Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dice-K Dominates

As you know by now, the Sox took 2 of 3 from the Yankees in their finale at the original Yankee Stadium - unable to complete the sweep thanks to a titanic home run by Jason Giambi - and then came home and Dice-ected the White Sox last night at Fenway.

Matsuzaka was masterful - easily his best performance of '08 - as he shut out a hot-hitting team, held them to two measly hits, struck out 7 and walked - get this - two. He was backed by the normal offensive suspects, including the incredible duo of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and Everyday Jason Bay. Meanwhile, Sox hitters feasted on Javier Vazquez and a succession of mediocre relievers. Final score was 8-zip.

While the Sox were running roughshod over their hosiery counterparts, those friggin' Rays continued to win, this time drubbing the Orioles 14-3 and in the process ensuring the first winning season in team history. As for the current standings, the Sox are 4.5 games behind Tampa, and the Yanks are 10.5 out. The Sox have a 2.5-game lead on Minnesota for the wild-card, and a six-game cushion on the Spanks (hard to believe they're still kicking - Carl Pavano came back last night and won a game - that's $25 million per win for the Yanks)

Personnel-wise, there's been lots of movement for the Sox over the past week. The biggest story revolved around Josh Beckett, who traveled to Alabama Friday to meet with Dr. James Andrews, who may as well be the Jack Kevorkian for major league pitchers. Beckett and the team wanted to get some peace of mind that his right elbow was okay, and they got that yesterday when Andrews gave the all-clear. The Sox could not have withstood a major injury to Beckett - particularly in October. They're already beat up, with J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and now Beckett on the DL.

What I like about this year's team, though, is that they've been able to mix in new pieces along the way during an otherwise tumultuous season. In fact, this may be the best job Terry Francona has done during his Boston tenure, which is saying quite a bit. It seems like there's a new player in the lineup every night, and tonight is no different. Because the Sox had to DL Beckett, they called up promising righty Michael Bowden from Pawtucket and he'll go tonight against Mark Buehrle and the Sox. I've said it before and I'll say it again: a rookie pitcher debut is one of the coolest things to watch in baseball.

Two more quick Sox observations. It's been beyond fun to watch the breakout seasons Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are having this year. They've become the de facto leaders of this team. Every time you look up, one of them's lining a ball somewhere for a hit. Second, I want to introduce a new statistical category, On-Field Intelligence (OFI). It's hard not to notice that Theo has gone after anti-Manny guys - that is, smart baseball players who show up every day and contribute in many different ways to winning ballgames. Bay, Paul Byrd, and Mark Kotsay are all talented in their own ways, and they score highly in OFI. These things matter when the leaves start to turn colors.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The Sox put one nail in the Yanks' coffin last night with a sweet 7-3 victory in New York. Highlights in this one were Alex Rodriguez' ineptness at the plate and in the field, and a huge double-play groundball induced by Justin Masterson (on A-Fraud) to squelch a Yanks' rally in the seventh (I just used 'induced' and 'squelch' in the same sentence by the way...)

The Yankee "fans" were all over A-Rod last night, booing every at-bat, and even booing the guy whenever he touched the ball in the field, which really says something about how they feel about their bazillionaire slugger. He's got numbers this year, but not your typical A-Rod numbers, and he has not been good in the clutch. Think he's batting around .245 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Could it be the personal swirl that's doing A-Rod in this year? Is the Material Girl messing with his brain?

Game 2 is tonight at 7, with Paul Byrd going against the Clown Prince of Aruba, Sidney Ponson.

(One other quick note: several media outlets are reporting that the Sox have signed Mark Kotsay to join their outfield ranks. Makes sense, with J.D. Drew now on the DL and Brandon Moss now playing in Pittsburgh (that's the one that's gonna hurt me for a while - I liked Mossy). This is the spot they envisioned for Brian Giles, but he decided he'd rather stay in beautiful San Diego and play for a loser. To each his own, I s'pose.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Y.E.P., or R.I.P., Whichever You Prefer...

