Sunday, October 28, 2007

TATB Live: World Series, Game 4

I'm rooting for more than the Red Sox tonight; I'm rooting for the story, and I imagine you know exactly what I mean.

As appropriate as it might be for ace Josh Beckett to pitch the clincher tomorrow night, if you have a sentimental bone in your body, you want Jon Lester to be the one to deliver the Red Sox their second World Championship in four seasons a few hours from now. We all know that a year ago, the young lefty had far greater concerns than throwing a baseball. Now here he is, a 23-year-old cancer survivor poised to pitch a game we will all remember. Something tells me he's up for the challenge.

Other pregame notes: Trisha Yearwood sings a lovely anthem. For the record, I'm pretty sure she's not a Beckett ex. She looks more like Gagne's type . . . In the Fox pregame, Kevin Kennedy sagely notes that the Sox have some good young homegrown players (I'm pretty sure he first heard of Jacoby Ellsbury around this time last night), Joe Girardi offers a non-denial denial on whether he's the Yankees' next manager, and Jeannie Zelasko wrestles the last chocolate coconut donut from Mark Grace's grasp. The more I see of this crew and the nitwits on ESPN, the more I appreciate TC and the Eck . . . The great Fred Willard, reading the Sox lineup: "David Ortiz, no designated hitter, he wants to play first base, YOU TELL HIM NO!"

All right, let's get this done, the less drama the better. As much as I dearly miss my angst and a lament my lost identity as a Sox fan, for as much as I secretly enjoyed the stomach-churning, soul-crushing misery inflicted upon me by Grady Little in '03, I suppose I could live with a sweep, a sequel to "Faith Rewarded," and chance to watch Papelbon make a fool out of himself during the victory parade. Yes, I suppose I could.

Ellsbury slaps Aaron Cook's second pitch into left field for the a double. In a related note, Coco Crisp catches himself daydreaming about how he'll look in a Braves uniform next season.

Cook is the Rockies' version of Jake Westbrook, an occasionally effective sinkerballer, but he hasn't pitched since August 10. The Sox shouldn't lack for baserunners. It's a matter of converting them into runs and taking the Rockies out of it early. (Wow, that was Tim McCarver-like wisdom there, was it not? Excuse me while I take a swig of Metamucil.)

Well, there's one. Ellsbury smartly advances to third on Dustin Pedroia's grounder to the left side, and David Ortiz makes it 1-0, Sox with a rocket through the right side of the drawn-in infield. Manny bounces into a double play to end the inning, but the Rockies definitely have to be left with a "here we go again" vibe.

Rockies go down 1-2-3 in their half. I'd be glad to write that sentence, oh, eight more times tonight.

My 3-year-old daughter just came out to give me one more hug goodnight, yell her patented "GoRedSoxGoRedSoxGoRedSox!," and remind me to "drink your beers." Right now I'm feeling an odd (and surely misplaced) sense of pride.

Cook breezes through Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, and Jason Varitek in order. It's funny, this is one of the few nights during the postseason that I haven't been at the Globe, and while we have the game on in the office, obviously we're too buried trying to make first edition to pay attention to the nuances of the telecasts. So, having just noticed this, I have to ask: Does a commercial break pass without the fake camaraderie of a Budweiser ad or a completely uninteresting promo for "House"? I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Todd Helton, Mr. Rockie, leads off with a rocketed double to left. Ellsbury cuts it off and seems to have the ball just after Helton hits the first base bag, but he still beats the throw comfortably to second base. Yes, I think the Rockies have paid attention to the scouting report on the kid's arm. Let's just say he's going to follow in the Damon/Crisp tradition of noodle arms in center field, though his is slightly stronger than both of theirs - his throws reach home plate in seven hops rather than eight.

I've said it all along: David Ortiz is not a bad first baseman. Sure, he has the range of Mo Vaughn after a KFC Snack Bowl bender, and playing D takes a fierce toll on his knees . . . but he has excellent hands, and has Jeff Suppan can tell you, his throwing arm is strong and accurate for the position. I mention this, as I'm sure you know, because he just made a smooth scoop to spare Julio Lugo a throwing error. Youkilis wouldn't have done it any better.

After Ryan Spillborghs (whom I like a lot as a fourth outfielder-type, but whom Rob Dibble killed on 'EEI the other day) flied to center, Lester fell into his maddening habit of nibbling, and walked Brad Hawpe, who has been atrocious in this series. He slips out of it without allowing Helton to score, however, getting hot-hitting Yorvit Torrealba to ground to Lugo for the third out. I should note that Lugo made his two best defensive plays of the season last night, has been steady all postseason with the glove, and is even swinging the bat well in the series. If he and Drew keep this up, Theo's second-guessers are going to have no one left to complain about. (And I include myself among them.)

Cook gets the Sox in order again, retiring Ellsbury on a slow grounder to Kaz Matsui to end the inning. So far, the Sox have just two hits. Don't know about you, but I'm starting to miss Josh Fogg.

You think Papi really plays badminton? And if so, does he call the thing a "birdie" or a "shuttlecock"? These are the kinds of questions Tina Cervasio should be asking.

Gah. And now we have our first episode of the Manny In Coors Field Adventures. Matsui rips a liner to left that, oh, 90 percent of major league left fielders would probably catch. Unfortunately, Manny is in the other 10 percent, and it soars just past his reach and rattles around for a double. All of the statistical measures that I'm aware of say Manny is a horrendous defensive player, and while I happen to think he's made himself at least an adequate Fenway outfielder, this play gave us a sense of how much his home park masks his lack of range. (Part of it, I think, is that Manny has only one speed: ambling.)

Lester whiffs Troy Tulowitzki for the second time tonight. I saw the Rockies a lot this season on the package (in part because they're so damn fun to watch as far as NL teams go, but mostly because I had Matt Holliday in a semi-lucrative fantasy league), and I think between here and in my Fox column I've made my appreciation for Tulowitzki apparent. You watch him play for any length of time, you can't help but think he's a bigger, rangier, less metrosexual version of Derek Jeter. The kid is going to be the Colorado cornerstone for the next decade. Now, that said, this series for him thus far can be filed under Learning Experience. To put it another way: The shortstop in the Boston dugout has been much better, and that's not something we've said about Julio Lugo, well, ever.

(And while I was writing Tulowitzki's biography, Lester whiffed Holliday. So far, so good, kid.)

As Pedroia leads off the inning, Ken Rosenthal (who I hope to meet someday at the FoxSports company picnic, just to see if he really is three feet shorter that Eric Wedge, as it appeared during an ALCS postgame interview) tells us that Pedroia refers to his at-bats as "the laser show" and that his cockiness is an "endless source of amusement" to his veteran teammates. It really is a tribute to Pedroia's ability and "I'll-show-you" attitude that he could be such a vital part of this lineup and clubhouse after looking so overmatched in April. If you don't like Dustin Pedroia, you don't like the Red Sox. (By the way: Pedroia could definitely call Rosenthal "little fella.")

Pedroia grounds out, Papi pops out, Manny lines out, and I'm really beginning to become suspicious of this Aaron Cook character. Just where has he been the last two months, anyway?

Francona, when asked during those usually insipid in-dugout interviews what Lester's pitch count is tonight: " 'Bout 180." The dry wit (teetering on sarcasm) is a tremendously underrated aspect of Tito's appeal.

Joe Buck usually oozes smarm, but I have to admit, he's made a couple of good points tonight, especially in noting that the 2004 Sox might have had more talent than this team, but that the '07 version is set up for the future much better than the veteran-laden Idiots were. I hadn't thought of it that way, but he's right.

Lester retires the first two hitters, walks Spillborghs, then gets Hawpe on a popup to end it. Very, very impressive. If he keeps this up, he might be pitching Tim Wakefield into retirement.

Good things happening. Lowell leads off with a double into the left field canyon. Drew grounds out without advancing the runner, but Varitek follows with a ground single to right, and DeMarlo Hale sends Lowell despite Hawpe's cannon. It looked like it would be a bang-bang play at the plate, but Lowell makes a beautiful slide and touches the plate with his hand for a 2-0 Boston lead. If there's any justice, upon returning to the dugout Lowell was greeted by Theo holding a three-year, $39 million contract offer.

We always hear that Lester is one of the purest athletes on the team, one of those three-sport-captain types who shoots an 85 his first time on a golf course and can dunk a basketball while wearing street clothes. But he doesn't particularly athletic with a baseball bat in his hands, and he fails to get a bunt down in three tries with two on and one out. Ellsbury follows by striking out (the Rockies have apparently figured out he'll fish for the low-and-in stuff), and we might consider this the first real lost opportunity of the night.

See, this is where I really miss my angst. The Sox have a 2-0 lead, hardly insurmountable, and Manny Delcarmen, who has spent the postseason wearing a wide-eyed, "Holy bleep, I can't believe I'm pitching for the Red Sox in the playoffs!" look on his face, is warming up in the bullpen. If this were, say, 2003, I'd be chomping my fingernails and wondering how they were going to lose this one. Instead, I'm nursing a Shipyard Pumpkinhead, casually typing in my inanities here, and fully expecting that somehow, the Sox will be celebrating in Denver tonight. If enjoying this likable, well-run, winning baseball team means we've lost our identities, well dammit, I hope we never find them.

