Friday, June 15, 2007

TATB Live: Sox vs. Big-Head Barry


Two thoughts before we dig in here:

1) Barry Bonds is going to hear it tonight, and you, me, and Henry Aaron know he deserves every last boo. But I only hope Sox fans lean toward the creative side rather than the obnoxious side, because I get the sense certain Bonds apologists (boo-yeah!) are just waiting to say Boston disgraced itself in its treatment of baseball's most accomplished walking pharmacy. Go ahead and let him have it, Sox fans . . . but stay classy in doing so. Slowly climbing off soap box . . .

2) Dave Roberts is going to hear it tonight, and just as he's the polar opposite of Bonds in terms of personality and character, his reception will be the polar opposite of Bonds's as well. You surely need no reminded that his stolen base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS is perhaps the defining moment of that cathartic postseason, and other than his return for the ring ceremony in 2005, it's the first time he's appeared on the field at Fenway. Here's hoping his ovation blows away the Dr. Charles-orchestrated salute to Trot Nixon a few weeks ago. Without Roberts and his fleet feet, we might be talking about an 89-year drought right now.

All right, time to score some runs for once and get a win . . .

FIRST INNING
Roberts is leading off, and he looks genuinely touched as 37,000 or so Sox fans salute him in unison. (Though I have to admit, I thought the ovation would last longer.) Of course, while he's one of ours when it comes to all the highlight films and misty watercolor memories, he reminds us that its the Giants who keep his bank account full these days, singling to right off Julian Tavarez and coming around to score on Mark Sweeney's double into the corner. It's 1-0, Giants, and so much for sentiment.

Randy Winn grounds to second, moving Sweeney to third (they're so fundamentally sound in the NL) and bringing up Bonds and his size 24EEEEEEEEEEEE head. The reaction was pretty much one massive group boo, but it was hardly of the vicious Get-the-bleep-out-of-here-you-cheater nature the WEEI banshees led us to believe would take place.

Bonds pops weakly to Pedroia, who holds Sweeney at third. Guess who forgot to put his HGH on his pancakes this morning?

Tavarez heaves a one-hopper past Varitek, Sweeney trots home, and its 2-0, Giants. Just the start the Sox needed. Has A-Rod homered tonight yet?

Considering the over/under on the amount of runs the Sox would score tonight was probably one given the way they've been swinging the bats, this has to be considered a fantastic start. J.D. Drew gets brushed by a Barry Zito pitch, and wee Dustin Pedroia follows two pitches later with shot into the Monster seats, tying it at 2. By the way, is it obvious that my jokes about Pedroia's height are a pathetic way of trying to mask the fact that I was completely wrong about the kid? It is? Shoot.

Well, this is just a wonderful development. Papi argues a called third strike, slams down his bat and helmet on the way back to the dugout, and promptly gets tossed by home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo. As much as I hate to say anything negative about Papi, there's no denying he deserves this. First, the pitch was a strike, and second, it seems like he's never taken a called strike that he didn't complain about, which means he's probably getting the reputation as a pain-in-the-you-know-what among the umpires. And frankly, getting tossed from a game at a time when the Sox' offense is struggling and their lead in the AL East is shrinking by the day is inexcusable. He should be better than that.

Remy sums up the developments so far with his usual succinctness: "Plenty of action already tonight, with Bonds nearly hitting a home run [he just missed wrapping one around the Pesky Pole], Pedroia hitting a home run, and Ortiz getting tossed from the ballgame." If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times. There's just nothing like the Sox-Giants rivalry.

SECOND INNING
You know, I like to think I follow baseball pretty closely, especially now that I have the gig at Fox. I devour Buster Olney's blog daily, follow the minors like a "Baseball America" junkie, watch "Baseball Tonight," pretty much everything you'd expect. So it pains me to admit that I have no freakin' idea who this Schierholtz kid is that's currently at the plate for the Giants, and there were about a half-dozen guys one the Diamondbacks' roster last weekend that I wouldn't have been able to pick out of a lineup of baseball cards. Either I don't know as much as I think I do, or there are a lot of obscure players currently breaking through in the lesser league. I'm going to pretend that it's the latter, thank you very much. (And Tavarez, who I have heard of before, cruised through a 1-2-3 inning.)

Coco Crisp draws a two-out walk, but Julio Yugo grounds to third to end the Sox' half. I think my new policy is going to be to take my snack 'n' pee breaks during Lugo's at bats. (But not at the same time, sicko.) Good thing he's got only three years and $27 million remaining on his contract after this season. You're a sly one, Theo.

