real good time to start living up to his reputation.

• I'm beginning to realize that Derek Jeter's barely concealed disdain for A-Rod actually reflects pretty well on the captain. Who knew that judging a person's character was an intangible?

All right, to the ol' ballyard . . .

FIRST INNING
. . . and while we're still writing pecking out our lame intro, the Yankees go 1-2-3, with Mike Lowell throwing out Captain Jetes on play right out of the Brooks Robinson Gold Glove Handbook. Not a bad start for Knucksie.

Here's one of those wasted early opportunities that sometimes come back to haunt you. The Sox load the bases with two outs on a walk by Papi, a single by Manny, and another walk to the rotting corpse of J.D. Drew, but Lowell grounds to One-Step Range Jeter to get Chien-Ming Wang off the hook. Seems to me he's one of those guys who tends to settle down if you don't get to him early, so this might be one we're lamenting later.

SECOND INNING
Tom Werner is seated alongside Christie Brinkley. If they're actually a couple, then that's a major upgrade from Katie Couric. In baseball terms, that's like trading Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson.

A-Rod's leading off the inning. Surprisingly, he does not come to the plate to the strains of Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls." He works a walk. By the way, would it be cruel to suggest that Mrs. A-Rod is a first-team member of the Butterface All-Stars? ("Yeah, dude, her body's hot, but her face . . .") It would be? Okay, then let's just say A-Rod always does what he can to ensure he's the prettiest one in the room.

Wakefield is threatening to turn this one into a blowout early, and not the way we'd hoped. After A-Rod's walk, he whiffs Jorge Posada, but Robinson Cano, one of the main culprits in the Yankees' offensive underachievement, cranks one into the rightfield seats to make it 2-0, Yankees. Bobby Abreu (the Yankees' version of J.D. Drew) then doinks one off the wall, and Wakefield walks the next three hitters (including Benedict Damon with the bases loaded), to make it 3-0, Last-Place Team. Fortunately, Jeter hits into a 6-4-3 double-play on the first pitch he sees to limit the damage. Intangibles!

Dustin Pedroia pokes a double to right, putting runners at second and third with one out, and I have to admit the little feller is winning me over. I still wonder how he gets away with swinging like a righthanded-hitting Reggie Jackson up there, but what's going on with him right now seems to follow the pattern of his entire career dating back to college: he struggles at first in adjusting to each new level, but eventually he gets comfortable and becomes a very productive hitter.

After Julio Lugo plates Coco Crisp with an RBI groundout to cut the lead to 3-1, Kevin Youkilis works a walk after taking a ball three that everyone in the ballpark the home plate umpire thought was a strike. That's the kind of respect you get when you're hitting .354 and have a 22-game hitting streak. Papi, who has jokingly referred to himself as Ichiro during his recent power outage (16 games without a homer), Suzukis one to left to score Pedroia. Then Manny follows with one of his patented yup-he's-locked-in ropes to right to load the bases, pulling his incredulous how-did-you-not-score? comedy routine when he sees Youkilis still standing at third. Unfortunately, Manny is probably right in wondering why DeMarlo Hale didn't take a chance, considering that Drew is up next, and Drew pops to third to kill the rally, just as you, me, and Manny expected he would do.


THIRD INNING
One out, and here's A-Rod again. Got an email from a reader this morning suggesting Dr. Charles and the Red Sox production team should play the snippet of the seagulls from "Finding Nemo" chirping "Mine! Mine! Mine!" on the scoreboard every time he prances to the plate. I suppose I'm not doing it justice if you haven't seen the movie, but hey, I thought it was a clever idea. However, the Sox fans in the third base boxes apparently had their own creative ways of taunting A-Rod tonight - there are a lot of dudes wearing masks with a blonde woman's face. Whatever it takes, I guess. Of course, the best way to get to him is to make him look like a fool on the field, and Manny does just that, playing A-Rod's wall ball perfectly and making his trademark, oddly effective quick-release throw to nail him by five feet at second. It must have been a long walk back to the dugout, though at least he got to check out what he must have thought were some hottie blondes on the way. Anyway, it's an easy inning for Wakefield.

