Tuesday, August 16, 2005

TATB Notebook: 08.16.05

Touching all the bases while wondering when "SportsCenter" officially became "HowTerrellOwensMadeAnAssOfHimselfTodayCenter" . . .

Just before I sat down to peck out this masterpiece tonight, I take a peek at my email. Four messages, all with some variation of the same theme: Schilling s---. A bit harsh, my friends, but yeah, I guess that closing gig didn't go so well tonight. Schilling entered with a 6-4 Red Sox lead, a game that seemed to be in the bag for most of the night. But before you can say "Get well soon, Foulkie," Schilling coughed up three runs, turning a sure victory into a 7-6, holy-crap-did-they-really-just-lose crusher. Worse, it was the second straight game that he has looked awful (he allowed two homers in the ninth against the White Sox Saturday) and while he has stabilized the bullpen (nine saves in 11 chances), you can't help but have serious concerns about his ability to morph back into a No. 1 starter in time for October. Schilling's velocity is still down - he occasionally hits 93, but usually hovers around 90 - which is a big difference from the 96 mile per hour gas he threw last fall. Which leads us to a bigger problem; he simply can't finish off hitters when he has two strikes on them. His fastball has lost enough steam that hitters are sitting on his splitter, confident they can foul off the hard stuff if they get fooled. You hope his velocity comes back the more he pitches, and his old, lights-out stuff has made an appearance now and then, but it's alarming to say the least that he's still inconsistent after 16 relief appearances. I hate to say it, but I still can't shake the feeling that Schilling sacrificed a few years of his career in order to become a legend last fall. It's a tradeoff all of us would accept every single time, Schilling included, but the aftermath sure hasn't been much fun so far.

* I have to admit, a part of me enjoyed watching Tigers fans savor every moment of the comeback, even giving charismatic-in-a-homeless-sort-of way Dmitri Young a standing ovation after his triple cut the Sox lead to 6-5. It wasn't so long ago that the Tigers were a model franchise playing in front of loyal, knowledgeable fans in a beloved old ballpark. But it sure seems long ago. A Scrooge of an owner, some nitwit general managers, and a new ballpark that lacks the character of its predecessor have conspired to demoralize the ballclub and its fans. It's hard not to see the Tigers in all their depressed mediocrity and think: With the wrong people in charge, that could have been us.

* Okay, since you asked - well, four of you asked, which is a majority in my book - here's one more writeup from Bill James's 1994 Player Ratings Guide. See if you can guess the player - as always, someone with ties to the Red Sox. I'll post the answer when I damn well feel like it. (Oh, all right, it'll be at the bottom of this post. Sticklers.) :

"A righthanded Danny Jackson, throws a slider on the fists that looks like nobody would ever hit it, and if he gets in a groove can get three men out in a minute and a half. If he's not in a groove and the umpire doesn't give him the corner, he's useless. Has had elbow trouble, and failed to build on a fine rookie season, but is still capable of a big year."

* Nah, I'm not quite ready for some football yet. My interest turns toward the NFL at about the same time the leaves turn bright colors, which is why I found myself sneaking peeks at the Sox game the other night (I was at work) rather than at the Pats game on the other television. So I'm in no position yet to be making grand proclamations about this team. At the moment, all I'm sure about regarding the two-time defending Super Bowl champs is that Matt Cassel can punch his ticket for Canton. Obviously. In all seriousness, it's apparent even to someone who barely kept one eye on the tube the other night that this is definitely the most talented team they have had. Their depth is astounding, especially when you realize that last year's main weakness, the injury-ravaged defensive backfield, could be one of its strengths this season. Whether it's the best team remains to be seen - Tedy Bruschi's absence is the great unknown - but that's why we watch on all those Sundays, right?

* While Bruschi supplied the spirit to the Patriots' championship defense, Ty Law gave it its ego, its brashness, its arrogance to succeed. I've always thought it was Law's honest belief that the Patriots could shut down the Rams' supposedly unstoppable offense was an unsung factor in their first Super Bowl victory - and then of course, Law went out made his case with an MVP-worthy performance, intercepting a pass for a touchdown and hitting Torry Holt so hard so often that he ended up looking like Sam Cassell when it was over. Yeah, I'll miss him. He was a great Patriot, one who played his best under the bright lights (right, Peyton?), a guy who had his ups and downs here off the field, but when all was said and done, could make the argument that he was the best defensive back in franchise history, Hall of Famer Mike Haynes included. He's a Jet now, and to be honest, the end is probably near - 30-something defensive backs with creaky feet tend to show up on highlight shows for all the wrong reasons. But just as is the case with Curtis Martin (TATB's all-time favorite Patriot), I'll be rooting for him 14 times a year. He may be wearing green and white now, but in our mind's eye, when we think of him diving to catch a Manning duck or jumping in front of a Warner floater to the flat, he'll forever be wearing red, white, and blue.

