Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New York groove

Playing nine innings while waiting for J.D. Drew to take the damn bat off his shoulder . . .

1. I've been reluctant to declare American League East race ovah, for two reasons: First, there is a tendency among certain media members to race to become the first to pronounce the Yankees dead . . . and then, when they inevitably crawl out of the crypt, history is somehow revised and spun so that it was really the numbskull fans who were the ones claiming matters were settled when there were 60 games remaining. The habit is as transparent as it is annoying, and I don't want to be one to fall into that trap. Besides, while it would be a nice little milestone to win the AL East for the first time since '95, we all know that all that really matters is getting to the postseason. So I'm waiting to see the cold corpse of the Yankees' playoff hopes before I deliver any gleeful eulogies. As for the second reason, well, basically it's this: I have been, to quote Arthur Fonzarelli, wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong about so much this year - from my skepticism of jockey-like Dustin Pedroia's ability to hit major league pitching to the certainty of a Mike Lowell annual second-half collapse to my willingness to be talked into believing Drew was a shrewd signing - that I'm hesitant to look into my crystal ball knowing that another off-the-mark proclamation will make me look as clueless as a WEEI fill-in host.

2. I think Dice K will eventually prove to be worth every last yen the Red Sox paid for him; once he becomes fully acclimated to major league baseball and the lifestyle, he'll be a damn fine No. 2 starter at the worst, and becoming one of the elite pitchers in the game is certainly an attainable goal. But right now . . . well, he's good, very good on occasion, but he's also just so frustrating, particularly on nights like tonight. His command isn't what we were told it was - he serves up way too many flat, fat breaking balls - and I can't help but wish he had an extra two or three miles per hour on his fastball. As for those 15 runs he's allowed in 19.1 innings against the Yankees this season? Not acceptable for any pitcher, let alone one of his accomplishment and skill.

3. Dr. Charles surely would revoke my Red Sox Nation membership card for saying this (presuming I were sucker enough to fall for such a transparent, insulting money grab), but Yankee phenom Joba Chamberlain's stuff is so electric and his back story so compelling, I have to admit I genuinely enjoy watching the kid pitch. And yes, I say that with the knowledge that, good health permitting, he'll be tormenting the Sox for the next decade or so. Hey, every now and then the baseball fan wins out over the Red Sox fan.

4. Four of Derek Jeter's nine home runs this season have come against the Red Sox, a stat that probably manages to be both impressive and puzzling if you're a Yankees fan. (Then again, if you're a Yankees fan, most things are puzzling, particularly the concept of good hygiene. Sorry. Too easy.) In all seriousness, it's impressive that Jeter manages his best performances against the Yankees' main rival, but it has to be puzzling that Captain Calm-Eyes has been fist-pumpin' his way to a .258 batting average and a .619 OPS in 99 at-bats this month. Maybe I'm just taking a small sample size out of context, and maybe last night's homer was a sign that he was on the verge of a playoff-push hot streak, but right now I have the same suspicion about him that I've had about David Ortiz for much of the season. He's playing through more than a few bumps and bruises, and we'll find out just how seriously he is injured only when the season ends.

5. Cracks me up how Roger Clemens's mediocre performance has relegated his apologists to mythologizing his impact as a "mentor" to the Yankees' young pitchers. Uh-uh, that's exactly why he's being paid a pro-rated $28 million - to carry a few clipboards for Ron Guidry. I hope the Sox light him up so badly that today's lesson for Joba and other impressionable young Yankee minds includes this annual staple of the Rocket syllabus: How To Limp Off the Mound With a Groin "Tweak" While Trailing 8-0 in the Second Inning 101. Man, I do enjoy that class.

6. Quick Patriots aside: I'm a transactions junkie as it is, but NFL cutdown day is going to be extra fascinating this season because of the Patriots' ridiculous depth. I thought coming into camp that Reche Caldwell was a longshot to stick, and he's done nothing in camp to change my mind, though it might not be the worst idea to keep a receiver who has some chemistry with Tom Brady until the new guys get acclimated. (I'd be curious to see how huge Caldwell's eyes get when the Turk tells him coach wants to see him and to bring his playbook.) Defensively, veterans who seem to be on the bubble include Chad Brown (why was he brought back in the first place?), Tory James and/or Dante Wesley, and for some reason I wonder if Junior Seau and Eric Alexander are as secure as they seem.

7. I liked Johnny Damon a whole hell of a lot better two weeks ago when he was washed up. The Yankees will undoubtedly try to dump him and the two years remaining on his contract in the offseason, and given the mileage on his legs and the emergence of Melky Cabrera, that's probably prudent. But he's suddenly hitting again, even as Joe Torre's reluctant 10th man, and I'm pretty sure he could be clomping around on a peg leg out there and he'd still find a way to torment the Sox.

8. I'm not saying Kevin Cash (.172 lifetime average) should be Doug Mirabelli's successor, but he sure has done a fine job proving that Mirabelli isn't the only living organism in the milky way capable of catching Tim Wakefield successfully, and for that I will remember him fondly.

