Friday, November 14, 2003

2003 Wrap-Up

Well, the season has been over for a few weeks now (yes, I know, the Mets' season was over in June, that's just so cleverly funny), but it only required a few seconds of reflection to see that the fates of the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox unraveled just exactly the way they were predicted. Right here (scroll down about 500 screens) and in just about every other two-bit sports journalism medium, two things were forecast: a long, painful season for the Mets and a brilliant season with a quick, painful end for the Red Sox. Oh, sure, there were a few rose-colored "we'll see" outlooks that held out for a light at the end of the tunnel, either in the form of respectability for the Mets or a long-awaited title for the Sox, but we realists/cynics saw the season for what it would inevitably bring us: misery.

So, when we called this experiment "Misery Loves Company," was it a self-fulfilling prophecy, or were we just restating the obvious? Or did we perhaps doom our beloved franchises to more agony? Hard to say. All I know is that, along the way, hairlines, livers and furniture within kicking distance suffered along with Rob and me. Wives and kids were annoyed, brain cells were detroyed, but in truth, countless hours were enjoyed. It's still the best game going.

And it's no small smidgen of solace that neither the Braves nor Yankees won the World Series. Though it will likely trigger the most vulgar Yankee spending spree this winter (I think they nab Sheffield, Colon, and Palmeiro, plus Millwood if they don't retain Pettitte), it was very nice to see George Steinbrenner (I will not call him by Springsteen's nickname) suffer.

And thus ends the 2003 edition of this forum which has escalated my frustrating Mets from pests into pestilence, or at least personal pain. Predicting, then chronicling their futility, has been a self-levied torture I could never possibly repeat while still maintaining any reasonable level of sanity.

See you when pitchers and catchers report.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Coming to Grips

Several times in the past week, I've spontaneously and all-but-involuntarily burst out yelling, "How the fuck did they lose that game?!?". I've replayed the 8th inning over and over again, and I can't get past Grady Little's immense mishandling of the most critical situation in his managerial tenure.

Friday, October 17, 2003

American League Championship Series - Games 6 & 7

Red Sox 9, Yankees 6
Yankees 6, Red Sox 5 (11)
Red Sox lose, 4 games to 3 (mind you, Red Sox lose, not Yankees win)

I suppose I'll look back on this season in the coming weeks and months and remember the 2003 Red Sox fondly. I'm not nearly ready to talk about them now, though.

In short, and I'll expand upon this soon, the Red Sox manager cost his team a shot at a World Series title. With glory a few outs away, Grady Little froze, and in so doing added his name to the pantheon of Red Sox anti-heroes. Little had the chance to immortalize Pedro Martinez and himself, and instead cast shame on both men. By failing to make the most elementary of decisions, Grady Little banished the 2003 Red Sox to the same historical scrap pile as the '86, '78, '75, '67, 'and '46 versions of the Olde Towne Team, and ushered the Yankees to their 27th World Championship.

The Yankees weren't better than the Red Sox, just more ready to win, and guided by more stable and capable hands. No more ball left. No more targets, just a sick feeling in my stomach.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

American League Championship Series - Games 4 & 5

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2
Yankees 4, Red Sox 2

Up, down, up, down, and where the hell are the bats. 10 games into this rollercoaster postseason and the Sox have scored a total of 32 runs. The best offense in the history of baseball - at least by some statistical measures - has averaged 3.2 runs per game. Some might argue that the pitching is better in the postseason, and they would be right, to a degree. But 3 runs a game better? Holding the Sox to a .190 batting average better? I think not.

Who would have thought that my final few entries of the season would bemoan the lack of offense, and praise the bullpen? (And don't get all negative on me - maximum, I've got 9 games left to discuss.) The Sox pitching staff has allowed 36 runs in 10 games, and the bullpen has been absolutely sick. The best offense in baseball? Nowhere to be found. Nomar Garciaparra has left man after man after man on base, and even when he finally drove in a run yesterday, he did it with a groundout. Manny Ramirez has failed time after time, including yesterday, when he flailed defensively at a David Wells curveball with the bases loaded and two outs to end the inning with a meek groundout. David Ortiz is batting .188. Kevin Millar, .156, but he looks worse than that. Johnny Damon, Todd Walker, and Trot Nixon are the only Sox who are producing, and that doesn't sustain victories.

The Sox face the Yankees today in the Bronx, with John Burkett taking the hill against Andy Pettitte. This is a colossal mismatch on paper.

But here's the thing:

Haven't we been on this ride long enough to know that this Sox team is at its best when the chips are down? Aren't the Sox bats due to wake up and rip off back to back double-digit outbursts? Jump on the Positivity Train, boys and girls, next stop Game 1 of the World Series. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

American League Championship Series - Games 2 & 3

Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
Yankees 4, Red Sox 3

This Sox team refuses to make anything easy. One flat game, and one really ugly game, and the Yankees have ripped the momentum right back.

The Game 2 loss was pretty much preordained, in hindsight. Derek Lowe was game, but just a touch off after pitching in 3 of 5 ALDS games. I don't hang this one on him. I had a bad feeling after 7 of the first 9 Sox batters reached base and they only plated 1 run. Turned to my mother, who is visiting for the week (and, not incidentally, making it really hard for me to fully release my psychosis during the games), and said, "That'll come back to haunt them." And it did.

Today's game, though, was a different deal altogether. The Sox spotted Pedro a 2-0 lead after the first inning, but he couldn't keep them in check - the story of several Pedro vs. New York outings this year. It was ugly enough when Derek Jeter pounded a hanging breaking pitch over the Monster in the 3rd inning, but things took a turn for the surreal in the 4th. Pedro had given up a double to Hideki Matsui to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead and leave runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. His next pitch was a straight fastball at Karim Garcia's head, which drilled the Yankee batsman on the upper back as he frantically dipped out of the way.

Garcia yelled at Pedro, Pedro yelled back, both benches were warned, and Pedro went back to work. Make no mistake, Pedro threw at Garcia. I'll defend Pedro to the ends of the earth for his heart and guts, but he was pissed because he wasn't making good pitches, and he tried to drill Garcia. No doubt in my mind.

Alfonso Soriano grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, during which Garcia took out his anger at Pedro with a late, dangerous slide into Todd Walker's knees. As players from both benches moved to the top steps of the dugout, Pedro got into a verbal altercation with Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, during which it appeared that Martinez told Posada that he would throw at his head next. Yankee bench coach and Gollum understudy Don Zimmer was especially mouthy during the exchange, which ended with players from both teams milling about outside their dugouts.

Manny Ramirez led off the bottom of the 4th (sidebar: shocker that Nomar made another out. No. 5 is my favorite Sox player, but he has killed them in this series - mediocre offense from him today and they win easily.), Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens missed very high (but not really inside) with a 1-2 pitch. Manny took serious offense, walking several steps toward the mound and engaging Clemens in an academic discussion about the uses of the words "Fuck", "You", and "Off".

Both benches cleared, and trouble would have been avoided, except that the 72 year-old Zimmer charged Pedro and took a wild swing at the already-irritated Sox hurler. Pedro grabbed Zimmer around the head and shoulders and drove him to the ground. It looked awful initially, when the cameras only caught the last part of it and missed Zimmer's provocation. Pedro was defending himself, but history will not be kind to a 30 year-old athlete who injured a senior citizen. It was among the most bizarre situations in an already Dali-esque postseason for the Sox. Can't wait to see Shaughnessy's anti-Pedro rant in tomorrow's Globe.

The game calmed way down after the fireworks, with the Sox missing a golden opportunity to get back into the contest with runners on 1st and 3rd and no out in the 7th. To their credit, they did not roll over after the disturbance, and Pedro himself was unhittable after the 4th. The damage had been done, though, and the Yankees ran the table in the 8th and 9th behind Mariano Rivera to take a 2-1 series lead.

Things appear bleak for my boys, down in the series and facing a John Burkett start in tomorrow's game. By all rights, the Yankees should end this series in Boston.

But here's the thing:

I will continue to be positive about this team. I got away from it a little bit today because I was disappointed in Pedro's lack of composure, but this team will not die. They will batter David Wells in Game 4 and go into Game 5 rejuvenated. The 2003 Red Sox are not going out soft. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

American League Championship Series - Game 1

Red Sox 5, New York Yankees 2

The Yankees had everything tilting in their favor heading into Game 1 of the most highly anticipated ALCS in years. The New York nine were rested and ready to drum the Sox and their #3 starter, Tim Wakefield in front of a packed house in the Bronx. The national media was eulogizing the Sox after their draining series against Oakland. A funny thing happened on the way to a Yankee sweep: Tim Wakefield's knuckleball fluttered and danced its way past the Yankees' bats, Manny, Ortiz, and Walker went longball, Derek Jeter's abysmal range was exposed, the much-maligned Boston bullpen pitched three scoreless innings, and the Sox won without a whole lot of drama.

My take is that the Sox had absolutely no pressure to win Game 1, and they played the same brand of loose, freewheeling baseball that got them into the playoffs, and it paid off. Meanwhile, the heavily favored Yankees made a series of little mistakes - maybe because of tension - that wound up costing them: Mussina grooved a fastball to Ortiz after just failing to reach Manny's bouncer to the right side; Jeter just missed two ground balls that most shortstops would have routinely fielded; the Yankee bats failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities in the early innings, and so on.

Now, the Sox are under even less pressure, but the Yankees have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I honestly felt really good about Game 1 - based on the "no pressure" theory I posited above. I feel great about Game 2, because I have renewed faith in Derek Lowe. And - here's the kicker - even if the Sox lay an egg, which is certainly possible given that their adrenaline high has to fade one of these days, they've still split in the Bronx with Pedro on the hill for Game 3.

Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

American League Divisional Series - Game 5

Red Sox 4, Oakland A's 3
Sox win series, 3-2

I will never, ever, ever say another bad thing about Derek Lowe's psychological makeup. The Sox hurler turned in one of the epic clutch pitching performances in baseball history last night, rescuing the Sox from a potentially devastating, and certainly season-ending loss, and catapulting the Sox into the AL Championship Series against the Yankees.

Lowe entered the game in the bottom of the 9th with the Sox clinging to a 4-3 lead after Scott Williamson had walked the first two batters of the inning. (Williamson was working for the 5th straight game, so I'm going to cut him some slack, and know that he's ready for the Yankees.) Ramon Hernandez bunted the runners over, leaving A's on 2nd and 3rd with one out, and the series winning run on second base.