Before I 'splain my acronym above, one of the great - and truly scary - things about the proliferation of blogs over the past few years is that they give anyone and everyone a forum to say whatever the hell's on their minds. Here's a strange nugget that crossed my mind as I made my way into work this morning. At a certain point along the highway, there was a major piece of road kill in the middle of the road. I'm talking blood and guts spattered over a decent-sized area. My question for you to ponder today is this: Do cars swerve to avoid running over said roadkill out of respect to the previously breathing critter, or do they do it to avoid getting the gross entrails trapped on their precious tires? These are the things I think about when sitting in traffic for 35 minutes, and I get to share them with you. Don't ya feel lucky?

Anyway, onto the post title. Y.E.P. stands for Yankees Elimination Party, which I'm hoping we can celebrate after this little three-game set in the Bronx. Which also just so happens to be the last time the Red Sox will have to play in the haunted house that is Yankee Stadium. I saw a stat last night that the Sox are roughly 200 games under .500 lifetime in the place. Ba-bye.

The Yanks themselves are definitely circling the drain - they're five games behind the Sox in the division and the wild card - but they're also buoyed by the fact that they get to play the Sox six more times before year's end. In other words, it's up to them if they want to get back into it. The fun starts tonight with Tim Wakefield making his return from the DL against Andy Pettitte. Here's hoping the Sox make the Yanks roadkill. That's something I'd happily drive my car over.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Taking on Water

So this is what they meant by 'dog days of August.' The Sox are springing leaks all around as they try to stay within tracking distance of the first-place Rays and keep their hold on the wild card lead. They're missing their starting shortstop, third baseman, and right fielder, and their #1 pitcher has some sort of mysterious ailment going on his throwing arm. To add salt to the proverbial wounds, Jon Lester got shelled yesterday en route to an embarrassing 11-0 defeat to the Blue Jays, who have our number this year.

It's been a chaotic 2008 for this team in more ways than one, and really, if you think about it objectively, the fact that they have a half-game lead over the White Sox for the wild card is borderline incredible. Schilling gone for the year, Papi and Lowell out for extended periods, the gas-can bullpen, the spaghetti bats of Lugo, Crisp and Varitek, and oh, almost forgot, the loud departure of Manny Ramirez. The Sox' depth has allowed them to stay afloat, but it remains to be seen if the leaks can be stopped before this team hits the ocean floor.

The Blue Jays have certainly been trying to poke more holes in the hull. The Jays hold a 7-3 edge over the Sox this year, and they send the hot A.J. Burnett (16-9) to the hill today against Dice-K (15-2). Should be a good one... or it could be an ugly one.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Checking Back In

Rested, refreshed, and re-charged for what should be a pretty good pennant race...

Lots to catch up on after my two-week hiatus from posting. I was sequestered in the woods of Maine for most of that time, where cell phone and wireless internet signals go to die. But we're back, and ready to roll. We'll rename the site today Volleyball Heaven in honor of our outgoing commander in chief, who spent some quality time in Beijing last week with our champion lady v-ballers (left).

Thought I'd just do a quick around-the-horn with some local issues that have been debated over the past week or so:

- Everyday Jason Bay is holding his own against that walking (jogging?) consumer fraud now playing with the Dodgers. The tale of the tape since the big deal went down - Manny's hitting .406 with six homers, 21 RBI's, 12 runs, and, get this, one steal. Everyday Jason Bay, meanwhile, is hitting .347 with 4 homers, 18 ribs, 19 runs, 3 SB's, and oh yeah, as his nickname implies, he's playing every day and not shoving elderly people to the ground. The Manny sycophants are still out there, but the more I see of Bay, the more I think Theo did a hell of a job under extreme duress. Here's a piece from T.J. Simers in the LA Times that will give you a good guffaw. Most amazing takeaway for me: Manny knows how to operate an iPhone? He's probably got his own techie guy. Like L'Montro his own personal hairstylist, this guy's name is L'Pod.

