Saturday, July 31, 2004

Upon Further Review...

I've had a few hours to think about this trade, and, while I still don't like it on paper, I'm willing to concede that it doesn't completely suck donkey testicles. Fact is, before today the 2004 Sox were 41-39 since mid-May. They were an awful defensive team with one of the least athletic rosters in baseball. They have added Gold Glove athletes at shortstop and first base, and picked up a very fast, very defensively adept outfielder in Dave Roberts (acquired from the Dodgers for spare parts). It is a plain and simple fact that they are no longer the best offensive team in the American League, but that distinction wouldn't have amounted to a hill of beans - they'd miss the playoffs if the season ended today. At the very least, they will likely not kick away many more games with bush-league defensive lapses - though they'll find themselves fondly remembering the series when they scored 27 runs in 3 games against the Yankees.

This trade shifts an enormous amount of pressure on the heretofore unsteady shoulders of one Derek Lowe. He, more than any other Sox pitcher, was burdened by the miserable defense the Sox ran out every night. Now, he'll conceivably be looking at Mueller, Cabrera, Reese, and Mientkiewicz across the infield - if that isn't Chicken Soup for the Flaky Righthander's Soul, I don't know what is. That said, if he's betting big on Lowe, this trade is basically Theo Epstein pushing all his chips into the middle of the table and hoping the dealer completes his straight flush on the River.

But with all that said, all the logic expended, I still am so very disappointed to see Nomar leave Boston. I lied a few days ago - he's my all-time favorite Sox player, and even though I should know better, I held out hope that he'd be on the field when the Sox finally won a title. I love the way he plays the game - gracefully, powerfully, grittily, all-out-all-the-time. I love his name, for Chrissakes. I love that he never seemed to be the stereotypical superstar, that he was quiet, reserved, introspective. I love that he's better than Derek Jeter, and that I could always shout a Yankee fan into submission because I knew the numbers that proved it.

I'm 34 years-old, well past the age of hero-worship. I understand that baseball is a business and that I basically root for the laundry. I do. And even though that's true, I will feel very conflicted when the Chicago Cubs take the field tomorrow and this big-nosed guy with an athletic gait bounds out of the dugout, kicking the toes of his spikes into the turf, number 5 across his pinstriped back as he sprints to his familar position on an unfamiliar diamond. I've never had a second-favorite team before, but odds are about even that I'll own a Cubs hat before I post again. They'll never be the Red Sox, but, then again, they've got Nomar.
They Shoot Shortstops, Don't They?

Nomar's gone. All that's left to figure out is whether the Sox made a bad trade or a horrific one. Most major outlets are reporting that the Sox sent Nomar (to the Cubs) and minor league outfielder Matt Murton out and got back Expos SS Orlando Cabrera and Twins 1B Doug Mientkiewicz. If that's it, I can't fathom any plausible positive spin on this deal. It stinks and it sucks and it stinks. Losing Nomar may well have been inevitable. Losing him for dreck like Cabrera (career .730 OPS) and Mientkalphabet, well, I'm not calm enough right now to put that in words. So, for now, I'm holding out hope that the other shoe has yet to drop, and that Matt Clement is on his way to Boston. Because if he's not, the 2004 Sox aren't going to make the playoffs, let alone win a World Series.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Under a Loudoun Dusk

Random Thoughts Penned After Choosing the Internet Over 'Under a Tuscan Sun'

Friday nights sure used to be different. I'm 'watching' the Sox play the Twins (shocker - they had a man on third and less than two outs in the first and couldn't plate him) on CBS Sportsline while my wife watches a crappy chick flick, sipping a Sierra Nevada and hoping I can stay up late enough to catch 'The Daily Show' and its Democratic National Convention wrapup. (Aside - last night's TDS simply skewered the major networks' coverage of Al Sharpton's speech. Jon Stewart was as brilliant in his (supposedly fake) analysis as NBC's Brian Williams, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Newsweek's Howard Fineman, and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly were insipid. I'm not kidding to make an post-ironic point. Stewart nailed it - and was funny doing so - and the network suits wildly missed the importance of Sharpton's message while falling over themselves to criticize his departure from the script. How long until Jon Stewart winds up hosting the CBS Evening News? You think I'm joking, don't you?)

