Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Right Track

OK, that’s a little more like it.

I know, I know. It’s only one game. I also know that as a young pitcher, Lester is defined by inconsistency. That being said, last night was a great game. It wasn’t long ago that I said I only need six, maybe seven, out of Lester. Then he goes out and throws eight inning of one (barely) hit ball. He kept his walks under control, and attacked the strike zone. In reality, most of Lester’s outings go ok. He doesn’t give up a lot of runs per start. His ERA gets inflated because he doesn’t usually get to throw many innings. He’s so busy falling behind and walking hitters that his pitch count skyrockets. What he needs to do is take an outing like last night and learn from it. He was able to throw strikes, and the batters made contact. But, even against a line-up as powerful as Toronto’s, most balls put in play were outs. He doesn’t need to strike people out to retire them. If he can remember that, it will help control his pitches, and let him stay in games longer. He’s still young. Heck, it took Pedro a few years to transform into the most dominant pitcher of my lifetime.

Random thought. How many more times will Phil Hughes be able to blow up on the same night that Santana pitches well before Yankee fans start to question not making the trade?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This Day in Red Sox History

April 29, 1986 - Roger Clemens strikes out 20 Seattle Mariners

22 years ago, on a cold night in Fenway, the Rocketman official introduced himself to the national stage. On his way to one of the more dominant seasons by a pitcher, Roger Clemens set a major league record by striking out his 20th batter in a nine-inning game. The performance was the crown jewel in a season that would see Clemens win both the AL Cy Young award, and the Most Valuable Player award. Rocket Roger was at the top of his game, and fans everywhere knew there was a budding ace on their hands. He would live up to that hype in Boston, tying the career Red Sox records for wins and shutouts. Both those records are shared by none other than Cy Young himself. The Hall of Fame was just a matter of time.

My, how the mighty have fallen.

Roger didn’t even wait to get out of Boston before he stated to tarnish his image. There were the holdouts in spring training. The reports of refusing to sing autographs. Chinks in the armor collected over time. There was the interview he gave after winning a Cy Young award, calling the award one more step on the way to the hall of Fame. Couldn’t he at least pretend, like everyone else does, that he was thinking of the team? Shouldn’t he have said he couldn’t have done it without his teammates? Something? Then there were the last few seasons with the Sox that were just plain awful. Say what you want about the bullpen losing leads, or wins not being the pitching stat people think it is. He stunk up the place big time. Not many people were sorry to see him bolt when his contract ran out.

The free agent mess was yet another dent. I’m all for players getting as much money as they can. I know I would. Just have the sense to tell the fans that. If you’re Asante Samuel, go ahead and cash in with the big contract. Just don’t tell us that you’re signing with a team to get to the playoffs when the team you left just had an undefeated season. If you’re Roger Clemens, go ahead and follow the green. Just don’t sign with Toronto, and say that it’s to be closer to your family in Texas. Just say, sorry…I wanted a raise. And, then first season with the Blue Jays, he announces that he’s dedicated himself to get into shape to prove that he can still play. Where was that desire when he was stinking up Fenway Park?

From there, it just gets weird. He wins back-to-back Cy Young awards in Toronto, then demands a trade since the Jays aren’t competitive. Duh. He’s able to force his way to NY where he wins a Cy that he didn’t deserve. And, he wins his ring riding the coattails of other Yankees. All the while, the national media can’t get out of their way making him into some sort of god. He throws a broken bat at Mike Piazza, and the media gobbles up the story about him thinking it was a ball. They never ask why he was, then, throwing a ball at Piazza.

