Sunday, August 21, 2005

Nine innings 08.21.04

Playing nine innings while wondering if David Ortiz complains about called strikes as much as Kevin McHale complained about fouls . . .

1) I get the vibe from watching the Angels that Orlando Cabrera (above, getting jiggy with K-Rod) has a better chance of making it back to the World Series this year than his former team does. (No, I don't mean the Expos, smart guy.) Among playoff contenders, the Angels have superior pitching depth to the Sox and Yankees, and superior offense to the White Sox and A's. They catch the ball well, run the bases aggressively, have a legit ace in Bartolo Colon, and feature an elite slugger in Vlad Guerrero who is fully capable of pulling a Papi and carrying a club in October. Assuming Garret Anderson returns to healthy, one through 25, this is a better team than the one that won it all three years ago. You want a prediction? All right, clip 'n' save, punk: The Angels will end the Red Sox's reign, win the American League pennant, then lose to the Cardinals in what Fox will hype as the David Eckstein Bowl.

2) So Curt Schilling finally gets this closer thing down pat - he was electric in his two-inning, four-strikeout performance Friday - and so the Sox decide now is a good time to move him into the rotation? Bunch of morons running this team, I tell ya. Francona, Epstein . . . do these fools even think about this stuff before they do it? Do they even follow baseball? (Whoops . . . guess I was channeling an WEEI caller there for a second. My apologies.) Silly digressions aside, it seems to me this is the ideal time to find out if Schilling is capable of being the staff anchor they need him to be come October. It's certainly smart to have him make his return to the rotation against the Royals, the equivalent of a Triple A rehab start. Crossing our fingers. let's hope he takes the mound Thursday equipped with the stuff he had Friday. Fastball, splitter, and slider - all three pitches were as sharp as we have seen it this season. He looked ready, like the Schilling of old rather than an old Schilling, and you'd better believe that the Sox season hinges on the former making far more appearances than the latter.

2) All right, so maybe Fernando Rodney laughed last, and someone named Scot Shields whiffed him in a crucial situation Saturday. I still don't understand why anyone messes with Big Papi with the game on the line. Just throw him four balls, and deal with Manny. While Ramirez is a better pure hitter than Papi, his late-inning accomplishments aren't on the same scale - hell, no one's are as far as I know, with the exception of Yaz in '67 and Reggie Jackson a decade later. How many game-changing and game-winning hits does Ortiz have to get before managers realize this? (Aside to Joe Torre: This doesn't apply to you, old buddy. Keep pitching to him. Really. It's safe. Heck, that's what you got Embree for, right?) And while we ponder that Great Unanswered Question, here's one more: What's the real reason the Minnesota Twins let Ortiz go three years ago? Has this ever been adequately answered? Aaron Gleeman, a Twins fan and one of the most engaging baseball writers on the 'Net, offers the most in-depth explanation we have seen here.

4) If you're of my generation - 30-something, or the point where you're beginning to consider lying about your age - you remember when the Kansas City Royals were one of baseball's model franchises. In the late '70s and early '80s, every damn time the Red Sox went to Kansas City, it seemed Willie Wilson would hit an inside-the-park homer, Larry Gura or Paul Splitorff would finesse their way to a two-hit shutout, Amos Otis and Frank White would put on a defensive clinic, and George Brett and Hal McRae would take turns ricocheting line drives all over the Kaufman Stadium turf. Inevitably, after a four-game set, the oafish Sox would lumber back to Boston, fortunate to have taken a game from the faster, more fundamentally competent Royals. I imagine the Sox players dreaded that road trip as much as fans did. I mention this now just as a reminder that the Royals, losers of 19 of their last 20 and with no hope on the horizon, weren't always so pathetic. They were a proud franchise for a long time - world champions, even -and though they were a source of repetitive aggravation to a young Sox fan, I prefer to remember them as what they were, and not what they have become.

5) Trivia time: What do Ruben Gotay, Jose Molina, Miguel Olivo, and Nick Green have in common? Well, yes, I suppose "they all s---" is technically a correct answer. But the answer we were looking for is this: they all have five homers, or one more than Kevin "Cowboy Out" Millar. On the plus side, Millar's slugging percentage this season is now almost as high as Joey Gathright's. So that's something - Gathright's going to hit his first major-league homer any day now, you know.

6) Judging by the flood of correspondence arriving in the TATB mailroom (or email box, at least) in recent days, it seems all 62 (yes, 62!) of our readers dug the snippets we culled and posted from Bill James's old Player Ratings books. Glad to know all you guys, girls and RuPaul wannabes are as delightfully nerdy as we are. Public opinion considered, we've decided to make it a recurring feature here, since James had enough interesting opinions and hit-or-miss predictions to keep us entertained for a while. And with that exciting announcement, here's one that reader John W. sent along from James's 1990 Abstract:

"What a worthless player. [He] has the lowest career secondary average of any active player. What makes this especially striking is that almost everybody else in the bottom ten is a shortstop, and not really expected to contribute much offensively. ... Those middle infielders, if they can chip in a single here and there you're happy with it, but what exactly is it that [he] does?"

And suddenly, I think we have an adequate explanation why the decomposing carcass of Kevin Millar remains in the lineup: his manager has an affinity for no-hit, no-run, no-field first basemen/outfielders, having been one himself. Yep, that's our very own Terry Francona that James is writing about there, as if the baseball card didn't clue you in. Hmmm . . . wonder if they've ever discussed James's opinion of his playing ability while shooting the breeze at Fenway?

7) First Matt Clement in Tampa Bay, then Tim Wakefield Thursday night in Anaheim, and then again Keith Foulke Friday while throwing batting practice to Trot Nixon. Yeah, I'd say Sox pitchers getting drilled by batted balls is becoming something of a dangerous epidemic. What's the solution? Duck! Beyond that, full-body armor, much like what Barry Bonds used to wear way back when he was an active player. I do know this: If John Olerud were any kind of teammate at all, he'd have already offered one of his spare Magic Safety Helmets to each and every pitcher on the staff. Which reminds me of another digression: Was anyone else caught off guard Friday night when, after Olerud made the last out one inning, he removed his M.S.H. to reveal . . . a full head of actual human hair?! Maybe it's because every mental picture I have of him is with the helmet on, but to see him M.S.H.-less . . . dude, it sorta freaked me out. I mean, who knew the thing was detachable?

8) Semi-funny moment on WEEI Friday during host Michael Holley's phone interview with Craig Hansen, the heat-chucking phenom who's with the Sea Dogs for now but could/should be with the big club by the time you read this. Holley, noting that Hansen's bio in the St. John's media guide said he considered attending Columbia and Yale, asked the recent first-round pick why he chose the Red Storm instead. Said Hansen matter-of-factly: "Oh, I totally made that up for my bio as a freshman. It was a joke. I, uh, didn't quite have the grades to go Ivy League, man. No one caught on until now. You've exposed my secret." Okay, so it's not that funny, but it's a pretty good indication that the kid will fit in with these Sox just fine.

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

Terry Mulholland's evil twin demonstrates his special "Hanging Meatball" grip.