Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Game 27 - Mets

Cardinals 13, Mets 4
Record: 11-16

Well, I was already typing bits about déjà vu from last night when Vance Wilson hit a home run with two gone in the 9th that did nothing but spoil a hundred obnoxious headlines. Two batters prior, Mo Vaughn had enabled the quips to begin when he hit a monstrous 466-foot bomb into the upper deck. To their credit, the Cardinals fans gave him a standing ovation. Of course, courtesy is a smidgen easier when the victory is already in hand, but I feel sure he got more applause in Busch Stadium than he would have received in Shea, at least the non-sarcastic kind.

As predicted in this column, our Pedro was no match for Woody Williams. While the Wood-man threw what should have been seven shutout innings (save for J.D. Drew's Met-like outfield play), Astacio gave up four taters and nine runs in four innings and gave away most of the game before it really got going. When you surrender a solo shot, a 2-run shot, and a 3-run shot in the first 10 batters you face, you ruin it for the rest of the guys on the team -- and even moreso for me sitting at home! I get settled in for an evening of baseball watching (upwards of 10 games on the DirecTV slate) and 15 minutes in I know the one game I want to follow most closely is done. It vaguely reminded me of when my associate Mr. Russell hunkered down with a bottle of rum intending to watch a Sox-A's playoff game, made himself an unwise, alcohol-related wager, and was dragged to the shower room and left for dead by the 4th inning. At least in his case he didn't have to witness the eventual dismantling of his team that day.

At least I got to watch one interesting game, coincidentally the Red Sox game. The Sox were handed a gift of a win from Kansas City tonight. The Royals first allowed the tying run to score in the 8th on a wild pitch (after Albie Lopez shook off Brent Mayne four times -- nice head, Albie), then scored twice in the 9th and gave it right back when they hit three, count them, three Sox batters in the bottom of the ninth. That and a couple of hits tied it, but it took a booted grounder to score Manny Ramirez with the winner. I know a little team from Queens that could really use such generous gestures from their opponents, but I suppose luck is something you create sometimes. The Mets would have swung through those 3 HBP's and never given themselves a chance.

Game 26 - Mets

St. Louis Cardinals 13, Mets 3
Record: 11-15

I managed to get home from another softball outing in time to see the Mets, down 5-2, give up eight more runs in the last few innings. They managed to give up more runs -- all of them earned, despite two more errors -- in this one game than our softball team did in two games. Jaime Cerda faced six batters in relief, retiring one, and helped put it out of reach. Watching him walk in a run was reminiscent of the bloodbath Mike Bacsik was a part of Opening Day. Art Howe left him to the wolves that day, and Bacsik is now throwing in my hometown (poorly, at that). I wouldn't be surprised to see Jaime Cerda headed to Norfolk very soon. Speaking of the Tides, is it okay if we change the theme of this site to the Norfolk Tides vs. the Pawtucket Red Sox? Currently the Tides are 14-9 while the PawSox are 13-9. And the Yankees' Columbus Clippers are in the league cellar.

The Mets are now 5 games out of 1st place. The Cardinals, who looked so shabby against the Braves last week, are now getting healthy on this team. And unless the Pedro Astacio vs. Woody Williams matchup tonight isn't the mismatch I'm expecting, it looks like the Mets will finish the first month the same way they started it.
Game 26 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Kansas City Royals 2
Record: 17-9

The baseball season has begun to settle into a comfortable rhythm, after the hype of Opening Day and the burst of excitement that comes with the beginning of every season. There are a lot of games that just slip by quietly, like leaves on a fast-moving stream, and don't leave much mark on my consciousness. This game was like that. Sox overcame a 2-0 deficit, created in part by Trot Nixon's wild flailing that turned a routing single into an inside-the-park homer by Carlos Beltran. The offense, led by Nomar, kept churning, scoring 3 times in the 5th and 8th innings to back Tim Wakefield. All in all a nice, tidy, quick victory - coupled nicely with Roger Clemens getting pounded by the Mariners.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Mets 25-Game Checkup - Awful Early But It's Awful Early

Here's a question to pair with the one in the equivalent section of the Sox Checkup -- why does it feel like the Mets should be more than 5 games back of the Red Sox? Granted, 5 games back after 25 games doesn't bode well statistically for my bet (at this rate, the Mets will finish 32.5 games behind Boston, and I will finish many beers behind my friend), but for all of the debacles this short season has had in store for the Mets, it just seems like it should be worse. I think when this team has been good, has looked decent, but when it has been bad, it has looked very, very, very, very bad. In the win-loss column, those circus-act losses (yesterday's disaster, the Benitez blow-ups, that nine-inning collective of stank known as Opening Day) count no more than the ho-hum wins. Does that same math apply in the team morale department? Three wins in a row, 7 wins out of 10, and there was little fanfare; two horrid outings in one day and there are a thousand derogatory articles that aren't worth the paper they're written on (especially the online ones). The New York media has always fallen into this pattern, and players at least acknowledge in theory that this is to be expected, comes with the territory, yadda yadda yadda. But the effect may be just as draining in Queens as it is in Boston.

Ultimately, though, it's on the players to get it in gear, and the thing is, even if you're piecing together a win here and there to go with some miserable defeats, if you look bad doing it, you aren't going to instill any faith or confidence that you'll be able to string anything together in the long term. And bleak outlooks make for bad copy. Here goes what I anticipate to be a lopsided checkup:

The Good

1. This team can win. Tom Glavine and Al Leiter can be a strong 1-2 punch. Armando Benitez can close out games and be dominant. The offense, while stagnant for much of this year, has shown a few flashes, and if they could just time them better they'd notch more victories. I know a "they can win" seems pretty basic, but the truth is that some teams in this league actually cannot win on a regular basis. And even though the Mets have looked bad, they still have enough talent hiding in there somewhere that it frustrates you. And in April, frustration beats hopelessness by a mile.

2. They are proving to be a likeable group despite the obvious obstacles in the way of that trend. There are no Cal Ripkens on this team, but they seem to be a group of pretty good guys, with enough Leiters, Piazzas, and Glavines to lead them in the right direction. Art Howe seems like a guy they want to play for, and scrappy young guys like Ty Wigginton are a welcome sight. Given that even fan favorites like Boomer Wells and Nomar are losing a little image, and especially given who the Mets rosters of a handful of years ago included (Rickey, Bobby Bo, et al), we'll take these guys. Too bad we lost Fonzie; Franco needs to come back fast.

3. The Detroit Tigers. They are the poster children for the aforementioned teams that cannot win, as evidenced by our implementation of the Tigers Watch:

Current Record: 3-20
Winning Percentage: .130
Projected Wins: 21
Odds of Finishing Worse Than the '62 Mets: 40/60

Batting Avg: .179 Opponents: .280
Runs/game: 2.3 Opponents: 5
Total Bases: 187 Total Strikeouts: 163
Team HR's: 10 MLB Leader: 10 (Jeff Bagwell)

With Detroit setting new lows in losing and inept hitting, the Mets can't feel all that bad. That could be a bad thing. The Mets are only hitting .229 themselves. Thank goodness for the Tigers.

The Bad

1. The lack of offense is killing me. When they do hit, they leave men on. They don't steal bases. They don't advance runners, they don't hit with two outs, they don't scratch out runs. What do they do? Strike out. A lot. 190 times thus far, well more than those same lowly Detroit Tigers. Swinging, looking, looking like they're swinging. Guessing fastball, guessing curveball, guessing they'll just take a seat in the dugout. They swing at balls in the dirt, balls over their head, and ball four all the time. K's are killer, and this team racks them up like no other.

2. The defense has been shaky at best. They punt, kick, and pass balls all over the infield. Mike Piazza, God love him, tries to throw out basestealers and throws the ball into centerfield or the pitcher's mound 75% of the time. The outfield has the legs of aging veterans and the instincts of rookies. Giving away runs is not something this offense can afford.

3. Armando Benitez is simply going to cost the team wins. Flat out. The statistics lie, the New York fans do not. Most of us cannot endure the call to the pen that brings him in, and we don't need any more angst.

4. The division is all playing too well. The Expos and Marlins continue to play over their heads while the Phils look like a team that hasn't yet hit its stride. The Braves are starting to look annoying solid. What happened to remaining in playoff contention merely by virtue of the intra-division schedule?

The Ugly

The thing that just gets to you upon watching inning after inning is the enormous lack of fundamentals on this team. Bad fielding, impatient hitting, the inability to bunt a guy over or turn the double play when it matters most -- these are things to iron out in spring training. And yet we're here, staring in disbelief at a team sorely missing some basic principles.

In a nutshell, offense terrible, pitching okay, chemistry okay, media the same old bad. Not much of an assessment, but here's the silver lining. It's still technically only April, they've won some games I didn't expect them to, and there is still hope for the NL East to crumble. Turn things around a little and those 83 wins aren't all that out of reach. And hey, the Mets have two pitchers with more wins than Pedro Martinez!
Red Sox 25-Game Checkup - The Curse of Great Expectations

We arrive at the 25-game mark with the Sox cruising along at a sparkling 16-9 clip, one game clear in the Wild Card race, 4 games behind the best start in Yankees' history. So why does it feel like they haven't played particularly well? I submit that the Nation expected this team to be very good, and every game that is lost to a Tampa Bay or a Baltimore, or even a Texas feels like a kick in the teeth, while every win - even against the defending World Series champ - is what should happen, so no big deal. That, and the media has spent the first month of the season blasting away at all manner of contrived failings - from pitching to politics to contract squabbles - which has resulted in perception far distant from reality.

Here goes, then - one man's opinion on the season to date:

The Good

1. The offense is really, really good, and several big-time players haven't even hit their stride yet. The Sox are second in the AL in runs scored, averaging nearly 6 per game, and third in the league in OPS, behind only the Yankees and the surprising Royals. They've done this despite Nomar batting .252 with only 13 RBI, Johnny Damon struggling in the low .240s, and Manny only hitting 4 HR and driving in a respectable but not Manny-esque 18. David Ortiz and Jeremy Giambi - brought on board for offense - are hitting .204 and .125 respectively (though Giambi does have an OBP over .300 because he's walked a bunch).

Shea Hillenbrand leads the AL in RBI with 25. Kevin Millar, though cool over the last week, knocked the cover off the ball in the season's first 15 games, and is still batting .299 with 5 HR and 17 RBI. Trot Nixon's been on base a ton, Todd Walker and Bill Mueller have delivered timely hits, and even Damian Jackson has pitched in with four stolen bases in limited action. The Sox will hit with anyone this year and promise to score even more runs as Nomar and Manny pick up the pace in the middle of the order.