The Sox drew the infield in to cut off the run from third, exposing themselves to potential doom if a dribbler snuck through to the outfield. A single almost certainly would have ended the series, as the Sox outfield was playing deep. Lowe, the league's most proficient groundball pitcher, had to pitch against type and not allow any contact at all. I was lightheaded from holding my breath, and next to exhausted from expending vast amounts of nervous energy. Lowe went 3-2 to pinch hitter Adam Melhuse before freezing the Oakland backup catcher with a sick frontdoor slider/cut fastball.

Lowe walked the next batter after battling for several pitchers, filling the bases and bringing Terrence Long to the plate. The Oakland Coliseum was absolutely batshit, and I was curled into a fetal position on my couch, mumbling to myself and talking to the television like a heroin addict in the throes of a particularly bad withdrawal. The count to Long reached 2 strikes, and Lowe broke off one of the nastiest pressure pitches I have or will ever see. The ball started at Long's midsection, then dove as if radar-controlled towards the outside corner. The umpire rang Long up, I leapt from the couch, Lowe punched the air, and the entire Sox team rushed the pitcher's mound in a mix of pent-up tension and joy.

Lowe's performance was the stuff of New England legends, but there were several other critical - if only slightly less nerve-wracking - plays that contributed to this win:

1. Jason Varitek hit a solo homer off of Barry Zito to open the 6th inning and tie the game at 1. Zito had been flat out dealing for the first 4+ innings - absolutely unhittable. Finally, in the 5th, his curveball started to miss the strike zone, and he started to struggle with his command. "He's losing it," I said to nobody in particular. I kept repeating that mantra in the 6th, as Johnny Damon followed Tek's homer with a walk, and then Zito hit Todd Walker after inducing Nomar to pop out (shocked, I'm shocked). Manny followed Walker, and...

2...just missed a 2-strike fastball, fouling it straight back. Zito had made Manny look silly in his first two plate appearances, but then the Oakland lefty tempted fate, coming back with another fastball in the same place, and Manny belted it to left. As the ball left the bat, Manny simply walked about ten paces towards first, then pointed at the Sox dugout with Crash Davis-esque glee as the ball richocheted off the concrete steps beyond the left-field wall. Fox broadcasters Steve Lyons and Thom Brenneman excoriated Manny for his hotdogging far beyond what was appropriate for the transgression. Yes, Manny showboated. Yes, it was probably over the top. But Lyons and Brenneman made it a Federal crime. Tell you what, Psycho. Next time you hit a three-run homer in a series-deciding playoff game, you get to judge Manny. Until then, keep your pants on and stick to what you know.

3. In the bottom of the 7th, with the score now 4-2, Oakland's Jermaine Dye lifted a two-out popup to shallow center. Damian Jackson raced out after the ball, and Johnny Damon sprinted in to get it. The two collided in one of the most gruesome baseball moments I've ever seen, rendering them both prostrate. As they lay motionless, Nomar stepped between them, retrieved the ball and slung it to second, where thirdbaseman Bill Mueller - in one of the great heads-up plays of the series - had moved to cover the empty bag. Nomar's throw beat the sliding Dye to end the inning.

4. Alan Embree and Mike Timlin slammed the door on the A's in the bottom of the 8th, after Pedro surrendered back to back hits to make the score 4-3. Huge, huge performance in this game and in the whole series by the Boston bullpen, who surrendered 2 earned runs in 16 innings to keep the Sox alive.

5. Mad props to Whitney Lester, who donned an A's cap in a successful attempt to jinx the Oakland nine. Of course, this followed two horrible losses that were registered when he was openly rooting for the Red Sox. I'm in the process of purchasing him some Yankee paraphenalia. Which leads me to...

The American League Championship Series

Sox versus Yankees. Good versus evil. Years of frustration versus dynastic dominance. Blah blah blah. The Yankees have all the advantages in this series: they're at home for 4 games, they have their pitching rotation set perfectly - while the Sox have to start the series with Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon may not play at all in the series - at least at this writing, the Yankee bats are booming, and their bullpen is rested. So why do I think that the Sox are ready to Cowboy Up and make some magic? To steal from my all-time favorite movie goosebump scene, you tell the Yankees the Sox are coming, and hell's coming with them.

Lotta ball left. Stay on target

Monday, October 06, 2003

American League Divisional Series - Games 3 & 4

Red Sox 3, Oakland A's 1 (11)
Red Sox 5, Oakland A's 4

Told ya so.

The Sox won two of the most wrenching, bizarre, seat-of-the-pants, edge-of-the-seat spellbinders I've ever seen to force Game 5 of the ALDS. And now Pedro goes on full rest against Barry Zito, who is pitching for the first time in his career on three days' rest. Oh, and did I mention that Tim Hudson told reporters, "I'd rather have Barry Zito than Pedro Martinez any day."? Hudson, probably embarrassed about having to leave yesterday's game after 1 inning, just yanked hard on Superman's cape.

I'm getting exhausted recounting this team's resiliency and refusal to go quietly. They were on the ropes late again yesterday, trailing 4-2 after the top of the 6th. They were down, 4-3, heading to the bottom of the 9th with Oakland closer Keith Foulke taking the hill. And I knew - knew - that they were going to win. Nomar doubled with one out, but Walker popped up to put the Sox on the brink.

I was sitting forward on my couch, gripping and regripping my daughter's soccer ball (with pretty ladybug designs), rocking back and forth like a mental patient (or Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone). Manny woke from his series-long slumber and ripped a groundball to left, but he hit it so hard that Nomar had to stop at third.

David Ortiz, who - as much as anyone - symbolizes the Sox magic this season, stepped up with two on and two out. Ortiz had been mired in an 0-for-16 slump in the series, when even mediocrity would have meant at least 1 more Sox victory. The big Dominican worked the count to 3-and-2, and...smoked a laser to right. I leapt off the couch with both arms raised, thinking it was into the seats. The Sox crowd let out a feral roar as Oakland's Jermaine Dye raced back to the wall. The ball arced over Dye's glove, short-hopping the rightfield wall. Dye's throw to the infield sailed over the cutoff man's head as Manny slid gleefully across the plate with the go-ahead run.

Red Sox Nation was delirious. Though my daughter was napping, I could not control my emotions, screaming "Yes, Yes, Yes" at the top of my lungs. (Coupled with several "Fucks" from earlier in the game, and aided by open windows on a beautiful fall day, my outbursts surely have my neighbors questioning my sanity, or what goes on in my house.) My daughter woke up crying, and I had to sprint upstairs to comfort her, saying, "Daddy's yelling because he's happy, not upset. The Red Sox do that to Daddy sometimes." I think she understood.

Scott Williamson absolutely slammed the door on the A's in the top of the 9th. (Side note: So that's what it feels like to have a closer. Interesting.) Game over, and Game On!

Game 5 tonight. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Friday, October 03, 2003

American League Divisional Series, Games 1 & 2

Oakland A's 5, Red Sox 4 (12)
Oakland A's 5, Red Sox 1

I'm very, very hesitant to type this entry, because I'm emotionally and physically drained by the Sox efforts in the first two games of the ALDS, and I don't want my psychic state to color my fondness for the 2003 Boston Red Sox. That said, what an unmercifully painful cockpunch these first two games provided.

Game 1 was moments away from being an all-time great Sox victory. It had so many positive elements - great, clutch performance by Todd Walker, stone cold willpower from Pedro, a come-from-behind surprise, a terrific performance by Mike Timlin, and then...and then the manager stepped in and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. B.H. Kim recorded two outs in the bottom of the 9th - he scuffled, and he had men on first and second, but he was one out from victory with Erubiel Durazo headed to the plate. Grady yanked Kim in favor of Alan Embree to get a lefty versus lefty matchup against Durazo. But Embree hadn't pitched in 10 days, and isn't markedly better against lefties than he is against righties.

Predictably, Durazo lined an Embree fastball (he has no other pitches) to left to plate the tying run and ensure that I would be up until the wee hours of the morning. Oh, I haven't mentioned that the game started at 10:00 EST? Another exquisite postseason baseball touch brought to you by the fine people at Major League Baseball and their friends in the television industry.

Later, at 2:45 am, A's catcher Ramon Hernandez made like Jake Taylor in Major League, and dropped a pretty bunt down the thirdbase line to score the winning run, while the Sox infield stared at it with an "oh, shit" look on their faces. But it never should have got to that moment, and here's why:

1. Grady got managed into a corner in the top of the 8th. The Sox had runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out and Trot Nixon coming to the plate, leading 4-3. A's lefthander Ricardo Rincon was on the hill, so Grady pinch-hit with right-handed hitter David McCarty. Predictably, A's manager Ken Macha replaced Rincon with the right-handed Chad Bradford. Grady responded by pinch hitting for his pinch-hitter, sending Adrian Brown to the plate to bat from the left side. Keep in mind, now, that all the Sox really needed in this instance was a fly ball to score a critical insurance run. David McCarty is no Manny Ramirez, but he's an acceptable option when you need to put a ball in play. Adrian Brown's not even a very good AAA hitter, and he only had 15 ABs in the regular season. I knew that he would not make contact with the ball when I saw him at the plate, and I was right, save for one meek foul tip.

2. The aforementioned yanking of the Bunger. If Grady was going to pull his "closer" to take advantage of a matchup, he should have taken advantage of a matchup, and brought in a true lefthanded specialist. Though I hate him, Scott Sauerbeck does fit that description.

3. Johnny Damon reached base in the late innings with 2 outs. Nomar, who had hit the ball well, came to the plate. Damon stole second, opening first base for the A's, who quickly walked Nomar to face...Damian Jackson, who had entered the game to replace Todd Walker at 2nd base. Inning over.

4. During the A's game-winning rally, with Derek Lowe on the mound (the presumable Game 3 starter, by the way), the A's had runners on 1st and 3rd with 2 out. Terrence Long, a weak hitter under the best of circumstances, took strike 1 from Lowe. Scott Hatteberg stole second. Grady ordered Long walked to load the bases, even though he already had a strike, and even though it put much more pressure on Lowe to throw strikes, and even though he sucks.

There's more, but I'm too depressed to continue, and too tired to remember with any sort of clarity.

Game 2 was a foregone conclusion, as the Sox sleptwalked through the whole thing while the A's danced on their lifeless bodies.

