Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another Manny Comes Through

With Brendan Donnelly hurting and Mike Timlin struggling, wouldn't it be a huge lift if Manny Delcarmen became that 7th inning guy? He came through in a big way in last night's 2-1 win over the Rangers, striking out 600 Club member Sammy Sosa with the bases juiced (no pun intended) in the... 7th inning. Strange game overall - the winning run came during a tag-out play where Youkilis crossed the plate before the out was made. Some dramatics in the 9th when Papelbon thought he beat Kenny Lofton (the fossil had 4 SB's last night) to the bag at first, but was overruled by the ump. Pap got right up in his grill and was thisclose to being tossed, but his teammates got him out of the way. Compared to the David Ortiz situation a couple weeks ago, the ump showed good restraint this time. Coco sat this one out to rest his ailing thumb and Julio Lugo (if you hadn't heard, 0 for his last 31 AB's) was on the pine. Wake seems to be re-discovering his groove. He got the win.

As far as the current standings, we're 10 1/2 up on Toronto - which lost last night - and 11 up on the Yankees, who also won 2-1. Life is good as we approach the 4th of July, which also happens to be George Steinbrenner's 77th birthday.

Oh, the pictures above... So I'm watching the NBA draft this week just for pure entertainment purposes (and to see what the beleaguered Celtics do) and Joakim Noah gets picked 9th by the Bulls. He stands up from his table, and I'm thinking it's the 7-foot version of Carrot Top right before my eyes. Bushy hair all over the place. A seersucker suit with a bow tie (I read a story last night where he was so concerned about getting a stain on his suit that he had three different people hold his coat during dinner). The guy looked like an absolute clown. But you know something? His schtick is going to make him much more money than his stoned tennis pro dad (Yannick, above) ever made. And did I mention that Joakim's mom is a former Swedish supermodel? Thank you, Joakim, for giving me a laugh as I tried to understand what the Celtics had just done. The #5 pick (Jeff Green), Wally Sczerbiak, and Delonte West to the Sonics for Ray Allen? Not being an avid NBA follower, I'm still trying to digest this one. I guess my feeling is it's a good move if they can make another significant move and get a big defender. And that's all the basketball we'll be talking here for a while...

Rare Saturday night home game tonight for the boys. Josh Beckett vs. Robinson Tejada.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sleepless in Seattle

Sorry for the obvious headline, but the Sox have hit a little stumbling block in Seattle the last couple nights. Not that I was awake to see it for myself. I think I nodded off in the 6th inning Monday night, and then in the 4th last night. Brutal.

Anyway, for some strange reason the Mariners have the Sox' number in Seattle. I think I heard the boys are winless in their last eight or nine games there. Last night was almost an expected loss with Kason Gabbard called up to pitch opposite Felix Hernandez. King Felix wasn't quite as good as his April gem against us at Fenway, but neither was Gabbard. In the end, the Sox scratched and clawed their way back into this one, but ultimately ended up losing 8-7. One would think that today they right the ship, with Dice-K going against a no-name. Afternoon game today, starting at 4:30.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have fallen from 2nd to 3rd place behind the Blue Jays. The Spanks lost on a walk-off walk last night in Baltimore, and they actually used Fat Roger in a middle relief spot last week. The wheels, if they're not already off, are extremely loose.

Assorted tidbits:

- Dreams can come true. WEEI's Gerry Callahan has lost his voice.

- My sleepers in the NL at this point: Milwaukee and Colorado. You heard it here first.

- Sad to hear about Rod Beck's premature passing. Stories have come out in the last couple of days of how he parked his RV next to the stadium when he was playing in the minors and would invite people in for a beer. Pretty cool.

- Ways not to win your roto league #42: Trade Alex Rodriguez for Carl Crawford. Hey, I was way behind in steals and I hate A-Rod. What a stupid-ass trade. Guess who's in last place?

