Monday, August 07, 2006

They're a sinking ship! Get it? See the picture? It's a metaphor! The Sox are a sinking ship!!! It's sinking!!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!! (Glug-glug-glug . . .)

Sorry for that outburst there, folks. (Deep breath.) Seems the jackals are already getting to me. I turn on Sports Final tonight, and there's ol' Lobel declaring in all his orange day-glo smugness that tonight's 7-6 loss to the Devil Rays was the most "devastating loss of the season, by far." Naturally, his precious Panic Button, a gimmick about as funny as Lenny Clarke, is visible over his left shoulder. I can't believe he didn't play a clip from the "Titanic" while he was at it. He must be slipping.

It's funny, I used to wonder what certain TV/radio types would do with themselves after the Sox won a World Series and the fanbase achieved a new level of contentment. Well, now I know. They pretend nothing has changed - and if Sox fans aren't miserable, well dammit, they're going to do their best to make us so. Please, remind me to avoid 'EEI today on my commute. I can hear the Big Show bloviating already.

Now, I'm not denying that tonight's loss stinks and sucks, and if not for the foibles of Fausto Carmona and the otherworldly heroics of David Ortiz, we'd likely be sweating out a legitimate slide here. But a quick glance at the standings tells us the Sox are 20 games over .500, two back of the Yankees, a half-game out in the wild card. In other words, right where we expected them to be back in Ft. Myers. Don't you know this is how it happens every damn year? The Sox lead the AL East through much of the summer, the Yankees take it back late, and then all important matters are settled in the postseason.

Only then will we get our answers. For now, some questions . . .

• What the $*$& is up with the bullpen? Seriously, dude, what the #*$*&@*#*?

Here's my solution: Julian Tavarez needs to get himself gone, immediately. He's the human black cloud - every time he comes into a game, some atrocity happens, even if he's pitching adequately. Send him back to St. Louis, or Elm Street, or wherever he came from, and get his wretched karma away from this ballclub, before he accidentally pokes out Big Papi's eye during a walkoff celebration or something. As far as the rest of them? They all have their flaws. Mike Timlin is 40 and meatball-prone, Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen are feeling the growing pains, and Rudy Seanez never should have been offered a contract (though he has pitched well lately). Even Jonathan Papelbon has been human lately, blowing four saves in the last month and a half, and yes, I feel like a leech for even mentioning that. Listen, there isn't a bullpen in the big leagues that isn't having issues of some sort. There's enough to work with here that I believe they'll get it right, despite Al Nipper's involvement.

• Why is Josh Beckett on the cover of ESPN Magazine this week?

Because their in-depth feature on gritty, gutty Matt Clement fell through? Seriously, the timing of this is more than a little curious - does that rag publish three months in advance or something? Even an unabashed Beckett fan - quit staring at me! - has to concede that his first season in Boston has fallen somewhere between enigmatic and disappointing. The consensus opinion is that he'd become an elite starter if he'd just knock off the macho Nuke LaLoosh b.s., stop trying to throw his fastball at 110 miles per hour, and actually pitch a little when he gets into trouble. It makes sense. But it also strikes me as too obvious, too convenient. This mule can't be that stubborn . . . can he? You'd think after giving up 31 homers - one more than Manny has hit, for perspective - and watching his ERA teeter around the 5.00 mark, Beckett would have been open to adjustments long ago. Yet there he was, serving up straight 96 mph fastball after straight 96 mph fastball in his sixth-inning meltdown against Cleveland the other night, and I know I'm not the only one who noticed that neither Terry Francona nor Nipper visited the mound until the Indians had strung together seven straight hits. I almost wondered if he was left out there to learn a lesson. Then again, he doesn't seem to have learned any so far. The reasons for his bizarre, practically bipolar pitching performances remain a mystery.

• Can we use the injuries as an excuse?

Nah, we'll leave that to the Yankees, who somehow have convinced every teleprompter-reading nitwit from Bristol, Conn., to happy-happy joy-joy McCarverland that their ability to hang around in the AL East despite losing Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui is a wonderful tale of overcoming adversity. Give me a bleeping break. The Yankees have a payroll of approximately $280,987,992.83, and that's not including what they shell out for A-Rod's psychologists, Jeter's cosmotologists, and Giambi's chemists. I know Yankee fans have the curious desire to be both favorites and underdogs, but even they must admit that being able to purchase a Bobby Abreu for fistful of not-so-magic beans is a massive advantage that only they and their accountants hold. You have overcome nothing, okay? If you're looking for sympathy for the devil, obviously you've come to the wrong place. Maybe you'll prefer how the brilliant dudes at Fire Joe Morgan put it:

I am the 2006 New York Yankees! Here is my line-up:

CF Johnny Damon. $13 million.
SS Derek Jeter. $19 million.
1B Jason Giambi. $18 million.
DH Gary Sheffield. $13 million.
RF Bobby Abreu. $13 million.
3B Alex Rodriguez. $25 million.
LF Hideki Matsui. $13 million.
C Jorge Posada. $9 million
2B Robinson Cano. $381 thousand.

