Monday, June 30, 2003

During All This Met-Bashing, We've Neglected to Mention That the Tigers are Really, Really Awful

We killed the Tiger Watch after the Felines ripped off a halfway-decent stretch, but, man, they're really, really horrible. Two games shy of the halfway mark, Detroit sports an 18-61 record, a zippy .227 winning percentage - amazingly, that's .002 higher than their .225 batting average.

.227 translates to a 36-126 record over 162 games - truly '62 Metsian. The Tabbies have scored a league-low 247 runs (3.12 runs/game), rapped a dismal 89 doubles (last in the majors by 47), and managed a paltry .630 OPS (.288 OBP/.342 SLG). Put more colorfully, the Tigers are what you would get if you had a team of 9 David Ecksteins (.636 OPS), minus the scrappy, manic energy. Brad Penny, the Marlins hurler, has a .625 OPS. Dismal, just dismal. How it must pain Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson to be associated with this dreck.
Games 77 through 80 - Mets

Yankees 6, Mets 4
Yankees 7, Mets 1
Yankees 9, Mets 8
Yankees 5, Mets 3
Record: 34-46

Would that I could, I'd refute my diminutive colleague's slew of gratuitously profane Met comments today. Sadly, I cannot. The Mets willingly handed over bragging rights to the Yankees and their fans. The thing is, after the Mets' performance of late, the Yanks may not be that thrilled to have them -- it's really nothing worth bragging about (though their fans have never been overly judicious in that department). And as much as taking a four-game beating (six, overall) might make me scream and shout about who did what that killed them in these series, instead it's just another one of those punches in the gut that takes the wind from my sails and leaves me lethargic. So, let's not bicker and argue about who killed who. (In doing so, Al Leiter, great guy that he is, is ducking further examination of his decline.)

This stretch of the season, as we reach the halfway point after tonight's battle royale with Les Expos, may prove to be the most challenging for me. It seems like just last week I prophesized (with amazing accuracy, yet again, pat pat pat, toot toot toot, whoop-de-damn-do) that "this may be the apex of my 2003 baseball season enjoyment." (In truth, it was just 11 days ago.) That fleeting high I was on -- and let's face it, what a pathetic season to have extracted that much satisfaction from that little productivity -- evaporated in a blink. I won't delve much further, given the 81-Game Check-up forthcoming, but it's going to take a herculean effort for me to maintain the energy to continue posting daily tidbits about Mets games. What with the horrendously-planned agenda in my immediate future (2nd baby + moving within the next 10 days), it would be fantastic to have a happy distraction from these unprecedented stress levels. In a perfect world (for me -- this would be a little slice of hell on earth for Rob Russell), the perennially-contending Mets would be running away with it, I could follow their run to the best of my ability and weigh in where necessary. Sadly, the Metropolitans' woes are surely inducing a malaise over me, and any distraction they offer I'll try to block from my thoughts. The only bright spot in this grey, nearly black cloud forming over Shea is that, in general and in my opinion, troubled times often make for more humorous banter (dark comedy, of course). There is something more innately funny to others about a man in agony than there ever can be about a man in an equally gleeful state.

So, a sense of obligation to share with my reader(s) the misery in which I wallow, in hopes of achieving a cackle at my expense, may carry me through these dark hours; beyond that, there may be nothing but the links on the side to keep this from becoming an all-BoSox site. Stay tuned.
Effing Mets

Here's a hearty "Eat a Bag of Shit" to the New York Mets and their fans. You've joined the Minnesota Twins on the 2003 Roll Over and Toss Yankee Salad list. And, while I'm at it, how about a robust "Tongue My Sack" to George Steinbrenner for all his complaining about the unfairness of the interleague schedule. The Yanks' 13-5 interleague record was the best in baseball, and 2.5 games better than the Sox (who still have to play the Phils on Sept. 1). Maybe next year the Yankees can play 6 against the Padres. That'd be a step up in terms of difficulty from the Mets.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Games 74 - 80 - Red Sox

Red Sox 3, Detroit Tigers 1
Red Sox 10, Tigers 1
Red Sox 11, Tigers 2
Red Sox 6, Tigers 4
Red Sox 25, Florida Marlins 8
Marlins 10, Red Sox 9
Red Sox 11, Marlins 7
Record: 47-33

The self-imposed hiatus is over, but it shouldn't be. This week, and Saturday's game against the Marlins in particular, has crystallized my feelings about this Sox team. The Sox have scored 75 runs in their last 7 games. 75 runs!!! Beer league softball teams don't score that often, especially ours. They have the single deepest, strongest, most versatile offense in all of baseball. This is not open to argument. They lead the major leagues in hits, runs, doubles, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging. Their team OPS (.860) is higher than Alfonso Soriano's (.855).

They also have one of the most suspect pitching staffs in all of baseball. They led the Marlins, 9-2, in the 8th inning of Saturday's game and found a way to blow it. They have given away at least a half-dozen games in the first half of the season through poor relief pitching and bad managerial decisions, and that's probably conservative. I'm not even counting the handful of games that Derek Lowe gave away in the season's first month. This team, with this offense and average pitching could easily be 55-25. Easily.

For all my pissing and moaning, the Sox are squarely in the middle of the playoff race, leading the AL Wild Card race by 1 game over the A's. Since the Yankees are treating my friend's Metropolitans like the randy bull treated the traitor in the cow suit in Top Secret, the division deficit has grown to 3.5 games (although the 3-run shot Jeremy Burnitz just touched off is a nice start to this game). Regardless, I still believe that the Yankees aged starting pitching will catch up to them during the heat of the summer, leaving the door open. If...

...the Sox go out and get one more stud arm. Here's what I believe: if the Sox get one more above-average pitcher - either a closer or a starter (at which point Kim moves to the closer role) - they will win the American League. If they don't, they will make a run at the playoffs, but probably fall short in the most exasperating manner possible. There are a bunch of names running through my mind - Wagner, Vazquez, Colon, Trachsel, Williamson, and yes, Benitez. I don't care which one, but the Sox must get somebody to stabilize this staff. The offense has battled too hard, and is too good to waste.

And, a hearty "Let's Go Mets" for the last time this season.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Game 76 - Mets

Marlins 6, Mets 1
Record: 34-42

Dontrelle Willis dominates the Mets. See Game 68.

All I can say about my cohort's latest posting is that it once again confirms that he is the absolute best in the world at going to great lengths in the name of laziness. He'll search for 20 minutes for the remote in order to spend 15 reclined minutes flipping it; he'll spend hours trying to set up MLB webcasting on his computer at work in order to steal a few minutes watching his Sox; he'll write several paragraphs of unmitigated horsecrap trying to deflect "lazy" barbs in vain. He's a workaholic when it comes to preserving his slack-bitch lifestyle. And this is written in pure admiration.

As for his mockery of my boycott on the man whose name rhymes with "Our Condo Funny Fez," I have no comment . . . yet.
On Baseball and Being a Fan

Whitney thinks my recent self-imposed moratorium on Sox-related blogging is a sign of weakness and laziness. He's wrong, of course. There are plenty of other indicators of those failings in me, but this is not one of them. Rather, this is symbolic of baseball's ability to captivate true fans, dragging them along for a season-long ride like no other sport. Allow me to explain.

I like the Washington Redskins - they're my favorite NFL team. On Sundays, I'm often a foaming, ranting lunatic in front of the television. Monday through Saturday, though, I really don't think about them all that much. I'll have a handful of conversations with friends about their prospects, and about the previous or upcoming games, but I don't obsess over their fortunes. I obsess on a daily, even hourly basis about the Red Sox. For 162 games over 7 or so months, I obsess over the Red Sox. I wonder if my viewing habits affect their chances. I try alternately to follow all their games on and then to not follow anything - even the ESPN ticker - until I know the games are over. I beg, plead, cajole, whine, scream, emote, and pout while watching games. This recent non-blogging is yet another in a long line of superstitious attempts to send positive mojo in the Sox' direction.

Baseball does that to me. No other sport comes close. It is a much-encompassing, engrossing pastime - one that has me in its grip so fully that I'm willing to give up something that I enjoy to participate in the Sox winning streak, even a little.

So, to my friend with the Armando Benitez complex, I submit that my non-blogging is an act of truly significant fandom - a selfless, devout act of supplication to the baseball gods. Indeed, I enjoy the blogging and its cathartic balm, so I am, in fact, causing myself pain and suffering by not being able to express my emotions over the recent uptick in the Sox' fortunes. Armando Benitez, Armando Benitez, Armando Benitez.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Additional Slacker Detail

I'll be eschewing the 75-Game Checkup in order to post a review of the season's first half. I figure I can wait 6 more games to review the overall progress. Man, if only the Sox bullpen were as efficient as I am.
Game 75 - Mets

Mets 6, Marlins 3
Record: 34-41

Did you ever have a girlfriend who played mind games with you? If you were affectionate and doting, she'd push away, but brush her off and she was all over you? I can't stand those girls. And the New York Mets' current closer is just like that. Now, the comparison of this behemoth fireballer to any girlfriend of mine is enough to give me chills even in this sweltering D.C. heat, but this is the way he behaves. Just when you're sick of him and consider him a hopeless case, he comes rushing back with an outing like last night's (enters the 8th with no out and the bases loaded and mows down six in a row -- with 3 K's -- for a two-inning save). Just when I thought he couldn't get any worse, he does something like this . . . and totally redeems himself! No, not at all, but at least he's a little more marketable right now. Trade him. Trade him now. As Fran Healy and Ted Robinson were quick to point out, not all saves are the same. Though this was a marginally big save on the heels of the walk-a-thon last weekend, and though at times he is truly unhittable, and though he has more saves than anyone in this millennium, blah, blah, blah, not all saves are the same. You pay a closer millions of dollars really to be the go-to guy in the big save satuations, and it's there that this Mets closer is a dud. Send him to Boston today. I can't believe I'm still talking about this guy!