Here's the thing, though:

The Era of Positivity has not ended, goddammit. The Sox will win Game 3, they will win Game 4, and Pedro will take the hill in Oakland on Tuesday like a gladiator. I haven't given this much of my heart to this team to see them swept. I remember 1999, and I remember the greatest comeback in my lifetime. Cowboy up, motherfuckers, because there's still a lotta ball left. Stay on goddamn target.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

T-Minus 37 Hours

I'm all a-quiver with anticipation. I'm so giddy about the prospect of postseason Red Sox baseball that I'm not even going to rise to my friend's emotionally freighted bait.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Games 158-161 - Mets, or R.I.P. '03

Pirates 3, Mets 1
Marlins 4, Mets 3
Mets 9, Marlins 3
Marlins 4, Mets 0

Final Record: 66-95, Last in NL East, 34.5 GB ATL, 27th of 30 MLB teams

So that's it. The New York Mets close their horrendous 2003 season with the most muffled of whimpers, managing four hits and no runs in a meaningless game against the playoff-bound Marlins. I had hoped for a tiny bit of drama in this series, figuring the wild card fate might still be out there. Sadly for Philadelphians, the Phils did their best Mets impression, lying down and dying pathetically when it came down to it.

The last month of this season was exponentially more painful than the rest of it. It's sometimes a shame that there is no option to "fold" in baseball. What had been a refreshing change, watching the youngsters get their AB's and IP's while putting a spark back into the daily dugout, quickly and without warning became depressing drudgery. The upstarts came tumbling back down to earth. The veterans looked very tired (save Leiter & Trachsel). And I got bored.

Watching baseball on television is not for many folks, especially in this era of TV. To feel the draw requires a fairly deep knowledge of the game, a familiarity with the current players and teams, and a level of criticality. The criticality can come in the form of diversionary, media-built subplots, but it's usually simple contention in the races that develop. When that element fades, the knowledge of the game and its players may not be enough. In my extreme case, when you have watched waaaay too much baseball in one season, thanks to modern technology and a sister's Christmas gift, when the drama is removed, the joy of watching the national pastime leaks out like rinsewater through a colander, leaving a pile of cold, wet beans. And the latter portion of this Mets season didn't amount to a hill of said beans.

Thank goodness for the Red Sox. This column would otherwise have become a terrible read, a collection of intermittent, drab pieces chronicling in spots the torture of Mets fans. In some ways, it's an interesting case study for the damage a bad team can do on its fans' state of mind. April and May seem like distant memories at this point, but I seem to recall a vigor in reporting the latest unfoldings at Shea that was sapped in later months. I remember an energy about this project, one that dictated that every day was a blog day, or at least every weekday. It was fun to attempt creativity and generate new angles, metaphors, and inane lines of discussion. It was a new experiment, this format, and it was a good thing.

Was it the Mets that railroaded this project? Was it the bevy of overpaid, underperforming fat cats? Was it the failed prospects? Was it the uninspiring management? Was it just Armando Benitez? Was it simply that all of these people added up to a boatload of losses?

Or can the Mets blame external forces? Can they point to an array of distractions in this would-be journalist's life? A birth, a move, summer vacation, increased workload, increased commutes, increased tabs at The Irish Times, long weekends, short attention spans, hurricanes, blackouts, and an ever-diminishing memory bank? While all of these items factored into the equation, if the Mets had pulled off what the BoSox had, I'd be chiming in with the same frequency as my cohort. But no.

And so this space can be viewed as a profile into bitter indifference, if there is such a thing. The taste is surely bitter, it just registers with decreased frequency upon the palate, and not coincidentally. For me, though there have been rays of brightness along the way, this season has lived up to the Misery Loves Company title. The trouble has been that I have received no company from my friend Rob Russell. What's to be miserable about in a 95-win season? The Sox finished 28.5 games ahead of the Mets, when he only needed them to be 13 better to win beer. The only way that Mr. Russell could provide company at this point would be if the Red Sox managed to get ever-so-close to the World Series trophy, only to fall flat at the last second in some agonizing way. But that never happens.
Games 160-162 - Red Sox (or, maybe, PawSox)

Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 2
Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Rays 3, Red Sox 1
Final Record: 95-67, AL Wild Card Winner

About the only drama in the final games of the season was whether Bill Mueller could hold off Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter to win the AL batting championship. Yankee fans screamed bloody murder when the Sox sat Mueller in the meaningless final game of the season, but c'mon - what's more important, "defending" a batting championship lead, or making certain that the vital cogs of the team are healthy for the postseason? The point was rendered moot when Jeter went 0-3 against Baltimore. So Billy Mueller, Professional Hitter, is your AL Batting Champion. You could've made a lot of money on that in Vegas before the season started.

I wrote - several times - in this space that I didn't care how the Sox made the playoffs, as long as they did, and as long as Pedro was healthy when the postseason started. The Sox did, and he is, so let the games begin. I cannot remember a postseason that dawned as wide open as this one. I believe that any of the 8 teams that open the playoffs this week can legitimately win the World Series, and yes, that includes the Boston Red Sox.

Pedro goes tomorrow against Tim Hudson, in a game that begins at 10:00 EST. Crikey, I'll be firing up a pot of coffee to see me through the wee hours in this one. ESPN knows that Red Sox fans would have watched this one at 3:00 AM, if need be, so late night be damned. Postseason Pedro is a thing to behold, but Tim Hudson's pretty damn good himself. This series boils down to the league's best offense against the league's best defense. Them that knows about this stuff say that pitching wins championships. Here's hoping that "they" didn't factor in an offense as good as Boston's.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Games 158-159 - Red Sox. We're Goin' to Disneyland, er, Oakland

Orioles 7, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 14, Orioles 3
Record: 94-65
Clinched AL Wild Card Berth

33,500 people had a party for the ages in Fenway Park last night, and it was only a Wild Card celebration. The Sox took the suspense out of the game early, posting 7 runs on the O's in the first two innings and adding another touchdown to clinch a postseason berth. As soon as Ramiro Mendoza struck out Brian Roberts to end the game, the Sox commenced an hour-long festival, spraying each other, the management, and random fans with champagne, beer, and in the case of Manny Ramirez, water from a hose that was lying around. Trot Nixon smashed two beer cans together and shotgunned them. Nomar, Lowe, Wakefield, Damon, and several others smoked massive stogies in the infield. Burkett ran the bases sporting a "Cowboy Up!" t-shirt that featured a picture of David Ortiz wearing a 10-gallon hat. Manny hugged Wally the Green Monster. Theo Epstein slugged champagne right from the bottle. Frankly, I don't think the Sox will have enough sober guys to field a team against the Rays tonight.

I had somewhat mixed emotions watching the celebration. I was pumped and jacked that the Sox clinched a playoff berth - I've said from the beginning that I thought they have a real chance if they just get to the playoffs. I was also really happy for the Sox players - this is, without a doubt, my favorite collection of Sox, and they were so unbelievably giddy that I couldn't help but get a little caught up myself. And it was awesome to see the fans react with a full-throated cathartic joy. But here it comes - a little part of me is wondering if it was all a little excessive, considering that a) it's only a Wild Card, and b) there's a lot of baseball left. If I'm the Oakland A's, I just got a little hop in my step knowing that the Red Sox are making this big a deal of the postseason, and I just got a bulletin board quote from Todd Walker, who said, "We're gonna go to Oakland, whip their ass, and go from there."

On the other hand, if this is what the Wild Card celebration looks like, there aren't enough law enforcement officials in Greater Boston to police the Hub when the Sox win the World Series. The Sox magic number is now 11. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Games 156-157 - Mets. Who are those guys?

Mets 1, Pirates 0
Mets 5, Pirates 3
Record: 65-92

Maybe if the Mets had a rotation of all Al Leiters (15-9) and Steve Trachsels (16-10), they might have had some hope. Maybe in this series the Mets just want to leave the fans with a slightly lessened sour taste. Maybe this is a split-second flash of what might be next year. Maybe the Pirates just suck, maybe even as bad as the Mets do. Yep, that's probably it.

In consequential equivalent of a spring training game-- no, make that an Old-Timers game, the Mets have given me a little dollop of the enjoyment that I have seen all too rarely this season, especially this month. Al Leiter throws a complete game shutout and Steve Trachsel wins his career-high sixteenth. (Had it not been for Armando & the TNT bullpen early in the season and Trachsel might have aspired to greater numerical peaks.)

The Mets finish up against the Pirates tonight, then head to Miami for three against the wild card-leading Marlins. Despite the wins against the Bucs, hear me now and believe me later: The Marlins will coast into the playoffs on the New York Mets. I knew we'd screw the Phillies somehow, it just wasn't via beating them in baseball games.
Games 151-155 - Mets, or Wheeeeeee!

Cubs 2, Mets 0
Expos 1, Mets 0
Expos 7, Mets 1
Expos 4, Mets 3
Expos 4, Mets 2
Record: 63-92

What do you call bungee-jumping with no bungee cord? That's what the Mets did for 17 games, sandwiching a tiny win between two eight-game losing streaks. Boy, that's Tigers-esque. Speaking of which, it's time for . . .

Tigers Watch!
Record: 40-118
Winning Percentage: .253

Yes, last night Les Tigres finally reached that elusive 40-win plateau, keeping them just 49 games out of first place in the AL Central. (Fortunately for Detroit, they left the AL East 10 years ago; were they in that division, they'd trail the Yanks by an unfathomable 58 games.) (Oh, and just to beat this dead tiger further, Detroit is 53 games out of the wild card race. The wild card race. El wildo cardo race-o. Can we all see how wretched that is?) These 40 wins represent the benchmark for futility, courtesy of your New York Mets circa 1962. But those Mets won 40 of just 160 games; the Tigers still must win one of their four remaining games to top the Mets' .250 winning percentage. Let's face it -- they're going to be recalled for a long time as one of the worst teams ever, no matter if they do edge Casey's Clowns in this regard, but they might as well keep aiming for some goal. Meanwhile . . .

The Mets have nothing to shoot for, no milestone to reach. The one record-setting personal achievement, Mike Piazza's quest for the all-time HRs as a catcher, will annoyingly drag itself and the controversy (C vs. 1B?) into the '04 season. And so, the Mets go 1-16 in this stretch, aiding and abetting every playoff hopeful in the daggone league. In the second half of this aesthetic equivalent of ipecac syrup, the Mets have suffered 4-game sweeps to the Braves, Phillies, and Expos. That leaves just the Marlins, who didn't have a four game series on the 2nd-half schedule. They did get swept in the only 3-game series they played against Florida, and they have the final trio of this season's games to make it 6 in a row. The Mets also gave three up to the Cubbies in crunch time, much to the chagrin of the Cards and Astros, but they have only themselves to blame, for they allowed the Pollys (again, the preferred abbreviation for Metropolitans) to take one and two games, respectively, in their latter-half contests. Playing the Mets is like walking into a going out of business clearance sale. They're just giving everything away! Come on down before it's too late!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Game 157 - Red Sox. I. Love. This. Team.

