Thursday, July 31, 2003

Game 107 - Mets

Mets 2, Brewers 0
Record: 44-63

For all intents and purposes, Bud Selig still owns the Brewers. So does Al Leiter. He hasn't lost to them since 1994 and is 10-2 lifetime against the Crew. He made it look so easy where his predecessors in days past had made it look so difficult. You have to to love Al Leiter. He's the second-best acquisition the Mets have made in 10 years. (Piazza's #1, though this year he's not helping that argument.)

Speaking of acquisitions, yesterday Kevin Appier, his sore arm, and his 5.63 ERA were cut by the Anaheim Angels. Would that they could, the Angels would have cut his $12M salary for next season, but they'll have to swallow that. Appier was dealt to the Angels less than two years ago for fellow inactive Mo Vaughn. And while you can't rightly compare him to Big Mo, what with that World Series ring on his finger, this megadeal of two players worth millions and millions of dollars appears to be a disaster all around. I guess the Angels figured their sucking up of 12 million was not as bad as the Mets losing 17 mill a season for Vaughn.

Lots of blockbuster deals are supposedly in the works to be made before the trade deadline this afternoon. My prediction: The Red Sox make a minor deal, if anything, but the Yankees do something to make Rob Russell rant and rave about Steinbrenner, the lack of a salary cap, and how plain unfair the whole system is. (A little secret: don't make the Yanks look bad one week before the trade deadline.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Game 105 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Rangers 7
Record: 63-42

Mercy. That's what I exclaimed and what the Rangers pitching staff begged for after giving up three homeruns (including two grand slams) to Bill Mueller. Trot Nixon and Nomar added taters for the Sox to run the total for the game to 5. It bears repeating, but this offense is just sick. I can't imagine what must go through the minds of opposing pitchers when they have to face a lineup that's slugging .501. Top to bottom, this may go down as the best offense ever - at the very least it's in the conversation.

While Mueller Time was in full swing, the Sox added another arm to the bullpen, prying stud reliever Scott Williamson from the Reds for strong prospect Phil Dumatrait and the proverbial PTBNL. At the risk of jinxing things, the bullpen has now been completely transformed from glaring weakness to dominant door-shutter. The Sox are now in a position to close out any game after the 5th inning. The last problem that remains is getting to that point in the game with question marks in the 4 and 5 slots in the rotation.

If the Sox fill that void with Livan Hernandez or Javier Vazquez, they will be favored to win the American League. And it's driving Steinbrenner apeshit. On the one hand, the prospect of the Yankee owner foaming at the mouth over Theo Epstein beating Brian Cashman to Scott Sauerbeck and Williamson makes me giddy. On the other hand, the prospect of Big Stein ordering Cashman to go get Brian Giles or Vladimir Guerrero regardless of the cost scares me silly. Steinbrenner is rabidly mad, which may lead to a bad trade by the Yankees, but may lead to shelling out more cash to get the rightfielder they desperately need.

Regardless of what the Yankees do, it's a great time to be a Sox fan. The big black cloud that is the August schedule looms on the horizon, but this team is getting better every day.
Games 105 & 106 - Mets

Brewers 4, Mets 2
Brewers 6, Mets 3
Record: 43-63

In consecutive nights, John Franco has given up a game-winning hit and Tom Glavine has given up another dinger – in one inning of work – and gotten hurt . . . again. It seems the guys I profile negatively sink deeper and deeper into their holes with every outing. Oh, the wretched burden of ominous premonitory powers! (O.P.P. for short, and I am so down with it.)

While I'm speaking out of my Aase (Don Aase is one of a handful of baseballers who played for both the Red Sox and Mets), I will mention that after striking my pro-Seo testimony, he went out and pitched very well Monday, leaving with a 2-2 tie before David Weathers filled 'em and Franco spilled 'em. Speaking of David Weathers, he's 33, he has a high salary, a marketable ERA, and a sheer inability to retire the first batter he faces (somewhat important in middle relief). You'd think he would be one for the trading block, but apparently Jim Duquette is done dealing after sending away his latest pair of Logan's Run victims, Graeme Lloyd (36) to the Royals and Rey Sanchez (35) to the Mariners.

The influx of all this youth is refreshing, but it will also be necessary – and within the major-market Mets' ability – to sign some veteran free agents this winter. At season's end, we'll be able to speculate just what the needs are and how they match up with who's available, but I think starting pitching and an outfielder have to be atop that list no matter what happens between now and October. According to (though looking that their figures, I'm not sure their math is any better than mine), the salary dumps the Mets have made over the past month have dropped them down to 7th overall. They're about $600,000 behind the Braves, which seems logical, because right now they're about 600,000 games behind the Braves in the standings.

Other interesting notes while scanning the list of salaries . . . sure, everyone loves to point out that A-Rod makes more than all of the D-Rays, but this is far more noteworthy: What with Rey Ordonez sidelined (is that dugoutted in baseball?) with a knee injury and Ben Grieve out having a rib removed (What?!! Was he having trouble finding a mate??), the player on the Tampa Bay active roster with the highest salary is Marlon Anderson, who's making a hefty $600,000. But hey, living in Florida, he gets to keep it all! To beat Rob Russell's dead horse, Nick Johnson is the only Yankee on the active roster not making at least $600,000. These two teams are in the same division. There should be dancing in the streets of Tampa every time the Rays beat the Yanks. Except . . . the way elderlies drive, stay off the streets of Tampa, please.

Getting back to the dreadful subject at hand, the Mets have now dropped four straight to Milwaukee. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap and say the other team is better. When that team is the Milwaukee Brewers, you also have to think seriously about folding the franchise. The Brew Crew has now pulled even with the Mets at 43-63. This means only the aforementioned Devil Rays, Padres, and the God-forsaken Tigers are worse than the Mets . . . worse in record, at least. As they dip closer to 100-loss projections, check back for some comparisons to historically woeful Mets seasons.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Tidying Up from the Weekend

So George Steinbrenner made a big stink about this weekend's Sox/Yanks series, saying "They haven't won anything yet", in reference to the Red Sox, and implying that the series was just three games and not that important. True enough, on the face of it, but those statements are inconsistent with Georgie Porgie's teary celebration after the Yankees came back to win the final two games of the last series between the two teams - arguably even less important, right? The cracks in Big Stein's fragile psyche are beginning to show. "George is gettin' upset!!!"

Monday, July 28, 2003

Make the Call

I know Rob Russell too well. He is lazy, he is frugal, and yes, he is superstitious. But he is not worried about his health. Those other factors weigh heavily against him getting off his Steinbrenner and making the call to the cable company to purchase the second half of the Extra Innings package. This latest excuse (although his furniture will suffer for sure) is just another in a long line that I will have to work around to convince him he wants this. He needs this. Thank me later, Mr. Russell. Make the call today.
Games 102-104 - Mets

Mets 3, Reds 1
Reds 8, Mets 3
Reds 8, Mets 5
Record: 43-61

Here's a bad sign: you drop two of three to a team and the next day they fire their manager and GM. This has been a season chock full of bad signs. They aren't omens, they're indicators of just how bad it's gotten. Like:

Yesterday's Lineup ----- March 31 Lineup
J. Duncan CF ----------- R. Cedeno CF
J. Reyes SS ------------- R. Alomar 2B
C. Floyd LF ------------- C. Floyd LF
J. Phillips C ------------- M. Piazza C
T. Perez RF ------------- M. Vaughn 1B
T. Clark 1B ------------- T. Wigginton 3B
J. Bell 3B ---------------- J. Burnitz RF
J. McEwing 2B ---------- R. Sanchez SS
S. Trachsel P ----------- T. Glavine P

Hey, thank the Lord for Clifford Floyd! Yes, Ty Wigginton is still usually at third base, but again, it's just not a good sign when your lineup (with salaries and expectations equally high) doesn't vaguely resemble that of April 1.

It's also a bad sign when:
1. Thunderstorms = losses -- not one, but two!
2. If Cliff Floyd gets so hurt that he ends his season soon (a real possibility), it will be likely that no Met will hit 20 home runs this year. In this era, that's horrible. The Mets' hitters will also fail to reach the 20-plateau in stolen bases, meaning they lack speed as well as power. Though no pitcher will nearly win 20, Steve Trachsel has already allowed 20 HRs. And Glavine is probably one start away.
3. The one All-Star is now pitching (poorly) for the Yankees.
4. In the expanded standings, the Mets have a losing record at home, as well as on the road, on grass, on turf, during the day, at night, against all three divisions of the NL, in 1-run games, in extra innings, and in the last 10 games.
5. The pitching staff, with the exception of Dan Wheeler, consists entirely of rookies and guys with 10 or more years experience, including three with 16 or more. Too young or too old. That stat alone reeks of "rebuilding."
6. The team's highlights come with five minutes remaining in SportsCenter/Baseball Tonight, and they are only profiled in segments about high payrolls.

This isn’t to say there aren’t any good signs this year. Among this wealth of youth invading the lineup, there really has been some very strong play. It's just that, for 2003, the bad signs will invariably outnumber and outweigh the good.
Games 102 - 104 - Red Sox

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 5, Yankees 4
Red Sox 6, Yankees 4
Record: 62-42

I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. This was one of the best three-game series in the majors this season, and I'm not just saying that because the Sox took 2 of 3. All three games were close, well-played contests, with lots of intrigue, managerial manuevering, clutch hitting, and intensity. All three games were won in the 7th inning or later, with the first two not decided until the 9th inning. The Fenway crowds were large, loud, and in post-season form. Big players made big plays - for both teams. I'm actually physically tired, largely due to the fact that I channelled my nervous energy into situps and pushups during Saturday's game, knocking out about 200 of each over the course of the contest. I can hardly lift my arms.

All those platitudes aside, it's time to work a little blue. FUCK YEAH!!! That feels nice, and it's what I said when Manny's sliding, sprawling catch ended last night's game. It would be hard to overestimate how angry I was at about 4:10 on Saturday afternoon, after the Yankees had crawled back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game at 4 in the 8th. On the heels of the close loss on Friday, a loss Saturday would have put the Sox 4.5 back of the Yanks, and had them reeling coming in to Sunday's game. Then, like a gift from above, David "Florida Evans" Ortiz laced a liner off the Monster with two outs in the bottom of the 9th to deliver the win. I leapt to my feet and screamed out loud, startling my daughter and scaring the cat.