Speaking of Boston, the BoSox won again against the Tigers last night, enabling one lazy, lazy man to shirk his duties here. Weak.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Game 74 - Mets

Marlins 8, Mets 4
Record: 33-41

The free-fall continues. Roger Cedeno hits a homer and steals a base (look out, he's now in the 2-2 Club), all for naught? There just isn't a lot to say right now about these Mets. The Sunday night loss still hurts, and it seems to have carried over nicely into this week, draining the remaining energy from the club. And its fans.

Today's posting features the last time I am mentioning Armando Benitez's name until he is traded. Typing his long name (even longer if I were to include the derogatory epithets I'd like to add) over and over again when he has brought so much irritation to me . . . every letter is now punched in with many more newtons of force than is good for this keyboard. So, in an effort to minimize tech support calls to this desk, if I have to refer to the lame-duck closer at all, it won't be by name.

Here's a question to ponder: which Met (or Mets . . . I'm kidding) will be chosen -- obviously not voted -- to represent the team in the 2003 All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field? Bonus points if you know right off what city is home to U.S. Cellular Field. On that note, a quick glimpse at the page dedicated to the Mid-Summer Classic ballot brings a look at the header, a 1"x5" banner that boasts no fewer than four (4) corporate sponsors (U.S. Cellular, FOX Sports, Topps, and NEXL). There has to be some corporation out there willing to pay me to watch the damn game, right? Not that my baseball world is confined to my team, but despite FOX's attempt to dramatize the event ("This Year It Counts!") with all of the emotionally gripping inflection that they hype their regularly scheduled reality TV programming, I'm largely unenthused to watch a still meaningless -- especially if you're a Mets fan -- game featuring one at-bat or 2/3 of an inning of Mets representation. But at least it's fodder for discussion.

So, who should it be? Perhaps I should restructure that question: who should it be, Seo? I think Jae Seo has been one of the few semi-consistent pluses in a sea of minuses this year. Cliff Floyd probably deserves acknowledgement for his solid contributions while playing hurt. I actually can't believe, with all of the All-Star voters in the NYC area (who clearly are stuffing the ballot box with Yankee votes -- Bernie Williams is the 5th-highest AL outfielder?), that Floyd can't break into the leaderboard of 15 OF's. Ken Griffey Jr., who gets hurt every time he cleans the dirt from his spikes, is 9th-highest? The only Mets on their respective positional leader charts are Piazza (hurt since May, still out) and Alomar (crappy since last May, still crappy). Every year the All-Star voting results are a desperate cry to revoke the electoral rights from the proletariat. And again I'm on a tanget.

So, who should it be? I think, upon reflection, my point is that there really aren't any deserving Mets this season. Ty Wigginton has played much better than anyone expected, but his numbers aren't there. Floyd is really the only hitter with the stats and respect to expect inclusion. Seo has been the only regular starter with an ERA under 4.00 (his is currently 2.66), and the bullpen has been hit or miss. I think Floyd gets the nod, then bows out to rest his Achilles tendon, and Jae Seo is the New York Mets' representative at the 2003 All-Star Game.

What should Dusty Baker really do? Say F-you to everyone in New York and select their douchebag reliever who finishes games . . . sometimes, depending upon how putrid his pitching is that day.
Superstitious Non-Blogging Excuse

Sox haven't lost since I last blogged. Like a hockey player not shaving during the Stanley Cup playoffs, I won't be posting anything Sox-related until they drop another game.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Game 72 & 73 - Mets

Yankees 5, Mets 0
Yankees 7, Mets 3
Record: 33-40

For the non-believers, let's all say it together: Whitney was right. Once again now: Whitney was right. Just when you, and when I say "you" I mean all of us, started to think maybe Armando Benitez had turned it around, he makes his most important appearance of the season and craps the bed. You can point to saves he made against the Braves or Phillies, but this game was huge for the Mets. To beat the Yankees, and boy was this game won, would have been important. Forget Friday's game. This was the one on national television; the Mets had clawed away at David Wells and held the Yanks' bats fairly silent, and it was time to put them away. And it never should have come to this.

Benitez did not blow the game in that "wow, they were just better than us tonight" kind of way. If he could find the plate at all, the hitters weren't doing much with the ball. But he was blatantly missing his spots on every pitch. His breaking ball didn't, and his fastball wasn't -- not that it mattered when it was a foot wide of the plate. Joe Morgan and Jon Miller analyzed to death how Benitez continue to throw outside to the lefty hitters, but it looked like utter fear. And this is what it's all about. Anyone can tell you that a significant percentage of the closer position is mental preparedness for high-pressure situations, and Benitez scores a big, fat zero in this area. He can gun a pitch 98 mph under everyday circumstances. But when the real pressure -- that big time, New York City, you'd better come through or 55,000 enraged luntics will be wanting you dead kind of pressure -- is on, he clenches up, tightens up, does something where his mechanics are thrown out of whack and he simply is not the same pitcher in these (the, uh, most mission-critical, wouldn't you say?) situations. And so, we present once again the book on Armando Benitez: 27 chapters of fluff -- page after page of meaningless statistics about meaningless saves -- and one climactic chapter where you learn everything. Judge him as a closer not on how many saves he can record; judge him on the fact that when the biggest of the big games are coming down to the wire, you want Armando Benitez three states away.

I don't know how this latest addition of evidence to the same, tired argument I have been spouting for 73 games (plus several seasons) affects his trade value. There were rumors over the weekend about the Yanks dealing for him, which has been refuted and seems to make little sense, except in the Red Sox-thwarting value. But a deal has to be made soon, if only for my own sanity. A couple of posthumous (after this game was dead and gone) quotes that have me teetering on the edge of cracking a molar whilst gnashing my teeth in frustration:

1. "I think it was a strike,'' Benitez said.
Hey, dummy, it was high and outside. And not all that close.

2. "He's our man. We're going to win it or lose it with him at that point,'' Mets manager Art Howe said.
And this assertive outlook is based on . . . ??? I don't care if Batman is on the mound -- if he walks the bases loaded on 13 pitches in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and looks absolutely horrible doing so, Commissioner Gordon at least thinks about making a move. Aren't managers there to assess the performances of their players and determine who gives the team the best chance of winning in every scenario from the first pitch until the last? Such a simplistic, blind faith credo as the one Art Howe professed comes off as a little fatalist, a little lazy, a little dodgy, and a lot foolhardy. It's an attempt at escaping culpability cloaked in a weak compliment / vote of confidence. It's not quite as cut and dried as that, Mr. Howe. He made the wrong call in the face of what was painfully obvious and now acts like it was part of a larger plan, still stuck on this looking to the future while digging himself a hole that makes the future irrelevant. Protecting Benitez's confidence, what little of it must be left, by not yanking his overgrown baby ass out of the game, is not high on the list of priorities, even with him on the trading block. Just win the damn game.

Bring back Bobby V.
Games 72 & 73 - Red Sox

Philadelphia Phillies 6, Red Sox 5 (13)
Phillies 5, Red Sox 0
Record: 41-32

"That's the worst loss I've ever seen" - ESPN's Tim Kurkjian after Saturday's 6-5 Sox loss.

It's probably a good thing that I'm writing this now, after some hours of sleep and reflection, because my initial reaction to this weekend was entirely unprintable. The Sox folded three times on Saturday, blowing leads of 2-1, 3-2, and 5-3 in the 8th, 12th, and 13th innings. Sunday, when they had a chance to make a statement about their character by responding to a heartbreaking loss, they folded their tents and laid down like second-division pretenders. They should be embarrassed.

The Sox are now in third place in the AL East, 3 games behind the Yankees and 1 behind Toronto. And that, flatly, is unacceptable. They are too talented and too complete a team to be in this position. What they seem to lack is a fire in the belly, an unwillingness to break when faced with adversity. I've thought to this point that the offense had some of that grit, but even the bats have been strangely timid of late - they left runners in scoring position in 6 consecutive innings on Saturday, and then were held scoreless by Brett Myers on Sunday. It's as if the bullpen's continued unreliability has broken the team's spirit, and nobody has the personality, charisma, or just plain balls to jar this team back to life.

The Sox clubhouse is made up of a bunch of solid, earnest, hard-working professionals, but there isn't a ball-busting, rally-around-me-boys leader in sight. Nomar's a quiet guy, Manny's a savant, Pedro's a flake, Trot Nixon tries really hard, but he's too intense to be a true leader, and most damning, Grady Little is an aw-shucks, we played hard, we'll get 'em next time sort - who can't figure out how to use his bullpen.