2. Pedro es muy macho. Or, better said, Pedro is Pedro. Setting aside for the moment one awful outing against Baltimore, Pedro is 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA. He's given up three earned runs in 36 innings. Even with the Baltimore outing, he's 2-1, 2.90. With just a teensy bit of bullpen support, he'd be 4-1. The Sox have a better than 80% chance to win every time he pitches, which is a comforting feeling.

3. Casey Fossum has shown enough to create cautious optimism. The young left-hander upon whom the Sox placed a great deal of pressure - intentional or not - has a 2-1, 3.94 mark, with 27 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. He went 7 shutout innings in his last start, against the scrappy, disciplined Angels. If he continues to progress, the Sox could have a dominant rotation (of course, assuming Mr. Lowe wakes up from his coma - see below).

4. Not to be overly sentimental, but this team's chemistry is worth noting. This team will face distractions from the media all season, and will be under a lot of pressure from an expectant fan base. I am a strong believer in the value of team chemistry, and think that lesser teams can achieve great things if they are focused and believe in one another. Look no further than last year's Angels or the 2001-2002 New England Patriots for evidence.

Watching the game last night, the Sox looked loose (when Millar crashed into Varitek on a foul popup, the catcher pantomimed a handshake to say, "Hi. I'm Jason. Nice to meet you.", and the two laughed heartily. Nomar and Shea, and Damon and Manny were caught on camera laughing easily with each other more than once. Several players gave Manny bear hugs after his first-inning homer, and several players also hugged Pedro after he was lifted from the game (David Ortiz' hug, frankly, was a little too lingering for my taste).

There's a fine line between cameraderie and lack of seriousness, and today's easy laughter may be seen as tomorrow's lack of caring, but I believe that the Sox are a close, focused team that will deal well with pressure. It's interesting that Nomar was in the middle of most of the hugs, because he's been panned by the media for lacking leadership skills. He may not be a rah-rah guy, but I like him as the tactiturn, actions-speak-for-me, judge-me-on-the-field-not-in-the-press-room, leader of this team.

The Bad

1. As much as I hate it, you can't talk about the Sox season without mentioning the bullpen. I'm on the record as supporting the idea of using your best arms when you need outs, and not saving any one guy for specific 9th inning closer duties. And, to be fair, the Sox have only lost one game because the bullpen blew a save (they've had lots of wins after the bullpen blew up, so they've been lucky). However, at some point, the psychological impact of poor bullpen performance has to wear the team down. Starting pitchers will feel more pressure if they don't trust the bullpen; the offense will press harder to score; and fielders will take chances they might not otherwise if they have no faith in the relief corps. The cumulative effect of a 5.95 ERA and numerous shaky outings has to be a negative.

I'm not ready to throw in the towel and advocate a more "traditional" approach with set roles, but the bullpen simply must pitch better or the Sox' chances will be diminished. Alan Embree comes back soon, and Robert Person gets out of extended spring training soon, as well, so all the arms will be in place. Now, they need to get the team's trust back.

2. D-Lowe D-Blows. Derek Lowe was 21-8, 2.58 in 2002. He threw a no-hitter against Tampa Bay, and averaged 6.9 innings per start. After 5 starts in 2003, the lanky (and flaky) righthander is 3-2, 6.04 and averaging just over 5 innings per start. He was shellacked by Texas in his last outing, and has seemed distracted all season. He, more than any other Sox player, has been outspoken about the Great Bullpen Experiment, and, if history is any guide, he is a very sensitive, easily flustered athlete. The bullpen issue may be impacting him in exactly the manner described above. Whatever the issue with our Derek, he needs to right the ship. When he's on, the Sox have the league's best 1-2 starters. When he's off, the Sox get a whole lot more vulnerable.

3. The Yankees are on freaking fire. New York is 20-5, the best start in the history of their storied franchise. Their starting pitchers finally lost their first decision yesterday. They are averaging 6.8 runs a game, and allowing 3.5 (Good Lord). They've done all of this without Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. All of which shouldn't be an issue, because it's a looong season, and they have a very old starting rotation and some serious question marks in the bullpen. I raise this point, though, because the pinstriped shadow looms large over everything the Sox do. Realistically, all the Sox need to do is make the playoffs, but they will be compared to the Yankees regardless of what happens, so New York's blistering start paints the Sox pretty good start in an unflattering light.

The Ugly

1. The media makes it less and less fun for me to follow the Sox, so I can't imagine how it feels to be a player. Look at the first two paragraph's of Bob Hohler's game story this morning. Totally gratuitous shots at Pedro and the bullpen, reflexive and knee-jerk, and without any redeeming qualities. This will be more and more of a story as the season wears on.

In a nutshell, offense good, pitching bad, chemistry good, media really bad. Fix the pitching, continue to hit, ignore the media and 100 wins are within reasonable expectations.

Games 21 through 25 - Mets

Mets 4, Astros 2
Mets 7, Astros 4
Mets 4, Arizona Diamondbacks 3
Diamondbacks 6, Mets 1
Diamondbacks 7, Mets 3
Record: 11-14

For the first time this season, I went a few games without closely following the results of my beloved Mets. New Orleans will do that to you. And just when I thought I might be a jinx after they'd rattled off a few wins without me, they had a Sunday afternoon like yesterday's. Yikes. A doubleheader swept by the D-backs during which the Mets scored just 4 runs but committed 8 errors while striking out 27 times.

Although I am overdue for comment, I will leave it at that. The Crescent City does nothing to spark thoughts of baseball (some might argue it dulls thoughts of all kinds). The AAA Zephyrs are baseball down there. I caught snippets of the NBA & NHL playoffs plus the NFL draft on televisions perched over various bars, but the only baseball I saw was a half-inning of the Red Sox' 16-5 drubbing, which Mr. Russell is only too happy to have me bring up again. And the sad bottom line is that when your team is stuck in last place and embarrassing themselves on a semi-regular basis, a brief respite from the day-to-day angst is a vacation indeed. Now I'm back to following the ups, downs, and way-downs of this ballclub. And speaking of up, I will try to look for positives throughout this potentially miserable season. Here is today's: no other 5th place team has as many wins as the Mets right now. [Yippee.]
Games 23, 24, and 25 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Anaheim Angels 2
Angels 3, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 6, Angels 4 (14)
Record: 16-9

Pedro's gonna be maaaad. Last night, the Sox ace left the game after 7 strong innings with a 4-2 lead. Two innings later, Brandon Lyon and Chad Fox had messed themselves, and the Sox were lucky to be headed for extra innings. David Ortiz and Jason Varitek hit back-to-back homers in the top of the 14th, and Jason Shiell - in only his second major league outing - shook off a basehit by Benji Gil to record his first major league save.

I watched the first 11 innings of this one before the sandman snuck up on me and dropped me where I sat. I woke up just in time to see the double play that ended that game, which enabled me to go to bed happy. The difference between watching Pedro pitch and suffering through bullpen-thrown innings is immense. I fully expect Pedro to strike out every batter, and I'm surprised any time the opponent gets a hit. Conversely, I fully expect every pitch thrown by any member of the bullpen to get hit out of the park. With Pedro on the hill and a 4-2 lead, I was sure the Sox would win. With Lyon and Fox on the hill and a 4-2 (and then 4-3) lead, I was sure that the Angels would win.

This then, may be the central issue with the Great Bullpen Experiment: while it is extremely logical and sensical in theory, the psychological impact on the team and the pitchers involved may make it impossible in practice. The Crappy Pitcher Corollary states that while logical and sensical in theory, the Sox' main problem is that the lack of talent in the bullpen makes practical execution impossible. If I'm Pedro today, I don't care which it is, but I know that I should damn well be 4-1 right now, instead of 2-1.


The Sox got great pitching in the first two games of the series, with Casey Fossum going 7 shutout innings to record the win in the first game, and John Burkett losing despite a complete game effort in the second. Outings like that from the 4 and 5 starters are a highly positive omen.

Nomar had been mired in the longest hitless streak of his career - 0 for 19 - before rapping two singles in last night's game. The fickle fandom is calling for his head, but I'm taking deep breaths and repeating, "It's only April. It's only April." over and over. Hell, Shea Hillenbrand leads the AL in RBI, and Johnny Damon has as many homers as Manny Ramirez. Remain calm.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Game 22 - Red Sox

Rangers 16, Red Sox 5
Record: 14-8

I'm getting carpal tunnel syndrome as I toggle furiously between and the Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH) Game Thread trying to both "watch" the game and see the interaction between Sox fans in the SOSH community. Sox just squandered a golden opportunity, scoring only once after having the bases loaded with no outs, but taking a 4-3 lead in the top of the 3rd.

SOSH is an addictive, elitist, and wildly entertaining Red Sox forum. The denizens are among the most passionate Sox fans I've ever encountered, and they run from brilliant sabermetricians to grizzled old-school baseball fans. The debate on the forum is better than any sports site I've ever encountered, and the participants do not suffer fools gladly - including and especially those in the media. My view of sportswriters and broadcasters has been drastically altered for the worse since I discovered SOSH some 2 years ago. Sports journalists pander to the lowest common denominator, and rare is the exception who passes on the easy target to lend some clarity and thoughtfulness to the subject matter. I read them uncritically until SOSH, where I found a group of people who didn't let sloppy research and biased reporting slide.

Lowe just loaded the bases with nobody out on two walks and a single. Sweet. He's having another terrific outing. And...there's a triple by Carl Everett. Neat. 6-4 Rangers, bottom of the 3rd.

Ugh. 7 runs for the Rangers in the bottom of the 3rd. 10-4 Texas after 3. Why do I bother? I'm going to go stick a fork into my scrotum - it's sure to be more enjoyable than this.

The scrotum forking, as it turns out, was more enjoyable. Texas scored 6 more in the 4th and wound up pasting the Sox. These sorts of games happen all the time, even to good teams, so I'm not really all that concerned about this particular game. I am a bit miffed that they lost two of three to a mediocre Texas team, and that the pitching continues to struggle mightily.

Back on the topic of the media, today brings news that the tension between the Sox and the Boston scribes is so heightened that Nomar went to Grady to discuss it. The Sox have since told the press that they will only answer baseball-related questions. To which Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald responded - in print:

"Growing more distracted and distrustful than ever before, the Red Sox called a team meeting prior to yesterday's game at The Ballpark in Arlington. During that session, the Sox decided they would heretofore engage reporters only on the topic of baseball.