I thought it was instructive to note that while many of the Sox rushed to congratulate Ortiz, at least as many crowded around Jeremy Giambi, who singled, stole second (the first such steal of his CAREER), and scored the winning run. Giambi, the forgotten man this season, made the kind of plays that a championship team must make throughout the season. The Sox depth is increasingly apparent, with Giambi, Ortiz, and Damian Jackson all contributing significantly off the bench in the two Sox wins in this series.

Last night's game was Exhibit A for the character of the 2003 Red Sox (or, possibly, Exhibit B after the game they lost, 6-5, after coming back in the 9th against Mariano Rivera). Jeff Weaver simply shut them down through 6 innings, giving up only 2 hits and no threats after the first inning. Derek Lowe didn't have his good stuff, and was victimized by some bad luck, but he gritted his teeth, never displayed the Derek Lowe Face, and kept the game close while he was on the mound. Last year's team would have slogged through the motions for the final three innings, and flew to Texas after a desultory series with their tails between their legs. Not so this team.

Joe Torre may be doing some serious second-guessing this morning after bringing in a rusty lefthander to face Jason Varitek. Chris Hammond hadn't pitched in over a week, and Varitek is hitting over .350 against lefties this season. With two on and one out in the bottom of the 7th, Torre rolled the dice, and brought Hammond in to face the Sox catcher. Varitek's subsequent bomb over the Monster seats may well go down as the signature moment of the Sox season, if the Boston 9 survives August and makes a postseason run.

Whitney's friend Armando Benitez turned in a fine few batters before yielding to Methuselah, err, Jesse Orosco. Ortiz struck again with two on, ripping a triple to right to plate the final two runs of the inning. I'm certain that Torre was shocked when Grady Little decided to let the lefthanded Ortiz swing against Orosco. I'm sure he expected to see Gabe Kapler in that spot. Grady was rewarded when Ortiz delivered his second huge hit in as many days.

It was well past my bedtime when B.H. Kim came on to try to close out the game. When he walked Derek Jeter to start the inning, fleeting images of Yankees circling the bases fought to the fore of my consciousness. Then, when Bernie Williams' weak grounder turned into an infield single with one out, my insides were screaming at full red alert. Damian Jackson's comic flailings as he attempted to find Hideki Matsui's grounder while falling to the ground intensified the alarm, and my heart didn't stop racing until 15 minutes after Manny's scintillating grab robbed Jorge Posada and ended the game and the series.

Whitney wants me to get the Extra Innings package, and I guess a true baseball fan probably should spring for it, but my heart may not survive 58 more games. I get waaay too invested in live Sox games, to the detriment of my furniture, nervous system, and family. I'll do it, but you can't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Game 101 - Mets

Expos 5, Mets 1
Record: 42-59

I think the Atlanta Braves pulled the ol' bait-and-switch with Tom Glavine. Whoever is throwing in the #47 jersey for us these days is not the same cat who used to dominate down in the land of the Tomahawk Chop. By the by, do you think litter makes Native Americans nearly as teary as white, upper-middle class, semi-racist Atlantans ignorantly mocking their heritage with this crudely offensive gesture whilst trying not to spill their $7 Pete's Wicked? Reason #6 of 117 to discount Atlanta and its fan base.

The fat still left to be cut: Rey Sanchez, Roger Cedeno (duh), and perhaps Tony Clark, which is too bad, for rubbing-it-in-Rob's-face reasons. There's just not a whole lot of veteran leadership these guys can impart upon the young players, so they might as well step aside. Glavine and Al Leiter are still good for real leadership, so long as they employ the "watch my career highlight films, not my 2003 yearbook" philosophy.

I could pretend I'll be watching the Mets-Reds match-up (the FOX Sports tagline: "This feud has brewed since the Tom Seaver trade in '77!"), but I'll admit that my eyes will be on the Sox-Yanks series this weekend. It's far more compelling, and it's far more likely to cause Rob Russell bodily injury.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Game 101 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 15, Red Sox 9
Record: 60-41

This game was exactly like an enema or a prostate exam. You have to do it every once in a while, it's uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it cleans you out and takes care of you for the next period of time. Every baseball team has a few of these each season, and the Sox are no exception. They got their asses waxed (not to extend the anal(ogy) too far) because their pitching was abysmal, led (?) by Ramiro Mendoza.

Mendoza's rough outing ratchets up the intensity on the Sox' search for a starting pitcher, in my mind. Problem is, there's not much out there.

Who cares about that right now, though. The Yankees come to town tomorrow for three in the Fens. Pedro on the hill in game 1. I could run through a wall right about now. Especially if a proctologist were chasing me.
Looking Ahead and Getting Kicked in the Ass from Behind

The Sox are, at the moment, on the short end of an 11-2 asskicking at the hands (and feet) of the Devil Rays. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the Yankees are receiving a pummeling courtesy of the Orioles. Ya think maybe the Sox and Yankees are looking ahead to their three-game set in Boston?
Game 100 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Devil Rays 4
Record: 60-40

This game was a ticker-watching rollercoaster. Sox were up, 1-0, tied, 1-1, up, 3-1, down, 4-3, then up, 10-4 after a 7-run seventh inning. I was happy, concerned, happy, scared, thrilled, and then spent. It was a lot like my first sexual experience. I wanted to take a shower and smoke a cigarette after the game was over.

The offense finally scored some runs for Tim Wakefield, led by Trot Nixon's 2 HR, 5 RBI performance - including a granny that completed the Sox' scoring. Nixon has been prominently mentioned in a number of trade rumors, including a deal that would have sent him to Los Angeles for Odalis Perez. The idea of trading Trot has me terribly torn, with my analytical side advocating anything the makes the team better, and my sympathetic, soft and fuzzy fan side really bent out of shape about losing a guy like Trot.

Nixon's a bit of a lightning rod for Sox fans. He's been touted for years as the Next Big Thing, and he's shown flashes of brilliance mixed with bouts of putrescence. Boston loves him because a) he's white, b) he hustles his ass off, c) he gets his uniform dirty, and d) he seems to care about winning above all else - almost to a fault, as he gets so keyed up that it hurts him som. He's got his limitations, chief among them being that he absolutely flails against left-handed pitching, but he plays good defense and kills right-handers. ESPN ranks him as the 3rd most productive rightfielder in the majors this season.

This is where intellect and emotion intersect as a fan. Intellectually, if the Sox could get a stud pitcher or Vladimir Guerrero by trading Nixon, well, more power to them. Emotionally, I'd be sad to see him go. Today, the sad to see him go side is winning, which I guess means I'm a dewy-eyed sentimentalist.
Game 100 - Mets

Expos 5, Mets 2
Record: 42-58

I can't stand games like this. I get home from work, grab dinner, and have the kids winding down towards bedtime as the Mets game commences. The Mets go 1-2-3, then Montreal plates 5 in the bottom of the first. Just like that, it's over. It reminds me of those epic games of Risk in college when guys would hunker down to spend the next three hours keeping Rob Russell out of Europe but all of a sudden some total bastard (usually me) would knock some poor schlep out of the game two minutes into it. This night, and all too frequently, the Mets are that total bastard, and I am that poor schlep.

Sure, there are 24 outs left in which to score just 5 runs, but as a Mets fan, you know it's over. Javier Vazquez was mowing guys down, and Jae Weong Seo . . . was not. I take some responsibility for Seo's off-the-table-like drop in effectiveness. I touted him as the Mets' All-Star rep (apparently I had forgotten how much Armando Benitez had done to warrant this nomination); since that point, almost exactly, Jae Weong has been Jae Wrong.

Holy cow. I just did a little research on this and I owe the man a huge jinxy apology. On June 25, I named him as the Mets' All-Star. He was 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA. Since then:

June 27: @ Yankees - 5.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, Loss (5-3, ERA: 3.09)
July 2: Expos - 3.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, Loss (5-4, ERA: 3.35)
July 7: Braves - 6 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, Loss (5-5, ERA: 3.68)
July 12: Phillies - 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, No Decision (5-5, ERA: 3.64)
July 18: @ Braves - 4 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, Loss (5-6, ERA: 3.83)
July 23: @ Expos - 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, Loss (5-7, ERA: 4.05)

I officially rescind my praise of the man in hopes that he can right the sinking ship. Seo has been working with pitching coach Vern Ruhle on adding a two-seam fastball to his repertoire. Anything to quell the hit parade that's been hammering this guy.

So, ten minutes into this game, I knew it was done. The Mets did try to get something going in the 4th (after three perfect innings from Vazquez) when Jeff Duncan and Jose Reyes led off with singles. After a Jason Phillips fly-out, Cliff Floyd turned on one and drove it off the right-field wall, missing a game-resuscitating homer by two feet. Duncan scored, Reyes went to third, and Floyd . . . well, he paused for a moment in the batter's box, he slowed down before touching first, he realized he probably should get a double out of such a shot, and then he made a bad decision. Gimpy guys who didn't break at the crack of the bat should not try to stretch these kinds of long singles into doubles. He caught a break in Vlad Guerrero not fielding it all that cleanly, and he was still out by two feet. Twice he was short by those two feet – he could use two feet, two knees, a wrist, and a slew of other parts, too. It was a rally killer for sure, continuing a pattern of Mets veterans running like rookies (running the team out of innings). And then the game was really done.

After a run of facing divisional foes, the Mets square off against the winning-percentage-challenged NL Central. The Reds are in Shea this weekend, and the Brewers and Cards arrive in the coming week. Here's hoping . . . I don't know . . . that they win the games I watch? I don't care what the hell they do when I'm not tuned in.
Game 99 - Mets

Mets 7, Phillies 5
Record: 42-57

There was a whole lot of good to draw from this game:

1. Mets 7, Phillies 5. That's the the score of the game as well as the overall tally of games this season. With seven more to play, seven cases of Golden Anniversary (est. total: $62.93) is probably what I was realistically aiming for at the beginning of the year.

2. Wigginton, Phillips, Reyes, Duncan. Each had a good game, each continues to play solidly. None are bucking for Rookie of the Year, but perhaps that's not a bad thing – the less focus on this team, the more they can work on what matters.