Doug Mirabelli is now a sizzling 2-for-his-last-23 after singling to left past A-Rod (still checking out the masked blondes) and Jeter (still shooting hate lasers at A-Rod). Crisp, who reached on a fielder's choice and swiped second, holds up at third, and the Sox have something brewing.

Pedroia, a gritty, gutty little gamer whom you'll recall I've championed all along, doubles to left, and it's 3-3. Also, Hideki Matsui plays left field like he's blindfolded. Just thought I should mention that.

Don Orsillo, my favorite vinyl-covered automaton, mentions a stat that everyone's been repeating the past few days . . . and damned if its not one that's worth repeating again. When Roger Clemens gave Suzyn Waldman the most pleasure she's had in years by - goodness gracious! - showing up in Steinbrenner's box, the Yankees were 5.5 games back of the Sox. Four weeks later, they're 13.5 back, which means they've lost two games per week in the standings since the Rocket's announcement. Man, I do love that stat.

FOURTH INNING
So I abandon my post here at the keyboard for a minute to help Mrs. TATB put the kids to bed, and I come back just in time to see the Yankees, with the bases loaded already, take a 4-3 lead on a wild pitch. Time to get Wakefield out of there, and don't let me ever mistake him for a Yankee killer again.

Wakefield's still in there, one out, and the Yankees lead, 6-3, now. I rarely have a beef with just about anything Terry Francona does, but seriously, what's he waiting for? It's apparent that Wakefield doesn't have it tonight, and worse, it's one of those nights where, typical of a struggling knuckleballer, he's giving away runs (he's walked in one, another scored on a wild pitch, a third on a passed ball). Don't let this one get out of hand. Get Kyle Snyder in there.

And after another walk . . . here's Snyder, about four batters too late. I knew he was pitching well, but I have to admit, I didn't realize he had a 1.53 ERA. Not too shabby for a long reliever.

Snyder hits A-Rod (unintentionally, we're sad to report), bringing up Posada, who promptly rips a three-run double into the left-field gap, blowing this one open at 9-3. It's a six-run inning, the Yankees have batted around, and Wakefield ends up charged with eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. Not quite what we had in mind at the beginning of the night.

An eight-pitch inning for Wang, who's helped by Manny double-play grounder, his team-high, Rice-in-'87-like ninth of the season. Drew also grounds to second. At this point, he should change his number from 7 to 4-3.

FIFTH INNING
Uh-oh. Lowell, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the game, is replaced by Eric Hinske. Given that Lowell leads the Sox in homers and RBIs, it's fair to say his absence for any length of time would be damaging. Here's hoping it's just precautionary.

I keep hearing how Bobby Abreu looks indifferent at best these days, but man, I don't think the Sox have gotten him out since he came over from the Phillies. He just clanged his second double of the night off the wall. And who said the Yankees weren't hitting, anyway?

Just as Lloyd Bridges once picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue, I apparently picked a bad day to start liveblogging the Sox. (Snyder just walked Melky Cabrera, the Yankees' seventh freakin' free-pass of the night.) So we're going to change gears a little bit here if/until the Sox get back into the game and comment on a few peripheral Sox-Yankees items.

• Seems like every time I read about one of Mike Timlin's rehab appearances at Pawtucket, he's giving up a run and a couple of hits per inning, which has done nothing to alter my suspicion that he's cooked. I appreciate him for all he did from 2003-05 (he was as guilty as anyone for what happened last August, IMO), but it's because of those watercolor memories that I worry Francona will be tempted to use him in crucial situations, something he hasn't been able to handle for some time now. I'm not saying I think he should hang it up . . . but it might not be the worst thing, just to save Tito from the temptation.

