Saturday, September 29, 2007

Take that, Murray Chass

Well, I suppose this doesn't quite put Melvin Mora in the company of Rick Waits, but watching the Red Sox clinch the American League East title when the Orioles' third baseman beat the shellshocked Yankees with a squeeze bunt sure was an appropriately surreal way to wrap up this thing, wouldn't you say?

Man, that was just fun tonight, all of it . . . Dice-K's optimism-spawning performance and another Papi blast . . . Mariano's meltdown on the Jumbotron . . . the raucous celebration in front of the lingering Fenway faithful . . . Tina Cervasio's surprising comfort with the wet look. Yes, good times were had by all.

Now, of course I realize that the AL East title is ultimately irrelevant, given that history suggests there really isn't much of a homefield advantage, if any, in the postseason. We all know the truly important prizes are up for grabs in the coming weeks. But it is nice to cross one more item off the shrinking list of things that Yankees mouthbreathers - and bitter, crotchety New York sportswriters - like to hang over Red Sox fans' heads, and in some sense it does matter quite a bit. After all, it has been a long time coming. The last time the Sox won the division, Tim Wakefield was a 29-year-old reclamation project, Luis Alicea was the starting second baseman, and a scrawny kid named Derek Jeter was up for a cup of coffee while Tony Fernandez handled shortstop duties for the Yankees. Like I said, long time ago.

Besides, as I watched the Sox players spray cheap champagne and cheaper beer all over the bowels of Fenway, I couldn't help but feel that they genuinely deserved this. I'm not going to pretend they overcame great obstacles to get to this point, because other than the injuries to Manny and Schilling, and the fatigue that affected Okajima and Dice-K recently, they've been fortunate and healthy. But the Yankees "stalked" them (Theo's perfect word choice) down the stretch, just as we figured they would even when the lead swelled to double digits, and it's to the Sox' credit that they shrugged off the patently ridiculous it's-'78-all-over-again hysteria and refused to cede their spot at the top of the standings. Their Fenway forefathers should have been so resilient.

Yes, the Sox deserved to celebrate with vigor and pride and coolers full of cold beverages tonight. And while I don't know if this is the last party we'll see by the home team at Fenway this season, if there's anything I've learned over the course of the summer, it's that this team seems to be pretty adept at proving its doubters wrong.
* * *

Though it's hardly shocking considering that the Sox were pondering shutting him down while he was still at Pawtucket, but it's still a bummer that Clay Buchholz's season has come to a premature conclusion. I'm convinced he could have been a real factor in the playoffs, not only because of his elite stuff, but more so because he's still an unknown to the Sox' opponents. I thought for sure the reason he didn't pitch against the Yankees was because the Sox didn't want New York to see him before the playoffs. Turns out they won't see him until next season. Oh, well. I guess it's prudent of the Sox to play it safe for the future with the No-Hit Kid, especially if he's hurting more than they are letting on. But it sure would have been cool for him to remain part of the present as well.

* * *

A few Pats notes I've been meaning to post:

This week's reason why I wish Peter (Is Deanna Favre A Lucky Woman Or What?) King would stop writing about the Patriots:

"I think when I hear Tedy Bruschi, the ultimate honorable competitor, rail about the Patriots' honor and how he'll stand up to anyone who questions the team's integrity, I'm really hearing him say: I'm ticked off that our great record has been sullied by Rodney Harrison's HGH suspension and Belichick getting caught videotaping other teams' signals."

Now, I've heard Tedy Bruschi interviewed countless times, and I've heard Peter King interviewed countless times. And I can say with a reasonable level of assurance that Bruschi is well-spoken enough that he does not need an inarticulate oaf like King putting words in his mouth.

The more allegations I hear about Rodney Harrison and HGH, the more I think the Chargers should feel vindicated for letting him go after the the '02 season because he was injury prone. How were they to know the lengths he might go to in order to remain healthy?

Man, Randy Moss and Tom Brady will be something when get they get on the same page, huh? Okay, so I'm an idiot. Hey, at least I wasn't one of the football-impaired nitwits who suggested at the end of training camp that Moss might be cut - even I knew better than that. But as delightful as it is to be getting Air Coryell flashbacks from Moss and Brady, I'm just as amazed by the depth of the Pats' receiving corps. We've all seen what Wes Welker can do, which, precisely, is a spot-on imitation of Troy Brown in his prime. I thought Jabar Gaffney was the Pats' best receiver at the end of last season, and I can't fathom why such a smart, steady player was out of the league at a point last season. And while Donte' Stallworth has been quiet so far, you can just tell the speedburner has a four-catch, 110-yard performance in the near future. It's an insanely deep and talented group, so much so that I wonder if there's a spot for the beloved if aging Brown once he's ready to come off the PUP list.

And for the record, I'm embarrassed by the 'EEI boobs (you know who they are) who snidely and ignorantly suggest that Deion Branch wouldn't have a role on this team. I know these guys sacrificed their credibility long ago, but is it really necessary to diminish all he accomplished as a Patriot just because he isn't around anymore? Branch is not Moss in terms of ability, obviously, but he was a crucial contributor to two championship teams - does the phrase "Super Bowl MVP" ring a bell? - and he deserves to be remembered well even if his time here did not end well.