3. Dan Wheeler.
He pitched well again, saving the day when John Franco was off, again, meaning––

4. Whitney was right again. Franco is but a shell of the former stud stopper for the Mets, and before that, the Reds. (Just as an aside, do you think he asked to be traded for Randy Myers so he wouldn't have to be known as one of the "Nasty Boys"?) It looks like a rock and a hard place right now for Art Howe, but it's not. Sure, the masses might squawk if Franco is relegated to mop-up or appears to be ousted from important roles, but Art Howe's focus will always be to win ballgames, even in a terminally ill season where John Franco sauntering off into the sunset might be a welcome distraction. I am hoping Franco can shake off this bad stretch and give the people what they want: their venerable closer closing out the season by saving ballgames for his hometown Mets. It's that easy, right?

The one negative creeping into this season is related to point #1. Koch's Golden Anniversary Beer, and its sister swill, Golden Anniversary Light, do not seem to be in the mass market any more. By mass market I mean pockets of liquor stores on Cape Cod such as Shop Ahoy, which used peddle the nectar at a reasonable (comparitively speaking, of course) rate of $9.69/case. Recent Cape ventures by Mr. Russell and his fellow Sox fan Coby Beck have been fruitless endeavors (though half-hearted, I'm sure) to obtain some of the "good" stuff for me. My competition in the Phils bet Rhys Lloyd thinks he might be able to track the stuff (brewed by High Falls Brewery in Rochester) in PA. I am worried. It would really taint the winnings if I have to resort to Schlitz.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Game 99 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Tigers 4
Record: 59-40

Sox close out the season series with the Tigers at a smooth 8-1. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a fan of the Detroit 9. This blog would double as a suicide note if I devoted the same level of passion to that team. And it's not like there's a lot of hope on the horizon. Detroit has some decent young pitching - Maroth and Bonderman will be serviceable to very good major league pitchers, and Wil Ledezma shut out the Sox - but their position players are worthless. Maybe Eric Munson will be useful someday, Dmitri Young has some pop in his bat, and Carlos Pena is highly touted, despite the fact that he hasn't performed all the well yet, but after those three there's not a whole lot. Alan Trammell's gotta be wondering why the hell he signed up for this crap.

The Sox get Tampa for 2 games before 3 in the Fens against the Yankees. I hope that the hometown team doesn't overlook the D-Rays - the same D-Rays who took two of three from them the last time they met. Boston's a season-high 19 games over .500 right now, but they had the exact same record last year at this point, and all it got them was an early off-season. After the D-Rays, the weekend series against the Yankees in Fenway will be a zoo. The Sox send Pedro, Burkett, and Lowe against Wells, Mussina, and Weaver. Lowe faces Weaver on national television on Sunday night. Those two headcases may not get out of the first inning, they'll be wound so tight.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The wheels are starting to turn

The Sox traded Brandon Lyon and minor league pitcher Anastacio Martinez to the Pirates today for lefthander Scott Sauerbeck and minor league lefthander Mike Gonzalez. I thought Lyon did a pretty good job for the Sox, but he was the last man in the pen at present, and I think the Sox sold high. Sauerbeck dominates lefties, and is pretty solid against righties, so they can use him alternately as a lefty specialist or as a setup man.

Speculation is that this trade sets up another, as it gives the Sox three lefties in their bullpen (Embree, Fossum, and Sauerbeck). I'm fantasizing about Fossum, Kevin Youkilis, Trot Nixon, and a prospect to Montreal for Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vasquez. Hey, a girl can dream.
Game 98 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Tigers 5
Record: 58-40

Slump, schmump. The Sox had scored 17 runs in 6 games prior to scoring 23 in their last 2. The doomsayers in Greater Baahston had begun to wonder if the offense was showing signs of wear. Well, not so much, I guess. The Sox hit early and often in this one, clubbing 9 doubles and batting around twice against the relatively defenseless Tigers. Manny Ramirez was 4-for-4 with a homer, double, and 3 ribbies before being lifted for a pinch-hitter.

I haven't spent nearly enough time talking about Manny Ramirez in this space in recent weeks. Hell, I think Casey Fossum's received more cyberink. I think it's because Manny is so utterly dependable, and so consistent in his mastery of his craft that he doesn't stand out. He's been in the top 5 in the American League in OPS for the last 5 years, led the league in batting last season, is on pace for a .320, 38 HR, 124 RBI, .993 OPS season (which would, amazingly, be his worst in 6 years), and I can't remember to talk about him.

Simply put, Manny is a hitting savant. He doesn't talk to the media (or, for that matter, his teammates), he doesn't run all that fast, or field all that well (though his arm is underrated), doesn't do chest bumps or have a signature homerun trot, and appears for all the world that he's playing a pickup game on a sandlot in Brooklyn. But when he gets in the batter's box, he's a maestro. His swing is effortless, but the ball explodes off his bat. He seems to get into two-strike counts on purpose, so he can shorten his swing and drive the ball into the gap in right-center. His understanding of the strike zone is clinical, and his ability to hit the ball to all fields makes him nearly unpitchable. He is the anchor of the best lineup the Sox have fielded in 60 years, but he gets more attention for his personal eccentricities than for his on-field play.

He makes $20 million a year, but newspapers reported in May that he hadn't cashed a paycheck to that point in the season. He's an odd, childlike, silly man, who hits the snot out of everything he sees. Kind of refreshing in a lot of ways, and a great fit with a Red Sox lineup that doesn't seem to have very many me-first sort of guys. Even the superstars, like Pedro and Nomar, seem to be stand-up, team-oriented types - the Boston media's smear campaigns notwithstanding. I hope that Manny keeps standing in there and mashing the ball well into October, but maybe he could put those checks in the bank - the New England economy could use the boost.
Game 98 - Mets

Mets 8, Phillies 6
Record: 41-57

Three weeks, sixteen games, and one team make-over after Armando Benitez snatched Aaron Heilman’s win away for himself, Heilman picks up his first career victory. Of course, if his ERA hangs around its current lofty state (7.18), he isn't likely to win too many more games. Still, thanks to a surprising Metropolitan offense, and despite the threat of another bullpen giveaway, he notched it. Cliff Floyd hit a three-run tater, Jason Phillips added a two-run job, and little Joe McEwing even hit a solo shot in support of Heilman and three relievers.

John Franco posted another scary performance. He relieved David Weathers after one batter (a double) in the ninth, got an out, then gave up a double, then a long fly to right field that Raul Gonzalez snagged with a nifty little play; if Roger Cedeno's playing right field, it’s a triple. He followed with a walk of Pat Burrell on four not-close pitches, making us (Fran Healy, Ted Robinson, and me) wonder if it was semi-intentional. Sure, nobody wants to put the tying run aboard, but Met-eater Pat Burrell – even a .195 hitting Pat Burrell – scares you more than Tyler Houston (or his pinch-hitter, Jason Michaels). Well, it never would have scared Franco a few years back, but he looked like he wanted nothing to do with Burrell and was playing the odds. It worked, as it turned out, when Michaels’ hard grounder to third was scooped by Ty Wigginton and fired to second for the final out.

Not to belabor the Franco issue – again, he made his bones long ago as a top-notch fireman (and a friend to the NYFD), it’s just that he is fresh off a major injury, he’s not getting any younger, and he looks, for the most part, like a shadow of his former self. There are two things wrong with this picture. First, on a selfish note, if he’s costing the Mets wins, he’s affecting the fans’ attempt to salvage some joy from this debacle of a season. The beauty of the 162-game season, as I have stated (and as I recently read, more eloquently put, in a decades-old article by Roger Angell in his latest collection of columns), is that even in the darkest, stormiest season of rain clouds, there are inevitably 40-60 rays of light that shine through and bring back the warm feelings. To watch John Franco threaten more than one of these rays of light is irritating; to witness the formerly dominant closer struggle mightily is downright painful.

John Franco used to be uniquely impressive on the mound, if only for one strange aspect of his pitching game: with rare exception, he never threw a strike. Oh, most of his pitches would pretty damn well look like strikes as they came in; you’d watch batters’ eyes light up as they reared back and let loose a massive swing . . . that missed by several inches as the ball sailed way out of the zone. I was always baffled that hitters wouldn't take more pitches than they did. Then again, the ones who did would stand there and watch him nick the outside corner for a called strike, thereby falling behind and forcing them to be more aggressive, which would inevitably lead to that whole massive swing, miss by inches thing. It was aesthetically pleasing pitching, rather than Benitez-style overpowering. And it worked.

These days Mr. Franco seems to be having two problems. One, his fastball, which used to complement his other pitches impressively, is not scaring anyone. More importantly, though, he’s still not throwing strikes, but they’re missing by wide margins and in all the wrong spots. He’s been missing pitches up, in the middle of the plate, in places where batters catapult them into deep gaps and left-field walls. The onetime tailing away pitches now begin away and end further away. People aren’t scared, people aren’t fooled. And as I mentioned, it goes well beyond the aggravation of adding more losses to the compost heap of this season; it makes you feel sorry for the guy, and I don’t want to feel sorry for John Franco. He’s way too great for my pity.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Games 95-97 - Mets

Braves 11, Mets 4
Braves 7, Mets 4
Braves 11, Mets 8
Record: 40-57

That I downplayed the importance of beating the Braves this year as compared to years past does not mean that I enjoy or can even tolerate the repeated bludgeoning at the hands of those bastards. That they are a veteran team of sluggers having career years and the Mets are a young team of call-ups does not excuse dropping seven in a row to them. That I have eased my obnoxious epithets towards "America's Team," its legions of "fans," and anything to do with the franchise does not mean that witnessing their domination of the Mets is anything less than a boot in the groin. I didn't think I needed to spell this out, but perhaps.

New York took an 8-3 lead into the 8th yesterday afternoon, and it looked like they might salvage a single game in the four-game set. I felt I was going above and beyond the call of duty in the dog days of Met-fandom by having the game on two separate televisions as I worked around the house. Any excuse to slide into the family room or basement and tidy something up would be followed up with a half-inning or so of viewing. I failed to realize that if I abandoned this practice for an inning and half at the end of what should have been an easy wrap-up, the wheels would fly from the cart and the Metwagon would tumble about wildly. Young reliever (you know, the kind I said I wanted to see more of) Edwin Almonte and Mike Stanton retired one batter in the 8th, despite facing ten of them. On the 34th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Javy Lopez greeted Stanton with a commemorative moonshot to pull within one run, and then it just got ugly. Errors by Stanton and Rey "At .207, Errors Really Aren't Helping My Cause" Sanchez and a slew of singles helped total eight runs for the Braves. Enter John Smoltz, exit Mets.