By the way:

Dude, I know. I don't believe it, either.

Pedroia, Papi, and Manny hit three straight ground outs, Cook is cruising, and I sure hope Lester can give them another easy inning or two.

All right, now I'm a little nervous. (IT'S NOT ANGST, LOBEL!!!) After retiring Holliday and Helton on, what, four pitches, Lester walks Atkins on a 3-2 count, and that after it looked like he had struck him out on ball three. I'm not going to question Francona's decision to remove Lester for Delcarmen here, because heaven knows Tito is managing circles around everyone this postseason (just as he did in '04). It's just that Lester has been so good, and Delcarmen so shaky lately, and . . . Delcarmen blows Spillborghs away. Tito, I hope I get the chance to buy you a beer someday so you can tell me how you keep a clear head (figuratively as well as literally, I suppose) with nitwits like me second-guessing you at every turn. Hey, did I ever mention I wanted the Sox to hire Glenn Freakin' Hoffman after Grady was sent back to Hillbillyville? I didn't? Well, let's keep it that way.

Lowell, solo homer, 3-0 Sox. PAY. THE. MAN. And that does it for Cook, who induced 13 groundball outs and did everything the Rockies could have asked for given his inaction the last two months.

Says Buck: "What a night for Mike Lowell. This could be his last night in a Red Sox uniform." You think so, Nepotism Boy? Well, aren't you going to be surprised when Theo presents him with a four-year, $52 million contract offer between innings.

Jeremy Affeldt in for the Rockies. I have never understood why this kid isn't a consistently excellent big-league pitcher - he has some wildness issues, but he has an unbelievable arm, and he's a lefty. I'd rather have him than every single Javier Lopez ever to play in the big leagues. (Official TATB Sportswriting Binky Joe Posnanski had a melancholy anecdote about being dazzled by Affeldt one hopeful spring day during his Royals days in a recent blog post.)

Lonestar does a fine countrified rendition of God Bless America. By the way, didn't they play at the Red Sox kickoff dinner that NESN showed three times a day in April? I wonder if the Rockies are aware of their dual loyalties. (And no, none of them dated Josh Beckett, either. That I'm aware of.)

Affeldt does the job. Nine outs away.

Well, here we go. Hawpe takes Delcarmen deep to cut it to 3-1, and I hate to say it, but you could see it coming. When Delcarmen is wild high, it's because he's overthrowing . . . and he's wild high right now. As the Sox infield coverges on Delcarmen to settle him down (Papi was particularly animated), the Fox cameras show Mike Timlin and The Hero In The Dark are up in the bullpen for the Sox. I wonder how many outs Okajima and Papelbon are capable of getting tonight.

Delcarmen retires Torrealba on a flyout, then Cory Sullivan singles, and that'll do it for the pride of Hyde Park. Timlin is coming in, and while he had nothing last night, I have faith in him in this situation that I didn't have in Manny D. This might be one of those situations were experience and poise is preferable to pure ability.

Sit, Matsui. Huge whiff for Timlin. Now he must get Tulowitzki, because Holliday as the go-ahead run is an absolutely terrifying thought.

Bless his 41-year-old, slopballin'-huntin'-fishin'-possum'-killin' soul, but Timlin whiffs Tulowitzki on a 3-2 pitch, and that right there is why Tito was so loyal to Timlin when he looked cooked in April and nitwits like me were urging the Sox to move on. That may have been the pivotal moment tonight, and just as he did so often in the '03 and '04 playoffs, Timlin came through.

Remember all the times I said Tulowitzki reminds me of Jeter? Still does.

This clown . . .

. . . leads off as a pinch hitter with an absolute moonshot to left, and it's 4-1, Sox. Hey, we always heard Bobby Kielty mashed lefties. He sure picked a swell time to finally show it.

Rosenthal jumps in with perhaps the first worthwhile "breaking news" report by a sideline reporter in the history of television: Alex Rodriguez will turn down the Yankees' five-year, $150-million offer and opt out of his contract, the alleged reason being he is concerned with the direction of the Yankees.

Buck and Rosenthal are speculating that A-Rod may be with the Sox next season, especially if Lowell isn't back. I'm sure I am looking at this with sentiment rather than logic right now, but screw A-Rod; Mike Lowell belongs on this team, not him. Slappy's made to be a villain. And by the way, you're telling me Boras didn't plant this story for this precise moment? He can't put a price on the publicity. I might think he was trying to steal the Sox' thunder, but since it makes the Yankees' look bad, I'll look at it as a rich dessert after a delicious meal. It's not necessary, but it sure tastes good.

Okajima in for the Sox. Bless him for his warrior mentality, but he has to be exhausted. His arm must feel like he spent the past five seasons pitching for Joe Torre.

Holliday grounds out (0 for 4), but Helton pokes one to left (he's a perma-helmet away from being John Olerud at this point), bringing up Atkins with one out. Huge batter here.

Dammit, I shouldn't have said anything. Atkins, who was long overdue, tees off on a 3-1 pitch, cutting the margin to 4-3. That's all for Oki, who I have a hard time faulting considering it seems like he pitched a high-stress inning or two every single day all summer and fall. Anyway, here comes Papelbon. Does he have five outs in that right arm tonight?

Spillborghs is making Papelbon work. It's imperative to keep him off base with Hawpe coming up . . . and Spillborghs grounds to Lugo as I'm pecking that out.

Hawpe, after at least one hideous swing, hit it on the screws to left-center . . . and did I mention that Coco Crisp is in as a defensive replacement, with Ellsbury moving over? Three outs to go. A couple extra runs wouldn't hurt in the top of the ninth, however.

Two outs, top of the ninth, one run lead, and Joe Buck is conceding everything to the Sox, calling them "the standard by which all other teams are measured - including the New York Yankees." It's a lovely sentiment, it really is . . . but can we save the freakin' bouquets until there are three more outs, please? At least McCarver is silent. Must have dozed off again.

Tek grounds to Jamey Carroll (who looks like Mike Piazza's Mine-Me), and to the bottom of the ninth we go . . .

Torrealba. Pedroia. Two outs to go.

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? SOMEONE PLEASE RE-START MY HEART! (Seriously, if that's Manny out there, I say Carroll's ball Cansecos off his head and we have a tie game. Also, I'm pretty sure what I feel for Jacoby Ellsbury right now is how my sister felt about Simon LeBon when she was 12. Or maybe it was Nick Rhodes, can't remember. God, I'm so nervous I'm having "Tiger Beat" flashbacks.)

Seth Smith. Swinging. Strike three.

Game over. Series over. Red Sox win.

Also . . .


(No, seriously.)


(For the record, the only angst I feel right now is that I didn't buy a friggin' couch in April.)

* * *

So my little boy, 14 months, just woke up, something that may or may not have had to do with the gutteral howl that came from the living room. Curiously, the same thing happened when his big sister was eight months old and the Sox had just ended 86 years of disappointment, agony, and yes, angst. Like I did with Leah three years ago, I brought Alex out, pointed to the TV, and said, "The Red Sox just won the World Series. Someday, that will mean a lot to you." Oh, this victory doesn't lift a burden or end any fictional curse or shut up that #*$**$ Yankees fan that's been on your case for years, but go ahead and try to tell me the joy doesn't wash over you just the same.

I'm Globe-bound the next few days - I keep hearing something about a special section - but I'll be back in the next few days to crank out TATB's annual season wrapup. Given that I started this site in large part because I regretted not having an outlet to write about the magic of '04, I promise that when I get the story of 2007 posted, it will be done right. In the meantime, I'm going to pop open that last Shipyard or two or six, lean back on the couch I wish I had replaced eight months ago, and savor this. I imagine I'll throw a few more notes on here in the next hour or so, but if you're checking out to go celebrate, I just want to say thanks for joining me tonight, and always. This - this - is why I do this. -- CHAD

* * *

POSTGAME STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS WHILE CHUGGING BEERS, FLIPPING CHANNELS, AND SAVORING THE CELEBRATION: Mike Lowell, World Series MVP. All right, six years, $84 million, but that's the final offer. (Seriously, he'd better be under contract by the time he boards the duck boat.) . . . Just caught Gammons talking about Jon Lester's performance tonight. I thought he was going to cry, and I can't blame him. I agree with the commenter on this post: That's the best game Lester ever pitched. I had my doubts about this kid before he got sick, wondering if his failure to trust his stuff would hinder his ability to live up to his talent. After all he's gone through - and how he came through it - how can anyone ever doubt him about anything again? . . . The 2004 team will always mean the most to me - you know what they say about never forgetting your first. But this one is special in its own way, and anyway, that comparison is for another day. One of the truly unique aspects of this team is the impact of the young players. Pedroia is going to own the city - he's a Dirt Dog with actual talent. Ellsbury is a jolt of electricity. We know what Lester accomplished tonight, and Papelbon has been established for so long that it almost feels like he was here in '04. Theo's dream of a "player development machine" has become a reality . . . NESN just showed footage of the '04 celebration, and I swear on a holy stack of media guides, Royce Clayton was in the middle of that one too . . .I've said it before, and I'm guessing a lot more of you agree with me now: There's no one else I'd rather have managing the Boston Red Sox than Terry Francona. He's now 8-0 in the World Series and 22-9 in the postseason. He's Joe Torre with a little bit of an edge and a knack for handling a bullpen. He's the right man at the right time in the right town. That "Francoma" b.s. has always been born from the miniscule minds of morons. I hope he never has to hear it again. It's time he got the universal appreciation from Sox fans he deserves . . . Timlin just brought Wakefield to the verge of tears, interrupting the knuckleballer's interview with Don Orsillo to praise him for being such a selfless teammate. Nice gesture by Timlin, and it clearly meant a lot to Wakefield. They're getting emotional in their old age . . . Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew are World Champions. Chew on that for a minute. And you know what? The way they played the last seven days, they damn sure deserve it . . . All right, I'm officially gassed, in a delirious way, of course. But before I go, I'll sign off with the sage words of an old friend, the most optimistic Sox fan I know (he knows who he is):


(And to all, a good night.)