I'm not saying he was pulling an Al Czervik "Ow, my arm!," and the fine Vince Wilfork was hit with suggests the NFL took the matter seriously. Still, I can't be the only one who got the sense that J.P. Losman was content to spend a lovely New England Sunday as an NFL observer rather than a participant last weekend.

You know things are going well when the Patriots are heading into Week 4 and Randall Gay hasn't even suffered a season-ending injury yet. Okay, cheap shot, but it is kind of odd to see Gay on the field - he's spent so much time in the Hart Lee Dykes Memorial Trainers Room the past two seasons that you tend to forget he was a capable starter on the '04 champs after Ty Law got hurt.

As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

In case you were wondering, the over/under on Monday's Pats/Bengals game is 52.5. Gimme the over. I think ol' Ike Curtis here might even find the end zone in this one.

* * *
Wait! Two more things before I go:

1. This week's Fox Column is right here, yo. Figures the Rockies finally lose after I get around to writing about them. But man, that is a fun team. Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki might be my two favorite players in the National League at the moment.

2. Thought "The Office" season premiere was just a little bit . . . well, off, I guess. Maybe it was because much has changed for so many of the characters since the beginning of last season (the Ryan-as-boss is going to be a goldmine), or maybe it was because the hourlong format felt padded with needless filler (a lot of the Michael/rabies stuff was boring), but it almost felt like a different show in some sense, almost like a sitcom. Don't get me wrong, it was still superior to everything else on network TV. The Jim/Pam busted-by-the-camera-crew twist was brilliantly done, and "dangling participle" makes me laugh every time I think about it. And I do have complete faith that Greg Daniels and the writers will consistently knock it out of the park once they set up the season's storylines. It's just that the standard has been set extremely high, and this particular episode wasn't quite as tight and clever as we've come to expect.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Come to think of it, he looks like my dad circa '77

Just a reminder that this week's FoxSports Nine Innings column is posted here, leading off with some overdue praise for the Cubs. Sadly, once again I neglected to mention Paul Reuschel and his chiseled good looks. Next time.

In a completely unrelated note, it just dawned on me who Don Orsillo reminds me of in terms of appearance and personality - this guy.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Notes on a scandal

Leftovers from one of the most bizarre Boston sports weeks I can recall:

The notion that the Patriots were loading up for one last run this season before Bill Belichick departed was little more than a talk-radio fantasy driven by people longing for the day when he is no longer the grand poo-bah here and information flows freely from the locker room again. Think about it: If they Patriots truly stacking the deck for one last hurrah this season, they'd never have rolled over that No. 1 pick to next year, and they likely would have given Asante Samuel every dime he wanted right away. What they're doing is loading up for now and the future, and given that Belichick is apparently under contract through 2013 - and wasn't the timing of that announcement the most telling statement Bob Kraft could have made about how he feels about his coach? - it looks like we can hold off on creating fictional rumors about his departure for another five years or so.

I always respected Jimmy Johnson as a football coach and personnel evaluator (I'm not sure his Dallas teams get their just due in terms of how stacked with top-shelf talent they were), but I never realized he was such a stand-up guy until he said this on the Fox pregame show during Videogate:

"Bill Belichick was wrong because he videotaped signals after a memo was sent out to all of the teams saying not to do it. But what irritates me is hearing some reactions from players and coaches. These players don't know what their coaches are doing. And some of the coaches have selective amnesia because I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. That's why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesn't make him right, but a lot of teams are doing this."

I think that's the closest thing to the straight truth to come out of this whole overblown saga. I can understand other coaches not wanting to implicate themselves when it comes to similar antics (though Jon Gruden came pretty close), but the holier-than-thou tone of best-selling author Tony Dungy and the rampant excuse-making by the incompetent likes of Jack Del Rio certainly gave you some insight into their true character. Oh, and in a semi-related note, Chris Mortensen still hasn't gotten anything right.

So, yeah, about the (gag) Red (gasp) Sox (gack). Let's see, think of something positive here . . . okay, how about this: At least they're not the Mets. Seriously, this willing and apparently inevitable ceding of the American League East to the Yankees has me majorly conflicted. On one hand, I appreciate that Terry Francona and the front office are doing all they can to ensure postseason success, by shutting down the crucial but exhausted Hideki Okajima, by setting up the starting pitching so that Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling can get some needed rest, by finding out once and for all if Eric Gagne is capable anything other than devouring the postgame buffet, by letting Coco Crisp, Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez heal rather than running them out there injured in hopes of securing an essentially meaningless division title . . . and yet, on the other hand, it isn't entirely meaningless, now is it? For one thing, should it come down to a Sox-Yankees ALCS, it would be nice to have the home-field advantage for once, particularly since the Sox are a much better-hitting ballclub at Fenway. Also, it would be reassuring to enter the playoffs with some momentum, and while this is hardly important, there's no denying there would be some embarrassment in punting away what was once a 14.5-game lead over the Yankees, even as the wild card makes any comparison to '78 an exercise in melodramatics. The best course of action is a happy medium - rest the regulars while continuing to win games - but I'm not sure a lineup that includes Eric Hinske in a prominent role is capable of holding up its end of the bargain.

