Monday, May 09, 2005

Nine innings: 05.08.05

Sloshing through nine innings while wondering if Cla Meredith has ever heard of Bobby Sprowl . . .

1) Seriously, there's no logical explanation for what Terry Francona did to Meredith today. Still finding his bearings after being recalled from Pawtucket this morning, the 21-year-old reliever one year removed from the Virginia Commonweath campus made his big-league debut in the second game of the Sox's doubleheader with the Seattle Mariners. Wide-eyed and wild, he quickly walked the first two hitters, loading the bases for Mariners behemoth Richie Sexson. I know I wasn't the only one thinking this at that moment: Hit the showers, kid. This is Timlin's time. Unfortunately, Francona wasn't on the same wavelength as the rest of New England. Inexplicably, he left Meredith in to face the Seattle slugger, and wouldn't you know it, Sexson smoked one around the Pesky Pole. With one swing and one stupid managerial decision, a 2-2 tie became a 6-2 deficit, and sweep became a split. Meredith stumbled off the mound looking shellshocked, and anyone watching this unfold had to worry that he was damaged by the experience. Yeah, we're forever indebted to Tito for his managerial mastery last October, but I really hate it when he has these Grady/Zimmer Moments of mind-boggling cluelessness. He's better than that.

2) Considering we were lamenting their slow start not so long ago, it's worth noting that the Sox (18-13) are on a 94-win pace. The most encouraging part of the so-called turnaround: several of the team's lesser lights have seized the spotlight. Take today's first game. Jay Payton, stepping into the lineup after Manny got hit by a pitch, drove in two runs and continued to look like a major upgrade over Gabe Kapler. Ramon Vazquez started at shortstop in place of the injured Edgar Renteria (out with Fred Lynn-itis, also known as a torn fingernail) and, despite a pulled hamstring, made an excellent run-saving defensive play that thwarted a potential big inning. Kevin Youkilis, starting at third as Bill Mueller switched over to second, made a run-saving play of his own with the leather and continues to look like a hitter with a plan. And best of all, Jeremi Gonzalez (pictured above) again proved a capable stop-gap in the rotation, pitching into the sixth and earning his first victory since 2003. All in all, it's hard not to be impressed with the depth and resilience of this team so far. Mighty Orioles beware!

3) Oh, and you can call him Jeremi Gonzalez if you want. But I'm going to keep calling him by the name he used the first time he came around here: Frank Castillo.

4) My commute from Wells, Me. to the Globe office in Dorchester, Mass., as Rick Pitino would say, stinks and sucks and stinks, but tuning into WFAN in New York this week has made it seem miles shorter. Thirty or so games into the season, and Yankee fans are panicking like rats on a sinking ship. (A damn accurate analogy, I'd say.) They can't decide if they want to fire Joe Torre, put out a hit on A-Rod, or start rooting for the Mets like they did in the '80s. It's just delightful radio. The typical call goes something like this:

Host:"Vinny from the Bronx, you're on with Mike and the Mad Dog."

Vinny, who indeed is from the Bronx: "Yeah . . . uh . . . am I on? . . . uh . . . yeah . . . hey-yo . . . I think we should trade Giambi and Kevin Brown and maybe a prospect, like Tanyon Sturtze, to the Cardinals for, uh, Pujols. I hate to give up Sturtze, but we have to sweeten the pot to make it worth the Cardinals' time, you know. And, uh, also, we should also get Griffey, maybe for Tony Womack and Jaret Wright or Flash Gordon and some prospects. And Paul O'Neill should come back from the booth. He looks like he's still in shape and they need his intensity. And maybe George could see if Rickey Henderson wants to play part time in left field. I'm going to hang up now because my Camaro is on fire again, but, uh, what do youze guys think about that, yo?"

(Editor's note: Vinny is a fictional composite of Yankees fans, but honest to the Great Slugger In the Sky, some variation on every single one of those "suggestions" was made by one caller or another this week. The idiocy is off the charts. Yankees fans - the comedy gift that keeps on giving. Oh, and while I think of it, here's a link to the new epilogue for the Buster Olney's excellent book, The Last Night of The Yankee Dynasty. Some great stuff here. For instance, did you know the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead in last year's ALCS? Yep, for real. Read all about it.)

5) Free-agent-to-be Johnny Damon recently assured Sox fans that he won't sign with the Yankees, but something tells me Georgie Porgie is going to make it very difficult for him to keep his word. Damon, 32, wants at least a four-year deal, and that will happen in Boston roughly the same time the NHL relocates to Hades. Considering Damon's success against the Yankees, and considering the closest thing New York has to a center fielder is the tattered remains of Bernie Williams, it makes way too much sense not to be at least a possibility.

6) . . . then again, maybe Damon prefers to keep his identity. He certainly relishes his new "rock star" status, and he must be aware of what happens to free spirits when they go to New York: they get a shower, a shave, and a neutering. Damon was a teammate/frat brother with Jason Giambi in Oakland in 2001, and I suspect his old friend might have told him already that New York isn't for everyone. (And, no, I don't know why I'm wasting so many words on this topic today. Damon is hitting, the Sox are winning, 80 percent of the long and winding season is still ahead . . . this is the last you'll hear about Damon's status from me until there's something relevant to report.)

7) So this is why we've been on the Wade Miller Watch for the past month or so: this guy is one impressive pitcher. Sure, Miller's career statistics indicate as much, as did today's numbers (5 innings, 3 hits, 2 earned runs, 6 Ks). But it was another thing entirely to see Miller with our own eyes, and after watching him unleash a mid-90s fastball and a duck-for-cover curve, it's not a stretch to envision him impacting the AL East race more than Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, Jaret Wright, David Wells and the hotshot free agents who joined The Rivalry over the winter. Yeah, you bet I'm giddy. After the glimpses I saw from Miller today, I'm thinking this may turn out the be Theo's steal of steals, David Ortiz excepted.

8) I know, I know, these things have a way of working themselves out. But . . . what should happen when Curt Schilling and David Wells return to health? Which of the Sox' six capable starters do you send to the bullpen? Bronson Arroyo is the obvious candidate, if only because he is the most suited to handle the transition. Schilling is the ace, Wells is a veteran who would probably resist the role, Miller has to start for his shoulder's sake, and Tim Wakefield's knuckler is a lot more trustworthy in the rotation. Which leaves Arroyo and Matt Clement. I happen to think Clement could be a lights-out reliever in the Scott Williamson mold. In stuff and temperament, he reminds me of Tom Gordon circa 1996, and like Flash, his attention span seems more suited for an inning or two of power relief work. But that won't happen - the Sox have too much invested in him as a starter, and hey, he is 4-0. Which leaves Arroyo. He has a 14-start unbeaten streak and the 11-2 record since the 2004 All-Star break, but it sure looks to me like his quest to establish himself as a top-tier starting pitcher will be undermined by his versatility and selflessness. If only all dilemmas were this pleasant, right?

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

Touted by none other than Ted Williams, Quinones was supposed to be the next Dave Concepcion. Close. He was the next Onix Concepcion. But he did help bring Hendu in trade, which was thoughtful of him.