After a few years, he decides to retire, and everyone throws him his goodbye parties around the league. Not quite as far as holding a ceremony and giving him a rocking chair, but close enough. The Yankees don’t even offer him arbitration, they’re so sure he’ll retire. That leads to the only good thing he’s done lately. He screws the Yankees over and signs with Houston. Because NY didn’t offer him arbitration, they don’t even get any draft picks from Houston for signing a free agent. So, he pitches for Houston, and wins another Cy he didn’t deserve. He thinks about retiring again, until he comes up with a wacky idea. If he waits until mid-season to sign with a team, he only has to pitch down the stretch. He can still get gobs of money, and only pitch part of the time. Oddly enough, several teams fall for it for several years. The Astros and Yankees (and to a lesser extent the Sox) fall all over themselves to sign Roger for a half season. Why, exactly, teams would jump at the chance to sign a pitcher for the playoff race when the pitcher’s main fault in his career is performing under pressure is beyond me. I’d rather sign him for the first half, take his 10 wins and purge him before he starts choking. But, I don’t run baseball. The plum deal finally end when the Yankees get him with much fanfare, and he proceeds to suck wind for his half a season. They’d have been better off having me pitch the second half. So, career ends…and wildness continues.

The Mitchell report on steroid use in baseball names Roger as the big fish in the scandal. Suddenly things start to make sense. That’s why he had to wrap himself up like a mummy every time he pitched to stop himself from pulling all sorts of muscles. Why didn’t we see that muscles too big to be useful were a classic side effect of steroids? That’s why he was able to pitch longer and better in his 40’s than he did in his 30’s. Naturally, the nation media tried to cover for him, but it’s getting too deep. He denies everything, but his stories are a mess. They contradict themselves everywhere. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that Roger’s wife and best friend got HGH from his personal trainer, but Roger has never even discussed HGH with anyone? I believe OJ more than I do Roger at this point.

And, now the icing on the cake with his “alleged” relationship with Mindy McCready that started when Mindy was only 15. They claim they’re just friends, and there was no affair. Even if I give them the benefit of the doubt and say they’re friends, I still have questions. I can understand a 28-year old ballplayer becoming “friends” with a cancer patient they meet, or a neighbor, or some other kid they have a chance meeting with. I just have to ask why a 28-year old would throw a jersey with his name on it at a 15-year old girl as a way of starting a relationship. That’s actively looking to befriend a 15-year old girl. I don’t get it.

That’s the problem with rockets, I guess. They can fly high, but if you’re not careful they’ll burst into flames on the way down.

Monday, April 28, 2008

What a Weekend

Generally, I don’t get too worked up about road losses. Last year, the Red Sox led the AL with a .580 road winning percentage. So, even the best team in the league won just a bit over half of their road games. On the surface, a sweep on the road isn’t something to lose sleep over. As long as I look big picture, I can get over the events of this weekend. It’s the little pictures that drives me nuts.

Clearly, the depth is starting to wear on the line-up. You can only carry on so long missing your starting third baseman and #5 hitter. Now, they’re even without Casey, so they’re at their third option at third. Add to that Papi being out, and a sweep is almost understandable. Which, by the way, is why I don’t get on Manny’s case when he doesn’t always run as hard as he could. Raise your hand if you think it worked well for the Sox to have Ortiz really hustle and dive into first. With Lowell ready to come back, the offense is already much better. That doesn’t worry me too much.

The pitching was great this weekend, so that’s a bright spot. Sure, the bullpen couldn’t get out of its own way Friday. But, they’re pretty clearly overworked. They all got a pretty good rest the rest of the weekend. Buchholz looked great Saturday. Sometimes you just hang a breaking pitch. It happens. Beckett looked like his dominant self on Sunday. The Sox will need a lot more of those outings this year. (And, yes, I know it’s the Rays. But, the Rays can still hit.) Everyone should get a welcome day of rest today…for the first time since it stopped snowing. The next homestand should be a better look at what they can do.

The real problem going forward is the use of the pitching staff. If the starters can’t get out of the 6th inning, the bullpen is going to implode. However, the Sox also have two youngsters with innings “counts”. Lester and Buchholz won’t be pitching many complete games, unless they’re absolutely cruising. (See Saturday night) So, the bullpen has to expect to be used to some extent. The way the games work these days, even Beckett’s only expected to go 7 with Oki in the 8th, and Pap in the 9th . So, exactly whose fault is it? A lot of it has to do with the middle relief itself. These guys need to pitch better. If Aardsma, Delcarmen, and Timlin can pitch 1-2-3 innings, they won’t be as tired as they are now. They need to pitch to the point that they don’t tire themselves out. Daisuke needs to go 6 innings every start, and 7 lots of the time. Beckett needs 7+ every time out. Sometimes, I think Wake needs to take one on the chin and be told he’s going 7, no matter the score. Lester/Buchholz can stick to their 6 a piece, with 7 once in a while. That ought to do it. The Red Sox need about 1500 innings from their pitchers this year. The middle relief needs to get some quick ones as part of their share.

