Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New York groove

Playing nine innings while waiting for J.D. Drew to take the damn bat off his shoulder . . .

1. I've been reluctant to declare American League East race ovah, for two reasons: First, there is a tendency among certain media members to race to become the first to pronounce the Yankees dead . . . and then, when they inevitably crawl out of the crypt, history is somehow revised and spun so that it was really the numbskull fans who were the ones claiming matters were settled when there were 60 games remaining. The habit is as transparent as it is annoying, and I don't want to be one to fall into that trap. Besides, while it would be a nice little milestone to win the AL East for the first time since '95, we all know that all that really matters is getting to the postseason. So I'm waiting to see the cold corpse of the Yankees' playoff hopes before I deliver any gleeful eulogies. As for the second reason, well, basically it's this: I have been, to quote Arthur Fonzarelli, wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong about so much this year - from my skepticism of jockey-like Dustin Pedroia's ability to hit major league pitching to the certainty of a Mike Lowell annual second-half collapse to my willingness to be talked into believing Drew was a shrewd signing - that I'm hesitant to look into my crystal ball knowing that another off-the-mark proclamation will make me look as clueless as a WEEI fill-in host.

2. I think Dice K will eventually prove to be worth every last yen the Red Sox paid for him; once he becomes fully acclimated to major league baseball and the lifestyle, he'll be a damn fine No. 2 starter at the worst, and becoming one of the elite pitchers in the game is certainly an attainable goal. But right now . . . well, he's good, very good on occasion, but he's also just so frustrating, particularly on nights like tonight. His command isn't what we were told it was - he serves up way too many flat, fat breaking balls - and I can't help but wish he had an extra two or three miles per hour on his fastball. As for those 15 runs he's allowed in 19.1 innings against the Yankees this season? Not acceptable for any pitcher, let alone one of his accomplishment and skill.

3. Dr. Charles surely would revoke my Red Sox Nation membership card for saying this (presuming I were sucker enough to fall for such a transparent, insulting money grab), but Yankee phenom Joba Chamberlain's stuff is so electric and his back story so compelling, I have to admit I genuinely enjoy watching the kid pitch. And yes, I say that with the knowledge that, good health permitting, he'll be tormenting the Sox for the next decade or so. Hey, every now and then the baseball fan wins out over the Red Sox fan.

4. Four of Derek Jeter's nine home runs this season have come against the Red Sox, a stat that probably manages to be both impressive and puzzling if you're a Yankees fan. (Then again, if you're a Yankees fan, most things are puzzling, particularly the concept of good hygiene. Sorry. Too easy.) In all seriousness, it's impressive that Jeter manages his best performances against the Yankees' main rival, but it has to be puzzling that Captain Calm-Eyes has been fist-pumpin' his way to a .258 batting average and a .619 OPS in 99 at-bats this month. Maybe I'm just taking a small sample size out of context, and maybe last night's homer was a sign that he was on the verge of a playoff-push hot streak, but right now I have the same suspicion about him that I've had about David Ortiz for much of the season. He's playing through more than a few bumps and bruises, and we'll find out just how seriously he is injured only when the season ends.

5. Cracks me up how Roger Clemens's mediocre performance has relegated his apologists to mythologizing his impact as a "mentor" to the Yankees' young pitchers. Uh-uh, that's exactly why he's being paid a pro-rated $28 million - to carry a few clipboards for Ron Guidry. I hope the Sox light him up so badly that today's lesson for Joba and other impressionable young Yankee minds includes this annual staple of the Rocket syllabus: How To Limp Off the Mound With a Groin "Tweak" While Trailing 8-0 in the Second Inning 101. Man, I do enjoy that class.

6. Quick Patriots aside: I'm a transactions junkie as it is, but NFL cutdown day is going to be extra fascinating this season because of the Patriots' ridiculous depth. I thought coming into camp that Reche Caldwell was a longshot to stick, and he's done nothing in camp to change my mind, though it might not be the worst idea to keep a receiver who has some chemistry with Tom Brady until the new guys get acclimated. (I'd be curious to see how huge Caldwell's eyes get when the Turk tells him coach wants to see him and to bring his playbook.) Defensively, veterans who seem to be on the bubble include Chad Brown (why was he brought back in the first place?), Tory James and/or Dante Wesley, and for some reason I wonder if Junior Seau and Eric Alexander are as secure as they seem.

7. I liked Johnny Damon a whole hell of a lot better two weeks ago when he was washed up. The Yankees will undoubtedly try to dump him and the two years remaining on his contract in the offseason, and given the mileage on his legs and the emergence of Melky Cabrera, that's probably prudent. But he's suddenly hitting again, even as Joe Torre's reluctant 10th man, and I'm pretty sure he could be clomping around on a peg leg out there and he'd still find a way to torment the Sox.

8. I'm not saying Kevin Cash (.172 lifetime average) should be Doug Mirabelli's successor, but he sure has done a fine job proving that Mirabelli isn't the only living organism in the milky way capable of catching Tim Wakefield successfully, and for that I will remember him fondly.

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

I love the Lee Elia "playground-for-the-expletives" meltdown . . . and Earl Weaver's social tips for Alice Sweet . . . and in the non-sports division, Kasey Kasem's profanity-laced rant remains a No. 1 hit . . . but for my pure listening pleasure, this bleep-faced appearance by the Red Baron on a Padres telecast last season is the greatest piece of audio since the invention of ears. At certain points, he sounds so much like Wooderson that I half expect him to say, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin', man." But the best part? Play-by-play guy Matt Vasgergian's bewildered "Clooney?" It gets funnier every time I hear it.

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