Tomorrow ought to bring us a torrent of MetProse from our blue and orange hued pal. (He's blue and orange from the overexposure to alcohol and sun, not because he's a Met fan.) His boys got Benson and Zambrano, but parted with Kazmir and Pedersen to do it. If Rick Peterson is a good a pitching coach as advertised, and if Benson (as has been reported) is willing to resign in New York, and if David Wright lives up to his advance billing, well, then the Mets might be a really interesting team to watch. In 2005.

Question for Whit to ponder: Who's your favorite Met of all time? Marty Barrett used to be my favorite Sox player, but then he went and put on a Yankee hat while Clemens was going for win number 300. I think it's Yaz, now that Nomar's not long for the Olde Towne Team (he's sitting out tonight and tomorrow, coincidentally the last two days before the trade deadline, with an "inflammation" of his achilles' injury), but I'm hard-pressed not to go with Tim Naehring.

The Sox have loaded the bases twice in three innings and had a man on third with 1 out in the other and have but 2 runs to show for it. On the plus side, Mark Bellhorn's already struck out and walked, leaving him an error and a homerun away from the little-known but always scintillating Bellhorn Cycle.

Good to see T.J. Doyle (and guest) picking up the blogball and running (ambling? loping? walking 30 feet and getting winded?) with it at Gheorghe:The Blog. Particularly nice of him to link to the website celebrating Kris Benson's wife and her, um, charities. The Mets' may have to pay out injury claims to fans who suffer whiplash from craning their necks to peer into the wives' section at Shea.


In other trade news, the Dodgers sent Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi. Don't really understand this one from the Marlins' perspective. Penny's a solid, playoff-experienced starter, he's only 26 years old, and he's having his best season. Choi's also really young (25) and has tremendous potential - already 15 homers and an .883 OPS this year in his first full MLB season. Lo Duca's a fine player (actually, I think he and his .770 career OPS are a bit overrated), Mota's got filthy stuff (though he's already 31), and Encarnacion is serviceable, but they seem a steep price to pay for that much potential. I suppose the contract situations may play a role in the deal, but I'm too lazy to go figure out those details.

Sox have loaded the bases for the 3rd time in this game - and it's only the 5th inning. Every Sox player has been on base at least once already. Crikey.

Are the Texas Rangers done, or just in a slump? Would be great for the Sox if they were toast, because the Wild Card race just got surprisingly easy if they were, especially given Anaheim's injury problems.

Sox are doing their part, up 7-0 in the 5th. Is it too much to ask for Lee Mazzilli's team to win consecutive games against the Yankees? Sure appears that way.

Gabe Kapler's 7-for-15 with 5 runs scored since he kicked Tanyon Sturtze's ass on Saturday. Anyone else want a piece of the World's Most Sculpted Jew?

Rafael Palmeiro is toast. Sad to see, really. Very quiet, very classy ballplayer, but he simply has nothing left in the tank, and the O's keep running him out there to ground weakly to short and fail to catch up to mediocre fastballs.

Jesus, is this movie ever going to end?

Game 100 - Red Sox
Exhale, Move Forward

Orioles 4, Red Sox 1
Record: 55-45

At least they scored a run. The Sox were one out away from being on the wrong end of a three-hit shutout at the hands of Dave Borkowski (career record, 3-11) and B.J. Ryan before David Ortiz launched a Ryan fastball into the cheap seats. And then strutted the bases like a pre-flaps down Jeffrey Leonard. How 'bout a bit of perspective, O?

This game was bound to happen - hell, Whitney as much as predicted it. Two huge, emotional wins against the Yankees were followed by a let-it-all-hang-out demolition of the Orioles and a rainout - the Sox were well due for a letdown. Doesn't mean I like it, but I'm having a hard time working up righteous indignation over it.

