Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Closing time

Timlin in the eighth, Schilling in the ninth? Sounds like a plan to me.

I'm sure you've heard by now. Curt Schilling - he of the 373 career starts and 185 regular-season victories - is going to "pitch out of the bullpen" for the defending World Champions once he returns from his minor-league rehab stint.

And by "pitch out of the bullpen," is there any doubt that the Sox braintrust means precisely this: Schill's our closer until we make a deal or convince the injured and transcendently awful Keith Foulke to quit his new gig manning the flamebroiler at Burger King and get his freakin' act together.

Schilling-as-closer? It's a brilliant idea, and on a few different levels. You have to admire the creative thinking, both by the Sox honchos and by Schilling, whose ego must be immensely satisfied that he's found another original way to be hero.

Further, it generates even more excitement about the team, something we weren't sure was possible. The moment I heard about this - WEEI is good for something on occasion - I immediately caught myself looking forward to the next series with the Yankees, coming up not long after the All-Star break. Fenway's rickety foundation may not survive the raucous, rocking moment Schilling opens the bullpen door and begins ambling toward to mound to face Jeter, A-Rod and Sheffield in the ninth inning of a one-run game.

But make no mistake, this is a temporary solution. Even if Schilling does a passable Mariano Rivera imitation (as passable an imitation that a 280-pound white oaf can do of a graceful 165-pound Panamanian), he'll eventually return to the rotation once his stamina and velocity have returned.

The Red Sox simply will not repeat as World Champions if Schilling hasn't rediscovered his workhorse, No. 1-starter form. Which means the Red Sox still need to get some arms, pronto. Here's my short list of candidates, some serious, some not so much . . .

Billy Wagner, Phillies: The flamethrowing lefty is the best of the possibly available solutions, with a couple of caveats: 1) He's a free agent after the season, and Theo likely would be reluctant to give up any of the jewels from the farm system in order to acquire what would likely be a four-month rental. 2) Unless the Phillies lose, say, 12 of their next 14, they're close enough in the NL East race to consider themselves contenders, especially since Washington is a mirage. (The first-place, feel-good Nats have been outscored by their opponents.) When push comes to shove - and it always does in Philly - I bet Wagner remains in the City Of A Lotta, Lotta Culture.

Eddie Guardado, Mariners: A longtime Red Sox killer, the 34-year-old lefty is quietly have an outstanding year. He boasts a 1.55 ERA and 20 saves, and he's allowed just 18 hits in 29 innings. You have to figure the sinking ship known as the Mariners will move him - c'mon, what use do they have for an aging closer? - and you also have to figure that Everyday Eddie is Theo's most likely target. He's due $4 million next year, a reasonable rate for what he brings, and if he could be had for a couple of prospects outside of the Papelbon/Ramirez/Pedroia/Lester/Moss realm, let's hope the Sox do it. Ask me, he's exactly what they need.

B.J. Ryan, Orioles: A pipe dream? Probably. But Ryan is a free agent at season's end, the Orioles are losing players (Javy Lopez, Erik Bedard) and games (2 wins in their last 13) at a rapid rate, and it's looking more and more like they'll be far enough back by July 31 that they'll be sellers instead of buyers. Ryan has 18 saves and a 2.58 ERA in his first full season as a closer, and at 29 he's in the prime of his career. He's exactly the kind of player the Orioles should be building around, but you never know what Peter Angelos and his two-headed GM will do. If the Orioles keep falling, it's worth an inquiry.

Bronson Arroyo, Red Sox: Yeah, I know, he's already on the roster. But think about it. He's got the ideal, smirky, what-me-worry? makeup to handle the role. Schilling said last postseason that Arroyo has "(baseballs) the size of Saturn," and Francona did not hesitate to use him in crucial situations in relief during the postseason. Heck, he even survived a vicious on-field slapping by a purple-lipped bandit. It's certainly within the realm of possibility that Arroyo could end up with the job. It's just that the ballclub would be better served by Schilling returning to the rotation, Arroyo going to the 'pen to act as a late-inning bridge while taking some heat off Timlin, who is so overworked that he's in danger of being Quantrilled . . . oh, and of course, trading for a closer.

