Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nine innings 5.31.06

Playing nine innings while wishing Mike Timlin and Jason Varitek had skipped the World Baseball Classic . . .

1. So it looks like Roger Clemens is remaining in Houston. Can't say I'm surprised, though as one who declared the Rocket officially dead to me the moment he first put on the pinstripes, I have to admit I'm a little more disappointed than I thought I'd be. It would have made for neat closure - not mention great copy - for him to return to Boston to finish his legendary career. But sentiment has never been in Clemens's repertoire, at least as a substitute for cold, hard cash, and any hopes of a Rocket Reconciliation became a pipe dream a few weeks ago when the Astros made it clear they would match the Sox and Yankees dollar for dollar while continuing to let Clemens live his life of convenience. Oh, well. Guess we'll have to wait 'til next year, when he puts us through the whole "I'm 99 percent retired unless a team offers me $20 mil for three months' work" routine again.

2. Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? At first glance at his page, an unbiased fan would probably say no. He's never won a Cy Young award, though he's finished second three times. He's won more than 20 three times in the previous five seasons, but he never won more than 17 in the first 13 years of his career. And while the 200th win was a hell of an accomplishment, didn't you think he surpassed that milestone a few years ago? His similarity scores don't exactly bunch him with a pitching staff's worth of Cooperstown shoo-ins, either. David Cone is the most similar pitcher to him, and that certainly seems valid. But others on the list include Dwight Gooden, Kevin Brown, Jimmy Key and Bob Welch - fine pitchers all, but not Hall of Famers by any stretch. Of course, Schilling has a scrapbook full of defining moments that are worthy of a plaque - pitching the D-Backs past the Yankees in the '01 World Series, helping the grubby Phillies to the '93 Series, and I think I've heard something about a bloody sock that sounds pretty heroic. His postseason record - 7-2 with a 2.06 ERA - gives him the right to claim he's one of the best clutch pitchers in recent history. Ultimately, I think he'll get in - hey, never said I was unbiased - but a few more seasons of 15+ wins couldn't hurt his case.

3. Who bats leadoff? Does it really matter that much? Talk about your 'EEI-driven faux controversies. No matter which way Tito Francona approaches this, the Sox will be fine. If Coco Crisp leads off, the Sox have an fleet-cleated instigator atop the lineup, with Kevin Youkilis dropping down to add depth to the lineup. But if Youkilis remains in the leadoff spot - and with a .420-something OBP, he couldn't have done a better job - Crisp has enough pop in his bat that batting sixth or seventh is not out of the question. They're both versatile offensive players, and they're going to help the Sox score a lot of runs no matter where they are situated in the lineup. It's win-win, either way.

4. While it's tempting to take a page from one of the New York tabloids and suggest the best way to deal with a tormenting opponent is by putting a fastball in his ear hole, instead I'm going to take the high road and say there's no shame in getting beat by Vernon Wells. While he is one of about six Sox Killers in the Toronto lineup, the difference between Wells and the relentlessly aggravating Gregg Zauns, Reed Johnsons and Frank Catalanottos of the world is that the Jays center fielder is among the premier (and most underrated) all-around players in the American League, and very possibly an MVP-in-waiting. If you're going to get whupped, he's the kind of player who should whup you.

5. This Week's Reason Jerry Trupiano Isn't Qualified To Call The Shoot-Water-In-The-Clown's-Nose Game at Funtown USA: A few nights ago - I can't remember which particular game it was - the Sox were down to their final out. Joe Castiglione, sounding like his dog ran away as he always does when Sox defeat is inevitable, was trying to call what would be the game's final pitches. ("Pahhped him up . . . (sigh) . . . this should do it . . . ") But, inexplicably, Trupiano kept talking over him, babbling on about how the Kansas City Royals overlooked a local kid named Albert Pujols several years ago and now their in-state rival was reaping the rewards. Now, you don't have to listen to many to broadcasts to realize Troop left his heart in St. Louis - I'm still skeptical that he was pulling for his employer in the 2004 World Series - but is he so oblivious that he finds it acceptable to go off on a tangent during the game's final moments? With a story about the freakin' Royals? I wonder if he would find it at all interesting that the Red Sox supposedly scouted and worked out Pujols and ultimately chose not to draft him way back when, thinking, the story goes, that he was a decent hitting prospect but couldn't play a position? At least that tale might have been relevant to his listeners.

6. I'm not saying he's a wimp, but in terms of mound demeanor, Matt Clement is starting to make Derek Lowe look like Bob Gibson. Okay, I guess I'm saying he's a wimp. And while we're at it, can all the armchair pitching coaches please stop talking about how he has excellent stuff? He doesn't. What he has is a 90 MPH straight fastball that he struggles to spot, and a sharp slider that is as likely to find the middle of the plate as it is the webbing of Jason Varitek's mitt. Cripes, Rudy Seanez has better stuff than that. Clement's might have been excellent once. It's average at best now.

7. Random football note: Peter King predicted in his MMQB column that the Pats and Cowboys will meet in next season's Super Bowl. Sounds reasonable . . . but wait. King also predicted that the Lesser of Bills would win the matchup, Dallas taking a 23-21 victory. Sounds like Mr. King's frequent references to drinking Starbucks beverages are actually euphemisms for sniffing glue.

8. Now that Balco Barry has finally hobbled past the Bambino, I trust that ESPN will halt its all-Bonds, all-the-time coverage and get back to its regularly scheduled programming. Namely, Stu Scott Why-The-Bleep-Is-He-Rhyming-The-Royals-Vs.-Tigers-Highlights Poetry Slams interspersed with Which Teammate Terrell Owens Is Ripping Today updates every 20 minutes. That is the plan? Whew. Such a relief. That ombudsman really gets it done, huh?

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

Remember that Sox-Yanks game in, oh, I believe it was in '86, when one of the Yankees' mustached, vulgar, wife-beater wearing, truly elegant and classy fans plucked the hat off Jim Rice's head? And remember how one daring, bat-wielding member of the Sox went into the stands with Jim Ed to "reacquire" the hat? That was our man LaSchelle here. He might not have been much of a hitter, but he was one hell of a wingman. We tip our hat to him, and we bet Rice would too.

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