Given those parameters, here is our first baseball question:

Why, fellas, did you go out and play the game today as if you had your heads rammed up your butts?"

How can the Sox read that crap and possibly believe that the Boston media isn't out to make them look bad? The Boston media seems to work very hard to make themselves part of the story, which simply contradicts the most basic tenet of journalism. It's bad enough that they write crap like this, but when it begins to impact the Sox' concentration and performance, team management should step in and aggressively defend the players.
Game 21 - Red Sox

Rangers 6, Red Sox 1
Record: 14-7

Every team seems to have games like this one (well, every team but the 2003 Yankees). Can't get anything going, give up a few runs here and a few there, and by the end find themselves on the wrong end of the score. Sort of a blah game - I can't muster up any righteous indignance this early in the season. Get 'em next time.

Which brings me to today's game, which is going on at this very moment - live via the magic of the internet. It's highly unlikely that I'll get any work done this afternoon. Currently, it's 1-0 Sox, but the Rangers have two runners on with one out in the bottom of the first. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Game 20 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Texas Rangers 4
Record: 14-6

A bit of a heartstopper, this one. Glad I missed the whole thing while playing softball with the venerable 3 Angry Men and 10 Married Guys franchise in the Vienna Men's Softball Association. Pedro staked the team to a 5-1 lead, pitching seven innings of two-hit, no earned-run ball, despite walking a career-high six batters. Mike Timlin then self-immolated, giving up three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning to make the score 5-4 in the 8th. Chad Fox came in, somehow got out of the 8th despite walking the first two batters he faced, then faced Rafael Palmeiro with two outs and one on in the bottom of the 9th.

Right about this time, I walked into my living room and turned on the TV to see Palmeiro golf a low slider on the same sickening arc that Tampa's Carl Crawford golfed Fox's offering in the Game 1 loss. Luckily, Raffy didn't get enough of the ball, and it settled into Trot Nixon's glove on the warning track to end the game. Phew. Pedro might've suffered an aneurysm if the bullpen had blown another one for him.

Meanwhile, in Anaheim, the Yankees pasted another supposed contender, dropping the Angels by an 8-3 count. I'm thisclose to changing my philosophy and rooting for the Yankees to win every game they play, except those against Boston. By my reckoning, this will be good for the Sox, because it will cause harm to the Wild Card chances of every other team. Clearly, the league has decided that they can't beat the Yankees, so why fight it if they don't plan to? I'll take my chances with Pedro and Lowe pitching 5 times in a 7-game series against the Yanks' collection of geriatric starters at the end of a long season.
Game 20 - Mets

Houston Astros 6, Mets 2
Record: 8-12

This could be a long, painful stretch of the season. Over the next nine days, the Mets face the Astros, Diamondbacks, and Cardinals, all teams clearly better than the Mets, even if their records aren't exactly brilliant at the moment. Last night was a return to the weak-hitting version of your New York Mets. David Cone left early with a hip injury. Jeromy Burnitz got hit in the hand by a pitch, broke a bone, and is out 4-6 weeks. And the result was another loss.

Meanwhile, every other NL East team won last night. On that note, I am starting to have a little more respect for this division than in seasons past. It used to be the Braves plus four rosters of crap, but if you take the time to look at these clubs, you can see that they're far better than, say, the dregs of the AL East. While this division has no Yankees or Red Sox, it also has no Orioles or Devil Rays, either. The Marlins and Expos garner no respect because they are low revenue, low payroll franchises with a number of no-names on the roster. But they each have strong, young pitching (the O's and Rays would kill for Beckett/Burnett/Penny or Armas/Vazquez/Ohka) and a handful of talented hitters (I-Rod/Castillo/Lowell and Vidro/Guerrero/Cabrera). Frankly, these are the types of clubs baseball fans should love, but nobody in Miami or Montreal really cares. At the same time, the Phils are markedly improved with the addition of Jim Thome alone, but add in Kevin Millwood, David Bell, a healthier Mike Leiberthal and a more patient Jimmy Rollins, and you have a division contender. As for the Braves . . . as much as I would love to be able to write them off after the idiotic personnel moves and tough injuries, there's no chance. This team has righted itself and is back to winning 7 out of every 10 games. Annoying as hell, but fact. Clearly, the National League East is no cakewalk.

Especially for a sloppy, aging team like the Mets. The previous paragraph depresses me when I compare those teams to mine own. The Mets are the outright doormat of the division, and it's looking like last season was no fluke. Every true would-be star on this team is past his prime, with a few solid guys thrown in to supplement. Then there are the obviously overmatched guys that take the heat off the underachieving leaders. And I quote:

"The fans booed Cedeno every time he batted and cheered when he was replaced in the eighth inning by Shinjo. Cedeno went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .177." [Ed. Note: At least the Burnitz injury assures him of more time in the outfield. Sweet.]

I am starting to think predicting 83 wins was an act of purest optimism. Oh, well, I'll be in New Orleans until Monday drowning these woes in Abitas, Bloodys, Hurricanes, & Hand Grenades. Until then . . .

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Highly Irritating Quote of the Day

"I'd like to give you my glove and you go out there and try to pitch to that lineup. I'm thanking God we're in the Central and not the East. That's unbelievable... . Un-be-lievable.", Minnesota Twins pitcher Rick Reed, following the Yankees 15-1 thrashing of the Twinkies, a game in which he gave up 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Continuing the theme developed below about New York's utter and complete intimidation of the Twins, Reed as much as admits that he's afraid of the Bombers. I presume that he'll show the same yellow-bellied cowardice in the face of a Red Sox lineup that is arguably as strong as that of the Yankees. I won't hold my breath waiting for it, though.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Random New Semi-Regular Feature

I know the Detroit Tigers have been bad, but I didn't know how bad until I started looking at their statistics. Through 17 games, all but 1 of them losses, the Tigers are batting .180 with 5 homers and 31 RBI (34 runs scored, all told). Their OPS is .492. Point four nine two!!! They are dead last in the majors in batting average, OPS, runs scored (the next lowest total is 64!), hits, doubles, homers, and (obviously) RBI. Their leading hitter among regulars, SS Ramon Santiago, is batting .255, and only two other regulars are batting over .200 (the wildly overrated Bobby Higginson at .238 and Carlos Pena at .204.)

They can't stay this bad all season, can they? I mean, really, can they? We'll track their progress in this space:

Current Record: 1-16
Winning Percentage: .058
Projected Wins: 10 (rounding up, compassionately)
Odds of Finishing Worse Than the '62 Mets: 50/50

Off-Day Chatter

This extravaganza of baseball viewing my sister and brother-in-law have subjected me to has been way beyond a better way to follow the Mets. True, it may cost me my marriage, but it has been amazing thus far. One of the more interesting perks has been the exposure to announcers, promo spots, and even local ads of markets outside this one. There is a reason Joe Morgan and Jon Miller are hired by ESPN to call games twice a week -- they're about the best guys going; still, mixing it up is the way to go, and this Extra Innings package does that expertly. Different games within a series may flip-flop the coverage of home and visiting announcers. Plus, the local broadcasts of any given team may vary across several different stations with their own crews. A few thoughts on these baseball bonuses encountered thus far:

-- [Starting back at home] Jim Palmer and Michael Reghi were much better served by the presence of Mike Flanagan last year. They're decent, but his raspy potshots were better. Too bad he disappeared to the abyss known as the Orioles front office.
-- You'd think the megabucks YES Network would have a better voice. Play-by-play guy Michael Kay comes off like any old jackass Yanks fan, and Paul O'Neill is pretty wooden. Ken Singleton's solid, but he was a Met, for Pete's sake. Jim Kaat is good, but he's only been on once since I've been tuning in. In another chapter of Saw That Joke Coming Down Madison Avenue, just say no to YES.
-- Without a doubt the pleasant surprise of the young season is Boston commentator Jerry Remy. The wry, dry humored former Red Sox second baseman is much better than his NESN straight man Don Orsillo, and a significant improvement over the ordinary tandem of Sean McDonough and Bob Montgomery who called games during my summers on Cape Cod. It helps that Remy is a Mass native -- he comes off like a (very knowledgeable) local and therefore crass Sawx fan in an industry filled with dime-a-dozen ex-jocks and unmemorable broadcasting school grads.
-- It seems like some of the worst teams have the best guys in the booth. I have heard good supplemental commentary from the crews of the Marlins, Pirates, Devil Rays, and, yes, the Mets.
-- It's darkly humorous to watch the Detroit Tigers promotional ads right about now. They're 1-16 or so and still run those goofy ads where the guys look tough and talk about the new season and how they're going to dominate. The Yankees can get away with these things, as they're dominant and essentially cheesy in both roster and fan base. The Tigers . . . not so much.
-- Low budget local ads -- it's great to see these have not gone away. Sullivan's Tires outside of Boston is running some beauties on NESN.
-- The Braves' Skip Caray is probably the most imitated voice among the bunch. You know you've done it.
-- Vin Scully of the Dodgers is still about the best out there. Timeless.
-- Finally, the Mets. I mentioned the stellar, snide work of Keith Hernandez a few days ago. I usually catch Healy and Ted Robinson, though when it's Tom Seaver it's much better. And Kiner is good for a few unintentional laughs (he's the Mets' version of Phil Rizzuto), but he is seriously slipping. All in all, the Mets' crew is pretty strong, and much better than the Yanks.

And it's still just April. Take note, gift-givers -- this is the one that keeps on giving.
Game 19 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 11, Red Sox 6
Record: 13-6

Blame John Burkett for this one. The Sox No. 5 starter imploded this morning, allowing 7 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings and putting the Sox in a hole even the prolific offense couldn't escape. The bats battled back to within 9-6, but a few popups and weak grounders ended the rally, and with it, the seven-game winning streak. Manny showed some signs of life, rapping 4 singles in 5 trips to the plate. Let's hope that presages a patented 6-week Manny tear, during which no ball is safe.

I'm more resigned than bitter about this one. They were bound to stumble eventually, and a seven-game run is pretty sweet. The Twins aren't making this any easier though, politely handing their genitals to the Yankees in the midst of a 9-0, 5th inning asskicking (Edit - while I've been typing this, the Yankees added 2 more. What a bunch of candy-asses, these Twins). One bright spot about the Yankee start is the Derek Jeter, aka the World's Most Overrated Athlete, has been out for the whole season. Now, when he comes back, and the Yankees come back to earth, the "Derek Jeter is a special person" crowd will have a really hard time explaining why the team played so well without him.

