Sunday, October 28, 2007

TATB Live: World Series, Game 4

I'm rooting for more than the Red Sox tonight; I'm rooting for the story, and I imagine you know exactly what I mean.

As appropriate as it might be for ace Josh Beckett to pitch the clincher tomorrow night, if you have a sentimental bone in your body, you want Jon Lester to be the one to deliver the Red Sox their second World Championship in four seasons a few hours from now. We all know that a year ago, the young lefty had far greater concerns than throwing a baseball. Now here he is, a 23-year-old cancer survivor poised to pitch a game we will all remember. Something tells me he's up for the challenge.

Other pregame notes: Trisha Yearwood sings a lovely anthem. For the record, I'm pretty sure she's not a Beckett ex. She looks more like Gagne's type . . . In the Fox pregame, Kevin Kennedy sagely notes that the Sox have some good young homegrown players (I'm pretty sure he first heard of Jacoby Ellsbury around this time last night), Joe Girardi offers a non-denial denial on whether he's the Yankees' next manager, and Jeannie Zelasko wrestles the last chocolate coconut donut from Mark Grace's grasp. The more I see of this crew and the nitwits on ESPN, the more I appreciate TC and the Eck . . . The great Fred Willard, reading the Sox lineup: "David Ortiz, no designated hitter, he wants to play first base, YOU TELL HIM NO!"

All right, let's get this done, the less drama the better. As much as I dearly miss my angst and a lament my lost identity as a Sox fan, for as much as I secretly enjoyed the stomach-churning, soul-crushing misery inflicted upon me by Grady Little in '03, I suppose I could live with a sweep, a sequel to "Faith Rewarded," and chance to watch Papelbon make a fool out of himself during the victory parade. Yes, I suppose I could.

Ellsbury slaps Aaron Cook's second pitch into left field for the a double. In a related note, Coco Crisp catches himself daydreaming about how he'll look in a Braves uniform next season.

Cook is the Rockies' version of Jake Westbrook, an occasionally effective sinkerballer, but he hasn't pitched since August 10. The Sox shouldn't lack for baserunners. It's a matter of converting them into runs and taking the Rockies out of it early. (Wow, that was Tim McCarver-like wisdom there, was it not? Excuse me while I take a swig of Metamucil.)

Well, there's one. Ellsbury smartly advances to third on Dustin Pedroia's grounder to the left side, and David Ortiz makes it 1-0, Sox with a rocket through the right side of the drawn-in infield. Manny bounces into a double play to end the inning, but the Rockies definitely have to be left with a "here we go again" vibe.

Rockies go down 1-2-3 in their half. I'd be glad to write that sentence, oh, eight more times tonight.

My 3-year-old daughter just came out to give me one more hug goodnight, yell her patented "GoRedSoxGoRedSoxGoRedSox!," and remind me to "drink your beers." Right now I'm feeling an odd (and surely misplaced) sense of pride.

Cook breezes through Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, and Jason Varitek in order. It's funny, this is one of the few nights during the postseason that I haven't been at the Globe, and while we have the game on in the office, obviously we're too buried trying to make first edition to pay attention to the nuances of the telecasts. So, having just noticed this, I have to ask: Does a commercial break pass without the fake camaraderie of a Budweiser ad or a completely uninteresting promo for "House"? I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Todd Helton, Mr. Rockie, leads off with a rocketed double to left. Ellsbury cuts it off and seems to have the ball just after Helton hits the first base bag, but he still beats the throw comfortably to second base. Yes, I think the Rockies have paid attention to the scouting report on the kid's arm. Let's just say he's going to follow in the Damon/Crisp tradition of noodle arms in center field, though his is slightly stronger than both of theirs - his throws reach home plate in seven hops rather than eight.