* Who's got a better life than Bronson Arroyo? He's a popular, dependable starting pitcher - albeit one who needs to get better command of his damn fastball - for the World Champion Boston Red Sox at a moment when they've never been more beloved. As if his day job isn't cool enough, the fledgling rock star thing is working out swimmingly (his debut album "Covering All The Bases" is ranked a respectable 212th on the Amazon sales charts at last check). The way tfate smiles upon the guy, the fellas from Pearl Jam might call and offer him Eddie Vedder's gig any day now. Seriously, who's got a sweeter deal than Cornroyo? All right, I'll give you Brad Pitt, for past accomplishments more than present. But who else?

* My wife emailed me this pic a while back, and I've been meaning to post it for no other reason than it cracks me up;

That's the Orioles' Melvin Mora (the shellshocked-looking one), his wife, and a whole hell of a lot of mini-Moras. Tell me there's no pressure on him to get his next contract. Should he ever make the Law/Sprewell proclamation that "I've gotta feed my family," you really have to take him at his word.

* Rex Grossman goes down. Matt Cassel steps up. Am I the only wondering why Rohan Davey hasn't been traded to the Bears yet?

* As you've probably figured, TATB isn't exactly hockey country. We tend to root for our Maine Black Bears alumni, and maybe a few random, likeable players (Brian Rolston, Anson Carter) we encountered during our college hockey beat writer days, rather than cheer for a specific team. (At least until Jeremy Jacobs accidentally locks himself in his vault. Then and only then will the Bruins will get our commitment and our dollars again.) But we are happy the NHL has returned to a rink near you, if only for this reason: we can't wait to see which players show up 40 pounds heavier than when they left. If you recall, the NBA lockout is when Shawn Kemp morphed from a lithe, sky-walking All-Star into a bloated, floor-bound shell of his former self. (On the plus side: The lockout gave him time to become a daddy for the 4,093d through the 4,342d times.) Vin Baker is another who used the downtime to expand his horizons, so to speak, though we later found out his vice was something more sinister than Cool Ranch Doritos and Pepsi. And don't forget, the reason Roger Clemens was supposedly out of shape during his, er, "twilight" seasons with the Red Sox was that he was caught off guard by the end of the '94 strike and hadn't had time to get back into shape. So with that history of players turning plump during labor disputed, you have to figure certain NHL stars are going to come back larger than life. (Again, so to speak.) So who will be the big fat fatties, as Freddie Mercury would say? Don't know yet, though it's good to know that Jumbo Joe Thornton is anything but - he looks ready to play today. But we'll know soon enough - they'll be the Zeppelin-sized dudes wheezing up and down the ice of this new, wide-open NHL. (My money's on Brett Hull, since you asked.)

* If you didn't snicker when Pedro's bid for a long-overdue no-hitter turned into a loss in a matter of two batters Saturday, well, you're a better man than I. Sure, part of me was rooting for him to get it, if only because it's a crime that a pitcher of his accomplishment is lacking such a feat on his resume, while a nobody like Joe Cowley has one. (Same goes for Clemens.) But ultimately, the devil on my right shoulder swayed me with his argument, which went like this: If Pedro wasn't going to get his no-hitter with the Red Sox, during his prime, then who cares if he ever gets one now? Silly, I know. But that's how we cynics roll, yo.

* They're a trendy pick with the "experts," but anyone who seriously thinks the Minnesota Vikings will win the NFC title is forgetting three things: 1) The pencil behind Mike Tice's ear has a better chance of coaching a Super Bowl team than Mike Tice does. 2) Sure, it might have been the only play in Mike Tice's complex playbook, but Daunte Culpepper's most effective pass play was the oh-what-the-hell bomb to Randy Moss, and while his arm is strong, I don't think Culpepper can throw the ball all the way to Oakland. 3) The only way Mike Tice - who is dumber than a No. 2 pencil, if you're sensing a theme here - gets to the Super Bowl is if he hangs on to a few of those tickets he likes to sell.