The Sox go on the road for three against the Rangers. Texas can hit like crazy, but their pitching staff is brutal. Pedro faces Chan Ho Park tomorrow - the same Chan Ho Park that asked out of the season opener because he didn't want the pressure of an opening day start. If Pedro's warrior mentality doesn't make Park run screaming from the, um...park, I'll be flabbergasted.
Game 19 - Mets

Mets 7, Marlins 4
Record: 8-11

Don't look now, but the New York Metropolitans have won two series in a row. I mean it, don't look now, because they were against the Pirates and Marlins with the Astros and D-backs getting ready to come to town. But you have to win the winnable games, and with the exception of these all-too-regular Benitez blow-ups, they are starting to do that. Tommy Glavine had another fine outing, Roger Cedeno finally did something that didn't make me kick the couch (a pair of clutch singles scoring tying and go-ahead runs), and Mo Vaughn made up for two errors with a two-run base hit to widen the gap and keep Benitez in the bullpen. Mike Stanton gave up a meaningless homer just to raise his ERA to 5.40 and make you wonder, and the flurry of K's continued for the Mets' batsmen (9 more), but it was a solid win, which was definitely necessary after Saturday's debacle. Monday is an off-day and David Cone goes against Tim Redding on Tuesday night. The pitching match-ups for all three games against Houston are nightmarish, but you never know what these crazy, mixed-up Mets are capable of coming up with on any given night. 8-11, still in last place but just 3 back of the division leading . . . Expos? [Keep an eye on the Braves, they are surging.]

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Game 18 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5
Record: 13-5


Great, great win. Sox spot the Jays a 5-0 lead behind stud righthander Roy Halladay, and scrap back with 2 in the 6th, and 3 in the 7th, tying the game on Nomar's two-run double to left. In the top of the 9th, Nomar smoked a 1-2 offering from Cliff Politte into the Monster seats, capping the comeback and giving the Sox a walk-off win. This was a character effort all the way around. Casey Fossum scuffled for six innings, but managed to keep the game close to set up the comeback. Mendoza and Timlin pitched three innings of hitless relief, extending the bullpen's scoreless streak to 13 1/3 innings. Every batter in the starting lineup got at least one hit, and the Sox never gave up. Really, really impressive victory. And yes, I know I keep repeating words over and over.

I may have a "lunch meeting" tomorrow at my friend Whitney's house where the Patriot's Day game may "happen" to be on the TV. If we could get the supposedly contending Minnesota Twins to stop acting like they owe the Yankees money - "no, really, fuck my wife, be my guest" - we could make some progress in the division.
Games 16 and 17 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 3
Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 2
Record: 12-5

In marked contrast to the Mets rollercoaster, the Sox train seems to have found a nice, smooth groove over the past week. I shudder to type that, as it will nearly certainly result in a massive, multi-car pileup, but it's true for the moment. Yesterday's easy, routine, bloodless win over the reeling Jays makes it 6 straight for the good guys, and featured 4 shutout innings by the bullpen. Today's Washington Post featured the following headlines within 10 inches of one another: "Bosox Committee Has to be Saved From Itself", and "Red Sox Win 6th Straight Game". I mean, seriously, which one is it? One more time, with feeling: yes, the bullpen hasn't pitched well, but they HAVEN'T BLOWN A SINGLE 9TH INNING LEAD. (Edit for selective memory - the Sox did give up 5 runs in the 9th in the season opener, but it hasn't happened since. Sue me.) As my friend so eloquently notes below, Armando Benitez himself has squandered four 9th inning leads.

An afternoon tilt with the Jays today, followed by the annual Patriot's Day contest tomorrow will make for some fun channel and internet surfing over the next two days. Tomorrow's game is a traditional 11:05 start, which serves several purposes: New Englanders get to drink in a sanctioned environment even earlier than usual, and Kenmore Square becomes the world's biggest Big Crowded Butthole (BCBH) immediately after the Sox game ends, as 35,000 semi-plastered revelers mix with the crowd that's gathered to see the Boston Marathon - right as the leading runners enter Kenmore. If you love humanity pressed against humanity, the stink of hot, drunk breath, and standing in one place with no hope of moving for 3 hours, it's your kind of scene.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Game 18 - Mets

Marlins 6, Mets 5
Record: 7-11

That's it. That's it. You only get so many chances, period. Armando Benitez has now blown his 4th save in 3 weeks. The saves he has registered have been shaky at best. Take those 4 potential wins -- were they wins, we'd be in 1st place. It's a damn tough position Art Howe is in to have to bench the incumbent closer, but his future depends upon it, and he sure as hell would have the support of the masses. Trade that bastard to the freakin' Devil Rays and be done with him. Enough already.
Game 17 - Mets

Mets 6, Marlins 3
Record: 7-10

Tony Clark has now hit as many home runs with the Mets as he hit for the Red Sox all last year, and for a fraction of the price. Not that he won't suck as time wears on, but for now, that's nice to say. Tonight he stepped in in a pinch-hitting role -- and let it be said that he was ice cold, called in at the last possible second -- and jacked a three-run bomb to break a 3-3 tie and win the game. I must admit that I was miserable in the middle innings, watching the Marlins steal base after base (6 total) off Mike Piazza, speculating that when the Mets and Red Sox were both in 3-2 ballgames that it would go great for the Sox and badly for the Mets. Then Art Howe gave the bat to Clark and not Timo Perrez, and everything just worked out. Brilliant, he is.

The other highlight of the night had to be the surprise announcer. After listening to Ralph Kiner, Fran Healy, et al, for most of the season, this night I heard a pair of different voices for the evening. I listened with strange familiarity to one announcer for a while, then honed in on the abrasive, aggressive voice: his royal highness Keith Hernandez. A couple of Keith Classics: "That, folks, is called Ole!" after Luis Castillo waved at one; "I'd hate to see his Strat-o-Matic card!" after Todd Hollandsworth struck out for the 3rd time in a row. He called them like he saw them and was a breath of fresh air, calling out the Mets who needed it most. I hope to hear him call games again soon.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Game 15 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 0
Record: 10-5

"I want to play my entire career in Boston. I want to win for these fans, because the fans there deserve a championship, one time, because they invest so much of their lives in the Red Sox. I want to win a World Series obviously, but I want it to be in Boston, because when that time comes and the Red Sox are running out in the middle of the field, it may be one of the greatest experiences ever in sports." - Nomar Garciaparra

Have I mentioned that I love Nomar? In the pantheon of my Red Sox heroes, Nomar ranks right up there with Yaz and Marty Barrett. Pedro is in the mix, as well. Nomar gave the quote above last year, in the midst of speculation about whether he might rather play in Southern California, where he grew up. I bring it up now, because 30,000 people jammed Fenway last night, in the middle of the week, in sub-freezing temperatures (28 degrees by game's end) to see the Sox play the Tampa Bay Freaking Devil Rays. There's an obsession with the Red Sox, a pseudo-mystical link between New England and her team that's very hard to put into words. The more, it seems, that the Sox break our hearts, the stronger the bond.

This year's team seems destined to be another that tests the bond, as they have the potential to be very, very good. Pedro recovered last night to toss 7 innings of 2-hit, shutout baseball. He got pummelled in his last start, but other than that off-the-scale outlier, he's pitched 22 innings and given up 1 earned run. Zoinks. The Sox cruised to this win, sweeping the Rays to enter the weekend with a 4-game winning streak. Nobody's bitching about lack of playing time, everyone's getting timely hits (Doug Mirabelli even hit a homer yesterday), and - other than the weather - it's all sunshine and bunny rabbits.
Game 16 - Mets

Mets 7, Pirates 2
Record: 6-10

The sheer beauty that exudes from a game played pretty much precisely the way you had it in your mind's eye all offseason can really make your night. Of course, a puddle of murky pondwater is a beautiful thing in the desert. This brings me back to my associate's contention that the losses do more to drive you crazy than the wins do to get you fired up. It's probably an accurate assessment for Red Sox Nation, but for Mets . . . Township, not so much. The niches these two teams in question currently fill in this league are vastly different. (To say nothing of the diametrically opposed histories of these clubs: one a venerable, storied franchise with never-the-bride misfortune for their last 84 years, the other an upstart bunch of young turks who have managed two for-the-ages titles without ever really paying their dues.) The 2003 Sox are a talented, scrappy, enjoyable-to-watch, legitimate contender whose every misstep hurts their slim chances of overtaking that behemoth from the Bronx. The Mets are an overpaid, undertalented, undisciplined, often painful-to-watch .500 contender who are at times so gawdawful that the impressive victories that come -- and in a 162-game schedule, they will come -- are like rays of sunshine in an otherwise very cloudy sky. Another loss tomorrow will be just another cloud, but this win was a veritable shaft of light. Okay, I'd better abandon this goofy line of imagery before I delve into whether close losses are cumulus clouds and blowouts are cirrus or vice versa . . .

I was glad to be able to watch this one. Jae Seo pitched as if he were a guy you've heard of, keeping the Pirates in check for seven innings. The ever-slipping bullpen gave up 2 in 2, but see how it doesn't matter when you hit? And I can finally, finally give the offense a tip of the cap. Big Mo called them out last night and tonight he put his big-time money where his mouth was. He had 4 hits and 4 RBI, 3 of them coming on a 7th inning double to the opposite field that broke the game open. Piazza tacked on a tape-measure jack for fun, which I am taking as a good sign that he is getting it together. 7 runs, 13 hits, no errors. This is just another night at the ballpark across town, but for the Mets it's a breakthrough. The dugout was all smiles, everyone was relaxed, it was great. Yeah, it should probably be perplexing me that it's taken 16 games to achieve this relatively insignificant threshold, but there will be time for that when I get back to bitching, moaning, groaning, mocking, and shaking my head at these guys. Probably after tomorrow night's games. For now, Let's Go Mets.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Game 14 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 4
Record: 9-5

I flipped to ESPN2 as I waited for my wife to put shoes on our daughter in preparation for a trip to purchase a new barbecue grill (mmm, barbecue). The Bottom Line ticker (Boon or bane? Discuss amongst yourselves.) flashed the score, with the Devil Rays up 3-0 in the bottom of the second. Rey Ordonez had hit his second homerun of the season to stake the Rays to the lead. Those of you keeping track will note that Ordonez has now hit 20% of his career homeruns against the Red Sox, in only 6 games.