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

I love the Lee Elia "playground-for-the-expletives" meltdown . . . and Earl Weaver's social tips for Alice Sweet . . . and in the non-sports division, Kasey Kasem's profanity-laced rant remains a No. 1 hit . . . but for my pure listening pleasure, this bleep-faced appearance by the Red Baron on a Padres telecast last season is the greatest piece of audio since the invention of ears. At certain points, he sounds so much like Wooderson that I half expect him to say, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin', man." But the best part? Play-by-play guy Matt Vasgergian's bewildered "Clooney?" It gets funnier every time I hear it.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Show a little faith/there's magic in the night

Because sometimes, a Springsteen lyric just feels right.

Anyway, lots to get to, so let's go . . .

I know I'm a few days late on this one . . . but man, Papi just destroyed that Jered Weaver-Spicoli meatball, didn't he? Given the frustrations and injuries he's endured this season, I don't blame him at all for admiring it; it must have been cathartic. While that home run has been cited as an encouraging sign that he's about to get his mojo back in time for the stretch run, it was actually one he hit earlier in the Angels series, on a low and inside fastball against John Lackey, that made me think he's either feeling better (the cortisone might have kicked in) or fixed a flaw in his swing or something, because that was a pitch that he'd feasted on the past couple of seasons but had trouble with this year. And there's nothing that would give me more optimism about the Sox's postseason chances than the knowledge that Papi has found his fearsome form.

It's becoming more and more apparent that the Red Sox should have walked away from that J.D. Drew contract the moment they began to have concerns about the condition of his shoulder. I mean, I know he says he's healthy, but c'mon - that has to be the problem, right? He has no power - his slugging percentage is .391, or 18 points lower than Alex Freakin' Cora's - and this is a guy, who, for all of the knocks against him, has always been a consistently outstanding offensive player. And now he's the second coming of Rick Miller, a grounder-to-second-hitting machine who never seems to drive the ball with any authority? It doesn't make any sense . . . at least until you consider the one thing that gave the Sox pause about signing him in the first place. It's gotta be the shoulder. It has to be. So this is how we solve this: Either he admits he's hurt, or the Sox have to take him hostage and stuff him in a MRI tube, pronto, because this has gone on long enough.

Or, to put it another way. He has as many RBIs since July 21 - ten - as Garret Anderson had tonight. That's just pathetic.

I've got no problem with Bud Selig declining to punish Jason Giambi for admitting he used steroids. The Yankees' DH/Walking Sweat Gland is the closest thing to an honest man in this entire fraudulent, see-no-needle era, the commissioner included.

The stat line wasn't spectacular, but ultimately Clay Buchholz accomplished two impressive feats in his big league debut: He won the ball game against a very good Angels team, and he left a fickle fan base wanting to see more. I thought Tito Francona came up with the perfect comparison for Buchholz during his postgame press conference that day: a young Tim Hudson. I'd take that, wouldn't you?

The more I see of Kevin Youkilis, the more I hope the Sox sell on him in the offseason. It's not so much that I'm distressed by his second straight second half fade, because I still appreciate the contributions he makes in terms of on-base percentage and working the pitcher and so on. He's still a useful offensive player even when he's not hitting. It's just that his chronic complaining whenever an umpire dares to call a close strike on him has become relentlessly annoying, and watching him do the Bitter Beer Face thing whenever he disagrees with a call has made me realize that he carries himself on the field like a player who's accomplished a whole hell of a lot more than he actually has.

I'm not saying Phil Rizzuto does not belong in the Hall of Fame, but it is curious and maybe a bit eerie that the player most similar to him statistically in baseball history was in the headlines himself the same day Scooter passed away. And let's just say I'm fairly confident that Jose Offerman won't be going to Cooperstown unless there's an "Incorrigible Jerks of the 2001 Red Sox" exhibit at some point.

Wily Mo Pena's classy departure from the Red Sox? Sadly, it was the most graceful thing he did here. He's off to a decent start with the Nationals, though, and you can't help but wish him well. A friend who's around the Sox on a regular basis says Wily Mo was easily the friendliest person in the clubhouse, his teammates adored him and seemed to genuinely believe he'd someday harness his raw talent . . . don't you think it would be fun to see what kind of power numbers he'd put up if he could only figure how to recognize pitches before they bend and break? It didn't happen for him here. But I hope it does somewhere.

Well, now it all makes sense. In case you missed it, Drew Bledsoe confirmed what Patriots fans (and Bills fans . . . and Cowboys fans . . .) often suspected: football never was particularly important to him. Which is how a quarterback with an arm that's a gift from the great Lombardi in the sky ends up fumbling away his three NFL quarterbacking jobs to a skinny sixth-round pick with half of his raw talent, an undrafted free agent from East Podunk Illinois Agricultural And Nursing College For Women, and Opera Man lookalike J.P. Losman. Bledsoe thought his talent was enough. And it was, to get by. But while he's passing his days fishing on Lake Patpatpatsack up there in the Montana hills, that skinny sixth-rounder who wanted it more is putting the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career. Ask me, there's justice in that.

By the way, I did not know until a moment ago that Bledsoe's middle name is McQueen. There's a good Jeff Garcia joke in there somewhere, but I'm not going to look for it.

