Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Writing is Therapeutic, Writing is Therapeutic...

So many thoughts, so many directions I could go... first, I guess I'm slowly coming to grips with the fact that we're not going to have any more meaningful baseball games to watch. The Patriots being on Monday Night Football last night sort of took the mind away from the Sox for awhile, but it certainly doesn't take long to come back does it? That's the affliction we all have. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Yes, the 2004 and 2007 teams accomplished more, but I think I'm always going to remember the 2008 team. How can you not be proud of what these guys just did? I've said it a million times before, but name me a team that's been through the type of adversity this team had to go through this year, beginning with the ridiculous early travel schedule. I'll list 'em again. Schilling out for the year. Lugo (thankfully) out. Big Papi's wrist. Mike Lowell's hip. J.D. Drew's everything. A less-than-100% Josh Beckett at the most critical time of the year. The Manny debacle of course. When the season ended in Sunday night's Game 7 loss to the Rays, we had our regular first baseman playing third, a kid who began the year in Triple-A Pawtucket playing short, a veteran outfielder playing first, a backup who wanted to be traded playing center, a former Pittsburgh Pirate playing left and a tall, rangy kid who was in Single-A ball as recently as last year playing a pivotal role in the bullpen. Think about it. It's ludicrous. And yet this team battled back and at least made the Rays work for it. It didn't end with the result we wanted, but these guys did us proud. Youk and Pedroia should be voted co-MVP's for what they did this year.

As the players scatter, there are already decisions hanging in the air. What happens with Jason Varitek, who's been the heart and soul of this team since Dan Duquette pilfered him from the Mariners (with Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb!)? He was atrocious at the plate, but I say we try to keep him and give Kevin Cash some more playing time. I like the way that kid throws out baserunners. Mike Timlin is most likely retiring. Tim Wakefield was quoted today saying he definitely wants to come back, which he should. Just don't let him near the mound when the leaves turn. Mark Kotsay is probably going elsewhere to trade in his first baseman's mitt and be an everyday center fielder. There will be changes, as there always are.

And before we know it, Hot Stove will soon heat up and we'll be talking about rumors involving Mark Teixeira, Jake Peavy, CC Sabathia, Derek Lowe (why not?), and more. We'll eventually start thinking about next year, but not quite yet.

Some random thoughts:

- I'm having the hardest time deciding which team to root for in the World Series. I feel like the yahoo Rays' fans - it's not all, but a huge chunk - don't deserve it. I went down to St. Pete last April and went to a game, and the morons were out in full force. One guy kept running back and forth in front of our section every half-inning, verbally abusing Sox fans old and young. Another "fan" - filled to the gills before the game even started - bumped into my 65-year old father-in-law in a beer line and challenged him to a fight. Their stadium is an abomination and I hate Jonny Gomes. There are so many reasons to go Phillies.

But then I think about Philly fans. Think about the most idiotic Red Sox fan you've ever seen and multiply by 10. Famously douchey. Booed Santa Claus. Arlen Specter is probably one. Just flat out miserable all the time. The Eagles were sore losers to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Phillies starter Brett Myers was arrested for beating his wife on a Boston street corner during a Phillies-Sox series in 2006. so Philly's no prize either. And just what the hell is a Phillie anyway?

In the end, and I apologize profusely to my Tampa-Sarasota friends, I have to pull for the Phillies. I know it's petty, but I just can't stomach the thought of Rays' fans having bragging rights of any kind. That said, the logical baseball fan in me says they're gonna win. They play in a tougher, better league, and I think they have better all-around talent.

- Several reports have said the Sox will make an aggressive push for Teixeira. A key factor obviously will be the health of Mike Lowell, who reports said had 'very successful' hip surgery on Monday. I'd still rather see Youk at first.

- Two young lefty studs open up the Series tomorrow night, with Scott Kazmir going against Cole Hamels.

- How impressive was Spittin' Matt Garza on Sunday night? After he gave up the first inning bomb to Pedroia, his stuff was sick. A knee-buckling curveball wrapped around a 94-mph heater that he was painting.

- Fox may not like the ratings, but this actually has the potential to be a very good series. Two good, young teams. I'm looking forward to watching the vaunted Phillie bullpen. The last time I saw Brad Lidge in October, he was getting whiplash from watching Albert Pujols take him deeeep.

- In the no shit Sherlock department, Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee made the brilliant observation today that the Red Sox lost because their pitchers made mistakes. That right there is some astute analysis. Thanks, Rich.

- And finally, a salute to Rodney Harrison, who injured his leg in last night's game against the Broncos and is gone for the year. His career, in fact, may be over. It's that one little word - 'may' - that makes you realize how much of a warrior this guy is. He's had to rehab his way back to football after two tough knee surgeries already. Now he's got a shredded quadriceps, and even though a normal man would limp away, you just know in the back of your mind that there's a chance we'll see him again. Either way, the man deserves our utmost respect. He came in with a reputation and he's done nothing but lead and be a mentor on this team.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Varitek - Yes, Varitek - Comes Up Big for Sox

The Red Sox continued their comeback against the shell-shocked Rays last night in Tampa, taking Game 6 by a score of 4-2, and forcing a winner-take-all seventh game tonight at the Trop. Man, this has been one hell of a ride. Everything from late-game heroics to long home runs to TV power outages (we'll get to this atrocity in a moment).

Most of the questions heading into Game 6 revolved around the health of Josh Beckett. A strained oblique has resulted in decreased velocity, and while he clearly wasn't himself last night, he willed himself through five innings, allowing only two runs - both of which came on home runs (one by the red-hot B.J. Upton and one by Jason Bartlett). Of course, we didn't get to see the Upton home run in the first inning, which in some ways is fine by me.

