Monday, May 21, 2007

Nine innings: 05.21.07

Playing nine innings while hunching that Manny is about to break out of it big-time in the Bronx . . .

1. Ten-and-a-half games? Nice, but not enough. Not nearly enough. When these three games are over, I want the Yankees reeling. I want the deficit at 13.5 games come Wednesday night. A month from now, I want it at 20-something, and by September, I want them chasing the Devil Rays. I want them blasted in the 120-point headlines on the back and front pages of the Post and Daily News. I want George "Weekend at Bernie's" Steinbrenner's publicist issuing harshly worded press releases chock-full of unintentional comedy. I want the newly unemployed Joe Torre sitting on his porch in Hawaii, wondering where it all went so wrong and if his legacy is irreparably damaged. I want the Rocket to have second thoughts and a convenient hamstring "tweak." I want Matt DeSalvo and Tyler Clippard to realize they aren't Aaron Small, 2005. I want Suzyn Waldman muted. I want Brian Cashman to wish he'd gone to nursing school like he secretly dreamed. I want A-Rod to bicker behind the scenes with Derek Jeter while counting the days until he escapes . . . er, opts out. I want Robinson Cano to continue his Chuck Knoblauch impression, I want Johnny Damon to continue hemorraging body parts, and I want Mariano Rivera to mournfully long for those golden days when no one could touch his cutter. Is that too much to ask? Well, yeah, probably. But you get the point. For once, the Sox have a chance to deliver an early-season blow that the Yankees may not be able to recover from; if the Sox can rough them up over the next three days, the aftermath in the Bronx is going to be gruesome. So why not daydream big? It might make it all the sweeter should it become reality.

2. All right, I'll admit it. My pre-Boston perception of Julian Tavarez couldn't have been more wrong. I thought he was a hothead, a lunatic, a selfish clubhouse cancer and unpopular teammate who didn't particularly care about winning. Oh, he's still a hothead and a lunatic, but it's become apparent that he's an endearing and extremely well-liked hothead/lunatic, one whose tantrums usually are the direct result of his frustration with letting his teammates down. It's funny, but he has many of the same characteristics, both positive and self-destructive, as Oil Can Boyd had back in the day. From his comical one-sided dugout chats with Dice-K to his part-time gig as Manny's unofficial spokesman to his willingness to pitch in any role and situation that the team requests of him, it's clear that Tavarez and the Red Sox are a good fit. Who knew? Surely not me.

3. Where have you gone, Dennis Eckersley? Maybe I've just had the coincidental misfortune of missing the Eck's NESN studio appearances recently, but it seems to me the likes of Dave McCarty, Jim Rice and Ken Macha have been getting more airtime lately. Even Jack Welch has been coming down from the Muppets balcony to throw his ill-informed two cents in. (Or two billion cents, given that's probably what he's paying for the privilege.) No Eck? This is not a good thing. With the Sox in the Bronx and the anticipation running high, I'd better see the original slickermaster on my TV tonight, offering the sharp insight and unfiltered opinions that make him the best baseball analyst there is, including everyone currently employed in Bristol, Conn. The Eck retired from pitching nine years ago, but in his second career, he's still the go-to guy in a big game.

4. It seems like every lefthander with a fastball that probably wouldn't earn a speeding ticket is labeled The Next Jamie Moyer, particularly if said lefty has a quality breaking pitch, a sneaky changeup, and the requisite savvy to make batters look foolish despite a limited repertoire. And while that probably does Moyer a disservice, given that he's pitched his way to 220 major-league wins while so many Kevin Mortons have come and gone, I must admit that they more I see of Kason Gabbard, the more I think he can be one of those shrewd, successful southpaws - yes, in the Moyer mold - who seems to find a way to win without ever overwhelming anyone. He couldn't have been more impressive Sunday, and he's been a consistently effective pitcher for over a full season now. Considering Terry Francona is an unabashed fan, I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of Gabbard in Boston.

5. Jason Giambi is in a 1-for-26 slump. And the Yankees, who curiously okayed his agent's request to omit all contract language regarding performance enhancing drugs when they originally signed him, are rumored to be looking for a way out of Juicin' G's deal after his mildly incriminating comments about steroid use this week. Hmmm . . . this cycle, so to speak, sounds vaguely familiar. I fully expect a miraculously rejuvenated Giambi to hit, say, 12 home runs next month, then tell us his sudden power surge is due to his decision to quit eating cheeseburgers for breakfast, or some other such nonsensical attempt to obscure the truth.

6. While the eminently likable Wily Mo Pena has occasionally mixed in a prodigious home run or two among his numerous strikeouts and fielding mishaps, it's fair to say he's probably not going to approach his potential until he escapes this growth-stunting bench role in Boston. He needs to get 550 at-bats for a team with no real postseason aspirations, one that can afford to let him learn certain hitting skills on the job, such as how to recognize a slider before it hits the dirt. Unless J.D. Drew runs into another wall or Manny's hamstring starts barking, there's little he can do to contribute to the cause here. I bet he's gone at the trade deadline for a better-fitting piece.

7. Saw this on the always insightful Fragile Freddy blog, and thought it was such a smart and original idea that I'd pilfer it for myself: If he hasn't already, Theo Epstein should contact the Braves about Jarrod Saltalamacchia, their outstanding catching prospect who is stuck behind Brian McCann, and see if perhaps the Sox can put together a package to bring the just-turned-22-year-old to Fenway. Saltalamacchia is rarity in that he's a legitimately elite prospect both behind and at the plate, and with Jason Varitek now 35, and George Kotteras struggling mightily at Pawtucket, the Sox are somewhat desperate for a legitimate catching successor. I doubt the Braves would trade their consensus top prospect unless they received a ransom in return . . . but you have to figure they will move him at some point, and the Sox are as reasonable a destination as any.

8. We like to break this out every now and then, just for the sake of good karma. (And also because it will never, ever get old.)

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

Larry Wayne Jones is 35? Really? Geez, as if my rickety bones don't feel old enough these days. I suppose he has been around for a long time now, but seems like just yesterday the Braves were getting spindled and mutilated by the Baseball America types for choosing a Florida kid nicknamed Chipper over can't-miss Texas high school pitcher Todd Van Poppel . . . who, of course, did miss, spectacularly.

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