August, put very simply, is huuuuuge for the good guys. The Sox continue their season-long 12-game (well, 11 now after the rainout against the O's) road trip with 3 at Minnesota, followed by 3 at Tampa and 3 at Detroit. Then, home for 10 straight days (Tampa, Chicago, Detroit), back on the road for 6 against Chicago and Toronto, and finally home again to close out the month against Detroit (4 games) and Anaheim (1). 28 games, of which only 8 are against teams with winning records - and that includes the reeling White Sox. The Sox are capable of a 20-8 month, but they're also capable of 13-15.

The continuing Whose Line is it Anyway? quality to this season will be put to the test over the next 33 days. Are the Sox Tony Slattery, or are they Drew Carey? Please give me the wickedly talented dirtbag and not the milquetoast nebbish.
Methinks He Doth Protesteth Too Much

I'm getting berated by the same guy who covered 12 of the Mets' last 19 games in two posts? Hi, Kettle, my name's Pot. You're looking a bit sooty, dontchathink?

New Debate

Question: Who's had a more feeble start to the second half, the New York Mets or Rob Russell?

Answer: It's a tie.  The Mets have had just five wins, while Rob has bothered with just five posts to cover the 14 Red Sox contests with a non-blogging weekend looming. 

Both are fading fast.  Word has it that Rob is thinking about a late trade to get someone to write his columns for him.  Just because the Mets are giving me more to mock these days doesn't mean I won't fire away at your blinding lack of writing.
Game 101 - Mets
Trade Tirade 
Mets 10, Expos 1
Record: 49-52

On the upside, the Metmen posted double-digits' worth of runs again and smoked Les Expos.  On the downside, in doing so they only managed a split of the four-game series.  On the upside, Al Leiter pitched another dandy and is currently the MLB ERA leader . . . by a lot.  On the downside, the Braves won again, keeping the Mets six out and making individual stats seem meaningless.  On the up, Eric Valent hit for the cycle and Mike Cameron hit two more homers.  On the down, beating up on a quartet of pitchers named Rocky, Sun-Woo, Roy, and Claudio is nothing on which to hang your hat.  On the up, it keeps the Mets in pseudo-contention.  On the down, it keeps the Mets in pseudo-contention.  Let me explain.

Somewhere, sometime yesterday, I had an epiphany.  It happened sometime between leaving work in the late afternoon and sneaking a Mint Milano in the evening before hunkering down to watch the Orioles drub the Yankees.  Strangely, that gap is primarily filled by the drive home, and there's very little D.C. rush hour traffic does to spark creative thought, except perhaps how to creatively torture and maim the driver who ignored available blinkers and the laws of physics to slide 'twixt the car in front and me.  But it happened; I figured out why, cosmically speaking, the Mets have reeked of sweaty backside of late.

The grand design for the Mets is as follows: the Mets make a solid first-half showing, overachieving in some regards, merely living up to potential in others.  Then, just when it appears the Mets have at least one hook in the playoff race, they stumble, just enough to consider themselves realistically ineligible for trade deadline moves.  After July 31 passes (plus the month's worth of waiver maneuvers), they still have their nucleus of talent with an eye on the future -- both immediate and distant.  2003 was never really anything more than a long shot, anyway, but it was fun while it lasted.

And so a peace came over me while I watched in glee as Jose Contreras and a couple of relievers got kicked around by a 46-54 ballclub.  I could settle into the last two months of the season, knowing that, with a couple of reasonably expected free agent acquisitions this winter, the Mets would be poised to do damage in the NL next year and for a few to come.   And this satiating serenity lasted precisely nine innings of baseball, nine frames in which the New York Yankees were kicked around by an inept band of Baltimore misfits.  For after the game, Peter Gammons relayed the news that the Mets were prepared to deal for Kris Benson.

The problem with this or any major deal like it is this: the New York Mets aren't really about the 2003 postseason, and this trade is.  They'd give up Ty Wigginton, who, despite being a young, solid, versatile player with a Grade A attitude, may have reached his ceiling at "decent."  Fine, especially because he doesn't really have a place in the Piazza-Reyes-Matsui-Wright infield.  But the second, more important piece is Matt Peterson, a minor league pitcher who appears to have the stuff to make it.  Supposedly the White Sox are considering throwing in a third player just to keep the Pirates from dealing Benson to the Twins.  Obviously no harm done there, either, so what's the big deal? 