THIRD INNING
Roberts grounds to Pedroia to leadoff the inning as Tina Cervasio cuts in with a clip of Roberts talking about the warm reception and thank-yous he gets from Sox fans everywhere he goes - including, according to his anecdote, the bathroom. I don't imagine he's exaggerating - a buddy of mine ran into Roberts at a bookstore in San Diego a couple of years ago, and he couldn't pass up the opportunity to thank him for The Steal. My friend says Roberts was remarkably gracious, and told him a day doesn't pass when he doesn't encounter a Sox fan somewhere who wants to tell him how much 2004 means to him. As far as legacies go, that's surely not a bad one.

Tavarez works out of a minor jam (two-out double by Winn, intentional walk to the Human Syringe).

Upon further review, some nifty NESN split-screen camera work shows this Randozzo guy apparently had it out for Papi, peering at him all the way back to the dugout as if waiting for an excuse to run him. Says Remy: "If he had done that right around Randozzo at home plate, I'd certainly understand the ejection, no question about that. But that far away? C'mon, gimme a break . . . You can call that a homer call all you want, but that's the facts." As it is, Wily Mo Pena will be your DH for the remainder of the evening. Enjoy.

Drew singles (he's the present-day Rickey Henderson!), Pedroia reaches on a bobble by Sweeney, and Zito does the impossible and walks Wily Mo. So here's Manny, and isn't he about due for a two-homer, six-RBi night? Yes, yes he is. But he'll have to get the other five ribbies latee, because this time he bounces a fieder's choice to third to make it 3-2, Boston. It's probably worth noting that Manny was busting it down the line.

Youkilis hits into a double play to end the inning. Is it too late to take his name off the All-Star ballot?

FOURTH INNING
Benjie Molina of the Flying Molina Brothers leads off by hitting a one-hopper to Tavarez, who, against all odds, does not bowl the ball to first base, but actually throws it. Go figure. The Giants go down 1-2-3 again, and as usual Tavarez is giving the Sox everything they could ask for from a fifth starter.

NESN just showed Jon Miller, the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play guy who is also the voice of the Giants. Maybe it's just my imagination, but he looks so much happier without Joe Morgan blabbering cliches and Big Red Machine anecdotes in his ear.

Ray Durham makes a nice play to throw out Coco on a roller up the middle, getting him in a bang-bang play at first. For some reason, I sympathize with Crisp in his current offensive struggles a lot more than I do with Lugo, perhaps because Crisp is actually doing something to help the team (Gold Glove defense in center) and seems anguished by his inability to buy a hit these days.

Lugo swipes second - his 19th without being caught, so I guess he is doing something to help the team - but this one comes with an asterisk. It appeared Zito had him picked off, but first baseman Sweeney threw to third to make sure Mike Lowell wouldn't break for home, and Lowell scurred back to third safely. Typically heady play by Lowell, and the Sox reap the benefits a moment later when Drew, who is apparently an amalgam of Rickey, Rock Raines, and Lou Brock as a leadoff hitter, ropes a two-run double over Roberts's head in center to make it 5-2, Sox. "Imagine if he finds himself as a leadoff hitter," Remy says with a laugh. Pedroia follows with his third hit of the night, scoring Drew to make it 6-2, prompting Orsillo to exclaim, "Here are the runs the Red Sox have been without lately!" Eloquent, Don-O, you vinyl-covered automaton. Vin Scully couldn't have put it better.

FIFTH INNING
Roberts pokes a one-out double to right, Sweeney bounces one to Youkilis for the second out . . . and then, wouldn't you know it, Tavarez busts out his mad bowling skills once again, fielding Winn's slow roller along the baseline and rolling it even slower to Youkilis for the third out. Francona looks like he just swallowed a wad of Copenhagen, but whatever works, right?

Sox go in order in the bottom half. Man, Barry Zito is going to be worth every dime of that $126 million, isn't he?

SIXTH INNING
Here's Bonds at the plate . . .

. . . and here's Bonds as an Alaska Goldpanner in, I believe, 1983.


Man, the dude really hasn't changed a bit.

Bonds bounces to second as Sox fans jeer him with what sounds like three or four different chants. The lack of cohesion is mildly disappointing. Maybe they should just go with the trusty old "steeee-roids" chant that used to greet Jose Canseco back in the day. Don't make it more complicated than it is, people.

Minor trouble brewing for Tavarez. With one out, Ray Durham singles, and moves to third on Molina's single. (By the way, I'm pretty sure that if they raced around the bases, Doug Mirabelli would lap Molina. The guy is so slow that time stands still when he runs.) But the Sox starter escapes, getting Schierholtz to ground to second. Pretty impressive performance tonight by Tavarez, especially given the team's semi-desperation for a win.

