Friday, September 02, 2005

Double take

Scattered thoughts on the Pats and Sox . . .

* He hasn't improved a lick in his three seasons as a Patriot, and there are whispers that a Don't-sweat-it-dude attitude is the culprit. That said, I breathed a sigh of relief when Bethel Johnson survived today's final cut. Some thought his removal from the physically unable to perform list last week was Belichick's way of telling him to get his skinny a-- on the field or prepare to turn in his playbook. While he played against the Giants, he was less than impressive. But even as an underachiever, Johnson has contributed immensely to the Patriots the last two seasons - his game-clinching catch against the Seahawks was one of the greatest grabs I've seen since the electric John Jefferson hung up the goggles, and we all know what Johnson did against the Colts two years ago as a kick returner. While he may never be much more than a fourth- or fifth-receiver, his beep-beep! speed alone makes him a valuable member of this football team, and I suspect Belichick knew he was keeping him around even as he tried to scare some semblance of a work ethic into the kid.

* Jonathan Papelbon as the set-up guy? You know we like it. It's creative and daring, and it's so crazy it just might work. He certainly was impressive in the eighth inning against Tampa Bay the other night, striking out the side with blistering heat, including the leadoff batter on four pitches that went 93-95-94 (foul)-93 (sit). The kid still has some kinks to work out - his command comes and goes, and the splitter that Curt Schilling taught him is, unfortunately, a lot like Curt Schilling's splitter right now. But the Sox will desperately need a swing-and-miss guy in the bullpen should they survive into October, and Papelbon, who seems as poised as he is talented, is capable of being that guy. They'll only benefit from giving him the chance to prove it.

* Turns out David Terrell wasn't the second coming of Donald Hayes after all. Hayes, who scored a touchdown in his Pats debut before free-falling into obscurity, was better. Terrell, the former No. 1 pick of the Bears whom certain pigskin pundits (hi there) wanted the Pats to select instead of Richard Seymour five years ago, was among 17 players cut today as the two-time defending champs trimmed the roster to the required 53. It seems the only person who was surprised was the player himself. By all accounts, Terrell carried himself during camp as if he were a lock to make the team, while in the meantime spending more time in the hot tub than on the field. When reporters dared suggest to him in recent days that he may not make the Final 53, he dismissed the notion at first, then later said, "If it happens, there are 31 other teams." Well, actually, Dave, there are 30 other teams, since Chicago would switch to a no-receiver offense before bringing you back. We're not much into name-calling here at TATB . . . but man, what a moron. The guy is Michael Irvin minus the production, which is a pretty damn big minus. He arrived with the Pats with a golden chance to resurrect his career as the third receiver on one of the best teams in NFL history, and opportunities likely wouldn't have been lacking considering his rapport with Tom Brady dating back to their days at Michigan. It was the perfect place for him to prove the Bears wrong. Instead, he wore out his welcome here faster than he did in Chicago. He's got talent. He might live up to it, if he only had a clue.

* Might as well admit it: Keith Foulke isn't going to help. Call it a cruel irony, but ever since we mocked Mariano Rivera at the home opener, the Sox bullpen has been a disaster zone, particularly the closer situation before Mike Timlin took over. Meanwhile, Rivera's been better than ever, which is high praise. He was a great sport for laughing along with us that beautiful day; turns out he may laugh last as well.

* Glad to see Christian Fauria held off Jed Weaver for the third-string tight end position - hey, familiarity counts for something - but all things considered, Mike Vrabel is probably as capable at the position as either of them, at least near the goal line.

* I'm not saying that Major League Baseball is capable of such sinister tactics, but after hearing David Wells's apology (I never knew Boomer was so fluent in Lawyer Speak), I'm wondering if sniveling Bud Selig personally gave him the Randle P. McMurphy treatment. Seriously, that was the least believable mea culpa since that time then-Charger Ryan Leaf half-heartedly read a statement apologizing for his dumbass stunt of the week, then crinkled up the paper and chucked it into his locker. (Insert your own joke about it being one of his few completed passes.)

* Three random Patriots predictions: Stephen Neal will make the Pro Bowl, Daniel Graham will have more receptions than Ben Watson, and the invaluable Kevin Faulk will continue to be underrated by those who remember him as a fumble-prone underachiever during the Pete Carroll Era.

* Okay, maybe we've been a little hard on Kevin Millar in this space. Honest, we didn't mean to be so hurtful when we suggested his physique was made up of 1 percent creatine, 99 percent popcorn chicken, or when we wished that the Sox would release him so he could help Embree and Bellhorn sabotage the Yankees from within. While we realize there is a certain amount of b.s. to his personality - the guy is from freakin' Los Angeles, for heaven's sake, and is not the cow-ropin' Texas cowboy he plays on TV - the truth is, we appreciate that cultivated personality, and have since he was signing autographs and kissing babies by the hundreds during his days in obscurity as a non-prospect with the Sea Dogs. Hell, his "Don't Let Us Win This Game" speech to a smirking and bemused media contingent before Game 4 of the ALCS is one of our favorite moments from last season - it gives us chills every time we see it, still. We just happen to like Millar a whole lot better when he's hitting - and for the first time this season, he's on a legitimate hot streak, having hammered his third homer of the homestand tonight.

* After watching Doug Flutie and Matt Cassel perform with Zolakian ineptitude against the Giants, I'm left with two thoughts: 1) The Pats are ruined should the unthinkable happen to Goat Boy. (Duh.) 2) Rohan Davey must have stunk.

* And in a feature we might as well title TATB's Ongoing Attempt At Copyright Infringement, here's one more from Bill James's '93 Player Ratings Guide. See if you can guess the player, someone who has recent ties to the Red Sox:
"A 6-5 slugger, the third player taken in the 1991 draft, played at Orlando in '92 and had a fine year. Manager Phil Roof said he could be a 25-home-run type, and that may be conservative; with luck, he may be the Twins' cleanup hitter after Hrbek. Expected to spend the summer in Triple A, but the Twins have been known to skip that."

The answer . . .

. . . Dave McCarty. Maybe he never quite became "the 25 home-run type" - he had 36 for his career heading into this season - but at the rate things are going, he might just be the Sox's second lefty out of the 'pen in the playoffs.

* I'm not a skilled enough writer or a wise enough human being to try and put the tragedy in New Orleans into immediate perspective; hell, I'm still struggling to comprehend how such a horrific aftermath could happen in the United States. And unlike certain other internet sports writers, I'd like to think I have more self-awareness than to spew 1,500 words on a "love letter" that, when past commentary is considered, reveals itself as a poorly disguised ego trip. But I feel an overwhelming need to say something, and so I will say this: Please, if you can, donate to the Red Cross or a charity of your choice, and help these poor people piece their shattered lives back together. It's the duty of the fortunate.

* As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Giving the phrase "New Orleans Saint" a whole new meaning.