Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One down

Jumping to a couple of super-quick conclusions after 1 of 162 . . .

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I'll refrain from becoming the 490th person you've heard today mention that Manny Ramirez is on pace for 648 RBIs - whoops, maybe I won't - but it is worth mentioning that Manny had just two four-RBI games during his subpar '07 season. (July 22 against the White Sox and July 26 against Cleveland.) So, yes, I'd say we're justified in at least hoping his dazzling season debut - which included his patented "Oh, $*%*, I'd better stop admiring my handiwork and start running" move - is harbinger of a huge comeback season to come. Do I think Manny is capable of accomplishing the improbable and rediscovering his Monster-mashing mojo in a season during which he'll turn 36? Let's put it this way: My fantasy baseball draft is Saturday, and Manny rose more than a couple of spots on my draft board at around 10 a.m. Monday morning. Hell, I was a believer before today, but it was nonetheless reassuring to see him actually deliver.

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I like Dice-K, and admire him for ease in which he became one of the guys in the Sox clubhouse despite some obvious barriers. I'm glad he pitches for this team, and I believe he'll have the kind of season you'd expect from the No. 2 starter on a legitimate championship contender. Anyone who considers his first season in the majors a disappointment falls somewhere between unrealistic and irrational; not even Pedro in his prime could have lived up to that amount of hype. Now, sincere disclaimers aside, here's my one recurring frustration with him: It's maddening to watch him nibble and refuse to challenge the mediocre likes of Jack Hannahan and Emil Brown. He'll get the count in his favor, say 1-2, then throw the next three pitches just off the plate, which is how he ends up walking hitters who have no business reaching base against him. It severely detracts from the experience of watching him pitch, and I was hoping John Farrell or someone in the organization had convinced him to trust his stuff a little bit more now that he has a year of big league success documented on the back of his baseball card. But based on what we saw today - five walks in five innings - he's still intent on trying to throw the perfect pitch, even when the moment doesn't call for it.

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Finally, the most interesting baseball story I read today comes from stellar (if Yankee-centric) Tom Verducci, who looks back on the 2005 amateur draft and how it provided a turning point in terms of philosophy as well as an infusion of young talent for both the Red Sox and the Yankees. I thought the following extended segment was the most interesting part in a genuinely insightful piece:

Epstein had his doubts [about Buchholz, who was caught stealing laptops from a middle school while in college]. Scouting director Jason McLeod thought that Boston should take Buchholz with an early pick, but Epstein, worried about the baggage, would roll his eyes every time McLeod mentioned him. Finally, Epstein told McLeod, "Listen, if you feel that strongly, the only way I'm going to feel comfortable picking him early is if I can meet him. Let's bring him to Fenway, have him throw and then grill him. Let's find out if this is a bad guy who got caught or a good guy who made a bad mistake."

One week before the draft, Buchholz threw in the Fenway Park bullpen for Epstein and McLeod while the Red Sox took batting practice. Says Epstein, "His stuff was ridiculous." Then the three of them left the bullpen and stood in Fenway's centerfield, while David Ortiz whacked balls off the Green Monster, over their heads and at their feet.

Asked about the theft, Buchholz told Epstein that he had been just a lookout and it was a dumb decision he regretted. "Look," Epstein told him, "we're thinking about taking you. But if we do, we're putting our reputations on the line. If you screw up, it'll be on us. We'll have a zero-tolerance policy with you. So tell us right now why we should believe in you."

Replied Buchholz, "Because all I've ever wanted to be is a big league pitcher. This is too important to me."

Funny how it's all played out. I wonder how many fans realize the Sox ended up with Jacoby Ellsbury and Buchholz as the compensation picks for letting Orlando Cabrera and Pedro Martinez depart. (They also picked Craig Hansen as compensation for losing Derek Lowe, and their own first-rounder, No. 28 overall, went to the Cardinals when they signed Edgar Renteria. St. Louis chose phenom Colby Rasmus. So not everything worked out perfectly.)

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As for Today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because sometimes it really is random.