Monday, July 02, 2007

Baby, have you ever wondered/Wondered what ever became of me

After too many days away, you know I've got some things to say . . .

RED SOX: You know, I hate even thinking this, let alone writing it, but I'm beginning to wonder where Papi's mojo has gone. I know, today was an extreme example of his recent struggles, whiffing feebly with runners on base not once but twice late in the game, but man, it's just so damn disconcerting to see him falter in those clutch situations after absolutely owning the late innings since 2003. I may be forgetting an early-season walkoff single or some other meaningful late-inning delivery here, but the reality is he's been more mortal that superhero so far in '07. I know that is borderline blasphemous to say, but he hasn't homered at Fenway since April 21, and watching him fail to catch up to some very hittable fastballs recently, I'm beginning to wonder if something's wrong. Now, I realize it's unfair to expect someone to come through every single time, but I just miss that feeling that when he comes to the plate with the game on the line, you just know it's going to end with a moonshot, then a raised fist as he trots around first, a tossed batting helmet as he heads down the homestretch, and finally, a raucous celebration at home plate. And I know I'm not the only one who wonders where those moments have gone - even Joe Castig's voice lacked that familiar sense of optimism or anticipation when Papi was the winning run at the plate with two outs in the ninth, and he hardly sounded surprised when his final call was a dejected "Swing and a popup," rather than his old joyous standby, "David Ortiz has done it again!" I mean, he is going to do it again soon, right? . . . Julio Lugo's pea-brained attempt to swipe third base with the Sox down a run and Kevin Youkilis at the plate Saturday was the single stupidest baserunning move by a Sox player since Psycho Lyons's idiotic heyday. I suppose you can't fault him, though. He's been on base so infrequently this season that I'm surprised he actually ran in the right direction . . . The Red Sox have scored 26 runs in their last nine games, Papi and Manny just completed a month in which they combined for 23 RBIs and looked less like the reincarnation of Gehrig and Ruth and more like the modern-day Maas and Meulens, and if the Yankees weren't actually living up to a certain chant, we might be in full panic mode about this June semi-swoon. While you have to chalk it up to a bad month (the Sox went 13-14), a malaise that afflicts even the best teams over the long season, there has to be some level of concern here, even considering their relatively comfortable lead in the American League East. And the more I consider the strengths and weaknesses of this team heading into the All-Star break, the more convinced I become that they need to add another big bat to the lineup. So I ask: Would you go after Mark Teixeira? And what would you give up? Provided he returns to his .959-OPS form after returning from his quad injury, I say they should at least try to swing a deal with Texas, and while I'd hope Theo would hang up the phone Rangers GM Jon Daniels mentions Clay Buchholz's name, I'd give serious consideration to giving up Michael Bowden, and I might even listen to an offer for Jon Lester, gambling that once Teixeira got to Boston, he'd love the atmosphere enough that he'd want to stay after his contract expires following next season . . . So, assuming Lugo continues his quest to have the worst offensive season of any player in at least 10 years, what are the alternatives at shortstop? Omar Vizquel? He's 40 years old, has a wretched .594 OPS, and is known to be something of a clubhouse lawyer. I'll pass. Jed Lowrie? He's having a fine season in Portland after a slow start, but let's see him reach Triple A first before we anoint him the savior. Ed Rogers? Bobby Scales? Spike Owen? Yep, something tells me it's going to be Lugo with an increased dose of Alex Cora, and if the $36 Million Flop doesn't start looking like a major leaguer soon, Theo will be addressing the shortstop position for the fourth consecutive offseason . . . Call me a conspiracy theorist, but considering Curt Schilling apparent annoyance with the way the front office is handling his injury, I'm wondering if there's more going on here. To put it another way, I'm not so sure that there isn't more concern about his conditioning in general than the condition of his shoulder . . . Given what the Baseball America junkies have told us about his roadrunner (beep-beep!) speed, it seemed appropriate that Jacoby Ellsbury's first big league hit was a basically a routine grounder that he legged out after a moment's hesitation by the shortstop. The kid looks like a jittery rookie right now (admit it, the Sox have missed Coco Crisp in center the past two days), but it's always fun to catch a first glimpse of a player whom you're pretty sure will be a big part of the future.

CELTICS: Now, about that other Boston team in the news lately, and no, I don't mean the Bruins and their acquisition of journeyman goalie Manny Fernandez. I'm talking about the Runnin' Grousbecks, of course, and how fascinating it has been to gauge the national reaction to Danny Ainge's acquisition of Ray Allen for first-rounder Jeff Green, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak's leftover limbs. If I recall correctly, Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen and Jack McCallum loved the deal for Boston (and there's no one I respect more than McCallum), ESPN stat dude John Hollinger hated it, and Bill Simmons seemed to talk himself into it as his Draft Diary progressed. My take? Well, my initial reaction was that it was a panic move, that Ainge was desperate to do something to A) appease Paul Pierce and B) save his own hindquarters, and so he brought in a 32-year-old guard with two gimpy ankles and the inability to guard Denzel Washington, let alone actual NBA players. But then I remembered just how much I liked watching Allen shoot the ball - seriously, there hasn't been anyone with a smoother J since Dale Ellis - and the thought of him, Pierce and Al Jefferson (or, I almost hope, Kevin Garnett) playing together sounded like, well, fun. And we all know that fun hasn't exactly been in abundance at the New Garden in recent years. I'm still not sure it was a particularly shrewd move for the franchise's long-term health, but at least the Celtics are going to be interesting next season, and for now, I guess I consider that progress.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:



While playing 148 games at shortstop for the 1988 Philadelphia Phillies, Mr. Jeltz here batted a robust .187 in 379 at-bats, while slugging a mighty .237. So, yes, there have been modern shortstop who have been as atrocious for a full season as Lugo has been for half of one. I just hope Jeltz isn't signed to a six-year, $60 million deal by Theo next winter.

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Quickie links to stuff we wrote: The FOXSports column is here (and be sure to tune in this coming Friday - I think I might go after a certain Calm-Eyed Captain in the Bronx), and here's a shorter piece I wrote for Sunday's edition of Red Sox GameDay. As always, we appreciate the clicks, and while my work schedule is nuts the next few weeks (at least by my couch potato standards), I have a couple of posts planned that I'm looking forward to writing, including a midseason report card. So be sure to check in, and as always, thanks for your patience. Really, you're a saint.

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