* Back when the Sox season was young, we vowed not to write about Johnny Damon's contract situation in this space, Our thinking was that it will be a hot-button topic on talk radio every time he goes 2 for 4 with a run scored, and you'll get more than your fill from the screaming banshees. And besides, there really is no debate. Damon is essential to the Red Sox now and in future, and I just wanted to take this moment to offer appreciation for a couple of aspects of the Johnny Damon Experience that often get overlooked in all the talk about his hair and other Inside Track silliness. Sure, he's got the Hollywood pretty-boy thing working for him now, but those of us who watch him everyday appreciate how damn un-Hollywood he is. The guy is a ballplayer, through and through. He's tough, fearless, plays through injuries, and inspires confidence every time he's at the plate when the game's on the line. Okay, we're down a run, but Damon will get on here, Renteria will move him over, and Papi or Manny will win the damn thing. Further, he's proven that he not only can survive in Boston, but can thrive here, a special characteristic that most of the current Sox players are blessed with, but something that had been hard to find in the recent past. All we need to do is recall the depressing days of Damon's T-Rex-dissing predecessor to realize how fortunate we are to watch this guy play.

* Got this email a day or so ago from my good buddy Nuts, a Cowboys fan so devout (demented) that he speaks openly about the nude Troy Aikman figurine he keeps by his bedside. The subject line read "earth-shattering news":

Loyal cowboys beat writer Jean Jacques-Cousteau has this report on an unnamed quarterback. Give ya one guess:

"He was sacked twice and knocked down at least three other times. He also showed a tendency to hold onto the ball too long but that could have also been the result of the Cowboys' receivers' inability to get open."

Hmmmm, lemme see . . . sounds familiar. Gotta be Tony Romo, right? All right, so Drew's up to his old tricks already in Dallas. You know the maddening routine - patting the ball, locking onto one receiver, holding onto the ball until the defensive jailbreak arrives - all the bad habits he never quite corrected over the course of his 13-year career. This is somewhat disheartening news for those of us who think Bledsoe is going to revitalize his stagnant career in Dallas. Now, don't take me for one of those blind loyalists who think Bledsoe should never have lost his job to Brady. It's obvious now that it's the right choice, just as it was obvious then. I'll will remain convinced until the day he accidentally injects truth serum and admits it that Bill Belichick would have eventually benched Bledsoe for Brady during the 2001 season. He had an inkling then that he had something special, which is why Brady shot up from fourth to second on the depth chart in a matter of a summer. But I digress; I think Dallas and Bledsoe is an ideal match at this point in time, for one reason, really: The Parcells Effect. He's the one coach, other than Daddy Mac, who has been able to get Bledsoe to play with discipline. Think about it: Pete Carroll gave his superstar free reign; Belichick spent half the game yelling at Bledsoe because he refused to make the short, simple throw when there was the slight possibility of a bigger play, a difference in philosophies that caused a chasm long before Brady arrived on the scene; and Buffalo treated him as the savior after his glorious early days with the Bills, thus giving him more responsibility and trust than he could handle. Which brings him to Dallas, and this crossroads. The common perception is that Bledsoe is finished, that a cement-cleated drop-back passer is a dinosaur from another age. I'm not so sure, though, because he can still do the one thing he has always done: throw the s--- out of the ball. Bledsoe has lost a lot of things - his pride, his job, his reputation - but he has not lost his fastball. I suspect Parcells realizes that, and will try to do with Bledsoe what he did with Vinny Testaverde with the Jets: He'll put him on a short leash, demand that he throw the ball away if nothing opens up immediately, sculpt the offense around his strengths (hello, Jason Witten), and give him hell whenever he deviates from the master plan. It worked with Testaverde, who was the best quarterback in the AFC his first year with Parcells, And it could work with Bledsoe, who is with a coach he respects, is surrounded by talent that complements his own, can still bring the heat with the moment demands it, and frankly, has nothing left to lose. Yeah, I think Drew Bledsoe bounces back this year. So he's starting slowly. Would it really be like him to make it easy?

* Think Billy Beane (yup, that's him as a Met) is feeling vindicated these days? All those closed-minded baseball lifers who were threatened by the unconventional ideas about constructing a baseball team detailed in "Moneyball" were eager to write off the A's after their terrible start, and you got the sense there was an extra dose of venom in there for Beane. (That means you, Joe Morgan.) It was easy to claim that the A's success in recent years was due almost entirely to the Big Three of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, and since Mulder and Hudson were traded, the A's were surely finished, headed for a lengthy rebuilding process. But a strange thing happened on the way to last basement: the A's started winning. And winning. And winning some more. Danny Haren, acquired for Mulder, looks like he may be the superior pitcher in the coming seasons, a development that wouldn't stun Sox fans who were wowed by him in relief during Game 1 of the World Series. (Thanks for not using him again, Genius.) Several young players have blossomed at once: Rich Harden has emerged as the new stopper, closer Huston Street succeeds where Octavio Dotel failed, and excitable outfielder Nick Swisher is a sweet-swinging rookie of the year candidate. Meanwhile, 26-year-old senior citizen Eric Chavez has finally become a leader as well as a slugger, and Willie Mays Payton has been mashing the ball since whining his way out of Boston. The A's lead the wild card by a game and a half over Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small and the mighty Yankees, and much to the dismay of Morgan and other morons of the world, Oakland's rebuilding process took about two months. That familiar smirk on Beane's face? It's justified.