- I like to take stock of the Patriots after the third game of the pre-season each year, but we still may not have a clue about this team after tonight's game against Asante Samuel and the Eagles at Gillette. We may not see Tom Brady for this one, as the organization continues to rightfully protect its Faberge egg. So it could be another dose of Backup QB Derby. I'll probably tune in and watch at least a couple of quarters. I still think the Pats go 14-2 this year with the easy schedule and they add another trophy to the case.

- I must say, the Olympics are alluring. I mean, where else can we see our Commander in Chief galivanting with bikini-clad women in public? Honestly, I think the attraction for me is the stories and the smiles. The raw human emotion of the whole thing. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. I'll shut up now. But it's been fun watching Phelps and that lightning streak sprinter from Jamaica. I guess not everyone in that country takes their time getting places.

- It's YEP time, otherwise known as the Yankee Elimination Party. That team is all done, friends. Hank Steinbrenner's already on record as saying they're the team to beat in 2009. The white flag is waving from the Empire itself.

- One of Brett Favre's first requests to Stool Pigeon Mangini was to simplify the offense a little more. Not a good sign.

- Rumors are flying around the Hub about Jason Varitek's divorce - actually not so much his divorce but who he may be seeing. My moles are telling me it's NESN's own Kathryn Tappen, who I must say is quite fetching. Still, doesn't this smack a little of the Derek Lowe situation?

- My fantasy football team: QB: Brett Favre, Philip Rivers; RB: Marshawn Lynch, Willie Parker, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones; WR: Randy Moss, Dwayne Bowe, Anthony Gonzalez, Darrell Jackson; TE: Jason Witten, Zach Miller; K: Phil Dawson, Martin Gramatica; OFF: Arizona, Detroit; DEF: NYG, NYJ. Thoughts?

- Still not sure how I feel about NBA players playing for Team USA in the Olympics. Then I realize they haven't won gold for a while and I'm more okay with it. I do wish someone from the Celts was on the team, though I realize they played the most post-season games, like, ever. So I guess a rest is warranted.

- Just tried to think of something to write about hockey and came up completely empty. Sad.

- Where's Bill Simmons over at ESPN? Talk about a long hiatus. Rick Reilly's starting to take over as the lead draw, at least for me.

- Gotta love the vicious Boston sports media. After his latest poor outing, I half-expected to see Clay Buchholz dangling from a tree on Boston Common. I understand that everything is amplified in Boston, but the level of outrage over this guy - and the way people take it so personally - is ridiculous. Much like the weight of perfection wore on the Pats last January/February, Buchholz' dalliance with perfection - his September '07 no-no vs. Baltimore - could be affecting him right now. The way I look at it is some people develop more slowly - he mastered Double-A, and after mixed results at Triple-A, he eventually got into a groove before being called back up. It's a process, people. Give the kid some time.

- That said, you have to be concerned about the current state of the rotation. Josh Beckett has some sort of mysterious numbness/tingling going on in his pitching hand, though anything serious has been ruled out. Wake's on the DL. Buchholz is headed up to Portland to get it all back. Really, if you think about the guys you trust on the mound right now for the Sox, it's Dice-K, Lester and Papelbon, and maybe throw in Masterson. If that isn't worrisome, I don't know what is. The Sox did pick up Paul Byrd for the stretch drive, and he goes tonight against a familiar foe in the Blue Jays. Byrd's last two starts - one for the Indians, one for the Sox - have been against Toronto.

- And finally, let's end on a political note. Who is Obama going to pick as his VP candidate? It's a fun parlor game to watch, and kudos to his campaign for somehow keeping his choice quiet. Not easy to do in today's media age. I'm going to go against the grain and predict that his selection will be a complete surprise.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Why the eight-day hiatus? Let's just say I can't quite socialize the way I used to. Spent last weekend in the hinterlands of Maine with a couple pals and it honestly took till mid-week to start to feel somewhat normal. Getting old sucks.

Lots of things to catch up on so here's a mish-mash:

- Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay have settled in on their respective coasts, and each are doing very well. Manny's been absolutely scalding the ball - funny, haven't seen many defensive highlights - and Bay's been impressive with the stick and with the glove. Manny has gone 13 for 28 so far with 4 homers, 9 RBI's and 7 runs scored, while Bay has gone 12 for 30, with 1 homer, 6 RBI's and 10 runs scored. Interesting to see a little sidebar in today's Globe with the headline "Hansen has Moss to thank for first save." Anything to get people around here up in arms - which admittedly isn't difficult to do.