Two hours later, I returned from the ill-fated grill-hunting trip and turned back to ESPN2 with trepidation. Sox win, Sox win, Sox win. The good guys plated 4 in the bottom of the 8th, the bullpen pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, and the winning streak stretches to 3. Good times. Very Seinfeldian in that one bad thing was balanced by one good thing all evening.

This evening sees Pedro Martinez looking for his first win of the season. He typically owns the Devil Rays, but this season has been anything but typical for Sox pitchers. The Sox are 9-5, but Pedro's winless, Lowe's only had one good outing, and Manny Ramirez has a worse OPS than Todd Walker. Meanwhile, the Yankees are off to the best start in their franchise's storied history, but they're only 2 games ahead of a Sox team that hasn't really played all that well. To continue my friend's musical analogy, this is one of those Things That Make You Go, Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Game 15 - Mets

Pirates 6, Mets 3
Record: 5-10

Everything right is wrong again, sang They Might Be Giants a long, long time ago. That's the feeling after re-reading my last post while reflecting on this latest game. In truth, there were some positives: Mike Piazza collected his first RBI of the season (his serving a 4-game suspension does not explain away his first RBI coming in Game 15!) with a homer to left; Big Mo hit his 2nd dinger; and the Pirates were the ones who were sloppy defensively, committing three errors to the Mets' none. But for each of the positives there was a corresponding negative: Piazza helped the Bucs manufacture a run by once again proving unable to prevent the stolen base; Vaughn's homer was garbage-time, down four in the bottom of the ninth; and the Mets only turned one of those three errors into a run . . . scoring when Piazza ground into a double play. Speaking of which, for all of the seemingly one-sided glovework, Pittsburgh turned three double plays while the Mets turned zero. And really, the most significant defensive gaffe of the night occurred when defensive replacement Shinjo took a bad angle at a deep fly ball in the bottom of the 8th. (A better play would have ended the inning and gone to the 9th with the Mets down one -- as it was, three runs scored. Not that Mo would have hit that tater off Bucs closer Mike Williams with the game on the line, but it would have been nice for the drama . . . )

How do you collect just 6 hits and 2 walks but leave 10 men on? How does a leadoff man have a .212 on-base percentage? How does a major league ballclub have a .212 batting average? How can you throw Daid Weathers out there every other night and expect his arm not to fall off? Can I write off my future psychiatry bills by simply sending the IRS this URL? Is it a bad sign when I used to flip over to the Tigers game to make myself feel better but now I get confused as to which game is which? These are the questions that keep my mind swimming, just 24 hours after the ship looked to be righted. Everything right is wrong again.
Game 14 - Mets

Mets 3, Pirates 1
Record: 5-9

Whew, the bleeding is clogged a little. As predicted by your local New York Metropolitans Prognosticator, the Mets did not top that lofty 4-run plateau. (Haven't the Red Sox scored 4 or more runs in every game thus far?) Fortunately, thanks to Tom Glavine, errorless defense, a towering two-run tater by Burnitz, and a narrowly averted Benitez déjà vu, the jokers from Queens put one in the W column for the first time in a week. The Baseball Tonight crew discussed the likelihood of an Armando Benitez trade last night, saying it needs to happen and that it's more a question of when he's traded. He's a free agent after this year, and he doesn't handle the pressure of either the notorious New York press or those pesky ninth-inning hitters. The latter is an occupational hazard he has never handled all that well when it mattered, but they'll have to sweep that under the rug when shopping him around. Best-case scenario: Benitez notches a few more saves, hopefully in more impressive fashion than last night, then the Mets deal him to Boston (after Mendoza, Embree, Fox, & Co. enrage the masses from Mass with a few more fumbles) for Trot Nixon or Kevin Millar or a minor leaguer or a lobster roll. Oh, and they can have Mo Vaughn back, too. Between Strickland, Weathers, Stanton, et al, we can find a closer -- or go by committee! That'd go over well in New York, don't you think?

David Cone goes against Jeff Suppan tonight. Suppan has looked sharp thus far. We need to remind him that he's a career 4.98 ERA guy. One positive note from last night's game: only 3 whiffs by the Mets' hitters. And speaking of positive notes, last week Mr. Russell pondered the emotional highs and lows of following the season, and whether the lifts from the wins are as significant as the attitude-altering beat-downs we suffer after losses. All I know is, drop 6 in a row and then get a win, that win is a huge breath of fresh air.
Game 13 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 5
Record: 8-5

First, the good news. Casey Fossum tossed seven innings and only gave up one run, striking out 4 and allowing no walks. He showed a glimpse of his promise and potential, and should have walked away with a win. The bad news, though, was that Ramiro Mendoza gave up 4 runs on 9 PITCHES in the 8th inning, allowing the Rays to tie the game, 5-5. Shea Hillenbrand's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 9th sent the home crowd away happy with a win, but grumbling ever louder about the state of the bullpen.

Mendoza's ERA after this game stands at 16.71. That's not a misprint. Perhaps he's still holding on to vestiges of his Yankeedom, and doesn't know that he's supposed to help the Sox and not destroy them. Maybe, as many are suggesting, he's trying to pitch through some discomfort and it's impacting his delivery. Maybe he's just done. Regardless, the Sox need to shelve him for a while and help him figure out what's wrong, because he is killing the team at the moment.

All these bullpen disasters and the squad is still 8-5. Today I'm in the optimist camp.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Game 13 - Mets

Expos 5, Mets 3
Record: 4-9

Okay, this is pretty much 2002 all over again. The Mets dropped their 6th in a row to complete the 4-game sweep by the San Juan Expos. They had battled back from a 3-0 deficit thanks to a Tony Clark bomb and a Brad Wilkerson error. Then the bullpen lost it again, this time with help from Rey Sanchez's booted grounder and Mike Stanton straining his calf on a spin move (?). David Weathers had been great but couldn't get Fernando Tatis out, the there was no chance of a 9th inning rally, clearly. There has been speculation that Art Howe is using Weathers too much. A guy can only throw so many days in a month. Unless he's Eddie Guardado. Anyway, the players still seem to be saying the right things, which is good in the offseason -- right now we need wins more than clubhouse optimism and upbeat support.

A three-game set in Pittsburgh starts tonight. All bets are off -- the Bucs are playing surprisingly well, the Mets are playing surprisingly (to me, probably not to anyone else) poorly, and I have no idea what will happen. Oh, I do know the Mets likely won't score more than 4 runs. They've only done that once this season (when they scored 5!).

4-9, last place in a crappy division. I think I've seen this one before. Change the channel.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Off Day Retinal Healing

The Boston Red Sox are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, tracing their roots back to the very beginnings of Major League Baseball. The Sox actually won the very first World Series ever, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5 games to 3 (the series was best of 9) in 1903. Fenway Park, the Sox home yard, was built in 1912, and is a monument to baseball history, up to and including the seats that were designed to fit the average American of that era. Everything about the Sox entire history screams old-line, conservative and traditional. Everything, that is, except their new Sunday uniforms.

Excepting a notably misguided period in the mid-70s, the Sox' uniforms have been classic and dignified. I'd put the home whites with subtle red piping and pseudo-Olde English lettering up against any uniform in sports, and the road grays, while a bit on the drab side, reflect the stoic, subdued nature of New Englanders from Woonsocket to Bangor. Imagine the surprise of Red Sox Nation then, when the home nine announced that the team would be following in the marketing-driven footsteps of so many other professional clubs and adopting special Sunday-only home togs.

The Sox had toyed with a short-lived alternate cap a few seasons back, coming out in white lids with blue bills that sent ESPN's Chris Berman (and much of the adult male baseball-loving population) into paroxysms of laughter and derision. I actually own a green cap that's worn every St. Patrick's Day, so I'm not immune to a little fun-loving alteration to the roster of Soxwear. I even understand the need to open up new revenue streams, especially given Fenway's limited seating (and in turn, revenue generating) capacity, and am not categorically opposed to the idea of an alternate jersey - I'm just opposed to the jersey that was chosen.

How do these jerseys suck? Let me count the ways. Okay, there's really only one way - it's the color, a high-octane nod to extreme fashion, a blazing, retina-searing fuchsia that might be appropriate on an Arena football team, but certainly looks out of place on one of sports' most fabled franchises. If the Devil Rays wore these uniforms it would be silly, but less offensive. It's as hideous as those neon green, yellow, and orange Yankee caps that every Eminem wannabe south of the Bronx sports - and at least the Yankees themselves would never deviate from their classic pinstripes and road grays, which is maybe the only nice thing I'll ever say about that franchise.

A humble suggestion, then. If we must have an alternate jersey, let's look for a nobler shade - perhaps the navy blue that makes the caps such a classic. Not black, not teal, and not fuchsia, dammit. In the name of decorum and dignity, drop-ship all the existing red jerseys to the Saddam Fedayeen - they'll make excellent targeting mechanisms - and be done with them in Boston. Thank you for your time.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Games 10, 11, 12 - Mets

Expos 10, Mets 0 (Friday)
Expos 5, Mets 4 (Saturday)
Expos 2, Mets 1 (Sunday)
Record: 4-8

Oh, what a whale of a weekend for the boys in royal blue and orange. I had hoped the Puerto Rico Experiment would be yet another P.R. (no pun intended) nightmare for MLB and their handling of the Expos, but after this trio of entertaining wins, it looks like the greatest thing in San Juan since Ricky Martin. I was unable to catch any of these games, only able to see final scores and disastrous highlights. Game 1 saw David Cone fall back to earth and get hammered while Tomo Stinkin' Ohka two-hit the Mets. Game 2 featured a couple of hideous errors, generally sloppy defensive play, the inability to hit Livan Hernandez, and Cliff Floyd leaving with a strained Achilles tendon. And Game 3 was another Armando Benitez explosion, this time blowing a chance for a 1-0 win when the first batter he faced hit one into the cheapest of cheap seats. Mike Stanton picked up his second loss in the 10th when Puerto Rican born Jose Vidro parked another one. Whatever flimsy training wheels were on this cart have come flying off this weekend.