Benson is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season.  That means you're dealing the future for right now, and sub-.500 clubs aren't in the now.  The Mets have indicated that they'd like to make the most of the opportunity to sign Benson to a multi-year contract between now and the end of the season, but this tactic has an unusually high failure rate in the Big Apple.  Most free agents who sign with a N.Y. team are taking a chance, and they're basing it on the visitor stays they've had, plus the red carpet tour they got when being courted.  Sometimes they survive, sometimes they thrive, sometimes they crumble, but they're signed long-term, so what can they do?  Kris Benson has no obligation to stay, so if he has a couple of months to get turned on or (more likely) off by the 5 boroughs, and that could leave the Mets with two months of service in a dead season in exchange for a young arm.  Very dangerous, Dr. Duquette.  All this without delving into Kris Benson's career-long trouble with injury and severe underachievement.  Yikes.

Then we hear about the possible trade with the Devil Rays (which would continue a trend of acquiring pitchers from teams with dreadful ERA's) which would bring the Mets RHP Victor "The Other, Less Talented" Zambrano in exchange for the Mets' best pitching prospect, Scott Kazmir.  This trade would mean mortgaging the future for . . . God knows what.  Kazmir could one day be the ace, while Zambrano could one day set the record for most walks allowed in a season.  Of course, this speculation comes largely because some members of the press found a Devil Rays media guide on Art Howe's desk, which is a fairly ridiculous rumor catalyst.  Couldn't it have just been that Art wanted to see what fictitious figure Lou Piniella penciled in for his weight?

Just in the last couple of minutes, some more information has been filtered to me.  Wacky stuff like Cliff Floyd going to the ChiSox for that 3rd player (whoa), Lastings Milledge -- the Mets' 1st-round pick last year -- being the 3rd player in that deal, the entire Mets' roster for Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, etc.  It all bodes ill, as far as I'm concerned.  Walk away.  Just walk away. 

The only thought that's crossed my mind that makes me want them to deal youth for bigger names is Alex Escobar -- the can't miss talent whom the Mets shielded from lucrative offers, then finally dumped him on Cleveland for Robby Alomar.  Forgetting the season-and-a-half-long enema that was Alomar, Escobar was supposed to be the prospect of prospects.  Now that he's out for the season again this year, I think the book on him can be closed: calling him lousy is an insult to lice.  And if an upside that big can become a chute-less skydive into oblivion that quickly and surely, in the Mets organization no less, maybe we aren't giving management enough credit, or the scouts too much credit, or  . . . my head hurts.  Time to get grab a beer and watch ESPN for updates.

Stay tuned.  Perhaps all of this is just a ploy to keep the fans interested for a few days while the Mets visit Atlanta for what could be three days of hot, humid, humbling hell.  The Mets could be 9 out by Monday, and they still think they're buyers?  Well, I'm not buying it.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Game 100 - Mets
Expos-ing the Mets for What They Really Are
Expos 7, Mets 4
Record: 48-52

The Mets did well to come back from a 3-0 deficit, taking the lead on a series of hitless RBI's (two walks and an HBP).  They were patient at the plate, and produced four runs on just six hits.  It didn't work out, but it wasn't terrible.

Uh oh.  You see what that is?  That's the phasing in of Taking More from Less, the dead season practice of settling for the little things.  Are we really there yet?  Well, six games back from the Braves, albeit the surging, kicked-into-overdrive Braves, with 62 to play shouldn't evoke such a sad display, but the current mood surrounding the New York Mets is one much further into a lost season than the numbers show.  After a handful of Whitney-proclaimed "go-time" stretches (hey if the media can overstate the importance of minor events, so can I) in which they stayed just above sea level, one sunk stint and it's death knell time?  Really?

As you can see, I'm back and forth on this.  The standings and schedule ahead lead me one way, the general malaise about the Mets take me back the other way.  I want to believe, but I've not been shown nearly the evidence to convince me.  I'm Mulder & Scully melded into one, except the aliens I'm investigating all have green cards and falsified birth certificates.  There's nothing you can put a finger on to declare the 2004 campaign a bust, but there are a pocketful of little things to keep the confidence way down.