Red Sox 6, Orioles 5 (10)
Record: 93-64
AL East: Over, Yankees clinch
Wild Card: 1st - 3.5 up on Sea

Write on the blackboard 1000 times: Never Give Up on the 2003 Red Sox.

The seeds of negativity were creeping in on several occasions last night as the Sox played 8.5 innings of relatively flat, undisciplined ball against their 2003 nemesis. The league's best offense had runners on third base with less than two outs 4, count 'em, 4 times in the first 8 innings and failed to plate them. Nomar dropped a popup, Sauerbeck struggled through the 8th inning (although he did emerge unscathed), and Bronson Arroyo gave up a two-out, two-strike single in the top of the 9th to Jay Gibbons that scored 2 runs when Gabe Kapler kicked it around right field. The last of these events caused me to throw my daughter's soccer ball against the television. God bless Nerf.

I was mentally composing my blog entry as the Sox came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, going on about the offense's continuing slump, and how this team had no chance in the postseason with the bullpen in its current state. Trot Nixon popped out on ball four to start the inning, but then Jason Varitek singled to left. I sat up in my chair - just a little - when Varitek reached second on a passed ball, but slumped back once again as Johnny Damon grounded out to second. Two outs, man on third, down three runs, and in danger of losing yet again to the mediOcre's.

"Just get on base", I urged Nomar, and he obliged, working Jorge Julio for a walk. Todd Walker, batting in the 3-spot because of Nomar's recent slump, stepped up as the tying run. Adrian Brown loomed, um, small, in the on-deck circle, courtesy of Grady's penchant for removing Manny for pinch-runners in the late innings of close games. Walker worked the count to 3-2, and then, with all of Red Sox Nation holding their breath, laced a low, inside fastball to deep right.

"Get out!", I yelled as I leapt from the couch. The camera panned to Jay Gibbons as the Oriole rightfielder turned his back to the plate and ran towards the wall. The O's bullpen staff slumped in dismay as the ball cleared the fence, and Todd Walker's fistpumps matched mine as he rounded the bases to score the tying run. Oriole GM Jim Beattie was in attendance, and Mike Hargrove watched his term as Baltimore manager end as Walker's shot touched ground in the bullpen.

Fenway, to understate the moment, nearly rocked off its foundation as Walker toured the bases. The Sox secondbaseman would later say that it was the biggest thrill of his life. I bounded around my living room exclaiming, "No fucking way! No fucking way!".

As I sat back down to watch Adrian Brown gaze meekly at strike 3, I consoled myself with the knowledge that David Ortiz would lead off the bottom of the 10th for the Sox. After B.H. Kim set the O's down with only minor difficulty in the top of the frame, I said out loud, "Ortiz is going to end it."

Four pitches later, the heart and soul of the 2003 Sox made me prescient, blasting Kurt Ainsworth's hanging changeup over the Monster. When he hit the ball, Ortiz flipped his bat in the air and turned to the Sox dugout as if to say, "Gaze upon me, for I am the MAN, and have delivered this ballgame unto you." He'll probably take a pitch in the ear from the O's today, but it was well earned. He would later tell the media, "The dugout was yelling at me to run, but I said back to them, 'No, I crushed that. It's gone.'" In other words, "Bring that shit to me, mon".

I spent 10 minutes giggling uncontrollably about the outcome, and vowing never again to let the creep of doubt darken the foundation of my fondness for this edition of the Red Sox. They may not win the World Series - hell, they still haven't clinched the Wild Card - but they have given me more than my share of Holy Shit moments this season.

There was one little thing that escaped me at the time, but really speaks volumes about this Sox team. Bill Mueller batted in the 6th inning with nobody out and Kevin Millar on second. Mueller is in the thick of a race for the AL Batting title, entering the game at .327 to Manny's .325 and Derek Jeter's .323. With that backstory in mind, Mueller punched a John Parrish fastball to the right side of the infield, sacrificing himself to get Millar to third with 1 out. Completely unselfish, completely team-focused, and completely professional. Describes this Sox team to a "t".

Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Game 156 - Red Sox. No Bullpen. No Problem

Red Sox 7, Orioles 5
Record: 92-64
AL East: 5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2.5 up on Sea

Workmanlike performance from the offense, gimplike performance from the bullpen. Man, if this team makes the postseason, it's likely to take years off my life. Thing is, almost to a man, the bullpen is underperforming their career norms, and in the case of Sauerbeck and Williamson, drastically so. It's so bizarre as to defy explanation, so in keeping with Darren Brown's Rules for Living, I think the Sox should ignore the problem until it goes away. If it doesn't go away, it was too big to deal with in the first place.

M's continue to win, but the Sox can render that moot with a few more W's. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Games 153-155 - Red Sox. Cough. Hack. Wheeze. Clonk.

Red Sox 2, Indians 0
Indians 13, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 2, Indians 0
AL East: 6 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2.5 up on Sea

Such beautiful symmetry this weekend, with identical 2-0 shutouts bracketing another hideous loss. These Sox continue to be the most resilient in my memory, but they also continue to drop games that they should have in the bag. They led the AAA Indians lineup, 4-1, in the bottom of the 7th inning on Saturday before the bottom absolutely dropped out. Derek Lowe, Scott Sauerbeck (shocked, I'm just shocked!), and Scott Williamson gave up 12 runs in the Tribe's last two innings to blow a golden opportunity.

I think this team will make it to the playoffs, but I know that they'll punt a game in the postseason that they should win. In a short series, where momentum is real, I worry that such a loss will haunt them much more greatly than in the regular season.

Of course, there's an old baseball proverb that goes, "Momentum's only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher." When Pedro Martinez is that guy, nobody in baseball has a better chance to win than the Sox. He is electric right now, dominating opponents and dragging the Sox by the scruffs of their necks. He went 7 yesterday, striking out 11 and allowing no runs. He left the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th, striking out pinch-hitter Angel Santos in one of the greatest pitcher-batter mismatches in recent history. Santos, a September call-up, made the mistake of trying to play games against Pedro, repeatedly calling for time, and stepping out of the box. Pedro buzzed him inside on the first two pitches, not worrying about going down 2-0, and then whiffed him. After Santos swung and missed strike three, Pedro glared at him before walking off the mound. Lesson: don't tug on Superman's cape, youngster.

The ESPN broadcast team of Gary Thorne and Jeff Brantley served as a major irritant during the game. Thorne gleefully recounted the Sox' "cursed" history, excitedly wondering aloud about how many New Englanders were "having heart attacks" when the Indians loaded the bases in the 7th, and then postulating that the collective team failures were impacting the 2003 Sox. That story line is so very tired, and betrays a lack of any original thought, but the commentariat trots it out time and time again. Last time, boys and girls, the "Curse of the Bambino" was invented in the 1980s by Dan Shaughnessy as a vehicle to sell some books, and perpetuated by same Shaughnessy to sell more books and keep himself relevant. The Sox real "curse" was the wretched racism of Tom Yawkey, which cost the team a shot at both Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. I'd like to punch Gary Thorne in the neck.

When B.H. Kim recorded the final out of the game yesterday, my first reaction was a fist-pump, and my second was a middle finger at Gary Thorne's disembodied voice. My third was, "Lotta Ball Left. Stay on Target."

Friday, September 19, 2003

Game 152 - Red Sox. Scratching and Clawing.

Red Sox 4, Devil Rays 3
Record: 89-63
AL East: 5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2.5 up on Sea

The Sox bounced back again last night, like they have all season. It wasn't pretty, but the result is all that mattered. Tim Wakefield should have had a complete game victory, but Todd Walker flubbed an easy popup in the 9th, which let the game get a lot closer than necessary. The Bunger made things waaay too interesting, as per his norm, but got Rocco Baldelli with two on and two out to lock up the win.

In their last 6 games, the Sox have scored 1, 2, 8, 3, 0, and 4 runs - averaging 3 per contest. Nagging injuries are starting to impact several key components of the everyday lineup, as the wear and tear of the season takes its toll. Still, they're gutting out wins and keeping the M's at bay. Seattle has 9 games left - 6 against Oakland. The Sox have 10, against Cleveland, Baltimore, and Tampa. The Sox can see the finish line, and smell the postseason, and...hell, I ran out of sensory cliches, but glory is in their grasp, if they can avoid pulling a Jack Cust and falling on their faces.

It was fun to see all the gnashing of teeth in the Bronx yesterday, as the Yankee/Oriole game was - ridiculously - played in the face of the oncoming hurricane. Predictably, the teams finished 5 innings with the game tied before the rains forced a washout. The Yankees had to scramble to the airport just to get to Tampa for today's game. Big Stein went postal, and while I think he's got a legitimate beef, it still makes me happy to see MLB's idiocy hurt the Yankees for once.

Speaking of MLB's idiocy, it looks like the Expos will be playing another split schedule next season, with 22 games in either Monterrey, Mexico or San Juan, Puerto Rico. WWE rasslin' has more integrity than Major League Baseball - at least Vince McMahon admits he's got a rigged product. The Expos had a legitimate playoff-caliber squad this season, but it is certain that their peripatetic existence cost them in the standings. Just crap. But hey - that's MLB for you - bringing you asinine decisions and head-scratching outcomes since 1903.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Game 151 - Red Sox. Deep Breaths. Deep Breaths.

Devil Rays 7, Red Sox 0
Record: 88-63
AL East: 5.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 1.5 up on Sea

The Sox laid a big heaping, steaming rotten egg last night against the Rays - there's really no two ways about it. Poor pitching, poor situational hitting, and a real lack of urgency led to a costly stinker of a performance. In other years, this game would have sent me off into a psychotic bender of doubt and dismay. Now, though, thanks to the magic of Positive Thinking (TM), I've only got a tiny, pea-sized mass of impending doom gnawing at my lower intenstine. And that may only be due to the massive hurricane that's clawing its way up the coast towards my house.

The fact remains that the Sox have made a pretty terrific run since the beginning of the Era of Positivity, winning 10 of 15 to make up 2.5 games in the Wild Card race. Sweeping the Rays was a statistical improbability, so as long as they take today's game, they've done their job. (I reserve the right to jump up and down like an angry 3 year-old if they lose today.) I will cling to the power of the positive thought, and carry this banner into the postseason.

I won't however, carry Grady's banner much longer if he continues to run Andy Abad out at first base. We'll talk about that later.

Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Games 149-150 - Mets, or Yearning for the Yesterday of the 154-Game Season

Cubs 4, Mets 1
Cubs 3, Mets 2
Record: 63-87

Okay, okay. The New York Mets major league baseball club has been mailing it in for a couple of weeks after gutting out an admirable second half, and frankly, so have I. I noticed it, Rob noticed it, and apparently one of our many readers finally noticed it enough to call me on it. I'm sorry. There is no excuse. Even if the team has apparently said "No mas!" and returned to its corner, I should be above it all. I'm not, but I should be.

Here's the ugly truth about what the season has become. The roster of aging veterans and green rookies was starting to click and nurture visions (possibly delusional) of success in '04. Without warning, the veterans aged 100 years, the rookies regressed to early childhood, and the vision of next summer became all too blurry.

As soon as I alluded to the fact that my revocation of positive comments had turned Jae Seo's slide around, he promptly took the loss in four straight outings. Sure, most were the product of the anemic hitting, but one thing is for certain: he should sue me the next time I say something good about him. Jae, you suck.

Jose Reyes is now on the 60-day DL with a sprained ankle. The New York faithful (all three of us) are holding their breath.

The young hitters' current BA's:
Jeff Duncan: .189
Danny Garcia: .214
Jorge Velandia: .229
Marco Scutaro: .211
Prentice Redman: .176
Steve Trachsel is hitting .185 and looks more comfortable at the plate.

The Mets have now lost 11 of 12 after sweeping the Braves (who clinched a playoff spot last night). Last night Mark Prior struck out 13 Mets, including Jeff Duncan on a high check-swing on a ball that hit the dirt and skidded to the backstop off his foot, negating the runners' advancement.

The Mets recently called up Mike Glavine. Yes, Tom's brother. I can see where they're coming from: you definitely want to appease your 9-13, 4.49 ERA, $11M ace. Next signings: Mark Leiter and Cesar Cedeno.

Speaking of which, you pretty much know what kind of season it's been when you see that Roger Cedeno has been allowed 443 at-bats.

John Franco: "I think we need a front-line pitcher and a closer, someone at the end of the game who you can count on day-in, day-out. If you look around the league, everybody has that guy but us. We did have him and we traded him." Hmmm, when he says someone you can count on, did he mean count on to implode one every four outings? Because that was the only consistent things about him. Boy, I hope he was misquoted.

So, let's recap the last couple of weeks. Loss after loss after loss, no hitting, no pitching, no fielding, low morale, low attendance.

How 'bout them Red Sox?
Game 150 - Red Sox. Curse This.

Red Sox 3, Devil Rays 2
Record: 88-52
AL East: 5.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2.5 up on Sea

Sox win. Mariners lose. Thank you, sir, may I have another.

Complete game victory for Sir Pedro, who refused to come out of the game in the 9th inning. The offense has carried the team all season, so it's nice to see the pitching staff sucking it up down the stretch. The Sox have only won 6 times when scoring fewer than 4 runs this year, in 38 such games. Mostly, this points out the fact that the offense has scored a silly amount of runs, but the pitching staff hasn't come up large in tight, low-scoring games very often, either.

In September, though, Pedro and Lowe are beginning to resemble the league's best 1-2 combo that Sox fans followed last year. In their last 6 combined starts, they're 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA. The Sox have won all 6 games, and a combined 11 of the last 13 Pedro/Lowe starts. Pedro's 3-0, 1.17 with 24 Ks and 4BB in 23 innings in September, and he's gone 8 and 9 innings in his last 2 starts. Lowe's sucked it up and battled through some bad luck to keep the Sox in his games in the last month. The studs that the Sox need to take them deep into the postseason are peaking at exactly the right time.

Starting pitching - check. Offense - check. Bullpen - umm, check, please (but at least they're rested).

In somewhat related news, HBO aired 'The Curse of the Bambino' last night. The documentary, which was basically about Sox fans and the disappointments they've suffered since 1918, alternately pissed me off, made me laugh, and broke my heart. The producers mixed the recollections of a series of public figures and diehard Sox fans with game footage to describe the masochistic existence of Red Sox Nation.

I found myself connecting deeply with the memories of my fellow fans, famous (like Denis Leary, actor Michael Chiklis, and comedian Lenny Clarke) and not (several heretofore anonymous New Englanders). When the focus moved to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, I laughed in amazed solidarity as person after person recounted their individual experiences on that night, and damn near cried as the producers showed the awful events of the bottom of the 10th inning. The looks on the faces of the Sox players as they first felt assured of victory and then crumbled in defeat were mirrored by the patrons of a Back Bay bar, who went from delirium to sick, numbing pain in a matter of minutes.

I was more irritated by the comments of most of the professional observers, most notably Boston radio personality Eddie Andelman, who had the single worst quote of the film. Andelman said that he wanted his tombstone to read, "He never saw the Red Sox win the World Series." That sort of New England Puritan hairshirt-wearing crap makes me wall-climbing insane. Other journalists suggested that the Sox would lose all meaning, all sense of story and drama if they were to win a championship. I'm sorry you won't be able to make any more money from your book, Mr. Shaughnessy.

By the end of the hour, when the interviewees were trying to describe in advance their feelings when the Sox win the World Series, my eyes were moist. It's that feeling of shared pain, of unrequited but passionate love that separates Red Sox fans from most others. They will win someday, and the catharsis will be staggering. I can't wait.

Oh, and lotta games left. Stay on target.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Magic Number - Not the One You Think

The Mets can't win more than 77 games. The Sox need 90 wins to clinch victory in our long-running wager, and currently stand at 87. Any combination of Sox wins or Met losses equaling 3 and I stand triumphant. I shall not begin preparing my victory speech until the last out is squeezed, but I think the public (both of them) has a right to know where we stand.
Games 146-149 - Red Sox. I have no fingernails.

Red Sox 7, White Sox 4
White Sox 3, Red Sox 1
White Sox 7, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 8, Devil Rays 2
Record: 87-62
AL East: 5.5 GB NYY and fading fast
Wild Card: 1st - 1.5 up on Sea

Looks like I let the blogging get away from me a bit - got a little behind because of out-of-town carousing and NFL action. The Sox tried hard to give away the Wild Card lead while I dozed, but the Mariners were awfully kind, dropping games to both Anaheim and Texas when their bullpen couldn't hold late leads. Hey! I know that team.

The last 13 games are against the Rays, Indians, and Orioles, all of whom are scrappy, but less talented than the Sox. On the plus side, the Sox will be the better team in each of these games. On the minus side, the Sox know this, and might be ripe for the upset bred of overconfidence. Ask the New York Giants how that feels. More than ever, the Sox clubhouse leaders - Millar, Ortiz, Timlin - need to ride herd on their teammates to ensure maximum focus and maximum effort.

I continue to believe in this team, and I continue to drive the Positivity Wagon. This team will prevail, unless this hurricane blows the entire eastern seaboard into Kansas. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Games 139-148 - Mets, or The Wheel Has Fallen Off the Unicycle

Phillies 6, Mets 5
Phillies 1, Mets 0
Phillies 8, Mets 6
Phillies 5, Mets 4
Marlins 5, Mets 0
Marlins 3, Mets 1
Marlins 7, Mets 3
Expos 7, Mets 4
Mets 5, Expos 4
Expos 7, Mets 3
Record: 63-85

Wow. I head off to the beach for a week and the steps in the right direction go completely awry. I drop four cases of beer to my Phillie-lovin' friend, the Marlins get just as much wild card help off the Mets, and Vlad Guerrero hits for the cycle. Upon reflection, there weren't any blowouts (even the 5-0 game was 1-0 into the 9th inning), just a whole lot of close losses. Either way, it's a bad, bad stretch.

At this point, I'm ready to put this bad season to bed and start thinking about 2004. Coincidentally, the beginning of this 10-game debacle fell on the NFL's Opening Night, one which I was able to witness from the upper tier of the stadium as the Redskins won a great game. This opener is perhaps diametrically opposed to the drubbing the Mets endured at the hands on the Cubs way back . . . at the bottom of this page.

Just a couple of weeks left in the Mets season. Not much ball left, and they're so off-target that you can't quite tell what they were really aiming at in the first place.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Game 145 - Red Sox, Pedro es el Rey

Red Sox 5, Orioles 0
Record: 85-60
AL East: 3.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2 up on Sea

No time today for a lot of detail, but my God is it nice to see Pedro pitch like this. 8 innings, 3 hits, 9 Ks, and the command for which he is revered throughout the league. More of this, please.

Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Games 143 & 144 - Red Sox, Waiting to Exhale

Orioles 13, Red Sox 10
Red Sox 9, Orioles
Record: 84-60
AL East: 3.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2 up on Sea

The Positivity Train shuddered and wheezed on Monday night, but I managed to take a deep breath and remember the "Lotta Ball Left, Stay on Target" mantra. Thankfully, so did the Sox, who continued to follow this season's remarkable pattern of bouncing back strongly from seemingly crushing defeats. They blew an 8-5, 7th inning lead on Monday through a series of defensive miscues (4 errors!), bonehead decisions (Mike Timlin, this is a rundown - you've only practiced it 100,000 times in your career), and untimely questionable umpiring.

I chalk the loss up to a natural letdown after a high-intensity series against the Yankees, and yesterday's result seems to reinforce that. D-Lowe pitched really well, emphasis on "pitched", because he didn't have very good command, but fought through his own problems to record 6 innings of 1-run ball. To me, Lowe is the single biggest factor in how far into the post-season the Sox can go - if they hang on to get to the playoffs. If he regains his form from last season, a Pedro-Lowe 1-2 combo is comparable to the Johnson-Shilling pair that the D-Backs rode to a championship in 2001. If he doesn't, it's Pedro and Pray. The obvious difference is that the Sox offense is light years better than the one the D-Backs threw at opponents.

Nomah's in a wicked pissah of a slump, hanging another 0-for-5 on his recent resume. He had a couple of big hits in the Yankee series, but he seems just a bit off. Luckily, Billy Mueller's back on track, and the offense doesn't seem to be skipping a beat. The bullpen, though, is another story. Bailing wire, masking tape, chewing gum, and the kitchen sink are in short supply in Beantown, because they're all being used to hold the Sox relief corps together.

Frankly, every contender in the AL has some problem or another right now - and the Sox seem to be the most put together, despite their flaws. The Yankees are in an awful hitting slump, and their bullpen consists of 1 guy - Mariano Rivera - who is throwing waaay too many innings. The A's starting pitching is still good, but less deep without Mark Mulder, and their offense has never been all that good. The Mariners are 40-41 in their last 81 games, and are relying on Armando Benitez in clutch situations (like last night - thank you, 'Mando), not to mention the fact that their starting pitching seems to be fraying. The Sox bullpen problems are well documented, but their starting pitching has been pretty good of late (all the more so if Suppan can build on his outing against the Yankees) and their hitting will cover up a lot of pitching deficiencies.

