Monday, September 04, 2006

Nine innings: 09.04.06

Playing nine innings while finally seeing some familiar names on the lineup card . . .

1. With his spot-on Big Papi imitation tonight, Carlos Pena (of the Haverhill Penas) lived the common dream of New England kids through the ages: to hit a game-winning home run at Fenway Park. He's one of us, and it was chill-inducing to see how much he savored it. Long regarded as one of the nicest people in the game, reacted with genuine joy, as if the moment's realization took him back to the day he first imagined it. "Do you know how many times I'm doing this in my backyard? It's amazing," he said. "I've dreamed of this since I was 12 years old." Now, feel free to accuse me of getting caught up in the good vibes of the night, but I do hope there is a spot on the roster for Pena next season. Frankly, I don't quite understand why he hasn't been able to hold down a big-league gig. He's a terrific first baseman, has a selective eye (though he does strike out a ton), has legitimate power (he walloped 27 homers in '03), and at 28, is still young enough to realize the potential that saw him reach the majors at 23, just two years removed from Northeastern. You'd think he'd at least make a valuable member of the bench. And who doesn't love a local-boy-makes-good story, especially when he's making good for the local team?

2. So the Sox are six back in the wild-card and nine in the division with 24 games left to play. While stranger things have happened, I'd say the more reasonable among us agree that the 2006 playoffs will go on without the Boston Red Sox' participation. And you know what? I find myself feeling strangely fine about this. Maybe it's because of the frightening, life-altering situation young Jon Lester suddenly finds himself in, or maybe it's because of David Ortiz's health scare, or maybe it's something as trivial as a baseball matter, such as the thought that the franchise's future would be better served if Jonathan Papelbon never unleashed another pitch this season. Or maybe it's all of this: the relentless injuries (Ortiz, Ramirez, Nixon, Crisp, Wakefield, Varitek, Pena, Foulke, Wells, Gonzalez, Schilling, Papelbon . . .), poor roster construction (save for Papelbon, the bullpen's performance has been like some bizarre tribute to Heathcliff Slocumb), a lack of suitable depth in the high minors (Kevin Freakin' Jarvis? Mike Burns? Seriously?), and the common-sense realization that this team in perfect health probably wasn't going to star in a sequel to Faith Rewarded. Hey, sometimes it's okay to admit that it's just not your turn.

3. I was going to use this space to rant about Theo's decision to trade David Riske to the White Sox for The Less Famous But Equally Useless Of The Javier Lopezes, but then a kindly SoSHer pointed out to me that the White Sox are extremely reluctant to use Riske in any - I apologize in advance - risky situations, and that he's continuing his career-long trend of pitching well only in low-pressure moments. Then I was going to use this space to rip on Theo for leaving Craig Breslow buried at Pawtucket most of the season while lefty batters continued to make hamburger of the Sox bullpen, but then Breslow went out and pitched exactly like you'd expect someone named Craig Breslow to pitch. So seeing how it's pretty clear that I'm about as clueless at trying to assemble a bullpen as Theo is, let me just say in my wishy-washy way that I wish Cla Meredith were still here, and I'm pretty sure he'd help somewhat seeing that he hasn't given up a run in 20-something innings in the Quadruple A National League, and that maybe this building a bullpen thing ain't so easy after all.

4. A few of us here at TATB headquarters felt like shedding more than just crocodile tears when we heard about the bizarre and tragic death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin this morning. While I'm more the indoorsy type, my wife was a longtime fan of his show, and I always enjoyed watching it with her. You just couldn't help but be drawn in by his uncommon abundance of charisma, enthusiasm, and knowledge, and his rapport with all of his creatures was tangible, truly something to behold. It was apparent that he was one of the lucky few whose life's work also happened to be his true passion. He'll be missed, and I feel terrible for his kids.

5. From a fan's standpoint, I was bummed to see Boomer Wells depart. As a rule, I'm pretty much cool with any athlete who has a Body By Hostess, and it was an absolute treat to watch him pitch when his curveball was working and his creaky knees could bear the weight. He was the anti-Clement, a fearless, efficient, strike-throwing machine, and I wonder how this season might have been different had he made 30 starts. But taking bleacher-creature sentiment out of it, I think the Sox made a pretty decent deal, assuming the reports that catcher George Kottaras is the PTBNL are accurate. While he's struggled in his in-season promotion from Double A to Triple A, he's only 23, he was the Padres' No. 2 prospect coming into the season, is said to be solid defensively but for some supposedly correctable mechanical flaws, and earned an intriguing pre-season review from Baseball Prospectus:

The fraternity of former hot catching prospects is fraught with disappointment - ask Matt LeCroy or Toby Hall. Kottaras resembles a young Craig Biggio more than behemoths like LeCroy or Hall, though, and he looks like he's going to be a pretty fair defensive backstop. His 36 doubles and 69 walks point to some promising line-drive power and a good batting eye, traits that will serve him well at higher levels. With just 101 Double-A at-bats on his record, he won't be a factor in the big leagues in 2006. Look for Kottaras in 2007 - Doug Mirabelli is not a long term solution behind the plate.

Little did they know that last line would refer to the Red Sox and not the Padres, huh?

6. And speaking of our favorite plus-size ballplayers, let me say this: If you don't enjoys watching Ryan Howard, a genuine slugger with a veteran's savvy at the plate (his opposite-field power is reee-diculous), then you are either a David Eckstein-lovin', scrappy-white-guy fetishist, a National League pitcher, or someone who so foolishly had him pegged as the next Sam Horn. Hell, I'm the latter, and he might be favorite NL player at the moment.

7. Three quick thoughts on the Yankees: 1) Typical A-Rod, going on a tear once everything of consequence is in the bag. 2) I'm not saying it's fair or right, but Derek Jeter is going to win the AL MVP, the Gold Glove, and the Maybelline Metrosexual of the Year award. 3) How come Johnny Damon's name doesn't come up in this MVP talk? I'm not saying he should win the thing, but after putting up stellar numbers, leading the 5-game annihilation of his former team, filling the gaping hole in center field that was previously occupied by the mummified Bernie Williams, and bringing a sense of fun and relaxation to the tense Yankees clubhouse, shouldn't he at least be in the discussion?

8. Be well, Jon Lester. An entire Nation looks forward to celebrating your next victory, one that has nothing to do with baseball.

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

Not only did the Sox have to settle for a spilt with the Blue Jays after winning the first two games of the series, but we didn't even get to see John Gibbons punch out one of his players. Talk about a letdown.

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