TBS - which is broadcasting the AL playoff games this year - suffered some sort of power outage just before gametime, and there was no live feed of the game when it started. People were apoplectic. Instead of the start of a much-anticipated Game 6 at 8:07 p.m. last night, we got something called the Steve Harvey Show. Not a good time to be a bartender in a sports bar, or a Verizon TV service operator.

A buddy called me at 8:12 or so wondering what was up, then another friend said there was some sort of blackout in Atlanta, where TBS is based. The game had started, and there was no national broadcast. Embarrassing for TBS. Not only did someone bleep up, they also did a horrible job of letting viewers know what was going on, and when it might be resolved. I resorted to getting updates online, thinking it would be a quick fix... Coco Crisp got on with a bunt single in the top of the first, then got picked off... Upton hit another friggin' home run off Beckett... after a few more interminable, frustrating minutes with no picture or sound, I got up and put the radio broadcast on. A few minutes later, the game was finally on TBS.

So that's how we started. A few hours later, the Red Sox had forced Game 7 thanks to a gutsy performance from Beckett, an improbable, tie-breaking home run from Jason Varitek (who was 0-for-15 or something) in the 6th inning, and some good relief work by Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon.

The Rays are reeling, and the Sox have them right where they want them. Boston is 9-0 in elimination games since the Aaron Boone gut-punch in 2003. 9 and stinking 0. How's that for clutch? And now we have another seventh game to look forward to. They're all memorable, good and bad I s'pose. Joe Morgan's bloop single off Jim Burton in the 1975 World Series. Bruce Hurst and a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning in 1986. The aforementioned Boone game in 2003. Johnny Damon's curse-breaking grand slam in Yankee Stadium in the 2004 ALCS. And I have to admit, last year's Game 7 against the Indians in the ALCS is overshadowed in my mind by J.D. Drew's huge Game 6 grand slam. But a quick look at baseball-reference.com shows that it was the Youkilis/Pedroia show, as both combined to go 6 for 10 with 2 homers, 5 runs, and 7 RBI's. Some things never change.

Tonight, a chance for more history. Who will the heroes be? Can the taxed bullpen give us a little bit more? Will the Sox get to Matt Garza for more than one run, which was all they could muster off him in Game 3? Will Lester find his groove? Who will hit the big home run? The way this series has gone, I'm thinking a Sean Casey walkoff inside-the-parker.

Lots of questions, lots of anticipation. Let's just hope and pray TBS has its you know what together for first pitch.

(Boston Globe photo)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another One for the Scrapbook

Some 35 hours later, people are still buzzing in Boston about the newest chapter in Red Sox postseason lore. (Who would have thunk four years ago that we've already have 'Red Sox postseason lore?)

You know the story. Sevens were wild. Seven runs down, seventh inning, one of the best bullpens in the game called upon to get seven outs and send the Rays - an improbable story unto themselves - into the World Series.

But just as the TBS announcers were analyzing Rays-Phillies matchups, it all began to beautifully unravel. Jed Lowrie spanked what looked like a harmless double to get on in the seventh, and then both Jason Varitek and Mark Kotsay flied out. With 2 outs, Coco Crisp - one of the big heroes in this one - singled, moving Lowrie to third. Pedroia then singled to right, scoring Lowrie and at least avoiding the insult of being shut out at home in an elimination game. And then Big Papi, our human mood ring, got everyone in the place jumping with a three-run moon shot off Grant Balfour, who inexplicably gave the slumping Ortiz a cookie right in his wheelhouse. The big man took his sweet time rounding the bases - kind of reminded me of Manny trying to break up a double play - as the volume at Fenway multiplied by several decibels. Watching at home, this was when I knew something good was happening. Momentum. A buddy texted me from Fenway saying that the crowd felt like it did back during those '04 games against the Yankees. A good sign.

When your hitters get you going, you need your pitchers to shut the opposition down and that's exactly what Jonathan Papelbon did in the eighth. Three up, three down for the Rays and the Sox were quickly back up, this time facing Dan Wheeler. Wheeler, who's been shaky lately, proceeded to give Joe Maddon agita by walking leadoff man Jason Bay on four straight pitches. If you thought Fenway was deafening, it went to a whole new level after J.D. Drew - heretofore known as Mr. June and Mr. October - launched a two-run homer to right to make it 7-6. Wheeler then got two quick outs, Lowrie on a flyball and pinch-hitter Sean Casey on strikes. And again, two-out magic. Kotsay doubled over centerfielder B.J. Upton's head - he should have had it - which brought Crisp up to the plate. Coco fought off pitch after pitch and then singled to right, driving in Kotsay with the tying run. Coco got thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, but the run scored before the tag. Best at-bat by far of Coco's Red Sox career.

For the top of the 9th, Terry Francona summoned his new, 6'6" binky Justin Masterson. The Rays got two men on, and then Masterson did what he does best - he got Rays' slugger Carlos Pena to hit into an inning-ending double play. The kid's got a Derek Lowe-like sinker.

Then came the bottom of the ninth and, you guessed it, the Rays and reliever J.P. Howell got two quick outs as Pedroia grounded out and Papi K'd. Fortunately, we had the Greek God of Walks up next, and you just knew Kevin Youkilis was going to make Howell work. He fouled off tough pitch after tough pitch, barely making contact on a couple, and then hit a sharp groundball to third which Evan Longoria stabbed but then threw past Pena at first. Youk on second with Bay up, and Maddon decided to intentionally walk Bay. I understand the reasoning - force out at any base. But at the time, I was thinking that the next batter, Drew, is much more of a flyball hitter. On cue, Drew slammed one to right field which sailed over Gabe Gross' head (he could have made a better play too) and Youk motored around third with the winning run.
Absolutely incredible, and it's not a stretch to lump this one in with Dave Henderson's home run in 1986 and Dave Roberts' steal in 2004 against the Yankees. In both cases, the odds were stacked heavily against the Sox. The Angels had a 3-1 lead, their best reliever on the mound, and I remember the TV cameras showing the Angels' equipment kids packing everything up. Then Hendu made history. Same with Roberts obviously. And now we've got a whole new chapter in amazing Red Sox playoff comebacks.