(P.S. - How'd the Pats do today?)

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Coming attraction

FYI, there's a real good chance that I'll be doing a live blog tonight, so be sure to check back in around 8:20. It's not definite - it depends how quickly we can get the kids sedated - but I'd say it's at least probable. -- TATB Management.

Update: It's definite, so be sure to join us as Jon Lester goes for the storybook ending.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I asked of her what do we celebrate/She said these be the good old days

I launched this little website not long after the 2004 World Series, the impetus and inspiration being that it absolutely crushed me that I didn't have a forum to write about the Sox as they fulfilled our lifelong dreams as a fan. (I had left the Concord Monitor - and given up writing a column - to fulfill another dream, working at the Globe, in December, '03.) So it's ironic in an extremely aggravating way that, with the Sox back in the Series, I have this rewarding, interactive outlet to write about it, and scarcely a free minute to do it. Well, with the kids snoozing and me having my first real day off from work and other assorted duties in some time, let's get right to some of the things I've been meaning to say. (P.S. - My son has never seen the Sox win a World Series in his lifetime. Seriously, how terribly sad is that? Sure, the boy's 14 months old, and like his old man has sixth teeth and knows about a dozen words. Still . . . heartbreaking, no? )

* * *

In their postseason careers, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling are now a combined 17-4 with a 2.05 ERA. Yes, I think it's safe to presume Beckett is the heir to Schilling for the title of Best Postseason Pitcher of His Generation - astoundingly, he's allowed just 40 hits in 72.2 postseason innings in his career. That's Gibson/Koufax stuff right there. My wife, who pays casual attention to the Sox for the most part, asked me the other day if Beckett is a better pitcher than Pedro. Of course I said no, explaining in my sweetly condescending way that Pedro in his prime was the best pitcher me, my dad, my granddad, our kids, our cats, and any and all of our unborn children will ever see. . . but I have to admit, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I'd take Current Beckett over Vintage Pedro in a must-win playoff game. Probably not, but there was a time not so long ago when, posed with such a question by Mrs. TATB, I wouldn't have even considered it, instead rolling my eyes and telling her to go make me some waffles already. (Kidding. Kidding.) As for Schilling, unlike some certain other baseball writers, I've said all year that it would be a mistake to keep him around beyond this season. But after watching him do his John Burkett routine to great effect in the playoffs, and well aware that you can never have too much pitching, I'm open to the idea of bringing him back next year for $12-$13 million as the fourth starter, particularly if Tim Wakefield does not return. I'm beginning to the think the guy will be able to give you five quality innings in a playoff game when he's 45 years old and a few Nutty Bars north of 300 pounds.

* * *

I am so freaking sick of those ridiculous, contrived stories about how Sox fans miss their angst. You know who misses the angst? Tweedy, eggheaded George Will wannabes who like to imagine themselves as The Thinking Man's Baseball Fan, yet lack the insight to come up with a compelling angle now that their contrived story arcs are three full years into their extinction. Them. They miss it. And they're the only ones. I mean, c'mon, do you think those of us who have true, lifelong affection for the Red Sox, who associate this baseball team with milestone moments and cherished people in our own lives, really miss the agony of painful defeat? Are you *%*#**# kidding me? I've mentioned this here before, but my wife says the most bummed out she's ever seen me was in the days after Game 7 of the '03 ALDS. I suppose that tells you I've led a pretty happy existence all in all . . . but I genuinely hated the Yankees then, especially after the Karim Garcia/Pedro/Clemens b.s. in Game 3, and after that hillbilly blockhead Grady Little ruined what I had considered to that point to be my most enjoyable season as a fan, I seriously contemplated why I wasted my time investing so much emotion in something that always let me down. If that wonderful, irreverent '03 team couldn't win, what Sox team would? Then came the vindicating joy of '04, which was tempered only - and ever so slightly - by those blinking morons who kept telling us, "Be careful what you wish for," as if our identity would be lost once all that Curse nonsense was rendered irrelevant. What's the matter with these people? Why do they cling to the misery? Don't they know any real Sox fans? All of my friends - not to mention the countless readers who email me here - are happy and grateful and appreciative regarding the current state of the Red Sox. We've waited a long, long time to feel like this, survived so many Zimmers and Kerrigans and Littles, and we appreciate having the faith that a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning of Game 2 will hold up, whereas five years ago we would have been waiting for the other cleat to drop. Hell, yes, these are the good old days. We know it, we love it, and you bet we're savoring it. That old sense of dread is long since dead. Why that is so hard for some people to grasp and comprehend . . . well, maybe they really should be asking themselves why they miss the misery. I'm guessing they wouldn't like the answer.

* * *

If the Sox do return to Fenway for Games 6 and 7, I really hope Dr. Charles can convince Keith Foulke to return to Fenway and throw out the first pitch for one of the games. (Maybe the promise of a new truck would do the trick.) I'll always remain convinced that Foulke sacrificed the rest of his career by coming to the Sox' rescue night after grueling night in the '04 postseason, and it doesn't reflect well on a certain segment of Sox fans that the pitcher who was perhaps their real MVP of that championship run left Boston on bad terms. (That segment being the *%**#*$* segment, and I'm thinking specifically of that pathetic Bud-fueled imaginary tough guy who screamed at him from behind the Sox dugout after one of Foulke's rougher performances in his lost '05). I have a feeling Foulke would get a rousing ovation at Fenway this time around, especially if the appropriate highlights precede his appearance, and such a show of appreciation is long overdue. It never would have happened without him.

* * *

Other stuff: Royce Clayton is this year's version of Ricky Gutierrez, though I don't remember Gutierrez having quite such a hankerin' for a taco in '04 . . . Go ahead, just you try to convince me that a Jon Lester victory in Game 4 wouldn't be preordained . . . Speaking of Lester, after getting a good look at Jeff Francis in Game 1, I'm pretty sure the Sox' kid lefty could win 15+ games in the National League. He has better stuff than the Colorado ace right now. All he has to do is learn how to trust it . . . Tim Wakefield sounded like a guy who had a serious decision to make, didn't he? . . . As frustrating as his first season in Boston has been, I never wanted the Sox to give J.D. Drew the Renteria Treatment in the offseason, and it's hard not to feel good for the guy as he's picked the perfect time to produce like a player of his ability should. Lugo, however, still stinks . . . Love to hear the real story why Clay Buchholz is back in Texas rather than with the team right now. Brandon Moss was allowed to hang around before he had to leave for winter ball a couple days ago, but the kid righty has been nowhere to be found . . . I've plugged his excellent work in this space before, but I feel the need to say it again: If you don't check out my former Concord Monitor teammate Dave D'Onofrio's blog, you're missing out. He's kicking some serious Asdrubal during the postseason . . . The pick? Let's put it this way: The next time we see the Sox in Boston, Papelbon will be doing some ridiculous spasm he calls a "dance" from atop a duck boat. They'll wrap it up in 5.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Remember the April days when we cynically assumed Hideki Okajima was just here as Dice-K's concierge? Has any player ever exceeded our expectations more than the self-proclaimed Hero In The Dark? A old buddy of mine, a successful high school coach who is like Earl Weaver to my Maury Wills in terms of baseball knowledge, said at midseason that he thought Okajima was the Sox' real MVP. I'm not sure that held true for the rest of the season, but watching him mow through the Rockies during those crucial innings in Game 2, I shuddered to think where this ballclub would be without him. Okajeemer, as a certain broadcaster calls him, is one of the great finds in Sox history.

Maybe we ain't that young anymore

This week's Fox column is here, this week's GameDay piece is also up, and I guarantee (or your money back) that I'll return to this space with a long (and long overdue) post late tonight.

P.S. - Willie Norwood, the alleged prospect holding down the lower right corner in this completely worthless baseball card, was a childhood favorite of mine, for no logical reason that I can recall. Sadly, he did not prove to be the equal of better-named but barely competent Twins outfielders such as Bombo Rivera and Hosken Powell, and faded from the big leagues after four seasons and a .242 lifetime average. And no, I have no idea how I ended up this way, either.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well, they're no friends of mine

Playing nine innings while wondering how many times Jonathan Papelbon was dropped on his head as an infant (the over/under is four) . . .

