Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nine innings: 06.21.05

Playing nine innings while wondering how Theo is going to put out the fire in the bullpen . . .

1) Seriously, something needs to be done to salvage this relief corps before they sabotage the season. Alan Embree has suspiciously turned into the lefthanded Way Back Wasdin, nearly meatballing away a 9-5 lead last night. Keith Foulke's command still comes and goes, and when it goes, so does the baseball. John Halama is a space-filler. Matt Mantei is Scott Williamson at his worst. At this point, the only reliable arms are lefty specialist Mike Myers and dependable Mike Timlin, who is 39 years old and on pace to pitch something like 449 innings this season. The direness of the situation can not be exaggerated: Another quality relief pitcher - preferably one who makes his living with his left arm - is this team's No. 1 need, and it must be filled ASAP. The problem is, there's nothing of quality available: Ricky Bottalico? You mean he's still pitching? Dave Weathers? Only as a last resort. It must be tempting for Theo to call up primo prospect Jon Papelbon - a closer in college - from Double A, but I imagine he'll resist the temptation, what with the Cla Meredith debacle still fresh. Either way, something must be done. What? Damned if I know. It's times like these where Theo earns his reputation.

2) I've vowed to avoid all talk of Johnny Damon's contract situation in this space, preferring to focus on the season at hand rather than decisions that will be determined by what happens over the next 100 games. So all I'll say is this: He saved tonight's game with a ninth-inning homer and a fine running catch to end it, a star turn that's become common MVP-caliber season so far. He's the best leadoff hitter the Sox have ever had, he's fueled by the fans' passion, and he still plays a mean centerfield. I can't imagine the Sox without him this year . . . and beyond.

3) Ever since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, I've suspected Fox baseball play-by-play guy Joe Buck was a closet Sox fan. When the camera peeked inside the booth in the game's immediate aftermath, he looked like Aaron Boone had just run over his dog. (So did Bret Boone, for that matter.) And we all know how Tim McCarver feels about the Yankees, particularly Derek Jeter; I think "all tingly inside" is the PG-rated way of putting it. So let's just say this exchange between Buck and McCarver during Sunday's Cubs-Yankees game did little to change either opinion. (Thanks to an anonymous lurker from Sons of Sam Horn for sending along the transcript):

Joe Buck: Now, obviously, you're talking about one of the best leaders in the game today, somebody who is just a winner, and somebody who - when he came up in his rookie year in '96 - just had that look about him like he'd been here before. Jeter has been one of the most consistent players in the game over the past nine years.

Tim McCarver: At the risk of going ga-ga too much, I mean, this guy is thoroughly hip. He is about as hip, to use that young expression, as there is any player in the game. He's tough, he's rugged, he is a winner, he's a guy who makes the big plays, and he has four World Series titles to his credit.

Buck: Clearly the two of us are thoroughly in love with Derek Jeter.

McCarver: Ah, c'mon! I knew, see, when I say 'at the risk of going ga-ga' I knew that you would point out that I was going ga-ga.

Buck: Well, I was over there too, I was in Ga-Ga Land, too. (In an exaggerated broadcaster tone dripping with sarcasm.) He's a winner, he's a born leader, this is a live Yankeeography . . .

McCarver: (Laughs uncomfortably)

Buck: . . . this handsome, debonair, swashbuckling...

McCarver: Quit it!

Buck: . . . he's the last guy to wear number 2 for the Yankees. He is Derek Jeter and he is out. One away here in the third inning.

McCarver: Cut it out. (More forced laughter.)

Buck: Somehow Glendon Rusch got him to ground out. And here's Womack. Ga-Ga Land is shut down for Tony Womack. The rides are closed.

Two points: 1) If a Sox fan ever encounters Buck in a bar, he is obligated to offer him a beer, a thank you, and a handshake. 2) If McCarver shows up for work in a No. 2 Yankee jersey and demanding to be called "Captain" - a distinct possibility judging by sound of it - Jeter might want to consider getting a restraining order. He could have a Single White Female situation on his hands here, and his intangibles are no match for McCarver's obsessed devotion.

(By the way, whatever happened to Bridget Fonda?)

4) TATB's Out On A Limb Prediction Of The Week: The Indians will finish ahead of the Twins in the AL Central standings, and they'll put a September scare into the White Sox at the very least.

(Pay no mind to that sound of shattering glass you just heard. That was my cousin Kris The White Sox Fan smashing his Jorge Orta Commemorative Plate Collection, enraged by such a hurtful proclamation by his own flesh and blood.)

Seriously, these young Indians - who had won nine in a row before last night's 10-9 shootout loss to the Red Sox - are fun, aren't they? They sort of remind you of the formative, pre-arrogant-jerk, early-'90s Tribe teams of Baerga, Belle, Lofton and a goofy hitting savant named Ramirez. Grady Sizemore is five-tool star in the making, Travis "Pronk" Hafner can mash, Victor Martinez is the best young catcher in baseball, and Coco Crisp, god bless his mother, is named after a delicious cereal. And anyone who's ever gulped down a half-dozen chocolate glazed when one would suffice simply has to root for C.C. Sabathia, the only pitcher in the majors whom David Wells can call "Big Guy." Yeah, Drew Carey had it right. Cleveland rocks.

(Little-known fact: Sabathia's hat isn't crooked. His head is.)

5) My memory may be misleading me, but back in the days when the Yankees won championships and Joe Torre had the privilege of selecting the All-Star pitchers and reserves the following season, I seem to recall him picking every eligible Empire employee, up to and including Clay Bellinger. So it's with much anticipation that I wait to see if/how Tito Francona rewards his own guys this year. I imagine one nepotism pick will be Timlin. He deserves to go, no doubt, but he probably wouldn't get chosen by any manager but his own; middle relievers and setup men get little in the way of accolades. I imagine Francona will give the deserving Matt Clement the proper respect, as well as Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Johnny Damon should any of the three not get voted in. However, should Ramon Vazquez get an All-Star invite . . . well, Tito will have trumped Torre again.

6) Every Sox fan I know is fond of Gabe Kapler. He was versatile, played hard, carried himself with class, and cherished being One Of The 25 last October. Kapler got it. But those who suggest the Sox would be better off bringing him back from Japan and granting Jay Payton his wish to be traded are misguided. Payton's the better player. It's hardly a wide gap - each appears on the other's Most Similar Players list on baseball-reference.com - but it's enough of a margin to matter. And while Payton is struggling with his new role as a fourth outfielder, his statistics (.270 average, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs in 111 at-bats) are approaching Kapler's of a season ago (.272 average, 6 HRs, 33 RBIs in 227 at-bats). You have to figure he will only get better as the season goes on and he continues to adjust. Sure, Kapler appreciates playing for the Red Sox more, but Payton helps the Red Sox more. All options considered, I prefer the latter.

7) I'm no fan of the contrived interruption in the schedule known as interleague baseball, but you do learn some things. For instance: Tim Wakefield runs like he's being chased by a flock of angry birds . . . Darryle Ward is a dead-ringer for Troy O'Leary . . . Jack Wilson is the Gold Glove-caliber shortstop Edgar Renteria was advertised to be . . . and most notably, the Cincinnati Reds stink. How lousy are they? Joe Morgan will soon be denying he ever played for them.

8) Seems apparent now that all the hype regarding Freddy Sanchez two years ago was the result of having little else in the farm system to get excited about. He's 27 now, almost 28, and while he occasionally wows you with the glove, the Pirates' third baseman-by-default is on the Utility Player For Life career path. He always was, really. If he were in the Sox system today, Baseball America would drop his name only as an afterthought.

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

The Bob Tewksbury of shortstops.