Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nine innings: 09.28.05

Playing nine innings while wondering why the hell I ever rooted for the Indians to catch the White Sox . . .

1) When something goes wrong with the Sox or Pats, the sad WEEIzation of our sports culture demands that we rant, drool, rant some more, ignore all common sense and logic, disregard the facts for the sake of a poorly formed argument, and finally, assign blame. So it goes with the hot-button talk-radio topic of the moment: Terry Francona's use of the bullpen. Francona has been flame-broiled in recent days for, among other things, not pitching Jonathan Papelbon in Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader after he'd thrown 25 pitches in Game 1; refusing to use Manny Delcarmen and his 1.80 WHIP in the late innings; not using Craig Hansen; using Craig Hansen; and trusting anyone named Chad. Some of the beefs are legitimate - Papelbon suggested during the postgame show after Tuesday's day game that he'd be ready for the nightcap, and Francona should not be resting the kid's arm at the expense of a chance at a crucial victory. But the more you want to blame Francona for the bullpen's failures, the more you realize he's trying everything he can to stabilize this season-long mess, and it's really not his fault. Who knew that the invaluable Keith Foulke would suffer the first lost season of his fine career, that dependable Alan Embree would help the Sox more by joining the Yankees, that hard-throwing Matt Mantei would crumble with injuries? It's certainly not Francona's fault that the Sox have only one reliever remaining from the crew they began spring training with, Mike Timlin. Nor is it is fault that retreads like Bradford and Harville have not done the job despite repeated chances, that Hansen suddenly looks like he left his slider on campus, that Delcarmen can't be trusted until he has better command. Sure, maybe Francona puts them in a position to fail sometimes, but isn't that one of the hazards of a relief pitcher's job? It's not the manager's fault that few have been able to do the job competently.

2) In the aftermath of two consecutive excruciating losses to the Blue Jays, it's easy to think negatively, that the Sox will go into the three-game Armageddon with the Yankees trailing by two games in the AL East, lose Friday, and perhaps end up on the outside of the postseason looking in when the dust has settled. Fine. Be that way. I prefer to take the optimist's approach. Maybe it's the lingering-for-a-lifetime memory of what happened last year, but even with evidence mounting on a daily basis that a championship repeat is highly unlikely, I'm thinking positively about what awaits the Sox on the immediate horizon. In fact, this delicious scenario has been rattling around in my tin can of a mind for some time now: The Yankees come to Fenway needing just one win to clinch the East. But the Sox - somehow, improbably, amazingly - find a way to pummel them three straight. Then the Yankees lose to the Indians (and surprise starting pitcher Rick Waits) in a one-game playoff for the wild-card and are excluded from the postseason, and all those New York fans who crawled back out of the septic system when the Empire slipped into first place last week are as shocked and silent as they were that beautiful New York evening last fall. Sound unlikely? Well, sure. But I think we all have seen stranger things happen. Think positive, people. Contrary to what Michael Kay and Al-Yankeezeera want their grubby little minions to believe, last year was not an aberration.

3) Now, we here at TATB don't normally advocate headhunting. We think Don Drysdale was a self-absorbed bully, Sal Maglie was a meathead, and Bob Gibson was lucky he didn't kill someone. But we will concede that there is a time and place for a well-placed fastball, one that comes close enough to a batter's noggin that he can smell the smoke as it sizzles beneath his nose. For example, Pedro Martinez's knockdown of Hideki Matsui in Game 5 of the ALCS changed the whole tenor of the series; one 96 MPH high-and-tight message (okay, 91 MPH), and suddenly, the Yankees' bats went limp. I bring this up now because . . . well, because it's about time a few of these Blue Jays batters got a taste of the dirt in the Fenway batter's box. Toronto has one player batting above .275 in its starting lineup - Frank Catalanotto - yet this collection of mediocrities look like the '27 Yankees when they face Sox. I mean, there's no shame in getting beaten by Vernon Wells or Catalanotto, but . . . Reed Johnson? Gregg Zaun? Gimme a break. These are not top-quality ballplayers, and they have no business beating the Sox time and time again. Sox pitchers should have knocked them down - and down a peg - a long time ago.

4) How is it that Bronson Arroyo usually has such pinpoint command of his 19 different versions of a breaking ball yet he couldn't spot a fastball if Eddie Vedder's life depended on it? Arroyo's downfall tonight, as is usually the case when he struggles, was his inability to throw the fastball in the general vicinity of where Jason Varitek wanted it. Catalanotto crushed a couple of badly misplaced heaters, as did Eric Hinske, as Arroyo allowed three homers and never gave the Sox a chance. Common baseball knowledge says controlling a fastball should be a lot easier than snapping off a slider on the outside corner, yet for Arroyo the opposite is the case. You'd think any pitching coach worth his video machine would have solved this mystery by now.

5) Considering that today is the closest thing to a must-win game the Sox will have until . . . well, until tomorrow, I suppose . . . don't you find yourself wishing that anyone but Matt Clement were taking the mound? He seems like a nice guy, and for the most part he has been what the Sox thought they were getting when they bought him as a free-agent in the offseason, but his jittery mound presence and inability to trust his stuff don't exactly inspire faith in the most crucial moments. If there's any consolation, it's that the same words were written about Derek Lowe this time last year. (Positive. Thinking positive here . . . )

6) I like to imagine that Jerry Remy's Fall Rivah pronunciation of Edgar Renteria's last name - "Anothah errah for Rent-A-Rear, Don" - was actually the RemDawg's subtle way of critiquing the Sox shortstop's disappointing performance. Lately, though, Renteria has looked like the player we thought we were getting when the Sox signed him away from the Cardinals in the offseason. Sure, his defense still gives us Luis Rivera flashbacks, but he homered tonight, had five hits yesterday, and seems intent on avenging his so-far subpar season with a hellaciously hot stretch run. 'Bout time, I say.

7) I'm not sure if it's possible for Curt Schilling to use up all the goodwill he earned last October, but the more he runs his mouth at inopportune times, the more it seems he's intent on finding out. Just shut up and pitch already, big fella. We like it better when you save the drama for the games.

8) Manny Ramirez, the last 10 games heading into last night: 7 homers, 14 RBI - and only one of the homers came in a loss. David Ortiz will get the MVP votes (and if there is any justice, the award), but it has been Manny who has carried this team down the stretch. Wait . . . what's that you say, John Dennis . . . Denise . . . Dentillo . . . whatever your name is? Oh, wow . . . you're right! He didn't run hard on a two-hop grounder to the pitcher that time, did he? Well, then, trade the bum!! Get him gone!!! Seriously, this aside is intended for you oblivious morons (yeah, I mean you) who want Manny outta here after this season for no reason other than that he doesn't run out the occasional ground-freakin-ball: You'll miss him. Oh, yeah, you will. You may be too stubborn to admit it or too blinded by your scrappy heroes' false hustle to realize it, but if you are are true Red Sox fan who wants nothing more than to see this team win, you'll miss him. Just not nearly as much as Papi will.

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

Clement is maddening, no doubt. But at least the Sox didn't trade the second coming of Vida Blue for him.