In short, 18 games to go: All aboard the Positivity Express. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Games 140-142 - Red Sox, or the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Red Sox 9, Yankees 3
Red Sox 11, Yankees 0
Yankees 3, Red Sox 1
Record: 83-59
AL East: 2.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 1.5 up on Sea

The Sox were sooooo close to completing an epic 6-game run with a sweep against the Yankees in the Bronx, but finally buckled under against the New Yorkers yesterday afternoon. Nonetheless, my hat is off to this team of self-described dirtbag scrappers. They most definitely "Cowboyed Up" over the past week, shrugging off a crushing series loss to the Yankees in Fenway to record 5 wins in 6 games and put themselves squarely in the driver's seat for a playoff berth.

I can't remember truly enjoying very many Sox games any more than the first two games of this weekend's series. Sure, the outcome of the games had a lot to do with it, but more than that, it was the way the Sox approached the games. Red Sox Nation was in the midst of it's own brand of chicken little, end of the world, media-fueled frenzy as the Sox headed to New York, but the Sox themselves were as loose as a team of Little Leaguers on their way to a pizza party. At the same time, the Yankees - from the owner on down - seemed uncharacteristically tight, lashing out at one another like never before in Joe Torre's 8-year tenure.

The relaxed, focused Sox took the game to the Yankees from the jump on Friday, rocking Andy Pettitte from the first inning on. The Yankee lefthander, who always seems to own the Sox, lasted only 2 1/3 innings as the Sox coasted behind Pedro. The same loose bunch ripped into Roger Clemens on Saturday, knocking the Texas Con Man from the box after only 3 1/3 innings and 8 earned runs. Big middle finger in this one to Tim McCarver, who openly joked about Tim Wakefield's perfect game in the 4th inning, moments before Bernie Williams doubled to spoil it. Dick (McCarver, not Williams).

Yesterday's loss was a tough one, especially given Jeff Suppan's brilliant pitching performance, and the fact that it gives the Yankees the tiebreaker should the teams finish in a dead heat for the division. Nonetheless, if you told me that the Sox would win 2 of 3, and rock Pettitte and Clemens in the process, I would have accepted it on the spot.

Yesterday marked the end of the brutal stretch of games that defined the second half of the season. The Sox finished the 25-game stretch against Oakland, Seattle, Toronto, New York, and Chicago 15-10, winning 12 of the last 16. They went from outside the playoff picture to leading the Wild Card, and went from 7.5 games behind the Yankees two weeks ago, to making the suddenly vulnerable New Yorkers sweat.

20 games to go, with series' against Baltimore (curse you, blasted Orioles!), Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Cleveland. The schedule-makers have done their part, now the Sox must maintain the laser focus they brought to the park over the last month, and run the table. Lotta ball left, stay on target.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Game 138 - Mets, or Take Your Sorry Butts Back to Atlanta

Mets 9, Braves 3
Record: 62-76

Yep, that's me talking smack about the 62-76 Mets sweeping the 87-52, division-leading, playoff-locked Braves. Hell, yes. When household names such as Danny Garcia, Jeff Duncan, Jorge Velandia (who starred, with a double, triple, and 3 RBI), and Orber Moreno (?!) beat the likes of Chipper, Andruw, Sheff, Javy, Vinny, and Russ Ortiz, how can you not be pleasantly surprised to the point of reality-ignoring jawing?

I like the way the past week played out, despite going just 3-3. Drop three to the Phils, because they needed the boost, then take three from the Braves, because . . . screw them. But now, make no mistake, the time has come to take down those Philadelphians. Chomp on those Phillies like the cheap cigar of a team they are. In truth, the Phils have a bit of inner turmoil right now and are ripe for the plucking. It seems the sensitive players have had enough of Larry Bowa's ranting and raving, and in a players-only meeting they decided to continue their quest for the wild card while not giving Bowa the time of day. Nice. A little mutiny at the Vet. It only materialized when Pat Burrell hit a tater and avoided Bowa's congratulatory five. (I contend that Burrell hit so poorly this year, perhaps he was just confused.) Within 24 hours, the scapegoat was determined and sent packing. Bench player Tyler Houston, whom Bowa labeled a loser and a ringleader among the mutineers. High drama in Philly. Even the Phanatic isn't himself these days.

So, four games against the Phils with 96 beers on the line. Yes, 96 beers, not to be confused with "96 Tears," the sixties classic from Question Mark & the Mysterians. Four cases of the finest ale to cap off a 19-case wagering extravangaza. This is getting ugly.
Games 138 & 139 - Red Sox, Ortizzle, fo' Shizzle

Red Sox 2, White Sox 1
Red Sox 5, White Sox 4
Record: 81-58
AL East: 3 GB NYY
Wild Card: T1 - Sea

The Era of Positivity is paying some serious early dividends. The Sox are winning, the Yankees are losing, and my blood pressure is down. I could have blown a serious gasket several times last night while watching Johnny Damon drop a flyball that he catches 999 times out of 1000, or Manny loping around in left field, or Jose Valentin drive Mike Timlin's meatball into the cheap seats to tie the game at 4. I could have, but I didn't. I kept repeating my mantra: "Hey, it's baseball. Lotta game left.", until David Ortiz blasted a solo homer to left in the top of the 10th and the Bunger held on (precariously!) to close out the Pale Hose. While the Sox were winning, the Yankees, A's, and Mariners were all losing to inferior teams, so the Sox really stole one. (Edit for significant oversight: Derek Lowe was a man tonight, fighting through bad luck, bad defense, and bad umpiring to give the Sox a chance to win. He made great pitches with the bases loaded and 1 out in both the 5th and 7th innings to keep the game close. Shoulda' been rewarded with a W, but his "cowboying up" is a great sign for the rest of the season.)

I've not paid near enough homage to David Ortiz in this space, especially given the fact that he's been the Sox MVP since the All-Star break. His two-homer game last night was his 5th multi-tater game this year. He only had 2 in his entire career before this season. He's slugging .602(!) for the season, with 25 HR and 84 RBI - and he hasn't played full-time. Since the All-Star Game, he's batting .284 with a .412 OBP and a .682 SLG (1.084 OPS!), not to mention 15 HR and 38 RBI in 42 games. He's been timely, he's been huge, and he's been leading the Sox over their recent 10-3 run against the AL's best teams. On top of all that, he's widely praised as a terrific clubhouse influence - good friends with Pedro and Manny, and liked by everyone. Today's Boston Globe features a glowing puff piece about him, with quotes from Todd Walker and Todd Jones (notably, in Boston, honkies) about his value to the team on and off the field. Plus, he looks like Florida Evans from Good Times, which is, well, good times.

You may have missed it, gentle reader, but I did not err when I noted that the Sox were 10-3 over their last 13. Those 13 games were against Oakland (1-0), Seattle (4-0), Toronto (1-1), New York (1-2), Philadelphia (1-0), and Chicago (2-0). They've now played 20 of the 23 games against the league leaders in the much-feared August stretch noted earlier. They are 12-8 in those 20 games, and have actually gained ground on the Yankees. The final weeks of the season feature a steady diet of Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland - with three at home against the White Sox thrown in for spice. They are right where they need to be, so we're stoking the coals on the Positivity Express and throwing the hammer down.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Game 137 - Mets

Mets 3, Braves 1
Record: 61-76

Al Leiter continued to pitch spectacularly, though somehow the papers attributed this win to his learning that Bruce Springsteen announced he's playing two shows at Shea in early October. Leiter was a spirit in the night, firing at hitters point blank and proving it all night until the Mets reached the promised land. They could look at the pitches but it seemed they better not touch them.

Up-and-comers (maybe) Danny Garcia and Prentice Redman joined the youth movement yesterday, as both recorded their first big league hits. It will be interesting to see which of these youngsters who are excelling in the lame duck season can carry it over to next spring.

Fran Healy and Howie Rose were discussing a quick, unpleasant conversation between Mike Piazza and Braves pitcher Mike Hampton. I guess Hampton said something to Piazza, trying to stir up trouble, but Piazza quelled it with a "Just play baseball." Healy and Rose went on to bring up something from three years ago that wasn't discussed enough when it happened -- if Hampton had plunked a Yankee after Clemens threw the bat at Piazza, warnings would have been issued to both teams and Clemens' inside pitch might have been altered. At the very least, it might have felt like the score was evened. As it happened, Hampton made the decision not to hit a Yank. And as we all know, Clemens pitched well and got a boost from Armando "Seattle Is Almost Far Enough Away" Benitez, and the Yankees won the tone-setting World Series game. Anyway, what happened afterwards was that Hampton bad-mouthed Piazza (from Denver), saying he should have fought Clemens when he threw the bat at him. Implying that Piazza backed down. Ignoring that it would have meant the Mets losing their MVP for not only that game but probably at least one more. Forgetting that if he himself had been tougher, things might have been much better for the team. What a wiener. And Rob Russell loves this guy.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Game 136 - Mets

Mets 3, Braves 2
Record: 60-76

After dropping 10 of the first 12 against the Braves this season, the Mets have apparently had enough bullying. They've now taken three of four, and I've been fortunate to watch each of the three. With two more to play against the dreaded Bravos, my boys have at least given me this much joy, and it is joy indeed. There is quite simply a serence peace that washes over me, drenching me with pleasant gladness and smile-inducing content, every time the Mets stomp those motherfucking Braves' balls into the ground with their spikes.
Games 133-135 - Mets, or 72 Bottles of Beer in the Cart

Phillies 7, Mets 0
Phillies 4, Mets 2
Phillies 4, Mets 1
Record: 59-76

It was throwback hitting weekend for the Mets, as the whopping three runs they plated in the three games versus the Phils brought back those early-season memories. You remember, those days when "slugging percentage" was a misnomer, when leads were nonexistent, when Roger Cedeno was the leadoff hitter who led the team in strikeouts. Well, it all came rushing back this weekend. Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Vincente Padilla thoroughly stymied the Mets' "hitters," holding them to eight hits in 27 innings. New York led in but one of these 27 innings. And Cedeno was the Cedeno of old, going 0-for-12 with 5 K's.