To their credit, the New York media (that I have seen) has not started in with the bitter, foolish, gag-reflex talk of how the Yankees dumped Stanton and he's blowing games for the Mets while Benitez has pitched pretty well in his two outings thus far for the Yanks. Either they're wiser than that, knowing Stanton is better than that and Benitez is worse, or they're not clever enough to have pointed it out. Either way, yesterday's new type of disastrous lead-blowing is better than the same old Armando Benitez way. It's still a kick in the groin, but at least it's not with a stiletto heel (raided from Robby Alomar's White Sox locker).

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Games 90 - 97 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 1
Red Sox 5, Tigers 3
Red Sox 4, Tigers 2 (11)
Tigers 3, Red Sox 0
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 2
Blue Jays 4, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4 (10)
Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 4
Record: 57-40

Tanned, rested, and ready after 8 days on Cape Cod, your faithful Red Sox correspondent swings back into action. Despite a maddening three-game skid midweek, the Sox are now three games up on their nearest Wild Card rival, and only 4 games behind the Yankees, even though the New Yorkers have won 5 straight. The offense took a brief snooze sandwiched around the All-Star game, but woke up just in time to save my sanity. A week without a computer was sublime, as was Sox baseball on local television and radio, and the Boston Globe's sports page - by far the best I've ever read.

A variety of semi-Sox related items of interest from the week:

1. The bastards got my grandfather and my father and now they're coming after me.

My father, an otherwise relatively optimistic and rational man, is reduced to muttering expletives and fearing the worst where the Sox are concerned. He and I went to see the Sox play Toronto on Thursday (see more below). Trot Nixon got thrown out at the plate on a bizarre play, and Dad's immediate reaction was, "Typical goddamn Red Sox play". Well, actually, no, it wasn't. It was a random, weird moment not indicative of anything larger, but I couldn't convince him of that.

50+ years of crushing defeats and disappointment must do something to a man's soul. Dad spent the whole week talking about the inevitability of the Sox collapse this season, while I kept trying to convince him and my grandfather that this team was different, that the offense was one of the best ever, and the pitching staff was coming around. Multiply my family by 5 million, and you get some sense of the burden carried by the Red Sox each year. There may not be a curse, but it sure seems like there's a palpable weight on the shoulders of the Sox players.

I was reminded of this on Saturday night, as I went to bed with the Sox trailing 4-3 in the 9th. "They're done", I told myself, "this is a season-killing loss. It's time to throw in the towel." Then, when I woke up in the morning to see that they'd rallied to win, I realized that the burden was catching up to me. My 27 or so years of fandom don't measure up to Dad and Grandpa, but the bastards are wearing on me as inexorably as the tides erode the beaches of Cape Cod.

2. Live in Fenway

As mentioned above, Dad and I caught a game at Fenway during the trip. Outside of the fact that it takes 2 hours and multiple trains to get to Fenway from the Cape, and the fact that the Sox lost the game, it was an evening well spent. We hadn't been to a Sox game in Fenway together since 1976, which was also his last game at Fenway. We sat in the centerfield bleachers - with an excellent view of the strike zone, five rows back from the fence.

Not to wax too maudlin over fathers and sons and baseball, but it really was a bonding experience. I hadn't spent that much time alone with my father in as long as I can remember, and now that I'm a father myself, I've got a much deeper understanding of the pressures, anxieties, and pride a parent feels. This whole week was really about connecting with my family in new ways - for the first time I was an adult in the midst of my aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents, and accepted as one. It was really remarkable to understand without talking about it that these people saw me as an equal, as a father and a voice of reason.

The game itself was relatively mundane, except for a brief Sox rally in the bottom of the 7th. Roy Halladay really quieted the Sox bats, pitching a complete game to win, 5-2. Fenway is a glorious dump, but it really seems that the new ownership has done a sparkling job of cleaning it up, adding friendly touches like a public concourse outside the park, and putting in enhancements that add revenue while still maintaining the park's unique character (the new Monster seats, for example). I really can't describe the feeling of walking up the ramp and into the stadium, taking in the views of the old ballyard, and seeing the Sox warming up. It swells my chest every time. Really, really, good times.

3. The racist, bitter stylings of the Boston media.

Pedro Martinez asked and received permission to leave the team a day before the All-Star break to fly home to the Dominican Republic. So did John Burkett. Manny Ramirez phoned Grady Little at 5:45 am on the day of the last game before the break and told the manager that his mother was ill and that he felt that he needed to fly to New York to be with her. Little granted this request as well.

These events don't seem terribly important in the scheme of things, and probably wouldn't be in 29 other cities. In Boston, though, with soulless, ranting hacks like Dan Shauhnessy patrolling the town, a Federal case was to be made. Interestingly, though, the case was only made against Martinez and Ramirez, who - gasp! - are both dark-skinned Latinos. Shaughnessy couched his diatribe in the language of the star system, trying to excuse Burkett by dint of his relative lack of standing with the team, but his intent, as always, was clear. Tear down the stars, simply because he has a forum from which to do so. 30 teams in the major leagues treat their star players differently than their role players. It is simply the way of the world. Hell, Shaughnessy's employer, the Globe, almost certainly allows him more leeway than its cub reporters.

The Sox players had no problem with the issue, and said so publicly. Only a handful of white guys with keyboards and microphones made any issue of the situation. Sadly, it's what Sox fans have come to expect, and becomes a self-fulfilling agenda.

4. Old-time baseball on the radio

My grandparents don't get cable at our little beach cottage, which is an issue for a different time. Because of this, I had to listen to the second game of the Sox-Tigers series on the radio, something I haven't done in forever. I'd forgotten how well-suited baseball is for laying on the couch with a good book and a good broadcast on the radio. Outside of Don Orsillo's maddening penchant for overinflection on every fly ball - "IT'S DRIVEN TO LEFT, DEEP...Simon settles under it for the out", lather, rinse, repeat at least 15 times during the game - the rhythms of the game and crowd noise are an underappreciated element in our hyperspeed, gottaseeitgottadoitgottabethere culture.

5. The new and improved Sox bullpen

Shhh. Be very quiet and I'll show you something neat. The Sox bullpen has a 1.99 ERA since July 1. The team's overall ERA is down to 7th in the league. I'm just saying.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Game 94 - Mets

Braves 3, Mets 2
Record: 40-54

Mark DeRosa's piece of garbage check-swing dribbler to second brought home the game-winning run in the bottom of the 9th. Unlucky loss? Not really, as John Franco got one of four batters out in the inning, and walked Rafael Furcal to send Vinny Castilla 90 feet from victory, allowing for all sorts of contact to score the runner. Franco is without a doubt one of the great Mets of the era and should be heralded accordingly; that said, he probably should not be given the reins too many more times with the game on the line. The second half of this season is a very difficult one for Franco to enjoy the twilight of his career, and that is unfortunate, but this is essentially a three-month pre-spring training, for all intents and purposes. It's an even better proving ground for the young players, as, unlike the spring sessions, the other team is really trying to win. And what with a world of talent to evaluate before next April, it's time to give the kids their shot.

Of course, this isn't to say play only rookies; Franco, like the other veterans, has earned the right to play as much as anyone. But with a slew of young relievers in New York, Norfolk, Binghamton, and other locales, I'd like to see if they can shut down the powerhouse Braves in a game like this. Franco, for all of his successes, has found his truncated '03 season to be full of achievements of all the wrong kinds (giving up formerly rare HRs to lefties, a surprising lack of control, etc.).

One of the young players who is starting to impress is outfielder Jeff Duncan. In addition to an early .412 clip at the plate, he has great quickness. Last night he exhibited his wheels in going from first to third on a single to left so quickly that LF Chipper Jones was left to watch and throw meekly to second base behind him. These little moments are the best and brightest spots of dark days.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Guestie from the Road

Headed to Fenway tonight to watch the Sox begin a 69-game stretch that includes 41 at home, where the Good Guys have a .700 mark this season. Down the stretch 2 games back of the Yankees and 1 up in the Wild Card. Fingers crossed, and keeping Hank Blalock in my prayers.
The Hills Are Alive

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night
Peter G. says, Benitez, you're a Yankee now, all right
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu
They'll boo, at you, and boo and boo and boo
So long, farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen
No more bitching, at your pitching, get on that subway train
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye
You'll leave, I'll heave, if you become a go-to guy
I'm glad, you're going, I cannot tell a lie
You walk, you balk, you give up the big fly
The fun, has gone, away and so must you
When you stink, I think, we'll all say that we knew
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!

[My apologies for the repeated musical interludes of late; but if you feel like singing, sing out . . .]

In a move that undoubtedly keeps the melodrama alive, the Mets finally sent Armando Benitez away yesterday, trading him to the Yankees for three (mostly) minor league pitchers. Had the Mets shipped him off to oblivion, like, say, the Braves dumping John Rocker on Cleveland a few years ago, it would probably mark the end of a painful chapter. By sending him to the Bronx, however, the Mets have nearly ensured that there will be a great deal of subsequent scrutiny and second-guessing, depending upon how well he performs for the Bombers. Hear me now and believe me later, Benitez will light it up for the Yanks, and all we will hear is what a mistake the Mets made. And then it will happen. He will hurt the Yankees the way he has hurt the Orioles and Mets – in ways far worse than he ever hurt opposing teams down the stretch.

One quote from Yankees GM Brian Cashman that elicited a chuckle from me: "I know in this town some failures get magnified and talked about. I think a change of scenery will do him good." Yeah, it'll be good for him to leave New York City and go to . . . New York City?? Is Queens to the Bronx really a change of scenery? Does it matter that the only tiny change of scenery – Yankee Stadium instead of Shea – is a house of horrors in Benitez's past? Will this change of scenery (a team behind him that isn't lousy, maybe) make up for the significantly heightened pressure to win (which is Benitez's kryptonite, by the way)? Armando Benitez really does need a true change of scenery, like San Diego, or Tampa, or delivering mail. This isn't one. He was just chucked out of the frying pan and into the same fire that's been scorching him for four years. He may well miss the comfort of that frying pan for the next few months.

