Thursday, September 29, 2005

TATB Live! (Sort of)

Figured we'd bust out something new tonight, a little live blogging off the Sox/Jays game. I've been meaning to do this with the Pats one of these Sundays, but tonight's as good a time as any for a couple reasons:

1) This Sox game is as crucial as they come in the regular season, what with them tied with the Indians for the wild card and trailing the Yankees in the AL East with four games to play;

2) Mrs. TATB, apparently inspired by the revelation that hyper-hypo home-improvement hunk Ty Pennington is currently in town with his crew from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," is madly painting the living room walls while imagining that he's going to show up here any moment, admire her craftsmanship with the semi-gloss, and rescue her away from this sports-addicted doofus she married. I'll let you know if it happens, unless I'm distracted by a Sox rally at the time.

Anyway, here goes . . . something. Play ball, blog on, go Sox, and such. - CF

Matt Clement sails through an impressive first inning, but we barely have time to enjoy it before Tom Caron checks in from the NESN studio with the first bad news of the night. Jason Giambi, who in rediscovering his, uh, "confidence" has decided to forgo the customary pinstriped Yankee jersey and now wears only jorts, an American Chopper tank top and a weight belt to the plate, crushes a three-run homer to put the Yankees ahead 3-0 in the first. Meanwhile, Travis Hafner, who deserves to finish in the top five or six in the MVP balloting, depending upon your view of Mariano Rivera's contributions, cranks a two-run shot to put Cleveland up, 2-0. Something of an ominous start, I'd say.

Jays 1, Sox 0: Jason Varitek, who's performance lately has fallen somewhere between atrocious and Marc Sullivanesque, spots Eric Hinske trying to steal third and promptly airmails his throws behind Bill Mueller. Hinske, who would be lucky to finish third in a sausage race, lumbers home ahead of Manny's tardy throw, and the Sox are playing from behind for the 43d straight game. (All right, I made that stat up. Might be correct, though.)

* T.C. checks in with more bad news: Indians, 4-0. Yankees, 4-0. I wonder if he's familiar with the phrase "kill the messenger."

Jays 2, Sox 0: Aaron Hill, a .273 hitter who somehow turns into Robin Yount against the Sox, doubles into the corner. Frank Catalanotto, a .294 hitter who somehow turns into George Brett against the Sox, doubles off the wall. Dammit, the Jays are more comfortable here than there are at the Building Formerly Known As The SkyDome. I'd say it's time Clement puts someone face down in the batter's box, but I don't think he has it in him. (He does escape a two-on, one-out jam, however, keeping it from getting out of hand. No complaints about his performance thus far.)

Jays 2, Sox 1: Good Guys get one back, Tony Graffanino scores on an Edgar Renteria fielder's choice, made possible when Johnny Damon barreled into second to break up what could have been an inning-ending double play. It's good to see Damon looking like his healthier self lately; his Gray's Anatomy worth of injuries has been one of the underplayed angles during the Sox's recent offensive struggles, and it's reassuring to see him playing with zest again.

* Have I mentioned the Sox are facing the immortal Scott Downs tonight? He's a retread, a former Cub and Expo, I believe, and he beat the Sox a week or so ago. But at least he's a distinctive retread. With his '80s-style permullet flowing out of the back of his cap, he looks like the lead singer in an REO Speedwagon tribute band. Somehow, he's keeping the Sox off-balance despite a repertoire that Lenny DiNardo would snicker at, having just whiffed Papi on a slow curve for the second time tonight. Papi has looked lost lately, and you have to wonder if his back is acting up at the most inopportune time. Damn thing must be killing him from carrying the likes of Kevin Millar all summer.

Clement cruises. Good time to get some momentum going. And one more thing: S-A-C-C-U-C-C-I . . . SACCUCCI! IT'S THE NAME TO DRIVE!!! (Now just try getting that out of your head for the next half hour. Enjoy.)

* Mmmmmm . . . paint fumes.

* Nothing doing in the fourth for the Sox. Where the hell has all their power gone, anyway? And in a related story, how come Trot Nixon gets no crap for morphing into an injury-prone, lefty-phobic, subpar defensive outfielder who has 20 fewer homers the last two seasons than Manny has in this one? What is it again that gets him off the hook? The scowl, or the dirty hat? I always forget.