The only solace in this extended episode of ineptitude was that I spent the weekend with, among others, my Met-loving brother-in-law-to-be. Patrick, who provided me with the means to watch most of these Met games, suffered through the three days of unwatchable (apparently in more ways than one) losses right alongside me. And many a discussion of the woes of this club filled the time. Before leaving today I insisted we desperately needed Al Leiter to throw a dandy of a ballgame this afternoon. If only I'd known I could just order up such things, I'd also have asked for a tad more scoring and a bullpen playing up to its ability. Benitez is killing us, but the lack of offense is a more consistent killer. Roger "I Shall Be Released" Cedeno went 0-for-5 again today, sending his average down to .146. The team is hitting at a .218 clip, they've stolen but one base, they've committed 10 errors and had 10 more plays that should have been errors, and they just look like crap. Art Howe has got to be beside himself. I know I am.

But then . . . we're just one real closer (those three games Benitez blew) behind the Red Sox!
Games 11 and 12 - Red Sox

Orioles 13, Red Sox 6 (Saturday)
Red Sox 2, Orioles 0 (Sunday)
Record: 7-5

Surreal collection of images and events from this weekend. After fighting rain for the better part of 2 days, the Sox finally got their home opener underway on Saturday evening. Pedro Martinez, who'd given up one earned run in his first 15 innings, was pasted by the Orioles, giving up a career-high 10 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. This effort came on the heels of Pedro-induced controversy after the flaky Dominican had popped off to the media about his contract hours after the Sox had exercised their option to extend his contract through 2004 at a cool $17.5 million. Whitebread Boston was in an uproar, the flames fanned by Dan Shaugnessy and his tribe of bitter, acerbic hacks. Let me be very clear about this. Pedro can say and do anything he wants between starts, so long as he continues to bring it when it counts. His is an electric presence, raising the bar every time he pitches. His six-inning no-hit effort in relief against the Indians in the 1999 playoffs, while nursing an injured shoulder, counts as one of the most goosebump-inducing, magical performances of my career in fandom. That game alone buys Pedro an open license to speak his mind, misdirected though he may be. He is, very simply, the best pitcher I've ever seen, and arguably the best pitcher in the history of baseball.

I had prepared to pen some language about the black cloud that seems to be following this team in the event that they lost today's game. And I nearly had to use it after Tim Wakefield let the first two runners aboard in the top of the 9th, and then went 3-1 on Jay Gibbons. A strikeout, popout, and groundout later, and the home team had pulled out a hard-earned win. I watched the last two innings in bizarre fashion. The game was telecast on a local independent station, and the audio feed had been switched with a bluegrass radio program. I listened to the tinny strum of banjos and the nasal twang of West Virginian singers for a good 30 minutes while watching the Sox in their electric red new Sunday uniforms. (We'll save these uniforms for another day, but they are worth a few paragraphs, at least.) I daresay that I've never watched a game under similar conditions.

Twelve games into the season, and they have me highly puzzled. The optimist says that they haven't pitched well at all, and they're still 7-5, so if the arms come around, the sky is the limit. The doubter insists that the arms never will come around, and the bats can't carry the team all year, and oh-by-the-way the Yankees are 9-2. Many miles to go before we sleep, and they may well be bumpy ones.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Bleh. Opening Day is washed out by rain, which may be a blessing in disguise, because Pedro's arm may have fallen off if he tried to pitch in raw, blustery, wet conditions. Perhaps a double-header tomorrow, although the weather is supposed to remain dismal through most of the day. Ah, baseball in April.
Game 10 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 7
Record: 6-4

I have a question for my compadre in this effort: which emotion is stronger for you, elation after a Mets win or depression after a loss? For me, the most prominent feeling I have after a win is relief, while losses just kill me. What does that say about me, or sports fans in general? Do we follow sports for the range of emotions they evoke, a range that lets us test the boundaries of our own emotions without really getting hurt? Living and dying through our sports loyalties is a pale echo of the real pain and suffering in the world, but it all seems very real and important while we're participating in it. I know this to be true: my heartrate gets elevated, my senses heightened when I'm really into an athletic competition, even as a spectator. I don't have many other pursuits that bring the same sense of being in the moment.

Sox took an 8-4 lead into the 9th last night on the strength of 2 Johnny Damon taters and a big day from Trot Nixon, only to watch Mike Timlin lead us to the brink of disaster before recording the final out. After 10 games, all on the road, the Sox have a winning record, and lead the league in runs scored, as well as cardiac moments. Opening Day at the Fens is this afternoon - actually, in about 12 minutes - as Pedro looks for some run support after two terrific outings have been wasted.
Game 9 - Mets

Marlins 4, Mets 3
Record: 4-5

Peter Gammons is once again going to have to start spewing stats to prove how good Armando Benitez is. This game was won, and he lost it. He and David Weathers and Roger Cedeno and a few others, but mainly just him. You can't open up the bottom of the ninth by allowing a single and a double and expect to have much of a chance.

Glavine pitched five shutout innings, and the Mets got long homers (solo shots, naturally) from Ty Wigginton and Cliff Floyd. They also plated one other run in the 4th -- of course, they had bases loaded and one run in with nobody out but fanned three times in a row. (11 more strikeouts for the hitters. Unbelievable.) So it was a 3-0 lead going into the 8th. With Weathers pitching, CF Cedeno played a single into a triple. The fundamentals of protecting a lead, Chapter 1. Weathers then took a comebacker off the foot and had no play, so that run scored. On the next play, Weathers was credited with an error for a pickoff throw gone awry, but the replay showed that defensive replacement 1B Jay Bell just kind of waved at it. Predictably, this came back to haunt the Mets, as the runner advanced to third and home on groundouts. Benitez came in to get the last two outs of the 8th, and he looked strong.

I probably am wasting space and digital energy (energy in my digits) when I type that the Mets went 1-2-3 in the top of the 9th. If there's one thing worse than being a lousy-hitting team, it's being a worse situational-hitting team on top of it. The Mets gave themselves opportunities throughout this contest to score 8 to 10 runs. But this is what strikeouts do to you. No runners advance, there is no chance of misplay, it's just another out in the books. Roger Cedeno is a joke of a leadoff hitter. He struck out three times last night, and if I am not mistaken, he went 0-2 in each at-bat. He is the most fundamentally unsound player, both at the plate and in the field, among a squad of guys void of discipline and basic awareness. He's currently hitting .161 with a .235 OBP. Beyond the stats, if I'm Art Howe, I can't justify his presence in the lineup, much less atop it, given the atrocious play he's contributed thus far. Shinjo and Timo are free swingers themselves, but their D is better and they just seem to have better heads for the game.

So, Benitez was tasked with pitching more than the closer standard one inning, a phenomenon in recent years but another day at the ballpark for relievers of earlier decades. He entered the 9th with a 3-2 lead and looked like a different guy than had pitched the 8th. Mike Lowell promptly drilled a single, then Derrek Lee roped a double. One intentional pass -- that nearly tied the game, as Ball 3 almost went sailing over Piazza's head -- and two outs later, nearly out of the trouble he had caused himself, Benitez threw something that slap hitter Juan Pierre turned on and sent down the first base line, scoring two and ending the game. The Marlins, not exactly the pride of the National League, had made Benitez look bad four days after the Expos had done the same. What are we in store for when the Mets play the Astros, D-Backs, and Cards to close out this month? Then again, save situations may not be all that likely in those games.

Many Mets fans have seen just about enough from Armando Benitez. He seems to go in the tank when you need him most. We still remember Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, and how he blew the save in the 9th en route to a 4-3 loss in 12. Might have set the tone for the Series. Two years ago, with the season on the line, Benitez was beaten by Brian Jordan several times to seal the division title for the Braves. We in DC still recall his Oriole days, giving up that huge tater against the Yanks with the game in the balance -- but coming right back with a beanball.

Maybe the Mets should pull a Derek Lowe and make Armando Benitez a starter. Lowe never had the right mentality -- in fact he was one step away from the sanitarium -- but now that he can get away with a mistake or two over seven innings, he's a top-tier starter. Benitez has the arm to do well in the league -- just not in his current role. I think at this point you have to look at other options.

On another, equally annoying note, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that they are cancelling the celebration of the 15-year anniversary of Bull Durham because two of its stars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, have taken part in anti-war protests and spoken out against the president. Hall president Dale Petroskey indicated that their actions could "undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger." And for that, the whole gala is off. What immediately was brought to light by Robbins and every sports columnist from here to Cooperstown is that Petroskey has spent much of his life working for Republican politicians, including a stint as President Reagan's assistant press secretary. That last part is hard to believe, considering the ill press he has swiftly brought an already controversial Hall of Fame. Petroskey has made it seem like he is trying to separate politics from the Hall, while in truth he has ushered them in through the front door. It's a shameful act, and one that should probably cost him his post. Just as Pete Rose isn't bigger than the game, this man isn't bigger than one of the most revered sports shrines on the planet. I don't much get into Robbins & Sarandon's political parade, but Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies of all time and to ruin a nice tribute to it because of political leanings is worthy of its own censure. The movie still deserves some hoopla; perhaps those running the show in Cooperstown don't deserve to host it.

And finally, the Mets's weekend series is another match-up with the Expos, this time away . . . in Puerto Rico. Admittedly, I am looking for this to be a disaster so that MLB feels increased pressure to send the Expos to DC, but it will certainly be interesting. It's probably good for the Puerto Ricans to see some real baseball, for all they've provided the league, but it just seems like a concept better suited for the NFL, or at least the XFL. The think tank that is the league office has put so much energy into creative -- and sometimes downright shady -- solutions to the Montreal problem when they could so easily fall back on the one age-old remedy of putting the damn team where they'll make money. How much longer is Bud going to make us wait?

Prediction: The PR middle infield of Sanchez and Alomar turn 10 double plays in the series, but Javier Vazquez no-hits the Mets on Monday and the Expos win 3 of 4 on this "home" stand.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Game 8 - Mets

Marlins 3, Mets 2
Record: 4-4

The Mets blew a pair of one-run leads, then gave up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
To the previously 2-6 Florida Marlins.
The Mets are now hitting .230, opponents .281.
Mike Piazza has 3 errors in his 4 games this year, but no RBI.
The Mets are stumbling through the easiest part of their schedule at .500.
Other than that, everything looks great!