• Looks like Jason Giambi might be done for the season after injuring his foot "circling the bases" against the Blue Jays. I'm guessing "circling the bases" is a euphemism for A) "getting his foot shattered by a Selig henchman" or B) "sticking the needle in so far that it chipped a bone," but the way he was going, this might be a blessing for the Yankees anyway. It gives them the chance to play Cabrera regularly in the outfield while DHing Damon, Abreu, or Matsui, which probably makes them a better defensive team while keeping the old dudes' legs reasonably fresh.

• Is it me, or has Jerry Remy seriously toned down the pimping of his RemDawg trinkets this season? Wonder if he got a talking-to from Dr. Charles. Probably woke up one morning to find Wally the Green Monster's severed head in his bed.

• I don't care what he low K-rate suggests. If Wang can stay healthy - and judging by his minor-league track record, that's a big if - he can be a very successful pitcher for years to come. That sinker is an incredibly effective out-pitch, and it's not like he's a slopballer - his radar-gun readings reach the mid-'90s. I'm not going to hold it against him because he's uncommonly efficient.

• Papi's on pace for 29 homers. That's hardly lousy, but it makes you wonder how much those hamstrings are bothering him.

• After Wakefield's performance tonight, I officially consider Julian Tavarez the fourth starter.

• I usually forget to mention these things here, but while I think of it, my latest column on FOXsports.com is up, just as it is every Friday. Check it out if you get the chance.

• Quick note from the game: Torre just got tossed after the third-base ump blantantly blew it and called Bobby Abreu out on an attempted steal of third. My question is this: Why's he stealing third in a 9-3 game? That strikes me as something A-Rod would do. Also, Drew has left the game with a hamstring strain. There are no words for what a flop he has been so far.

• Even though he has just six fewer RBIs (31) at the moment than he had all of last year, I still don't get the Sox front office's fascination with Julio Lugo. He's played better than expected at short, but he's a mediocre offensive player who isn't getting on base nearly enough from the leadoff spot. Tell me again what was wrong with Orlando Cabrera?

Well, we're in the eighth now, it's still 9-3, Yankees, Remy and Orsillo are getting giggly, and it looks like the Sox lead over New York will be 12.5 in tomorrow's newspapers. I guess that 16.5 thing isn't going to happen after all. But I do want to mention, before I sign off for the night (assuming there is no miracle comeback in the works), that even if the Yankees sweep this series and cut the Sox lead to 10.5, I am entirely convinced that the Sox will win the American League East this season. There is zero chance that the Yankees can re-enact their comeback of '78, for one reason more than any other: Terry Francona is a far superior manager to Don Zimmer. He knows how to handle a pitching staff and manipulate a bench, he doesn't bury quality players with petty grudges, and he'll pace his regulars over the course of the season so they aren't deep-fried come September. Futher, this Sox team is much more well-rounded than the '78 crew that had a fearsome lineup, no bench (see: Frank Duffy), and a mediocre starting rotation after The Eck, while these Yankees, with their endless pitching question marks and aging core, are vastly inferior to the Guidry-Gossage-Reggie club that went 100-63 that season. The only people that think this severely flawed Yankees team has a chance to make up 12.5 games over the Red Sox in the coming months are the same ones who refuse to admit that the events of October, 2004 changed the dynamic in this rivalry forever. The Sox are better, and assuming there is no deluge of injuries, the final standings will confirm as much.


Postscript:As Remy just noted, things just got interesting for the rest of the weekend. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Youkilis just got drilled in the shoulder by Scott Proctor (pitching for the 2,838th straight game), and Youks, who extended his hitting streak to 23 earlier in the game and thus probably figures he shouldn't have to put up with such b.s., started heading toward Proctor as the benches emptied. Proctor was ejected immediately, arguing the dismissal vehemently, and it appeared Posada was trying to convince Youkilis that the near-beaning was accidental and not retaliation for Cano getting hit in the top half of the inning. Whether it was intentional or accidental, it's fair to say that the odds of A-Rod getting a faceful of Varitek's glove tomorrow just increased exponentially.

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