So does this mean Marcus Vick is now considered the good son? And . . . that's all I've got to say about that. I realize this is a massive story with far-reaching implications, but to be honest, I'm more outraged that Leonard Little (kills a woman drunk driving, serves time, gets busted for drunk driving again) is still in the league than I am at the thought of Vick resurrecting his career with the Raiders a few years from now. You'll have to get your Vick fix elsewhere. I hear Ordway's into it, since, you know, there's nothing compelling going on with the Sox or Pats.

The Official Muse of TATB (Non-Wife Division) starring in a video for Wisely's "Through Any Window," one of those introspective sissy rock songs I'm an incurable sucker for? Well, of course I knew about this. Still, I do thank the half-dozen of you who sent along the clip above, as well as those of you who sent along the (probably not NSFW) trailer to Jenna Fischer's new movie "Walk Hard." It's a spoof of the musical biopic genre and looks fairly funny even though you get the sense Chest Rockwell got the lead only after Will Ferrell said no thanks. I do find it amusing that you guys think to send me this stuff though; I'm starting to think you picture me as Jenna's personal Woogie from "There's Something About Mary," obsessed to the point of a hideous facial rash. Well, I'll have you know I'm not obsessed at all, and the rash? It's just a little bit of a dry patch. Stress, you know. Sheesh. (Scratch, scratch . . .)

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card

You know you've led a fulfilling existence when begin a hero of the Impossible Dream Red Sox does not even come close to approaching your life's greatest accomplishment. We here at TATB tip our Sox cap to you, Mike Andrews. The franchise's genuine relationship with Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund makes me proud to be a fan.

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Finally, while I'm not going to pull a Posnanski and shut down the blog (Say it ain't so, Joe!), it became apparent the past few days that my work here is done. Why? Because I got an email from Chad Finn. No, not from myself, though I was a bit confused when I saw own my name show up in my inbox. It was from . . . (suspenseful pause) . . . the Blueberry Guy!

Yes! Him! For real!

Now, I'm sure some of you have no idea what I'm talking about (you're probably used to that). Let me explain: Back when I started this blog about 2 1/2 years ago, I griped in my introductory missive that I wasn't even the most notable Chad Finn on Google. Turned out there was some fruit-breeding wizard in Oregon who was making the name way more famous than I was as a sportswriting/newspaper grunt here in New England. Here's what I blubbered then:

Thanks for finding me. I figure if you navigated the vast expanse of the World Wide Web and somehow ended up right here, right now, you're either a former reader of my Concord Monitor column, someone recommended my site, you gave birth to me (hi mom - I'll call!), or you saw my half-page color ad in "Cat Fancy."

Heck, you must have sought me out, because the bleepin' Internet sure isn't going to help you find me without some digging. Search for "Chad Finn" and first thing that pops up is some hippie-looking cat who apparently has found far greater success breeding freakin' berries than I have as a sports journalist for two of New England's finest newspapers. Much to my ego's detriment, Chad Finn, Blueberry Guy comes in second on the search list, too. And third. Fourth, also. Dude's berries must be a sight to see. Whatever that means.

So, yeah, in case you wondering, there's your confirmation that I was actually this bitter when I started this thing. But a couple of cool things have happened since then. The site has been more fun and successful than I dared imagine in December, '04, and as the readership has grown, Google has given me the appropriate respect.

And now there's this, from my berry-lovin' namesake:

Note from another scientist in my lab who seemed to find as much humor in your column as you did in searching for me (Yeah I know he sent me this 3-year old article just last week):


Did you happen to see this article (paragraph 4 and last paragraph) - It’s hilarious! Did you ever think that you’d end up in a blog with Paris Hilton”?! Did you ever think you’d be referred to as a “hippy looking cat”?! You’re famous!”

Not many of us out there… you and I, I think... so definitely aware of your writing and pleased as hell to share the name with someone who has so much passion. While I grew up in Indiana and DC area, my Dad was from Central Village CT. my Mom from Pawtucket and all my relatives from Boston area (Medfield, Newton, Foxboro, Wellesley), with a second cousin who had a Bosox blog, and an uncle whose business had a skybox at the old garden made me a big Sox and Celtics fan. So have a bit of common thread.

Living in Corvallis Oregon means my baseball passion has turned to the college ranks and boy has it been a helluva lot of fun watching the OSU team win the last two NCAA championships.

Keep up the good work and irreverence. I’ll keep smiling and working with my “freakin berries” … you’re probably eating them when you down a berry product at your local bakery… Take care.


So, in sum: Chad Finn has got serious Boston ties, he follows the baseball program that gave us Jacoby Ellsbury, he instinctively knows this Chad Finn likes to go to the bakery, he's okay with me whuppin' him on Google much in the way the Boo Berry cereal monster would whup Strawberry Shortcake (gotta speak the berry pusher's language there), and he's a good sport about this whole ridiculous thing (which I can't believe you just spent three minutes reading, by the way).