Jays 4, Sox 1: Guess who goes deep? Yep . . . Frank $*&@&*#*@**@#**$*@*(!**#**@**@*!**$*@*@**$%**@**!*!*!*$*@*!*$*%*%*@**!*$***@****@*#*$*%*%*%*%*%*%*%**@*%**@*@**!*$*** Catalanotto. Who else? He's hitting over .600 against the Sox in this series - with six consecutive hits at one point - and if he doesn't have a baseball-sized bruise between his shoulder blades before the night is through, then I seriously have to question the pride of this manager and this team. Enough is enough.

* All right, hell, I'd settle for walking the guy.

* My wife just walks into the room wearing a gas mask. I didn't even know we owned a gas mask. Betcha Ty is into that sort of thing. Perv.

* Bases loaded, two outs, 3-2 count, the appropriately named Gabe Gross at the plate with a chance to bust the game open. You could make the argument that this is the biggest pitch of Matt Clement's career, and certainly of his Red Sox career. I'm expecting a slider in the dirt myself. Sometimes reality trumps hope, people.

* Grounder to first, and Millar even caught the damn thing. Maybe there is hope after all.

* Nixon leads off the bottom half of the fifth by hitting a 32-hopper to first on a 3-2 pitch. Now, I'm no Papa Jack, but I think Trotski might have more success against lefties if his right foot weren't in the Sox dugout every time he takes a swing.

* While Damon digs in to the batter's box, roving reporter Eric Frede checks in with a snippet of a postgame interview with Damon from last night. When the clip is over and Frede's duty is done, he flaps his mighty ears and flies back to the press box. (We kid, we kid - TATB did a radio show a few times with Frede during his pre-NESN days in New Hampshire, and he's as likable and professional as as he comes across on TV. And his ears really ain't that big, either.)

* Gross robs Renteria of extra-bases with a leaping catch at the wall for the final out of the inning. Is it possible that the Blue Jays are as good defensively as they look against the Sox, or are we just so used to the Sox's awkward-to-awful outfield defense that everyone else looks like Andruw Jones by comparison?

Clement gives up a leadoff single, and his work for the night is done. Coulda been worse, I suppose. He worked out of a few jams, which isn't always his forte. Unfortunately, now the Sox's flammable bullpen is involved. (And surprise of surprises, Mike Myers strands two, and the margin stays at three. Final line for Clement: 5 innings, 8 hits, 3 walks, 2, Ks, 4 runs. Eh. If this is his last start of the season, let me sum it up this way: I'm not looking forward to two more years of this guy.)

* Don Orsillo just informed us in hushed tones that Aaron Small has allowed one hit through six innings, and the Yankees lead the Orioles, 6-0. You know what this means? Aaron Bleepin' Small, Career Minor Leaguer And Not A Particularly Good Career Minor Leaguer At That, is going to be 10-0 after tonight. I'm not going to say he sold his soul to the devil, because Small is supposedly a devout Christian, but it certainly appears he sold his soul to Steinbrenner at the very least. Funny thing is, not even New Yorkers are buying that this guy is legit. When I guaranteed my buddy Duckler - a Yankee fan right down to his Chicken Stanley longjohns - that Small will be back in Columbus next season, he actually agreed with me. Considering I think he might still argue Kevin Maas's Hall of Fame chances if the mood struck him, he caught me off-guard there for a minute. Reasonable Yankees fans confuse me.

* T.C. tells us it's 8-0, Yankees, and 6-0, Cleveland. You know, maybe these updates aren't such a good idea anymore. So, hey then, how about you STOP #*$**@**** TELLING US THAT HIDEKI MATSUI WENT DEEP AND THE YANKEES ARE STILL DOING REALLY WELL TONIGHT, OKAY???? WE GET THE POINT!!! THEY'RE WINNING!!! BIG!!! AGAIN!!!!! THANK YOU, TOM!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

* Papi hits an infield single into the shift, and the Jays pull Downs, who apparently is in a rush to get to the Journey/Speedwagon/Foreigner triple-bill at Avalon tonight. Can't say I'm sorry to see him go. (Jason Frasor is coming in.)

* Jays 4, Sox 3: MANNY! OPPOSITE-FIELD TWO-RUN SHOT INTO THE BLEACHERS! (Sorry. I don't mean to yell.) Anyway, this seems like an appropriate time to share a thoughtful email I received from reader Steve R. today:

"At some point (hopefully, at least after a round of playoffs) the zealots in this town who have such disdain and near sightedness for all things Francona and Manny will come to the realization that this team is incredibly flawed. Without Manny their record would be Blue Jay-esque and David Ortiz would be getting the Barry Bonds treatment. Is that what Red Sox fans want? Then again, I think EEI listeners and callers make up such a small percentage of legitimate sports fans in this town.