1. There were countless enjoyable aspects of the Sox' comeback from a 3-1 hole against the Indians - hearing Yankee cheerleader Tim McCarver and the smarmy Joe Buck being forced to praise Manny's defense is right there at the top of my list - but perhaps the most rewarding were the various tales of redemption along the way. No, Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn't brilliant in Game 7, allowing two runs in five innings while looking dominant in the early going and frighteningly worn out - if not downright Wasdin-like - by the fifth. (I still can't believe Tito left him in to face Grady Sizemore, who had some ferocious swings.) But given how inconsolable he seemed after his Game 3 loss, it was nice to see him rebound and make the most of his second chance; I think his toughness in the face of adversity is an encouraging sign regarding what I'm convinced more than ever will be a bright future here. Then there is J.D. Drew, whose absolutely crushed grand slam in the first inning of Game 6 effectively erased a season's worth of disappointment with one swing and gave him a long overdue shining moment at Fenway. (Not to mention that it led to perhaps my favorite Bob Ryan lede of all time: "So that's the fascination with J.D. Drew." Perfect.) Hell, rumor has it Eric Gagne even had an inning in there somewhere where he didn't spontaneously combust, which is major progress for sure. Yes, I know Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia were immense, Hideki Okajima was "the hero in the dark" yet again (seriously, where would this team have finished without him this season?), Josh Beckett was an Ace, capital A, and the list goes on. But there's something appropriate about many of the ball club's most maligned players coming up big when the moment demanded it. Now, if only Julio Lugo could learn to catch a popup, we'd officially have nothing and no one to complain about.

2. Other than Drew's holy-bleep-did-that-really-just-happen? slam, my favorite moment of the whole three-game run might have been Coco Crisp's catch in the triangle for the final out of the series. Say what you will about his limp noodle of a bat - and it's fair to say his prolonged ineptitude at the plate this postseason will not only cost him at-bats in the World Series, but probably his future with the Red Sox - but there's no denying that the guy is the ultimate Dirt Dog, an absolutely fearless player whose physical problems are rooted in the fact that he refuses to play the game at anything less than breakneck speed. Further, it's a tribute to his professionalism that he's handled his reduction in playing time as gracefully as he patrols center field. Jacoby Ellsbury deserves to play right now, and the kid should be the starting center fielder on opening day in '08, but anyone who says Crisp hasn't been an important member of the Sox this season simply hasn't been paying attention.

3. The little SOB has forced me to eat more crow this season, so what's one more time, right? So let's just get to it: I have never been more wrong about a player than I was about Dustin Pedroia. He is not a lawn gnome, a hood ornament, a descendant of a Wizard of Oz munchkin, or a refugee jockey from Suffolk Downs. He is, pound for pound, perhaps the best pure baseball player on the Red Sox, and after watching him for one full season, I don't even want to imagine the ball club without him. He's a downright excellent hitter despite his Jose Canseco swing, his defense at second base is as good as we have seen at the position in a long, long time, and his Tanner Boyle, "Yeah-I'm-a-runt-but-I'll-kick-your-sorry-*&*" attitude is admirable, hilarious, and probably necessary. He is one of my favorite players on this team, and I look forward to him making me look like a stupid *$*&%^*&$& for years to come. There. That ought to do it until his next season-saving moment, in which I will gladly wash, rinse, and repeat this rant.

4. And after that mea culpa, here's a TATB flashback to prove my first impressions are occasionally on the money. (Though Beckett is more articulate and introspective than I gave him credit for at the time of the trade - the occasional well-place f-bomb aside, he's got a better vocabulary than all of the males in the Clemens family combined.)

5. While a Sox fan obviously should feel no remorse for whupping the Indians, unless you're someone who boarded the bandwagon post-2003, you at least have some sympathy for their agonized plight, which now includes 59 seasons without a World Championship and a tragicomic book's worth of gruesome defeats along the way. Joe Posnanski's blog post - simply titled "Pain" - on a Cleveland fan's battle for hope while sensing that defeat was inevitable left me with this thought: Savor these glory days in Boston sports, because it wasn't that long ago when that was us. And that's your condescending lecture for today, folks. (Wait, one more quick link before I forget: Charlie Pierce's Slate essay on Manny's infinite baseball wisdom. The last sentence ("Manny's unburdened of everything, hitting .400 in the postseason, and sharing his secret knowledge with the wider world, which is as blind and deaf to genius as it ever was") encapsulates the essence of Manny Being Manny better that any string of words I have ever read. You know I loved this.)

6. The cynic in me has always assumed there's a certain amount of b.s. to Kevin Millar's Goodtime Cowboy personality - the alleged redneck grew up in Los Angeles, for heaven's sake - and Seth Mnookin did expose some level of phoniness in "Feeding the Monster," revealing that Millar wasn't exactly Mr. Clubhouse Unity when he was losing playing time. But I am convinced that Millar's affection for Boston - and the apparent affection of Terry Francona and his former teammates for him - is 100-percent genuine, and that Millar truly did leave his heart here when he departed for Baltimore. Besides, his "Don't let us win tonight" speech before Game 4 of the '04 ALDS in front of a smirking media (check "Faith Rewarded" and you'll see what I mean) is, in retrospect, one of my favorite moments of that postseason. The Orioles may have a problem with him throwing out the first pitch at Fenway, but as far as I'm concerned, he's a welcome guest of honor at Fenway any time he desires. After all, he was One Of The 25, and a crucial one at that.

7. The Patriots have been lost in the shuffle way too often around here lately - it's a wonder Stacey James hasn't called to whine about coverage - and you know that will change once this baseball business is taken care of. But before I forget, I just wanted to mention one thing about this revamped receiving corps that has impressed me, and I'm not talking about Randy Moss's ability to catch the ball with his elbow. It just sort of dawned on me as I was listening to Gil and Gino Sunday just how well the three notable new guys (Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte' Stallworth) complement each other as players. Moss is the superstar (obviously) and the deep threat, perhaps the most purely talented player we've ever seen in a Patriots uniform, and his connection with Brady is something to behold. Welker plays the slot with the toughness and savvy of Troy Brown in his prime - he's actually better than he seemed when he was torching the Patriots during his Dolphins days. And the real revelation is Stallworth, who, while putting up some uneven numbers depending upon his role in the offense in a particular week, is an absolutely breathtaking runner after making a catch - his instincts and moves in the open field are more like a running back's. He's much more than just a burner. It's amazing that Scott Pioli and the Patriots not only brought in these three terrific receivers in one offseason, upgrading their talent at the position from possibly the worst in the league to perhaps the best, but that they're all so different stylistically yet all play off each other's abilities so effectively. It's really been something to behold, hasn't it?

8. Joel Skinner seems to be getting the brunt of the blame for Kenny Lofton's failure to score the tying run in the seventh inning on Franklin Gutierrez's rocket down the third base line, and I suppose he deserves it for holding Lofton when he probably could have moonwalked home safely. (Manny's classic quote afterward: "I was just going to throw it to the cutoff man and let him deal with it.") But there would be some karmic justice if Lofton, who's personality could be described as perpetually miserable and who was eviscerated by Gammons on Mike Felger's show yesterday for showboating on the play, ended up being remembered as the Lonnie Smith of his era. (And after reading this item, I'm even more grateful that the Sox are one of, what, three teams Lofton hasn't played for. He's the grim reaper of championship dreams.)

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

I'm not saying the Sox have an insurmountable pitching advantage over the Rockies, but I'm pretty sure Starvin' Marvin here is penciled in to start Game 3.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sixth sense

First, my apologies for leaving this place dark too often lately during the most important innings of the season. (It's so much more pleasant without the Yankees, isn't it?) It bugs the hell out of me when I have something to say and no time to say it. It's been all hands on deck at the Globe - funny how that happens when there's an special baseball section to crank out every night - and the freelance (read: paying) stuff has to be the second priority, even though I genuinely enjoy writing the blog more than any of it. I do have a preview of Curt Schilling's big night
, and I'll do my damnedest to pick up the pace in these parts should the Sox reach the World Series.

So, uh . . . will they?

I get the sense Sox fans are feeling pretty confident about the team's chances, and I can't blame them; we've all seen Schilling, Papi, and the boys have deliver in these backs-to-the-Green Monster situations so many times that it's easy to envision them doing it again. It's not that I don't necessarily share in that confidence. It's just that I had a lot more faith in Schilling back in the days when his fastball eclipsed 89 m.p.h. on a regular basis. Hopefully, his guile and experience in these moments will be enough. (And that includes knowing he's not going to sneak a fastball by Jhonny Peralta.)

It's crucial that they put up a few runs on Fausto Carmona early. Cleveland's 19-game winner is as jittery as he is talented - he's like Derek Lowe with a better fastball. The Sox let him off the hook in the first inning Game 2 - if not for Dustin Pedroia's brutal at-bat, they might have put up a few more runs and Carmona might not have survived into the fifth. They can't afford to waste that opportunity tonight.

Oh, and one more thing before I get back to pecking out the New England college football roundup: Love Tito's decision to play Jacoby Ellsbury - hell, it's two games overdue. I'm an unabashed Coco Crisp fan - he played the best defense I've ever seen by a Red Sox center fielder this season - but he's morphed into Lee Tinsley at the plate. It's time for the kid to get his chance.