- Dave Roberts' recent homecoming got me to thinking - which key members from '04 haven't been given their proper due for their heroics? Billy Mueller comes to mind immediately. He was just named hitting coach for the Dodgers. And speaking of the Dodgers, I could be wrong, but I don't think Nomar has come back since leaving. Even though he wasn't part of the playoff run, he'd have to get a huge ovation. And Derek Lowe, who did nothing but win clutch games and get drunk at night. Can you think of any others?

That's all I've got for you today. Stay cool - it's a hot one out there.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Take the Under

I now have a new fantasy baseball strategy going into next year - draft every San Diego Padres pitcher. Holy crap, is Petco Park spacious or what?

The Sox wrap up their three-game set in San Diego this afternoon, and going in you knew it was going to be all about the pitching. So far, so true. On Friday night, two of the best surgeons went at it with Dice-K outdueling Greg Maddux and the Sox winning 2-1. Maddux, after all these years, is still getting it done. A first-ballot HOFer. (As an aside, both teams wore their retro-80's uniforms - the Padres with that hideous brown, yellow and orange combo and the Sox with those penitentiary-like grays with "BOSTON" in blue across the chest. All I kept thinking of was the 1986 World Series - thanks for the memories, MLB.) Last night, I didn't feel good about the Wake vs. Chris Young matchup and for good reason. Young is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, and he dominated last night as the Padres won 6-0. Today, though, is about as good as it gets. If Cy Young voting was held today, these two would probably both win. Josh Beckett vs. Jake Peavy. Appointment TV. If you're stupid enough to wager on baseball, go with the under in these games.

It would be a nice win today to keep this road trip on the positive side. They took 2 of 3 from the Braves, could take 2 of 3 from a very good Padres team, and then they go into Seattle tomorrow. A 6-3 record on this trip would be all we could ask for. The Yanks, meanwhile, got swept away out in Colorado (another team that could be for real), and have split their first two games with the Giants this weekend. The lead currently stands at 10 1/2.

While the Nation is no doubt happy as we head into summer, the one major cause for concern at this moment is our shortstop. After last night's 0-fer, Julio Lugo is 0 for his last 23, he's batting a buck-ninety-six and his OBP is a sucky .258. I know you'll hate me for doing this, but here's a quick capsule look at what could have been:

Hanley Ramirez: .322 BA/.381 OBP/10 HR/25 RBI/22 SB/62 R/14 E
Edgar Renteria: .329 BA/.390 OBP/10 HR/36 RBI/5 SB/47 R/6 E
Orlando Cabrera: .334 BA/.372 OBP/4 HR/44 RBI/8 SB/50 R/4 E
Alex Gonzalez: .263 BA/.302 OBP/12 HR/35 RBI/0 SB/36 R/13 E
Julio Lugo: .196 BA/.258 OBP/4 HR/34 RBI/19 SB/32 R/9 E

I mean, how disheartening is that? Theo's mismanagement of the most important position on the field just absolutely boggles my mind. I know there are tons of variables involved here - we got Lowell and Beckett in the Ramirez trade, and Renteria and Gonzalez are playing in the weak-sister National League. I've heard rumors that Cabrera was diddling around with a teammate's lady, and was sent out for character reasons. But still. That's a friggin' SS all-star team, and some of them are still on our payroll.

Okay, how can I bring the mood back up? It's a gorgeous Sunday afternooon here in Boston (San Diego weather, in fact), and we're 10 1/2 games up on the sputtering Yankees. That feels a little better.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Buddy Carlyle = Batting Practice Machine

The Sox are currently in Atlanta, trying to win the rubber game in a three-game set against the Braves. Things look good, as they should when your lineup is going against a guy named Buddy Carlyle. It's the top of the 4th and the Sox have a comfortable 7-0 lead on the heels of home runs from J.D. Drew (leading off the game), David Ortiz, and Coco Crisp. Coco, by the way, made one of the best catches I've ever seen last night going full bore to prevent a sure double. Very similar to his catch on David Wright last year at Fenway - that one saved the game and was a 9.5 on the rating scale. Last night's was a 10.

