Sunday, April 09, 2006

Nine innings: 4.09.06

Playing nine innings while wishing Craig Hansen would hurry up and take Rudy Seanez's job . . .

1. Five games down, 157 to go, and the sky over Red Sox Nation couldn't be sunnier. So what's the most encouraging thing you've seen? That Curt Schilling appears to be 100 percent of what he was pre-Bloody Sock? That Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon are throwing smoke and giving us flashbacks to a young Rocket? That Trot Nixon looks fit and has the early results to prove it? That Alex Gonzalez has already made more highlight-reel plays than Edgar Renteria did all last season? That Mark Loretta is a pure pleasure to watch, the prototypical No. 2 hitter? That at this pace, the Sox will finish something like 120 games ahead of the Yankees? Yeah, yeah, right . . . it's early, it's early. But the returns are encouraging, and I'll say now what I said once the puzzle was assembled late in the winter. This is a very good baseball team, deep, talented and well-constructed, and I can't wait to see what fun the summer brings.

2.Whether or not Theo and the Braintrust made a conscious effort to rid the clubhouse of the Idiot culture this season - and for the record, I think they consider it a pleasant but mostly coincidental byproduct of unloading players they believed were on the decline - I will forever believe that such a devil-may-care attitude was absolutely necessary in overcoming burdens of the past failures, the often oppressive media and fans, the weight of great expectations and, oh yeah, a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees. I always thought it would take a truly special group of players to finally win a World Series, and the 2004 Red Sox were most certainly that. Which is why, even though his popups, grounders to short and foul home runs drove me freakin' nuts last season, I was glad to see old friend Kevin Millar during the Sox' visit to Baltimore. He is the walking, babbling, whiskey-swigging embodiment of that team, and his "Don't let us win tonight" speech before Game 4 of the ALDS remains perhaps my favorite off-the-field moment in "Faith Rewarded." Make no mistake, I'm glad Millar no longer plays for the Red Sox, but in my mind's eye, he will always remain a vital part of the franchise.

3. Quick memo to all you WEEI mouthbreathers, assuming your ashamed moms will come down to the basement and help you read this: 1) Tim Wakefield won at least 85 major-league games before he ever threw a pitch to Doug Mirabelli. 2) Mirabelli for Loretta is a steal for the Sox. 3) Mirabelli had two passed balls the first time he caught Wakefield. Josh Bard had three. Cripes, give Bard a chance. 4) Keith Foulke never said he hated playing baseball. He said he wasn't a fan of baseball and never watched it in his free time, that it was boring. However - hey, over here, pay attention, you bloodthirsty shut-ins, because this is the important part - he said he loves pitching and competing, and enjoys the camaraderie of it all. So keep that in mind the next time you call up Ordway or some other ill-informed pot-stirrer and wait on hold for an hour and a half just so you can reveal your ignorance to the better part of six states. Thanks.

4. Just when I think Sox fans are nuts, Yankees fans come along and raise the bar out of reach. Have you heard about the silly little metalhead controversy in New York? Apparently, the Pinstriped Pinheads threw a collective hissy fit after Mets closer Billy Wagner dared to enter a game to Metallica's "Enter Sandman," a song that has come to be associated with the Yankees' Mariano Rivera during all those magical October moments . . . well, you know, six years ago. Yankee fans, being their typical rational and informed selves, completely disregard the fact that Wagner was using that song before Rivera, or that Rivera, who favors Christian music, probably couldn't pick Lars Ulrich out of a lineup of burnouts. In a sign that maybe New York is his kind of town, Wagner has continued to use the tune, not because he has any attachment to it, but because he's getting a kick out of the controversy. (Plus, he's actually a Metallica fan.) The best suggestion/solution I've heard came from Keith Olbermann during a spot on Dan Patrick's radio show: When the Yankees play at Shea Stadium this year, Rivera's appearance in the game shouldn't be greeted by "Enter Sandman", but by the Chordettes' considerably less menacing '50s bubblegum hit "Mr. Sandman." Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream/Make him the cutest that I've ever seen . . . Then again, I'm pretty sure that's A-Rod's at-bat music.

5. The Bill James Handbook projects Josh Beckett to go 14-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 2006. Full disclosure: The book was published before he was traded to the Sox, and I'm going to assume that he'd be penciled in for a few more wins and a slightly higher ERA given this consideration. Still, while I find James's annual an interesting and often prescient resource, this C+ student in Algebra (no, not at UMaine, wiseass) will continue to give more credence to my own highly subjective projections. And so Chad Finn's Foolproof Abacus has Beckett finishing with these stellar numbers: 22 wins, 6 losses, and a 2.98 ERA. Yes, he's that good, and if his dazzling debut in Texas didn't convince you, ask a Yankees fan. They remember the 2003 World Series rather well, and trust me, they are frightened that this 25-year-old Cy-Young-winner-in-waiting is with the enemy.

6. Why is it that I find myself rooting for Ken Griffey Jr. more than ever? Maybe it's because it's looking more and more like his rightful legacy as the greatest slugger of his generation was stolen away from the likes of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and every devious chemist in North America. Maybe it's the lingering sadness from the death of Kirby Puckett, the other happy-go-lucky superstar center fielder from a decade ago, and thus an unconscious urge to appreciate every admirable ballplayer I can. Or maybe it's because he's one day older than me, and when he gets old, then I'll have to admit I'm getting old. (Can you believe he's 36?) Hell, it's probably all of those things that have me hoping Junior is blessed with the health and happiness he deserves. If there's a such thing as poetic justice, Griffey will have a monster season, while Bonds, so close to the record we all thought Griffey would break, will not be able to find any magic elixir to keep his body-by-Balco from breaking down.

7. If you like this blog, let me suggest another one worthy of a space in your bookmarks. Heck, you'll probably like it better than mine since this writer posts more than twice annually and actually knows what the hell he is talking about. It's written by Ian Browne, whose byline you may recognize from his gig as the Red Sox beat writer for While I've met Ian only briefly - we play in the same Rotisserie league - I've been a fan of his outstanding, even-keeled coverage for a long time, and it's apparent he's got the insight and the eye for an anecdote to make his blog a must-read for every Sox fan. (He had a terrific item recently in which David Ortiz reminisced about his after-hours habits during the '04 ALCS.) Check it out, enjoy, and tell him TATB sent you.

8. One more Bill James item, a curious snippet I stumbled across while looking through a recent haul of old Abstracts. This is from the Cubs' preview in the 1987 book:

"The '86 season was such a disappointment that it surely marks the end of an era and the beginning of a rebuilding period, but there is little on hand to rebuild with. The "kids" who were called up from the Cub farm system in September were Greg Maddux, Chico Walker, Brian Dayett, Dave Martinez, and Rafael Palmeiro. Maddux and Martinez were up last year and were awful. Walker and Dayett are probably better than what the Cubs have but are both older than Alan Trammell and haven't yet established themselves in the majors. Only Palmeiro seems to have any real chance to make an impact."

Two thoughts here: 1) Anytime we can get a reference to TATB Hall of Famer Chico Walker on this site, you bet we're going to do it. 2) Whatever did happen to that Maddux kid (and his kick-ass mustache) anyway?

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

Nope, don't see the resemblance at all.