I've said it all along: David Ortiz is not a bad first baseman. Sure, he has the range of Mo Vaughn after a KFC Snack Bowl bender, and playing D takes a fierce toll on his knees . . . but he has excellent hands, and has Jeff Suppan can tell you, his throwing arm is strong and accurate for the position. I mention this, as I'm sure you know, because he just made a smooth scoop to spare Julio Lugo a throwing error. Youkilis wouldn't have done it any better.

After Ryan Spillborghs (whom I like a lot as a fourth outfielder-type, but whom Rob Dibble killed on 'EEI the other day) flied to center, Lester fell into his maddening habit of nibbling, and walked Brad Hawpe, who has been atrocious in this series. He slips out of it without allowing Helton to score, however, getting hot-hitting Yorvit Torrealba to ground to Lugo for the third out. I should note that Lugo made his two best defensive plays of the season last night, has been steady all postseason with the glove, and is even swinging the bat well in the series. If he and Drew keep this up, Theo's second-guessers are going to have no one left to complain about. (And I include myself among them.)

Cook gets the Sox in order again, retiring Ellsbury on a slow grounder to Kaz Matsui to end the inning. So far, the Sox have just two hits. Don't know about you, but I'm starting to miss Josh Fogg.

You think Papi really plays badminton? And if so, does he call the thing a "birdie" or a "shuttlecock"? These are the kinds of questions Tina Cervasio should be asking.

Gah. And now we have our first episode of the Manny In Coors Field Adventures. Matsui rips a liner to left that, oh, 90 percent of major league left fielders would probably catch. Unfortunately, Manny is in the other 10 percent, and it soars just past his reach and rattles around for a double. All of the statistical measures that I'm aware of say Manny is a horrendous defensive player, and while I happen to think he's made himself at least an adequate Fenway outfielder, this play gave us a sense of how much his home park masks his lack of range. (Part of it, I think, is that Manny has only one speed: ambling.)

Lester whiffs Troy Tulowitzki for the second time tonight. I saw the Rockies a lot this season on the package (in part because they're so damn fun to watch as far as NL teams go, but mostly because I had Matt Holliday in a semi-lucrative fantasy league), and I think between here and in my Fox column I've made my appreciation for Tulowitzki apparent. You watch him play for any length of time, you can't help but think he's a bigger, rangier, less metrosexual version of Derek Jeter. The kid is going to be the Colorado cornerstone for the next decade. Now, that said, this series for him thus far can be filed under Learning Experience. To put it another way: The shortstop in the Boston dugout has been much better, and that's not something we've said about Julio Lugo, well, ever.

(And while I was writing Tulowitzki's biography, Lester whiffed Holliday. So far, so good, kid.)

As Pedroia leads off the inning, Ken Rosenthal (who I hope to meet someday at the FoxSports company picnic, just to see if he really is three feet shorter that Eric Wedge, as it appeared during an ALCS postgame interview) tells us that Pedroia refers to his at-bats as "the laser show" and that his cockiness is an "endless source of amusement" to his veteran teammates. It really is a tribute to Pedroia's ability and "I'll-show-you" attitude that he could be such a vital part of this lineup and clubhouse after looking so overmatched in April. If you don't like Dustin Pedroia, you don't like the Red Sox. (By the way: Pedroia could definitely call Rosenthal "little fella.")

Pedroia grounds out, Papi pops out, Manny lines out, and I'm really beginning to become suspicious of this Aaron Cook character. Just where has he been the last two months, anyway?

Francona, when asked during those usually insipid in-dugout interviews what Lester's pitch count is tonight: " 'Bout 180." The dry wit (teetering on sarcasm) is a tremendously underrated aspect of Tito's appeal.

Joe Buck usually oozes smarm, but I have to admit, he's made a couple of good points tonight, especially in noting that the 2004 Sox might have had more talent than this team, but that the '07 version is set up for the future much better than the veteran-laden Idiots were. I hadn't thought of it that way, but he's right.

Lester retires the first two hitters, walks Spillborghs, then gets Hawpe on a popup to end it. Very, very impressive. If he keeps this up, he might be pitching Tim Wakefield into retirement.