Oil Can Boyd, Brockton Rox: Could he be the modern-day Satchel Paige? Not a pound over his playing weight of - what, 135? - he's pitching and pitching well for the independent Rox at age 45. And much to TATB's delight, in recent years The Can has gone from Banned in Boston . . .

. . . to Beloved in Boston. He was - and is - a showman who arrived in the city 15 years too soon and departed much too early, if that makes any sense. Sure, I'm kidding about The Can's chances - El Duque is the AL's designated 45-year-old, after all - but I'll betcha he throws harder than Foulke.

Bret Boone, free agent: I'm not saying this suspected . . .

. . . well, you know . . . has flipped his last bat, but he has a better chance of helping the Sox as a pitcher than he would as a second baseman. Man, I hope the Yankees sign him and trade Robinson Cano.

John Franco, free agent: I apologize if this seems like I'm stereotyping here, but the Brooklyn-born Franco, who was recently released by the Astros, always looked to me like he should be wearing a Budweiser-stained wife-beater and a green-tinted gold chain while sitting in the Yankee Stadium cheap seats with a few thousand other Joeys who look exactly like him. He should have retired three years ago. No thanks.

Jose Mesa, Pirates: He has 20 saves, but his other statistics - 0-5 record, 4.46 ERA, 31 hits and 24 strikeouts in 30 innings - suggest he's more of a problem than a solution. But check out his other notable stats: Mesa's bio on tells us he was born in 1966, meaning he's 39 years old at the moment. Then it goes on to tell us Mesa was signed by the Blue Jays in 1981 and - prepare to snicker - has a son who was born in 1979. If you're doing the math, that would make Mesa a ripe old 13 when he became a dad, and an ancient 15 when he signed his first pro contract. Call me skeptical, but I'm guessing he's closer to Oil Can's age than he cares to admit.

Ugueth Urbina, Phillies: Only if he's sufficiently tranquilized before getting on any flights.

Curtis Leskanic, Huntin' an' Fishin': You think I'm kidding? I am . . . I think. Leskanic (known around the TATB offices as Let's Panic, we admit) got some huge outs in the playoffs last year, most memorably the Artist Formerly Known As Bernie Williams with the bases loaded in ALCS Game 4. And his arm must be feeling better - the scarred old thing was a hanging by a string of yarn by the end of last season, which is why he walked away. If he did come back, Johnny Pesky would be obligated to greet him just the way he did at the ring ceremony: "Leskanic, you sonofab----!" That alone makes it worth signing him, I say.

Cla Meredith, Pawtucket: Bobby Sprowl, 2005. If he's ever heard from again, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Jon Papelbon, Pawtucket: It may be as a starter. It may be as a long reliever. It may be as a set-up man. But mark these words: This former college closer-turned-hell-of-a-starting-pitcher will contribute to the cause before the season is through.

Byung-Hyun Kim, Colorado/Exile: Hey, you just flipped me the bird, didn't you?

Keith Foulke, ?????: We'll always have St. Louis, man.

Other possibilities, wannabes and suspects: Brian Fuentes, Rockies (lefthanded, funky arm angle, total jerk of a human being); Danys Baez, Tampa Bay (hard thrower, but better off as a setup guy; has blown 6 of 19 chances this season, perhaps in a clandestine attempt to kill Piniella); Miguel Batista, Blue Jays (electric stuff, erratic as hell, but pitched well as a starter in 2001 World Series); Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Mariners (not a bad idea); Ron Villone, Mariners (bad idea); Ramiro Mendoza, Yankees (just seeing if you were still paying attention).

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

So that's what became of Larry Bird's mustache.