In other words, we Chad Finns - the both of us - are pretty damn good dudes. Represent!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Random Red Sox games I attended

Pretty catchy title, eh? I figured that would draw you suckers in. In all seriousness, I've been intending and inspired to bang out this column/post/steaming heap of whimsy for awhile, for two reasons:

1. The idea came to me a year or so ago when Bob Ryan wrote about all the cool and obscure games and moments recorded in his scorebook. I thought it was an unusual piece for a famous columnist to write, an unabashedly and admirably dorky tribute to baseball and his job; I loved it. If anyone needs an example of how Ryan retains his passion and popularity after all these years in the business, here you go.

2. I took my daughter, age 3 1/2, to her first Sea Dogs game recently. She loved it as much as her old dad hoped she would, though for some reason she was more thrilled by the Trash Monster and the ice cream-in-a-helmet than she was by seeing Michael Bowden or Jed Lowrie. Go figure. I do think she is ready for her inaugural trip to Fenway next year, and the thought of watching her blue eyes widen as she comes up the ramp . . . well, can you blame me if that got me to reminiscing about my first visit to Fenway and the dozens to follow? Of course not, at least if you have a sentimental bone in your body. So it seems only appropriate to start this thing with . . .

April 21, 1978: Red Sox 9, Indians 7
. . . my first Fenway foray, and yes, all the sappy cliches about a kid's first visit to Updike's lyric little bandbox apply. The grass was the most gorgeous shade of green I'd ever seen. The Monster was so much more imposing and than it looked on TV. But the thing that really blew my 8-year-old mind was watching my baseball cards come to life. Holy crap, Butch Hobson is playing third base right in front of me! . . . Wow, Andre Thornton is a giant! . . . I can't believe that's really Jim Rice over there! . . . Hey, there's Rick Manning - he swiped the Eck's wife! Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the gist. I went to the game with my parents and my Uncle Dennis and his kids, whom we were visiting for a week at their home near White Horse Beach in Plymouth, Mass. All these years later, I still remember that as one of the best times of my childhood.

Sept. 26, 1982: Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
My parents made the unfortunate decision to buy bleacher seats for this one, and you know how, er, "smoky" the bleachers could be in those days. Let's just say I'm pretty sure that was my first experience with a contact high, and coupled with that particular afternoon's stifling heat, it's really no surprise I barfed up my Klondike bar and coke sometime in the late innings. My deep-fried mind somehow retained a couple scattered snapshots from the game - the rifle-shot pop of the mitt as Goose Gossage warmed up in front of us, a fine catch by the otherwise forgettable Reid Nichols, the shocking improbability of seeing Dewey Evans drop a fly ball (maybe he got a whiff of what was going on in the bleachers behind him). But most of my memories came postgame, when, sufficiently recovered from the Klondike Incident (sounds like the name of a Guns 'N' Roses album), I talked my folks into letting me over around outside the players' parking lot in hopes of getting an autograph or two or, better yet, 20. How'd that go, you ask? About as well as the oppressive-heat-and-weed-smoke combo in the bleachers, thanks. Naive as I was at 12, I had these visions of Dewey, The Eck, Jim Ed, Yaz and so on shaking hands, signing endless autographs and generally acting like the larger-than-life, super-swell heroes I believed them to be. Instead, I got see Bob Stanley - who, much to my surprise, was as bald as a baseball without his cap on - sitting on the hood of his car drinking a beer and mockingly waving at the fans. I got to see all the fancy stars drive by obliviously by in their fancy cars, refusing even to make eye contact. I got to watch Mike Torrez, shirt unbuttoned to his waist and reeking of what must have been a prototype for Sex Panther, pull over and sign an old newspaper for a homeless-looking guy (probably a sports writer), but ignoring me and all the pleading, pestering kids. And I got my toes run over by Eckersley, which to that point was the highlight of my day since it didn't shatter any metatarsals, or even hurt, really. (Again, no doubt due to the lingering effects from the bleachers). So yeah, it wasn't quite what I'd imagined - hell, even Ed Jurak blew us off. But just as my parents were getting ready to drag my dejected, woozy butt home, one player, driving a considerably less flashy car than most of his teammates, pulled over. Since he didn't look like anyone I'd seen on a baseball card, I improvised, grabbing a blank piece of paper and pen my mom pulled from her purse and handed it through the driver's side window. The paper came back marked with a signature crisp and clear: Brian Denman. I had no clue who he was then, but you can be sure I was cheering him on the second-to-last day of the season, when he pitched a 5-0 shutout over those same Yankees. I was convinced he was going to be the Red Sox equivalent to the pitcher he beat that day, young New York ace Dave Righetti, but it turned out that shutout was Denman's last appearance in a big-league uniform. I hope he realizes that someone remembers him well.

April 17, 1983: Rangers 1, Red Sox 0, 14 innings
The Rangers had a young first baseman named Dave Hostetler, who'd had some success as a rookie in '82, hitting 22 homers and finishing sixth in the AL rookie of the year voting. But Sox starter John Tudor and the Sox bullpen exposed the kid's fatal flaw on this night, striking him out four times on nothing but breaking balls. (Somewhere, Wily Mo Pena nods knowingly.) Hostetler looked like he didn't belong in the big leagues, and after whiffing 103 times in 304 at-bats that season, his career was over with the exception of a cameo here and there. Other skewed recollections: Sox shortstop Glenn Hoffman proved he didn't have his kid brother's command, airmailing the catcher on a relay as the lone run scored in the 14th, and my mom spilled her annual beer on her purse, drenching my brand-new Topps '83 Red Sox team set. There may or may not have been a tantrum on the ride home.