Good things happening. Lowell leads off with a double into the left field canyon. Drew grounds out without advancing the runner, but Varitek follows with a ground single to right, and DeMarlo Hale sends Lowell despite Hawpe's cannon. It looked like it would be a bang-bang play at the plate, but Lowell makes a beautiful slide and touches the plate with his hand for a 2-0 Boston lead. If there's any justice, upon returning to the dugout Lowell was greeted by Theo holding a three-year, $39 million contract offer.

We always hear that Lester is one of the purest athletes on the team, one of those three-sport-captain types who shoots an 85 his first time on a golf course and can dunk a basketball while wearing street clothes. But he doesn't particularly athletic with a baseball bat in his hands, and he fails to get a bunt down in three tries with two on and one out. Ellsbury follows by striking out (the Rockies have apparently figured out he'll fish for the low-and-in stuff), and we might consider this the first real lost opportunity of the night.

See, this is where I really miss my angst. The Sox have a 2-0 lead, hardly insurmountable, and Manny Delcarmen, who has spent the postseason wearing a wide-eyed, "Holy bleep, I can't believe I'm pitching for the Red Sox in the playoffs!" look on his face, is warming up in the bullpen. If this were, say, 2003, I'd be chomping my fingernails and wondering how they were going to lose this one. Instead, I'm nursing a Shipyard Pumpkinhead, casually typing in my inanities here, and fully expecting that somehow, the Sox will be celebrating in Denver tonight. If enjoying this likable, well-run, winning baseball team means we've lost our identities, well dammit, I hope we never find them.

By the way:

Dude, I know. I don't believe it, either.

Pedroia, Papi, and Manny hit three straight ground outs, Cook is cruising, and I sure hope Lester can give them another easy inning or two.

All right, now I'm a little nervous. (IT'S NOT ANGST, LOBEL!!!) After retiring Holliday and Helton on, what, four pitches, Lester walks Atkins on a 3-2 count, and that after it looked like he had struck him out on ball three. I'm not going to question Francona's decision to remove Lester for Delcarmen here, because heaven knows Tito is managing circles around everyone this postseason (just as he did in '04). It's just that Lester has been so good, and Delcarmen so shaky lately, and . . . Delcarmen blows Spillborghs away. Tito, I hope I get the chance to buy you a beer someday so you can tell me how you keep a clear head (figuratively as well as literally, I suppose) with nitwits like me second-guessing you at every turn. Hey, did I ever mention I wanted the Sox to hire Glenn Freakin' Hoffman after Grady was sent back to Hillbillyville? I didn't? Well, let's keep it that way.

Lowell, solo homer, 3-0 Sox. PAY. THE. MAN. And that does it for Cook, who induced 13 groundball outs and did everything the Rockies could have asked for given his inaction the last two months.

Says Buck: "What a night for Mike Lowell. This could be his last night in a Red Sox uniform." You think so, Nepotism Boy? Well, aren't you going to be surprised when Theo presents him with a four-year, $52 million contract offer between innings.

Jeremy Affeldt in for the Rockies. I have never understood why this kid isn't a consistently excellent big-league pitcher - he has some wildness issues, but he has an unbelievable arm, and he's a lefty. I'd rather have him than every single Javier Lopez ever to play in the big leagues. (Official TATB Sportswriting Binky Joe Posnanski had a melancholy anecdote about being dazzled by Affeldt one hopeful spring day during his Royals days in a recent blog post.)

Lonestar does a fine countrified rendition of God Bless America. By the way, didn't they play at the Red Sox kickoff dinner that NESN showed three times a day in April? I wonder if the Rockies are aware of their dual loyalties. (And no, none of them dated Josh Beckett, either. That I'm aware of.)

Affeldt does the job. Nine outs away.