Of course, the key question is what does this do psychologically to the young Rays? Maddon will figure it out and have them ready, but you can't tell me it didn't do something. The million-dollar question for the Sox is which Josh Beckett will we see tonight in Game 6 at the Trop? He has to be better than he was in his last start, right? Right?

Friday, October 17, 2008

I Don't Believe What I Just Saw

More tomorrow on tonight's amazing Red Sox come-from-behind victory over the Rays, but wanted to get a quick post up in the afterglow of yet another memorable baseball night.

The Sox were trailing 7-0 in the seventh inning tonight, their season all but over, when suddenly Big Papi awoke and smashed a three-run bomb to right to make it 7-4 and get the fans back in it. Then J.D. Drew came up and hit a two-run shot to right to narrow the Rays' lead to 7-6. Now, keep in mind - the crack TBS crew, particularly that loser Chip Caray - was already looking forward to a Rays-Phillies World Series, analyzing potential matchups, talking about how the Rays had champagne on ice in their locker room. The camera kept showing Jonny Gomes pumping his fist, and his teammates all smiling and laughing. And then Ortiz - this team's human mood ring - put everyone in a good mood when he finally broke through with that big smash. Coco Crisp, leading off in place of Jacoby Ellsbury, singled in the tying run in the 8th inning, and then Drew won it in the bottom of the 9th with a run-scoring double.

Absolutely unbelievable. As damaging as the Game 2 loss was to the Red Sox, this one has to hurt the Rays, who thought they had this one in the bag. More tomorrow, but the Sox live another day. Baseball at the Trop Saturday night, baby! Right now, it's scheduled to be Josh Beckett vs. James Shields. As T.O. would say, bring your popcorn.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Deja U(pton)

Game 5 is underway and it's already more of the same. B.J. Upton just hit his 6th home run of the postseason and third against the Red Sox. The guy hit 9 all year in 531 at-bats. Do they stop testing after September?

Anyway, Iwamura - who must drive Dice-K batty (get it? batty. I kill me) - led off the game with a single, and then Upton hit another shot into the Monster seats, just over the yellow line. Fenway is silent once again as the Rays have staked Scott Kazmir to a two-run lead. The Sox bats really need to plate one or two soon to get the fans revved up. They've sat through too many hours of depressing baseball.

Couple of random thoughts:

Do you think TBS' Craig Sager actually lays out all his clothes on the bed before a big road trip, mapping out which ridiculous outfit he's going to wear each day? He's baseball's milder version of Don Cherry.

I don't want these guys celebrating in our ballpark tonight.

The crowd seems to be a lot more into it right now, as Dice-K is settling into one of his grooves.

Manny lost first. Na, nah, nah, nah. The greedy, lazy, contract-breaking Ramirez is now headed directly for his favorite place in the world: Free agency. Money quote, literally, in today's LA Times following last night's season-ending defeat to the Phillies:

"I just want to go home [to Florida] and spend some time with my family," Ramirez says, while adding with a grin, "I want to see who is the highest bidder. Gas is up and so am I."

Do the Sox consider making a play for fellow free-agent-to-be Derek Lowe? That would be a hell of a rotation.

Lots of debate around here on what the Sox will do with Jason Varitek next year. Hard to see them giving 'Tek anything long-term, so this could very well be his last game ever in a Red Sox uniform if he decides to chase money and years. I'm hoping they can sign him to a one- or two-year deal and keep him around so he can help groom the next catcher. It's clear, though, that his at-bats need to be fewer.

If I'm Theo, I'm looking to get a high-upside catcher, a shortstop and a first baseman in the off-season. That's all. I think you have to be worried about Mike Lowell's hip surgery, and the jury's out on Jed Lowrie. Lowrie should be in the Alex Cora role. That, or maybe look at a third baseman so Kevin Youkilis can go back to first. The sure-handed Youk should be touching the ball on defense as much as possible. Oh, and make sure Clay Buccholz makes progress this off-season. We could use that scrawny bastard right about now.

Who'da thunk a backup outfielder would be our starting first baseman when the games counted the most? Mark Kotsay has done a pretty damn good job, and he's been one of the few guys swinging the lumber.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Breaking News: Even the Citgo Sign is Steamed with the Sox' Wretched Display

An omen perhaps?

A Wake at Fenway

Carnage. Noun. 1. The slaughter of a great number of people, as in battle; butchery; massacre.

I'd say that about sums it up, don'tcha think? Of course, baseball is not war and there were no dead bodies strewn across the Fenway lawn last night.

But you can equate 'great number of people' with Red Sox Nation, which this morning has to be coming around to the reality - despite the incredible comebacking ways of our Sox in recent years - that this particular team is just too wounded to carry on. In some ways, this team is like a champion thoroughbred who's still very talented but has been surpassed by other younger, feistier horses.

Make no mistake, folks: the Rays are very, very good, and they're playing great baseball when it matters the most. In addition to the artillery shells (sticking with the military theme) they've been sending into the Green Monster seats the last two nights, they've been pitching very well, playing their typical good defense, their grounders are finding their way through the infield and their pop-ups are landing. Last night, they humiliated Tim Wakefield and the Sox on national TV, bashing their way to a 13-4 win to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. A buddy and I exchanged text messages right after Wake was pulled, both wondering if we had just seen the last of him in a Sox uniform. Another topic for another day, but worth a debate.