Like losing to the Expos, for instance.  Again.  Like Tony Batista filing a league request to play the Mets 140 times a season.  Like Scott Erickson getting designated for assignment.  And here's where I pull the rug out from underneath you: I actually have a problem with Erickson's demotion/dumping.  Sure, I've griped since Day1 of the Scott Erickson Blip.  But after you sign a guy, let him rehab an injury, work out the kinks in AAA, and throw a fine game his first time out, you only give him one bad start and get rid of him?  Yes, his bad start was of the Little Big Horn caliber, but just one?  G.M. Jim Duquette explained that Erickson was "on a short leash," but that just makes it seem like a colossal waste of time and money, organizationally speaking.  It's no great shakes to have wasted a pair of starts on him, but he took a roster spot in Norfolk for a month or more, and what's another start or two to see if he really has anything left?  Hell, be stubborn and stick by your decision, at least.  Don't concede to a moron like me!

Oh, and Shane Spencer got arrested in Florida.  Again.  You know, usually it's the megastars who get away with multiple scrapes with the law, and it becomes that moral dilemma where you make exceptions for the studs that you might not for the scrubs.  At least the Mets can't be accused of such inconsistency.  Spencer's had about as good a year as can be expected, but his SportsCenter Fantasy is still a pinch-hit home run.  He was only in the Sunshine State because he's on the DL for a heel he cut on a piece of glass . . . in a bar.

Boys, give me something to bright-side it about -- I'm about out of material!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Game 99 - Mets
Mets 4, Expos 2
Record: 48-51

The sting of a very bad loss to a team you should beat doesn't heal with one unimpressive but effective victory over the same team.  These are troubled times in Met-fan-land, people; the division title is looking more and more like the only in-road to the playoffs, while also looking more and more like the Atlanta Braves' in-road.  The trade deadline is the latest over-hyped topic, and the Mets appear to be on the outside looking in where it's concerned.  They quickly went from buyers to possible sellers, but it looks like they'd do best to sit tight and watch.  The notion that a solid starter might propel them into postseason contention melted away along with the defense and bullpen work of the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx, they're working around the clock to bring Randy Johnson to the Yanks.  I think I've used the adjectives ridiculous, ludicrous, and preposterous to categorize the Yankees and the MLB pecuniary structure before; today we'll go with risible.  I am soliciting from you readers a new, more outlandish descriptor to encapsulate what crap this all is.  Johnson himself is as much to blame in this instance, specifically asking to be dealt to the Yanks.   Following in the footsteps of Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, and loads of others, the Big Unit isn't satisfied with a challenge and instead would rather play for the odds-on favorite.  That Johnson won't financially benefit from this move (like some of those other free-agent signings did) is only marginally redemptive.  He's already won a World Series -- aided in great part by the D-backs organizing a squad good enough that he could lead them to the title.  Peter Gammons continually reminds us that the Big Unit hasn't pitched for a sub-.500 team in September since 1992.  He can't handle one year of injury-riddled misery and wait for a regrouping in Arizona this winter?  Part of me is like Rob and hopes he does go to the Yanks and they still lose, adding to the mockery.  But the other part of me doesn't want their already excellent chances of winning it all improved, and the Big Eunuch would be a huge addition.

It seems Peter Angelos has reared his hideous snout again.  According to WTOP News:
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos estimates a baseball team in Washington would cost the Orioles $40 million dollars a season.  Angelos told WBAL's Sportsline another team in Washington or Northern Virginia would hurt the team. He says "There are no real baseball fans in D.C." Angelos says the fans are mainly in the Maryland suburbs, and those pushing for a D.C. or Northern Virginia team are trying to steal Orioles' fans. 