I'm an accomplished Manny apologist, and there may not be one player in my 20-something years as a fan that I've enjoyed watching more. But I must admit it: I just don't understand how he can put on awe-inspiring performances in batting practice a few days in a row, yet not be ready for five at-bats in a game. And as much as he runs his team with a "what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse" philosophy, I'm beginning to think Francona is having as hard a time hiding his exasperation with this as the rest of us.

I hate to say it, but I think the Sox are better off going with J.D. Drew over Jacoby Ellsbury in the postseason. The book is starting to get around on Ellsbury - can't lay off the low inside fastball, expands the strike zone when he's behind in the count - and I fear that when he's facing the top-notch pitchers he'll see in the postseason, he'll look more like the raw kid with fewer than 100 big-league at-bats than the future star who has given Sox fans of a certain age joyful flashbacks to Fred Lynn's 1974 cameo. Plus, he could be a huge asset off the bench with his speed and defensive aptitude. Of course, the alternative is J.D. Drew, so if you want to argue that the Red Sox should take their chances and see if Ellsbury can handle it, I could probably be swayed.

In case you missed it, you simply must check out the comments section on the previous post; let's just say that when it comes to things Yankees fans' dislikes, I apparently now fall somewhere between Curt Schilling and deodorant. Of course, the irony of them blathering about the Yankees' class while using the coarsest language ever to appear on this site is undoubtedly lost on their underutilized skulls. The Yankees are the best team in baseball right now, and heck, yes, I fear their humble, elegant fans will get the last word this year. But I take comfort in the fact that there's roughly a 100 percent chance they will spell that last word wrong.

My apologizes for not pulling together a First-and-10 column on the Pats-Chargers game. You'll recall that was the night they played at 8:15 and the Sox-Yanks started at 8:05, so it was all hands on deck at work, and I forgot to set the DVR. I know, of all the games to miss. (Cue Chris Farley: I'm such an IDIOT!) But from what I did see, this is what left the biggest impression: The off-the-charts chemistry between Tom Brady and Randy Moss. Moss tails his new QB like a puppy dog on the sideline (I'm doubting he did the same to Aaron Brooks), while Brady, who you'd think might own a veteran's I've-seen-it-all attitude at this point in his career, is carrying himself like a kid at Christmas - he gets downright giddy when he talks about Moss. You get the sense that they are having as much fun playing together as we are watching them. Man, how I hope it stays like this.

As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

All I'm saying is that he should grow back the 'stache and white-guy 'fro.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

26 reasons I strongly dislike the Yankees

(Because hate is so 2003)

1. Georgie Porgie. How else would we start this list? He's the ultimate rich-man bully, a first-ballot inductee to the Blowhard Hall of Fame, and the reason the Yankees are synonymous with "Evil Empire." The turtleneck-and-blazer look kicked serious sartorial butt, however.

2. Derek Jeter's casual awareness of the camera, especially his "signature" fist pump. I'm not saying I hope he drowns in a vat of Driven, but I might do a celebratory fist-pump myself if he did.

3. Derek Jeter's uncanny knack for hitting back-breaking flare singles to right when a game is on the line . . . or, hell, his uncanny knack for crushing go-ahead three-run homers off fat 84 m.p.h. splitters from Curt Schilling. Did anyone not see that coming? (Other than Tito, that is.) Jeter, who has been a glorified singles hitter for much of the second half as he's battled various injuries, has hit six of his 11 homers this season against the Sox. Does Theo even employ advance scouts?

4. Clemens. Like you have to ask.

5. Reggie Jackson, the '70s prototype for today's preening, self-involved athletes.

6. Curtain calls for run-of-the-mill home runs. Are Yankees fans really that desperate for affirmation? Yes, I'm sure Andy Phillips heard you cheering for him. Yes, I saw him look you in the eye when he tipped his hat. Yes, I'm sure he'd be your friend if you ever met. Now, please, wipe that nacho cheese off your mustache, hike up your pants so the family of four in the row behind you doesn't have to eyeball your plumber's crack for nine innings, and sit the bleep down. Thank you. (Scary thing is, we had female Yankees fans in mind there.)

7. Brian Cashman, for screwing up a good thing for the Red Sox by realizing the Yankees' resources would be better utilized by building a farm system and paying for elite amateur talent than by signing the biggest-name free agent every winter.

8. Joe Torre, serial nose-picker.

9. A-Rod's redemption. Quick, someone show him his career postseason numbers before he starts believing he can do this in the playoffs, too.

10. Don Zimmer, the cherubic, Pedro-chargin', steel-skulled baseball lifer who contributed to several Yankee pennants, most notably 1978.

11. Jason Giambi, who continues his desperate quest for a PED that can prevent him from sweating like he's being held hostage in a sauna.

12. Wade Boggs, 1996 World Series. The only time in my life I've seen a jackass riding a horse.

13. "BER-NIE WILL-IAMS CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP!!!" (Dumb tradition. I will, however, concede that Yankees fans are excellent clappers. They are also quite adept at jumping jacks, rubbing their bellies while patting their heads at the same time, engulfing KFC Famous Chicken 'N' Biscuit Bowls with a spork, and drooling.)

14. Shelley "Red Sox Suck" Duncan. C'mon, what kind of name is Shelley for a dude? (I was going to make a Shelley Winters joke here but thought better of it because 1) my target demographic doesn't know her from Angela Lansbury and 2) she was actually hot in the days before electricity. So consider yourself spared.)