[Okay, things could be a lot worse. Glavine's going tonight, nobody in the NL East looks unbeatable, and Greg Maddux got shelled again last night.]
Game 9 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 10, Red Sox 5
Record: 5-4 Phew - that took a lot of effort, but I kept reminding myself that the season is only 9 games young. Nonetheless, this makes 6 mediocre starts by the Sox pitching staff, with another subpar bullpen effort stacked on top for nice effect. There are some unfortunate similarities at this early juncture to the 1979 team, which knocked the cover off of the ball all season long with nothing really to show for it at the end of the season. Casey Fossum sailed through 4 innings of 1-run ball, and should have made it through the 5th unscathed, but a questionable ball on a two-out 0-2 count to Chris Woodward spelled his doom. 15 minutes later, Ramiro Mendoza came in to give up a grand slam to Vernon Wells, and the rout was on.

Fossum's an interesting question. Some believe he's Ron Guidry reincarnated, his slim build and lefthanded gas eerily reminiscent of the Yankee comet who burned through the league for a short while in the 70s. Others think he's destined to be a solid arm out of the bullpen, but lacks the stamina and third pitch necessary to excel as a starter. Early in this season, the stamina question is the most significant. He's struck out 14 batters in his two starts, but only made it through a total of 9 2/3 innings. I'll give him 4 or 5 more starts before I really start to worry, but the Fossum Question ranks up there with the Bullpen Experiment on the list of Really Important Issues for the 2003 season.

John Burkett tries to avoid a sweep against stud righthander Roy Halladay tonight. Being swept by the Blue Jays would be an unpleasant way to end the season's first road trip, and put yours truly in a seriously foul mood entering the weekend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Game 8 - Red Sox

Toronto Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 4
Record: 5-3

Just a quick note on this one, because I saw none of it, and read very little about it. Real life intruded, requiring me to get up at 5:00 a.m. for an early meeting, so this game is a blur to me. Lowe didn't pitch very well, and neither did the bullpen. The Sox got a bunch of hits, but couldn't capitalize.

It's a 162-game season, so the details go a bit wanting on a few games here and there. The Sox loss, combined with the abysmal D.C.-area weather (high 30s and raining - would you like fries with that pneumonia?), and a pronounced lack of sleep have me in a foul mood, as does the fact that the same Jays who rolled over like Heidi Fleiss against the Yankees found some spine against the Red Sox. Casey Fossum better pick me up tonight.

Game 7 - Mets

Mets 4, Florida Marlins 2
Record: 4-3

Al Leiter wasn't as sharp as he was in his first outing, but he was good enough. His defense and his relievers bailed him out once or twice, and he's often good for a key ground ball when he needs it most. The Mets rapped out 8 hits, 6 by Ty Wigginton (including an absolute bomb) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. The Metropolitans are now hitting .238 on the season, as their foes hit .274 against them. Since they're at 4-3, does this make them "scrappy"? In the "Saw that joke coming down Main Street" department, either they better start hitting pronto or that'll be "crappy" by Easter.

Got to enoy the dialogue of the Marlins commentators who took advantage of Leiter's presence on the hill to reference the barn-burning 1997 World Series . . . 1,997 times. Funny, though, they didn't talk too much about the debacle that was Wayne Heizenga selling off the players he'd bought to climb to the mountaintop just hours after taking ownership of that trophy. Speaking of which, has there been another Fall Classic so regarded as legendary in simultaneously positive and negative lights? The Game 7 down-to-the-wire drama is Top 10 all-time material, while the '97 Marlins (and what they quickly became) stand as a universal symbol of much that is wrong with baseball in this era (out of control salaries, long-term small market woes, expansion, teal uniforms).

Pro Player Stadium looked nearly empty, not that it comes as any surprise. In fact, most of the games I was able to flip to tonight had seat upon seat still available. And although my counterpart accurately put much of the blame for Camden Yards' half-full -- actually half-empty if you have to watch the Birds -- status on Napoleon Angelos, they are clearly not alone in the fan blight. Stadia around the league are already thinning out in attendance, and it's only Week 2! Doesn't the fervor of the dawn of a new season count for anything? In truth, the weather has been horrendous (ah, so this is why they didn't used to start until mid-April . . .), with snow stoppages, freezing temperatures, and downpours all driving away less than die-hards. But tune into tonight's Orioles-Devil Rays (surely you require penance for something), or even Red Sox-Blue Jays or Reds-Astros and you'll see that even a comfortable domed climate can't entice folks. With ticket and concession prices the way the are and the economy the way it is, can you blame them for passing up a chance to see the home team blow a huge lead and pop up with the tying run in scoring position to end the game at 11:15 on a weeknight? Plus there's a war on, so they say. Plus you can get this MLB Extra Innings thingy and be in baseball heaven. Plus . . . well, I could keep coming up with excuses, but I'm not the one struggling to make a baseball franchise work in a medium-to-small market. Thank goodness.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Provoked Off-Day Rant

I see my friend has referenced Tony Clark in his latest post. Tony Clark, who was an All-Star firstbaseman for the Detroit Tigers before being released prior to the 2002 season. Tony Clark, who was picked up by the Red Sox shortly thereafter and gave me (and many others) great hope for some serious offense out of the 5th spot in the batting order. Tony Clark, who averaged 28 homeruns and 93 RBI in his five previous full seasons in the majors. Tony Clark, in whom I was so confident that I bet my friend Mr. Lester that the big first-sacker would blast 30 homers and drive in 100 runs in 2002. Tony Clark, who left Boston with his tail between his legs after hitting .207 with 3 HOMERUNS AND 29 FREAKING RUNS BATTED IN in 90 games, and - more than any single offensive player - signified the tepid, indifferent, distracted nature of the 2002 Boston Red Sox. Enjoy TC, my friend, may he bring you as many bright moments as he brought me last year. In other words, take a picture, because you won't see yesterday repeated very often.
Game 6 - Mets

Expos 8, Mets 5
Record: 3-3

That's it, Whit. Keep talking up the bullpen. Nicely done.

Armando Benitez blew his first save opportunity of the year, giving up a three-run homer to Jeff Liefer. This, when the Mets had battled back from deficits twice and taken a 5-4 lead on a tater by Rob Russell's favorite part-time 1B, Tony Clark. [Mo strained a hip flexor last game and was sitting.] These are the ones that sting you down the stretch when you're just a game out.

Bullpen by committee may draw the most snide comments by the sports media, as elaborated upon by Mr. Russell, but Bullpen by Benitez is just as scary. He throws hard, but very often hard and straight, and the ball often reaches the bleachers in just as hard and straight a fashion. He had a great year last year -- when the Mets never contended, and I don't think that's a coincidence. It's always when you need a game most that Armando Benitez seems to blow up. I realize it's April, so this game couldn't have meant that much, but to quickly dispose of the Expos and take over 1st place would kept things rolling along nicely. Oh, well.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Game 7 - Red Sox

Red Sox 12, Orioles 2
Record: 5-2

Just a perfect spring afternoon today. Mid-fifties air temperature, but the cloudless blue sky and warming sun made it a comfortable three hours at Camden Yards. Terrific seats, just back from the Orioles dugout on the first base line, offered a great view of the movement on Tim Wakefield's knuckler. Nomar went 3 for 4 with a double, triple, and long homer to left center. Shea Hillenbrand drove in 6 runs on two doubles and a homerun. Wake went 6 easy innings, and the bullpen went three scoreless and relatively routine frames. It was the smallest crowd I'd ever seen at the Yards - announced at just north of 28,000, it didn't seem that large. Great expanses of seats were unoccupied in the upper decks. Beautiful day, Sox in town, and the O's can't draw 30,000. Sheesh, what are the mid-August games against Detroit gonna draw? Well done, Mr. Angelos.

While I'll freely admit that the Sox bullpen remains a major question mark, I'm growing increasingly tired of the national media's irrational focus on the issue. For the record, the Sox bullpen has allowed 17 earned runs in 27 innings in the first week of the season, for a 5.66 ERA. During the same span, the New York Yankee bullpen has yielded 13 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings, good for a 9.06 ERA. The Yankees blew a game to the Devil Rays, just like the Sox. In the season's first week, noted major league closers Armando Benitez, Billy Koch, Jose Jimenez, Kaz Sasaki, and Jorge Julio (these are just the ones I remember) flamed out spectacularly in the process of blowing saves. Has any major sportswriter or ESPN talking head noted these incidents as they presented a balanced view of the Sox bullpen troubles? Well, that would require research, and a bit of critical thinking, so the answer is a resounding no. It's really easy to write the "Boy Wonder GM and Stat-Head Consultant Cost Sox Season" stories. The famed economist John Maynard Keynes once wrote, "Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally." Baseball's old boy network, propped up by lazy journalists, is proof positive that this is true.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Game 5 - Mets

Mets 3, Expos 1
Record: 3-2

Okay, I guess Opening Day was just one game for Tom Glavine. He bounced back nicely with a strong outing, and a third-inning rally led off by a Glavine single netted 3 runs, which proved to be enough. Again the bullpen came through, and Benitez closed it out. And in the "Take that, Mr. Lester" department we find another outfield assist, as this time it was Jeromy Burnitz gunning a guy at the plate. It's now a wince when the ball heads their way, downgraded from a cringe.

This was the first game of which I didn't get to watch any part, so I just had to rely on ESPNews updates. For the record, this DirecTV Extra Innings thing is fantastic. I have watched more baseball this week than I watched in a month last year. After years of being confined to watching the dreadful Orioles on HTS/Comcast Sports Net (and I would actually watch, for some reason) plus the occasional ESPN or Fox game, I now have access to nearly every game on a given day. Much to my wife's chagrin. She can't fathom why I'm tuning in to dogs like the 17-1 Marlins rout of the Bravos today, and part of me can't either, but deep down I'll always be enticed by Greg Maddux getting shellacked and Atlanta dropping to 1-4. Now if I could only explaining watching three innings of the Phils' 16-1 thrashing of the Pirates . . .
Game 4 - Mets

Mets 4, Expos 0
Record: 2-2

Well, what do you know? David Cone came out and answered the call, reverting to an impressive form after a long hiatus. He threw five strong innings in the cold rain at Shea, and Mo Vaughn went yard for the first time. I caught most of the game between an extended happy hour and a night out, so I don't recall all that much of the contest except stunned appreciation of David Cone's effort.

And it's early, but I am liking this bullpen. The Weathers/Stanton/Benitez 1-2-3 punch has looked good thus far. They recorded 8 strikeouts in 4 innings of work this night, preserving the shutout all the way.
Game 6 - Red Sox

Orioles 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 4-2

Pedro Martinez has pitched 15 innings this season, given up 7 hits and 1 earned run, and has no decisions to show for his efforts. The offense cooled off a bit today against Jason Johnson, who probably pitched the best game of his career, giving up 1 hit in 6 1/3 innings. Frustrating loss, though, as the Sox tied the game at 1 in the top of the ninth and should have scored a lot more, having had runners on first and third with nobody out in the inning. Shea Hillenbrand reverted to form with a brutal at-bat to end the inning with the bases loaded. The bullpen imploded once again in the bottom of the last inning, with Chad Fox walking in the winning run.

