Monday, June 12, 2006

Nine innings: 06.12.06

Playing nine innings while wondering why Varitek didn't pinch-hit for Mirabelli . . .

1. Just when you're ready to wonder if David Ortiz is only human after all, just when you're beginning to think that .260-something batting average is proof that The Shift is his Kryptonite, just when you're sure you're witnessing the first prolonged slump of his Red Sox career, he takes one mighty swing, answers your 2-year old daughter's innocent, daddy-prodded request to "Hit a home run, Big Happy," and turns certain defeat into one more exhilarating victory. Rangers, 4-2? Make that Red Sox, 5-4. Really, what more is there to say that hasn't already been said? The walkoff homer was the fifth he's hit in a regular season game (and I believe the seventh overall, though I think I'll soon go watch "Faith Rewarded" just to be sure), and damned if it doesn't feel like the 25th. I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: David Ortiz is the best thing to ever happen to the Boston Red Sox. God bless Big Happy.

2. C'mon, don't chicken out now, Jason Grimsley. It's not like you have a legacy to protect, and you're already in the baseball witness protection program from here on out anyway. So keep naming names, and then name some more. And then maybe those players you finger as steroid abusers, HGH freaks and world-class cheaters and frauds will name names, and so on and so on and so on, and before long, we'll finally have the full story about who did what and who was sticking a needle where during this, the Steroid Era. And then, and only then, will we be able to put everything in perspective - the records, the accomplishments, the size of Barry Bonds's head. At last we'll know just how rampant performance-enhancing drug use was/is in baseball, and with the goddamn truth finally having been told, there will be no more bombshells to disrupt the game and steal the headlines every few weeks. I suspect you think you'd be hurting the game to reveal what was going on behind locker room doors. Funny, because with the right dose of courage, you might just end up saving it.

3. Is Josh Beckett is the real-life Nuke LaLoosh? I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure I saw him trying to breathe through his eyelids during the fifth inning. Actually, all things considered - and with my enormous expectations for him tempered for the moment - you have to consider today's start progress for the ridiculously gifted, ridiculously stubborn 25-year-old righthander. He resisted the urge to try to throw every pitch at 120 mph, spotted his top-shelf curveball with more precision, and while the velocity on his changeup is still too high (at 89 mph, it's the equivalent of a Keith Foulke fastball), he seemed to have made the conscious effort to pitch rather than just throw. He caught the Rangers hitters off-guard a couple of times by throwing breaking stuff when he had two strikes - Hank Blalock looked especially foolish in the first inning - and it was apparent that the scouting report said, "Sit on his fastball with two strikes." Now, this isn't to say that I'm abandoning my conspiracy theory from the other day: I still believe the Blue Jays and Yankees picked up on a hitch or a quirk in his delivery to let them know exactly what pitch was coming. Well, either that or Varitek was sick of being shaken off all the time and told the hitters what to expect, a la Crash Davis when Nuke got too big for his garter belt. You know, come to think of it, Varitek is said to be a big "Bull Durham" fan . . . and the hitter in that scene was NESN's own Paul Devlin . . . hmmm, I might just be onto something here . . . (slipping tinfoil hat back on) . . .

4. Just when I was starting to think that his stellar performance against the Yankees was the aberration and his stint in Boston would ultimately be little more than a cameo, David Pauley settled down after a gruesome start and allowed just one run over his final three innings tonight. The Sox farmed him out after the game - to Pawtucket, a step up from where he was two weeks ago - but I don't think we've seen the last of him, and I certainly hope he'll be back. Despite the homely 7.88 ERA, he showed enough to warrant legitimate prospect status - an old-school curveball, a sneaky two-seamer that cuts back across the outside corner, a darting sinker. And there was something endearing about the way he carried himself upon realizing the dream. He managed to come across as both poised and nervous as hell, and he seemed legitimately awed during the New York game when Big Papi sat down and draped his massive arm around him as if to say "Welcome to the bigs, kid. You belong." While you wish he threw just a little harder, I like what I saw for the most part in terms of ability and demeanor. I'm rooting for him.

5. While Pauley heads down I-95 with three big-league starts and no big-league victories to his credit, Manny Delcarmen finally picked up his first career win as the beneficiary of Papi's Game 1 bomb. Like Pauley, Delcarmen is another one who's impossible not to like - he's the local kid, smiles easily, and has the raw skills to someday be a lights-out power reliever, especially if he can continue to improve his command. You have to be happy for him for achieving his milestone today. I was glad the Sox resisted the Indians' demands to include him in the Coco Crisp deal, and I hope Francona continues to give him a shot to show his stuff, because while he probably won't earn too many more victories as long as he's a reliever, he has a chance to help this team win a lot of games, and perhaps soon.

6. Am I the only one who heard Sox executive Mike Dee on WEEI trying to charm his way through Saturday's rain-delay disaster and wondering if he struts around humming Beastie Boys tunes: "I'm Mike Dee and I get respect . . ." I am the only one, aren't I? Dammit, I hate it when I'm the weirdo in the room.

7. Regarding that Cleveland trade: Andy Marte is hitting .259 with 4 homers in Triple A (looks like sly ol' Schuerholz knew exactly what he was doing), Guillermo Mota has a 7.82 ERA, and Kelly Shoppach lost his backup job to journeyman Tim Laker. Even though Crisp and David Riske are only now beginning to contribute, you'd have to say the deal is tilted toward the Sox so far.

8. In case you missed it, Gabe Kapler went 2 for 5 in his first rehab game in Portland today. Not that I'm suggesting the Sox should rush him back into his familiar fourth outfielder role or anything, but I'm pretty sure he'd contribute more playing with a torn Achilles' tendon in one leg and a wooden peg for his other leg than Willie Harris and Dustan Mohr would with four healthy wheels between them.

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

Can you believe the Sox couldn't manage one measly homer off him? We didn't get to yell "Way back!" even once. What a letdown.

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(Quick programming note: You might have noticed that, for the first time in several months, I turned the post "comments" back on. I did so for four reasons. 1) Blogger has made them much easier to moderate, and you know how I'm a control freak. 2) Haloscan offers a commenting system that doesn't require you to sign up for anything. 3) I always like hearing from you pencil necks, geeks and damn fools, and since I've been overwhelmed with email lately, I figured it would be an additional way to let you have your say. 4) My wife nagged me to do it. So there you go. Feel free to post in the comments or to continue to email me, and as always, play nice. We're a PG-rated site. Okay, PG-13. Of course, if I get that "Brokeback Mountain" photoshop featuring Jeter and Damon again, all bets are off . . . - TATB Management)

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