Monday, May 01, 2006

Double take

The Pats are done choosin', the Sox are done losin', and TATB's putting off snoozin' to babble about both . . .

PATRIOTS: Admit it, all you wannabe draftniks. You don't know a stinkin' thing when it comes to the New England Patriots' draft plans. You didn't it coming the year they drafted Big Sey when you pleaded for David Terrell, you didn't have a clue the year they left you scratching your head by taking Ben Watson when Daniel Graham was already entrenched as the Tight End Of The Future and you sure as hell didn't know what was going down this year.

You, me, and Mel Kiper's man-bouffant had the Pats pegged to spend their early picks to shore up their defense, maybe add an inside linebacker or a cornerback in Round 1, then come back for some more ball-hawking muscle in Round 2. So what happens? Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli get all Mike Martz on us, drafting a running back in Round 1, a wide receiver from of all places, Florida, in Round 2, then taking a pair of tight ends, a freakin' kicker and a tackle before finally picking a token defensive player or two in Round 6. The Air Belichick approach, it boggles the mind.

And you know what? We love it. Love it. Oh, sure, there are voids to be filled on defense, transactions yet to be completed. (Hey, is that Ty Law's cell phone I hear ringing? Or could it be Donnie Edwards calling again?) Perhaps Belichick is confident he can bring in a veteran cap-casualty linebacker or two over the summer. And with Ellis Hobbs maturing, Rodney Harrison said to be recovering, Tebucky Jones returning, and Randall Gay and Chad Scott in good health, I suppose he could be content with the depth in the defensive backfield already, though I think ol' No. 24 is becoming a more realistic possibility by the day.

But the suspicion here is that they didn't select a defender in the first round for one very sensible reason: They ones they coveted (S/CB Michael Huff, LB Ernie Sims) were long gone, and they didn't see anyone else they particularly felt was good value at the No. 21 slot. Given Belichick and Pioli's track record with such matters, if they don't like any defensive players, dammit, neither do I.

However, I am jacked and pumped about the new additions to Tom Brady's arsenal. Between my gig at the Globe, where I'm usually swamped with college football stuff on autumn Saturdays, and a you-gotta-see-this-kid tip I received from my old friend and colleague Aaron Bowden a few years ago, I've followed Laurence Maroney's career at the University of Minnesota with more than a passing interest, and I can say this with extreme confidence: Patriots fans are going to adore this guy. In style, he reminds me of Fred Taylor, but without all the detachable body parts, and in substance, he is your prototypical Patriot: bright, humble, hard-working, selfless, and very, very gifted at the sport of football. They are fortunate to have him.

Chances are we'll say the same thing about a few more of their picks, as obscure as they may be at the moment. Chad Jackson, the ex-Gator, is considered by some to be the most polished receiver in the draft, and he already impressed Belichick with his football acumen by learning some of the New England offense during a pre-draft visit. Tight end David Thomas, the third-round pick from Texas, is described as a Christian Fauria clone, and fourth-rounder Garrett Mills, an H-back, is said to be a natural receiver in the Larry Centers mold. Guess we won't be seeing much of Mike Vrabel on offense if these guys pan out, but then, he's got some responsibilities on defense, right?

Which brings us now to The Boy Who Would Replace Adam. (Not, no you, Gramatica, so quit jumping around and sit down, you damn fool.) In choosing Memphis's Stephen Gostkowski so high, the Patriots opened themselves up to the type of contradictory criticism ESPN has mastered. Mike Golic, whom I normally enjoy, if for his affable Everyman persona more than any supposed insight he brings, stumbled all over himself, first ripping the Pats for choosing a kicker so high, then ripping them for letting Adam Vinatieri go since the kicker "is such a critical player." Well, which is it, Einstein? If a kicker is so important, how can it be such a bad idea to chose one you like in the middle round of a draft? Please, explain, in 20 stammers or less. It's not like they chose the kid over Reggie Bush, and hell, if you did a little research before offering your half-formed opinion, you might just stumble upon a little insight into why the Patriots liked this kid, and maybe didn't like Vinatieri so much anymore: Gostkowski was 3-of-3 from beyond 50 yards last season, and 10-of-10 from beyond 40; Vinatieri hasn't hit a kick beyond 50 in nearly three years. Are we happy Vinatieri is gone? Of course not; he's a New England legend. But if you can set sentiment aside and pay close attention to the decisions Belichick and Pioli make - whether it's picking a running back in Round 1 or a kicker in Round 4 - maybe you'll eventually comprehend why they make them. As Pats fans have come to learn, to second-guess their decisions is to leave the depth of your own football knowledge up for debate. Personally, I'd rather the people running my favorite team make me look dumb than vice versa.