April 11, 1996: Twins 6, Red Sox 5
This one might be the best time I've ever had at the ballpark, in part because of some weird scheduling circumstances and in part because of the crowd-pleasing antics of a goofball we all knew as "Greenie." The specifics about the scheduling stuff have escaped my memory and Google was of no help. I recall there being a huge snowstorm the day before and everyone assuming this game would be called off . . . and then Mother Nature pulling yet another a fast one on us New Englanders and delivering an absolutely glorious spring day. On a whim, me and a few buddies from Concord hopped in the car, headed the hour south, bought tix when we got there (yes, that used to be possible, kiddies), and joined about 4,000 other fans in watching Clemens duel Radke. The coolest part? Because the crowd was so sparse, the Sox let fans sit wherever they wanted. The four of us sat in the first row in the shadow of the Monster, where my leather-lunged buddy spent the early innings good-naturedly hassling Sox left fielder Mike Greenwell. Because we were so close and the park was so empty, Greenwell heard every word, smirking and glancing over with a bemused look every now and then, a great sport about the whole thing. Well, fast forward to the middle innings. Greenwell, whose power was mostly a rumor at this point, smacks a home run. Upon returning to his position at the end of the inning, he takes a detour toward our seats, where everyone in the vicinity is yelling "Greenie!" and giving him a standing ovation. Greenwell, without saying a thing, saunters up in front of my buddy, doffs his cap, and bows exaggeratedly like he's a Broadway star on opening night. Talk about getting the last word. After that day, Greenie was forever okay in my book.

June 16, 1996: Red Sox 10, Rangers 9
Reggie Jefferson wallops a walkoff off Mike Henneman over the Monster as the Sox come back from a 9-3 seventh-inning deficit. Jefferson couldn't hit lefties with Bea Arthur's bat, but he was a more productive stick than you probably remember (.347-19-74 in '97, for instance), and had he not left the team in a huff after he was left off the ALDS roster in '99, he might have made a difference in the ALCS against the Yankees. Hell, he couldn't have been worse than Huskey and Hatteberg. I wonder if he regrets how it all played out; after skipping out on the Sox, he never played in the majors again.

Sept. 21, 2000: Red Sox 9, Indians 8
By the time my girlfriend (now Mrs. TATB) and I found parking and made our way to our seats, the repulsive Rolando Arrojo had put the Sox in a 7-0 hole in the second inning. Little did we know that while we were futilely driving up and down Boylston, Darren Lewis was trying (and failing) to punch some sense into Carl Everett in the Sox clubhouse. God, those Sox teams were despicable, weren't they? Stunningly, Steve Ontiveros - Dan Duquette's most ill-conceived reclamation project, which is quite a legacy - pitched well in relief, the Sox rallied thanks to a Troy O'Leary homer (not the first time he tormented the Tribe), and they had one of their final feel-good moments of a lost season.

Sept. 16, 2002: Indians 7, Red Sox 1
Better known as Grady's White Flag. This was the second game of a doubleheader, and while the Sox still had a slim chance in the wild card race, Sox manager Grady Little decided this would be a fine time to make his surrender official. Check out this lineup Gump ran out there with the season hanging by a thread: Rickey Henderson, LF; Johnny Damon, CF; Benny Agbayani, RF; Carlos Baerga, DH; Shane Andrews, 3B; Doug Mirabelli, C; Tony Clark, 1B; Rey Sanchez, SS; Freddy Sanchez, 2B. By my accounting, he rested Nomar, Manny, Shea Hillenbrand, Cliff Floyd, Brian Daubach, Jason Varitek, and Trot Nixon in Game 2. Granted, a couple of the regulars (Floyd, Nixon, Dauber) sat because they were facing a lefty, Cleveland rookie Brian Tallet . . . but c'mon, it's hardly Guidry-in-'78 we were talking about here, it was Brian Freaking Tallet, winner of five games since. But facing Pawtucket's finest, he shut out the Sox on four hits in six innings. What a joke. Once it started raining (surely the work of the baseball gods infuriated by Grady's lineup card), I left, the first time I'd departed Fenway before a game had ended. If Grady could give up prematurely, hell, so could I.

Sept. 16, 2003: Red Sox 3, Devil Rays 2
This is the only time I saw Pedro pitch in person with my dad. I don't remember a whole lot about Pedro's performance except that it was somewhat meaningful given that the Sox were in the midst of a playoff push. But I won't forget this: After Pedro brought down the house and by whiffing a D-Ray (probably Lugo) to escape a late jam, my dad wore a look of pure joy, like there was no place he'd rather be. Just one of those things that sticks with a son, I guess.

Game 3, 2003 ALCS: Rich Harden delivers. Trot Nixon swings. Pandemonium. I'm assuming you need no further detail than that. I suppose it's worth noting that this is the only one on this list that I covered as a reporter. Me being me and all, I realized to my horror the next morning that I left the score out of my column. If not for that, the Pulitzer was mine, I just know it.