So there you go. Play ball. Here's hoping tomorrow brings another game.

(Update, 8:53 p.m.: J.D. Drew? Are you kidding me? I always said that guy was a bargain. Good thing it was a grand slam, too, because I have the feeling the Sox are going to need every one of those runs . . .)

(Update, 11:01 p.m.: . . . or maybe not. The Indians look tight, Eric Wedge is morphing into Mike Hargrove before our eyes, and you have to like the Sox' chances in Game 7. If Dice-K doesn't have it - and I have an odd confidence in him for some reason - wouldn't it be something if Jon Lester ended up being the hero?)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Suddenly, the playoffs aren't nearly as awesome as Dane Cook promised they'd be

Super-quick pregame notes while hoping Wake has it fluttering at the Jake . . .

* I realize Tito Francona isn't one to panic, and his occasionally maddening loyalty to his veterans is more often than not justified at the end. But for the life of me, I can't understand why Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew are both in the lineup tonight. I guess Crisp makes sense on a statistical level - he's something like 5 for 11 career against Cleveland starter Kelsey Grammer - but if there is a time to see if Jacoby Ellsbury can once again provide a slumbering lineup with a spark, this is it. As for Drew, well, there's simply no logical reason why he is in the starting lineup tonight other than the fact that he's usually the starter. Bobby Kielty is 10 for 30 against Paul Byrd with four homers - a fairly healthy sample size - and he delivered a game-breaking two-run single in the Sox' lone victory so far. At this point, how can you not have more confidence in Kielty and Ellsbury than you do in Crisp and Drew? Here's hoping Tito's dance-with-who-brung-ya philosophy proves beneficial again, because at the moment, I just don't get it.

* All right, I'll go on record with it: I think Josh Beckett should have been given the ball tonight. It's not that I distrust Tim Wakefield - even with his 18-day layoff and his late-season struggles, we all know that he's entirely capable of rising to the occasion - but I like the idea of the Sox having their ace lined up to pitch Game 7 on regular rest. And while the history of pitchers going on three days' rest in the postseason is abysmal, Beckett is the exception. He has allowed one run in 16 innings in such a scenario in his career, including his legendary complete-game shutout at Yankee Stadium in the clinching Game 6 of the '03 World Series. I have no doubt that he'd have come through tonight. I have some doubt that Wakefield will.

* Footnotes: I'm not saying Dice-K's rookie season has been a disappointment, but actually watching him pitch has been a major letdown. He nibbles so damn much - and so unnecessarily - that he's a complete bore to watch. Someone, whether it's Tito, John Farrell, or whomever, needs to get it through his head that he has the skill and stuff to challenge major league hitters . . . The blunt truth: If the Sox get beat by Jake Westbrook and Byrd, then they simply don't deserve to go to the World Series . . . I've never been more wrong about a player than I was about Dustin Pedroia, but the kid has picked a horrendous time to revert to his April form. The Sox desperately need him to relax and start getting on base for Papi and Manny . . . As frustrating as this series is at the moment, I have no regrets about wishing for the Indians instead of the Yankees. Cleveland is a likable, talented, and deserving team, and while Sox fans are justifiably tense right now, it's nothing compared to what we'd be going through if we we're being forced to listen to Tim McCarver give Derek Jeter verbal backrubs every night . . . Tonight's sleeper hero: Doug Mirabelli. Hey, it's gotta be somebody, right?

* Finally, here's a wonderful snippet from one of my favorite columns/blog posts I've read in a long time - lifelong Indians fan and Official TATB sportswriting binky Joe Posnanski's take on Game 2:

. . . All game long (because of my Cleveland paranoia) I was sure the Indians would lose Saturday. Absolutely sure. It was that feeling in the pit of your stomach, and it was there for all 73 hours (time actually stands still when Rafael Betancourt pitches, so it was even longer than 73 hours). . . UNTIL . . . Eric Gagne came in from the bullpen.

A few years ago, I went to the Olympics in Greece when my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was only two years old. I was away from her for three weeks, and it was awful. For three weeks, I thought about how much she was changing, how much I was missing, how bad a father I was, how desperately I missed her. And then, finally, the Olympics ended, and I took the long plane ride, and then another, and finally I arrived at the airport, and I walked on the concourse, and there she was, mt Elizabeth, and she ran into my arms and shouted “Daddy” and it was just about the best feeling I’ve ever felt.

Yeah, that’s just about how happy I was to see Eric Gagne.

Geez, talk about not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

* As for tonight's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Just for a little karma from one ex-Red Sox who we know can hit at the Jake.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Making my way back to Cleveland

Well, I guess it's gonna be a series, folks. I don't want to get all gloom and doom here after tonight's 13-6 loss, because for all of Cleveland's talent, I still think your Boston Red Sox, with their premier blend of experience, savvy, and talent, are still the odds-on favorite to emerge as the kings of October.

It's just that everything was so damn easy up until tonight - the sweep of the aching Angels, the ho-hum rout of 19-game winner C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 - that those old familiar nerves that rattle in your gut during the postseason were conspicuously absent. The playoffs weren't stressful; they were actually fun. Go figure.

And now, after one dramatic, well-played game (save for that hideous and ominously coincidental 11th inning - it simply cannot be a good sign that the go-ahead run in the game-breaking seven-run 11th was plated by none other than Christopher Trotman Nixon, the lefty-phobic, Dirt Dog-in-decline who had one freakin' RBI since July 29) it's apparent that these Indians have no intention of going quietly. They slayed the once-mighty Yankees, and led by the likes of Grady Sizemore, who is fast becoming a Jeter-level pain in the ass, they sure seem intent on slaying the American League's other big-market beast. Yes, you bet it is time to be nervous.

The significance of tonight's momentum swing can't be overstated. Had the Sox won this ballgame, they'd have a huge psychological edge in knowing that they won both games started by Cleveland's co-aces, Sabathia and Fausto Carmona (I know he was self-destructive tonight, but seriously, how does anyone ever hit that sinker?), and they'd head to Cleveland with every advantage. Instead, now the Sox are counting on the enigmatic Daisuke Matsuzaka to come up big in Game 3, and hoping creaky Tim Wakefield is healthy enough to get the job done in Game 4 against Sox pest Paul Byrd. Do I have faith that either of those things will happen? Let's put it this way: Manny, Papi, and the boys had better keep putting some crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Hell, considering the venue, it might not be a bad time to sneak Troy O'Leary into the lineup, either. The Sox have to hit, because I'm fairly certain Cleveland will.

So here we are, tied at 1-1, and left to ponder some obvious laments from tonight's loss: That Kevin Youkilis's epic at-bat against Rafael Betancourt in the ninth inning didn't end with him delivering pinch runner Jacoby Ellsbury from second with the winning run, but rather with a hard-hit liner to Sizemore for the third out; that Papi, Manny, and Lowell went in down quietly against Cleveland reliever Tom Mastny and his 4.88 ERA in the 10th; that Curt Schilling couldn't live up to the Bob Gibson Of His Time hyperbole and get out of the fifth inning; that the stragglers and afterthoughts in the Sox bullpen (Javier Lopez, Eric Gagne, and Jon Lester) melted down in the 11th, sucking - and that is the right word - all the joy and suspense out of Fenway Park.

Which leads me to my final rant before I go: The next time I see Gagne, he'd either better be riding on a float, dangling from the coke bottles, or throwing his batting-practice slop for another team. Has there ever been a more dreadful late-season acquisition in the history of sports? I wasn't opposed to having him on the postseason roster - he has had a tremendous amount of success in his career, and there was a certain Scott Williamson-in-'03 vibe about him - but it's painfully obvious now that he's not going to be of any help. Either his arm is hurt and he's not telling anyone or his confidence is battered beyond repair. Either way, he stinks, and I've seen enough. Excuse me while I daydream that the Sox might reconsider Clay Buchholz's status should they make the World Series. He would have been exactly what they needed tonight.

Ah, well. Here's hoping the Pats can steamroll America's Sweetheart Tony Romo and the Cowboys and take our minds off of tonight's debacle for a few hours. The ol' nerves could use a respite today.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Isn't it just wacky how both managers in this series actually played for the opposing team? Only in baseball! How about that! Oh, all right, so that's something only Tim Kurkjian would find remotely interesting. Forget you guys, I'm going to bed.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Baby, I'm a lost cause

Lovely night in the Bronx, wasn't it? There's not much in sports I enjoy more than a walkoff homer at Fenway - seriously, I've probably watched Manny's Moment on YouTube 24 times - but watching a visiting team celebrate on the Yankee Stadium infield comes closer to my personal baseball nirvana than I should probably admit.

So the Indians join the Sox in the ALCS, while the Yankees are left in shambles. We'll get to the Sox/Indians matchup later this week; the early hunch is Boston in 7, in part because Bud Selig would rather return his toupee to the family of meerkats he stole it from than permit the ratings suicide of a Cleveland vs. Arizona/Colorado World Series. But I need to give this more consideration.

