Sunday, June 03, 2007

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.

make that 4 viewers
p.s. for a sox fan you sure spend ALOT of time talking about the Yanks....p.p.s. we're expecting our first pup here in SRQ,FL do I work on splitter technics or rise ball technics??
True - they've just been so god-awful that it's been fun to watch... just watched them lose to the White Sox and now watching the A's-Sox in a late game from Oakland.

Are you serious about expecting?
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