RED SOX: One Sox-Yanks game in the books, and wouldn't you know it, already things are getting friggin' weird. I'm starting to think Stephen King has been scripting this stuff since, oh, Oct. 2004. Consider the bizzarro plot twists before and during tonight's 7-3 Sox victory:

• Doug Mirabelli, the just-reacquired backup catcher and apparently the lone man on earth who can corral a knuckleball before it deflects off the backstop, gets a freakin' police escort to the ballpark in time to catch the Tim Wakefield's first fluttering pitch.

• Johnny Damon, a ringleader of the Idiots during the Red Sox's magical 2004 season, plays his first game at Fenway since shaving off his personality and defecting to the dark side. He's greeted with overwhelming and venomous boos, to which he reacts 1) by graciously tipping his cap toward Wakefield, the fans, and the old familiar Sox dugout, and 2) looking like he wanted to burrow into the batter's box and weep.

• Derek Jeter, the reputed inventor of all things intangible, has a Renteria Moment at short (fanning on a wind-blown popup) and a Manny Moment on the basepaths (caught overrunning second after a teammate's groundout to first). His fist-pump was as elegant as ever, however, which should keep Tim McCarver satisfied.

Only in Boston, man. Just another wacky, melodramatic night in this increasingly warped Sox-Yankees rivalry, where the unexpected is the norm - well, at least until David Ortiz steps into the batter's box. Then, all the world is right, and inevitably a baseball disappears deep into the night. Ortiz, facing Mike Myers, the frisbee-flinging former Sox lefty signed by the Yankees in the offseason for the sole purpose of getting Papi out in crucial situations, turned a tenuous 4-3 lead into a 7-3 breeze with a monstrous three-run blast in the eighth inning. God bless David Ortiz. Something tells me Georgie Porgie may withhold Myers's paycheck come the 15th.

We usually dread these 19 regular season Sox-Yanks games, if only for their unhealthy effects on our stress level, but if tonight is a fair indication, the Bombers' arrival at Fenway this week could go a long way toward resuscitating the struggling Sox. Things have been pretty ugly around here the past week, what with a 3-7 road trip making the 6-1 start seem like a mirage. Truth be told, had this column been written yesterday, we probably would have gotten all WEEI on you, yelping about the wisdom of the Cy Arroyo-for-Wily Mo Pena deal, wondering if offensive sinkhole Alex Gonzalez has ever been told that there's such a thing as a strike zone, and pissing and moaning about Mark Loretta and Mike Lowell's frustratingly feeble at-bats with runners on base.

Now? Now I'm all about puppy dogs and ice cream and happy thoughts, because now I realize all the bad stuff was Josh Bard's fault. Just something about that guy, you know? Good thing they got the bum gone before he could sabotage the entire season. No, no, no - I kid, I kid. Like everyone else in New England, I do like the Mirabelli swap, which sent the dutiful if struggling Bard and Cla Meredith to San Diego, if only for the effect it was have on Wakefield's peace of mind. But what I like more is that Theo Epstein once again did not let ego prevent him from correcting a mistake. I imagine you need no prodding to think of at least one other time where Theo's willingness to change his mind or right a wrong served the Red Sox well. It's one of his greatest traits as a GM, and it bodes well for the Boston Red Sox, in 2006 and beyond.

Of course, it helps that Loretta got a clutch hit (the go-ahead RBI single), that Jonathan Papelbon, still unscored upon, threw a fastball by A-Rod that I'm almost certain he heard and didn't see, and that Alex Cora did his usual heady things that make you think he could handle starting at shortstop should Gonzalez never come around. And while we're doing the renewed optimism routine here, a Josh Beckett two-hit shutout tonight would bode pretty damn well, too. But something tells me victory won't quite be that simple. When the Sox and the Yankees are involved, is it ever?

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Papi thanks you for the delicious meatball, old friend.