Monday, May 28, 2007

Nine innings: 05.28.07

Playing nine innings while looking forward to the Yankees' trading-deadline fire sale . . .

1. Think Dr. Charles has anything appropriately cheesy planned for Trot Nixon's return to Fenway Park today? Maybe have noted baseball songsmith Terry Cashman crank out another silly, simple tune ("The Dirty-Hat Ditty," perhaps?). It certainly seems like NESN intends on playing up the Trot angle tonight, from a pregame one-on-one interview with Tom Caron to having ol' No. 7 miked up for some goofy batting-practice banter. Who knows, maybe they'll even bring back Brian Daubach for a reunion with his old partner in grime. While we here at TATB never quite understood why Nixon was such an unconditional darling of the Dirt Dog crowd (from flipping the second out into in the stands twice to failing to hustle home before an inning-ending out could be recorded at another base twice, he always seemed to run neck-and-neck with Manny for the team lead in boneheaded plays), we always respected him for his sincere appreciation of playing in Boston, his big-moment ownership of Roger Clemens, and the fact that he was One of the 25, and the one who happened to deliver the big hit in the clinching game. No, he may never have been our favorite, but today, we will tip our dirty Sox cap his way. After 13 years in the Sox organization, we owe him that much.

2. Kevin Youkilis is batting .353, he has seven straight multi-hit games, a higher OPS than sluggers named Morneau and Teixeira . . . and you know what? I'm beginning to think he's actually this good. It's funny, but the scouts who were skeptical of Youkilis as he rose through the Red Sox system noted that for all of his patience at the plate, they didn't think he was a skilled enough hitter to always make the most of it when he did get a hittable pitch. Well, here we are three years after Youkilis first arrived in the big leagues, and it seems like the guy never misses his pitch - he's a line-drive machine. I realize he got off to a similarly scorching start last season before wearing down in the second half, but I've seen enough to be convinced that he's ready, at age 28, to put up excellent numbers all season long.

3. There are a few things about Dustin Pedroia that annoy me - the swing-from-the-heels approach to hitting, the sense that his tough-guy gripe about A-Rod's slide comes from an incurable case of what my dad used to call "little man's disease" - but I have to admit, he's winning me over as a ballplayer. He's better than advertised defensively, certainly superior to rangeless predecessor Mark Loretta, and if his classic at-bat against Eric Gagne yesterday is a fair measure, there are very few pitchers who will overmatch him despite his unorthodox uppercut swing. I'm not sure I like him yet, but I'm beginning to appreciate him.

4. Well, I guess Pedro Martinez won't be getting a bedazzler for Christmas. If you missed it, the greatest pitcher in modern Red Sox history recently weighed in on the comeback of the second-greatest pitcher in modern history, and Pedro's opinion was basically this: Right now, Roger Clemens looks like a fat, old junkballer. To which we can only say that we hope Pedro is as good a scout as he is (was?) a pitcher.

5. Speaking of Pedro, and to a lesser extent Johnny Damon, it might be time to give Theo Epstein his due for the unsentimental manner in which he refuses to overpay for the club's popular but aging stars. Pedro, of course, crumbled physically in Year 2 of his four-year deal with the Mets, and the years of playing with reckless abandon sure seem to be taking a heavy toll on Damon in his second season with the Yankees. We're not saying Pedro and Damon are finished as premier players . . . but at the moment, Theo looks shrewd for letting them leave. Kinda makes you wonder what his post-2007 plan for Curt Schilling is, doesn't it?

6. Brief Celtics aside: I vow that in 2017, when the Celtics inevitably stink and the next franchise big man (Shazaam O'Neal?) is the prize of the NBA lottery, I will not get caught up in the hype or daydream of said franchise big man in green and white until David Stern's nerdy underling pulls the Celtics' card out of the envelope as the No. 1 pick. The crushing letdown from realizing Tim Duncan, Greg Oden, or Kevin Durant will be some other franchise's grand prize is simply too much to endure again.

7. Brief Patriots aside: Since I've been telling anyone who will listen that we never would have heard of Bryan Fletcher had Junior Seau remained healthy - the one thing he can still do at an elite level is shadow tight ends and running backs in pass coverage - you bet I'm glad the Patriots are bringing him back for another year of graduate school. In a supporting role, Seau's still a very useful player.

8. As if Red Sox fans needed another reason to adore Orlando Cabrera.

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

PLoved this story by Joe Posnanski (for our money, one of the two or three best sports columnist in the country - he actually seems to like sports, go figure) on the legend of Bo Jackson. if you didn't see Jackson in his too-short prime, well, you missed something truly special, but Posnanski does a wonderful job of recapturing it, particularly with the Harold Reynolds anecdote. The only time I saw Jackson play in person was in the spring of, let's see, probably '89 or '90 at Fenway, when me and a bunch of my UMaine buddies made the four-hour drive down from the Orono hinterlands for the sole purpose of seeing him (and George Brett) play. As usual, Bo did not disappoint, smashing line-drive home run off Wes Gardner that dented the back wall in centerfield, about 20 feet from where we were seated in the bleachers. I've never seen anything like it - or anything like the man who hit it, for that matter.

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