Tuesday, October 23, 2007

'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well, they're no friends of mine

Playing nine innings while wondering how many times Jonathan Papelbon was dropped on his head as an infant (the over/under is four) . . .

1. There were countless enjoyable aspects of the Sox' comeback from a 3-1 hole against the Indians - hearing Yankee cheerleader Tim McCarver and the smarmy Joe Buck being forced to praise Manny's defense is right there at the top of my list - but perhaps the most rewarding were the various tales of redemption along the way. No, Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn't brilliant in Game 7, allowing two runs in five innings while looking dominant in the early going and frighteningly worn out - if not downright Wasdin-like - by the fifth. (I still can't believe Tito left him in to face Grady Sizemore, who had some ferocious swings.) But given how inconsolable he seemed after his Game 3 loss, it was nice to see him rebound and make the most of his second chance; I think his toughness in the face of adversity is an encouraging sign regarding what I'm convinced more than ever will be a bright future here. Then there is J.D. Drew, whose absolutely crushed grand slam in the first inning of Game 6 effectively erased a season's worth of disappointment with one swing and gave him a long overdue shining moment at Fenway. (Not to mention that it led to perhaps my favorite Bob Ryan lede of all time: "So that's the fascination with J.D. Drew." Perfect.) Hell, rumor has it Eric Gagne even had an inning in there somewhere where he didn't spontaneously combust, which is major progress for sure. Yes, I know Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia were immense, Hideki Okajima was "the hero in the dark" yet again (seriously, where would this team have finished without him this season?), Josh Beckett was an Ace, capital A, and the list goes on. But there's something appropriate about many of the ball club's most maligned players coming up big when the moment demanded it. Now, if only Julio Lugo could learn to catch a popup, we'd officially have nothing and no one to complain about.

2. Other than Drew's holy-bleep-did-that-really-just-happen? slam, my favorite moment of the whole three-game run might have been Coco Crisp's catch in the triangle for the final out of the series. Say what you will about his limp noodle of a bat - and it's fair to say his prolonged ineptitude at the plate this postseason will not only cost him at-bats in the World Series, but probably his future with the Red Sox - but there's no denying that the guy is the ultimate Dirt Dog, an absolutely fearless player whose physical problems are rooted in the fact that he refuses to play the game at anything less than breakneck speed. Further, it's a tribute to his professionalism that he's handled his reduction in playing time as gracefully as he patrols center field. Jacoby Ellsbury deserves to play right now, and the kid should be the starting center fielder on opening day in '08, but anyone who says Crisp hasn't been an important member of the Sox this season simply hasn't been paying attention.

3. The little SOB has forced me to eat more crow this season, so what's one more time, right? So let's just get to it: I have never been more wrong about a player than I was about Dustin Pedroia. He is not a lawn gnome, a hood ornament, a descendant of a Wizard of Oz munchkin, or a refugee jockey from Suffolk Downs. He is, pound for pound, perhaps the best pure baseball player on the Red Sox, and after watching him for one full season, I don't even want to imagine the ball club without him. He's a downright excellent hitter despite his Jose Canseco swing, his defense at second base is as good as we have seen at the position in a long, long time, and his Tanner Boyle, "Yeah-I'm-a-runt-but-I'll-kick-your-sorry-*&*" attitude is admirable, hilarious, and probably necessary. He is one of my favorite players on this team, and I look forward to him making me look like a stupid *$*&%^*&$& for years to come. There. That ought to do it until his next season-saving moment, in which I will gladly wash, rinse, and repeat this rant.

4. And after that mea culpa, here's a TATB flashback to prove my first impressions are occasionally on the money. (Though Beckett is more articulate and introspective than I gave him credit for at the time of the trade - the occasional well-place f-bomb aside, he's got a better vocabulary than all of the males in the Clemens family combined.)