The Rays have clearly been the superior team in every aspect of the game, but I'd like our chances a whole lot better with a healthy Mike Lowell playing third and batting fifth or sixth, and if we knew Josh Beckett and David Ortiz would be their normal selves. You can't underestimate the loss of Lowell, not only for his glove and his bat, but also for what his absence does to the lineup. It moves Youkilis to third and makes Tito have to insert Mark Kotsay at first. Kotsay has done a fine job defensively, but has been a little soft with the bat. And while they continue to deny it, both Beckett and Ortiz have to be hurting. I tip my hat to the Rays (except Jonny Gomes) - and will root for them heartily if they advance - but I still would have liked to have seen our best vs. their best.

Things are gloomy here - this feels a lot different than '04 or '07; the Rays seem destined - but nobody knows better than us that cold bats can get hot in a hurry, and hot bats can cool down. Anything can happen. For now, we lick our collective wounds as a Nation and turn our eyes to tomorrow - when the guy who gave us our best pitching performance in this series (Dice-K) can hopefully come up aces again. The Rays, interestingly, will move James Shields back and go with Scott Kazmir for Game 5, a guy we know we can handle. If we can get this one, and then if Beckett can revert to his dominant self for Game 6, and then, hey, we've got Lester going again... and... stop. Just stop. Don't do it. This is over.

Ah well. Cheer up - the Celtics start playing for real in 13 days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Game 3 Preview: Young Guns

Tonight's Game 3 starters - Jon Lester for the Sox and Matt Garza for the Rays - share more than a few things in common. They both made their major-league debuts in the summer of 2006, and they were both born on the West Coast, less than two months apart from each other - Garza in Selma, California on November 11, 1983; Lester in Tacoma, Washington on January 7, 1984.

They're alike in stature, too, both tall and lanky - and bigger than they seem on TV. If you look at career big-league numbers, though, that's where the similarities end. Lester has made 59 starts and has a 27-8 won-loss record, a 3.81 ERA, and a 262 to 140 K over walks. Lester has also been tough to homer off - giving up only an average of 10 per season.

Garza has made 54 starts, and has a career mark of 19-22 with a 4.02 ERA. His K to walk is 233 to 114. He's been stingy with homers too, giving up just a couple more than Lester.

On paper, and the way he's been going lately, Lester is clearly the favorite to pitch another great game and deliver the Sox a clutch win. But as all good Sox fans, I worry - and in this case, I'm worried about the old law of averages. Lester hasn't allowed an earned run in 14 postseason innings so far, while Garza - a better pitcher than his overall record shows - hasn't won a game since August 27. Can Lester keep it up? Will luck finally find Garza? These are the questions we need answers to.

Some quick, random thoughts:

* Everyone thinks Josh Beckett is hurt but if he is, he ain't letting on. Beckett continues to adamantly say that he's okay, that it's more of a question about rustiness and mechanics. We'll see. All I know is when he's only able to push it up to about 92, something is wrong.

* David Ortiz needs to hit. Big Papi has no hits and no RBI's in this series, and is hitting .174 in October.

* Youk continues to show why he's the American League MVP. Evan Longoria's not far behind.

* How 'bout that Jason Bay, huh? I think I heard this right, that he's got 9 two-out ribbies in the playoffs? Clutch.

* Why can't we have an outfielder that can throw? I know Perez is fast, but that play at the plate to end the game should have been much closer.

* Another stunning stat from Saturday night, courtesy of Tony Mazz - Beckett threw 93 pitches and got only 4 swings and misses. Unheard of.

* The walks are killing me. Let's add 'em up. 21 walks between the two teams in 2 games.

* Papi's not the only one that needs to come alive tonight - so does Ellsbury. I see a bunt or two in his future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is the Ace Whole? Rays Even Series

They say you're supposed to be happy with a split on the road in the playoffs, and with Jon Lester going in Game 3 tomorrow afternoon there is reason for confidence. But when you lose Game 2 the way the Sox did last night, with their own personal Mr. October Josh Beckett struggling mightily, the happiness is tempered a bit.

The Red Sox lost to the Rays in St. Pete last night in extra innings, 9-8, evening the series at 2 as the teams head north for an afternoon matinee tomorrow. Besides the obvious concern over Beckett - and whether he's healthy - this game ranked high on the entertainment meter. Balls were flying off bats like superballs, and the teams combined to tie a playoff record with 7 home runs. It was like a heavyweight prize fight, with both teams slugging past each other every inning.

Surprisingly - or maybe not, the way both guys have been going lately - the offensive barrage came at the expense of both teams' supposed aces, Beckett and Rays' lefty Scott Kazmir. The second-guessing from this one could take up a full day, but to me the glaring issue last night was Terry Francona leaving Beckett in too long, when it was clear that his velocity was down and he was getting shelled. Beckett's final, ugly numbers: 4 1/3 innings, 9 hits, 8 earned runs, 3 bombs. The Rays looked like they were hitting in the Route 1 batting cages, especially Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena (combined 5 for 10, 5 runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI's). Kazmir wasn't much better, going the same 4 1/3 innings, and giving up five earned runs and three homers.

Hitting stars for the Sox were Dustin Pedroia (2 HR's), Youk (1 HR) and Jason Bay, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Kotsay each went 0 for 6. The bullpen pitched great after Beckett, except when Francona decided to bring in Mike Timlin for the 11th inning and Timlin walked the bases full before giving up the game-winning sac fly to B.J. Upton. Timlin should not be on the ALCS roster, plain and simple.