Besides, I want to take a day or two to savor the Yankees' fallout, which should be gruesome and fascinating. Joe Torre, often slipping into the past tense, sure sounded like he was making a farewell speech in tonight's postgame; I wonder if Derek Jeter will call his new manager "Mr. Girardi" next season. Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, two linchpins of the faded dynasty, are free agents, and another, dependable Andy Pettitte, is said to be considering retirement. Placid Bobby Abreu put up nice numbers but never really fit. And then there's A-Rod conundrum. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for having a monster season after last October's failures . . . but is his MVP season tarnished after his mediocre performance this October? Yankees fans must looks at it that way, and I wouldn't be shocked if he decides he doesn't need the Big Apple aggravation and the ridiculousness of playing in an inferior player's shadow, and heads to Chicago, San Francisco or even Boston for a fresh start. He's has until 10 days after the World Series to opt out of his deal. By the time he makes his announcement, the Yankees may already look much different from the team that walked off the field in defeat tonight.

Couple of other remnants from tonight's game:

• This beauty is from last year . . .

. . . but I hope one of the New York tabloids has the wisdom to revisit the theme in the next few days. Jeter (3 for 17, 3 GIDPs) was horrible in the series - his rally-killing double play with two runners on and the momentum shifting in the sixth inning might have been the pivotal play tonight - and there is no justice if A-Rod is made the scapegoat while Jeter, still ringless as the captain, escapes the wrath he deserves.

• Chien-Ming Wang has 38 wins over the past two seasons, but I think he proved beyond a doubt in this series that he's not an ace; he had that Calvin Schiraldi "Mommy, get me out of here" look about him tonight. I'm curious how much of a push the Yankees will make for Johan Santana, a free agent after '08 whose name is already popping up in trade rumors. Would they part with Joba "The Bug Whisperer" Chamberlain? Probably not, but it's clear the Yankees could put together a compelling package if they choose that course.

• I don't care how his apologists attempt to spin it, Roger Clemens was one of the biggest wastes of money in sports history this season. The Yankees were 8-9 in his regular-season starts. In his one postseason start, he busted out his usual exit strategy, limping off with a pre-existing "injury" after putting his team at an early disadvantage. It's a movie we've seen so many times before, and here's hoping this is the last sequel for Clemens, an all-time great except for when it matters the most. Ask me, his final scene couldn't have been more appropriate.

• I'll admit it, I had flashbacks to Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS when Mike Mussina came on in relief of a wretched starter (Clemens in '03, Wang last night) and kept the Yankees within striking distance. The difference this time was the Yankees aren't the same team, Mussina isn't the same pitcher, and Eric Wedge isn't quite as inept as Grady Little.

• As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Wow, he really hasn't changed a bit.

California stars

Gotta get some sleep - in about four hours, I'll awaken to a voice saying, "Get up, Daddy," and unlike in the dream, it won't be Jenna Fischer's - but I couldn't let such a compelling (and darn near perfect, if not for that meddling Johnny Damon) sports day pass without my two cents:

• I'm not sure if the Red Sox's resounding sweep of the Angels had more to do with the Sox peaking at the right time or the fact that Los Angeles had the misfortune of being hit with a rash of late-season injuries. But even if you're an accomplished cynic, you have to feel as good about this team's chances as you have since early June. I don't know if this is a credit to Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, or good, old-fashioned destiny, but the Sox appear to have everything working in their favor at the moment. Josh Beckett is a genuine ace intent on building his big-game resume, Curt Schilling looks rejuvenated, Papi has had his mojo back for awhile now, and perhaps most encouragingly of all, Manny is as locked in as he's been since his late-August tear against the Yankees . . . last year. We all know things can change quickly in the postseason, but right now, this team looks as good as we have seen them, as good as any team in the game.

• That was pretty much the Trot Nixon Experience in a nutshell, huh? Another home run off Roger Clemens, followed by his patented charge-the-ball-whoops-I-overran-it-now-I-have-to-waddle-after-it-
while-the-runners-circle-the-bases-I'd-better-look-angry maneuver. If he pulled a quad or strained his back while going through the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru on the way home, well, I think that would about cover everything in his repertoire.

• I'd feel better about pegging the exact inning that Clemens would limp off with a questionable injury and a Yankee deficit on the scoreboard had a couple former Red Sox - Damon and Nixon - not conspired to help the Yankees rally to win the game and save him once again from the embarrassing final scene he deserves. There were some parallels with this game and Game 7 in the '03 ALDS - Clemens stunk it up early, he gets bailed out by the long relief (Mussina in '03, Philip Hughes last night), and an inept manager leaves in his starting pitcher just long enough for the Yankees to take the lead. I'm not saying Eric Wedge is the second coming of Grady Little, because nobody's as dim as that bulb, but I think the fact that he's in the opposing dugout should give the Yankees confidence that they can salvage this series after all. Wedge is affable and accessible, and the media loves him, but he just is not a good in-game manager, and I fear that may be the Tribe's downfall.

• Wonderful piece by Gammons today on Manny, Tito, and the Red Sox rejuvenation on ESPN Insider. I don't know if I'm allowed to post this, but Gammons was one of our Original Seven, so what the hell. Here's my favorite snippet:

Ramirez . . . was asked if, as suggested by teammates and coaches watching his daily batting practices, he is in the best groove he's been in all year. "I will tell you this," he said, "for some reason I haven't been able to find my swing all year. Maybe it'll come now. I hope so. I don't know why it's been like this. I hope it's now so I can help our team win."

Back in 2004, Ramirez privately asked about whether or not I thought he would win the MVP. Not likely. He shrugged. "Hey, the World Series ring is more important," he said. "Maybe the Hall of Fame. The MVP isn't as important."

That conversation was recalled Friday night, because he's got one World Series ring -- and World Series MVP -- and he's probably a lock for Cooperstown. "The ring is still the most important thing," Ramirez said. "We've worked hard to get this far. It's what we all want together."

What struck everyone who heard his runway conversation was his animation and passion. "Hey, man," Ramirez said. "I really want this to happen."

To paraphrase Pat Healey in "There's Something About Mary": "I love that goofy #**$*$*."

• Broadcast news: Never thought I'd say this, but I actually enjoyed listening to Dan Dierdorf during the Pats game today. He's like that favorite uncle who's suffered multiple head injuries, maybe even had a lobotomy, and yet you still enjoy watching the ballgame with him, so long as he doesn't drool all over the nachos . . . Sounds like Dave O'Brien is off to ESPN for the rest of the playoffs, judging by the so long, farewell tone of his sign-off today. And you know what that means: Geffner. Gah. All I can say is that I hope Uncle Joe gets to call all of the big moments from here on out. Geffner is not worthy of a signature call . . . Gil and Gino are the voices of autumn to me, and I've enjoyed listening to them so much over the years that it pains me to criticize them in any way. So let me put it this way: They're older now, and they need someone offering them a little more help in the booth, not only with player identification, but perhaps even with fact-checking. I was stunned when they both agreed that Randall Gay played for the '01 Patriots . . . You think Dane Cook's ever seen a baseball game in person? Yeah, neither do I.

• You know you're fortunate to watch a damn good football team when it can slog through a game like the Patriots did today, and still win by 17 points. The final margin was pretty much what I expected - I didn't think they'd light up a Romeo Crennel defense, not only because of his knowledge of their personnel, but because Bill Belichick has too much respect for him to run up the score - but I guess it is mildly alarming that this was the first game this year where the Patriots didn't look all that sharp. They'll certainly have to play better against Dallas. The Browns did a nice job taking Randy Moss out of the game, though it allowed us to catch a glimpse of what Donte' Stallworth can do (did he make the YAC on that 34-yard TD look effortless or what?), and Sammy Morris is well on his way to TATB binky status. All in all, they chalked up another win and with limited carnage, and you can't really ask for much more than that. By the way, think the '72 Dolphins are getting nervous yet?

• As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Hey, Cris, why the long face? (Seriously, that joke will never get old around here.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nine innings: 10.06.07

Playing nine innings while waiting for Manny's homer to return to the atmosphere . . .

1. Well, isn't this just a lovely night to be Manny apologist. I have to assume even a Ramirez-ripping nimrod like Mike Adams had the same reaction I did when goofy No. 24 pulverized that Francisco Rodriguez fastball deep into the night: Holy ----! And then: WOOOOOOOOOOO! Seriously, what a win, what an ending, what a blast. While Manny doesn't get enough credit for the big hits he's had during his seven seasons with the Red Sox - his game-changing three-run blast he had off Barry Zito in Game 5 of the 2003 ALDS is rarely mentioned nowadays - this was his first walkoff in 11 years (yup, 11), and damned if it wasn't almost worth the way. From his teammates' sincere, overjoyed reaction, to the fact that it came off a pitcher as accomplished as K-Rod (a sign Manny has rediscovered his mojo), to the October '04 vibe that these last two victories give you about this suddenly clicking team right now, well, I can't think of a Manny Moment I've enjoyed more than tonight's.

2. All right, Francona bashers, put down the airplane glue and your Boone's Farm and tell me you noticed that Tito made all the right moves tonight, most notably by having a quick hook with Dice-K and going to Papelbon early in a tie game and leaving him in through the ninth. Tell me that you've noticed that he manages with a sense of urgency in the postseason that isn't necessary (and would often be counterproductive) during the regular season. Tell me you're aware that one of his strengths as a manager is his willingness to the long view despite the shortsighted demands of the talk-radio banshees. Francona is the same savvy skipper who outmaneuvered Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa in '04, and if you don't appreciate all that he brings to the clubhouse and dugout, it goes without saying that you'll never be satisfied by any Sox manager.