15. Duncan, Shane Spencer, and every other Quadruple A grunt who sold his soul for a sliver of late-summer adulation in the Bronx.

16. Johnny Damon, if only because he looks washed up against every team but the one for which he made his name.

17. Karim Garcia, a thug who looked like he could be the shorter, fatter, talentless Giambi brother. (Whoops, that was Jeremy, wasn't it?)

18. Suzyn Waldman. Did you know that the shrill shill who New York Daily News columnist Bob Raissman refers to as Georgie Girl and Ma Pinstripe was born in Newton, Mass? No wonder she got so verklempt seeing Rogah in George's box. She's a traitor, too.

19. Michael Kay, the epitome of every pompous New Yorker who basks in the Yankees' reflected glory.

20. "IT IS HIGH! . . . IT IS FAR! . . . IT IS GONE!! . . . Another A-BOMB for A-ROD!" Yup, I'm pretty sure John Sterling is actually made of cheese.

21. Graig Nettles, for cheap-shotting the Spaceman and being a world-class phony to boot.

22. Mel Hall, expelled TATB Hall of Famer.

23. Bucky . . .

24 . . . and Boone. Bite me.

25. The fact that the only way the Sox can finish the damned pinstriped vampires off is if they've first spotted them a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. Seriously, it's the Red Sox inability to drive a stake through the Yankees' black hearts when they had the chance that is the reason New York will be playing meaningful games into October.

26. The sense of entitlement the Bleacher Buttafuocos get from rooting for a franchise that has won this number of championships. Man, let's just hope I don't have to increase this list by one next year.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

How I miss the days when the Yankees pinned their hopes on the likes of Bam Bam Meulens.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, September 14, 2007

Your cheatin' heart

Well, I suppose it's going to be awkward when Roger Goodell has to hand over the Lombardi Trophy to Bill Belichick come February 3.

Seriously, what can you say? Goodell dropped the hammer tonight, and while a Patriots fan might have hoped that he'd be lenient, I think we all knew that wasn't going to happen given the commish's notorious iron fist and the supposed seriousness of the transgression. While it's a relief he chose not to suspend Belichick, there's no other way to say it: Losing that pick stinks. While the history of 32d picks isn't particularly impressive (Tyler Brayton, anyone?), the Belichick/Pioli Patriots have been remarkably adept at finding players at the back end of the first round. Today, the Patriots forfeited a player who would have been a meaningful part of their future. Here's hoping the Niners go 2-14.

Now, I realize I sound arrogant here, talking about a Super Bowl berth as a practical certainty and assuming they'll lose the No. 1 pick rather than the second -and third-rounders they'd give up if they miss they playoffs. Hey, I believe in this team, and you don't have to be Bill Walsh to recognize that they're loaded. The only way they miss the playoffs is if Tom Brady gets hurt or elopes at midseason with his beloved goat.

Besides, isn't arrogance the common thread in this whole sordid mess?

Consider: Belichick was astoundingly arrogant in thinking he could get away with this after having been warned about it previously - and he was flat-out stupid in thinking he could get away with it against Eric Mangini, the disowned, desperate former protege who simply must have been well aware of Belichick's tactics. I'm still stumped at what Belichick's thought process was in trying to do this, because it simply cannot be justified under the circumstances.

As for Mangini, he revealed his arrogance - not to mention his naivete - in thinking he can rat out Belichick without suffering any type of fallout down the road, particularly if he violated an unwritten rule among coaches. Either way, he is an ungrateful, manipulative [insert your favorite expletive], and I might hold it against him if it wasn't so obvious where he learned it.

And certain members of the media arrogantly reveled at the notion of Belichick getting his comeuppance for the dismissive and disrespectful way he's treated them through the years. Particularly among the national electronic press, it seemed the purpose wasn't to uncover and report the facts, but to bleat the loudest about the shame he's brought upon the franchise while speculating wildly and without merit about what his punishment might be. The contrived indignation couldn't have been more transparent; this was about payback. (Aside: If I hear one more ham-handed play on "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," I'm going to reach through my television screen and rip Ed Werder's mustache off.)

While the outcry seems so phony, the fallout is real. I hate that there is now talk about tainted Super Bowl victories and a tarnished dynasty, and I hate that every Hines Ward or Jack Del Rio who has gotten his pride handed to him by the Patriots through the years now has a ready-made excuse for their failure. We wuz cheated! In that sense, Belichick truly let his players down; for now and the foreseeable future, everything they accomplish will be questioned by the skeptics, cynics, and the 142 members of the Football Night in America studio crew. The Patriots are no longer associated with selflessness and teamwork, but with something more dubious: The Patriots? Oh, they're the cheaters.

Of course, in a warped sort of way, this is going to benefit them immensely on Sundays; now they can revert to their US Against Them/No Respect mentality, which served them so well during the Super Bowl seasons even it was patently ridiculous. They are going to be even more vicious and vengeful than usual, particularly when the Jets come to Foxboro Dec. 16. I fully expect that at some point Rodney Harrison will pummel Chad Pennington with one of his own severed limbs. Looking forward to it, actually. I expect Jets fans will cheer.