But I digress. It's been an eventful three days in Georgia. Curt Schilling started the opener and got throttled, barely registering 90 mph on his fastball and not striking a guy out for the first time in 348 starts. Pretty amazing. After the game, Schilling flew home to have his shoulder checked out and the results came back structurally clean. He's still going on the 15-day DL for some R&R. Hey, the guy's 40 and all. Last night Josh Beckett dominated the Braves and Tim Hudson, winning 4-0 on a rainy night. The only negative so far tonight? J.D. Drew - who seems to be finding his hitting stride - had to leave after the 2nd inning due to quad tightness. Hopefully not a big deal, and with tomorrow's day off, he should be fine for San Diego.

If things stay the way they are, they'll have a 9 1/2 game lead on the Yanks who are in Colorado later tonight.

A couple of things I came across this week:

- Well, the Bruins haven't formally announced that they have a new coach, but that hasn't stopped Wikipedia... check out the right-hand column on the Bruins page.

- Must-see video here. A dead-on impersonation of our beloved skipper. Love the gum sacrifice.

- If Barry Bonds did 'roids, so did Bobby Cox (above).

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day Sweep

The Sox are pretty good on holiday Sundays. Remember the improbable Mother's Day comeback against the Orioles? This time they took the lumber to the visiting San Francisco Giants on Father's Day, and in the process enjoyed their first series sweep in what seems like forever (May 25-27).

On paper, I was a little worried about the pitching matchup -- Morris for the Giants, Wake for us. Morris has gotten off to a nice start, showing glimpses of some of the stuff he had when he was with St. Louis. Wake, as usual, has been wildly unpredictable.

The Sox jumped on Morris in the first inning, spurred on by a leadoff J.D. Drew double. The switch to the top of the order seemed to wake him up a little this weekend. They put up 2 runs in the first, the Giants tied it in the 3rd, and then the Sox pulled away with 5 runs in the bottom of the third. The Giants closed the gap to 8-5 at one point, but it ended as a 9-5 win. Bonds hit a home run, as did Manny. Youk also got back into the hitting groove with a couple of knocks.

Looks like the lead over the Yanks will stay at 8 1/2 games. They're currently rolling over the Mets, 5-0, and Chien Ming Wang is looking strong. The Sox next head off to Atlanta for three (Schilling vs. James Monday; Beckett vs. Hudson Tuesday; and Tavarez vs. someone named Buddy Carlyle Wednesday.) After that, it's another long trip out West to play 3 games each against San Diego and Seattle. The Yanks are also heading out West to play Colorado and the Giants. At least there's a day off after the Braves' series so the boys can get some sleep for the long flight.

Happy Dad's day to all... one little moment from today I wanted to share. About 2 minutes after the Sox game ended today, my 17-month old came out of the toy room with a broom in her hands and started sweeping the floor. Perfect.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Now That's More Like It

Finally, a Sox win and a Yankee loss to calm the jangled nerves of Red Sox fans. The lead this morning is back up to 8 1/2, and I can't remember doing this much scoreboard watching so early in the season.

Last night it was the Dustin and Drew show, with the scrappy little 2B contributing five hits and five RBI and J.D. pitching in with a 3 for 4 night, and three ribbies. After a tough first inning, Julian Tavarez settled in and pitched well.

It was certainly an action-packed start to the game. Dave Roberts led off for the Giants and promptly received a hearty ovation. His historic steal on Jeter and the Yanks in Game 4 of the '04 ALCS will never be forgotten. As Chad over at Touching All the Bases wrote in his live blog last night, without that steal we're probably looking at 89 years of failure. Dave Roberts should actually move to Boston, because he'll never pay for anything in this town as long as he lives.