This guy just keeps getting better, doesn't he?  He's trying to say he'll lose $40 million a year from the residents of Montgomery and P.G. Counties?  I know what he really means, that he'll miss those luxury boxes from the D.C. firms once the Expos are around here.   It's still stupid for two reasons, though.   For one, that's a slap in the face from every D.C./Virginia fan who ever supported the O's, and there are a million, dating back to a time when Peter Angelos was just an ambulance chaser without any affiliation with the Birds.  Second, he's had twelve years to endear D.C. and Virginia fans even more, but he has instead meddled incompetently and driven folks away.

And here's what most asinine about his comments: wherever a D.C. or No. VA team would play its games, considering the traffic around here, it'd be much easier for any Maryland suburbanite to get to Camden Yards than the D.C. park.  The Orioles would have the upper hand of local legacy, a better team (in theory), big draws like the Yankees and Red Sox, a beautiful stadium, and proximity!  The only thing going against the O's for residents of the Old Line State?  Peter Angelos.

In addition, his comments were just nasty and unnecessarily incendiary.  I live here, and I'm 50 times the baseball fan he'll ever be.  He probably can't even name every good G.M. he's canned.  This little curmudgeon thrives on alienation and a swollen Napoleonic.  He should be embracing a friendly -- maybe even unfriendly -- rivalry to come, but as it stands, the neo-Senators probably have a greater chance of improvement than any club run by Angelos.  He relies on bullying weaker owners, some of whom just want to concentrate on running a baseball team.  Which must seem silly to him, who clearly spends very few of his limited logical thoughts on how to enhance the Baltimore Orioles.  Somebody sick Michael Moore on this bastard.

Anyway, back to the Mets.  They won.  Hooray.  The Mets have me in no-man's land right now; they're still lurking at the edge of competing for the division, meaning the few wins they're getting aren't enough, but they aren't so bad that I'm back to appreciating those few wins like I did last year.  Either get into it or get out of it.  Oh, well, I heard somewhere that misery loves company, so I'll appreciate Rob Russell's misery when the Sox drop a winnable one to the O's tonight.
Game 99 - Red Sox
Spit-Roasted Oriole
Red Sox 12, Orioles 5
Record: 55-44

Considering the fact that the Sox entered this week's series with the Orioles on the wrong end of a 3-6 record against the mediOcre Birds (and the fact that the same Baltimore squad is 1-8 against the Yankees this season), Monday's ass-whipping was long overdue.

This one was a laugher from the third inning on, as the Sox posted a 10-0 lead before the O's got on the board.  Pedro didn't get a ton of help from the field (shocking) or the bullpen, and he dominated the O's while the game was still remotely close, although his overall numbers for the game (6 2/3 IP, 5 ER) won't reflect it.  Everybody except Billy Mueller contributed to the offensive attack, which featured 6 doubles but no homers.

Not a whole lot to say about this one - it was pretty damn boring after the 3rd inning.  Last night got washed out by a series of storms with the Sox trailing 4-2 in the 3rd.  Wake pitched like ass, giving up homers to Mora and Surhoff, but humidity is no friend to the knuckleball.  All in all, the Lord provided for the Sox - full day of rest for the bullpen, an Oriole lead wiped out, and the makeup game will come in October when the O's will presumably be playing a ton of AAA fodder. 

Schilling tonight against the O's, trying to send Baltimore off to face the Yankees in a bad mood.  Schill's tossed out two consecutive stinkers, so he oughta be good and tightly wound.  The trade deadline comes Saturday, and the only name that remotely intrigues me is Carlos Beltran - even if he's just a rental - now that the Astros have faded so badly.  An outfield of Ramirez, Damon and Beltran (looks like Nixon may be out for a substantial amount of time) looks pretty damn good, and avoids the possibility of Kevin Millar ever having to don an outfielder's glove for this team.  A batting order of Damon, Garciaparra, Beltran, Ramirez, Ortiz, Millar, Varitek, Bellhorn, and Mueller looks downright terrifying.  I've done my part, now Theo needs to execute on this genius of a plan.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Game 98 - Mets
If My Eyes Don't Deceive Me, There's Something Going Wrong Around Here
Expos 19, Mets 10
Record: 47-51

Wait, what was that score again?

Expos 19, Mets 10.

I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that.

Expos 19, Mets 10.

Oh.  I see.