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Well, this ended up a little longer than I thought it would be. (That's what she said!) Thanks for reading this far and humoring me. My memory is pretty good for this stuff, I think, but it was obviously jogged with the assistance of, so I must tip my hat, Greenwell-style, to Sean Forman's truly invaluable creation. And, please, drop me an email or post your favorite random Fenway memories in the comments. I'd love to hear 'em, even if they also involve puking in the bleachers.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dazed and confused

It's late, I'm gassed, and the Sox pretty much ruined what was a perfect Sunday at the beach. If you've come here for rational discourse, check back another day. I'm here to vent, and I expect it will be even less coherent than usual. Thanks for your tolerance. - TATB Management

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Well, if it's possible to hit rock bottom while still leading the division, I suppose this is it.

Actually, make that I hope this is it. Tell me it won't get worse for your first-place-for-the-moment Boston Red Sox, who watched as Eric "Gasoline" Gagne torched a late-inning lead for the second time in three days, then had to suffer the indignity of watching that old cowboy Kevin Millar waddle around the bases in the 10th inning after walloping a walkoff homer. The most agonizing loss of the season? Definitely . . . since Friday, at least.

Sure seems like a loonnng time since the Sox stole one in the late innings like the Orioles did twice in this series. Yes, Baltimore has atoned for the Mother's Day Miracle quite effectively. It was so much more fun when Sam Perlozzo was employed and the Orioles were our patsy.

So here's the fallout. After losing two of three to the Orioles and four of six overall, the Sox' lead in the division is down to four games, their smallest margin since May 1. All the Bleacher Buttafuocos in the Bronx are undoubtedly drooling on their wife-beaters at the thought of a repeat of '78, and I'm sure Murray Chass and the other usual media suspects already have Bucky Dent on speed dial. And you know what? At the moment, I do not blame them.

We might as well admit it: The Yankees will be in the postseason for the 26th straight season. They are 23-8 since the All-Star break, just emasculated a very good Cleveland team at Jacobs Field, and have a team OPS since the break of .947, which is the equivalent of having nine Vlad Guerreros in their lineup. Andy Pettitte is having his typically strong second half, Mike Mussina is fending off his osteoporosis surprisingly well, Philip Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are worthy of every syllable of hype, Mariano Rivera is hitting 97 on the gun again . . . and did we mention that the offense is ridiculously, historically hot? It was fun while it lasted, that double-digit lead, but the reality of the moment is this: The Yankees are a very, very good baseball team right now.

Perhaps better than the one ahead of them in the standings.

I hate to sound like an 'EEI banshee here, and it's largely the frustration from today's loss that's making me think this way, but I have to be honest: I will be pleasantly surprised if the Red Sox are in first place when the teams meet again at the end of the month. Actually, let me put that another way: Some things will have to change - immediately - if the Sox are going to maintain what's left of their lead.

First and foremost, someone needs to start hitting with runners on base. I loved "Moneyball" and believe Bill James to be truly brilliant, but this team is making compelling case that OPS is one of those classic lies-and-damn-lies statistics. The Sox have a bunch of patient hitters, and the bases are often occupied, but there's no one to drive them in. Hell, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and J.D. Drew, the alleged 3-4-5 hitters, have 43 homers between them, or four more than A-Rod alone. How pathetic is that? It's almost enough to make me look forward to the franchise's inevitable pursuit of The Artist Formerly Known As Slappy McBluelips in the offseason.

I realize Papi's hurting from shoulder to knee, and he's about the last player in Red Sox history I want to criticize, but I can't help but wonder why he didn't get that troublesome meniscus scoped in the offseason. And I think I've made my adoration for Manny obvious over the years, but even his most willing apologist has to admit he's slipped just enough to make his sideshow antics annoying rather than quirky - and when was the last time he hit a three-run homer, anyway? Mike Lowell is a swell guy and everyone likes him, but he's in the midst of his annual second-half power outage . . . Kevin Youkilis is closer to being Carlos Quintana than he is to being Wade Boggs, and wasn't that breathless early season comparison a lot of over-the-top hype? . . . Drew is looking like the worst free-agent signing since Wayne Garland . . . hell, you get the gist. They've gotta hit, now, or else Theo's inability to make a deal for Jermaine Dye is going to haunt them.

The blessing is that they've had the best pitching in the league for the better part of the season, and there isn't a better 1-2 punch in the league than Josh Beckett and Dice-K, whose recent brilliance has, surprisingly, gone mostly unnoticed. And despite his Chad Fox imitation, I think Gagne will be an asset, especially once Jason Varitek realizes he has both a changeup and a curveball. (However, the eighth inning belongs solely to Hideki Okajima until Gagne finds his mojo.) I am curious why Tito Francona (who has generally done an outstanding job again this season, the clueless, "FranComa"-spewing nitwits be damned) didn't use Jonathan Papelbon in the 10th today - he is being babied a little too much, unless there's something we don't know.