Still, there is one question that hasn't been answered to my satisfaction: How common is this tactic in the NFL? That jackbooted idiot Chris Mortensen - who is wrong about everything - can close his ESPN report by suggesting a man of Tony Dungy's integrity would never do such a thing, but dammit, tell me who might. You know there are others. You're telling me Mike Shanahan - who admitted to stealing signals years ago, was punished for manipulating the salary cap, and teaches his linemen to utilize the reprehensible chop block - hasn't tried this? What about Jeff Fisher? Mike Holmgren? Brian Billick? Tom Coughlin? Even Herm Edwards might attempt it, if only he could figure out how to get the danged lens cap off.

Hell, I'm still ticked that the Houston Oilers beat the Chargers in the '79 playoffs after somehow getting a copy of their playbook in the weeks before the game. You're telling me that's not more egregious than videotaping signals?

Yeah, Belichick cheated, and the price he's paying is much greater than $500,000. But his biggest mistake? Being so brazen as to think he'd never get caught.

* * *

Other famous final scenes:

First the requisite disclaimer. I still enjoy reading Bill Simmons, and I don't think he gets enough credit for creating his unique, high-profile, and lucrative niche in sports writing. But it's just . . . well, there are times I wonder if he forgot to bring his self-awareness with him when he moved from Boston to His Friend Jimmy's pool house, and today was one of those times. In a column about the sad news that immensely likable Blazers rookie Greg Oden needs microfracture surgery on his knee and will likely miss the season, LASG's main intention seemed to be to gloat about the fact that he's thought all along that Kevin Durant (who he seems to believe he discovered) should have been the No. 1 pick. It's my opinion that the only person who enjoys an I Told Ya So! column is the person writing it, and it's particularly unappealing when it's written in reaction to disappointing news. But I suppose if an NBA franchise ever decides it needs a Vice President of Self-Congratulations, he's the guy.

Think Danny Ainge is glad things worked out the way they did for the Celtics this offseason? Had they won the lottery and drafted Oden, only to endure this disaster, there'd be a line stretching from the Zakim to the New Garden tonight of Celtics fans waiting to jump. (And for the record, I'm more excited by Garnett-Allen-Pierce than I would have been by Oden-Jefferson-Third Wheel.)

Oh, yeah . . . Sox-Yankees tonight. Guess we now know what it takes for that little rivalry to get lost in the sporting shuffle around here. So how's it gonna be? I think Beckett needs to do his ace thing against Wang Saturday, because I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of Kyle Snyder or Julian Tavarez tonight than we will Dice-K, and Clemens/Schilling Sunday is a pick-'em, a no-longer-marquee matchup of massive egos and diminishing skills. But I will say this: Papi's walkoff homer Wednesday gave me more faith in this team's postseason chances than I've had in a long time. If Papi has his mojo in working order, there's always reason for hope.

Geez, and I thought I was taking this celebrity crush thing a little far. (That said, here's hoping the Official Muse of TATB, Non-Wife Division takes home the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy on Sunday. I think it will look just lovely on our mantel someday.)

I probably shouldn't point you this way since he writes about the same things I do, only way better, but my friend Dave D'Onofrio of the Concord Monitor recently launched an outstanding blog about Boston sports, and if you like what you read here, you're going to love his stuff. Check it out, but just promise me that after you get hooked on his insightful writing, you'll come back to visit here once in a while, just for old times' sake.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because sometimes, it really is random.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 10, 2007

First and 10: Candid Camera Patriots 38, Jets 14

1. If the allegations against the Patriots are true - and I'm assuming you know what I'm talking about here, seeing how ESPN is already comparing Bill Belichick to the cheatin' likes of Gaylord Perry, Ben Johnson, and Rafael Palmeiro - then there's no denying that they deserve some sort of punishment for their shoddy subterfuge. I'd be bummed if Roger Goodell forces them to cough up, say, a fourth-round draft pick next year for their inept attempts to intercept Eric Mangini's sign language, but I have to admit, if it were another team getting busted (and there's no doubt there are other teams that do this; Miami admitted as much after beating the Patriots last year), then I'd be yowling for the commish to throw the book at the cheating expletives. I guess I'm not sure what's more disappointing about all of this - that it's slimy, brazen, unnecessary, and so beneath the Patriots to do such a thing, that suspicious minds are going to claim it taints every victory from here until February, or that it gives an endless amount of ammo to the anti-Patriots element in the national media. It's a story that's not going to go away for a long time, and for that, the Patriots have no one to blame but themselves. (Footnote: This column, by Yahoo!'s excellent Dan Wetzel, is the best take I've read yet.)

2. There was a time, not too many years ago, when I wrote that Deion Branch was a better fit for the Patriots than Randy Moss ever could be. There may be a time, given injury or indifference on the notoriously mercurial Moss's part, when I may believe that again. But right now . . . well, I mean, wow. Just . . . wow. The Patriots have never had anything quite like this before, have they? Nine catches, 184 yards, and the numbers don't do justice to just how dazzling his performance was; this was not the disinterested Raider of the past few years, but the once-in-a-decade receiving talent who made Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, and Daunte Culpepper look like quality NFL quarterbacks. Oh, sure, Moss may have lost a step, as Phil Simms and his stubborn ilk repeatedly bleat, but by my calculations that left Moss a mere two steps quicker than the hopeless, hapless Jets who were trying and failing to triple-cover him Sunday. Put him on the field with shifty Wes Welker, speedy Donte' Stallworth, and the underestimated Jabar Gaffney, and for the first time since forever, the Patriots have the artillery to win a shootout with the Colts. Hey, there's a reason Tom Brady seemed downright giddy after the game, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't solely because Gisele was waiting for him. He's got Randy Moss now, and on the field, that might be the best thing that ever happened to him that didn't involve Mo Lewis.