Going by the manual, yes, the Sox have to be happy with the split, particularly in a place where they've had their share of problems this year. But when you look at how the split took shape - with the guy you thought might get lit up pitching a gem, and the guy you thought would pitch well getting lit up - well let's just say there are more questions this morning than smiles.

Something tells me that those folks who are unlucky enough to be working tomorrow will be heading home a bit early. Game time is at 4:37 p.m. from Fenway, with Jon Lester going against Matt Garza. Weather forecast looks nice so shouldn't be a factor.

(Boston Globe photo)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dice-K Dominant

So that's how you silence the goddamn cowbells, and make the fools who got mohawk haircuts - fans and players alike - look downright stupid. Throw six no-hit innings, take a 2-0 lead, strike out 9 guys, and then use your bullpen exactly the way you drew it up five hours earlier. The Sox were downright giddy after winning Game 1 last night in the Catwalk Aquarium Mall, and for good reason. They won only one of nine games there this year.

Last night, though, Matsuzaka took complete control of the game after again pulling a Houdini in the first inning, when he walked the bases-loaded. Through 7-plus innings, he befuddled the Rays with his usual assortment of dips, spins, speeds, angles, and arm slots. In the end, he was a few shades better than Tampa Bay starter James Shields, who was outstanding in his own right (even if he punches like a girl) and the Sox took it 2-0.

The key hits in this one were a sac fly by Jed Lowrie and a ball off the bat of Kevin Youkilis that was boxed around by Carl Crawford, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score the second run. Dice-K, meanwhile, was in a major groove, keeping the Rays hitless until the bottom of the 7th when Crawford roped a single into right. Dice-K came out in the eighth with two men on and nobody out, and watched from the bench as Hideki Okajima and Justin Masterson (another huge double-play grounder) got out of the inning unscathed, and Jonathan Papelbon shut the door in the 9th.

A couple of quick observations:

- Obviously, all eyes tonight will be on Josh Beckett. Will he revert (at least somewhat) to the postseason form that he's known for, or will he struggle like he did his last time out in the ALDS against the Angels? I'm betting on a little bit of rest helping him, and that we'll see a better pitcher tonight. I'm seeing two or three earned runs in his future tonight.

- Beyond surefire AL ROY Evan Longoria and Haverhill, Mass.' own Carlos Pena, the Rays don't have any consistent, legitimate longball threats. With Dice-K doing his thing last night, keeping guys off-balance, you can see why a pure fastball hitter like Longoria would have some trouble, as he did last night with an 0 for 4 performance, which included 2 K's and five men left on base. I'm curious to see if Beckett follows Dice-K's lead in terms of variety and throwing any pitch anytime in the count. Or if Longoria will catch up to a heater. His matchups with Beckett tonight will be worth the price of admission.

- I like Rays' manager Joe Maddon. I didn't like him much during the bad blood games this year, when he was a little too vocal with our guys for my taste. But every time I hear the guy speak, I see more and more why his guys - especially his young guys - enjoy playing for him and respond to his overall philosophy. In some ways, he and Francona have a lot in common. Maddon's a character, no doubt, but I like his mix of pragmatism, calmness and baseball intelligence. His guys only scratched out four hits last night, and failed miserably time and time again with runners on base. It was the kind of offensive offensive game that would drive a day's worth of angry calls to WEEI. After the game, Maddon kept saying he was proud of his guys, that the other pitcher (Dice-K) was just better than our guy (Shields), and that he really liked the effort. It was surely a Pepto-Bismol night for Maddon, and he had to be disappointed about his team's ineptness at the plate - but you know what? You couldn't see one iota of that during his post-game interview, and that's because he knew the last thing he needed to do was publicly criticize his young team before a must-have Game 2. Sort of the anti-Ozzie Guillen. (Come to think of it, I believe the Red Sox had Maddon on their list of candidates when they ultimately signed Francona.)

- Hard-throwing Rays righty Grant Balfour went high, tight and very fast on J.D. Drew last night when he came inside and hit J.D. square on the shoulder. It was a little too close to the head. I don't think he was intentionally throwing at Drew, but I do think he was trying to be extra-aggressive inside, and if he hits him, oh well. If I'm a Rays batter, I'm wondering in the back of my mind if Beckett might try to, um, establish the inside of the plate.

- I still can't believe that an important baseball game is being played in the abomination that is Tropicana Field. It must be so strange going from the Trop to Fenway for the players. Completely different experiences. The only good things about the Trop - okay, three things - are the free parking, the $6 24-ounce Bud Light stands, and the girl's roller derby/keg party outside the stadium right after the game. The ballpark the Rays want to build is gorgeous, and it just may be that being in the high-profile ALCS helps their cause with the city and people down there.

- Final thought - could Beckett maybe a do a little Nuke LaLoosh, and throw the ball a little wide right - maybe so that it collides with Jonny Gomes' face?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rays-Sox: Getting Down to Bidness

No matter how you slice it, this should be one hell of a series. As Rays pitcher/puncher James Shields put it in the papers this morning, every time these two teams played each other this year it felt like a postseason game. Now that we're actually in the postseason, it should be an absolute treat.

I'm not gonna get into any technical mumbo-jumbo on the match-up. We've all seen the Rays enough this year to know that they're for real, their young arms are studs, they hit in clutch situations, and - save for maybe Evan Longoria - they're essentially superstar-less. I think what struck me the most, especially down the stretch, was their resiliency. How many times would we see the TV ticker scroll say the Rays were down three runs in the 7th, and then 20 minutes later they were up by four? It happened a lot. One thing I'm concerned about is the home-field advantage the Rays enjoy, and their incredible record in one-run games, which we're sure to see a few of.