The Sox are still virtually tied for first in the East. How can that not be good?

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Long Ball: The Summer of ’75 - Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle, and the Greatest World Series Ever Played - By Tom Adelman

This book gives a unique view into a great season of major league
baseball. Rather than focus on a team, like so many books do, this focused on the league itself. Naturally there were many references to the Reds and Red Sox, since they played the largest roles in the season. It contains behind the scenes glimpses into the interworkings of a major league team, and put everything into the perspective of the league itself.

The book was a little heavy on the dramatic irony. A few too many stories referenced Bobby Bonds’s son, or the little Griffey. But it wasn’t enough to detract from the story. As it followed the season, it felt like I was right in 1975, following a daily newspaper. With true stories, one gauge I use is if I’m interested, even though I know the ending. By the end, I was so engulfed, I wasn’t sure Fisk’s ball was going to hit the foul pole or not.

I’d rate this book at 3 bases…standing up.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Ortiz Curse

This continues to be my favorite story of the short season. I know it was always the Yankees and their fans that played up the whole Bambino Curse thing. They were the ones hanging pictures of the Babe instead of K's, and trotting out "May the Curse be with you" signs every chance they got. Frankly, that's why the "curse" got so much play nationally. The huge New York market just ate it up. But this still kills me. That the Yankees themselves would waste so much money digging up a shirt they said wasn't even there is great. Were they afraid that they'd lose in their new building and have the shirt to blame? Did they really not want the mysterious curse hanging over their heads, or under their feet? I'd still like to know how burying a shirt curses a team anyway. Did it have to be Ortiz? Was it sprinkled with essential oils first? Did the whole construction crew dance around the hole in their underwear chanting "Greatest Comeback in the History of Baseball" before tossing the shirt in? I just don't get it.

I do, however, like that they donated the shirt to the Jimmy fund. At least people will be helped by Yankee stupidity. If you want to bid, or gawk, check here: Ortiz Jersey

Monday, April 14, 2008

See Ya Yanks

A few things I noticed about this weekend’s series with the Evil Empire:

It’s amazing how things have changed in Boston, especially with regards to the Yankees. The whole level of expectations had switched. I didn’t fret about losing the first game. I expect the Red Sox to win the division, and the bumps on the road don’t bother me. These April games no longer matter in the head to head. I don’t expect the head-to-head results to even come into play. Just like I don’t worry when the Celtics blow a game. I just assume that in the end, they’ll be on top. What the heck happened to Red Sox Nation as I knew it?

The Ortiz Jersey. Another example of how times have changed. Years ago, it was the Red Sox fans searching lakes for Babe’s piano in hopes of breaking a curse. Now, it’s not even Yankee fans, but the Yankees themselves. First Boss Jr calls for a Red Sox fan to be physically abused for attempting to curse the Yankees. Then, the Yankees authorize a construction crew to spend 5 hours of a Sunday digging up an Ortiz jersey buried in a concrete floor of the new stadium. I can’t think of any other example of just how much the roles have reversed. Is Cashman going to complain that the tentacles of Red Sox Nation extend even into the Bronx? Are Yankee fans going to be making offerings to the gods to lift the championship drought? It’s especially amusing considering all the superiority complexes the Yankee fans have had over the years. To think that the Yankee management would stoop to this is great.