3. Straggling thoughts: I still miss Orlando Cabrera every time I see him play. Curiously, I also miss him whenever I see Julio Lugo play . . . If I were a fan of a Red Sox opponent, I'm not sure whose antics would annoy me more, Kevin Youkilis's or Jonathan Papelbon's . . . I'm still waiting for a reasonable explanation as to why Dice-K so reluctant to challenge hitters? John Farrell has apparently been on him about his penchant for nibbling, and he still seems intent on attempting to paint the corners when he had good enough stuff to get out the ping hitters in the Angels' lineup by going after them . . . Wish I'd been able to write about Josh Beckett's brilliance the other night, but it was a predictable madhouse at work, and I was gassed by the time I made it make to Maine. There's not much more to be said except for the obvious: This is precisely why the Sox acquired him, and it sure looks to me like he's ready to reprise his performance from 2003 . . . Was I seeing things, or was that Carlton from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" who was interviewing Manny after the game?

4. Okay, you knew it was inevitable, so let's do this . . . You know ARod would have killed those bugs in April, but once again, he can't swat a thing in October . . . The Indians briefly considered fumigating the ballpark, but no wanted to see all those visiting Yankees fans belly-up . . . It's a blessing Tim McCarver wasn't calling the game, because he would have rhapsodized on how they were all attracted to Derek Jeter's "glow," when in fact they were attracted to his perfume . . . Bug jokes . . . git your lame bug jokes heeyah . . .

5. This year, I'm rooting against the Yankees for reasons other than just general principle. I'm worn out by the madness and the melodrama that comes from the 18 or 19 regular season games in this overexposed rivalry, let alone all the stress that comes when the Sox and Yanks square off in the postseason. It's just so exhausting. Armeggedon isn't supposed to happen three times in four years, you know? Then again, rooting for the Tribe to end the Yankees' season could be a classic case of Be Careful What You Wish For; that is one damn good baseball team, and other than closer Joe Borowski and perhaps manager Eric Wedge, they don't have any discernible weaknesses. And ask the Yankees what it like to face C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona back to back in a short series. I do know this, however: If the Sox and Tribe do eventually meet in the ALDS, Dr. Charles had better track down Troy O'Leary and have him throw out the first pitch.

6. I think I've written this for every last one of Roger Clemens's 21 potential career-ending starts the past five years, but if there's any justice in this baseball universe, he will limp off the Yankees Stadium mound Sunday with a "tweaked" hamstring, a 6-0 deficit, and the boos of 55,000 jackals ringing in his ears. And for the record, I say the over/under on this exact scenario taking place is the third inning.

7. You know the fourth season of "The Office" is off to a slow start when the most memorable moment the season's second episode is a throwaway line about a client named "Jerry Trupiano." (Mike Schur, who wrote the episode, is a Harvard grad, a Sox fan, and a prime suspect as Ken Tremendous's true identity.) Actually, it wasn't that dull or uneventful. The Kelly/Ryan stuff was hilarious, creepy Creed killed as usual, and Jim's "I guess [Ryan] can't get ANY girl he wants," was one of those moments that make you think the writers will handle the Jim/Pam relationship gracefully. It's just that the first three seasons set the standard as high as a Manny walkoff homer (synergy!), and the first two episodes haven't come close to that lofty level. Part of the reason, I think, is that there's too much filler in the hour-long format, and that filler often ends up being a couple of additional scenes of Michael's over-the-top antics. Driving the car into a lake? C'mon now. This show is better than that.

8. Quickie links: At this very spot you'll find this week's Fox column, with the requisite love for Matt Holliday and the Colorado Rockies, and over here is something you'll undoubtedly enjoy so much more: the return of the great Joe Posnanski to the blogosphere. (Hat tip: About a half-dozen giddy readers.) Posnanski, the official writing binky of TATB, is working on a book about the '75 Cincinnati Reds, which means he'll have lots of fun anecdotes about trying to get coherent answers out of Joe Morgan.

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

To be honest, I was sort of reluctant to use this card, for as much as Hendu is a symbol of (temporary) triumph for the Red Sox, he represents unspeakable tragedy for Angels fans. But then I remembered I'm a callous, selfish jerk, so here you go.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

And kingdoms rise/And kingdoms fall

If you came here this morning expecting some sort of semi-coherent preview on the Sox/Angels series, you can find my best attempt at that over here. Gotta push the paying gig first, peeps.

As for a brief elaboration . . . well, I guess it's just funny, considering how many words I spent the last few months of the season whining and worrying about the Sox' postseason prognosis, that I'm feeling strangely fine about their chances in this series.

The Angels' John Lackey is a legitimate ace with an accomplished postseason resume, but he's also 1-6 with a 6.27 ERA against the Sox in his career, and I don't think he's capable of matching Josh Beckett, who I get the sense is on a freakin' mission to duplicate his '03 heroics with the Marlins. This is his chance to cement a legacy as Boston's next great ace, and he knows it.

All things considered I've got a pretty good feeling about Dice-K in Game 2 (assuming Tito keeps him on a short leash to prevent his patented walk-walk-homer meltdown), and I think the Angels are the one team in the playoffs with an offense distinctly inferior to Boston's, especially with Vlad Guerrero apparently held together by athletic tape nowadays.

I say Papi adds another moment to his personal postseason highlight reel, Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, and Jonathan Papelbon each take a turn in the hero's spotlight, and the Sox win the thing in 4.

(As far as that other AL series goes: Go, Tribe! . . . obviously. I know it's perhaps the greatest rivalry in sports, but I've had a enough Sox-Yankees playoff drama for one lifetime, thanks.)

And just for a touch of a good karma, here's a random YouTube video from a long-ago PawSox game that includes footage of Butch Hobson, Chico Walker, and a giddy Mark Fidrych. If a mention of that trio of TATB favorites can't bring good vibes to the Sox tonight, nothing will. (Oh, and Dave "Spaghetti" Righetti? Seriously, announcer guy?)

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Monday, October 01, 2007

TATB Live: Patriots at Bengals

The late reading of "Knuffle Bunny Too" has been completed, and we've seen enough of the Padres-Rockies game to suspect Colorado will spend the winter regretting letting Jake Peavy off the hook. It's time for the main event - yes, Hank, we're absolutely ready for some football. Let's do this, rowdy friends.

Quick pregame thoughts:

• No Laurence Maroney for the Pats tonight. Can't say I'm particularly shocked, considering I don't expect Bill Belichick to play a running back who's listed as questionable with a groin injury. Can't say I'm particularly concerned, either, given what a revelation Sammy Morris has been, but Maroney is about two missed games away from being slapped with an "injury prone" label. Remember, he was taken nine picks before Joseph Addai. I'm not saying that was the wrong move, but I am beginning to wonder.

• Mike Dowling looks like a deranged math teacher, and Steve Nelson looks like he's wearing suit for the first time in his life. Otherwise, Channel 5's coverage is outstanding.

• First mention of Patriots and cheating: 8:34 p.m., by Tony Kornheiser. Sigh. I love him on PTI, but this Monday Night Football thing . . . well, he's not making me long for the what-the-bleep-is-he-talking-about? days of Dennis Miller just yet, but give him until halftime.

After a short pass to Moss (I believe we'll be hearing "tackle by Deltha O'Neal after a gain of . . ." a lot tonight), Brady dumps one off to Kevin Faulk, who shuffles 23 yards. (Faulk has to have the shortest stride of any running back in the league; he runs like he's learning how to skate.) Then . . . three commercials? I know a Bengal was injured, but they barely made it back in time for the next play. Guess we're going to pimp trucks and insurance at the expense of the actual game tonight.

Brady to a wide-open Moss for another big gain. He's good and all, but I still can't believe they gave him Bethel Johnson's number. Have they no respect for Bethel's legacy? Does Belichick have no soul?

Matt Light "introduces" the Patriots offense, though he never actually mentions anyone by name and instead offers his keys to the game. Works for me. By the way, when did he steal Fabio's hairdo?

Stunningly, the Pats drive stalls (gritty, gutty, scrappy Wes Welker is stopped short on third down), and the consolation prize is a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. It's 3-0, Pats, but the way the drive started, you can't help but wish they'd punched it in for 7 there.

I'm not familiar with Bengals running back Kenny Watson's work; I always confuse him with Justin Watson, the pea-brained former Ram who prematurely brags about the St. Louis offense in the Patriots' first Super Bowl video. But Ron Jaworski says he's a better fit for what Cincy will try to do tonight that injured starter Rudi Johnson would be. And if Jaws says something, I accept it as the unassailable truth. You might call him the anti-Theismann.

And while I was pecking out that sentence, the Bengals punted. I'm assuming it was Pat McInally who did the handled the duties, but I can't be sure.

Brady, talking about Moss: "You don't have to go the seminary to play for Patriots." Funny, I thought the exact theme of Charlie Pierce's confusingly fawning book on Brady was that you did.

Pats go three-and-out, and the Bengals are getting surprisingly consistent pressure on Brady, who has had to step up in the pocket and dump the ball off more times than you'd expect so far. So far, that over/under of 52.5 looks safe.