3. I'll admit, I was surprised how well Asante Samuel played upon entering the game on the second defensive series. It's to his credit that he looked like he'd been there for every snap of training camp - he clearly took his conditioning seriously even in the midst of his contract dispute, and not only was he typically steady in coverage, but there were a couple of circumstances where he reminded us what an uncommonly willing and dependable tackler he is for a cornerback. (Something that was also one of Ty Law's underrated attributes.) You know who else looked good in the defensive backfield? Eugene Wilson. We tend to forget because he's been injured and inconsistent the past two years, but there was a time when he looked like he was going to be a Pro Bowler for years to come. It's going to take some time before that's our perception of him again, but his standout eight-tackle performance Sunday was a positive step in that direction.

4. As for the other big-name new guy, I thought Adalius Thomas was a force even though the stat sheet (one solo tackle, four assists) suggests otherwise. His versatile performance and the way the Patriots seemed to utilize him reminded me of Roman Phifer in his better days, and though Thomas is obviously a superior talent, such a comparison must be taken as a compliment considering how crucial Phifer was in the early days of the dynasty. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

5. Driving back from Boston Sunday night, I heard a parade of morons on WFAN trying to justify why the Meadowlands filled with cheers as Chad Pennington temporarily hobbled off the field with an ankle injury. Let's just say they did little to change my opinion that the Jets have the dumbest and most reprehensible fans in sports. I realize Pennington can't throw a pass beyond 20 yards without it hovering like the Hood blimp, but he's smart, efficient, tough, and prepared, and the Jets have a much better chance of making the postseason with him taking the snaps than they do with some NFL novice like Kellen (No, He's Not My Dad) Clemens. The whole pathetic episode reminded me of why I enjoy it so much when the Patriots give them the pummeling they deserve.

6. Jarvis Green has to be one of the best backups at any position in the NFL. How many other teams do you think he could start for? 20? 25? 30? I know this much: Given all of the rumors floating around about the condition of Richard Seymour's knee, Green's no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

7. I'm not saying Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris are going to split carries evenly, but I do think fantasy owners who took the Patriots' second-year ballcarrier in the first or second round are going to suffer from buyer's remorse by season's end. Despite his maddening Savion Glover routine when a hole doesn't open up immediately, Maroney is a fantastic talent with a bright future, and he will be a crucial element of their offense this season. But it's clear the Patriots are going to try and limit the wear on his tires, and the ferocious Morris provides a more-than-capable complement to the starter. Maroney ran for 72 yards on 20 carries Sunday, while Morris had 11 carries for 54 yards; I think that's a reasonable representation of the workload and production we can expect from both of them on an average Sunday this season.

8. It's tempting to call Kevin Everett's astounding turn for the better a miracle, and maybe in some sense it is. But more than anything, it's a tribute to the marvels of modern medicine. I can't be the only one who, upon hearing the wonderful news that Everett will someday walk out of the hospital, wondered how things might have been different for Darryl Stingley 29 years ago if we had the medical knowledge then that we have now.

9. Other random NFL notes: I still think Romeo Crennel is an excellent football coach, but he hasn't done a single thing in Cleveland to support that point of view; the Browns are such a mess, I'm beginning to think Al Davis might be their owner. I wonder whose defensive coordinator Crennel will be in '08 . . . I can't think of a week in recent NFL history that had more carnage. The Rams lost star tackle Orlando Pace for the year, the lesser of the Mannings hurt his shoulder, Redskins tackle Jon Jansen suffered the second-most gruesome leg injury in franchise history, Ray Lewis tore a triceps (presumably while doing his ridiculous pregame dance), Buffalo lost fine young safety Ko Simpson along with Jason Webster and Coy Wire, and the list goes on. One of the blessings of the Patriots' victory is that they got through it more or less unscathed . . . Seriously, is Ed Hochuli for real? The guy's 57 years old, and to his credit, he looks like he spent the offseason hanging out with Rodney Harrison's pharmacist. I'm pretty sure he out-preened T.O. during the Cowboys/Giants game Sunday night . . . I was regretting not spending a higher fantasy draft pick on Minnesota's Adrian Peterson before Chester Taylor hurt his hip. That kid is a superstar-in-waiting, and running behind Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, and Bryant McKinnie, I'll take the over on him eclipsing 1,200 yards as a rookie . . . It's the Colts and Pats, and then there's everyone else. The Chargers? Not this year. Norv Turner is going to make Marty Schottenheimer look like Bill Walsh.

10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Andy Gresh, that shrill, bowl-cut bozo on the WBCN Patriots postgame show, said with his usual blindly ignorant confidence that Randy Moss is going to break Stanley the Steamer's franchise record for yards per catch. I suppose such a statement isn't too over the top, though Gresh a) seemed completely unaware that Morgan averaged an amazing 19.2 yards per catch in his 14 NFL seasons (and was over 22.0 in four consecutive seasons), and b) that Moss, in catching nine passes for 184 yards, actually averaged over 20 yards per catch Sunday, not the "17 or 18" that 'BCN's resident math whiz estimated. By the way, have I mentioned how sad it is that the Sheppard/Smerlas/DeOssie Hat Trick of Meatheads actually offers the superior Patriots analysis?