The Mets received a trio of right-handed relievers for Benitez, and as my fellow Met fan Jeremy pointed out, that's not exactly the area of greatest need for the club. Still, everybody knew he had to be dealt, including other GM's, and what with his hefty salary, no commitment beyond October, and his penchant for gagging in the gravest of games, this may well have been all Jim Duquette could garner for his All-Star closer.

The procession of big names and big contracts out the doors of Shea Stadium continues. The rumor mill has Rob Russell's Red Sox inquiring about what they'd need to pony up for Steve Trachsel. The Mets are saying he's not available, but let's face it, anyone over 30 not named Leiter or Franco is available for the right price. I am rather enjoying this purging process. The likeable guys get a chance to play for a contender, the annoying guys get the hell out here, and there's the possibility of tomorrow's stars in each prospect. Sure, most of these guys probably won't work out, but it's nice to see a last-place team doing something rather than nothing. And just like when Mike Piazza sprints down to first in utter vain as the ball beats him by three steps -- one, you never know what's going to happen; two, it's just good to see a guy trying his read end off.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

American League 7, National League 6

Isn't it annoying when the other side is wrong, but they come out looking right? Last night's All-Star game was exciting, even tense, as it came down to late-inning heroics (a pinch-homer by Hank Blalock), and what with the consequences on the line, it was all that much more interesting. The Selig tinkering is still a bad idea, in my opinion -- and most ballplayers who've spoken out share that belief, but the result seems to have supported the change. Annoying indeed. As a fan whose team is completely out of contention -- and whose only representative was a bench-warmer for this contest, I was wavering between rooting for the NL (the natural selection) and the AL, based on whom I felt would make it to the World Series and get the advantage. And it was perpetually a lesser of two evils decision, whether the Yanks or Braves were more likely to make the Series and which team's win would cause less intestinal burn. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I could bear to see the Braves win it all just a tad more comfortably than seeing yet another Yankee-purchased trophy. That's when Blalock went yard.

In the noticeably absent Mr. Russell's place, I will simply say that you'd think the 2003 All-Star Game would showcase more of the 55-38 Red Sox than one weak, 8th-inning groundout from Nomar, but clearly the Sox have bigger goals in mind this year. They have a big homestand on the horizon against hit-or-miss Toronto (4), hapless Detroit (2), nearly as hapless Tampa Bay (2), and the possibly Benitez-laden Yankees (3). They should aim for taking 7 of those 11; doing so won’t necessarily guarantee them a first-place tie, as the Yanks' road is equally easy to hoe (featuring ho's like the Tribe, Jays, and O's).

Today marks one of the two days of the year (the other being two days ago) that there are no games played by any of the big four sports. Coincidentally/suspiciously, DirecTV came through for me two days ago. Bastards. Tonight, in place of any real sports, we have the ESPY Awards. Tomorrow night ESPN is airing a mock trial (featuring Alan Dershowitz and Johnnie Cochran) on whether Pete Rose should be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It just became official; these two shows bookend Jerry and George's pilot in the Top 3 Shows About Nothing. Considering the latter part of the Mets' season begins tomorrow, there's a whole lot of inconsequential bullshit on the tube for me these days. More time to work on the house and watch the kids, I guess.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Like Rats From a Sinking Ship . . .

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies
Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain.
For we received orders for to sail back to Queens town
And soon never more will we see you again.

Not to insult these fine major league ballplayers further by calling them fair Spanish ladies (well, it does seem right for Alomar, doesn't it?), but the "dead in the water" implication Quint gave the tune in Jaws is rightly applied to the Mets. Yesterday new GM Jim Duquette sent Jeromy Burnitz to the Dodgers for a trio of A and AA ballplayers. With Burnitz becoming a free agent after the season, it certainly makes sense, but it's too bad. He was one of the good guys this miserable season, in both spirit and performance. Plus, he swings as hard as he can just about every time, which mirrors my own softball and golf swings. In truth, the fact that he has toned down the monstrous cuts and begun hitting the ball to the opposite field is a large part of why his average has jumped from .215 to .274 and his HRs from 19 all last year to 18 so far this year. What it means is that it made him tradeable, and so he goes. But while I scan the boxes hoping Robby Alomar continues his plummet and didn't just stink for New York, I am hoping Jeromy Burnitz comes through with a good second half and another good contract in the winter. Good dude.

Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox appear to be the latest rumored front-runners in the Armando Benitez booby prize sweepstakes. If he goes to either of those places, there's a chance he'll shine and show us Mets fans up, but I believe there's an even better chance that under an increased spotlight, it will mean bad things, man. Bad things.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Games 91 through 93 - Mets

Phillies 10, Mets 3
Phillies 4, Mets 2
Mets 4, Phillies 3
Record: 40-53

Two years to the weekend after the passing of super-staunch Phils fan Evan Lloyd in a motorcycle accident, this series was a train wreck for the Mets. There was some redemption with a win in Game 4, but it came only after another blown save by Armando Benitez. (He leads the majors with seven of those.) As if his detractors -- especially the ones who say he isn't qualified to pitch in the Mid-Summer Classic on Tuesday -- needed a little more fuel for their case. To their credit, the Mets' hitters came through in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run. I tend to believe that the reason this younger, less acclaimed version of the Mets could pull this out where their predecessors would have surely failed is simply that, as players yet to rake in the millions of dollars, they appreciate the price of a case of beer. And so, because there is no canceling out of cases in this bet, I now owe Evan's younger brother five cases of PBR bottles while he owes me five of Golden Anniversary Light -- if he can track the GALs down. I'll be busy tracking down those Pabst bottles as well. It's even more insult to injury, as my bet used to be with Evan himself, and he liked his Pabst in the can.

The Marlins, meanwhile, have picked up Ugueth Urbina, so Benitez probably won't be headed there after all. While Atlanta has wrapped up the NL East by the break yet again, Florida is just 4.5 games out of the wild card and has decided they're going to make a run, which you have to admire. At this point, the only team in the division really out of it is the Mets, much to my chagrin. How did it come to this?

In some ways, despite the daily (okay, weekly of late) journal entries telling the story of the Mets' season to date, the Mets have been sneaky bad so far. They've clearly been mediocre all the way, as it's been a few moments of putting it all together surrounded by more moments of it all falling apart. But 40-53 is a horrible record, far worse than the way I feel they've played. Perhaps a lot of this is the recent stretch. They were somewhat holding it together at the point I called the apex (33-37); since then, they've gone 7-16 in ugly fashion, and right at the time when I've been able to follow them the least. (DirecTV is absolutely killing me.) After the demoralizing Yankee sweep(s), they seem to have given up the remaining glimmer of hope they had. Hence, the horrid pace of losses piling up, and the 6th-worst record in the majors.

Now we're at the All-Star break, which is something of a bitter pill for us Mets fans. No Met really deserved to be there, but Benitez's inclusion is pretty much a kick in the gut. Others will continue to point to his stats, his stuff, and his potential. We keep pointing to his potential to lose the biggest games on the schedule. So the lone Met in Chicago for the big game tomorrow (which counts!) is a guy who, in all likelihood, won't be a Met in a month; he's also the most regularly booed Met other than Roger Cedeno, who now receives "MVP!" chants upon his home plate appearances. I'd hope to see him blow the National League's home field advantage except that he's still on the trading block and I'd like to see the Mets actually get some talent for him. I fear that too many other teams are catching on to the anti-Armando sermons we've been preaching for several years. At this point he has to go -- anywhere, but preferably to an AL non-contender on the west coast. I just can't bear to watch another running of "Mental Man-child in Metville."

What does it say about the season when the All-Star break's appeal is a guaranteed three-day stint without a Mets loss?

Friday, July 11, 2003

Game 90 - Mets

Phillies 7, Mets 2
Record: 39-51

This one really hurts. Three losses to the Bravos, big deal, but losing to the Philadelphia Phillies will always sting me because it costs me a case of beer. Not only does it mean I am out twelve bucks, but it means I must search the area for a place that sells Pabst in the bottle for my high-fallutin' friend. With Aaron Heilman, Jae Seo, and Jason Roach (!) taking the mound the next three nights against the Phils, I may be making a hefty purchase. For those wondering about the status of the Sox-Mets beer bet, at the halfway point the Sox were just 12 games better, neutralizing the press and keeping my hopes alive for an unlikely comeback. Still, I may be well advised to grab a case of Sam Adams for Rob while I'm buying the PBR.

The lastest from the Mets' camp . . .

- Al Leiter is on the DL
- Armando "All-Star" Benitez is close to being dealt to the in-division Marlins
- The Mets owe $4.5M to NYC in overdue lease payments
- The Mets are now 20 games out of first place

Wow. What with my co-writer on location in Massachusetts for the next 10 days, is it okay if I write about the Red Sox in his stead? It's got to be more uplifting.

I preminisce no return of the salad days . . .

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Randall Simon Bludgeoned a Sausage

I mean, do I really need to say anything else?
Game 89 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 7
Record: 52-37 (Did Whitney intentionally leave off the Mets' record in his recent post, or was it a Freudian slip related to his misery?)

Hey, the pitching staff did their part in holding the opponent to less than 8 runs, and the offense did its job. Just like it was drawn up in the playbook.

I can't explain how, but I knew the Sox would win this game from the moment the Jays took a 7-3 lead in the 6th inning. I just knew it. I wasn't angry, I didn't shout at the TV, I didn't throw stuff around my living room. I flat-out knew that the Sox were going to come back. And then they did, helped immensely by a pair of Blue Jay fielding miscues and a timely double by David Ortiz.

The Bunger came up huge in the bottom of the 9th, striking out Vernon Wells, Carlos Delgado, and Eric Hinske after allowing a leadoff double to Frank Catalanotto and hitting Howie Clark with two outs. Cast iron cojones on the Korean. Bigtime win for the Sox, and a painful blow to the Jays.

With Kim in the pen, and newly acquired Todd Jones pitching well, it's almost time to say that the bullpen is in pretty good shape for the rest of the season. Add Casey Fossum to the mix - he's pitching rehab assignments right now - and the pen looks pretty tasty. Which means that the arm the Sox need to add is a starter. So, no more Armando Benitez dreams for me. Bring me the head of Kris Benson (and make sure his right arm is attached).

