Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nine innings: 07.24.07

Playing nine innings while wishing Papi would learn how to slide . . .

1. Of course it was heartwarming and wonderful to see Jon Lester on the mound for the Red Sox last night, earning the victory in his first appearance since his cancer diagnosis last August, and from a sentimental standpoint I hope he spends the next dozen years winning ballgames and inspiring Jimmy Fund patients as a treasured member of the Red Sox. But from a coldly unsentimental baseball standpoint, I have to say that the pitcher I saw last night was the same one I saw last summer, one who lacks either the command or the trust in his stuff to be as efficient and effective as a pitcher of his raw talent should be. Sure, I realize the magnitude of the moment, that he surely had butterflies as big as Mothra in his stomach as he completed his long journey back to a big-league mound, and his bases-loaded whiff of Grady Sizemore did bring back fun memories of his high point of a season ago, when he whiffed the Mets' David Wright in a remarkably similar situation. But I still can't help but think (and I admit, hope) that Theo Epstein should be so ruthless as to trade Lester for Mark Teixeira while the young lefty still retains most of his Elite Prospect luster. I hope Lester will become the pitcher we all want him to be, for reasons that extend well beyond baseball. It's just that I'm slightly skeptical, based on what I have seen of him from Portland on up, that it will ever happen, and I wonder, putting their fondness and respect for the kid aside, if the Red Sox honchos feel the same way.

2. Four straight wins . . . the first team in the majors to 60 victories . . . a lead over the "surging" Yankees that is actually a hal-game larger than it was on Mother's Day. Yes, I think it's okay to feel good about the Red Sox again. It's funny, but it seems to me that the baseball gods, who had been conspiring against the Sox for the past few weeks, finally decided to cut them some slack after Tim McClelland turned J.D. Drew's three-run homer into an inning-ending RBI double Friday night. It looked like that was going to be one more bad break, one more lost opportunity . . . and then the next thing you know, Julio Lugo of all people is getting a curtain call after hitting a grand slam, the Sox are cruising to a much-needed win, and all is well. I'm still convinced they need one more A-list hitter in the middle of the lineup, but with Lugo and Coco Crisp contributing and Manny Ramirez finally finding his groove, this lineup more often than not will score enough runs for the stellar pitching staff to come away with a win. As long as the Sox remain reasonably healthy, I'm relatively confident they'll keep the Yankees at a comfortable distance the rest of the way.

3. For all of the talk about Kason Gabbard being a finesse pitcher (I believe the proper baseball term is "a Jamie Moyer-type"), it's worth noting that in his brief major-league career he is averaging slightly more than six strikeouts per nine innings, which is more than respectable and tells you his stuff is better than he's often given credit for. This isn't Kevin Morton or Abe Alvarez we're talking about here. I've seen enough in his 10 career starts to believe that Gabbard has the arm and the repertoire to win in the big leagues.

4. Happy trails, Wily Mo Pena, and good luck with your ongoing and thus far futile quest to recognize a slider. Oh, I know Pena's technically still around, but it's only a matter of days now before he's an Oakland A or a Pittsburgh Pirate, and I figured I'd get the jump on the farewells. That way we can get on with pretending this whole thing never happened.

5. From Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column:

b. Not that I'm questioning what planet David Ortiz has fallen off, but the catcher for Kansas City, John Buck, who starts about 65 percent of the time and has 121 fewer at-bats, has as many homers, 16, as Ortiz.

c. The following players, four months into the season, have more home runs than Ortiz, who hit 54 last year: Dan Uggla, Brandon Phillips, Carlos Pena, Chris Duncan, Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Jack Cust, Brad Hawpe.

d. Theories, anyone? And don't give me the stuff about his right knee being sore. That's not his plant knee.

Now, I suppose ol' Latte Lips is not-so-subtly implying something about Papi here, but no matter what ham-handed point he is trying to make, I know this: Every time King writes about his favorite team, the Red Sox, I find myself wishing he was a Yankees fan.

6. Obligatory random football note: Considering that Michael Vick has probably overthrown his last receiver for the Falcons, and considering that the only place he's better than Drew Brees is on Madden, this trade has to go down as the most lopsided in NFL history since the Vikings traded half their depth chart along with their draft board for Herschel Walker.

7. Now this is the Coco Crisp the Red Sox thought they were getting from the Indians before last season. This is the guy who was so dynamic last spring before before a broken finger ruined his first season in Boston. After last night's 4-for-5 performance in his first game in Cleveland since the trade, his batting average is up to .284, and most encouragingly, he's finally hammering good fastballs again, something we were told was his strength as a hitter but never really saw until recently. I'm as enamored with Jacoby Ellsbury as everyone else around here, but if the Crisp we've seen the last six weeks or so is the Crisp we're going to be getting from here on out, I'm in no hurry to see him move on. He's been a joy to watch, especially in the field, and I hope - and believe - it will continue.

8. Not that I'm getting tired of the Yankees digging up these sold-my-soul-to-the-devil types who come out of nowhere seemingly ever other year to provide a late-season jolt, but I am wondering if Shelley Duncan and Shane Spencer have ever been seen in the same room together.

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

Beyond the obvious tragedy of a man dying too young, the thing that really breaks my heart about this story is that Coolbaugh had two children, ages 5 and 3, with a third on the way. Being a father of two myself and roughly the same age as Coolbaugh, I keep catching myself wondering how his widow can possibly have the strength to explain to their two boys why their dad is gone.

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