After that, of course, it was Barry Bonds' turn to be "serenaded" and the fans didn't disappoint. Asterisk signs were everywhere, and the boos were loud, clear, and prolonged. He almost hit a homer in his first at-bat, pushing a ball just to the right of the Pesky Pole off Tavarez, who willed the ball foul with some body language that would have made Carlton Fisk proud.

The fireworks continued in the home half of the first. Big Papi was called out on strikes and as is his custom, saw fit to "question" the home plate umpire on the call. On his way back to the dugout, he threw down his helmet and bat and got tossed. Kneejerk reaction by the ump, in my opinion, but Papi's probably built up a reputation around the league. So before we even get out of the first inning, we've lost our best hitter.

But, alas (love using the word 'alas' whenever I can), our best hitters tonight were Pedroia and Drew, both of whom had an easy time handling Barry Zito's soft serves and the Sox coasted to an easy 10-2 victory.

Good pitching matchup today with Giants ace Matt Cain going against Dice-K. 4 p.m. start time, I believe on Fox.

Some assorted tidbits:

- Bob Ryan this morning writes about the media's interaction with Bonds yesterday, and reports that Barry actually tape-records his conversations with the press so that he 'has his own records.' I'm sure it's a direct order from his battery of lawyers.

- Saw this bit of news recently... if he plays that goddamn Chevy ad song on such hallowed ground as the Esplanade on the 4th of July, I'll vomit. I know - get ready to vomit. I'll never buy a Chevy, I'll tell you that much.

- Was watching the game with a buddy last night and we decided to put the Hardball Heaven Research Team (aka into action. We wanted to know how many different guys have played 2B or SS for the Sox since Theo became GM in 2003. The magic number? 20. Everyone from Damian Jackson to Cesar Crespo to Mark Bellhorn to Pokey Reese. It has truly been a revolving door. Oh, how I miss the days of Burleson and Doyle.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Big (And I Mean Really Big) Night at the Fens Tonight

Barry Bonds makes his much-awaited Fenway Park debut tonight and our fair town is abuzz over the potential "treatment" he'll get. In fact, the happiest people in the park tonight will probably be Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, and Coco Crisp because for at least a few minutes, the fans' wrath will be directed elsewhere.

What will Barry's reception be? It's going to be ugly, there's no question about that. Will someone throw a syringe on the field? A few D batteries? Hopefully, there won't be any projectiles. I've heard that some clever soul came up with a Styrofoam thing shaped like an asterisk. That's pretty cool. What would I like to see? I would absolutely love my fellow fandom if every time Barry Big Noggin came to bat, everyone simply turned their backs on him. That would be a powerful statement. We know he's not going to play left field in this series - that would be suicide. Count on him DH'ing throughout the weekend.

Barry's a proven double loser. He's not only a cheater, but he's also a Class A asshole. I read a story today from a Pirates employee who is still incensed that Barry refused to sign a couple of auction items for a benefit to help two children of a fellow Pirates employee who died in a car crash. Shameful. He basically treats everyone around him like cow dung.

But here's a thought on how Barry can do a little bit of image buffing. Would it not be the greatest thing ever if after he hits #754 - one homer shy of tying the mark - he announces his retirement from the game? He'd win a few people back, but I know, I know. In the immortal words of Steven Tyler, dream on.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Two posts in one day -- will miracles never cease?

Well, the Yanks have won their ballgame against the pathetic Diamondbacks and are now sitting 8 games out pending tonight's Sox-Rox result. One other interesting morsel of news - our pal J.D. is in the leadoff hole tonight.

Downright Offensive

Well, at least Terry Francona is showing signs that he knows the offense is struggling. In the first game against the Rockies Tuesday night, he finally dropped Julio "Mario Mendoza" Lugo to the 9th spot in the lineup and elevated Dustin Pedroia to hit leadoff. Of course, Terry's also got to think about the other two black holes in the lineup - Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew. Together, these three have become automatic outs.