It's come to this, because I can't stand watching this team underacheive. The Sox' next 10 games are against Detroit (4), Florida (3), and Tampa Bay (3). If the Sox don't win 8 of the 10, I will not be responsible for my actions for the rest of the season, and I will abandon any pretense of objectivity in my rabid drive to rid this team of its manager.

Friday, June 20, 2003

From the "If There's Any Justice in the World" File

Yesterday's Yankees/Devil Rays 1:05 game in the Bronx was rained out, even though: a) it hadn't rained heavily, b) the forecast called for clearing skies and no rain for the remainder of the day, and c) Yankee Stadium has a state-of-the-art drainage system. Why might this be, you ask. Wouldn't the Yankees want to play the doormat D-Rays and chalk up an easy win?

As it turns out, it's more important to Big Stein and his minions to beat the cross-town Mets. Cancelling yesterday's game (it's the home team's call until the game starts, when it becomes the umpires' call) means that scuffling starter Jeff Weaver doesn't have to face the Mets in this weekend's series. It means that the Yankees have a better chance of beating Whitney's team. It means that the Yankees are willing to schedule a doubleheader in the middle of a 16-day stretch with no off days, simply to have a better chance of beating the Mets. Outraged yet, Whitney?
Game 71 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, White Sox 3 (10)
Record: 41-30

I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue. As a veteran fan of several frustrating Red Sox clubs in recent years, this season has been blissfully predictable from an offense standpoint. I know that the offense will put itself in position to score a good number of runs nearly every game. Knew, that is. Yesterday, the Sox got a single from Trot Nixon in the top of the 1st to cap a three-run rally, and then didn't get another hit until the top of the 10th. Hell, they didn't get a baserunner until the 7th. Thankfully, Derek Lowe, Jason Shiell, Alan Embree, and Brandon Lyon held down the fort and the hit they got in the 10th (Thank you, Billy Mueller) came around to score. I'm glad I'm not paid for productivity, because I would have owed my company money yesterday afternoon.
Game 71 - Mets

Marlins 5, Mets 1
Record: 33-38

And so begins the descent from the apex: it starts slowly but picks up speed as it progresses down, and down, and down . . .

Steve Trachsel goes against Andy Pettite tonight at Shea. This appears to be one worth watching, at least for me.

And to follow up Mr. Russell's point in his Random Thoughts, even your favorite hitters get out 55%-65% of the time (moreso if your favorite hitter wears royal blue and blaze orange). This game makes for a lot of couch-punching. The plus side: if you can manage to get way too wrapped up in the angst of watching your team toil away all season with failures galore, you tend to forget about the significant stresses in your life.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Random Thoughts While Watching the Sox Try to Lose Another

It occurs to me that baseball is a really difficult game to follow on a day-to-day basis. Or, put differently, it's very hard to follow a baseball team on a day-to-day basis and remain sane, especially if you're a glass-half-empty sort of person. Even the best teams lose 33% of the time, while good, solid, talented teams lose, oh I don't know, 42.9% of the time. I'm not a well person, and the Sox continued fitful progress through this season is not helping.
Game 70 - Red Sox

White Sox 3, Red Sox 1
Record: 40-30

I'm soooo very perplexed about this team. All indicators, um, indicate that they should be an elite team. They lead the AL in batting average, and have arguably the league's best offensive depth. The pitching staff, while struggling, has talent and has shown signs of moving in the right direction. Why, then, do they continue to scuffle against mediocre opponents? They're faced with a must-win game today against the ChiSox to salvage a series split. They are a pedestrian 27-25 in their last 52 games - nearly a full third of a season. Really good teams don't play that poorly for that long.

11 games to go until the mid-way point in the season. If the Sox aren't around 47-34 after 81 games, then I will seriously reevaluate my expectations. This win one, lose one, win two, lose two, win two, lose one pattern is driving me freaking nuts. Is an 8-game winning streak too much to ask, for Tedsakes?
Game 70 - Mets

Mets 10, Marlins 5
Record: 33-37

You know how Rob Russell said about a month ago that he loved the current Red Sox team? Well, lightning may strike me down, but I love this Mets team. This Mets team. Hated the crap-tacular April/May version. (You know, the one where Cedeno strikes out, Alomar tries to bunt his way on and is thrown out easily, and Mo strikes out to start every game.) This team is much, much different, if only for its youthful exuberance. Oh yeah, and its ability to make bat meet ball. 13 more hits last night, 10 more runs, and that saved Al Leiter, giving him the win after a mediocre performance. After Big Al hit the showers, Graeme Lloyd threw one shaky inning and in came Dan Wheeler . . . of course. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock for the past four years, Dan "My ERA Hovers Around 18" Wheeler spent three seasons in the vaunted Devil Rays bullpen, followed by a year somewhere other than the major leagues, and he's been in Norfolk this spring leading the Tides in saves . . . with 3. (Currently in 1st place in their division, they are demonstrating how a bullpen by committee can actually work.) So, he got the call-up and was brought in to protect a 5-run lead -- thank you, Jose Reyes (2B, 3B, 4 RBI), though all eight starting position players got hits. Three perfect innings later, Mr. Wheeler recorded his first major-league save. He looked sharp, fooling pretty good hitters, and he made quick work -- his three innings required just 26 pitches.

Anyway, I enjoy watching this team loads more than the previous incarnation. (You know, the one where Astacio yields yet another hit, Cedeno misplays it into a double, Piazza tries to throw him out stealing at third and the ball sails into left field, and another run comes home.) And after an agonizing spell of Fox Sports News (the opponents' broadcasters) covering the games on the ticket, I've gotten back-to-back MSG nights with Fran & the gang. And the Mets have won six of eight. Given the way this season has shaken out thus far, and given the two series against the Yanks on the horizon, this may be the apex of my 2003 baseball season enjoyment. These are the happy days, the salad days as they say . . .

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Game 69 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, White Sox 4
Record: 40-29

John Burkett gave up doubles to the first 4 batters he faced in this game, spotting the ChiSox to a 3-0 lead. Just when the Nation's guttural roar for his head peaked, he then retired 18 straight batters, 9 on strikeouts, while Manny ripped a bomb to straightaway center to stake the Sox to a 5-3 lead they never relinquished. What a bizarre game, this baseball.

Manny Ramirez may be the most underappreciated athletic freak in all of professional sports. He's weird and quiet and shy, so he gets relatively little press. His game is quiet, too - no flash, no signature batting stance or highlight move. When he bats, his body is so balanced and smooth that he appears to be exerting very little effort, which leads some to question his hustle and desire. His homerun last night in the top of third was a perfect example. Bartolo Colon threw him curveball after curveball, and finally hung one over the outside portion of the plate. Manny waited, drove into the ball, and hit an absolute rocket to deepest centerfield. The thing is, though, that it didn't look like anything coming off his bat, because he just strode smoothly into it and finished in perfect balance. Then, he put his head down and slowly rounded the bases, no fuss, no flash, and no look-at-me theatrics.

Sox fans should carefully catalogue every trip Manny makes to the plate, because when he's gone from Boston, we'll look back and say that he was quite possibly the greatest right-handed hitter every to play in Fenway. I find myself taking him for granted, largely because he gets so little notice for a player of his ability. I think he likes it that way, but I hope that the fickle fans of Beantown recognize the gift they've been given before it's too late.
Game 69 - Mets

Mets 5, Marlins 0
Record: 32-37

Three one-hitters in a row now, win-loss-win. Jae Seo continued his brilliant stretch, leaving in the 7th with a split nail, and David Weathers and Armando Benitez held down the fort for him. It was 1-0 into the ninth, with the Marlins' Carl Pavano doing his best Tom Glavine from last night -- good, but not as good as the other guy. Then he chucked a gopher ball to Ty Wigginton and the wheels went sprawling off the cart, as a couple of bad errors and a pair of hits made it a comfortable 5-0 lead.

With Seo and Steve Trachsel clicking and Glavine and Al Leiter looking solid, that really leaves just one spot in the rotation to sweat it every time out. Mike Bacsik and Jason Roach have been the latest entrants in the 5-spot, without a ton of success. Maybe a Benitez trade can bring in a solid young starter. Benitez is looking sharper and sharper with each outing -- they must trade him before he implodes.

With the way the Mets have been playing of late, it occurs to me that they seem a lot better than 32-37 and 13.5 games out, dammit. I guess that's what happens when you dig yourself a huge hole. Despite the semblance of putting it all together lately, the Mets are 10-9 since the 50-game check-up -- better, but not exactly on fire. They've just been doing things right more often lately, and the standings are a daily, depressing reminder of the debacle of the first couple of months. Those dreadful days are gone from the memory banks but not from the record books. Can we have a do-over?

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Game 68 - Red Sox

White Sox 4, Red Sox 2
Record: 39-29

A real head-scratcher, this game. Pedro pitched effectively, leaving the game after the 5th inning with a 2-1 lead. He threw his allotted 70 or so pitches, the last of which was a knee-buckling breaking pitch to strike out Frank Thomas with the bases loaded. Ryan Rupe replaced Petey and promptly surrendered a three-run blast to Joe Crede in the bottom of the 6th. Ryan Rupe, who'd thrown 105 pitches on Saturday.