I expect the pitching staff will continue to be the backbone of this team, and on a better day I'd probably admit that their staff depth alone is enough to ensure there will be playoff baseball at Fenway Park come October. But right now, a four-game lead feels quite small. It's time for this team to rise back to the surface and start playing like a legitimate contender again.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

So far, Gagne's making that trade look pretty good by comparison.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Bye-bye, Boomer

Just a quickie post to point you toward this week's Fox column, which leads with a tribute (sort of) to Boomer Wells, as well as thoughts on Chipper Jones's Hall of Fame chances, some ambivalence for Balco Barry, the Rick Ankiel redemption, and other ridiculous stuff.

(And if that doesn't sell you, then just check out the first comment. It's worth the price of admission. Though I guess it is pretty cool that Bonds lapdog Greg Anderson apparently reads the column.)

Also, because I have just witnessed the unbelievable, a Completely Random Baseball Card:

You're probably not going to believe this, but I just saw Wily Mo Pena hit a curveball - and not just any curveball, but Eric Bedard's top-of-the-line hammer. And not only that, but he got a hit and an RBI off the damn thing, tying the score in the eighth inning in what looked destined to be of those aggravating losses in which the offense takes the night off. If these are Wily Mo's last days in a Sox uniform - and you have to believe they are, given that he has cleared waivers and assuming Bobby Kielty can shake the rust off in Pawtucket - it's cool that he gets a nice moment of his own before he goes.

(And while I was writing that, Eric Gagne-Slocumb pissed away a four-run lead in the eighth. That'll teach me to be positive about a game that isn't over yet.)

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nine innings 8.8.07

Playing nine innings while wondering how giddy Suzyn Waldman will be if David Wells shows up in Georgie Porgie's private box . . .

1. Watching this Angels series has reminded me how much I enjoyed watching Orlando Cabrera play shortstop for the Red Sox. I realize there are a lot of rumors about why the Sox didn't bring him back, and I have to admit that I thought Edgar Renteria would be an upgrade, at least offensively. But it's downright insulting to think that Sox management dared to descibe Julio Lugo in the same terms that we'd use for Cabrera - dynamic, aggressive, popular in the clubhouse - when there is clearly no similarity between the two players beyond the defensive position they play.

2. Kevin Youkilis was a lot more likable before he decided he should be able to call his own balls and strikes.

3. I realize my hindsight here is sharper than a great hitter's vision, but given that Manny Delcarmen seems to be regressing to his previous inconsistent form while Jermaine Dye is leading the majors in home runs since the All-Star break (11), is it possible that Theo Epstein should have taken White Sox GM Kenny Williams up on what looked like a lopsided trade request at the time? The object, after all, is to win the World Series, and given the ominousness of Papi's shoulder problems, I'm thinking a trade of Delcarmen, Wily Mo Pena, and Craig Hansen for Dye would greatly enhance this team's chances in October without mortgaging too much of the future.

4. He's worthy of endless admiration for what he's overcome, and Fenway will rock with emotion he makes his first home start of the season next week . . . but man, am I wrong to say it's just excruciating to watch Jon Lester pitch? Every time I look up at the TV, it seems like there are two runners on base and he's got a 3-1 count on some bottom-of-the-order schlub. I understand he's probably not at full strength yet, but right now he's the same maddening nibbler who seemed to turn every start into a 4-hour marathon as a rookie. I wonder if the Sox think Clay Buchholz is close to ready.

5. Brief NBA interlude: Reggie Miller, shooting guard, Boston Celtics? Sure, why not? He's one of those blessed shooters who will be able to knock down an open 20-footer on his death bed, he's still in shape and had decent game when he retired two years ago (14.8 ppg), and it will drive Boston-hating Spike Lee over the edge. Given that he'd only be asked to play a dozen minutes or so a game, it seems like a brilliant outside-the-box idea on Danny Ainge's part. I hope it happens.

6. This nightly hissing contest between the Blue Jays and the Yankees has the potential to be the best intra-AL East feud since the Devil Rays were using Brian Daubach for target practice and Ice Williams tried to forcibly remove Pedro's jheri curl a half-decade ago.

7. The Red Sox would be much better served - and their offense would probably be much more productive at the moment - if Tito Francona fined Papi every time he even attempts to slide. You just knew he was going to get hurt on the basepaths at some point.

8. I'm convinced Brandon Moss is going to put up Trot Nixon-like numbers as an everyday big-league player. (And by that I mean Healthy Trot, not Stuffed Full of Crullers and Limping Trot we came to know the past few seasons.) But that day looks very far away right now, doesn't it? I have seen someone in a Sox uniform wear such an obvious deer-in-the-headlights look since Grady Little was patting Pedro on the back and securing his place in infamy one October night at Yankee Stadium.

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

"When the Iranians were holding our embassy people captive, instead of the Marines we should have sent Burleson and [Rico] Petrocelli over there. They would have come back in 48 hours with the hostages, the Ayatollah, and a couple million barrels of oil." - Bill Lee

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Nine innings 08.04.07

Playing nine innings (multi-sport edition) while feeling bad about ripping on J.D. Drew now that we know what he's going through . . .