I took a beating at the beer store, for sure (the Phils now lead 8-7 with four to play), but here's a concession. Of the ridiculous chaos of seven teams within four games of the NL Wild Card lead, I see myself rooting for the Phillies over most of the others (except the Cubs), and the Mets just helped them significantly by playing dead for a series.

This race is certainly the best argument in a while for the expanded playoff format. I have traditionally held a . . . traditional outlook regarding baseball's postseason, opposing the expansion of qualifiers. I just feel like baseball's 162-game season is the truest measure of which teams are the best. Nowadays a team just a few games over .500 can sneak into the playoffs alongside 100-game winners, and while clearly not the better team, they may be better suited for the short series. The NFL has but 16 games for the cream to rise to the top, so it's important for more than the teams with the best regular-season records to qualify. Major League Baseball has a summer (with a chunk of spring and a sliver of autumn) chock full of ballgames to separate the wheat from the Mets. (Plus, wild card additions bring MLB closer to resembling the other major sports, which is almost always a bad thing.) I realize that my argument is a plea for more recognition of what the Atlanta Braves have accomplished over the past decade; no, this realization will not curb my zeal for pointing to their postseason failures. It's part of the Hypocritical Oath I took when we started this column.

It's odd that a guy who's a bit more progressive in his thinking in most of his dealings has such a staunchly conservative take on the national pastime. I like the National League, not merely because my favorite team plays in it (and not because they're the Senior Circuit -- I wasn't around in 1901, so the AL isn't like the ABA, USFL, or XFL to me), but because they don't have the designated hitter. I think artificial turf is detrimental to playing careers, sure, but it's also an eyesore and changes the outcome of certain plays. Domes eliminate rain-outs but ruin the effect of going out to the park. ("Take me in to the ballgame, anyone?") I liked baseball when I first knew it, in the 1970's. The owners were no longer able to manipulate the players, thanks to Curt Flood, Marvin Miller, Andy Messersmith, Dave McNally, and a bunch of others; on the other hand, the salaries weren't nearly as grotesque as they have become, and the union and agents weren't quite the monsters they now are. And the teams that ran through the others like a hot knife through butter for six months out of a year (The A's dynasty, the Big Red Machine, Reggie's Yankees) didn't have to jump extra hurdles to get their just desserts. Plus, Oscar Gamble's 'fro was so nice. Wow, who am I, my grandfather? Enough already.

It doesn't sound like it, but my point was supposed to be that despite my views on this era's playoff format, this NL Wild Card finish is gearing up to be the most exciting pennant-ish race since the number of playoff teams doubled. What with my team having been eliminated on Memorial Day, I am rooting not so much for one team but for a gigantic pile-up of contenders that comes down to the final weekend of the regular season. I'm sure the Mets will do what they can to help their opponents stay in contention.
I'm Trying to Ignore This, I Really Am

Red Sox Talk Show Nation is apoplectic this week about Manny Ramirez' 4-game absence due to a sore throat and his recent comments about his desire to play for the Yankees. As for his illness, it strikes me as slightly odd that it would take him this long to recover, but I'm not Manny, so I can't really comment, and the Sox did score 34 runs in the games he missed, so I'm over it.

The Yankees thing is far more damaging. When I first heard the rumors, I assumed that he was misinterpreted. I saw the actual interview (with Joe Morgan on ESPN Motion) and knew that he wasn't. Without provocation or equivocation he told Morgan that he would love to play in New York someday, after his Sox contract was over.

On one hand, Manny could well be an guileless idiot, who was expressing his true feelings without understanding the ramifications. On the other, he could be a malcontent who knew exactly what he was saying. Experience tells me it's the former, but that doesn't make me feel a whole lot better, and it would piss me off were he my teammate. If he's a simpleton, he's still a simpleton who would rather play in the Bronx than in Fenway. The Sox have tried very hard to make Manny comfortable in Boston, and for the most part, his Forrest Gump hitting savant persona has protected him against the slings and arrows of the Boston press. That may change, and quickly, if he doesn't get back into the lineup and start producing.

Personally, I'm torn. I love Manny's production. To now, I've liked his approach - which is basically, "leave me alone, I'm here to work hard, drive in runs, and help the team win." Sort of an Unfrozen Caveman Hitter when it comes to the media and public - "I do not understand your microphones and big words. I'm just a poor Unfrozen Caveman Hitter." But if he's really too dense to get the relationship between the Red Sox and Yankees, then I question his commitment to the team. And if he does understand the implications of his statements, then I really don't want him wearing the Sox uniform.
Game 137 - Red Sox, or Punch Drunk Love

Red Sox 13, Phillies 9
Record: 79-58
AL East: 4.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1 GB Sea

Behold the power of positive thinking! As the Sox were fighting a deeply flawed, but highly compelling, battle with the Phils, I fought a battle no less compelling with my own demons. Time and time again, the Sox tempted me to explode with rage over issues large (like Jeff Suppan's inability to get outs, or Grady Little's death-by-1000-cuts mismanagement style) and small (like David Ortiz' failure to slide into home, or Nomar's sling-and-hope wild throw to first). Time and time again, though, I kept my cool, enjoying a baseball game for the sake of enjoying a baseball game.

There were no thrown objects, no tortured screams. When things got bleak, and Scott Sauerbeck loaded the bases with no outs in the 7th (and, for what it's worth, he should not see meaningful game action for the rest of this season), I simply gathered up my daughter and went outside to play on the swingset. 30 minutes later, I returned just in time to watch Ortiz smash a double to center to give the Sox a lead. Point, me.

Then, after Grady let Mike Timlin load the bases again, and Jim Thome smoked a single to center to give the Phils a 9-7 lead, I felt my blood begin to boil. Two days ago, I would have stayed in the basement, screaming and ranting. Today, I jumped on my bike and set out on a cleansing 45-minute workout. I returned home to watch ESPNews recap the Sox' 6-run 9th inning, topped by Trot Nixon's grand slam. I was exhausted, thrilled, and a newly minted believer in the value of positivity over negativity. Damn, I love this team, all except Scott Sauerbeck.

The Sox play 2 against the smoking hot White Sox, while the Yankees get Toronto, Oakland has Baltimore, and Seattle beats up on Tampa Bay. The tough part of the schedule ends on Sunday after the Sox head to New York for the final three games of the season with the Yanks. If the Sox are within 2 games of the wild card after 9/7, I like their chances.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Games 134-136 - Red Sox, or This Ledge is Getting Crowded

Red Sox 10, Yankees 5
Yankees 10, Red Sox 7
Yankees 8, Red Sox 4
Record: 78-58
AL East: 5.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1.5 GB Sea

I so desperately want to believe in this team, want to embrace the entire flawed, wonderful 25-man roster and hold on for the ride. But every time I feel like they've turned a corner, something bizarre and exasperating happens to throw me right back to my pathetic pins and needles Sox fan existence. The Sox had every reason to believe that they would win the first two games of this series, up 3-0 on the Yankees in the top of the 3rd with Pedro on the mound and dealing. Then, as if predestined, the roof caved in and the Sox ace started leaving curveballs up in the zone for Yankee batters to, well, batter. 6 outs later, the Yankees led 5-4, and even a rousing rally against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera came up short when the league's leading hitter, Bill Mueller, waved at a high strike 3 with the bases loaded.

I'm frustrated beyond words at this team. They lead the major leagues in every important offensive category. The pitching staff, while underperforming all year, now has as much talent from top to bottom as any staff in the American League, save perhaps the A's. The defense isn't great, but it's adequate. Why, then, does it seem that these Sox are lesser than the sum of their parts? Really a rhetorical question, because I don't have the first clue. Is it the manager? The pressure of playing in Boston, where every failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and every minor flaw becomes magnified by America's worst sporting press?

Anger, frustration, exasperation, and vitriol haven't worked for me thus far this season and in previous campaigns. I vow here and now to think positively about these Sox. They are good enough, deep enough, and committed enough to make the playoffs and go deep into them (and gosh-darnit, I really like them - in my best Stuart Smalley voice). It says here that they will do just that. I'll root without knee-jerk criticism, without emotional outbursts, caring deeply but not giving myself ulcers by internalizing each agonizing pitch. This will be a true test for me, familiar as I am with hanging on every moment of every game. I'm going to enjoy baseball, and enjoy the Red Sox, if it kills me.

Note: They're already testing me, having gone down, 4-0, to the Phillies in the 2nd inning. Deep breaths. Stay on target. Stay on target.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Game 132 - Mets

Mets 3, Braves 1
Record: 59-73

Al Leiter & Jose Reyes. Two peas in a pod, except that one's 37 & the other's 20, one's from N.J. & the other's from D.R., one's a lefty pitcher & the other's a righty shortstop, one makes 8 million & the other makes . . . less. Leiter told Reyes he wouldn't need much, Reyes told Leiter he'd give him more than enough. Leiter threw seven shutout innings, Reyes hit a solo shot from the right side of the plate in the 5th and a two-run shot from the left in the 9th. Finally, a win without the "agonizing 9th-inning drama," right? It is to laugh.

David Weathers had pitched a routine 8th. Well, routine for him, since the first batter reached, which is kind of his signature thing. But then a crisp DP from Reyes to Tony Clark erased the runner, and Weathers fanned old foe Mike "Dr. Johnny Fever" Hessman. Weathers returned for the 9th, and he walked the first batter (natch!). A grounder to short netted only a fielder's choice, which was good, but no DP? Greedy, Mr. Lester. Be happy with the one out, you silly sot. For the next batter was Marcus Giles, who delivered a tailor-made grounder to Reyes, who flipped it to 2nd baseman Marco Scutaro, who, in turn . . . missed it. Just missed the thing, as it dinked off his glove and went into right field. First and third, one out, tying run at the plate in the form of . . . Gary Sheffield! Well, they wouldn't have wanted to just end it on the prior play and deny the 1100 faithful Braves fans in attendance the chance to see this. [At this point, a classic battle was taking place inside me. No, not the usual ones of pepperoni vs. Tums or Budweiser vs. balance. It was instinct (hollering, cussing, kicking the air) vs. self-control (keeping the infant in my arms sleeping semi-peacefully). Self-control prevailed. For the moment.]