As for the Sox, I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is far and away Terry Francona's best job as the manager of this team. Think about all the shit he's had to deal with - Schilling's injury and the ensuing medical debate, Papi's wrist, the uncertainty of Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew's injuries, and of course, the entire Manny fiasco. There were some dark days this season to be sure, but here they are again - and they may very well get into their third World Series in FIVE years. Unthinkable. If Lester keeps doing what he's doing, and Beckett and Dice-K can each improve on their ALDS performances, the keys to me will be getting Pedroia and Ortiz going again. Look for Pedroia to have a big series.

Tonight's matchup (8:37, TBS) has Dice-K going against Shields, and then tomorrow night it's Beckett vs. Scott Kazmir. When the series shift up to Fenway on Monday, it'll be Matt Garza vs. arguably the best pitcher in the game right now in Jon Lester, and then (for now) Game 4 has Andy Sonnanstine going against Tim Wakefield. Tonight would be a tremendous one for the Sox to steal, mostly because we're not sure what Beckett's going to do tomorrow night. He's looked anything but ace-like. If we can split, then we can put our faith in Lester on Monday to take a lead.

Two final observations: 1) Here's hoping the stupid catwalks at the Trop don't play a meaningful role in any of the games, and 2) Get ready for more of those Frank Caliendo commercials. I hate that these games are on TBS, mostly because the announcers (Chip Caray, Buck Martinez) stink and their high-def feed - at least compared to Fox - is terrible.

Go Sawx.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

God Bless... Tim McCarver??

Lo and behold... the bad hair-dyed former catcher turned TV color analyst has emerged as a Manny basher. Check out McCarver's diatribe here, where he calls Manny's actions during his last few weeks in Boston 'despicable.'

I'd say that's a good word. Manny didn't like his contractual situation so he took matters into in his own hands. He laid down on his teammates, and took a colossal dump on the owners that paid him very well and the fans who have supported him since he got here. All the other stuff - taking a pee break inside the Green Monster, high-fiving fans in left-field after making a catch, selling his grill on eBay -- all that stuff was goofy and fine. But Manny crossed the line during his final days - whether it was engineered by Scott Boras or not - and what he did deserves to be played up just as much as the hitting tear he's been on in La-La Land.

Now that the Dodgers are one of four teams left standing, expect the volume to be turned up, particularly thanks to Mr. McCarver. Yeah, he's a former Phillie, and the Phillies just happen to be playing LA, but God, the guy makes a ton of sense doesn't he?

Also, here's an article by Joel Sherman in the NY Post this week that will put a smile on your face if you're a Yankee Hater. And if you're not, leave...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

John Lackey is Pissed, Man

Mom always said 'never judge a book by its cover' but I've always felt that Angels pitcher John Lackey just looks like a real stupid, dense person. Hard to explain, but he's got that dumb jock, glazed expression look all the time. And evidently, he's not too into sportsmanship, either, judging by his post-game comments in the Los Angeles Times this morning. A quick sample:

"We lost to a team that's not better than us," growled pitcher John Lackey, who gave up two runs and seven hits in seven innings. "We are a better team than they are. The last two days, we shouldn't have given up anything."

Lackey - who was no doubt NOT better than Jon Lester twice in this series - goes on to give Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia crap for combining to knock in the Sox' first two runs earlier in the game. I understand his emotions are raw, and I can emphathize with the extreme disappointment he and his mates must be feeling after AGAIN getting pushed aside by the Red Sox. It has to sting, this incredible dominance the Sox have had over these clowns going all the way back to Dave Henderson, Donnie Moore and 1986.

How you say, baseball's BUFFALO BILLS?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Those Crazy, Clever, Make-Your-Tee-Times-Tomorrow Angels

There they go, overthinking and getting all cutesy again. The Angels, after battling back from a 2-0 deficit and having all the momentum on their side in Game 4, just screwed up a suicide squeeze play for a huge out in the top of the 9th.

By the way, the TBS play-by-play man - I'll find out his name before I sign off - is horribly anti-Red Sox. Believe me, I'm sensitive to all the whiners who bitch and moan about certain announcers biases, but this guy is bush-league. A Sox player strikes out and he yells 'oh, take a seat...' Douche. Anyway, the best way to shut this jackass up is to win Game 4, and the Sox are currently a base-hit away from -- and I'm not making this up -- they just got a single from Jed Lowrie that scores Jason Bay with the winning run! Sox win 3-2 and just like that, they're headed to the ALCS against their new rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. Oh, and it's Chip Caray, the little voice that we won't have to (hopefully) be hearing from anymore. Bye Chip. Thanks for nothing, ass-wipe.

The Angels are known as a bunch of swashbucklers (love that word) who aren't afraid to take the extra base, hit and run, squeeze, etc. But sometimes aggression can come back to bite. Vladimir Guerrero's baserunning gaffe in Game 2 in Anaheim - when Youkilis threw him out from short right-field - is Exhibit A, and the failed squeeze play tonight is Exhibit B. Roll the dice like Mike Scioscia does, and you're bound to get burned every now and then. Unfortunately for the Angels, these miscues came at the worst possible times and the Red Sox extended their postseason mastery over them.

So now we get a nice little three-day reprieve from late-night baseball while the Red Sox and Rays get ready to resume hostilities Friday in the ALCS from (gulp) The Trop. I can't believe I actually watched a preview back in April down there. The place was swarming with Sox fans but something tells me it'll be more pro-Rays this time around. Amazingly, this is the fourth ALCS for the Red Sox since 2003.

More on the series over the next couple of days. In the meantime, get some shut eye ya hear?

Guy Heaven

Just when you think you might get to bed at a reasonable hour on a school night, the Red Sox and Angels go ahead and spoil that pipe dream. The Sox ended up losing in 12 innings last night, 5-4, giving the Angels life in a game that went on and on, eventually ending just before 1 a.m.