Crisp has never materialized into the player we thought we were getting, and Lugo has been absolutely, positively brutal - both in the field and at the dish. It's makes Theo's Shortstop Roulette game that much more maddening when you see what Orlando Cabrera is doing in Anaheim, what Edgar Renteria is doing in Atlanta, and even what Alex Gonzalez is doing for Cincinnati. Gonzalez is hitting .260 with a .305 OBP, 11 HRs, 28 RBIs, and 32 runs. Lugo is hitting .211 with a paltry .270 OBP, 4 HRs, 34 RBIs, and 30 runs. His one saving grace has been his adeptness on the basepaths with 18 SBs. And Drew? I'm no hitting expert, but it looks like he's swinging off his tippy-toes. If I had a dollar for every top-spin groundout to second or first, I'd be a happy man. We can only hope that eventually the law of baseball averages catches up with J.D., and we see the numbers we thought we'd see.

These three musketeers have been scuffling all season, and their woes become that much more frustrating when the whole team is in a slump, which is certainly the case right now. Since that Sunday night loss on June 3rd to the Yankees, the Sox have averaged just under 3 runs per game, and that includes the 10-run anomaly in the second Arizona game. How much of an anomaly was that game? Drew hit 2 HRs and drove in 7!

Remember right before the Yankees series to start June when we had visions of going 16 1/2 games up on the Bombers with a sweep? Foolish, of course. The Sox' pitching has held up reasonably well, but the offensive quagmire has resulted in five full games being shaved off the lead. The Yankees since that series have been white-hot, beating up on lower level teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh. A-Rod and Abreu have been scorching the cowhide.

In the interest of full disclosure, we should also make mention of the underperformance of one Manuel Aristides Ramirez. The paper had a graphic this morning showing that with 8 HR's on June 13th, it's his lowest HR output at this point in his career. Glass is half full says, 'good, that means there's a lot more to come.' Glass is half-empty wonders if Manny's banged up.

At any rate, they better get their act together quickly. Red Sox Nation isn't in panic mode just yet, but it does feel like we're looking in our rearview mirrors, waiting for something bad to happen - like maybe have a military chopper firing on us.

The Sox close out their series against the Rockies tonight, and here's hoping Josh Beckett can shut down the bats. After that, the circus comes to town in the form of the San Francisco Giants and Big Head Barry. I'll have a special post up tomorrow with a suggestion on how Barry could buff up his image juuuuust a little bit. Needless to say, it will be very interesting to see how Bonds is treated by the Fenway Faithful.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Mr. & Mrs. Drew Can Be Proud Tonight

Okay, so we've seen back to back to back to back home runs this year, a no-hitter lost with one out to go in the 9th, the temporary resurrection of Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew in the same game, and now - this caps it off - we just watched Julian Tavarez put down a strange-looking but effective bunt that made it bases loaded for the Sox against the Diamondbacks. That's the beauty of baseball. Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes something completely unexpected. Like I tell my wife all the time, it's my soap opera. And it's better than any of the slop you're watching.

I thought Curt Schilling's near no-hitter on Thursday might serve as a catalyst after the Sox had lost 4 in a row for the first time all season. So far, so good. After avoiding the sweep in Oakland with Schilling's gem, the Sox put the wood to Arizona last night, beating the D-Backs 10-3 behind Drew and Josh Beckett. Drew (along with Lugo) has been a popular whipping boy on sports radio this week. The two big offseason acquisitions (combined 9 years, $106M) are both hitting about .220 and fans around these parts are rapidly growing impatient. For one night anyway, the beleaugered pair showed some of the offense Theo thought he was getting.

Lugo led off Friday night's game with a blast into the left-centerfield seats, but it was Drew who was the offensive star. He smashed two homers and drove in a career-high 7 runs. Combined with a sharp Beckett, the Sox coasted to victory in the opener.