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Games 87 - 89 - Mets

Braves 7, Mets 3
Braves 5, Mets 3
Braves 6, Mets 3

I sense some kind of theme here, but I can't quite come up with it. And so the Mets impress with a sweep of Cincy and depress with a sweep to the Braves. Except, it's just not that depressing this time around. There is no rivalry when one of the rivals is catatonic. It seems like a decade ago when the Mets, led by Robin Ventura's grand slam single, were battling it out in the postseason with Atlanta. And even longer ago when the Braves, led by John "Where Am I Now?" Rocker, were whining about New York, failing to sell out playoff games, and rolling over and dying against supposedly inferior opponents every postseason. People, that was only 3 or 4 years ago. And oh, how the landscape has changed since then . . . well, they're not whining about New York, mainly because there's nothing to whine about when you're winning all the time.

No, this time the whining is coming from Tom Glavine. It seems you can take the crybaby pitcher out of Atlanta, but you can't get him to pitch like he's still in Atlanta, just cry like it. The bottom line is that Glavine, more than anyone except maybe Greg Maddux, has been the benefactor of "neighborhood" strikes throughout his illustrious career. Those sliders tailing off the plate are great pitches, just not all strikes. And now that he's not getting the calls, he bitches. And so I reiterate, he should see the good in checks and balances for umpires and praise the concept if he must criticize the current product. This revisit to an ongoing MLB dilemma, coupled with Mr. Russell's worthy detailing of the Mostly-Star Game disaster-in-waiting, makes one wonder how such a huge, high profile operation with millions of dollars being thrown around within it can be run so poorly. Ladies and gentlemen, Major League Baseball is truly our national pastime, if only for the fact that its day-to-day mismanagement models itself after the United States Federal Government. Enjoy.

By the by, more apologies for my repeated absences. This time it's a new house and the accompanying move, one which has left me without the use of television for three days now. (Catch your breath, Rob. Easy now.) Tomorrow the DirecTV guy is supposed to hook us up, and I should be knee-deep in Extra Innings by nightfall. If I had to miss three Mets games, though, I think these three were the ones, don't you?
Game 88 - Red Sox

Red Sox 2, Blue Jays 1 (12)
Record: 51-37

Saw very little about this game, except that Wakefield pitched really well and the Sox ran into another hot starting pitcher in Roy Halladay. This time, though, they toughed it out and picked up the win, as Wake and the bullpen kept the Blue Jays' sliding. 4 runs in 3 games for the league's best offense, so today might be a good time to lay one on the Jaybirds. Even moreso because I'll be watching this one on ESPN2.

Today's New York and Boston papers bring more carping from the Yankees about how upset they are that Pedro drilled Soriano and Jeter on Monday. I'm at once red-assed infuriated and gleeful about the situation. I'm pissed because the Yankees aren't even acknowledging that Clemens threw at Kevin Millar's head on Saturday, and I'm giddy like a little schoolgirl because of Millar and Pedro's public statements in the wake of the series - and the Yankees oddly prissy reaction.

Today's Boston Herald column by Tony Massaroti calls out the Yankees for their childish reaction, from Steinbrenner to Jeter and everyone in between. The piece also quotes Millar,

"The thing I didn't like was Clemens' remarks that players just don't get out of the way of pitches like they used to,'' said Millar, recalling comments that Clemens made following Saturday's Red Sox victory. ``Being a veteran guy, that's a tired remark because he just threw a 95 mph fastball at my face. That's unprofessional. A classy thing to do would have been to call the other (clubhouse) and see how I was doing. That's what I would have expected from a guy like that.

``If Pedro was trying to drill somebody, we'd put somebody in the hospital,'' Millar said. ``I don't understand why it's such a big deal. They're the ones who started ruffling the feathers with a comment like Clemens'. . . . If you want to start that (expletive), well, you know what, I don't want to face Pedro when he's angry.

``Put it this way: In a Clemens-Pedro matchup, see how many times Clemens throws at somebody,'' Millar said. ``I guarantee nine guys in the Yankees lineup would say (to Clemens), `Please don't throw at someone today.' Put together a Clemens-Pedro matchup and we'll see how many times he throws at people.''

The Boston Globe had this from Millar:

''When's the last time he hit?'' Millar said of Clemens. ''Ask him why he didn't take the ball [at Shea Stadium] after the last time he hit [Mike] Piazza in the head.''

Millar suggested the Sox exacted their just revenge. ''You want to hit guys, then hit guys,'' he said. ''But the next guy goes deep, and it's 2-0 Sox. The next thing you know, it's 8-0 Sox.''

What's more, Millar had this message for Clemens: ''Try to beat us for once, instead of [going] five innings and [giving up] eight runs. It's not our fault. Make some pitches.''

Pedro chimed in with the following:

``(Steinbrenner) said he was going to go to the league and I don't have any problem with that,'' Martinez said before the Sox' 2-1, 12-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays last night. ``He might be able to buy the whole league, but he's not going to put any fear in my heart.''

I love this stuff. I love that Millar has become a true force in the Sox clubhouse, a gritty leader who inspires the team's ace to get his back. I love that Pedro continues to show no fear of any man in baseball. I love that the Sox are talking smack to the Yankees, and not backing down from a confrontation that seems certain to play out for the rest of the season. I love that the Yankee organization is whining about being hit instead of taking it like men (and, for the record, both Soriano and Jeter were swinging on the pitches that hit them). I love that Kevin Millar stayed in the game against Clemens and hasn't come out of a game since, while Soriano and Jeter left the game after being hit by Pedro and haven't played since. The Sox may not win the AL East - hell, they may not even make the playoffs - but they've stared down the Yankees and won in terms of toughness.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Spinal Tap III - These Go to 32

Whitney and I have both spent some time, both in this blog and elsewhere, lamenting the mismanagement of major league baseball. It's a testament to the strength of the game's hold on our society that anyone is still a fan of a league that's as poorly run as this one. The latest sledgehammer to the collective fandom is the farce of the 2003 All-Star game.

How is this All-Star game a disaster, even before its played? Let me count the ways:

1. "This time, it counts." That's Fox Sports' catchy slogan to capture the fact that the winning league in the game will be rewarded with home field advantage in the World Series. The implication is that, because something is at stake, the players will try harder, and the managers will manage like it's a real game, and the fans won't risk sitting through 4 hours of baseball without a resolution (see the 2002 All-Star debacle). The last 7 times a series went to a Game 7, the home team won, so home field does mean something, which makes this even worse.

This idea is asinine on so many levels, but let's start with this one: As a fan of the allegedly championship contending Boston Red Sox, I must rely on Lance Carter, Dmitri Young, C.C. Sabathia, and Mike MacDougal to care enough about the result to try to win. If I were a Cardinals fan, I'd be hoping that Aaron Boone, Rondell White, and Mike Williams did the same. These are all fine players, but their teams are toast, so why in hell do they care who gets home field advantage in the series?

2. If it counts, then why are Pedro Martinez, Curt Shilling, Dontrelle Willis, Mariano Rivera, Jim Thome, Mike Mussina, Magglio Ordonez, and Brian Giles not on the field? If it counts, why does MLB see fit to arbitrarily require a representative from each team? You're telling me that Mike Williams and his 6.29 ERA deserves to be on the NL roster more than Willis and his 8-1, 2.08 marks?

3. More importantly, if it counts, then why are the fans the ones selecting the starting lineups? Fans are idiots, at least in the collective, but MLB trusts them to make the right decision on who should start this 'extremely important' game? When I was a kid, I would get 50 ballots at Fenway, and punch the Red Sox player at every position. Now, through the magic of the internet, millions of Japanese fans can do the same thing from 3000 miles away from any major league ballpark. This is how we get Hideki Matsui as the starting centerfielder for the AL. Maybe the fans can vote on which pitches to throw, and when to hit-and-run, too. Don't laugh - I bet Bud and the Gang have thought about it.

4. If it counts, then why did over 100 players not cast ballots, including half of the New York Yankees? Shouldn't MLB have forced players to participate, or make public the names of those who chose not to? Worse, the ones who did particpate didn't understand how the voting worked, which is how Ramon Hernandez was tabbed as the AL backup catcher over Jason Varitek, despite markedly inferior numbers.

The All-Star game is, has always been, and always should be an exhibition. Something as important as the World Series should not be arbitrarily pinned to it. Baseball has been so tone deaf over the past decade, that I'm more resigned than infuriated that they've created this situation, but when the Red Sox face Game 7 in Pac Bell Park in October after Lance Carter gives up a 9th inning homerun to Mike Lowell next week, I'm gonna be pissed.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Games 86 & 87 - Red Sox

Yankees 7, Red Sox 1
Yankees 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 50-37

Generally speaking, I think that most things can be expressed elegantly and clearly without the use of profanity. This is not one of those things. Fuck.

I said a few days ago that I'd be pleased with a split in this series, and I thought at the time that I was telling the truth. And I probably was, at the time. Now, though, the manner in which they achieved the split is gnawing at me. After they dominated the Yankees in the first two games, 3 of 4 seemed nearly certain, especially with Pedro going today. Even after Andy Pettitte beat John Burkett yesterday, I wasn't upset, because a) Pettitte owns the Sox, and (b) the Yankees own Burkett. But today's loss is a kick in the man-parts. Pedro goes 7, strikes out 11, beaned Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter into submission, and still can't get a win, even though Robin Ventura played second and Enrique Wilson manned shortstop for New York. That makes 5 games he should have won if not for lack of support or miserable bullpen work.

So, in short, fuck. We're right back where we started. Off to Toronto to try to pay back the Jays from last month's sweep. And the Sox still need another arm, and everything I said about that situation remains true.

I'll deal with the All-Star situation later, but suffice it to say that it's a bit of a crock when the best offense in the last 25 years only gets two players in the game. Not that I'm all that upset, because most of the Sox will get to rest for a few days.
This Just In – Your 2003 Mets All-Star

If you weren't following along every step of the way, and in all likelihood, you weren't, you'd think that I cheated. You'd have to assume that I went back after the fact and edited my old postings to accurately reflect later events. Well, I didn't. I'm just that good.

On June 25th, I wrote:
"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."

And who will be the lone (no surprise there) representative for the Metropolitans at the All-Star Game? Your friend and mine, Armando Benitez. [It should be noted that I have lifted the ban on typing his name; I found out that (a) he will never be traded because the new GM enjoys the agony his presence provides me, (b) he found out about the boycott and is expanding the ups and downs of this rollercoaster on purpose, and (c) coming up with new ways to refer to the man besides calling him by name is more work than typing his long-assed name. But I think my point was made.]