1. Yup, apparently I'm making Kevin Garnett photo collages now. I guess it's still just surreal that perhaps the most likable NBA superstar of the last decade is on the Celtics, and I'm still savoring the whole thing, four days after the trade. It's funny, I've been trying to explain how significant this is to the lapsed Celtics fans I know, and I just keep coming back to the same point: Kevin Garnett will restore Celtic Pride. I guarantee it. He is the perfect player in the perfect place at the perfect time. He's a superstar who plays with the hunger and desperation of a 12th man. He's maniacal about winning. He's selfless, sometimes to a fault, though with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen as his wingmen, he won't always be counted on to take the last shot. He's a genuine leader who gets bonus points for once socking Wally Szczerbiak. His charisma, as those only vaguely familiar with him learned at his introductory press conference, is off the charts. He will thrive in the Boston sports atmosphere, and the city is going to adore him. There's nothing not to like about this deal, for the Celtics matter now, and if it took trading five players (including the admirable Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes) and two draft picks to make that happen, I say it was a bargain price to pay. Of course there's no way the Celtics should be getting 9-1 odds to win the championship, and of course they need to build some semblance of a bench before they can even be considered a contender. But you've heard the the buzzword we've been throwing around the last few days - "relevance" - and no matter whether Danny Ainge's plan to restore the franchise was by luck or design, he has made the Celtics relevant by bringing Garnett to Boston. I simply cannot wait for opening night. When was the last time any of us said that?

2. I'm not saying this Barry Bonds "chase" is dragging, but by the time he gets to 756, his ubiquitous daughter is going to be married with a family of her own, Greg Anderson will have escaped from Alcatraz or wherever he's rotting away with his misplaced loyalty, and Bud Selig and his snap-on toupee will have long since gone to the great used-car lot in the sky.

3. Assuming Randy Moss's hamstring is okay - and wouldn't that be a bummer to you, me, and Mr. Brady if this thing lingers into the season? - here's how I rate the Patriots' bounty of receivers. 1. Moss (He's still got it.) 2. Wes Welker (He's already on the same page as Brady, who raves about him.) 3. Jabar Gaffney (Smart, and the longer he is here, the better he gets.) 4. Donte Stallworth (An injury-prone tease.) 5. Troy Brown (They wouldn't have brought him back if there wasn't a guaranteed place for him . . . right?) 6. Reche Caldwell (Stop staring at me!) 7. Kelley Washington (Too skilled not to catch on elsewhere). 8. Chad Jackson (Take the year off, kid, and learn the playbook.)

4. Eddie House is the definition of an NBA vagabond, but he's going to be a popular player with the Celtics. He can shoot it (and as a Garbage Time All-Star, he's not shy about doing so), and as anyone who read ":07 Seconds Or Less," Jack McCallum's excellent book on the '05-'06 Phoenix Suns, can attest, he's a clubhouse comedian, armed with countless hilarious anecdotes and one-liners. He'll be a good fit here, and I bet he's an honorary member of Garnett's legendary posse in no time.

5.Just when you thought the pink hat-pandering Red Sox couldn't get more crass, you discover they are selling autographed Jon Lester "Survivor" baseballs on Red - and donating only 10 percent of the profits to the Jimmy Fund. Shouldn't, say, 100 percent of the profits go to the franchise's signature charity? I hope there is a genuinely philanthropic reason for this, but right now it sure looks like an shameful money grab by the Sox marketing minions, and one that takes advantage of Lester's status as an inspiration.

6. Watching a droopy-faced Roger Clemens lumber off the mound in the second inning Thursday to a chorus of Bronx cheers, I had two thoughts: 1) Thanks goodness he's finally in the twilight of his career there and not here, and, 2) Of all the dramatic things you've evah seen, Suzyn, where does this rank?

7. I'll admit I'm hooked on "The Bronx Is Burning," not that I think it's any good. Oliver Platt's portrayal of George Steinbrenner is way too cartoonish (yes, that's possible), the emphasis on the Yankees' clubhouse drama relegates the fascinating Son of Sam and NYC blackout subplots to haphazardly tacked-on footnotes, and the actor playing Reggie Jackson really looks like Jackie Chiles in an Afro wig. At least the guy playing Thurman Munson is a ringer for the aeronautically challenged Yankees captain (ouch . . . too soon?), though his portrayal fails to capture Munson's chronic grumpiness. It's a fun, mindless diversion, I suppose, especially for a child of the '70s, but more than anything it's made me want to read Jonathan Mahler's well-regarded book.

8. In my typically ham-handed way of begging you to read this week's Fox column, I've got a hypothetical for you. Say the Twins make Johan Santana, a free agent after '08 who recently voiced his frustration with the front office, available in a deal this offseason. Put on your gorilla suit and pretend you're Theo Epstein for a moment, then ask yourself this: What would you offer Terry Ryan in exchange for the two-time Cy Young Award winner? Obviously, the bidding starts with Clay Buchholz. But who else is in the package? Jon Lester? Justin Masterson? Jacoby Ellsbury? Buchholz, Lester, Masterson, and Ellsbury? What do you think it would take . . . and what would you do? Discuss.

9. Today's completely random baseball card:

This one's a hat tip to TATB writing binky Joe Posnanski, who reminded me with this piece why I fell for baseball 29 years ago, and why it's still such a part of me despite my working in a profession that turns fans into cynics.

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