- Sticking with Manny, I've had more than a week to digest this whole thing and what I keep coming back to is that what he did to his team, to us fans, and to the guys who sign his paychecks is unforgivable. I'm not one to make bold statements, but Manny's quitting attitude during his final days in Boston was a large middle-finger salute to the integrity of the game. In fact, the Globe reported this week that MLB has some people poking around the matter of Manny's last days, to see if there is any evidence of intentional tanking. In the end, of course, we'll never get all the answers. Somebody in the local press will attempt to do a Will McDonough-esque piece breaking it all down, but it will be partly speculation. We'll never know if the ownership group kept telling Manny one thing and doing another. We'll never know how many more Youkilis/McCormick moments Manny may have had over the last seven years. We'll never know what Scott Boras did or didn't tell Manny to do as part of his overall strategery to break away from the two one-year options, which only months ago seemed to favor the Sox but in the end turned out to be leg shackles. What we do know is that Manny dogged it one too many times, and his quit this time was perceived by many to be an insult aimed directly at the owner's box. It was personal this time around. One last thing - we fans have a part in all of this too. We - along with the owners and his teammates - looked the other way with Manny because of his bat and because he played a major role in helping to erase 86 years of sheer torture and misery. In the end, maybe Manny thought his behavior was okay, because it's been permitted for so long.

- Next in the crosshairs: Brett Favre and the Packers. What an utter mess. I have to agree with Mike Golic, who this week on ESPN strongly questioned why the Packers wouldn't want to have Favre as their starter in the first place. Yes, the guy threw an abysmal interception to end their season last year, and he's only won one Super Bowl. But does he not make your team better when he's in there? That's really the only question. You can bring up Manny as an example - he obviously makes the Sox better - but his flaws were deeper than we knew. From everything I've seen, read and heard, and there has been a lot, his teammates still respect Favre. Seems like Packers GM Ted Thompson is the loser in all this. GM Rule No. 1 - never get into a pissing match with a beloved legend. Now Favre's with the Jets, which should make for some fun twice a year against the Pats.

- Hey, did you know the PGA Championship - golf's fourth major - was taking place this weekend? Me neither. Amazing the impact Tiger has.

- I was kind of hoping the Pats might get a crack at released QB Chad Pennington, though I knew he'd obviously be more interested in playing every Sunday. He'll be a good backup QB to have around some day.

- Hey, did you know the Olympics started yesterday? Me neither. No, I'm kidding - I caught some of the opening ceremony last night and it was truly spectacular. I'll most likely try to tune in for men's hoops, and swimming and diving. I've always liked the pool events for some reason. Weird but true fact about your humble blogger servant.

- I didn't watch one snap of the Pats' first exhibition game the other night against the Ravens, but I did hear from many that rookie LB Jerod Mayo - the team's first round pick - was very impressive. And that Tom Brady's Backups were very unimpressive. Talk to me after the third exhibition game.

- Try as they might, the Red Sox just can't seem to chip into the Rays' division lead. Entering today's games, they're 3 1/2 back and some eyes have turned to the wild card standings, which have the Sox ahead of the Twins by a game and a half. I still believe that the Sox win the AL East, the Rays win the wild card, and the Yankees don't make the playoffs, especially with Joba Chamberlain's injury.

- Dice-K needs to come through tonight with a good performance against a good team. The Sox lost 5-3 to the White Sox last night.

- Ozzie Guillen makes for good TV. The guys wears his emotions on his sleeve, and it's particularly entertaining to watch him while his bullpen is in the process of imploding. If you had a split-screen on TV, he'd go from a frown, to taking his hat off and rubbing his forehead, to throwing his arms up and cussing, to barking at his pitching coach to get on the phone. The man is animated.

- And that's all I have for you at the moment. Thanks for listening. Go forth and prosper on this fine Saturday.

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