(Footnote: If you prefer baseball talk at TATB, here's our quickie column from today's Red Sox GameDay on Dice-K and his Wasdinesque struggles. Thanks for checking it out.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, September 07, 2007

Catching up

It's about time somebody wrote something around here, so let's go . . .

I realize it's disappointing that he hasn't hit like he did in Cleveland, but I don't see how anyone can watch Coco Crisp on a daily basis and not develop a deep appreciation for how he plays the game. This was brought up in the comments a column or so ago, and it's so right on that it's worth reiterating here: Crisp is the very embodiment of the things a dirt dog is supposed to be, all hustle and desire and energy, and yet for some curious reason, he gets very little credit for that, especially from those who you suspect once owned a Darren Bragg replica jersey and think Jeff Frye was a hell of a second baseman. Maybe Coco needs to start wearing a dirtier hat or something. (Note: This was written before he drove that hotheaded moron Daniel Cabrera to the brink of homicide tonight. Another checkmark in Coco's favor.)

After all the shots I've taken at Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi over the years, I'd shatter the Hypocrisy Meter if I told you I really don't care that Rodney Harrison took HGH, and that I'm convinced he'd be in the minority among NFL players if he didn't use something to enhance his chances of surviving so many brutal Sundays. So let's leave it at this: I'm stunned that Harrison, who has always struck me as one of the league's brighter players, was so naive as to use his own name and address when ordering the stuff. Because that's the only way they were going to catch him.

Am I wrong to wonder if the Patriots might get off to a slower start than people are expecting? I mean, Harrison and Richard Seymour are out, Asante Samuel is begging for a hamstring pull, Tom Brady hasn't had a lot of time to get on the same page with new receivers Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth . . . and they have to deal with the Jets and the Chargers right out of the gate. I realize that only a fool would underestimate this team, but right now it might be wise to avoid overestimating them as well.

I'm not saying Tito Francona is flawless as a manager - sometimes he does leave his starters in too long, sometimes he's too loyal to his veterans - but those banshees who call 'EEI for the sole purpose of venting about "Francoma" have forgetten what a lousy manager looks like. Even on his worst night, I still consider him the best manager the Red Sox have had in my lifetime, especially when you consider how well he deals with the peripheral distractions such as the smothering media and a voracious fan base. Let Joe Kerrigan or Kevin Kennedy return to the dugout for a week and those mouthbreathing morons would be begging for Tito back.

All right, Geffner, we'll say it one more time: Put down the media guide and step away from the microphone, and no more eardrums have to get hurt. (Please, somebody tell me that the rumors Dave O'Brien will be full-time next season are true. Please. I'm begging here.)

Other stuff we wrote while were away from this place: Last week's Fox column (chock full o' Yankee-aimed cheap shots), this week's Fox column (featuring a rather unfortunately timed tribute to Rick Ankiel, who apparently more like Rodney Harrison than he is Roy Hobbs), and a piece for GameDay on the Sox' stellar rookie class.

I keep checking Joe Posnanski's blog on the hope that he might have sneaked back and cranked out some wonderful, whimsical piece on The Top 40 Lefthanded Specialists Since 1970 or something, but so far, the lights are still out at what fast became my favorite stop (make that PG-rated stop) on the internet. Hopefully he'll start it up again when he has another book to promote, because just about every time I read his stuff, I was reminded of why I like baseball and why I like writing, and I do miss those daily reminders.

I thought he should have stayed in the big leagues the first time he got called up, but the more I see of Jacoby Ellsbury (who looks like some odd hybrid of Mark Teixeira and Johnny Damon), the more I think he should be starting in right field come Game 1 of the ALDS. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic to say he's done more to help the Red Sox win in his 40-something at-bats this season than Drew has in 400-something. It's gotten to the point with Drew that I don't even get mad anymore when he inevitably does exactly what they don't need him to do in a particular at-bat; he's pathetic, and he's made me apathetic. I'm beyond having any expectations for him. I just want to know why, for the first time in his career, he's not hitting at all. It must be the shoulder, right?

Based on their "contributions" during their time with the Red Sox, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of Tony Clark and Darren Oliver being major leaguers in 2007, let alone productive ones.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

He damn well better be wearing his jersey under that jacket.


I imagine you know what I'm talking about, since 23 of you (yep, I counted) emailed me the past two days to tell me that Jenna Fischer, the Official Muse of TATB (Non-Wife Division) . . .

(meow . . . love the Elvira look)

. . . is separated from her husband. Now as flattering as it is to know that you all consider me to be the World's Preeminent Jenna Fischer Internet Stalker (or, as my friend Melissa put it, "Don't sell yourself short, you're the World's Preeminent Jenna Fischer Internet Stalker Blogger. You're not just some layabout stalker"), well, it's just that I'm thinking that her stunning declaration of free agency probably isn't going to benefit me a whole hell of a lot, given that I'm poor, anonymous, bitter, humorless, gimpy, based in Maine, in no danger of landing a modeling contract, and, last time I checked with my wife, still married. (This would be a good time to quote Lloyd Christmas: "So you're saying I've got a chance?")

