Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Nine innings: 06.14.05

Playing nine innings while wondering how many Yankees fans are currently contemplating buying a Mets cap . . .

1) Two home runs in two nights, one a vintage bomb to left field, the other a sizzling laser to right. Could it be that Manny has finally found his missing mojo? Man, I sure hope so, and for reasons that go beyond his obvious importance to the Red Sox lineup. In my 27 years as a fan, there's no player I've enjoyed watching more in the batter's box. At his best, he's the best pure righthanded hitter I've ever seen. (Somewhere, Peter Gammons's face just twitched.) But during this Jim Rice-in-'88 imitation that he's been doing for much of the season, I've often found myself dreading his at-bats, particularly in key situations. I've really come to hate that feeling, and while I've always thought Manny would come out of this thing, it's gone on a hell of lot longer than any of us expected. It has to be the most prolonged slump of his stellar career. Hopefully, the last two days are an indication that the old Manny's back. I've missed the goofy, baseball-crushing savant. Haven't we all?

2)The Sox are an underwhelming 32-29 overall, but 18-9 at friendly Fenway. They have the Cincinnati Reds in house for two more games. The chaos-stricken Reds are 6-22 on the road. If this isn't the perfect time to start playing with some consistency and maybe even build the foundation for a prolonged winning streak, then I'm not sure that time is going come at all. It's time to quit screwing around, let the Orioles know their cute little stint in first place is about to end, put some distance between themselves in the battered-but-still-breathing Yankees, and remind the Joe Morgans of the world who the defending World Series champion is. (Damn, that's quite an inspirational rant if I do say so myself. Must be the Tony Robbins tapes.)

3) Wasn't it refreshing to hear him say repeatedly how his time in Boston was the best of his career? And how cool was it when he said that even though he loves being a Cub, he dearly wished he was still a member of the Red Sox during their march to the championship last fall? And he really seemed sincere when he said he missed the camaraderie of the Sox clubhouse, didn't he? Man, what a great guy . . . a great Red Sox. Yep, it sure was nice to catch up with Todd Walker again, wasn't it? What, you thought I meant someone else? Ah, okay, I guess it was good to see him too.

4) The best ballpark I've ever been to? Let's see, there's Fenway. . . and Wrigley . . . Fenway . . . Wrigley . . . Fenway . . . Wrigley . . . okay, I've gotta say it's Fenway, only because that's where my heart is. If I were an impartial observer . . . man, day baseball is the best. . . and that ivy sure is sweet . . .

5) We interrupt the usual baseball jibber-jabber for a brief musical interlude ...

You've probably discerned from the Amazon ads and the occasional musical references on this page that I'm a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. (The TATB choice for best song in the history of sound: Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season.) So when country music superstar Kenny Chesney - I believe you "People" magazine junkies know him as the hairless-looking dude in the hat that somehow hooked Renee Zellweger - convinced his record label to let him release an album of Carribean-themed tunes, my interest was piqued. I like Chesney enough in his natural Nashville habitat, and, being curious to see how deftly he could parrot the chief Parrothead, I picked up his disc, titled "Be As You Are (Songs From An Old Blue Chair)" this week. The verdict? Two-and-a-half margaritas, on a scale of four. He lacks the life experience to match Buffett as a song writer - frankly, his lyrics sound as if they came from a Buffett Lyric Refridgerator Magnet set, or maybe a Margaritaville Mad-Libs. But his pleasant voice, earnest appreciation for the island vibe, and sporadically endearing turn of a phrase ("She wears her Red Sox hat/To hide her baby dreds") redeems the disc enough to keep it in the CD player for now. Plus, Chesney is good pals with Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield and genuinely loves the Sox, which goes a long way to earning some goodwill in this corner of cyberspace. (It also doesn't hurt that the specific paradise he's singing about is where me and Mrs. TATB spent our honeymoon. And if you think I'm supplying the punchline here, well, guess again, fool. I learned my lesson last time I crossed the missus in this space, and I'm damn sure not spending another night sleeping in the driveway.)

6) The $53 million question: If Theo's magic 8-ball had told him back in November that Curt Schilling would have been sidelined for all but three starts through early June, would the Sox, knowing they'd need a staff anchor, have put the present ahead of the future and given Pedro four years at his price? I say yes. Ask me, evidence is building that they should have done it anyway.

7) The same week Georgie Porgie so subtly suggests that Joe Torre should start managing like Billy Martin, Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella does a very Martin-like thing and rips the Devil Rays ownership. Could be a coincidence, but it seems to me Piniella is the current ideal for what Steinbrenner wants in his manager; I believe "fiery" is the politically correct term and "ape-bleep lunatic" the appropriate one. I wouldn't be shocked to see Piniella managing the Yankees next season . . . or sooner. Maybe Torre should punch out a marshmallow salesman or deck one of his own pitchers, you know, for job security's sake.

8) I don't know how Terry Francona is supposed to do it, but Tito has got to find a way to get Kevin Youkilis more at-bats. If the second-year third baseman is this sharp getting five plate appearances every three or four days, how much would he contribute to the offense with more consistent playing time? Not that I think any of the struggling veterans in the Sox lineup should be benched at this point, but Youkilis couldn't be worse than the three players whose playing time he could siphon: Kevin Millar, Mark Bellhorn, and Bill Mueller. Tito seems to realize it, too. Hitting Youkilis third Sunday night against the Cubs made sense to everyone who'd watched the Sox this season, particularly with Big Papi getting a deserved night off. Naturally, Joe Morgan was stumped, and when he's stumped he resorts to being condescending and critical. ("I just don't get this, Jon. Youkilis? Who is he? What has he ever done, Jon? Did he play for the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, Jon?") Which of course made it extra sweet when Youkilis - a Cincinnati native and a Reds fan as a kid, Joe - homered in his first at-bat.

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

All right, maybe naming it Fisk Pole was a better idea.