5. While a Sox fan obviously should feel no remorse for whupping the Indians, unless you're someone who boarded the bandwagon post-2003, you at least have some sympathy for their agonized plight, which now includes 59 seasons without a World Championship and a tragicomic book's worth of gruesome defeats along the way. Joe Posnanski's blog post - simply titled "Pain" - on a Cleveland fan's battle for hope while sensing that defeat was inevitable left me with this thought: Savor these glory days in Boston sports, because it wasn't that long ago when that was us. And that's your condescending lecture for today, folks. (Wait, one more quick link before I forget: Charlie Pierce's Slate essay on Manny's infinite baseball wisdom. The last sentence ("Manny's unburdened of everything, hitting .400 in the postseason, and sharing his secret knowledge with the wider world, which is as blind and deaf to genius as it ever was") encapsulates the essence of Manny Being Manny better that any string of words I have ever read. You know I loved this.)

6. The cynic in me has always assumed there's a certain amount of b.s. to Kevin Millar's Goodtime Cowboy personality - the alleged redneck grew up in Los Angeles, for heaven's sake - and Seth Mnookin did expose some level of phoniness in "Feeding the Monster," revealing that Millar wasn't exactly Mr. Clubhouse Unity when he was losing playing time. But I am convinced that Millar's affection for Boston - and the apparent affection of Terry Francona and his former teammates for him - is 100-percent genuine, and that Millar truly did leave his heart here when he departed for Baltimore. Besides, his "Don't let us win tonight" speech before Game 4 of the '04 ALDS in front of a smirking media (check "Faith Rewarded" and you'll see what I mean) is, in retrospect, one of my favorite moments of that postseason. The Orioles may have a problem with him throwing out the first pitch at Fenway, but as far as I'm concerned, he's a welcome guest of honor at Fenway any time he desires. After all, he was One Of The 25, and a crucial one at that.

7. The Patriots have been lost in the shuffle way too often around here lately - it's a wonder Stacey James hasn't called to whine about coverage - and you know that will change once this baseball business is taken care of. But before I forget, I just wanted to mention one thing about this revamped receiving corps that has impressed me, and I'm not talking about Randy Moss's ability to catch the ball with his elbow. It just sort of dawned on me as I was listening to Gil and Gino Sunday just how well the three notable new guys (Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte' Stallworth) complement each other as players. Moss is the superstar (obviously) and the deep threat, perhaps the most purely talented player we've ever seen in a Patriots uniform, and his connection with Brady is something to behold. Welker plays the slot with the toughness and savvy of Troy Brown in his prime - he's actually better than he seemed when he was torching the Patriots during his Dolphins days. And the real revelation is Stallworth, who, while putting up some uneven numbers depending upon his role in the offense in a particular week, is an absolutely breathtaking runner after making a catch - his instincts and moves in the open field are more like a running back's. He's much more than just a burner. It's amazing that Scott Pioli and the Patriots not only brought in these three terrific receivers in one offseason, upgrading their talent at the position from possibly the worst in the league to perhaps the best, but that they're all so different stylistically yet all play off each other's abilities so effectively. It's really been something to behold, hasn't it?

8. Joel Skinner seems to be getting the brunt of the blame for Kenny Lofton's failure to score the tying run in the seventh inning on Franklin Gutierrez's rocket down the third base line, and I suppose he deserves it for holding Lofton when he probably could have moonwalked home safely. (Manny's classic quote afterward: "I was just going to throw it to the cutoff man and let him deal with it.") But there would be some karmic justice if Lofton, who's personality could be described as perpetually miserable and who was eviscerated by Gammons on Mike Felger's show yesterday for showboating on the play, ended up being remembered as the Lonnie Smith of his era. (And after reading this item, I'm even more grateful that the Sox are one of, what, three teams Lofton hasn't played for. He's the grim reaper of championship dreams.)

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

I'm not saying the Sox have an insurmountable pitching advantage over the Rockies, but I'm pretty sure Starvin' Marvin here is penciled in to start Game 3.