I hold no ill will towards Mr. Rupe, but wonder why the hell the Sox are trying to ruin his arm. John Burkett was well-rested, and the Sox could have thrown Lyon, Almonte, Shiell, or Seanez. Why, again, was Ryan Rupe the choice? It wasn't as if this was made necessary by the 14-inning game on Sunday, because the Sox announced that Rupe was the plan before Sunday's game. Frankly, a bizarre decision, compounded by the Sox inability to hit Mark Buerhle, he of the 2-10 record.

Pedro looked great, which is the consolation to come from this game. Burkett goes today against Bartolo Colon, the Yankees play 2 against Tampa Bay while Toronto plays the Orioles. Bad times.
Game 68 - Mets

Marlins 1, Mets 0
Record: 31-37

The Mets go from killing the ball in Texas and Anaheim and firing a one-hit shutout against the Angels to being the victim of a one-hit shutout in Miami, courtesy of Dontrelle Willis and some extraordinary defense. Gotta say I didn't see that one coming. I thought they might have trouble racking up runs on Willis, who at this early juncture appears to be the next big thing, but man . . . that was wicked. Cliff Floyd hit a long fly ball with a man on in the 4th that I was sure was gone, but it hooked foul and he struck out soon thereafter. And that was the last time the Mets even hinted at a threat of any kind.

Tonight Jae Seo, who's been pitching damn well in his own right, squares off against these same Marlins, who will have Carl Pavano on the hill. Assuming last night's whiff-and-dribble fest doesn't rub off onto tonight's game, I feel good about the match-up.

Armando "For My Next Impression... A Reliable Closer" Benitez's future is being speculated upon by just about every sports news source. He should be in Boston by the end of the month, says this source. So, just for fun, let's remember this quote from Rob Russell: "I'd love to have Armando Benitez." (6/17/03) Later, when "Three Mile Island In Stirrups" has his meltdown in Beantown, we'll chronicle his exploits with a frequency and bitter edge that will dwarf the Tony Clark progress reports.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Tidying Up

A couple of things I had meant to throw in last week . . .

1. In my rebuttal regarding my ineligibility for Red Sox Nation membership, I forgot to call out Rob Russell. Brother, you are missing one whale of a season. If you don't make the call and lay down the cash for the baseball package by COB today, I must thereafter regard you as a moderate, when-it's-convenient Red Sox fan. And in the face of all of the incontrovertible evidence you'll throw my way, I will simply say that money talks and . . . Nomar doesn't take walks. Take advantage of the available technology, enjoy the season like you can, and thank me later. At season's end, you'll know it was worth enduring the wrath of wife, child, etc. Of course, in light of your last posting, you'll contend that this move might jinx the team. Spoken like a true cheapskate.

2. Last week's Rob Neyer issued his take on the best all-time lineups for each franchise. Of course, despite his wealth of statistical analyses, this is a subjective argument all the way. Here is his list:

C - Mike Piazza
1B - Keith Hernandez
2B - Edgardo Alfonzo
SS - Bud Harrelson
3B - Howard Johnson
LF - Kevin McReynolds
CF - Lee Mazzilli
RF - Darryl Strawberry
SP1 - Tom Seaver
SP2 - Dwight Gooden
SP3 - Jerry Koosman
SP4 - Al Leiter
RP - John Franco

I guess my problem with this lineup is that it leans towards local boy fan favorites in some cases (Leiter, Franco, Mazzilli as opposed to Jon Matlack, Jesse Orosco, Mookie Wilson) and toward one-dimensional, stat-friendly types in others (HoJo, McReynolds, Piazza as opposed to Robin Ventura, Cleon Jones, Gary Carter / Jerry Grote). So if it's not entirely consistent, it might as well just be a My Favorite Mets lineup, and that's better coming from a fan. Like me. And while I might work up my own lineup for this forum on a rainy day, I will tell you that Whitney Lester's all-time Mets team will undoubtedly begin with a man completely ignored by Rob Neyer: Dave "Kong" Kingman.
Games 65 - 67 - Mets

Mets 7, Anaheim Angels 3
Angels 13, Mets 3
Mets 8, Angels 0
Record: 31-36

This series was long on fireworks but short on drama, and it included a fair amount of surprises, including: Mike Bacsik pitching a good game; Timo Perez hitting a homer; gimpy Cliff Floyd legging out a triple; Jose Reyes hitting his first major league HR, a grand slam; having only three batters (the 6, 7, & 9 hitters, no less) manage hits in one game but scoring eight runs on eight hits; the suddenly studly Steve Trachsel firing a one-hit shutout. The interleague schedule that appearaed so daunting has played out pretty well for the Metropolitans thus far (5-4); all that's left is six against the Yankees. Those two series are interspersed with two against the on-again, off-again Marlins; it'd be nice to come out of the next two weeks ahead of Florida in the standings (currently a half-game behind them).

Based on the last week of Mets baseball, I have no idea what's going to happen this week or next week . . . and this is the most welcome feeling I have had all season. Accurately predicting the Mets' misfortunes was getting way to easy, and way too depressing.
Games 65 - 67 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Houston Astros 3
Red Sox 8, Astros 4
Red Sox 3, Astros 2 (14)
Record: 39-28

It strikes me that I may have paid less attention to this series than to any other played this season. I attended parties on Friday and Saturday, and spent Sunday afternoon playing golf and watching the U.S. Open. (There were some serious allergens floating around my living room when Jim Furyk gathered his family on the green after he won the championship.) As an intensely superstitious sports fan, I can't help but wonder if my inattention had a direct impact on the Sox' sweep of a solid Astros squad. If a butterfly flaps his wings in Borneo, a hurricane in the South Atlantic changes direction, and all that - well, why can't that be amended to consider the impact of one lunatic fan ignoring his team? I'm just saying.

And if that's true, then I'm facing a bit of a conundrum, no? Can I really ignore the Sox for any extended period of time? Would I be willing to do so, if it meant a winning streak? What's the fun in the Sox winning if I can't enjoy it? I suppose I would be more well-adjusted if I could ignore the siren song of the ESPN Bottom Line. I could read all those classics that I've been meaning to get through if I wasn't obsessing over the bullpen's woes. Maybe I'd finally get that drywall painted if I could give up on analyzing Nomar's recent hot streak, or worrying about whether Trot Nixon will ever hit lefties. I could pay more attention to my wife and daughter if Manny's ever-changing hairstyles weren't top of mind. But would I be happy?

My dad professes not to follow the Sox with the vigor of his younger days, but I think he's lying. He's built a protective shell after 56 years of unrequited fandom, which allows him be roll with the punches better than I can, but he cares - I can tell. He may not obsess like I do, but when Johnny Damon squeezes the final out of the World Series in October, Dad's going to answer the phone on the first ring when I call him at midnight.

Ignore the Sox? In the midst of a three-game winning streak with Pedro on the hill tonight? I'd rather pound my scrotum repeatedly with a ballpeen hammer.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Game 64 - Mets

Mets 11, Rangers 0
Record: 29-35

"It's ironic that on a day somebody who has been pulling for us to get our offense on track gets fired, our offense gets going,'' said Vance Wilson, who homered and had a career-high five RBIs. "It was more coincidence than all of us trying to prove something.'' Ironic, indeed, but also too little, too late. Of note is that the Mets' lineup, once compared to the Tigers for statistically worst in the majors, now features a collection of batting averages whose low (excepting new kid Reyes) is .262, that of Robby Alomar. A month ago these guys were struggling mightily to keep everyone above .200. But this team is now led by Ty Wigginton, Vance Wilson, and Jason Phillips as much as it's led by Alomar, Floyd, and Burnitz -- and remembering all the names on the DL, this limited success is in spite of Steve Phillips' master plans, not due to them. And so it goes . . . that he goes.

Now, on to clearing up the matter of Brother Russell's ludicrous accusation of my affinity for his ballclub. My defense begins with the sweeping generalization that any Met fan or Sox fan worth a lick would never cross over to the other's territory if only because of October 25, 1986, the legend that was instantly created that night, and all of the juxtaposed angst and glee produced at that instant -- but which still resides within any die-hard who witnessed its inception. And naysayers should be advised that anything less than supremely melodramatic exaggeration would not suffice in the description of this event, so don't bother downplaying it.

So that's why I can never be a member of Red Sox Nation -- that and (a) it'd be a big bandwagon maneuver, which I loathe; (b) the American League is merely a cheap knock-off; (c) I don't need any more inner turmoil. But there are an equal number of reasons why I am perpetually tuned into BoSox games this season, including (a) the Extra Innings package lets me gorge on the national pastime; (b) these Red Sox are without a doubt the most exciting -- though not always in the way they'd like to be -- team in baseball, having more twists and surprises than a David Mamet story; (c) they don't call Jerry Remy the best color man in the game for nothing; (d) watching any game played in Fenway is better than watching a good game in 90% of MLB's parks. But the single greatest reason someone like me, with a bachelor's degree in Sociology, mind you, would watch and follow the 2003 Boston Red Sox with any sort of fervor is because of the phenomenon that is bound to happen later this year.