The reason the Red Sox are in the position that they are in is that their starting pitching staff is a collection of 3-5 starters, the bullpen and bench, strong points from last year, were decimated by injury and the execution of a number of highly questionable moves by the baseball operations staff.

Mantei, Halama, Remlinger, Bradford, Harville, Miller, Clement, Wells, the immortal Blaine Neal, allowing Pedro to go, totally underestimating the severity of Schilling's injury - those are not Terry Francona's moves. He was given a poor hand by his GM. This doesn't even call into question the whole Renteria/Cabrera issue. Renteria has been solid the last couple of nights but his fielding has been a major disappointment all season long.

I could care less what spin-meisters and marketers have to say. I am interested only in the product on the field. Hopefully, the media will seek out Theo and his staff and call into question his 2005 off-season and in-season maneuvers. I recall him saying that he didn't want the Red Sox to get "complacent". Well, they did not get complacent, but I feel that they certainly got worse.

I am a huge Manny fan and think he's underappreciated in this town. I can tell you do too. Go Sox.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

* Cleveland wins. Whoop-de-damn-doo. Let's just worry about the Sox taking care of their own business. (Scoreboard watching sure isn't much fun when T.C. keeps pounding you over the head with lousy news.)


Call it hyperbole if you wish, call it a giddy overreaction after having just watched him gas his way through the top half of the inning, but trust me when I say I wouldn't type it if I didn't believe it: Jonathan Papelbon is the best pitcher on this team right now. (Sorry, Wakes. We can never completely trust a knuckleballer.)

* Tony Graffanino reaches on an infield single, and you'd think a steal might be in order if not for the fact that Graffanino appears welded to the bag. Too bad the Sox don't have, oh, say, a Dave Roberts-type this year. (So Graffanino steals with two outs. Shows what I know. Unfortunately, he's left stranded at second when Renteria's hard line drive to first finds Hinske's mitt. Luck is in scarce supply for the home team again tonight. They're due for a few bloops and bleeders to fall their way, and we can only hope Renteria's rocket wasn't their last, best hope.)

Papi-Manny-Varitek this inning. It's now or . . . well, you know.

* T.C. checkin' in with another unwanted update: Yankees win, 8-4. Go eat one of Jim Rice's sweaters, T.C.

* Sox 4, Jays 4: Seriously, what is there to say at this point? Papi wallops a majestic game-tying home run in the eighth inning - the 20th of his 47 homers to tie the game or give the Sox the lead - and it's so damn commonplace, so damn familiar, so damn expected from the man at this point, that all you can do is think of Joe Castiglione's favorite refrain: "David Ortiz has done it again!" Well, that, and you can also run around the living room yelping "Papi! Papi!" while your gas-mask wearing wife looks at you like you're the weird one.

* Yo, Manny-bashers: You just saw him bust his a$$ from first to third on 'Tek's single there, right? Okay, good. If you think he doesn't care after watching his guts-out performance the past two weeks, you either haven't been paying attention or refuse to admit what you see.

* First and third, no one out. The Splendid Helmet hits a too-shallow fly ball, Mueller whiffs, Vernon Wells makes a Torii Hunter-quality catch on a Nixon shot into the gap, and a primo opportunity is wasted. Crap. Hopefully it's not the last hurrah.

Papelbon - aka The Best Damn Pitcher On The Sox Right Now - mows through the Jays in the ninth, giving up a dinky two-out double to Human Sausage Hinske, then getting the relentlessly annoying Gregg Zaun to popup to third to end the inning. (And if you didn't watch the ball settle into Mueller's glove and think some combination of Nettles/Yaz/'78, well, you're not as old as I, my friend.)

Sox 5, Jays 4: And when it was over, when Papi had offered Example 2,987 why he's the very definition of Most Valuable, when his opposite-field single found the outfield grass and Damon sped toward the plate and the home dugout spilled onto the field and Fenway rocked and rollicked and rejoiced, when "Dirty Water" and "Tessie" and the joyous sounds of significant, important, meaningful baseball filled the fall air, when it was all over and the Red Sox had won on a night when it looked like all was lost, what's left to say but this:

Damn, that was fun. What say we do it again soon?