Skip Caray would late refer to the ensuing play as "the absolute best you could hope for with Sheffield at the plate." Despite swinging for somewhere in Buckhead, Sheffield tapped one right to David Weathers. The big pitcher made a great play to snag the baseball, then turned and spastically fired it into the grass about two feet short of Marco Scutaro. The short-hop might have been snagged by a better infielder, say White Sox 2B Roberto Alomar or Mariners SS Rey Sanchez, or maybe even Mets SS Jose Reyes, who was standing right behind Scutaro. But it was a lousy throw and Scutaro missed it again, knocking the ball so far away that when Giles came barreling through the play and overslid by a foot or two, they couldn't recover the ball and tag him out. Now 3-1 with one out and nemesis Chipper Jones representing winning run at the plate -- and having completely squandered two beautiful game-ending opportunities in a row -- self-control went the way of . . . any ball thrown to Scutaro. Trying to calm the baby back to sleep delayed my plans for punting the television just long enough for Chipper to hit a floofy little pop to third and Andruw Jones to ground out on a sharp, accurate throw from Ty Wigginton to Tony Clark. Phew. Another annoying victory.

As prefaced before the series, beating the Braves won't really mean anything in the standings, but it's always nice. And taking two of three in Atlanta was just that. Nice.
Game 131 - Mets

Braves 4, Mets 1
Record: 58-73

Aaron Heilman has had some bad-luck outings this year, but this night he made his own bad luck. He walked two guys before serving up a Swedish one to Chipper Jones, then allowed a walk and stolen base to Gary Sheffield the next inning before the Chimper singled him in. With Maddux in retro mode (allowing just a solo shot to retro-himself Mike Piazza), that was all the Braves needed. Kent Mercker subbed for the disabled John Smoltz, and he made it interesting. The tying run came to the plate with just one out, but young guns Jason Phillips and Ty Wigginton, who both seem to be hitting a wall after 120-130 grueling games, fell short.

After Chippy's homer, I was fairly sure things would turn out like they did. In the 4th inning, though, it started to drizzle, then pour. I found myself hoping for the washout. Really, really hoping that the Mets would be rained out, since there was no way they could come back from 3-0. This moment, this sentiment, probably best encapsulates the dichotomous differences in the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox this year, and it's part of why our journalistic juxtaposition has been a worthy jaunt.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Game 133 - Red Sox, or In the Old Days, They'd Prescribe Shock Therapy

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 3
Record: 77-56
AL East: 4 GB NYY
Wild Card: T1 - Sea

I wonder if psychiatrists in New England are busier this time of year than other times. And I wonder if they're busier this year than in previous years, because this team seems to me to be a leading cause (and victim) of schizophrenic outbreaks. I tuned in last night via CBS Sportsline to find my boys trailing 3-0 in the 4th inning, and the Yankees leading Chicago, 2-0 (as an aside, is it possible to have John Burkett start each game in the 2nd inning, because he's lights out after his ritual 1st inning shelling). The power went out in my neighborhood, so I spent the next hour or so lighting candles and then trying to make sure that neither my daughter nor my cat were ignited by them.

After daughter went to bed, I logged back on (couldn't watch TV because the power was still out) just in time to "watch" Todd Walker's two-run homer give the Sox a 5-3 lead on Roy Halladay and the Jays, and to learn that the ChiSox had posted 7 runs on David Wells in the top of the 4th. Manic depressives don't have wider mood swings than Sox fans. The bullpen closed it out, the Yankees got drummed, 11-2, and Seattle lost to Tampa, making it a pretty good night all the way around. I even pummelled my wife in Trivial Pursuit before the lights came back on.

Today's an off-day in preparation for a three-game weekend series against the Yankees in Fenway. New York tries to salvage the last game of their series with the White Sox this afternoon, but if they fail, they'll only lead the Sox by 3.5, and the game will be afoot. Ixnay on the Ankeesyay olday itcherspay areay owingshay eirthay ageay, but it's been a tough week for the pinstripers. Fingers crossed and re-crossed going into the final sprint.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Game 132 - Red Sox, or Don't we have a Yankee series coming up?

Blue Jays 12, Red Sox 9
Record: 76-56
AL East: 5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1 GB Oak/Sea

Scott Sauerbeck is rapidly becoming my least favorite Red Sox player. He has been nearly uniformly dreadful since his acquisition from Pittsburgh, posting a 2.22 WHIP in 14 appearances. Only 3 times in those appearances has he failed to allow a baserunner. Last night, he allowed two of the three men he faced to reach base, contributing immensely to the Blue Jays' 5-run 8th inning.

This was yet another spine-tingling, roller-coaster, Jan and Dean around Deadman's Curve, sort of game. The Sox spotted the Jays a 7-1 lead, but came all the way back to tie the game on Kevin "Cowboy" Millar's two-out double in the bottom of the 7th. These guys simply will not let me count them out, as much as I may want the pyschic calm that such peaceful submission will bring. Even after the Jays took the big lead in the 8th, the Sox loaded the bases for Manny Ramirez, who struck out to end the rally. So close, but another game that I'll look back on and wonder if it was the one that cost the Sox the playoffs.

Sox face Toronto ace Roy Halladay tonight before an off-day and three against the Yankees. It's not a must-win, but it would sure be nice to be facing the Yankees with a modicum of momentum.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Game 130 - Mets

Mets 6, Braves 5
Record: 58-72

This was one of those weird games where I convinced myself my viewing/not viewing was actually having an impact. I turned on the game and the very first pitch I saw was Mike Piazza's three-run jack to left. An ever-so-nice way to begin my baseball watching for the evening. In the bottom of the third, though, I flipped over to watch some of that softball game in Boston, and when I quickly Previous Channeled, it was too late – Gary Sheffield had taken Jae Seo deep. 3-2. I stayed glued to the action and willed Timo Perez's two-run double that made it 5-2 (actually I was working on the hit-and-run Jedi mind trick, but this was even better). Shane "Two-Step" Reynolds tried to fool four umpires, 25 opponents, and me when he shuffled out of an almost-windup, but even I saw the balk. 6-2.

So I hop back to that T-ball game in Beantown and get so sucked into the pinball-like action (of the 7-6, 4th-inning game) that by the time I check back, Andruw "Scruw Yuw" Jones has leaked one through the left side to score one and cut it to 6-3. Javy "My Cousin Jennifer Stood In for Me for the Last 2 Years" Lopez then drooled a swinging bunt down the third-base line, scoring another run. 6-4. I actually saw this, so maybe the pattern had faded?

Bottom 9 and Mike Stanton is in to finish the job. With one out I foolishly pop back to the pitcher's duel in Fenway (then 12-8) to watch Manny Ramirez whiff, ending the Sox' best good chance. As NESN went to commercial, I hastily clicked back to MSG to learn that Stanton had given up a solo homer to a Mark Hessman. Do they even know who this guy is in Richmond? By now I was convinced that I absolutely needed to be tuned in for the Mets to have any shot. Even then, though, I was turning on this computer and not paying enough attention, because Stanton walked Marcus Giles on four pitches, bringing Gary Sheffield to the plate as the potential winning run. As a Mets fan, I know the inevitable retort to the intended rhetorical question "Is it too much to ask to beat the Braves without this agonizing 9th-inning drama?" Way, way too much.

And so I stood about five feet from my television, completely focused upon not a thing in the world except the Mets vs. Braves baseball contest. Stanton went to 3-2 and what struck me most was how disappointed I would be that a 57-74 team could make me break some of my own possessions. But then I decided not even to blink, and Sheffield tapped one back to Stanton, who threw to first for the end of the game and this madness of to tune in or not to tune in. This karma changes from game to game, but just in case, I'll need to be hunkered down tomorrow night for Game 2 of this utterly meaningless, completely gripping series.

Games 127-129 - Mets

Dodgers 2, Mets 1
Mets 4, Dodgers 0
Mets 2, Dodgers 1
Record: 57-72

The pitching has been something of late (after being something shoddy for much of the year). The Mets, more specifically Al Leiter, Steve Trachsel, Tom Glavine, and a few relievers, allowed but three runs in three games to the Dodgers. True, the Dodgers are hitting .210 in batting practice. True, the Mets only managed seven runs themselves. And true, they only took two of three. Knock it off, I'm trying to make a positive point here! [It's been a long year, and I think some psychological baggage has developed.

Before this series, the Metropolitan arms surrendered just five runs in three games to the Padres and eight runs in four games to the Rockies. Steve Trachsel was named the NL player of the week, allowing nary a run in his 16.3 IP. The Mets did nick up L.A.'s wildcard run a tad, as requested here. And Roger Cedeno's hitting .280! (His OBP is only .333, but what can you expect for a mere $4.875M?

Look for this proud roar of ferocious play to fade to a quiet whimper of exposed inexperience just as Leo the Lion fades into Virgo the Virgin. Flexing their collective muscles against the lower tiers of the NL West is one thing; if they can do it against the playoff-caliber NL East opponents, it'll be something far greater. The next two weeks are a redux of that late May fortnight against Atlanta and Philadelphia which was supposed to make or break the Mets' season. (What a bust -- New York went 7-5 and it still signaled the end of the 2003 team.) The Phillies are in the heat of the wild card race, currently tied for the lead with Florida, and they'll be fighting for every win. Meanwhile, the Braves are killing the ball, they've got the shoo-in Cy Young in John Smoltz or Russ Ortiz (though if Kevin Brown had even trace amounts of run support, he'd get the nod) and they're just running away with it. It won't be easy, by any means, but it would just be so nice to beat up on these teams. Hell, it's always gratifying to beat the stinkin' Braves. If nothing else, start a brawl with those bastards. Meanwhile, playing spoiler to the Phils would give a little meaning to this otherwise lame-duck season.

Oh, yeah, and let's not forget: there's beer on the line in them there Mets/Phillies games.
Um, are the Mets still playing?

I mean, are they?
Game 131 - Red Sox, or Pedro's Getting Angry

Red Sox 8, Mariners 1
Record: 76-55
AL East: 5 GB NYY
Wild Card: T1 - Oak/Sea

Very quickly, this game was Exhibit 248,013 for the defense in the case of Pedro vs. the Boston Media. As I've stated before, Pedro is a big-time, big-game stud. He is arrogant, macho, headstrong, sensitive, proud, and makes no bones about it. In recent days, he's blown up over media-driven insinuation that his recent illness was not as bad as reported, that he should have pitched through it. He's reported to have said, "I'm going to make my $17.5 million and get out of here" after next season.

Long story short, he was pissed off yesterday, and took it out on the Mariners - with the help of his good buddy David Ortiz. Lesson, as always, don't get Pedro fired up, or you (meaning the opposition) will pay for it.

I really don't give a damn what he said, and only care a little about what he does after his contract expires at the end of the 2004 season. More precisely, I'll worry about that day when it comes. All I want from Pedro right now is for him to take the ball every 5th day and dominate like only he can. And if it takes the idiots in the Red Sox press corps to give him the motivation to do that, then drive on, moron train.