This Sox team is as good as any have been in a long time. The pieces are in place, and the ones that aren't in place will likely be added between now and the trade deadline. The Yanks appear more vulnerable than in recent years, the karma and chemistry look strong, and there simply is more reason for Bostonites to believe than there has been in a number of years. And so, later this year I am hoping the Red Sox squad will be cruising at such a pace that the Bronx Bombers do get bumped off (because let's face it, everybody hates the friggin' Yankees). But more importantly, I am eagerly awaiting that moment when the Sox faithful turn that corner where they leave the jaded, bitter, ultra-negative spirit in the dust and rally behind their boys, truly expecting against all better judgment for, if not the end of a curse, then a heavy rain to fall on a town that has seen a drought like no other.

This metamorphosis from Doubting Thomases into Gullible Sullys is a sociological spectacle at which I marvel every time the Sox get good -- and it's as inevitable as the passing of days, despite their denials. The caveats, prefaces, and addenda to every pro-Sox comment (phrases like "even though I know they'll just blow it in the end" or "they do this every time") begin the season as a legitimate understanding of the nature of this doomed franchise, but later evolve into thin veils over anxious, starry-eyed faith. This is the phenomenon that is worth following; the eventual disappointment once the deluded hopes are dashed is just a train wreck. Yes, such a sight attracts the attention of the mundane masses, but the real fascination is in the psychological case study just a bit earlier. Hell, from just a couple of summers on Cape Cod, 15 years of friendship with Rob Russell and his compatriots, and a penchant for rooting for the underdog, I've been known to actually succumb to the belief that this will be the year the Red Sox finally win the World Series for the first time since 1918. It's a mind trick beyond Jedis, Mr. Spock, Bugs Bunny, or the "I've got an aquarium in my room" to young co-eds. And though my allegiance will always be to the club with the big apple that rises out of a hat after a home run, I am getting drawn to watching this edition of the Boston Red Sox as it marches toward its 2003 destiny.

I suppose someday they will win it all, and holy hell, do I want to be in Beantown when this goes down. It'll make Mardi Gras look like a church picnic. But until they do win, I'm enjoying the insanity.
Game 64 - Red Sox

Cardinals 8, Red Sox 7 (13)
Record: 36-28

Allow me to count the ways in which this Red Sox team is torturing me this season. I mean this in the best way possible, because I love this team, and believe in them, but when the evidence is stacked up, they're still 23-23 over the last 46 games. To wit:

1. They are never, ever, ever, out of a game, which makes them great to follow, but they seem to have a problem closing the deal. They're the ultimate baseball prickteases. Last night they trailed the Cardinals, 3-0, going into the bottom of the 9th, tied the game, but left the winning run on third. Then, after they fell behind, 5-3, in the 10th, they tied the game again, and had the bases loaded with 1 out. Again, they couldn't plate the winning run. Finally, in the 13th, the Cards took an 8-5 lead. The Sox scrambled back to 8-7, and had runners on first and second, but ran out of gas.

2. The Yankees have been abysmal over the last 41 games, stumbling along at 17-24 over that span, but the Sox haven't taken advantage of it. I don't think the Yanks are all that good this year, but they're like a vampire - I won't believe them dead until I see the stake through their heart. Playing .500 baseball while your chief rival flails about is not exactly putting your foot on their neck.

3. The bullpen stinks like 6 week-old cottage cheese left in a foot locker surrounded by gym shorts that haven't been washed for 11 months wrapped in that blanket that was used to smother the skunk that snuck into the basement - the same blanket that had been laying under the stairs, damp and musty, since you moved into the house 4 years ago. Actually, it stinks worse than that. And that, faithful reader, is the single biggest problem with this team. Bring me the head - and right arm - of Armando Benitez. Now.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Game 63 - Red Sox

Red Sox 13, Cardinals 1
Record: 36-27

This game, and evening, could not have been any better for a Sox fan, unless it happened on October 27 in Game 7 of the World Series. Pedro came back from his extended stint on the disabled list, and while he only threw 47 pitches and went three innings, he was electric. He absolutely punked Albert Pujols with a letter-high, 96 mph heater, and his command was obscene for a guy who hadn't pitched in 26 days. When he's healthy, he is the most dominant starting pitcher ever. This is not up for debate. One of these days I'll blog about the '99 ALDS game he pitched against the Indians - I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Just having Pedro back and healthy would have been enough, but the offense went berzerk against Brett Tomko and a succession of stiffs. 7 runs in the bottom of the 2nd essentially sealed the deal, but the Sox just kept hitting and hitting, rapping 19 safeties and 2 homers (Nixon and Manny - again!). So much fun when this offense is clicking, which is just about every day lately.

But wait, there's more. Sox win, Pedro's back, the offense is hammering the ball, and...the Yankees get no-hit by a collection of Astros, in Yankee Stadium. After the game, Joe Torre closed the doors and reamed the team - um, I mean, he, um, yelled at them. Seems to have worked, as the Yanks just got done beating the Astros today, 6-5. Still, Sox win by 12, Yankees get no-hit, Pedro is healthy. Remain calm, indeed.
Steve Phillips Has Left the Stadium

Well, it seems the straw-grasping I referred to yesterday wasn't enough. The end of a bumpy, bumpy, five-year ride -- from a sexual harassment settlement to the Bobby V feud to the disastrous overpaying and bust-buying -- has arrived, as is reporting that GM Steve Phillips has finally been fired after months of speculation and public outcry. Assistant GM Jim Duquette will take over -- in an interim role for now -- in much the same way Phillips supplanted his predecessor, Joe McIlvaine, in the middle of a season. Duquette may well have the most critical job in the remaining months of the 2003 season. While the players need to justify their presence on the New York Mets (and for some, in organized baseball at all), and Art Howe needs to further adapt to managing a crap club in the big city, the new GM will have a month and a half to restructure the franchise in a way to poise itself for something a little loftier than last place in '04 and beyond. After that, he'll have two more months of gauging talent from Brooklyn to Queens and everywhere in between. (Whoops, that didn't turn out quite right, geographically. The Mets have an A-ball team in Brooklyn.)

Here's to the Duquette Regime in New York. Let's hope it's nothing like a different Duquette Regime in Boston. (Note from Rob: Hey, the Red Sox made the playoffs three times under Dan Duquette. I think you'd take that.
Game 63 - Mets

Mets 8, Rangers 2
Record: 28-35

Jae Seo! With Tom Glavine out indefinitely now, and with Al Leiter . . . doing what he did last weekend, Jae Seo has come up huge in the rotation of late. Keeping the dangerous Texas bats quiet all night can't be understated. Cliff "Man Among Boys" Floyd added a dinger and 5 RBI while clearly playing hurt (still). Robby Alomar got plunked in the arm, left the game, and is day-to-day. Rey Sanchez is on the DL, Glavine probably should be, and Astacio is done for the year. Piazza and Vaughn are distant memories. Back from the DL (for now) are Timo Perez, Mike Stanton, and Jay Bell. And there Clifford Floyd is, hobbling out his home runs and doubles, making plays in the outfield.

The Mets continue to limp along at the .440 winning percentage. This does not bode well for my wager. On the plus side, the Mets are three games better than their expected record. This is according to Bill James and Pythagoras -- apparently they got together over a few beers one night and theorized that you can be expected to win a certain number of games based on how many runs you've scored and allowed. (Bill James is now working for the Red Sox; I think I heard that Pythagoras is in the front office for the Pirates.) So the Mets are overachievers! Of course, the Cincinnati Reds have an expected winning percentage lower than the Mets and they're .500. What does it all mean? It means the Mets still suck, but not as bad as they could suck. Excellent.

Oh, and Tony Clark hit another home run last night.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Game 62 - Red Sox

St. Louis Cardinals 9, Red Sox 7
Record: 35-27

Same old, same old. Great hitting, mediocre pitching, bad defense equals a loss. The Sox are 34-13 - 34 and freaking 13 - when they hold their opponents below 8 runs. 8 RUNS!!! All they need to do is hold their opponents to less than 8 runs, and they win 70% of the time! Sadly, they've failed to do that 15 times this year, and gone 1-14 in those games. Unreal.

Pedro goes tonight in his first rehab start since his injury. Of course, he's doing the rehab in the big leagues, and the entire world - including, um, the Cardinals - knows that he's on a 50-pitch limit. If any St. Louis batter swings at anything in the first inning, I'll be shocked.
Game 62 - Mets

Rangers 9, Mets 7
Record: 27-35

From Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

grasp at straws: to reach for or try anything in desperation

Amid a slide back into predominantly losing ways by the young upstarts, and amid a recently refueled rumor mill predicting Steve Phillips' imminent ousting, prospect Jose Reyes was called up yesterday. The talking heads in New York have beaten to death the issue of whether to bring him up, perhaps too early, or whether to let him fine-tune his game in Norfolk. And just when the organization had made it clear they didn't want to rush him and pressure him to patch up the sinking ship, they bring him up. And just when they had made it clear he should not be expected to be an instant hero, he goes 2-for-4 with a double and a pair of runs scored, looking sharp at short all the way. This reeks of a last-ditch effort to save the GM and get the fans excited (and distracted). Well, if you think we're going to fall for that . . . okay, we will.