Well, here we go. Hawpe takes Delcarmen deep to cut it to 3-1, and I hate to say it, but you could see it coming. When Delcarmen is wild high, it's because he's overthrowing . . . and he's wild high right now. As the Sox infield coverges on Delcarmen to settle him down (Papi was particularly animated), the Fox cameras show Mike Timlin and The Hero In The Dark are up in the bullpen for the Sox. I wonder how many outs Okajima and Papelbon are capable of getting tonight.

Delcarmen retires Torrealba on a flyout, then Cory Sullivan singles, and that'll do it for the pride of Hyde Park. Timlin is coming in, and while he had nothing last night, I have faith in him in this situation that I didn't have in Manny D. This might be one of those situations were experience and poise is preferable to pure ability.

Sit, Matsui. Huge whiff for Timlin. Now he must get Tulowitzki, because Holliday as the go-ahead run is an absolutely terrifying thought.

Bless his 41-year-old, slopballin'-huntin'-fishin'-possum'-killin' soul, but Timlin whiffs Tulowitzki on a 3-2 pitch, and that right there is why Tito was so loyal to Timlin when he looked cooked in April and nitwits like me were urging the Sox to move on. That may have been the pivotal moment tonight, and just as he did so often in the '03 and '04 playoffs, Timlin came through.

Remember all the times I said Tulowitzki reminds me of Jeter? Still does.

This clown . . .

. . . leads off as a pinch hitter with an absolute moonshot to left, and it's 4-1, Sox. Hey, we always heard Bobby Kielty mashed lefties. He sure picked a swell time to finally show it.

Rosenthal jumps in with perhaps the first worthwhile "breaking news" report by a sideline reporter in the history of television: Alex Rodriguez will turn down the Yankees' five-year, $150-million offer and opt out of his contract, the alleged reason being he is concerned with the direction of the Yankees.

Buck and Rosenthal are speculating that A-Rod may be with the Sox next season, especially if Lowell isn't back. I'm sure I am looking at this with sentiment rather than logic right now, but screw A-Rod; Mike Lowell belongs on this team, not him. Slappy's made to be a villain. And by the way, you're telling me Boras didn't plant this story for this precise moment? He can't put a price on the publicity. I might think he was trying to steal the Sox' thunder, but since it makes the Yankees' look bad, I'll look at it as a rich dessert after a delicious meal. It's not necessary, but it sure tastes good.

Okajima in for the Sox. Bless him for his warrior mentality, but he has to be exhausted. His arm must feel like he spent the past five seasons pitching for Joe Torre.

Holliday grounds out (0 for 4), but Helton pokes one to left (he's a perma-helmet away from being John Olerud at this point), bringing up Atkins with one out. Huge batter here.

Dammit, I shouldn't have said anything. Atkins, who was long overdue, tees off on a 3-1 pitch, cutting the margin to 4-3. That's all for Oki, who I have a hard time faulting considering it seems like he pitched a high-stress inning or two every single day all summer and fall. Anyway, here comes Papelbon. Does he have five outs in that right arm tonight?

Spillborghs is making Papelbon work. It's imperative to keep him off base with Hawpe coming up . . . and Spillborghs grounds to Lugo as I'm pecking that out.

Hawpe, after at least one hideous swing, hit it on the screws to left-center . . . and did I mention that Coco Crisp is in as a defensive replacement, with Ellsbury moving over? Three outs to go. A couple extra runs wouldn't hurt in the top of the ninth, however.

Two outs, top of the ninth, one run lead, and Joe Buck is conceding everything to the Sox, calling them "the standard by which all other teams are measured - including the New York Yankees." It's a lovely sentiment, it really is . . . but can we save the freakin' bouquets until there are three more outs, please? At least McCarver is silent. Must have dozed off again.

Tek grounds to Jamey Carroll (who looks like Mike Piazza's Mine-Me), and to the bottom of the ninth we go . . .

Torrealba. Pedroia. Two outs to go.