Tonight it's Mr. Tavarez against Arizona's Micah Owings. It's 1-0 right now heading into the third inning.

A couple of random observations and links for your reading pleasure:

- Went to a buddy's 40th birthday party tonight, and in deciding what to bring as a gift, I settled on a book about the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox. A bunch of us are turning 40 this year, and we all take pride knowing that our Moms carried us/had us during one of the greatest Red Sox seasons ever. So anyway, I'm looking online for a good book, I type "impossible dream" in the Google search field, and this spits out. Ronan Tynan, who just happens to be the house singer for... the Yankees.

- Remember all the different uniform combinations the Oakland A's and Pittsburgh Pirates of the late '70s and '80s had? The Diamondbacks are in that class. Red, black, all sortsa stuff going on.

- I love 'Tek and he's the undisputed leader of this nine, but whoever decided to put the 'C' on the front of his uniform made a bad decision. It just looks silly.

- There's nothing quite like the excitement of watching one of your own pitchers come so close to a no-hitter like Schilling did the other day. I was at a gym in Boston and before you knew it, there was a crowd of around 15 people - old and young - intently watching the TV. When he got the first 2 outs, I thought for sure he had it. But Shannon Stewart thought differently. After the game, Schilling talked about how he shook off Varitek's call for a slider, and said he'd probably play the 'what if?' game for the rest of his life. Who else would be that candid under the circumstances? Schilling's a blowhard, but he's our blowhard. Check out his blog for his thoughts on the near no-no.

- Fat Roger made his Yankee debut today against the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates. He ended up getting a win - 6 innings, 3 earned runs, 5 K's. Solid numbers.

- Trivia question: Who's the only man to have 2,000 hits and 2,000 wins as a major league manager?

- Did your heart skip a little bit last night after Manny got hit in the wrist? Looked nasty on replay, and he's out of the lineup tonight - but all reports indicate that he's fine.

- It's a good week for the Drews. Stephen Drew - J.D.'s brother and the SS for Arizona - just took Tavarez deep for a 2-run homer. 3-0 Diamondbacks.

- NESN had a feature on tonight about the team "barber" - a cat named Lmonstro. This is the guy who does Manny's dreadlocks and Big Papi's funky beard. He actually travels with the team and everything. L-fricking-monstro. Only in America.

- Well, there you have it. I give 'Tek grief for the C and look what he does. He homers in the 6th to make it a 3-2 game, and then he doubles in the 8th to tie it at 3. A good one going on in the desert...

- J.D. Drew continues to be on fire...

- Here's a question for you: in a big game, right now, who do you want starting -- Wakefield or Tavarez? It's an interesting debate but I'd have to go with Tavarez right now. Wake rebounded last time out, so hopefully he can get back into a groove. If he doesn't, and if and when Jon Lester reclaims his spot in the rotation, it will be interesting to see what Tito and Theo do.

- Speaking of Lester, after a couple of solid outings for Pawtucket he had a tough one last night. This gives the Sox the luxury of giving Lester one more start in the minors, and giving Tavarez another start. No need to rush, which must be a nice feeling.

- This is cool -- I just nodded off for about an hour so this is now one of the longest posts ever.

- I just so happened to awake from my slumber at the perfect time. The Sox and D-Backs are into the 10th inning and Mike Lowell just hit a pinch-hit sac fly to drive in Big Papi for the go-ahead run. Papelbon comes on for the save and allows a couple of baserunners, but he's throwing lighting bolts and the Sox close it out. A very nice win.

- Well, the best I could do on my comeback win research -- as of May 27th, after the Sox had beaten the Rangers in Game No. 49, they had 17 comeback wins. Pretty damn amazing.

- Trivia answer: Joe "Karl Malden" Torre

- I know I'm rambling so I'll end it on this note: Dice-K against Randy Johnson today. Appointment TV.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

This Guy Puts Lou Piniella to Absolute Shame

Check out one of the all-time great 'manager goes nuts' videos.

