Friday, September 16, 2005

Nine innings: 09.16.05

Playing nine innings while resigned to the fact that the AL East race will to come down to Game 162 against you-know-who . . .

1) Considering the Yankees are now a game back in the loss column . . . considering they've made up three games in 7 days . . . considering the Schilling we saw last night was the pistol-whipped-by-Royals version and not the shutting-up-55,000-New-Yorkers version . . . considering Nixon, Mueller, Varitek and Olerud seem like lesser ballplayers in comparison to Zaun, Hillenbrand, Hinske and Reed Freakin' Johnson at the moment . . . considering Papi's back is starting to ache from carrying this whole damn team himself in the late innings . . . considering maddening Manny continues to foul off or flail at pitches he used to hit to the Mass Pike . . . considering Clement seems to be preparing for his annual September swan dive . . . considering the bullpen should be torched for the insurance money . . . considering valiant Johnny D. now needs Manny as a cutoff man . . . considering Francona is experimenting with his bullpen and resting players as if the lead is 10 games . . . considering I keep wondering if Guidry will be pitching against Torrez at Fenway in a few weeks . . . considering all of this . . . well, no, I guess I'm not as nervous as I should be about the Sox's postseason chances. Why do you ask? Something wrong?

2) If you're one of those soulless few who chose to boo the tattered remains of Keith Foulke a few nights ago, I suggest you pop in that "Faith Rewarded" DVD you damn near wore out over the winter, remember how he threw something like 1,918 pitches in the final four games of the ALCS, remind yourself that he had the fearlessness, talent and guts to close out a World Series, traits so many (Stanley, Schiraldi, Burton . . . you know the names) before him lacked, and then ask yourself if the heavy burden he put on his right arm in the postseason is the reason that right arm has betrayed him now. If you give all of this the proper consideration and still boo the man, well, maybe you're a tougher critic than I. Or maybe last October didn't mean as much to you as it did to me.

3) From sources respected (Gammons) and not-so-respected (we won't be cruel), we've been hearing a lot of talk lately that Jason Varitek is the "true MVP" of the Red Sox. To which we reply with a favorite word from the Luis Tiant Abridged Dictionary: Boolcheat. While Varitek certainly brings all of those intangible characteristics that we mock Yankees fans for lauding in Jeter - leadership, hustle, well-timed fist pumps - the reality that not too many tangible things are working in his favor right now. He's in an ill-timed slump at the plate (6 for 44 in September), and while the pitchers rave about throwing to him, the frazzled state of the staff certainly doesn't indicate any steadying influence on his part. Hell, the biggest winner, Tim Wakefield, is caught by Doug Mirabelli. I don't mean this to demean Varitek - he still ranks among the top offensive catchers in baseball, he's ready to glove-slap A-Rod at a moment's notice, and of course, we all know he is extremely valuable. Just not the most valuable, not with Damon and Ortiz in his dugout, and it's silly to suggest as much.

4) You're prepared already, I hope. Sometime in the immediate weeks after the World Series, we'll get word that the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez has edged the so-much-more-deserving-it's-not-even-worth-debating David Ortiz for the AL MVP award. You realize this, right? And you know that shortly after the announcement, the news will trickle out that Papi would have won the award but for some Steinbrenner-scrubbing Yankees beat writer who left him off his ballot entirely. And of course, said writer will go on "SportsCenter," undoubtedly looking like he just rolled out from under a Central Park bench, and justify his decision by claiming a DH doesn't deserve the MVP because he doesn't play defense. And surely you know that it will be revealed soon enough that said New York writer voted for Ron Blomberg for MVP in 1973. You're ready for all of this, right? Good. Hopefully, we won't get so peeved if we're prepared for it.

5) All right, I'll say it if you won't: Edgar Renteria is either hurt, fibbing on his birth certificate, or on the verge of becoming a colossal bust of Jack Clarkian proportions. Yeah, sure, Mr. James, we know his offensive stats are right around his career norms; this isn't about offense. It's about a two-time Gold Glove winner who seems to strain to bend over to field the ball, a player who leads the majors with 27 errors, a player who, when he isn't airmailing a routine throw to second base is, to paraphrase a suddenly popular saying, kicking groundballs up around his face. It's terrible to say, but I hope it's soon revealed that he's got a creaky back or some other injury he's trying to play through. Compared to the alternative explanations for why he's been so erratic - and that's the PG-rated word for his performance - it's the best we can hope for.

6) Sticking with the creaky shortstop theme, did anyone think they'd see the day when Nomar would move to third base, ceding his position to the immortal Neifi Perez? Hard to believe it was fewer than two years ago that it was unthinkable, if not downright blasphemous, to consider asking him to switch when the A-Rod/Red Sox rumors started heating up. It's been a humbling couple of seasons for ol' No. 5, to say the least.

7) The more I see of Tony Graffanino, the more he reminds me of another pretty decent second baseman that once called Fenway home. Marty Barrett, anyone? Much like the Barrett, a steady staple of the talented mid-'80s Sox teams, Graffanino is equally capable of lining a double off the Monster or jetering a single to right. Defensively, he catches everything hit his way and turns the double play gracefully; also like Barrett, he has the range of a particularly immobile kitchen appliance. Strengths and flaws considered, yeah, Graffanino was a pretty shrewd midseason pickup on Theo's part. Too bad he can't pitch.

8) Is it possible that the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians will all make the playoffs? Considering the epic collapse that seems to be in the making with the once-mighty Chicago White Sox, it may be. Chicago, which held a 15-game lead in the AL Central on August 1, now leads the flamebroiling-hot, wild-card leading Indians by just 4.5 games in the division, with six remaining to play between the two ballclubs. Further, while Cleveland's schedule is cupcake city - they have six games remaining with the Royals - the White Sox still must contend with the rival Twins seven more times. The pressure is certainly on - the crew on "Baseball Tonight" has been giddily mentioning them in the same breath as the Mother Of All Collapses, the '64 Phillies - and it seems to be having an effect. High-strung manager Ozzie Guillen, who has the potential to be a modern day Gene Mauch, questioned pitcher Damaso Marte's toughness, then the White Sox went out and lost to the feeble Royals for the second day in a row. After the game pitcher Mark Buehrle said, "We keep on playing like we're playing, we're not going to the playoffs." I hate to say it, because the mental image of my cousin Kris The White Sox Fan crying himself to sleep while wearing his Craig Grebeck jammies breaks my little heart . . . but I think Buehrle is on to something. You read it here first: The White Sox will not be going to the playoffs.

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

Judging by the vaguely demented look on his face, Norrid, a Partner In Grime of our very own Buckethead on the '83 Charleston Charlies, might have been baseball's version of Carl Spackler. Alas, he was no Cinderella story. Norrid never made the bigs.