Without trying to set a lazy precedent of letting other people do my writing for me, I am including an excerpt (I edited out some drivel about the Knicks) from my brother-in-law Patrick's e-mail that greeted me when it arrived at work this morning:

"The 2004 All-Star shortstop in NYC... No, not Derek Jeter... Jose Reyes! It was a pleasure to watch him play the game tonight. Yes, the Mets will probably lose, right now it's 9-7 Texas, but that is not the story. The Story is watching Reyes get two hits, score on a ball in the left field gap from 1st base with ease, and last but not least his ultra-smooth style at short. It is time for the Mets' management to get rid of the baggage. Enough is enough. Trade Alomar and Benitez for some young talent. It is not true that Met fans need to win NOW. They will have patience if there is a game plan. I can wait. I cannot deal with this garbage anymore."

Yes, there is tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolic optimism (the last two seasons have bred this), but maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Mets fans that, unlike each glimmer of light we've had in rceent history, isn't a train coming to squash us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Important Historical Note

Remember when I posted a couple of weeks ago about the Sox having led the AL East on June 1 in each of the last 4 years? Well, I just realized that they didn't lead the division on June 1 this year. That's a really good omen, if you believe in such things.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Games 60 & 61 - Red Sox

Red Sox 11, Brewers 10
Red Sox 9, Brewers 1
Record: 35-26

No real excuse for the tardy blogging, really. I was at wit's end on Saturday night as the ESPN Bottom Line foretold the Sox' slow, painful demise. I stopped caring when the score got to 9-4, Milwaukee, and concentrated on the Stanley Cup finals. The phone rang at 9:30, prompting my wife to give the "It's too late for the phone to be ringing" stinkeye. As soon as I heard Whitney's voice, I knew that something had happened with the Sox.

"Good news?", I asked.
"These guys are unbelievable.", he responded.
"They winning?"
"No, but they're only down 1. Millar just hit a grand slam."
"Sweet. I'm not following it - they pissed me off. Call me if anything else happens."

The phone rang about 45 minutes later, and I picked up to a chuckling Whitney.

"Hey. They win yet?", I asked.
"Not yet, but Nixon and Varitek just went yard to give them the lead."
"What inning?"
"Top of the ninth."
"They'll blow it. Call me when they do."
"Okay, later."

When I hadn't heard from him an hour later, I figured it was safe to venture to the ticker, where I found out that they had, indeed, come back to beat the BrewCrew after spotting them a 6-run lead. Truly, no lead is safe with this team, whether it's their lead or that of their opponents. The offense can score on anyone, and the pitching staff can implode against anyone. It's like 1979 all over again. And, not to be overlooked, I think that Whit may be developing a little bit of a crush on this Sox team. It's okay, buddy, we welcome all kinds here in the Nation. Just be prepared to suffer.

Big news from the first game was Casey Fossum's injury. He left the game after the first inning with shoulder soreness. Rut-ro. Also, of note recently, and related to the pitching staff, is the temporary resignation of pitching coach Tony Cloninger, who's battling cancer. I hope he gets well soon, but I have to wonder if his situation and the subsequent distraction for him and for his pitchers might have played a role in the abysmal start for the Sox' arms.

Second game was a boring beatdown, highlighted by Derek Lowe's fifth straight strong outing. He's got a 2.55 ERA in those starts, so I believe that the worm may have turned for D-Lowe. Keeping our fingers crossed as the Sox spend June 9th in first place.
Games 60 & 61 - Mets

Mariners 13, Mets 1
Mariners 7, Mets 0
Record: 27-34

"The only thing worse than a Mets game is a Mets doubleheader." That's all I have to say about that.

Well, I have one thing more to say about it. This was the first time that I can recall willingly flipping away from the Mets game on TV because I could no longer bear to watch. By the time Game 1 was tuned in on the Extra Innings, it was 8-0. By the time I tuned in to Game 2, it was 3-0. The Mets went ugly early. In toto, they lost, 20-1. No more doubleheaders. Please.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Who'll Stop the Rain?

Another rain-out today, which is bad for a number of reasons.

1. My hunker was down, and my team wasn't on.
2. See the Casey Stengel quote a few postings ago, and see the corresponding Mets doubleheader record.
3. All this rain is starting to get Biblical, and I haven't been to church on Sunday in a very long time.

Not much else to say, so I'll leave a trio of largely worthless snippets on the Mets' current status:

Swimming: Roger Cedeno (his average is up to .261, and his baserunning and fielding have been fairly unnoticeable of late)
Treading Water: Ty Wigginton (he is steady and consistent thus far, which is as much or more than was asked of him this year)
Sinking: Roberto Alomar (he actually warrants a full-on rant, but I'll wait till he gets even worse to expound; should be by this time next week)
Game 59 - Mets

Mets 3, Mariners 2
Record: 27-32

Steve Trachsel stinks, Tom Glavine stinks, Jae Seo . . . pitches a dandy? Can't beat the last-place Brewers, can beat the best-in-AL Mariners? This game is so stupid. I felt sure the shoddy defensive exhibition McEwing and Alomar put on in the 4th would come back to haunt them, but Jason Phillips and Cliff Floyd subsequently hit solo shots to give the Mets just enough runs to squeak this one out. Benitz pitched the ninth, giving up the obligatory two-out hit but closing the door. You know, watching him pitch this well and watching the rest of the league's closer suffer a series of meltdowns, it makes me think twice about trading him aw--------------- ah ah ah, no siree! You almost had me there, Armando, I swore I wouldn't get suckered in and yet there I go. Wow, I was really close that time. But I've sat through one too many Level 5 meltdowns when it really, really mattered. You see, with the fascist Braves running away with the NL East and the Mets 7.5 games out of the stinkin' wild card spot already, there are no high-pressure, must-win, true edge-of-your-seat situations for them these days. This is the briar patch for Armando Benitez. He needs to work for the Federal Government. Trade him to a contender now and let them lose hair when he wets himself in the big game.
Game 59 - Red Sox

Milwaukee Brewers 9, Red Sox 3
Record: 33-26

I keep trying to muster up some righteous indignation about the Sox, as they stumble through this miserable stretch (2-7 in the last 9), but I just can't gather the anger. I think it's because everyone else of consequence in the American League is flailing about, too. As I type this, I'm watching the Yankees scuffle against the Cubs, as Clemens failed once more to get his 300th win. The Yankees simply aren't as good as they have been in recent years. The Sox could not possibly play any worse (well, to be sure, they couldn't pitch any worse - the offense is fine), and they're STILL only 1.5 games back of the Yankees and only 1 back of Oakland in the Wild Card standings. I'd like to see them play better, and I know that all the games count the same, but I just cannot bring myself to get more than marginally ticked off, because I know (think?) that this is a really good team. I'm mostly concerned about the fact that they're only 6 games north of the Mets, frankly.

Here's the Sox schedule from now through the end of July: 2 at Milwaukee, 3 against St. Louis, 3 against Houston, 4 at the White Sox, 3 at Philly, 4 against Detroit, 3 against Florida, 3 at Tampa Bay, 4 at New York, 3 at Toronto, 3 at Detroit, 4 against Toronto, 2 against Detroit, 2 against Tampa Bay, 3 against New York, 3 at Texas. 49 games, 20 against league's most mediocre teams, and 14 against the top division opponents. Better make hay, because August is a rough slog against Oakland, Seattle, Anaheim, Toronto, and the Yankees, with the Orioles thrown in for balance.

Friday, June 06, 2003

The Dammit Syndrome

Interesting to note that both of us, posting independently, used the word "dammit" to reflect our respective teams' results. Solid word choice, lousy day for the MetSox.
Game 58 - Red Sox

Pirates 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 33-25

Crappy loss to a crappy team compounded by the fact that crappy Ramiro Mendoza was in the game to take the loss. John Burkett was his typical aggravating self, allowing a bunch of baserunners and 4 runs, but pitching juuuust well enough to (probably) keep his spot in the rotation. Then, Mendoza pitched a scoreless 7th before putting runners on 1st and 3rd with one out in the 9th. Alan Embree came in, but couldn't stop the runner on 3rd from scoring to give the Bucs the margin of victory. Why on God's Green Earth is the team's worst freaking pitcher called on to pitch in the late innings of a tie game? If that's not a Bill Jamesian high leverage situation, I don't know what is. Where were Lyon, Timlin, Embree, or even Seanez to start the 8th? Dammit, Grady, these games all count.

This morning brings the revelation that Pedro Martinez thinks that the media is being hard on Sammy Sosa because he's black and latin, and that if Pedro were not the same ethnic combo, he would have won the Cy Young last year. I happen to believe that he's wrong on the first issue - the media noise is massive because there is simply so much media trying to be heard - and right on the second. If Roger Clemens had posted Pedro's 2002 numbers, he would have won his 7th Cy Young, hands down. I don't know if this means that the media is inherently racist, or if the natural inclination is to subconciously support those who look more like ourselves, but I think Pedro's got a point.
Games 57 & 58 - Mets

Brewers 8, Mets 7
Brewers 5, Mets 3
Record: 26-32

"The only thing worse than a Mets game is a Mets doubleheader." Dammit, Casey was right. The Mets are now 0-4 in doubleheader games this season. Steve Trachsel and Tom Glavine (that'd be the 1-2 starters) took beatings, with Glavine leaving in the second with an elbow injury. The upside? The bullpen was very strong, allowing just one run on 8 hits over 13 innings. Ty Wigginton hit a homer in each game. And Tony Clark add another pinch-hit dinger in Game 1. (He sucked in Game 2, whiffing when it mattered and dropping his average to .196, but for Mr. Russell's reading pleasure, let's focus on his 7th HR this year.) But these games were frightening overall, mainly because it was the last-place Brewers. Up next: the white-hot Mariners, winners of nine straight (all on the road). Then the Mets go to Texas and Anaheim. Boy, they really needed this pair of games.