To be exact, I think it may have been the players and not Baker responsible for Benitez's inclusion on the All-Star roster, but man, oh, man, did I call that one. And as the talk show callers rant about how idiotic this selection is (it's only slightly less idiotic because the Mets have no clear-cut alternative), I feel no shock and awe, no stunned ire, no perturbed bewilderment. You see, clearly I have a gift, and I caused this mayhem. And my negative forecasts that have all come true were not premonitory; rather, they were supernatural forces at work, altering the future. And so I sit here wondering just how I would like the rest of the season to play out. I think I'll take it one game at a time and see how it goes. Tomorrow the Mets host the Braves; I'm thinking a resounding W-I-N, possibly off formerly unbeatable John Smoltz in the ninth. [I figure I might as well test this sucker out right away.]

Stay tuned.
Games 84 through 86 - Mets

Mets 7, Reds 2
Mets 6, Reds 2
Mets 7, Reds 5
Record: 39-47

What the . . . huh? A three-game sweep on the road? Tom Glavine pitching like the Braves' Tom Glavine? Timo Perez with a leadoff homer? Jaime Cerda with a win? Late-inning rallies? Shutting the door in the 9th? Tony Clark with more key hits and home runs? (Well, we should have expected that last one.) I don't really understand it, but I know what I like. Burnitz and Floyd carried this team offensively, but everyone contributed. Even Roger Cedeno . . .by being on the bench. Meanwhile, the Met Most Likely to Cause Me Internal Damage saved two of the three wins. How about that?

Jose Reyes continues to nurse his pulled hamstring, probably in a much different way than my wife is nursing our new daughter. But I don't know that much about sports medicine, so I could be wrong. This not only keeps us from seeing the exciting youngster, it means we are forced to watch Super Joe ".215" McEwing and Stupor Rey ".213" Sanchez. Jose, hurry back. All of the mile-high pop-ups are confusing the air traffic yo-yos over at LaGuardia.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Mets 83-Game Review- Cue "Taps"

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the fields, from the hills, from the sky,
All is well,
God is nigh,
So good night.

Well, I don’t know about that “all is well” part, but the Mets’ day is surely done. Just over halfway into the season, their postseason ambitions have been shelved. And so the real fun begins here at Misery Loves Company; for while my counterpart will continue down the path of stress, worry, hope, fear, and the alcoholic binges all of these induce, I have been relegated to the role of court jester. There will be no late-season dramatics in this 50% of the postings. Not the triumvirate of Roger Angell, David Halberstam, and Jim Rome . . . gotcha, I was trying to type John Feinstein to complete this sportswriting trio but my newborn baby spit up on the keys, causing the obvious typo. Anyway, not even the most worthy of baseball journalists could evoke any true drama from what’s left of the eroded Mets’ season, so I won’t try. Of course, Fox TV would jazz it up with all of the quick-cut graphics, pseudo-emotional synthesizer, and melodramatic wordplay they usually reserve for brilliant reality television show promos. I can see it now . . .

Up next . . . the showdown you’ve been waiting for . . . these two teams simply do not like each other . . . it started a few years ago with the league change . . . you likely recall that epic 7-2 game in 2001 . . . but when Jeromy Burnitz was traded for Glendon Rusch, you just knew it would come to this . . . Mets versus Brewers . . . this time it’s personal . . . [air clip of Bernie Brewer fighting Mr. Met atop the dugout]

So, there won’t be a climactic run in the works – well, let’s just say that if there is, I am selling this chronicle of the greatest comeback ever to the highest bidder. There will, however, be mini-dramas, ones which answer pressing questions such as:

1. Where will that relief pitcher who wears #49 (you know, the Crying-a-Lot 49?) end up?
2. How many more times will Tony Clark do something to warrant inclusion on this site?
3. How many more doubleheaders can the Mets lose?
4. Will my brother-in-law get me the green Mets cap on Irish Night?
5. If a tree falls on this column but there’s nobody there to read it, am I actually writing it?

With such exciting topics so readily at hand, look for thrill-a-minute commentary by yours truly. My team has made things rather difficult for me. While the Red Sox portion of the program will likely produce true fodder for discussion, this half will read like a USA Today article. Not that you need important topics to warrant online discussion – just check out the Sports Guy these days and his running commentary on hot topics like the NBA, pro wrestling, and Rocky IV. I will do my part to keep this Mets log rolling along as if they truly were in the thick of it. This may mean blatantly altering their scores and recaps to do so, but I am not above New York Times-style reporting if it means entertaining you. And by “you” I mean me.

By the numbers:

Record: 36-47
Standing: Fifth place, NL East – 16 games behind friggin’ Atlanta/Tenth place, Wild Card, 11.5 games behind Philadelphia
Offensive Stats: They are all offensive, and I don’t feel like spending time digging up stats to prove the Mets suck; this is a given.


Al Leiter has been disappointing; Rey Sanchez is a placeholder, and not a very good one; Pedro Astacio was lousy until he helped the Mets by getting hurt; the middle relief has been shaky at times.


The slew of rookie starters has been fairly miserable; Roger Cedeno, despite improving as the season wore on, has looked absolutely lost most of the time; Tsuyoshi Shinjo left his bat in San Francisco; Art Howe has been inconsistent enough to be questioned consistently.


Mo Vaughn was putrid until being put out of his misery; Robby Alomar was horrid until being traded; the defense has been near worst in the NL; the closer has made me break things and must pay for his actions.

Rather Aromatic . . . Relatively Speaking

Ty Wigginton has been the only guy not to live up to the preseason naysaying; Jose Reyes is a sparkplug; Jeromy Burnitz has been fairly impressive; Cliff Floyd has battled like a champ and deserves better; Jae Weong Seo has looked great at times; Steve Trachsel has, too, but fewer times; Jason Phillips and Vance Wilson seem like solid players for the future; when Mike Piazza was healthy, he was good ol’ Mike Piazza.

You know, upon reflection, there were just as many guys working their butts off and playing up to the best of their ability as there were mammoth (Mo is short for Mammoth) disappointments. But it didn’t add up right, and the hole the bad guys dug was greater than the sum of all the good guys. Or something like that.

Looking Ahead

Thank goodness for 162 opportunities (79 left) to find some happiness in this season. A few wins here and there, a few nice plays, a few long homers, a few big saves (once that current guy leaves) . . . there is potential for joy in Metville. You just have to know where to look and be content with less. But hell, I went to college in Williamsburg – this I can do.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Games 84 & 85 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Yankees 3
Red Sox 10, Yankees 2
Record: 50-35

Well. Um. Wow! I certainly didn't expect this, and I was thisclose to starting another blog boycott, but I just couldn't bear to face the mockery. The Sox have absolutely owned the Yankees in the first two games of this series, slugging 10 homers and battering David Wells and Roger Clemens, while keeping the Yankee offense off-balance throughout. Both games were televised on broadcast networks, so I caught every lovely inning. True sign of Sox fan dementia: I was yelling at the television this afternoon when Chad Fox walked Jason Giambi with a 6-run lead in the 8th inning. The years of disappointment have built up a plaque on my psyche that won't let me believe in a lead until the final out is recorded.

Also of note, it is clear that I'm getting really good at this reverse jinx thing. Mendoza pitched 5 scoreless innings, and should have been able to go one more, if not for some shaky fielding by his teammates that led to an extra 15 pitches in the bottom of the 5th. He was really effective, pitching out of several jams, and only giving up a handful of really well-hit balls. If he can build some strength and give the Sox 6-7 effective innings every 5th day, things are looking up.

David Ortiz hasn't gotten much airtime in this space this season, but he has been a beast in the first two games of this series. He's hit 4 homeruns, including two of the most mammoth blasts I've ever seen. Well, two of the three most mammoth, in the mix with the bomb Manny touched off in the third inning of the first game. That was the first ball I've ever seen reach the upper deck in left field in Yankee Stadium, or at least the first I can remember.

The Yankees have looked really crappy in these games, too. Both Wells and Clemens labored, as the combination of 90+ degree temperatures and the scorching Sox offense made them both look like the 40 year-old pitchers they are. The Yankee defense was mediocre, at best, and they left 10 men on base in today's game. The New York bullpen is, arguably, worse than the Sox'. They are still a dangerous team, but they have their weaknesses. That won't make me sleep any easier, as they still scare me senseless.

By far the least pleasant part of the last two days was listening to Tim McCarver this afternoon. While he was highly complimentary of the Sox offense, his hysterical diabtribe against Bill James and Theo Epstein in the late innings was alternately misinformed and just plain asinine. McCarver kept repeating, "How could anyone have convinced Epstein that a team doesn't need a stopper?", as his voice screeched and raised. He railed against Bill James, Stat Guy while conveniently forgetting that Jamesian principles built the best offense baseball has seen in the last 25 years. More to the point, though, the Sox never said that a team doesn't need a stopper, but simply that the best usage of such stopper might not be automatically in the 9th inning. McCarver, in his haste to condemn that which is anathema to old-school baseball men, failed to get the facts right before he began spewing.

Still, even Tim McCarver can't ruin the first two games of this series for me. Burkett against Pettitte tomorrow and then Pedro against Mussina Monday. Probably best I can hope for is a split, but that wouldn't be altogether bad.
Games 81 through 83 - Mets

Mets 3, Expos 1
Mets 7, Expos 6
Expos 11, Mets 4
Record: 36-47

Fresh off that chapter we'll just call "The Hindenburg Rides Again," it was nice to get a series win, even if (a) it was against the overachieving Expos; (b) that Dominican chap who appears near the finale of contests in an attempt to end the game via throwing baseballs by batters ruined Aaron Heilman's bid for his first career win, only to steal the victory for himself; and (c) they appeared headed for a sweep until Jae Seo lost it fairly early and Art Howe, whose hook is slower than Muhammad Ali's these days (and the NY Post would also say his head is equally shaky . . . sorry, awful joke), turned a few bad pitches into a few bad innings, sealing the loss. But again, a pleasant rebound.

