Sunday, May 01, 2005

Nine innings 05.01.05

Plodding through a delayed nine innings (sorry for the late post, peeps) while wondering If the Rocket will be pitching for Us or Them come October . . .

1) The most telling Red Sox stat from 2004 is this gem: The five pitchers that began the season in the starting rotation - Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo - combined to make 157 of a possible 162 starts. That, more than any other reason, is why the Sox plugged away long enough to claim the AL wild-card - their starting rotation remained remarkably effective and healthy from Game 1 to Game 162. They were the foundation on which a championship was built.

Unfortunately, 25 games into the new season and we already know that will not be the case again. Unless you've been living under a rock, in the Bronx, or most likely, under a rock in the Bronx, you know that Curt Schilling and David Wells both went on the 15-day DL this week. Wells is out for a month with a sprained foot, while Schilling has a bone bruise in his surgically repaired ankle, an injury that you have to believe is directly related to the thread-and-duct-tape repair job that enabled him to pitch with a torn ankle tendon during the postseason.

(Quick digression: I DO NOT trust the Sox management when they attempt to downplay an injury, especially after Trot Nixon missed almost the entire 2004 season with back and quad injuries that were first said to be minor. Hell, I think they're still telling us Nomar is day-to-day. Schilling, out two weeks even though he's in a cast? Nope. Don't buy it. See you in June, Schill. End of digression.)

I'm no whiz with numbers, but by my accounting the Sox have 79 years, 550 pounds (give or take a Twinkie), 399 career wins and 40 percent of their current starting rotation on the disabled list. Losing Schilling and Wells sure looks like a hell of a double-whammy on the surface, and maybe it will prove to be impossible to overcome. But my hunch is that the Sox are deep and talented enough to can survive - and even thrive - during the Schilling/Wells hiatus. All they need is a couple things to happen, all of them reasonable:

1) The offense picks up the pitching staff and starts hitting like the 1,000-runs-a-season beast that Theo Epstein strives to assemble.

2) No. 5 starter Bronson Arroyo continues to pitch like a No. 2 starter, something he's done since last August.

3) Keith Foulke remembers he's Keith Foulke, closer of four straight World Series victories, 2004, not Keith Foulke, deposed Chicago White Sox closer, 2002.

4) Jeremi Gonzalez (decent arm, lousy luck) and/or John Halama pitches like an actual major-leaguer.

Seems to me it's not too much to ask. What was it Yankees fans always used to say to us back when they won championships? I know I'm a man, but I can't help it - I want to have Derek Jeter's baby! No, no, the other thing. Championships aren't won in April. Talk to me in October.

Yes, that's it. Championships are won in October, not April. As long as Schilling and Wells are healthy then, the Sox will be fine. There's no need to panic now. We'll leave that for the Fourth-Place Yankees.

2) I'm as late on this as Kevin Millar against a 94-m.p.h fastball, but a week ago, Shaughnessy had a must-read column on Larry Bird, his passion for Boston sports, and most notably, his appreciation for Manny Ramirez. It was refreshing to read Bird's praise of Manny, not only because any insight from Bird is appreciated, but because I think there's certain closed-minded segment of fans and media that read Bird's quotes with raised eyebrows. They forget that Manny's work ethic in the batting cages approaches Larry Legend's on the hardwood, and only consider the differences of the two men in appearance, demeanor and reputation. To them I offer the simple explanation for Bird's admiration: Sometimes only the great themselves can appreciate greatness in others. But the truth runs much deeper than that - and well below the skin's surface.

3) I'm not sure if it's my belief that the first-place Orioles are fraud, my snickering joy in the Fourth-Place Yankees' worst start since The Kevin Maas Years, or the lingering afterglow of last October, but for some reason I'm not nearly as frustrated with the Sox's lumbering start as I would have been in the past. (Dude, check it out - mellow Sox fans!) But I have a feeling that if the Fourth-Place Yankees suddenly get hot, I will too.

4) When Brian Cashman brings Georgie Porgie his morning paper, grapefruit-prune juice cocktail and Metamucil, I bet he pulls one out of Costanza's bag of tricks and says with just a hint of desperation, "Damn New York Times printed the AL East standings upside down again, Boss. Look, Angelos is in last place again! Haha!" We'll know Steinbrenner has caught on when we get another one of those Gen. Patton-crossed-with-Montgomery Burns missives from the bunker.

5) You know Kentucky Fried Millar is going bad when he does a segment with "Red Sox This Week" host Dan Roche on the Sox's new hitting cage, and the teetering-on-dorkdom Roche ends up looking like the better option for the 5-slot in the lineup. You bet I'm glad the Sox signed John Olerud and his safety helmet to a minor-league contract. He's not Doug Mientkiewicz, but he's close, and he should eventually take some at-bats against tough righties away from Millar, something that needs to happen soon . . .

6) . . . and in case you forgot, we owe him our gratitude anyway. After all, Olerud, a late-season pickup by the Yankees in 2004, indirectly contributed to the Sox's comeback in the ALCS. After delivering a game-breaking two-run homer against Pedro in the Yankees' victory in Game 2, he soon suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for the rest of the series. With Honey, I Shrunk The Giambi impotent at that point, the Yankees had to dig up the mummified remains of Tony Clark and play him at first base, a development that certainly benefited the Sox many times over late in the series.

7) Twenty-five games. That's too small a sample size to judge Edgar Renteria, right? Good, because I was about to say that only differences I see between the new Sox shortstop and the man he replaced is that Orlando Cabrera had better hands and range, was more reliable in the clutch, and exhibited infinitely more joy in playing in front of such boisterous (okay, demanding) fans. But of course I won't make such a premature proclamation, because the Renteria Error . . . er, Era . . . has been only 25 games. Yep, way too soon to jump to conclusions. (Gulp.)

8) I really want to like the guy after what he accomplished last October, I do. But the more Curt Schilling bleats, blabbers and embellishes, the more I think the rumor that Randy Johnson wanted no part in coming here because he couldn't stand his former Arizona co-ace is as true as the sky is blue.

9) Finally, today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Gotta love Big Sam, the patron saint of Red Sox fans with a keyboard and an opinion.