Speaking of the Mariners, I was able to watch them overtake the Phils last night in the top of the ninth on a Mike Cameron tater. Exciting game; too bad it was ruined by a moronic fan. Down a run, the Phillies started the ninth with a single followed by a double down the first baseline. The double would have caromed off the stands and definitely would have scored the runner to tie the game. Instead, some bozo reached down and grabbed the ball, sending the runner back to third on the ground rule double for fan interference. The Phillies did not end up scoring, and the game ended with another loss. This bothered me for a few reasons. First, it reinforces the by-now obvious fact that most fans are ignorant buffoons. As Bill Veeck once said, "A fan's knowledge of the game is inversely proportional to the price of his ticket.'' And the nimrods in the box seats who lean over to grab a live ball that would have propelled the home team into a tie instead of a loss should be punished with more than an ejection. I think they should be suited up with catcher's equipment and be forced to catch an incoming ball while Jim Thome barrels through them to the plate. Something of that variety. I had just gotten done hollering at the Pittsburgh fans (via the TV -- can they hear me like that?) for getting up to leave en masse with two outs in the top of the 9th . . . with the tying run at the plate. Are the four minutes of traffic you're going to beat by leaving a batter early really going to justify (a) the potential you face of missing a dramatic ending, (b) possibly affecting the pitcher when he cannot help but see the entire behind-the-plate box file out hurriedly as he readies for the final out, (c) being outed as one of those pseudo-sportsfan sissies who paid a lot of money and took the time to come to the ballpark but won't stay for the entire game?

Anyway, then I saw the Phillies debacle and it boggled my mind. Watching all of these games, it has reinforced that while baseball is an epic, 162-game season, it still comes down to the tiniest of crossroads in games that make the ultimate difference, and the little things here and there that cost you ballgames along the way can keep you from postseason glory. A bad call on a 3-1 pitch keeps a runner off base; he eventually strikes out and the inning is slightly altered. A bang-bang play at first is called the wrong way, and an insurance run scores; as it turns out, it was a huge run. A fan reaches down and grabs a live ball; a run is taken off the board, and the game is subsequently lost. These are the little events glossed over in the daily pages, but what drive players, managers, and fans insane. If you lose just one game a month, just one out of every 27 contests by one of these common, stupid, seemingly minor mistakes not even your own, that's six games a year. And this is the six-game lead the lucky, timely, and yes, good teams have over the unfortunate, damned, and not quite as good teams come late September.

What irks me even more about the Philadelphia incident is how little press that fan got. Oh, he goofed up, he got booted, end of story. When Sammy Sosa's broken bat has gotten as much worldwide press as terrorist activities the past few days, you'd think that perhaps this would get blown up, too. This story actually cost a team a game, which is supposed to be the bottom line. Meanwhile, the Sosa story is basically all hype and an open invitation for archival factories like to compile lists, create polls, and unearth ancient yarns about bat-corkers. How about a front-pager called "Don't Be a Fucking Idiot When You Go to a Ballgame"?

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Tigers Watch Suspended Indefinitely

The Detroit Tigers, thanks to their continued rise from hapless ineptitude to utter mediocrity, achieved a positive milestone yesterday. For the first time this season, their winning percentage is not dead last in the league. The Padres, who have lost consecutive games to Detroit, sit at 17-43 (.283), while the increasingly victorious Tigers are perched at 16-40 (.286). Neither is on pace to out-stink the beacon for woefulness in the modern era, the 1962 Mets, so we are officially discontinuing a steady watch of either ballclub until one or both of them sink below the Marv Throneberry Meter.

In other news, the sports media world, which with every day moves away from icons like Curt Gowdy, Shirley Povich, and The Sporting News to iconoclasts like Joan Rivers, Jim Rome, and The National Enquirer, has gathered in a frenzy regarding the Sammy Sosa corked bat incident. A few reasons this story isn't nearly so significant:

1. If Sammy were corking all along, he would have broken a bat long ago and the cat would be out already.
2. If you really want an asterisk by Sosa's numbers, it's a steroid-induced asterisk.
3. The real perpetrators of corking, like 'roids, are pretty obvious to anyone who's paying attention. Instead of demonstrating a moderately steady rise to power, like Sammy, they have an EKG-like spike in their slugging numbers, like classic Mets corker Howard Johnson. HoJo used more cork than Korbel in the late '80s, jumping from 10 taters in 1986 to 36 in 1987 (5th in the NL). Whitey Herzog perpetually accused and investigated, but it didn't matter. HoJo was endorsed by Quartet (Skokie, IL) corkboards, but it didn't matter. We all knew, we loved it, and it didn't matter. He never got caught, so his stats stand uncontested. Brady Anderson's 16-to-50 jump was, without any intended insult to mentally challenged people, retarded. In addition to using creatine, I'm thinking he had cork, superballs, little springs in his bats, plus maybe some smoke and mirrors from David Copperfield that year. But he never got caught doing anything illegal, so he goes down in history with all of the other 50-HR guys. Now Sosa breaks a corked bat that may or may not have been an innocent mistake, and people want to destroy his credibility in the record books? Hush your mouth.
4. People have been cheating in baseball for eons; the cheaters are getting away with it much less these days. It used to be almost humorous, just mischievous, the ways guys would try to gain an advantage. Now people without any sense of baseball history come at this from a personally insulted angle. Please shut up and go away.
5. This is just one more example of the masses trying to tear down our heroes. Sammy Sosa will take his place in a long line of sports media crucifixions, alongside such wronged men as Pete Rose, Michael Irvin, and O.J. Simpson. Damn them all to hell!
Why Doesn't the Sun Shine?

Another rain-out for the boys in royal blue and blaze orange. It provided me more time to witness the Yanks lose again, the neato Braves win again, the O's choke again, the Sox crush the Pirates, Shea Hillenbrand hit his first D-back HR, and just a whole lot o' baseball. (God love this Extra Innings thing.) Today the Mets may finally square off against the Brewers after a much-needed three day rest. For a thoroughly banged-up team, this was the equivalent of a well-timed bye week. Casey Stengel once said, ""The only thing worse than a Mets game is a Mets doubleheader." Let's hope the 22-34 Brew Crew don't make Casey's witticism true 40 years later.
Games 56 & 57 - Red Sox

Red Sox 11-8, Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3

Sweep, baby! What a difference a day makes. The Sox entered yesterday's games on a 5-game losing skid, trailing the Yankees by a game and leading the Blue Jays by a game. The Sox woke up this morning in first place in the division, .5 games ahead of the Yankees and 2.5 games ahead of Toronto.

There were tons of positives in the games against the Buccos. Byung Hyun Kim pitched a terrific game in his first Sox start, going 7 innings and allowing 1 earned run in the first game of the twinbill. Manny Ramirez helped the Bunger by going 4 for 4 with 4 RBI. Jason Varitek hit a bomb, as did Trot Nixon. In game two, Derek Lowe finally pitched well on the road, going 7 strong innings and picking up the win. Nixon went yard again, and Nomar matched a big-league record by recording a triple for the fourth straight game. Even Johnny Damon - who's been moved to the bottom of the order - pitched in, driving in 3 runs with a 3 for 4 outing. Knock wood, but if Kim and Lowe pitch like this, the Sox pitching problems get a whole let less worrisome.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Doubleheader Baseball, Baby

One of my fondest baseball memories was made possible by a rainout. During my senior year of college, the Sox were neck and neck with the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East title. In late September, a series of storms in the Baltimore area forced the Sox and the O's to schedule a rare afternoon doubleheader. It was the last season for Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, and the home team was woeful, so Cap Noonan, John Kelleher, and I - Sox fans all - decided on a whim to try to get to Baltimore from Williamsburg, VA in time to make the first pitch of the first game.

We left the 'burg at around 9:00, and gametime was scheduled for 12:30. Cap drove while Jake studied in the back seat for an upcoming exam. The baseball gods smiled on our noble quest, parting traffic all along the Eastern Seaboard, and slowing time to aid our cause. We reached Balmer at around 12:20 - 3 hours 20 minutes from Williamsburg to Charm City is pretty damn good - just in time to park, get tix, and get into the stadium, which was flat out empty.

We spent the whole afternoon following the sun, as total attendance for the two games was 10,728 (many thanks to retrosheet for the details), and drinking watered down beer. The Sox took the first game, 2-1, behind a stellar 10-strikeout performance by Roger Clemens, who hadn't yet entered his "I get paid, so why should I keep myself in shape" phase. Heading into the 9th inning of the second game, the Sox held a 5-4 lead, and were positioned to sweep the series and tighten the race with the Jays to a game or two. Then, the ghosts of Memorial Stadium stood up for one last time, and after Cal Ripken singled in a run to tie the game at 5, and Randy Milligan walked to load the bases, Dwight Evans came to the plate against Greg Harris.