* Which reminds me; When you get done hanging out in this corner of cyberspace, be sure to find your way over to FireJoeMorgan.com. I've linked to these guys before, but if ESPN's pompous, ignorant, ill-informed baseball commentator aggravates you as much as he does me, the site is worth checking out on a semi-daily basis. Their hilarious deconstructions of his ESPN.com "chats" almost make you want Morgan to remain employed, just so these guys can keep ripping him into teeny little pieces. I said almost.

* Judging by the RemDawg's reaction - I'd describe it as hysterical laughter mixed with an alarming, please-quit-the-cigs-Jerry cough - I'm guessing tonight's Comerica nudists made Will Ferrell in "Old School" look studly by comparison. "We're going streaking!" NESN took the prudent route and didn't show the fools - nobody needs to see a naked, homely man (I'll leave this space empty for my wife to insert a joke of her choice) - but you almost wished they were when Remy howled, "Look out, Manny!"

* So by my accounting, Roger Clemens, in the midst of Year 9 of his twilight, is having quite possibly his most amazing season yet, all things considered: an 11-4 record, 108 hits allowed in 164 innings, and astounding, Gibsonesque 1.37 ERA (His road ERA? 0.37, and no, that is not a typo.) I can't stand the guy, but you have to admire him, and I hope he doesn't retire after this season - I want to see how long he can keep this up. He could be the best 40-plus pitcher of all time - but he has some tough competition, and from exactly whom you might expect . At age 44 in 1991, Nolan Ryan went 12-6 with a 2.91 ERA. Nice numbers - but it gets better. Check these eye-poppers out. In 173 innings, Ryan allowed 102 hits, walked 72, (for a league-best WHIP of 1.006) and struck out 203. At 44! Simply amazing. And two years earlier, at a spry 42, he struck out 302, leading the league. If Clemens needs another challenge, more motivation to stick around, there's this: He has a ways to go to be the most dominating geezer from Texas in baseball history. Oh, and if Rocket wants to further emulate his hero, it wouldn't hurt if he kicked Robin Ventura's a$$ just for the hell of it, either.

* We forget it now, 300-some-odd victories later, but Clemens had major shoulder surgery during his second season with the Sox, and as ESPN.com's Alan Schwarz reminds us in this outstanding piece here , the Rocket's career was nearly over before it began.

* Random Pop Culture Observation: I keep reading how Jeremy Piven is a lock to win an Emmy for his hilarious turn as agent Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage" (currently the favorite show in the TATB household). While he does steal his share of scenes, it surprises me that discerning viewers don't realize that Piven has played every character exactly the same way in every movie and and television show he has ever appeared in. "Grosse Point Blank," "Lucas," "Old School" - he's relied upon the same unusual, scenery-chewing quirks and mannerisms in each different role. It's not great acting. It's a schtick that's worked for him to the point that he's had 20 years of steady work. I'm curious to see if the Emmy voters realize as much.

* Quick housekeeping item about this site. You may have noticed we closed down the comments section for a few days. Nothing personal to those of you who do post regularly - in fact, I sorta missed you goofy b-stards. (I consider all of you the Warren to my Pat Healy.) It's just that the ratio of emails to posts is about 40 to 1 these days, and I think part of the reason for that is that Blogger.com makes it a pain to post if you don't have an account with them. So I spent a few days searching around for a more user-friendly system, found one, and may be implementing that in the next few days. In the meantime, I've turned the comments back on. Now please, quit asking me if I've seen your baseball, and keep the emails coming. It's what fuels me to keep doing this (well, that and the $24.14 I've made from the Amazon ads) and, who knows, I may start posting a mailbag column now and then.

(Also, please pardon any typos and other language-assaulting blunders in this baby. It's 5:43 a.m. Even a copy editor needs to sleep. I'll get 'em later.)

* As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Is that you, Baby Jesus?

* Oh, almost forgot . . . the player from the Bill James book: Mike Timlin. Seems to me that if he was really the "righthanded Danny Jackson," - a dubious comparison considering Jackson was always a starter - the Sox should be on the horn trying to locate the real, lefthanded Danny Jackson, pronto. Because he cannot possibly be any worse than Mike Remlinger.