(Total for starting nine position players: $123 million. More than the Red Sox' 25 man-roster.)

How is this relevant? Well, when you have a lineup of players worth $123 million, and you lose $26 million worth of player, you still have a pretty (expletive) good lineup. The crazy patchwork lineups the Yankees have been trotting out there, full of (I'm not the good) M. Cabreras, A. Guiels, (the wrong) B. Crosbys, and A. Phillipses, are still anchored by the very expensive Misters Jeter, Rodriguez and Giambi, to say nothing of the fairly expensive Senors Damon and Posada. Spare me the what-a-goddamn-hero-Joe-Torre-is routine. The lineup at the beginning of the year was lethal -- a mockery of the game of baseball, in fact. No "winning culture" accounted for its ability to withstand the loss of two of its better hitters -- and not, I might add, its two best.

Have I mentioned that I love those guys? They make me so happy . . . I am the McCarver to their Jete-Jete. Hey, do you think they'll come out with an FJM cologne? (Ahem.) Um, anyway . . . about the Sox injuries. No, they are not an excuse. David Wells and Keith Foulke are back, Clement was ready to bury himself in a hole on the mound, Tim Wakefield apparently will return sooner rather than later, and Wily Mo Pena may well prove an upgrade on the powerless Trot Nixon. And while Jason Varitek's knee injury is the most painful blow, it's not quite as painful as it would be if he had hit with any authority over the past year, and I have to admit I catch myself wondering why so many pitchers underachieve on his watch. I don't mean to diminish his importance - even if the Captain Dirt Dog stuff is overstated, he obviously means a lot to the Sox for a myriad of reasons. But if Javy Lopez has any fuel left in the tank - a big if so far, admittedly - the Sox will survive until he returns.

• Who's driven?

Why, Jetes is! Also, he smells like grapefruit.

• What happened to the cute little birdy who captured the Fenway Faithful's hearts as he attempted to teach Doug Mirabelli how to take a secondary lead?

Ate him. (Burrrrp . . . dee-licious!) Actually, rumor has it that one of his predatory enemies did him in the day after his moment in the sun. But no worries - you'll be able to buy an autographed copy of his carcass on Remy's website any day now, and for the low, low price of $29.95.

• Should Theo have done something - hell, anything - at the trade deadline?

A trustworthy middle reliever would have been swell, but I'm beginning to wonder if those exist anymore. Other than that, I don't know what the Sox were supposed to do, especially given the rampant mediocrity that made up this year's market. To put it another way, I'd rather gamble that Wells has something left to give rather than take on someone like Jon Lieber. Heck, I'd rather take my chances with Foulke than acquire another journeyman from the Tavarez/Seanez assembly line. As for what they almost did, well, I give zero credence to the Clemens rumors - I suspect that was just the Hendricks brothers being the Hendricks brothers. (Jimi and Elrod, I believe Leigh Montville once called them.) I was opposed to the Lester-Hanson-Crisp for Andruw Jones swap . . . at least until word came that the Sox would then wheel Jones to Houston for two-time 20-game winner Roy Oswalt. Now that would have been an intriguing move. Oswalt has been the unsung ace in baseball the last few seasons, but he reminds me, in stuff and fragility, of Tim Hudson, and I'm not sure that bodes well for his future. Ultimately, I talked myself into believing I was glad the deal fell through . . . but give me, oh, six beers and I might change my mind. (Come to think of it, that's the exact philosophy that caused more than few awkward moments at UMaine back in the day.) I do know this much: as all the rumors flew, I dearly missed having Gammons around to help sort the fact from the fiction.

• How's it gonna be?

Man, you know times are desperate when I'm quoting Third-Eye Blind song titles - we usually leave that pop-hipster '90s nonsense to Bronson Arroyo around here. So let's just put this as plainly as possible: The. Sox. Will. Be. Fine. As long as Papi and Manny keep doing their modern-day Ruth and Gehrig routine, offense will not be an issue, and Schilling and Papelbon give them the top-of-the-rotation ace and door-slamming closer they lacked last year when, by the way, they made the playoffs for the third straight season. I remain convinced they'll make it four, and you can insert your own semi-charmed life reference here.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

No, dear, he's no relation to Big Papi.

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