Let me set the scene for you from yesterday. I had four buddies over the house, all geared up to watch the Pats-49ers at 4, and then the Sox-Angels for the nightcap. My pal Bopper was so fired up for the games that he actually brought his own drinking glass with his Bud Light suitcase. Just like the guy who brings his own pool stick to the bar. "We have glasses, you know," I assured him. "Yeah, but this is a special glass Kampy. I just like it - it's hard to explain. The beer goes down better." And that's the way the afternoon started.

It was ultimate guys' nirvana. The wife and kids were off visiting friends all afternoon, the beer was cold, the pizza, cheese steaks, chicken wings, and nachos were all waiting to be consumed, and the good-natured barbs were already flying. The Niners scored first, but then we got a sight for sore eyes at about the 7:30 mark of the first quarter when Randy Moss hauled in a long Matt Cassel pass for a 66-yard TD. If you didn't know better, you would have sworn the tight spiral that nestled in Moss' hands in stride was thrown by No. 12. At this point, five grown men were on their feet fist-pumping and hollering. Bopper celebrated by pouring another beer into his precious glass. By halftime of the Pats game, my kitchen started to resemble the inside of a trash can, Bobby was checking on the status of his many wagers, and guys were flipping to the White Sox-Rays game to see who was winning that one.

The Patriots came out in the second half and asserted themselves, with the running game - particularly Kevin Faulk - taking over, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski (FG's of 40 and 49 yards in the 4th quarter) making sure the Patriots weren't going to lose two in a row. Final score: Pats 30, 49ers 21, and thoughts immediately turned to the Sox-Angels game.

Meanwhile, the Rays and White Sox were still playing, and we wondered if the Red Sox game would be delayed until this one was over, or if TBS would switch the feed. Of course, when you have a media empire like Ted Turner has, all you have to do is put the game on your sister station (TNT) and let people know about it. See, this is good work by TBS - they know half of America is sitting in their living rooms surrounded by empty beer bottles. In a situation that demanded clarity and action, in that order, they came through in a big way and no doubt avoided many smashed TV screens throughout New England.

Lloydy and Toddo - two guys who rarely get out anymore - left after the Pats game so it was now just myself, Bobby and Bopper. Oh, and Bopper's glass, which by now was given its own seat to the left of the TV screen. "I think I'm on my 15th beer," Bopper said proudly, albeit slurredly (is that a word? It is now.) "Fifteen??", we all asked. "Yeah - I brought over 18 beers and there are three left, unless anyone else grabbed one." "I did have one," I said truthfully. "Okay," said Bop, "fourteen. Still pretty damn good. And I feel like I can easily operate heavy machinery right now."

The Angels get off to a quick start with a run, but then the unthinkable happens. Sox have the bases loaded with 2 outs, and Jacoby Ellsbury lifts an easy pop-up to short-center, just behind the second base bag. Torii Hunter is rushing in, and Howie Kendrick is back-pedaling, and lo and friggin' behold, the ball drops in the middle of them and all three runners score. Just like that, it's 3-1 Sox, and Mike Scioscia looks like he's just eaten some bad seafood. One of the lamest three-run singles you'll ever see.

Unfortunately, it then became the Mike Napoli show as the burly Angels catcher hit a two-run homer in the third to tie the game, and then hit another solo shot in the fifth to give the Angels a 4-3 lead. The Sox tied it in the bottom of the fifth thanks to the man I believe should be AL MVP (Kevin Youkilis), and that's the way it stood for the next, oh, seven innings.

We went to the 7th inning, then the 8th, 9th, and 10th. My kitchen counter looked like downtown Baghdad after an air raid, and Bobby and Bopper would get up intermittently and pace, then head over to the counter to see if any scraps were lying around. Bobby finally gave up on the game - no doubt depressed that Jacksonville lost to Pittsburgh, depriving him of a nice day - and left for home around the 9th or 10th inning. Me and Bopper kept our eyes open until the bitter end - me finishing my sixth or seventh cocktail and him wiping out his "17-pack." After the 11th inning, Bopper decided to head for home - operating heavy machinery flawlessy, just like he said he could - and it was just me. And of course, you know what happened in the 12th...

Because we screwed with the karma, the Angels push across the fifth run and then closed the door on the Sox.

I went to bed depressed, partly because of the loss and partly because of the cleaning up job I had ahead of me in the morning. As I shuffled off to the sack, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw that Bopper had forgotten to bring home his glass. After happily filling up it's owner's stomach with 17 fresh beers, this was the treatment it got? Just abandoned like yesterday's newspaper? And then it hit me. The glass was angry, and Bopper was driving home, blissfully unaware, no doubt banging his fists on the steering wheel when Joe Castiglione told him the Sox had lost. This, people, is messing wtih karma. And this is why the Red Sox lost. That glass deserved better.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

Ah, the memorable words of one Admiral James Stockdale, the VP candidate on the ill-fated Ross Perot ticket back in 1992. Right up there with Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy, Senator" line to Dan Quayle in 1988. There were no memorable lines from last night's VP debate between MILF/GILF Sarah Palin and Joe Biden on a par with these, unless you count Sarah's "shout out" to her homegirls in Wasilla, Alaska, and her use of the phrases "Joe Six-Pack" and, again, "hockey moms." Even the most diehard Republicans have to be worried about their second fiddle in this election. I must admit, though, I do find her tantalizingly attractive, in a Tina Fey kind of way.

Okay, enough politics - I just wanted an opportunity to post a picture of Sarah. We've got more important stuff to tackle today than nukes, Iraq, and oil.