After third baseman Pedro Feliz punts Crisp's one-out grounder, Zito's night ends when Bruce Bochy gives him the hook. I don't want to belabor the point that this was a poorly-conceived signing by Brian Sabean and the Giants, but according to Bill James, Zito threw the second-most pitches below 80 mph in the AL last season, trailing only a certain local knuckleballer. My point: In terms of stuff and results, Zito barely resembles the young ace who went 23-5 in 2003. He's little more than a lefty junkballer now.

Drew, who is obviously the greatest Red Sox leadoff hitter since Wade Boggs was devouring chicken, Miller Lite, and Margo Adams, singles off reliever Randy Messenger to drive in Crisp, who had swiped second., and it's 7-2, Sox. It's like I've been saying, all the Sox need to get their offense going is to get that albatross Ortiz out of there. (Actually, I shouldn't even joke about a Papi-less lineup, should I? Bad karma - bad, bad karma. What say we scratch that joke from the record before the baseball gods get wind of it.)

Zito's final line: 5 1/3, 5 hits, 4 BB, 5 Ks, 6 ER. Hey, but at least the chicks dig him.

Now that's pretty baseball. With Drew running and the second baseman covering the bag, Pedroia pokes his fourth hit of the night through the vacated spot. Somewhere, David Eckstein is nodding his tiny transluscent head in approval.

Cervasio, who's due for a Murrow Award one of these years, has an exclusive with Ortiz's son, D'Angelo, who can't be older than 4. The kid's adorable, though a suspicious mind might note he looks more like Manny than he does his old man.

SEVENTH INNING
Another easy, breezy inning for Tavarez, though Remy points out that he seems to be limping and favoring one of this legs in his follow-through. No one in the Sox dugout seems particularly concerned, however.

Sweeney makes the final out of the inning, and I just want to drop a name Simmons-style here and note that he was a year ahead of me at UMaine and is a hell of a good guy. Which, come to think of it, is probably one reason why he's managed to last 13 years in the big leagues despite hitting .257 with just 41 career homers. I think even Bonds likes him.

Manny (who walked) is having a typically good old time chatting with Omar Vizquel while standing at second base. What are the odds that he remembers they were teammates for seven years in Cleveland? Fifty-fifty? In all seriousness, with the benefit of hindsight, it's astounding those Cleveland teams never won a championship, though I suppose they have Jose Mesa and Tony Fernandez to blame for that, as well as a pitching staff that never really had an ace. But those Belle-Thome-Manny Era lineups were so ridiculous, Manny sometimes batted seventh. (And while we were giving you Tribe flashbacks, the Sox get nothing and like it.)

EIGHTH INNING
The Sox have a new pitcher, and Remy dutifully informs us that "Okajimer" hasn't worked since the Sox were in "Arizoner." If anyone wonders why he doesn't have a national gig other than for reasons of his own volition, that classic Mass accent is probably why.

Bonds greets Okajima with a single. Must have rubbed some cream and the clear on the ol' Louisville Slugger between innings. (Sorry, pervs, but that's not a euphemism.)

Crisp singles to left off Jack Taschner, whom I couldn't pick out of a bullpen full of generic middle relievers. He appears to be lefthanded, however, which means he'll probably pitch another 20 years.

Two runs, eight Ks, 6.1 innings from Roger Clemens-Waldman tonight . . . um, not that I'm scoreboard watching or anything.

Drew just hit another one on the screws that Roberts ran down in center field. We joke about the whole leadoff thing, but he really does seem to be swinging the bat well lately, even if he hasn't always gotten the results. Yup, I suddenly have some hope for him - when he's been healthy, the guy has always hit.

Pedroia drills his fifth hit into the left-center gap, driving in two more runs (his fourth and fifth RBIs of the night), making it 10-2. And like I told you guys all along, the kid is going to make it no matter what all the numb-skulled naysayers claim. (Oh, okay, I'll admit it - I WAS WRONG! DOES THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY? I THOUGHT HE'D BE AS EFFECTIVE AS A LAWN GNOME! INSTEAD, HE'S A 1/16 REPLICA OF ROGERS HORNSBY! I WAS WRONG! AHHHHHHHHH!!!

All right, Manny's been lifted from the game, which is my cue to check out as well. But before I go, I offer you one more parting shot:


Give the guy a great hand tomorrow, too, Sox fans. For a priceless moment like the one he gave us, it's the least we can do.

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