Kornheiser, with a good line on the Pats' rarely used punter, Chris Hansen: "Does he get a letter?" Hey, I thought it was funny.

Bengals match the Pats with their own three-and-out. Are we sure this isn't really the Jets and the Bills in disguise?

Brady hits Donte' Stallworth for 14 yards. All right, I'll bite: This is the night Stallworth breaks out with a 100-plus yards and a couple of bombs from Brady.

And we have the first controversy of the night. Sammy Morris (who looks like a masculine Tommy Davidson) is ruled down by contact after losing the ball at the end of a 49-yard run. The Bengals challenge, and after 37 more commercials, the ruling on the field stands.

After a pair of failed goal line plunges by Heath Evans (who looks like a Mike Alstott clone, yet has just one career rushing touchdown), Brady goes to play action on third down, and Mike Vrabel absolutely toasts Cincy linebacker Dhani Jones for his seventh career regular-season reception . . . and seventh touchdown. It's 10-0, Pats, and I'll repeat something I wrote about Vrabel last year. I think he'd be in the NFL as a tight end if he didn't make it as a defensive player. You're telling me he's not better than, say, Jed Weaver?

Another three-and-out for the Bengals. Somewhere, Trent Green is feeling better about himself.

Does Welker remind any of you old timers of this guy when he's returning punts?

. . . yeah, didn't think so.

Fabio Light gets called for holding. He must have mistaken some random Bengal for Jason Taylor. I'm pretty sure that's the Pats' first holding penalty this season, by the way.

Well, that was ugly. On third and 23, Brady gets a case of happy feet and throws a gruesome pick to Cincy rookie Leon Hall at the New England 45. And at this very moment in the hills of Montana, a bearded, 280-pound Drew Bledsoe nods his head approvingly and says in that familiar monotone, "Just like I taught him." Then he goes back to beer drinking with dignity.

A couple of runs by Watson help the Bengals advance to the 1, and Carson Palmer hits Pats tormentor T.J. Houshmandzadeh to cut it to 10-7, Pats. It's not an exaggeration to say Brady's bad decision just let them back into the game.

Kornheiser feeds us some nonsense about how Belichick is hardest on the team's stars, such as Brady and Tedy Bruschi. It sounds good, but know, Korny, I have a hunch that the likes of Billy Yates and Le Kevin Smith get their share of - - - - from the coach, too.

Bengals linebacker Landon Johnson (who I believe played right wing for the Bruins a few years back) departs with some type of injury to his face (maybe someone threw acid on him?), leaving Cincinnati with two linebackers. I think I understand why the Pats have run on eight of 10 plays on this drive. Meanwhile, Marvin Lewis daydreams about the days when he coached Ray Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, and Peter Boulware, and everyone thought the success of the Ravens' defense had something to do with him.

Brady to Moss. 17-7, Pats. "Wow," says Kornheiser with appropriate admiration, and if you saw it, you know I'm not doing it justice here. Let's just say it was as aesthetically gorgeous as the other five touchdowns they've connected on this season. Have I mentioned that this trade seems to be working out pretty well? No, really, I think this is going to work.

Two minute warning, Cincinnati's moving the ball, and a quick peek at Padres-Rockies tells me it's 6-5, Colorado, and Jake Peavy's somehow still in the game. I had no problem with Bud Black's decision to start Brett Tomko over Peavy yesterday - hell, I still think Jimy Williams was correct in starting Pete Schourek over Pedro in Game 4 against Cleveland in '98 - but if San Diego loses this game, he's going to be hearing about it for a long time.

Asante Samuel, who has surprisingly been pretty close to his form of a season ago considering he missed camp, picks off Palmer near the goal line, and Palmer immediately pulls a Philip Rivers and starts yapping with Chad Johnson on the sideline. Let 'em duke it out in the locker room. It's 17-7, Pats, at the half. Rather that putting up with the pompous stylings of Chris Berman and DJ Boo-Yeah, I'm switching over to the baseball game (where Don Orsillo is announcing it in his big boy voice, with no hilarious RemDawg hijinx to bring out his girlish giggle). Go have a Tab and a Nutty Bar. I'll see ya in the second half.

Cincy's first drive of the half stalls after a promising start when a receiver who isn't named Johnson or Houshmandzadeh drops a very catchable Palmer pass. The Bengals really miss Chris Henry, who is probably on a five-stripclub crime spree with his former college roommate as I write this.

Faulk flips the ball to Welker on a reverse, and 27 yards later, the Pats are deep in Cincy territory. I'd say that clever call came straight out of Charlie Weis's playbook, but that isn't exactly a compliment these days.

Third and four from the Cincy 10. The Pats really need to get 7 on this drive, because while they've dominated the game, the score is still closer than it should be.

Fourth and a foot, and the Pats are going for it. I love the confidence . . .

. . . and it's rewarded when Morris runs behind the criminally underrated Logan Mankins (heard of him yet, Kiper?) and cruises into the end zone from seven yards out for a 24-7 advantage and the necessary breathing room. Morris has 110 yards on 17 carries tonight, and a lot of people who took Maroney at the top of their fantasy drafts should be having some buyers' remorse; this is headed for a straight platoon, folks.

Steve Levy checks in with an update of the Padres-Rockies game: 6-6 in the ninth. By the way, why is he always yelling?

I won't confuse Kenny Watson for Justin Watson again - he's got just 28 yards for the Bengals tonight, but he's been more impressive than his production would indicate. Chad Johnson has also had a quiet night - two catches, 39 yards - but anyone who dismisses this guy as some kind of unlikable loudmouth simply isn't doing their homework. He works hard, plays hard, and despite his often hilarious antics, he's respectful of the game and his opponents - in a lot of ways, he's similar to Keyshawn Johnson, whose on-field selfishness was due to his desire to win. Belichick has loved Chad Johnson ever since he showed up at a pre-draft workout at USC with an Oregon State flag waving off his car, and if he can play for Belichick's team, he sure as hell can play for mine.

Bruschi just mauled Palmer on third down. I know it's taboo to say this, but that's the first play I've seen him make in a long time.

Someone named Joe Koshansky just whiffed to end the ninth inning for the Rockies with the winning run on third. Think he's every heard of Bob Bailey?

All right, time for a bomb to Moss here. We can't go a whole game without one, can we?

Just for the record, I find it relentlessly funny that the two opponents Pete Sheppard and Fred Smerlas crapped on the most on over the years - Junior Seau and Moss - are now popular members of the Patriots. Anything that makes those two look like bigger buffoons is cool with me.

Other random thoughts as the fourth quarter begins: Bridget absolutely "pulled the goalie" on Brady. Just do the math and you can't come to any other conclusion . . . Brady is to Kornheiser what Jeter is to McCarver and The Official Muse (Non-Wife Division) is to TATB . . . Mike Tirico calls a pleasant game, but he's called Sammy Morris "Kevin Faulk" at least a half-dozen times tonight. That's inexcusable considering that their running styles are nothing alike . . . Chalk up three more for the Pats. It's 27-10, and one more stop officially ends this thing, I'd say.

Houshmandzadeh, after the Pats' 38-13 win last year: "They don't have anything we don't have other than three Super Bowls. It's sure not talent. Anyone can see that." He has 10 catches for 100 yards tonight. Wonder what wisdom he'll offer after this one.

Shayne Graham drills a field goal from 48 yards, and the Pats' lead is two touchdowns, 27-13, with 9:04 left. Meanwhile, the Rockies and Padres are in the 11th. I hope the football game ends first. By the way, someone mentioned in the comments that Orsillo is doing a very good job on TBS, and I completely agree. I haven't heard him say his silly "down by way of the K" catchphrase once, and he seems a lot more polished when Dr. Charles isn't forcing him to push "Sox Appeal" every other breath. I'm seriously impressed, and proud of him in a way. He might be a vinyl covered automaton, but he's our vinyl covered automaton.

Let the record show that it was at 11:18 p.m. when the ESPN crew first broached the subject of the Pats going 16-0, with Kornholio pointing out the tough games on the schedule: Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Indy. It's ridiculous to consider the possibility now . . . but admit it. We're all doing it, aren't we?

And there's why, right there. Brady to Moss, 14 yards, touchdown, and it looked as casual as two brothers chucking the ball around the yard on Thanksgiving. Seriously, I'm running out of superlatives here. Says Kornheiser: "It's the trade of the year." Scoffs Jaws: "It's the trade of the century." I say it's the trade of the milennium. Hah!

With 1:33 remaining, human victory cigar Matt Cassel relieves Brady, and that's our signal to sign off for the night. No. 12's final numbers: 25 of 32 (78.1 percent), three touchdowns, one interception. Consider that he's probably got Gisele waiting for him back at the lair, and it's not a bad night for him all in all. Moss contributes nine catches for over 100 yards and requisite two scores, Morris rambles for 117, and the Pats are about to win, 34-13, their fourth straight victory by more than 20 points. I agree that the Cowboys are the class of the NFL's version of the National League, but let's just admit it: It's the Pats, Colts, and everyone else this season. And after what I've seen these first four weeks, I'm honestly beginning to think the Patriots stand alone.