Of course, the big headline is Sox-Angels Game 2 tonight in Anaheim. The Sox have to be very confident going in with a one-game lead and Dice-K on the hill. The news on Josh Beckett is positive - he made it through a bullpen session nicely and is on track to start Game 3. The news on Mikey Lowell, however, isn't so good. Lowell was limping noticeably a couple of times Wednesday night, and it may be that Terry Francona gives him the night off tonight and brings him back in to face lefty Joe Saunders Sunday night at Fenway for Game 3. I hate that Lowell's not 100% for this, because he means so much - both in the field and in the batter's box.

As for the other series, it looks like the Dodgers and Phillies are heading for an NLCS clash, as both teams have jumped out to 2-zip leads on the Cubs and Brewers, respectively. It is downright depressing to watch the Cubs and their faithful cough it up after the year they had - almost reminds me of the dark days of pre-2004 when you just knew the Sox would be on the short end of big games. I can't even wrap my brain around the potential for a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, with Derek Lowe starting game 1 and Manny Ramirez hitting third. That would be beyond surreal, and it would give us all a chance to get an answer on a question I'm curious about - what's the Fenway reaction to Manny the first time he's back in a visitors' uniform. Hard to cheer, hard to boo, in my opinion, so how about silence?

Anyway, happy Friday, enjoy the games, and let's hope Sarah remains in the public eye long after November 4th.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ace in the Hole

Jon Lester officially had his coming-out party last night. We've seen what the kid's capable of all year, but his performance in Game 1 of the ALDS against the stocked Angels was nothing short of spectacular. Lester's gem was backed by a huge 2-run homer off the bat of Everyday Jason Bay, and by some superlative play - in the field and at the plate - from Jacoby Ellsbury. Sox draw first blood with a 4-1 victory.

It was hard to keep the eyes open for this one, but if you did you were well-rewarded. Lester started off a little rough, but once he escaped a couple of jams he was in the zone, keeping the Angels hitters off balance with an assortment of curves, cutters, and fastballs. Bay, after looking bad in his first couple of at-bats, smashed a bomb off John Lackey in the top of the 6th to give the Sox a 2-1 lead, and they added two insurance runs in the top of the 9th to take some pressure off Jonathan Papelbon.

Ellsbury had three hits on the night, stole at will, and made a jaw-dropping sliding catch in center off Mark Teixeira that is destined for the year-in-review highlight reels.

On the pivotal play of the game, the Angels' well-documented aggression on the basepaths came back to bite them in the butt. With the score still 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th, Vladimir Guerrero got on with a single, and Torii Hunter followed that with a bloop hit over Kevin Youkilis into short right-field. Vladdy was confused on where the ball was, and hesitated before rounding second and heading to third. Youk - summoning his Derek Jeter-like intangibles - grabbed the ball quickly and threw to Mike Lowell, who applied the tag. Instead of men on first and second with one out, it was man on first with two. A huge turn of events.

So looking back at my "predictions" yesterday, maybe I was wrong on the Sox (happily) and the Cubs, who lost a heartbreaker to the Dodgers yesterday (man, is that a cursed crowd or what?) The Phillies beat the Brewers in their first game, and the Rays and White Sox get underway this afternoon.

Sox and Angels take a break today and get back at it tomorrow night, with Dice-K going against Ervin Santana. All of a sudden, things is looking up.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

And Away We Go...

Can you smell that? Huh? Take a deep sniff and exhale... that's right, it's October baseball and our boys are back in it.

Now that the White Sox have finally vanquished the Twins (the teams played in a do-or-die game last night, won 1-0 by John Danks and the White Sox), the matchups are officially set.

In the AL, it's the Red Sox vs. the Angels and the Rays vs. Chicago. In the NL, it's Cinderella Milwaukee going against Philly, and the Cubbies playing Manny and the Dodgers. All except the Rays-ChiSox series get underway today.

The Sox have owned the Angels when the leaves turn colors, but not so much during the 2008 regular season. The Angels won 8 of the 9 games the teams played, and outscored the Sox 61-33 in the process. Not pretty. We know as well as anyone that anything can happen in October, but when you factor in the injuries to Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew, along with the little setback with Josh Beckett, it's cause for concern. If Lowell can play the field, you now Scioscia and his merry band of bunters will be out for blood. It goes without saying that Jon Lester needs to come up huge tonight, and if he doesn't, Dice-K needs to get the split Friday night. Seems like the Angels' year, though. (Head thinking over heart) Angels in 5.

This one seems easy on the surface. The Rays have been resilient all year long, and the White Sox have been playing for their lives for the last couple weeks. The season series between the two was about as close as you can get -- 6-4 in favor of the Rays, with Tampa scoring 36 runs and Chicago 35. The White Sox were shut out twice by the Rays, once by Scott Kazmir and once by Andy Sonnanstine. In the end, I think the home-field advantage proves big for the Rays, who will take it in 4.

Can CC Sabathia pitch every day? Is that medically possible? Everyone will be pulling for the upstart Brewers, and much as I'd like to pick them for an upset, I think Philly wins this one. The Brewers had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs, and now have to start Yovani Gallardo in the first game. Ben Sheets is either iffy or out. And former Red Sox 3B coach Dale Sveum is the Brewers' manager. Sorry - too many strikes. Phillies in 4.

Manny's on top of the world in LA, along with Nomar and Derek Lowe. It's a veritable Red Sox Ellis Island out there. The Manny drama aside, this could be the best series of the four. The Dodgers have been in a major groove fueled by Manny's potent bat, and we all know that he's quite capable of hitting good pitching, which the Cubbies certainly have with Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden. While nothing ever comes easy for the Cubs (over/under on how many times we hear Bartman's name?), something tells me this year is a little different. Cubs in 4.

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