Speaking of the Expo(nentially more inspiring than the Mets)s, Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett vetoed trades to "Montreal" as this series was going on, prompting Bobby Valentine to turn to the camera in a Dennis Miller-style rant and tell Bud Selig and the brain trust that is MLB to get its collective head out of its collective backside and determine the fate of the Franchise Someday To Be Formerly Known as Les Expos sooner rather than later. His point was valid, but just another in a long line of good reasons this club needs to move now; nobody wants to go to a team who has road trips to home games, who can't do much for their salaries, and who has a huge question mark in terms of overall future. Would you take a job with a company as unstable as the Montreal Expos? It's further evidence that the glorified vaudeville act of the Puerto Rico / Montreal Corridor is hamstringing this ballclub's future potential. I guess the thesis in Mr. Russell's book review hits the mark; with every move the think tank that is baseball's executive office makes, they make John Rocker look like Andrew Carnegie.

And just to put a local slant on this obvious-to-everyone-except-everyone-that-matters argument, why aren't they already having a groundbreaking ceremony in DC or Arlington? Please, people, somebody put a gun to Bud's head and make him send the Expos to the nation's capital . . . so I don't have to read any more Thomas Boswell articles in The Washington Post about it. Forget the joy that having baseball in my neigborhood would bring me. I just can't read the same article re-written for the 5,000th time.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Clearing the Blogjam

I have returned from my own mid-season hiatus, though mine was a bit more substantial in cause than "Jinxy" Russell's. I needed a break in the day-to-day dosages of depression I find here to bring Miss Darling Dykstra "Mookie" Lester into the world. Is it wrong that, what with the state of affairs in Shea these days, I'm crying more than my newborn baby is?

I will do my best to catch up in a timely manner. Kudos to my colleague for keeping the world abreast of all of the pertinent Mets news (a contradiction in terms) in my stead.
Game 83 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 6, Red Sox 5 (10)
Record: 48-35

It looks like the Sox just lost 2 of 3 to the Devil Rays, but that's not possible, so there must be a typo in my paper this morning. And why, pray tell, am I not breaking things over it? Have you noticed that I can't get a fix on this team? Is it obvious that I'm ridiculously conflicted? Despite this bed-crapping, the Sox are still in the lead for the Wild Card, and try as they might, they can't shake me.

I'm tempted to say that the upcoming 4-game set against the Yankees is make or break, but I don't really believe it, especially because the pitching matchups make anything better than split unlikely. It's possible that this series and the 3 games in Toronto that follow will determine Grady Little's fate, but even if the Sox go, say 2-5, in the next 7, it's unlikely that they'll be more than 2.5 games behind the A's - still right in the thick of it. Psychologically, the next 7 may be big, but in terms of the big picture, I don't see it that way. Do I hope they run off a 7-game winning streak? Sure. Will I be planning a bridge jump if they don't? Unlikely, unless Pedro gets hurt.

They lost this game, once again, because of the bullpen. The chorus screaming for another arm is reaching a crescendo (and recent pickup Todd Jones is not the answer). Theo, can you heeeaaaar me?

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Game 82 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 4
Record: 48-34

Lessee here, first game of the first half of the season, Pedro pitches well, Nomar can't make a play in the 9th inning, Sox blow a lead and lose to the D-Rays. First game of the second half of the season, Pedro pitches fairly well, Nomar makes a sensational play in the 9th inning, B.H. Kim gets a 1-2-3 save, Sox hold on to beat the D-Rays. I think I like that trend.

One more against the Rays tonight followed by 4 in the Bronx over the weekend. 4th of July live on ESPN at 4:00. I'm looking for the Sox to get Boston Tea Party on the Yankees. Or, actually, I'm praying for a split.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Red Sox 81-Game Review: Meeting Expectations, So Why Does it Feel Like They're Not?

Halfway home, the Sox are a riddle. They appear to have elite talent, especially on offense. They've been relatively healthy, and they are seem to have pretty good chemistry, if that means anything. I told Whitney before the season that I thought they'd win 95 games. They're on pace to win 94. Seems like I was pretty close, at least through 81 games. Why, then, am I vaguely disappointed?

Maybe it's because they seem to have dropped a disproportionate number of games that they should have won. I say seem, because the losses always stay with me longer than the wins. I recognize that they've won some games that they probably shouldn't have, but losses like last night's, or the season-opener, or the one they blew to Toronto with a 6-run lead, or the loss to the Phillies where they blew three leads after the 8th innings, get the point.

Maybe it's because the offense is so good, and the pitching has been so mediocre. I'm like a broken record on this topic, but even average bullpen results would have meant 3 or 4 more wins, and even average starting pitching in the season's first 6 weeks probably means 2 or 3 more on top of that. Pretty soon, I'll start to really get mad about games they should have won, as the season reaches critical mass.

Maybe it's because I'm more and more convinced that the Yankees are pretty vulnerable, and the Sox have failed to capitalize. Maybe I'm growing less and less convinced that Grady Little's soft-shoe style is right for this professional, but fairly low-key team. Maybe I'm just expecting too much. Anyway, here's what I think:

By the numbers:

Record: 47-34
Standing: Second place, AL East - 4 games behind New York/First place, Wild Card, .5 game ahead of Oakland
Offensive Stats: .299/.365./.496 (.861 OPS) - All 1st in the majors
Pitching Stats: 4.85 ERA (9th in AL), 6.97 K/9 innings, 3.31 BB/9, 2.09 K/BB, 1.46 WHIP

Exceeding Expectations

1. Clearly, I expected the offense to be pretty good, but I had no idea it was going to be this good. It's been sick, flat out sick. The Sox are averaging 6.36 runs per game, best in the league, and 29.7% better than the league average of 4.90. Not only that, but it's an offense geared to scoring in bunches, with no weak spots 1-9, and a roster of batters who take pitches, reach base, hit a ton of doubles, and score, score, score. They put pressure on the opposing pitching staffs from the first inning, which has resulted in an inordinate amount of late-inning explosions as the lineup tees off on mediocre relief pitching.

2. Individual players who have been better than I expected include Nomar Garciaparra (.341, 12 HR, 56 RBI, .959 OPS), Bill Mueller (.323, 5, 34, .910, league-leading 30 doubles), Kevin Millar (.318, 12, 57, .934), Trot Nixon (.311, 10, 47, .926 from the 7 and 8 spots, mostly), Jason Varitek (.291, 13, 45, .914), and Todd Walker (.311, 8, 48, 819). Looking at those numbers makes me even more impressed by the offense, and even more depressed that I can't list a single pitcher in this category.

Meeting Expectations, Mostly

1. Manny Ramirez has been Manny Ramirez. He's got the best offensive stats on the team (.322, 17, 61, .969), and he just chugs along and produces offense. No muss, no fuss. A little voice in the back of my head keeps wondering when he's going to get really, really hot and carry the team for three weeks. He's capable of a .380, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1.100 OPS month, and I'm waiting for it. (7/3 edit: slap my ass and call me Sally, he went .351, 9, 27, 1.139 in June, really, really quietly. If he ever has a loud month, the numbers could approach .400, 15, 50, 1.500)

2. Pedro has been Pedro, when he's been healthy. He's only 5-2, owing largely to a bullpen that's deserted him on at least 3 occasions. His 2.74 ERA is a little skewed by the 10 runs he gave up to Baltimore early in the season. Without that game, he's at 1.70. He gave up 40% of his earned runs for the season in that game. He's struck out 86 and walked 23 in 82 innings. He's a stud, as usual.

3. Derek Lowe is finally pitching like Derek Lowe. True, his ERA is still at 4.51, but ever since the Yankee start when he scuffled through the first part of the game and then stiffened his back and plowed through the Yankee lineup, he's been great. He's 6-0, 3.28 in his last 9 starts, allowing only 47 hits in 63.2 innings. The fact that he's in this category is a huuuuge improvement.

4. Management has been mostly proactive and creative. Aside from not handling the ongoing bullpen issues very well, Theo's done a pretty good job. The lineup is highly robust, and the Kim for Hillenbrand trade will pay dividends this year and in the future. Now, be a good boy and go get us an arm.

Not so Much Meeting Expectations

1. Do I really need to get into the pitching here? Again? I didn't think so.
2. Although, it's worth pointing out that Ramiro Mendoza has been brutally brutal. And he gets rewarded by starting against the Yankees on Saturday. Yay!
3. Johnny Damon has been an anchor at the top of the order. Frankly, it's another sign of how good the offense is that they haven't let Damon's .256/.324/.402 bog them down. Hey, at least he's a good glove man.
4. The succession of replacement arms - Woodward, Rupe, White, Shiell, Chen, Person, et al - have been, in a word (cue Bill Walton) horrrrrrrible.
5. Jason Giambi is batting .173. Not so good for a guy who can't run or field. He's not bringing much to the table, except for strong knowledge of the grains in the Fenway bench.

Looking Ahead

I said this last week, and I still believe it. One more stud arm and relatively good health for the rest of the season = AL Championship. No improvement of the pitching staff = no playoffs. Let's see how I do.
Game 81 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 4, Red Sox 3 (11)
Record: 47-34

The Sox ended the season's first half in the same manner they started the season, blowing a game to the mediocre Devil Rays in exasperating fashion. After scoring 2 in the top of the 9th to tie the game, the Sox allowed the winning run to score in the 11th on a botched pickoff. Brandon Lyon whirled around and had Rocco Baldelli dead to rights at second base. As Baldelli broke towards third, Lyon slung the ball slightly behind the onrushing Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar reached back to his right, but the ball brushed his glove and skittered into left-center, allowing Baldelli to score the game-winner.

Assessing blame on the game-losing play is really pointless. Yes, Lyon should have made a better throw, but he also should never have let Jason Tyner walk on a 3-2 curveball - which would have ended the inning before the pickoff play. Yes, Nomar almost certainly should have caught Lyon's throw, but he also went 3-for-6 in the game, so I can't really be mad at him. Blah blah blah. Bottom line, though, is that it never should have come to that. Extra inning games are a crapshoot, and Sox should have run the D-Rays out of the ballpark well before it got to the late frames.

Two more against Tampa, then 4 with the Yankees and 3 with the Blue Jays. 5-4 in those 9 would make me really, really happy, but the pitching matchups (Burkett and Mendoza in the Bronx - oofah) aren't pretty. I'll be crossing a lot of fingers and toes over the next 10 days. But, hey, the Sox still lead the Wild Card race, so the sky isn't falling yet.