Anyway, it's nice that you thought of me - yes, even you, Rob M., who wrote this: "When you posted the 'Through Any Window,' video that Jenna's in, I just assumed that's how you planned on getting into her house." Gotta admit, that's well-played.

In all seriousness, it was surprising to read that news, if only because Jenna and her husband, actor/writer/director James Gunn (a vulgar riot on his MySpace page), always seemed to make a point in saying how important their spouse was to their happiness and success. She often referred to him as her "real-life Jim," and they seemed as sincere and stable as a Hollywood couple could be, though in retrospect maybe it was just another acting role for both of them. I am curious what the real story is. My wife has a very interesting theory that might just have some credence (not to mention a great visual). I tend to think that it's either a case of career jealousy - he was successful and she was unknown when they got married, and now she's off getting her boobs squeezed on the big screen by Will Ferrell - or someone got busted messing around. Either way, James Gunn will no longer be referred to as the luckiest &^%&$# in the world. Maybe the stupidest, depending on what the truth is.

And so as we conclude this TATB Hollywood Minute, check out this hilarious promo for the upcoming season of "The Office." I'd say "30 percent more unpredictable" is working, wouldn't you?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, September 01, 2007

It's gonna be ecstasy/This place is meant for me

Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer won 268 games in 20 seasons in the major leagues. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1990 on the first ballot. He knows more about pitching than he does about jockey shorts.

So when, as the story goes, he banged on the glass to the Red Sox radio booth in the third inning last night to inform Joe Castiglione that the 23-year-old on the mound for Boston reminded him of himself, it was confirmation enough that, yes, Clay Buchholz has the substance to match the hype.

Six innings later, Buchholz and Palmer had the same number of career no-hitters: one. Baseball symmetry sure is funny like that.

So now we know why Palmer, hardly an easy grader of young pitchers, was smitten after watching Buchholz for a mere three innings. Now we know what the summer-long buzz in Portland and Pawtucket was about. Buchholz made the Orioles look like castoffs from the Altoona Curve, striking out nine, walking three, and becoming more impressive the closer he got to completing the 18th Red Sox no-hitter and the 21st by a rookie in baseball history. He was dazzling, dominant, pick your own adjective. Nope, it was not a bad second big league start at all.

While this "feat of Clay" (as the Globe headline put it after his first start; fits better this morning don't you think?) puts Buchholz on the radar of fans who aren't "Baseball America" subscribers, a no-hitter is no guarantee of future greatness - or even of future mediocrity, really. Anyone seen Mike Warren lately? Hello, Bud Smith, are you out there? But there's a reason I've yowled since he was overmatching Eastern League hitters back in the spring that this kid can help the Red Sox this season: this is no ordinary phenom. As Buchholz demonstrated time and again last night, he owns three top-notch major-league pitches, including a drop-dead changeup, a curveball that might rival Josh Beckett's as the best on the staff, and a fastball with that little Maddux-style tail that cuts back over the outside corner to a righty. His command can go on the fritz on occasion, but he has a repertoire to win in the majors immediately - I'll let you decide whether we should call his stuff "filthy" or merely "electric" - and it became apparent, as Fenway rocked and rollicked in the late innings, that poise and composure are also among his attributes. There is no doubt that he can give the Red Sox the boost Jonathan Papelbon gave them in '05, the boost Joba Chamberlain and perhaps Ian Kennedy are giving New York now.

Hell, he already has . . . and while I'm not a huge believer in "signature" wins, we all know that this couldn't have happened at a better time. The Sox had lost four in row, including three straight to the rejuvenated Yankees in the Bronx. Cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez has an ominous oblique injury, Tim Wakefield's back is acting up, Tito Francona is being forced to play "Project Runway" in the middle of games, and the days don't seem to be coming off the calendar fast enough. They needed this.

The question, as it was happening, was would they get it. The cynic in you thought Millar, that rascally ol' Cowboy with such a history here, would be the one to spoil the moment. Or maybe Jay Payton, the sour clubhouse lawyer and the only veteran player we know of to wear out Francona's patience, would ruin the party. But the Orioles, who seem intent on setting a franchise record for humiliating losses this season, went down with a whimper, Nick Markakis looking at the final, physics-defying breaking ball of the night.

Cue the pandemonium on the field. Which reminds us - Buchholz wasn't the only Red Sox who should be basking in this. Sure, no-hitters go into the record books as a solo effort, one name recorded forever in the small type. But we all know they are often a team accomplishment, and such was the case last night. Coco Crisp, who is playing such a consistently graceful/dazzling center field this season that he's giving ol' Gammons flashbacks of Paul Blair, typically made several difficult catches look routine. And Dustin Pedroia, the underestimated rookie second baseman, made the play that will be featured in NESN promos for the next 20 years, diving to his right spear Miguel Tejada's skidding rocket in the seventh inning, rising to throw out the hustling Oriole, then punctuating his web gem with a fine choice of expletives. Or maybe he just said, "Buch, yeah!"

Either way, Pedroia earned the right to enjoy the moment, for it made the night's bigger moment possible. Clay Buchholz: two starts, two wins . . . and one no-hitter. Amazing.

He's set the bar pretty high for his third start, no?

Labels: , ,