Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Nine innings: 06.21.06

Playing nine innings while pleased that Coco Crisp is finally doing something besides commercials . . .

1. Reaction to Terry Francona's meeting with the young pitchers to tell them they're going to play an important role from here on out: Please, tell me the next meeting is to tell Seanez and Tavarez that they've been sold to the Hiroshima Carp and have 20 minutes to clean out their damn lockers. Seriously, this is great news, perhaps even a decision that we'll look back on as a turning point in the season. Maybe Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen aren't ready to assume crucial set-up roles in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, and maybe they'll take their lumps. But I happen to think they are ready - Delcarmen fastball is still as straight as a javelin, but he's getting his duck-for-cover curve over for strikes, and that's going to make his life much easier. And while I applaud the Sox for being cautious with Hansen, he already has the second-best stuff in the 'pen behind Goose Papelbon, and the immediate needs of the ballclub should supersede any concerns about his youth or inexperience. And besides, they can't really be any worse than Tavarez and Seanez, both of whom seem to pitch well when the score is 8-1 but are Slocumbesque when the outcome is yet to be determined. While I have been anti-Seanez since his first miserable turn with the Sox, I actually still hold out a shred of hope for Tavarez. Sure, he's a headcase, but he's pitched in key roles for good teams for much of his career, and stuff is still quality, Maybe getting into a low-pressure role will help him recover his confidence. But for now it's time to see what the talented kids will do. I felt like the Sox waited too long to bring up Papelbon last year, and an early arrival may have made the difference between winning the AL East and letting the Yankees have their quaint little celebration on the Fenway lawn. Then again, the Sox's history of prudence with their prospects suggests this: they think Delcarmen and Hansen really are ready. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Jon Lester, whose build and motion remind me so much of Bruce Hurst that I almost expect him to show up at the '86 Sox reunion next week. After watching his start against the Braves, I'm convinced he is ready to give the Sox more this season than either a healthy Matt Clement or David Wells would. Kinda fun having real, live pitching prospects for once, isn't it?

2. Tony La Russa's warning proved prescient. Boston, with all of its intense passion, just wasn't the right place for shy Edgar Renteria. And while he was a major disappointment last season - his 30 freakin' errors simply cannot be justified by his being "uncomfortable" - I thought Jerry Remy made a great point the other night when he said he thought Renteria was the smartest every day player the Sox had last season. Renteria did do a lot of the small things well - hell, the 'EEI banshees are still yowling about his daring bunt hit against the Orioles that preceded a Papi walkoff - and while I'm glad he's gone, I regret that, for whatever reason, we didn't get to see him at his best.

3. And speaking of intelligent players . . . If one person has said to me recently that Alex Gonzalez is the best defender they've ever seen play for the Red Sox, than at least a dozen have. I usually offer token resistance - Pokey Reese is the best defender I've ever seen play for anyone - but I certainly understand where they're coming from. Gonzalez seems to produce the spectacular on a nightly basis - I love how he slides to pick a grounder in the hole, then pops up and guns the runner out all in one motion - and he's rock-steady as well. He's glove absolutely makes up for his feeble (but improving) bat. And while we're praising the middle infielders here, this is all I have to say about Alex Cora: Not only is he the smartest player on the team - he's a natural to manage someday - but he might be the best pure utility player the Sox have ever had.

4. Remnants from the Twins whuppin', which suddenly feels like a long time ago: 1) The Twins took a ration of crap from the experts for passing on USC righty Mark Prior to take a local high school catcher with a lower price tag with the No. 1 overall pick a few years back. Joe Mauer is making them look pretty shrewd now, isn't he? 2) I wish I got to watch Johan Santana on a regular basis. What a treat. Not only can he overpower hitters, but he seems to take a cruel joy in making them look foolish with his ridiculous changeup. He reminds me of Pedro in his heyday. 3) Few Sox fans probably were familiar with him before this series, but trust me in my minor-league obsessed dorkiness when I say there's no shame in getting beaten by Jason Kubel. He was one of the best prospects in baseball two years ago before blowing out his knee, and even after missing an entire season, he remains the second-best prospect in the Minnesota system behind future Cy Young Award winner Francisco Liriano. (Whom someone should do a decent book about, by the way.) We may not have heard much about Kubel before this series, but good health willing, we'll be hearing about him for years to come.

5. Kyle Snyder looks like what the stork might deliver nine months after Bronson Arroyo hooked up with Big Bird.

6. Take away my Old-School Credentials if you must, but National League baseball? You can keep it. Give me the designated hitter, the rudimentary strategies, the mighty sluggers and the cowering pitchers. Just spare me from watching Curt Schilling try to squeeze his XXL head into an XL helmet, or seeing John Smoltz pop up a bunt to stunt one more attempted rally, or suffering all the wannabe La Russas pulling off double switches and using 42 different pitchers to get through the last three innings.

7. Verrry interesting listening to John Smoltz say during a taped interview in the Sunday night Sox-Braves game that he'd be open to a trade if it "were for the betterment of the Braves organization." I've always thought Smoltz was pretty classy (and not in the Ron Burgundy sort of way), but his comments seemed like a disingenuous way of saying, "Get me the hell off this sinking ship." Poor Smoltzie might miss the playoffs for, what, the first time in 16 years? Rough life, man. That said, if he really is available, you better believe he'd be at the top of my Red Sox Wish List, ahead of Dontrelle Willis (if he's healthy at 30, I'll be shocked), Jason Schmidt (if he's healthy in September, I'll be shocked), and pretty much any other available starter. I imagine Yankees fans would say the same thing, which could set up a hell of a bidding war.

8. I'm happy for 'Toine, who earned his championship ring with a disciplined (for him) 11-rebound effort last night. I'm happy for Dwyane Wade, who I do not hesitate to say is one of the finest and most likeable all-around basketball players I've ever seen. And I'm happy for Shaq, if only because he won without the Ego Twins, Kobe and Phil. But anyone who watched these Finals and is not disgusted by how slanted the refereeing was toward the Miami Heat is either A) Pat Riley, B) One of David Stern's scriptwriters. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but when you see Wade falling to the ground without being touched or Shaq plowing into his defender's breadbasket and getting the call again and again and again, and then you remember that Mark Cuban's name is atop Stern's enemies list, well, you have to wonder if the outcome would be different were the court actually level.

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

He's 70 years old, and I'm pretty sure he could still kick every one of his players' asses. Especially Soriano's.

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