Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nine innings: 07.19.05

Playing nine innings while wondering if Melky Cabrera regrets listening to Bernie Williams's fielding tips . . .

1) Tom Caron nailed the sentiments of the evening in his intro to the postgame show: "Never thought a victory over the Devil Rays would feel so good." For the first time in what feels like a long time, the Red Sox enjoyed a happy night at the ballpark. Manny walloped his 25th homer, Bronson Vedder pitched seven impressive innings and didn't once tote his guitar to the mound, Alex Cora wowed the crowd with a couple Pokey Moments in the field, and the home team may have even found a closer, what with Curt Schilling nailing down his first save in 13 years with an overpowering 1-2-3 ninth. Even better, the Yankees lost painfully down in Texas on a Hank Blalock homer in the 8th, and B.J. Ryan blew the save for the Orioles in a loss at Minnesota, meaning the Sox are back in first place after a one-day hiatus. After six losses in their previous seven games, I'd like to think this victory means order has been restored, but what's that they say about momentum? It's only as good as the next day's starting pitcher? In that case, go get, 'em, Boomer. We could use a nice, long streak of optimism around here.

A.J. Burnett? Yes, please. We here at TATB have followed his career closely ever since he was prancing and preening and throwing absolute smoke for the Portland Sea Dogs back in 1999, and we've always thought the cocky, ultra-competitive, and charismatic 27-year-old would thrive in a passionate environment like Boston. (And we think a certain ex-owner of the Marlins might agree.) But here's the catch: The three best pitchers we've seen in Portland through the years are, in order, Josh Beckett, Burnett, and Jon Papelbon, and No. 3 is extremely close to No. 2. In other words, I'd love for the Sox to get Burnett, but not at the expense of giving up one of the elite kids, meaning Papelbon, as well as Jon Lester, Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia. I know I'm not the only one eagerly anticipating seeing some primo home-grown talent on this team, and Theo has made it his mission (make that his second mission) to turn the farm system into, in his words, a "player development machine." Unfortunately, it seems it would take at least one of that foursome to bring Burnett here, especially since the Orioles are said to be offering 20-year-old Hayden Penn, their version of Papelbon. But if the Sox could somehow get it done for a package of, say, Arroyo (who reminds me of Burnett in appearance if not ability), Kevin Youkilis, and maybe a player or two from the B-List of prospects such as Kelly Shoppach, Jeremy West or Abe Alvarez, well, consider such a trade nothing less than a coup. I've long believed Burnett was born to pitch in Boston. But with so much talent finally on the farm system's horizon, I want to find out only if the price is right.

3) It's cool to see New England kid Chris Carpenter having such a fantastic season (14-4, 2.34 ERA), but every time the Cardinals' All-Star ace collects another win and earns another headline, I'm reminded of an opportunity lost for the Red Sox. Back in October, 2002, Carpenter was released by the Blue Jays, a transaction that was nothing short of stunning. Even though he'd missed much of the season with a shoulder injury (and would miss all of 2003 as well), he was young (27), undeniably talented (a first-round pick in 1993, he went 12-7 as a rookie), and well-regarded in the clubhouse (he'd be the starting pitcher on the Peter Gammons Very Special Person All-Stars.) Those in the know figured the Blue Jays' trash was certain to be someone's treasure, most likely the Red Sox's. Then-GM Dan Duquette (remember him?) loved gambling on reclamation projects - Bret Saberhagen and Ramon Martinez, most notably - and Carpenter seemed like he filled the bill on all counts. Heck, he's a lifelong Red Sox fan who grew up in New Hampshire and - get this - lived next door to Carlton Fisk for a time. But, surprisingly, Duquette never showed much of an interest - who knows, he might have been busy trying to reacquire Robinson Checo and Sang-Hoon Lee - and the Cardinals swooped in, signing Carpenter to a one-year, $1 million deal in December, 2002. They bided their time while he rehabbed, and after coming back to win 15 games last season, Carpenter has emerged as the best righthanded pitcher in the National League who doesn't answer to "Yo, Rocket." While injuries are always a concern - an injured biceps kept him out of the World Series last fall - it's a risk that is reaping many rewards in St. Louis. If only the Sox had taken such a gamble three years ago.

4) After enduring that new Chrysler commercial approximately 62 times during tonight's Sox telecast, I know this much to be true: no one is praying for "Seinfeld: The Movie" more than Jason Alexander.

5) Dave Jauss and the Red Sox scouting staff earned plaudits for their scouting reports last postseason, particularly during the World Series, when Cardinals sluggers Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols were made to look like scrubs for the Bridgeport Bluefish. Lately, though, I've been wondering just how effective the Sox's advance scouting really is. It seems to me that by now, they'd have found the holes in the swing of say, Reed Johnson, or David Newhan, or John Flaherty, or any of the other mediocrities who consistently and maddeningly punish the Sox. I mean, c'mon, shouldn't they know by now what the rest of the league knows about Ted Lilly? Shouldn't they have solved Rodrigo Lopez like most everyone else has? Sure, some of it is the players' fault - sometimes, you can have all the info in the world and still not execute. That's baseball. But when the same old Ordinary Joes (and Reeds, and Rodrigos) are whuppin' you time and again, maybe you're not as prepared as you should be.

6) Apparently, Sox fans aren't the only ones who react to Joe Morgan's voice in the same violent way Kramer did to Mary Hart's. In what is inevitably becoming a regular feature here at TATB, here's the Joe Morgan Is A Freakin' Idiot Link Of The Week.

7) Fifteen years after he was chosen along with Tony Clark, Carl Everett, Mike Mussina, Larry Jones Jr. (Chipper is much cooler), and the immortal Todd Van Poppel in the first round of the 1990 draft, Adam Hyzdu, is still fighting to establish himself as a major-leaguer. Traded back to the Sox yesterday for the footnote named Scott Cassidy, he's 33 now, unlikely to shed the "Quadruple A player" label. Pawtucket will be his destination once Gabe Kapler is ready, but give the guy a cheer while he's here. My moles tell me Hyzdu is one of the funniest guys in baseball, liked in every one of the 3,829 clubhouses he's been in, and you have to figure he truly loves the game to have endured so much disappointment along the way.

8) Oh, all right, why not - here's one more Joe Morgan Is An Idiot link. (Added bonus: a few verbal slaps at Harold Reynolds and Tim "Jeter Thinks This Restraining Order Is Going To Stop Me From Loving Him But It Only Makes Me Love Him More" McCarver.)

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

It had to happen. He was giving up home runs at a Wasdinian rate, his fastball had suspiciously morphed into a meatball, and on top of all that, it's hard to respect a professional athlete who looked this dorky in high school. Yes, it was time for Alan Embree to turn in his playbook, or whatever it is weary ballplayers do when they're told their services are no longer needed. But damn, I am going to miss the guy. He was One Of The 25, and a crucial one, for he was the one who accomplished something we weren't sure we'd ever witness: he got the last out against the Yankees to clinch a playoff series, and on their sacred turf, no less. As I type this, hanging on the wall to my right is a wonderful gift my father-in-law gave me: The front page of the Globe the day after the Sox won the World Series. On this day when Embree's tenure with the Red Sox came to a sad conclusion, the framed newspaper serves as a reminder that without him, our most joyous moments as a sports fan may never have happened. So happy trails, Lefty, and thank you. Should the road lead you back to Boston - and we imagine it will, because once a conquering hero, always a conquering hero in these parts - we promise that we'll speak only of the good old days, and not the recent dark ones. And you better believe the beer is on us.