Evans, who was in his swan song as a player, batted .270 with 6 homers and 38 RBI in 1991, his final season, and only campaign with the O's after 19 standout seasons with the Red Sox. And though he was a shell of his former self, I turned to Cap and Jake and said, "We may as well leave, because Dewey's going to beat the Sox." Sure enough, Evans worked a walk, and Mike Devereaux crossed the plate with the winning run. The Sox lost 9 of 11 to end the season, including this game, and wound up fading to 7 games behind the Jays. And it was all Dewey's fault.
Does the Post Below Mean I Get to Adjust the Parameters of the Bet?

I mean, y'know, I made that bet counting on a certain number of Mike Bacsik starts.
Here Comes The Rain / I Love the Rain

After softball in Virginia was rained out, I took solace in the fact that I would get to enjoy an overstuffed slate of baseball games on the Extra Innings tube. Then the Mets and Red Sox were rained out, too, eliminating my two most-watched teams. So I got to watch the Reds knock off the Yanks in dramatic fashion and was forced to endure the annoying Braves top the Rangers in more dramatic fashion. But the solace I am taking from the Mets' wash-out is in the listed starters for tonight's game against the Brewers. The Brew Crew have decided just to go with last night's projected starter, Matt Kinney. New York, however, has skipped over Mike Bacsik in favor of tonight's regularly scheduled pitcher, Steve Trachsel. Based on pretty much any analysis, this is a pitching upgrade reminiscent of going from Rudy Stein to Amanda Whurlitzer for the '76 Bears. I'm not sure whether tonight's game will go off, either, and I'm not sure what the pitching match-up will be when they make up last night on July 28, but the elements may have just saved the Mets one game.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Poor, Poor, Pitiful George

Today's New York papers bring us news that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is upset that the Red Sox have an advantage over his team by virtue of the Sox easier interleague schedule. Taking out common opponents in St. Louis and Houston, the Sox play the Pirates, Brewers, and Marlins, while the Yankees play the Mets, Cubs, and Reds. Three things for George:

1. Shut the fuck up. The Yankees have no leg to stand on when fairness is the issue.
2. Where was this whining last year when Boston played 6 against the division champion Braves while the Yankees got to maul the helpless Mets (sorry, Whit) 6 times. Interleague play was a huge reason the Sox missed the playoffs last year, when they went 5-13 against the Braves, D-Backs, Rockies, Dodgers and Padres.
3. Shut the fuck up.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Games 54 through 56 - Mets

Flippin' Braves 5, Mets 2
Mets 4, Daggone Braves 2
Mets 10, Whiny Braves 4
Record: 26-30

It's official: this is the happiest I have been about the Mets' season all year long. The 12-game proving grounds ended with a 7-5 record, and the mighty Metropolitans won three of the four series. Last night's 10-4 win, sparked by a huge 8-run sixth inning, was one of the few times I could be seen punching the air over a Mets game with glee instead of fury. Jeromy Burnitz's Baltimore Special to cap the rally was the only time all season my wishful visions for an at-bat played out exactly right. There was timely hitting, solid defense, strong pitching, and aggressive play. Sure, there was foolish aggressive play (Jason Phillips running them out of an early inning), some bullpen angst-inducing (immediately after the Mets' big inning, David Weathers walked the first two batters), and the usual amount of annoyances up until the big inning, but it was great to see a game like this that didn't go down to the wire.

The best part of this series, which was big but by no means a season-saver, is the aftermath. The Mets feel like maybe this second season, the one featuring no-name kids instead of overpaid has-beens, might show some progress and promise for the future. Meanwhile, the mama's boy Atlanta Braves, having gotten stung in merely one three-game series, do not have the decency and professional courtesy to say that they had their asses handed to them in a 10-4 bludgeoning. No, sir. From Bobby Cox on down, they are all blaming the new Questec Umpire Information System for shrinking the strike zone, implying that this caused the loss. Let's set aside for the moment that this is generally just a bunch of infantile, sour grapes whining that discredits the Mets' actual performance. Beyond that, here is what's wrong with the argument:

1. To blame the computer and the effect it has on the ump for the loss is to ignore the fact that the Mets also utilized a pitcher for nine innings in the game. Each team had six walks. If the zone was squeezed, it was so for both teams.
2. Ray King and Darren Holmes were the pitchers assaulting the new system the most loudly. Between them, they faced seven hitters and neither issued a base on balls. Granted, they are claiming they got to 2-0 and 3-1 counts because of the strike zone shrinkage, but they were the ones who grooved the subsequent pitches to hitters. They retired just two of those seven hitters; give a little credit where it's due, take a little blame where it's due.
3. Granted, this is more technology at work, but the ESPN K-Zone graphics illustrated in nearly every case that the balls called were indeed balls, not strikes, no matter what strike zone was being used. Frankly, some of the ones Darren Holmes (who definitely should have been run, though the ump knew the Mets really wanted him still in there) bitched about most vehemently weren't all that close.
4. Players and coaches, projecting their own faults on the new system, will probably eliminate the first and only means Major League Baseball has ever instituted to regulate its umpiring crews. For years MLB has been the only major sport not to strictly monitor its officials and hold them accountable for their performances, giving them carte blanche to affect the outcome of ballgames unduly. Now that there is a measuring stick in place (in pilot mode), baseball players -- never folks who come off as a group of people alternately playing baseball and putting in hours at MENSA -- are going to kill it. And come October, when an ump with a track record for inconsistency, surliness, and horrible calls goofs yet again, someone needs to be there to remind the players that they really have no leg upon which to stand. The umpires, of course, are probably the ones to be blamed. They don't want to be regulated -- naturally, they like infinite job security and little to no performance appraisal -- and when MLB tries to rein them in, they say things like the ump said to Curt Schilling. The notion that they would change the way they call balls and strikes, when all batters ever really want is consistency, simply because they're scared of what the machine might say about them, is beyond preposterous. It's all about adult human beings holding themselves accountable for their job-related performance. If you suck, just say you suck and quit looking to blame the only 100% consistent entity in the mix. Be men, for Pete's sake, not . . . Braves.

On the injury front, Mike Stanton and Pedro Astacio have become the latest DL entries. Mike Bacsik, last seen issuing four-pitch walks and gopher balls on Opening Day, is back in the rotation. His numbers in AAA were startling (0-5, 6.00 ERA, .328 opponents' BA); I can see why they'd want him for a batting practice pitcher, but the rotation? With Coney finally retiring, the youth movement continues. Somehow, though, touted prospect Jose Reyes remains in Norfolk. The Tides currently have the second-best record in the International League and a 2.5-game lead in the South Division (ahaead of the Richmond f-Braves) despite a flurry of comings and goings and a lack of real up-and-comers. I'm fairly dubious in regards to odds of the Mets' continued long-term success with this slew of rookies, journeymen, and career minor leaguers. Still, I have to revisit my initial statement here: Whitney is a happy boy for now.
Game 55 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 11, Red Sox 8
Record: 31-24

I feel like Kevin Bacon's character at the end of Animal House. All around me, Red Sox Nation is in a tizzy, running and screaming hysterically because the Sox (playing the part of the Deltas) have chosen this week to utterly implode (drive the Batmobile into the parade review stands). Meanwhile, I'm yelling, "Remain calm. All is well.", over and over again. I'm trying really, really hard to believe it. Hopefully, the next few days will see Pedro (Bluto) drive to the rescue carrying the cheerleader (a winning streak) over his shoulder.

The simple, central fact of the Sox season is this: the pitching (with the exception of Pedro, who is injured, and Brandon Lyon) has been putrid beyond reasonable expectations. Reasonable expecations, based on time-proven statistical concepts, indicate that it is nearly impossible that the Red Sox pitchers will continue to perform this poorly for the remainder of the season. The Sox are 1.5 games out in the division, and 1 game out in the Wild Card, and they have pitched as poorly as is statistically possible over the season's first 55 games. A regression to the mean over the next 107 games should translate to, well, a lot of wins.

All that aside, I was batshit about yesterday's game. The Sox scored 6 runs in the first 3 innings of this game, on 7 doubles against Toronto stud Roy Halladay. And then they pissed it away. Wakefield gave up 6, then Matt White, he of the 24.00 ERA, came in and poured kerosene on the flames. (Point of order: why was Grady inserting a struggling left-hander to face four consecutive right-handed bats?) Finally, after a few more flambe-filled relief innings, Jason Varitek put Sox fans out of their misery by grounding into a game-ending double-play with the bases loaded in the 9th. Neat effort.

Sox next 6 games are against the Pirates and the Brewers, two of the National League's weak sisters. Anything worse than 5-1 will have to be considered a disappointment, and will intensify the calls for Grady's head.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Game 54 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 10, Red Sox 7
Record: 31-23

The bad news is that the Sox have lost 4 in a row. The good news is that, despite suffering through their worst stretch of the season, and despite the fact that they are only 18-18 over the last 36 games, the Sox are only half a game behind the Yankees and tied for the wild card lead. So, if the Sox can find their groove again, it stands to reason that they should find themselves in good stead. Other postives: the Sox lead the AL in batting average, and Bill Mueller leads the majors in the same category (and just doubled to go to 2-2 in today's game). Other negatives: the team ERA is 5.08. That's freaking horrible, but I'm taking the glass half full approach and saying that the hitting will stay solid and the pitching simply must get better. All is well.

Oh, and I hope Roger Clemens' arm falls off today.