Catching Up

Fried hard drives, healing avulsions, sick kids, an even sicker wife... these are just a few of my excuses for the infrequent blogging over the last couple weeks. As a former sports talk show host in Boston once famously said, "I apologize a thousand times!!"

But lucky for you - my three loyal readers - I've been storing up items for discussion like a chipmunk stores nuts. So without any further ado, let's opine and spectate.

First things first. The most important question on the minds of all Boston sports fans this morning, Sunday, June 3rd? How will the Bruins get back into the playoffs in 2008?? I jest, of course. The Bruins are practically extinct in this town as are the lottery luckless Celtics (shame on all of us for thinking a 39% chance to land Oden or Durant really meant a 100% chance). If anything, the last few months here in Sportsville has reinforced the fact that Boston is very much a two-sport town, and with the Patriots and Red Sox as our representatives, we're probably the best two-sport town going right now.

Anyway, let's chat about these two teams for a moment. The Patriots are in sleepy, offseason mode after their buying/signing/drafting frenzy. Randy Moss took part in a recent passing camp, and from all accounts was looking good and getting acclimated to the offense. Unfortunately, the headline out of Foxborough in the past two weeks has been a tragic one: the untimely death of 24-year old backup defensive lineman Marquise Hill. Hill died in a Memorial Day weekend jet skiing accident in his hometown of New Orleans. The other interesting tidbit on the Pats concerns the team's Hall of Fame, which is getting ready to induct the best wide receiver from my day, Stanley "The Steamer" Morgan. Old No. 86 caught many a TD pass from Steve Grogan and Tony Eason, and has always been underappreciated around here. Congrats to Stanley.

Now, let's get to the principals, our first-place, juggernaut Boston Red Sox.

As we sit here this morning, following last night's 11-6 victory over the Yankees at Fenway, the Sox are 20 games over .500 at 37-17. They lead the second-place Orioles by 11 games and the next-to-last-place Yanks by a whopping 13 1/2. The Sox' incredible start and the Yanks' incredible unraveling have been equally stunning to watch.

Let's go around the horn with some thoughts on each of the blood rivals. We'll begin with the Yanks, because it's simply more fun to analyze this car wreck.

- We begin our Bronx Tale on the afternoon of Sunday, May 6. The scene: Yankee Stadium, the 7th inning stretch. All the sweathog peasants are asked to direct their bloodshot eyes to George Steinbrenner's private box, where a certain fat, overpaid Texan is dressed in (appropriately) a pinstriped suit and holding a microphone. "Well, y'all, I'm coming back," says 45-year old Roger Clemens. "The Yankees dragged me out of retirement (must have been hard) so I'll be seeing y'all soon..." The sweathogs and WFAN radio bitch Suzyn Waldman go bonkers. At the time, the Yankees are a workable 5 1/2 games behind the Sox, and it's widely perceived that Clemens' surprise announcement will serve as a kick start.

- Alas, the story has not played out the way they hoped. Since Clemens' breathless announcement, the Yankees have gone a pathetic 9-15, while the Sox have been sensational at 17-7. In the process, the Yanks have lost 8 1/2 games. And Roger's been watching the implosion from remote, Triple-A outposts.

- The implosion hasn't just come on the field, which has made this plummet even more entertaining. Whether it's Jason Giambi putting his foot in his mouth about past steroid use, or A-Fraud making the tabloids as he esquires a busty blonde in and out of North America's finest strip joints, the newspapers in NYC have been having a blast. How'd you like to have been Mrs. A-Fraud, finding out about her cheesy, a-hole husband's infidelities by looking at the back page of the Post?