I had a feeling about this game from the beginning - it just seemed like the Sox were due for a letdown after several tense, emotional victories. I did spend a few minutes bouncing around my living room in the ninth inning, all hopped up on nervous energy - but this loss didn't hurt as bad as the one on Opening Day. I said before the season started that I'd be happy if the Sox were 5-2 after the first two series of the season, and a win tomorrow puts them right there.

One beef, though, about the Orioles radio broadcast team, to whom I listened for the first six innings of the game on a scenic drive from IKEA to my house. It's as if the O's organizational incompetence extends all the way to the booth. Fred Manfra was alternately ignorant - as when he botched the explanation of the Sox' bullpen theory - and inattentive, several times misstating the name of the player at bat. Jim Hunter spent long stretches of the game asleep, apparently, as his color analysis went missing for minutes at a time, and didn't make much impact when he woke up and offered something. The difference between these guys and Jon Miller, who Peter Angelos ran off in his first year as owner, is staggering.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Game 5 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Baltimore Orioles 7
Record: 4-1

Second time in five games that my spontaneous outbursts have chased my wife from the room in disgust. This time, I yelled "NO!" as Geronimo Gil's drive to the gap in left-centerfield with two outs in the bottom of the ninth threatened to tie a game that the Sox had led 8-1. Manny Ramirez got the ball in quickly to Nomar Garciaparra, whose perfect relay throw reached Jason Varitek just in time to cut Deivi Cruz down at the plate to end the game. Four runs on six hits for the Woe's in the 9th against Ramiro Mendoza, pitching while sick in a cold Baltimore rain. I've seen better managing efforts, to understate the issue.

The Sox pounded Oriole starter Sidney Ponson, plating five in the 3rd by stringing together a bunch of hits. This lineup will be fun to watch this season, and based upon early returns, they'll need to be, because the bullpen - for the third time in five games - has not distinguished itself. I still believe in what they're trying to do, but dammit, they need to get outs to make this work.

Pedro goes tomorrow - hoping to make it back from suburban paradise, er, IKEA, in time to see the game.
Game 4 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Devil Rays 5
Record: 3-1

Three days ago seems like such a distant memory, with the Sox staring an 0-2 record in the face as Damian Jackson wound up to throw the ball to the plate in the 12th inning of the second game of the season. Doug Mirabelli held on, and the Sox haven't looked back. Another strong performance at the plate yesterday afternoon gives the Sox 34 runs in the season's first four games. I think 8.5 runs a game will probably suffice. Jason Varitek and Kevin Millar look like MVP candidates, and Casey Fossum looked strong enough to give some hope, striking out 7 in 5 innings of work, while being victimized by some bad luck, seeing-eye dribblers and infield hits.

The Sox come to Baltimore for the weekend, and I'll be attending Sunday's game at Camden Yards. The Birds had the lowest attendance in the history of the Yards yesterday - just a really depressing state of affairs. Baltimore used to be such a proud franchise, and the hubris of one man, Peter Angelos, has turned years of history and exemplary organization into a laughingstock. It has been written, and not in jest, that Angelos is intentionally fielding a substandard product in order to dampen attendance so he can argue that baseball in Washington would cripple his franchise. B.J. Surhoff is the starting leftfielder and number 3 hitter on the Orioles. That's a pretty damning argument. As a Red Sox fan, the situation is great, because the Sox play the woeful O's (Woe's?) 19 times this season. As a baseball fan, and a (sort of) Washingtonian, it sucks and it stinks and it sucks.

Opening Day is just a bad dream now. 3-1 with three to play against Baltimore is a fairly good place to be. John Burkett tonight, televised live to my living room. My wife should start drinking now.
Game 3 - Mets

Cubs 6, Mets 3
Record: 1-2

This season has started well for me as a Mets fan if only for the amount of Mets baseball I have been able to catch on the tube. Oh, maybe that's a bad thing. After following much of this game on's Game Update, I gave up and stepped across the street to the Irish Times only to find the 9th inning on the TV. So I was able to watch them scratch out a pair of ninth inning runs to cut the deficit to three with a man on first and one away. After 8 innings of anemic hitting (9 more K's!) and woeful pitching (Steve Trachsel could find the strike zone . . . and the wheelhouse), they were obviously just waiting for me to tune in to see the dramatic finish. Rey "F9" Sanchez flied out to right and Big Mo stepped up in a pinch-hitting role. A 3-0 count and things are getting exciting. Alas, Vaughn doesn't want to walk and bring the tying run to the plate, he wants to do it all himself and hit the big homer that wouldn't tie the game but would clear the bases. (?!) He goes fishing for several dirtballs to get to 3-2, then he pops up. This team has no discipline at the plate, it's obvious after one series. At least the D looked better: they gunned two runners at the plate (in one inning!), picked off two guys (in one inning!), turned two double plays (in one inning! . . . okay, not really), and made no errors.

So they took one of three from the Cubs. It's not the ideal way to start off the '03 campaign, but the Cubs are supposed to be a contender this year, so we'll take the one win and await the division-leading Expos . . . What the . . . ? Is there a strike on the way? David Cone starts for the first time in a year and a half tonight. This season we aren't expecting the Cone of 15 years ago (20-3 for the Mets) or even 5 years ago (20-7 for the Yanks), but maybe for one night we can get back the Coney of four years ago when he pitched a perfect game against guess who -- the Montreal Expos.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Interlude of No Real Consequence

It should be noted that Mr. Lester and I have a bet on the outcome of the season. If the Red Sox finish 13 or more games better than the Mets in the final standings, I collect a case of beer from Boston (perhaps something by Mr. Adams and his fine crew). Should the Mets do the unthinkable, and finish within 13 games of the Sox, Whit gets a case of something from New York (I'm thinking Rochester-brewed Koch's Golden Anniversary Light).
Game 3 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 5
Record: 2-1

Following the progress of a baseball game via the ESPN Bottom Line ticker is a special kind of torture. Sox down, 3-0, after one inning - what the hell is wrong with Lowe? Sox up 4-3 after three - how did that happen? Sox up, 7-3, after five - sweet, coasting to victory. Sox up, 7-5, after Aubrey Huff goes deep - fingernail chomping time. Sox 7, Rays 5, Final - ahhh, release. Almost makes a guy long for the good old days, when the morning box score was the sole source of game results.

Strong effort by the bullpen (Mike Timlin and Chad Fox), who've now tossed 11 2/3 consecutive innings of scoreless ball. I wonder if the anti-committee establishment is pummeling the Colorado Rockies management this morning after their established closer, Jose Jimenez, gave up 5 runs in the ninth to lose to the Astros last night. Doubt it.

Young Casey Fossum gets the start in an afternoon game today - it has huge implications for the segment of Red Sox Nation that thinks (hopes?) that the Sox made the right choice in holding on to Fossum instead of trading him for Bartolo Colon or Kevin Millwood in the offseason. The chances of me getting much work done between 2:15 and 5:30 this afternoon are roughly the same as Don Rumsfeld admitting that he made some mistakes in developing the Iraq war plan.
Game 2 - Mets

Mets 4, Cubs 1
Record: 1-1

Maybe I was onto something. Maybe I was just on something. Anyway, my optimism wasn't just the stuff of pipe dreams as the Game 2 Mets only very slightly resembled the squad of two days prior. With Piazza sitting out his four games, Sammy Sosa champing at the bit for his 500th tater, and the images of the 15-2 rout still fresh, it wasn't logic but the knowledge that baseball is at its core a cockamamie game that led me to that mild foreshadowing of victory.

We got a huge break from the fact that Matt Clement was doing his best Mark Wohlers/Rick Ankiel impersonation in the first inning. It's always painful to watch a pitcher struggle like that. Hitters can slump and you'll cringe when they're fooled badly and just look out of their league, but you can always credit the pitcher with being that much better. When a man throws at a target at the top of the professional ranks (with 20,000 boisterous humans hollering insults at him) and can't seem to get remotely close while single-handedly sinking his team's chances of victory for the game, it's a train wreck. I've been there (without the 20,000 or the paycheck to boot). While in my JV baseball team's starting rotation, I had an outing where I quite simply could not find the plate. At all. Walked four out of the first six batters, most of them on four straight balls. And one of the other two smacked a double, aided in part because at that point I was nearly throwing underhand to try to find the strike zone. The look on my coach's face when he had to bite the bullet and pull me after 1/3 of an inning was horrifying. At the time I blamed a sliver of glass in my throwing index finger I'd suffered the night before, but in truth I just didn't have it that day. I sucked. Jack, didn't I suck? I sucked.

And so watching Matt Clement chuck balls in the dirt and over the batter's head time after time was painful, but at least he was throwing for the enemy. To borrow from Jon Lovitz in The Wedding Singer (there's a first time for everything), he was losing his mind and we were reaping all the benefits. After Cliff Floyd hit a mammoth 2-run shot over the bullpen in right, Clement gave up a single, threw two wild pitches, recorded a K but lost it when it scooted past the catcher, threw another wild pitch, and walked a guy before striking out Rey Sanchez to end the madness. After all that, though, it was only 3-1. Al Leiter had given up a run in the top of the first when Jeromy Burnitz displayed once again that the outfielders deserve to have "fielders" stricken from their position name. To Clement's credit, he settled down fairly well after the first, allowing only a Roger Cedeno solo shot (inexcusable as that may be) in the next two frames, but he was yanked in the 4th.

It's a damn good thing Clement didn't have it, and it's a damn good thing Al Leiter did. After the 2nd inning, the Mets scratched out exactly one hit. But Leiter was on, and the infield played solidly, and Dave Weathers, Mike Stanton, and Armando Benitez held the lead. And 4-1 stood up. Nice to get that first win. True, the Mets hitters have looked extraordinarily bad against the Cubs' middle relievers, but those guys are a very strong corps. In two games, New York "hitters" have struck out a whopping 23 times. Yikes. So yes, they're 1-1, but historically teams that strike out a lot, they're not . . . they're not good, to borrow from Ty Webb in Caddyshack (imminently more quotable). Anyway, it's only two games in and it's interesting. Good enough for me.