Joe II won’t last long in New York if he keeps pitching to Manny Ramirez. I’m not a person who believes in the intentional walk as a rule. I do think that over the course of the season, the walk will hurt you at least as much as it helps you. But, in the case of Saturday’s game, one was definitely required. You can talk all you want about Mussina’s desire to go after Manny, or the guts it took to do so. The fact of the matter is that Manny owns Mussina. He already homered off him earlier in the game. Even the fact that Youkilis followed with and RBI hit of his own doesn’t excuse the boneheaded move. This isn’t Florida anymore.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ortiz and the Shift

There's been some talk over the airways the last few days about what David Ortiz should do against the shift. Some people think he needs to start going the other way to try to break out of his slump. Others point out, rightly so, that he's not paid to hit singles the other way. Personally, I've always thought he should try to bunt it down the line every once n a while. It has nothing to do with his recent slump, and everything to do with opening up the field for himself. The important thing to remember during this discussion is the person hitting behind him. His protection is in the form of a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who, even after an off year, is one of the most feared hitters in the AL. there's an argument out there that if Ortiz bunts for a hit, the other team wins. I say having a baserunner on in front of Manny Ramirez is a win. Now, I'm not saying Ortiz should bunt every time up. And I'm certainly not suggesting he poke it down the left field line looking for a double. I don't want him messing with his swing like that. What I suggest is that he make it a rule to slap a bunt down once every couple games. If he picks his spots, it could help in the long run. Say, if he's leading off an inning. Or, when the Sox are trailing by a couple runs, and baserunners are needed. If Ortiz represents the tying, or go-ahead runs then swing away. But, if the Sox are down four, take the chance to beat the shift. Now, if other teams knew that there was at least a chance that he'd drop a bunt and get on base in front of Manny, don't you think they'd start relaxing the shift? Would it really be limiting Ortiz to drop a bunt once every 10 at bats? It it worse to reach base via a bunt than to ground out to a short fielder? 

I say bunt once a series, at least, and the other at-bats will be all the easier.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sox Ring in Season

A collection of thoughts about yesterday’s Home Opener festivities:

Daisuke looked great. He was spotting his pitches, and keeping a very potent line-up off balance. He’s put together quite a stretch of good pitching ever since the first couple innings in Japan. If he can pitch like that against Detroit, that should bode well for his starts against other teams.

Overall, the pregame show was well done. It was slightly disappointing to see so much carryover from the 2005 ceremony, right down to the big 2004 Championship flag on the monster. It is always nice to see Russell and Orr though.

They did a much better job with the ring presentation itself this time. Right away, they had all the non-players move along very quickly. As great a job as I’m sure the visiting clubhouse attendant did, I don’t need to cheer him as he gets his ring. They had the staffers move right along, which was nice. It was also nice that they introduced the players by position. Lat time, it was by years of service. That meant that there was a long stretch of players who had less than a year of service. Abe Alvarez pitched was great in his one start, but a string of one-and-dones got lengthy. This way, stars and scrubs were spaced out much better. It would have been nice if they vocally announced each player though, so we didn’t need to keep turning to the jumbotron.

I hope the song they used when Papelbon got his ring becomes his new entrance song. The beat starts right out, and will really get things pumping every time he strolls to the mound. I’ve really got to find out the name of that song.

It was nice to see Bill Buckner back, but I think it continues to make a bigger deal out of him than he deserves. He was never shunned from Fenway…he’s been back a few times since he retired. So, to ask us to show him that he’s always welcome was pointless. Any decent fan never actually blamed him for anything personally anyway. His play was a convenient video with a decent “call” that could be played at a moment’s notice. Frankly, Stanley and Gedman should send Buckner a steak dinner every time that video is played. If not for that, their wild pitch/past ball that actually blew the lead would have been shown for the last 20+ years. But, if Bucker’s OK making a spectacle of himself, then so am I.

Why did we boo Edgar Renteria? What exactly did he do to make us carry a grudge? He wasn’t nearly that bad as a member of the Sox, and he made the last out of the 2004 World Series. Shouldn’t he be a hero?

It was nice of the red tailed hawk to make an appearance. The round of applause was richly deserved.

Please tell me that the Neil Diamond video was a one time thing.

Monday, April 7, 2008

On the Bright Side...

The Red Sox are undefeated this year in the United States. That must bode well, since that's where most of their games are played this season.

What people are reading this week