- And there's been a few A-Fraud on-field issues as well. There was the rolling block/flying elbow he threw at Dustin Pedroia a couple weeks back, and then the situation in Toronto this past week where he was rounding third on a pop up to the Blue Jays' third baseman, yelled 'mine' to deke him into thinking the shortstop was going to take it, and the ball fell. Lots of interesting debate over whether it was a bush play or smart baseball, with a lot of MLB old-timers saying it was fine, and and most contemporary players crying foul. With A-Fraud, though, one must consider the history. He first shows his true colors in the historic, epic Yankee collapse in the 2004 ALCS, with the feminine swipe on Bronson Arroyo. He then gets into it with Jason Varitek, which results in A-Fraud getting a mouthful of Rawlings catcher's mitt. The guy is as talented as they come, but it's pretty clear that he's a loser of the highest order.

- Aside from the A-Fraud foibles, it's easy to see why the Yanks have sucked the bit. No pitching, no hitting. Simple as that. A bunch of Triple-A retreads have taken the ball for them so far this year, and the bazillion-dollar lineup has been dreadful. Just when they show minor blips of having a pulse, they flatline again.

- The events of this weekend have summed it up well. Coming into this three-game series with the Sox, the Yanks had to be thinking: '...if we can get 2 or even sweep, then we've got Roger coming back on Monday against the White Sox, we can get some momentum.' And things were looking good for a while. They started out with a win Friday night by knocking Wakefield around pretty good, and when Jorge Posada hit a three-run bomb to give them a 4-3 lead yesterday on Schilling, things felt a little shaky. Not to fear, though. The Sox fought back and eventually took the lead. Mike Lowell plowed into two Yankees (Cano first, then Mientkiewicz who suffered a concussion). Okajima and Papelbon closed the door. And, for the cherry on top of the sundae, it was announced by the Yanks that Clemens had suffered a groin injury in his last rehab start and wouldn't be pitching against the White Sox on Monday after all. One step forward, four steps back. Beautiful, ain't it?

As for the Sox, it's been a steady drumbeat of just winning series. In stark contrast to the Yanks, everything has come up roses for them. They lose Beckett, and Gabbard comes up from the minors and pitches his heart out. They lose Big Papi for a couple of games, and it doesn't matter because we've got Big Youk lighting it up. Manny hasn't started to hit. Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo have been anything but tablesetters. And J.D. Due has been a huge disappointment so far. Disappointing to the point of wondering how a seemingly intelligent GM like Theo Epstein saw it appropriate to reward him with a 5-year, $70 million deal.

But again, all the negatives have been vastly overshadowed by the positives. That's what a 13 1/2 game lead over the Yankees will do.

The starting pitching has been fabulous, and the bullpen fabulouser. Signing Okajima looks like a brilliant move. In fact, I'd say the team MVP's so far are Oki Dokey and Kevin Youkilis, who has been on a monster tear. Coming into this season, I felt Youk was a weak link on this team - the one guy that didn't deserve to just be handed a starting spot in this lineup. Man have I been proven wrong. He's been phenomenal - both at the plate and in the field. At the other corner, Mike Lowell has defied the 'slow bat' skeptics and is again off to a fast start with the stick. He's been uncharacteristically sloppy with the glove, but that should come around. Still, it will be interesting to see what happens with the corner spots as the year moves on. Several media reports suggest that the Sox are still peddling Lowell. Could they be looking at Helton or Teixiera at first, and moving Youk back to third? Time will tell...

Fortunately, their lightning quick start gives them the luxury of not having to worry too much about their concerns. The Yanks don't have that luxury. Instead, they've got an aging owner in Tampa (some reports say he's suffering from Alzheimers) trying to decide which head should roll next. They fired the friggin' trainer a month or so ago to shake things up. I think it's time for the team masseuse to go.

Great one on tap for tonight on ESPN. Josh Beckett tries to go to 9-0 against Andy Pettite. Hopefully, Roger will be watching from his plush K-Club living room, ice packs on his 45-year old joints, as his good buddy Andy makes sure the spectacular implosion continues.

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