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? SOMEONE PLEASE RE-START MY HEART! (Seriously, if that's Manny out there, I say Carroll's ball Cansecos off his head and we have a tie game. Also, I'm pretty sure what I feel for Jacoby Ellsbury right now is how my sister felt about Simon LeBon when she was 12. Or maybe it was Nick Rhodes, can't remember. God, I'm so nervous I'm having "Tiger Beat" flashbacks.)

Seth Smith. Swinging. Strike three.

Game over. Series over. Red Sox win.

Also . . .


(No, seriously.)


(For the record, the only angst I feel right now is that I didn't buy a friggin' couch in April.)

* * *

So my little boy, 14 months, just woke up, something that may or may not have had to do with the gutteral howl that came from the living room. Curiously, the same thing happened when his big sister was eight months old and the Sox had just ended 86 years of disappointment, agony, and yes, angst. Like I did with Leah three years ago, I brought Alex out, pointed to the TV, and said, "The Red Sox just won the World Series. Someday, that will mean a lot to you." Oh, this victory doesn't lift a burden or end any fictional curse or shut up that #*$**$ Yankees fan that's been on your case for years, but go ahead and try to tell me the joy doesn't wash over you just the same.

I'm Globe-bound the next few days - I keep hearing something about a special section - but I'll be back in the next few days to crank out TATB's annual season wrapup. Given that I started this site in large part because I regretted not having an outlet to write about the magic of '04, I promise that when I get the story of 2007 posted, it will be done right. In the meantime, I'm going to pop open that last Shipyard or two or six, lean back on the couch I wish I had replaced eight months ago, and savor this. I imagine I'll throw a few more notes on here in the next hour or so, but if you're checking out to go celebrate, I just want to say thanks for joining me tonight, and always. This - this - is why I do this. -- CHAD

* * *

POSTGAME STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS WHILE CHUGGING BEERS, FLIPPING CHANNELS, AND SAVORING THE CELEBRATION: Mike Lowell, World Series MVP. All right, six years, $84 million, but that's the final offer. (Seriously, he'd better be under contract by the time he boards the duck boat.) . . . Just caught Gammons talking about Jon Lester's performance tonight. I thought he was going to cry, and I can't blame him. I agree with the commenter on this post: That's the best game Lester ever pitched. I had my doubts about this kid before he got sick, wondering if his failure to trust his stuff would hinder his ability to live up to his talent. After all he's gone through - and how he came through it - how can anyone ever doubt him about anything again? . . . The 2004 team will always mean the most to me - you know what they say about never forgetting your first. But this one is special in its own way, and anyway, that comparison is for another day. One of the truly unique aspects of this team is the impact of the young players. Pedroia is going to own the city - he's a Dirt Dog with actual talent. Ellsbury is a jolt of electricity. We know what Lester accomplished tonight, and Papelbon has been established for so long that it almost feels like he was here in '04. Theo's dream of a "player development machine" has become a reality . . . NESN just showed footage of the '04 celebration, and I swear on a holy stack of media guides, Royce Clayton was in the middle of that one too . . .I've said it before, and I'm guessing a lot more of you agree with me now: There's no one else I'd rather have managing the Boston Red Sox than Terry Francona. He's now 8-0 in the World Series and 22-9 in the postseason. He's Joe Torre with a little bit of an edge and a knack for handling a bullpen. He's the right man at the right time in the right town. That "Francoma" b.s. has always been born from the miniscule minds of morons. I hope he never has to hear it again. It's time he got the universal appreciation from Sox fans he deserves . . . Timlin just brought Wakefield to the verge of tears, interrupting the knuckleballer's interview with Don Orsillo to praise him for being such a selfless teammate. Nice gesture by Timlin, and it clearly meant a lot to Wakefield. They're getting emotional in their old age . . . Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew are World Champions. Chew on that for a minute. And you know what? The way they played the last seven days, they damn sure deserve it . . . All right, I'm officially gassed, in a delirious way, of course. But before I go, I'll sign off with the sage words of an old friend, the most optimistic Sox fan I know (he knows who he is):


(And to all, a good night.)

(P.S. - How'd the Pats do today?)

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