Where to begin commenting on this game was a tough one.  I guess I'll start with the starter.  Since his signing in the offseason, I have bemoaned Scott Erickson's presence on the Met roster.  His best days were pre-strike.  He was serviceable for a while there, then began to take trips to the DL like it was the men's room.   He was smacked around for a while in AAA earlier this year.  But after his first start of the season (if you don't count the groin-yanking warm-up toss he fired in April), I decided to abstain from comment.  I figured I'd forgo the sour route of "this won't last," even though I was thinking it.  Deep down I hoped I was just an idiot, but it seems that's just not so.  Small consolation?

Scott Erickson faced 15 batters.  In a perfect game, that's 5 innings.  In this game, it was 2+, as seven of those batters recorded hits while three more were issued free passes.   Of those seven hits, two were doubles and one was a home run.  Seven runs crossed the plate, though only six were earned, thanks to an error by Ty "Jack of All Positions, Master of None" Wigginton.

And here's the thing: despite Erickson's pitching equivalent of a Jerry Lewis routine, it was only 5-3 when he left the game in the 2nd.   The recently promoted Dan "Sk-" Wheeler, last seen applying Miracle-Gro to every small deficit he encountered, was up to his old tricks.  Four hits and four walks in an inning of work.  Five runs, four earned (thank you, Mike Cameron).   He entered a 5-3 tight one and left a 12-4 laugher one inning later.  Hell, anyone can do that!

A few innings later, that point was illustrated when Todd Zeile came in for garbage time, giving up 5 more runs in one frame of work so that the Mets could provide the team who ranked last in the majors in runs scored (with 70 fewer than the 2nd-lowest!) with its highest run total all season long.  Just kick me in the groin next time, boys, the aggravation won't last as long.

What is by now becoming a comic highlight is the ongoing, down-plummeting saga of His Excellency John Franco, whose ratty NFYD undershirt prompts "No, You Fuckin' Douchebag!" wails from the diehards after every meatball aced into the bleachers.  In this contest, the Mets had trimmed the lead to 12-8 when Franco entered, retired two in a row, walked a guy, and served one up to Tony Batista, whose 6 RBI's last night were the most for him since Little League.  Then Franco hit Nick Johnson with the next pitch, after which I truly couldn't figure out if it was a pathetic attempt to embroil his team into a Mets/Expos Grade-D facsimile of the Yanks/Red Sox episode last weekend, or if he's just that lousy these days.  Anyway, the ump (who obviously hasn't seen him pitch in a while) went with Choice A, thumbing Franco into the clubhouse.  I think I heard a couple of other Mets indicating it was intentional for sure, presumably hoping for a Franco suspension.

Looks like these contenders turned into bums very quickly.   Go ahead and pile on, Bud; tell me these new superstars will be the Portland Expos next year.  I'm bracing myself for it.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Games 92 through 97 - Mets
Free Falling Through the New York Sky  
Marlins 6, Mets 5
Marlins 9, Mets 7
Mets 5, Expos 4
Expos 4, Mets 1
T.G.I.F.R. (Thank God It F-ing Rained)
Braves 5, Mets 2
Braves 4, Mets 3
Record: 47-50 

Hmm.  I leave for a week and the Mets commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Three Mile Island incident with a fairly disastrous meltdown of their own.  Since everything is breaking down up in Flushing Meadows, let's have a breakdown of our own.

What does this tell you?

Pitchers of Record:
Looper (L)
Franco (L)
Moreno (W)
Franco (L)
Stanton (L)
Trachsel (L)

Other than yesterday's loss, in which Steve Trachsel was victimized by the ever-eroding defense instead of the relief crew, the remainder of this batch of games was negatively affected by the bullpen.  The pen was fortunate to hold on and beat the Expos (how painful to type that) for the lone win of the past week.

Last week, while I was bloggingly challenged, I was prepared to assault the trade of Karim Garcia to the Orioles for Mike DeJean.  And that was even conceding that Garcia is a player of middling talent for whom the Mets had no place for in right field any more and for whom they probably couldn't get much in return.  And that he's a guy about whom I care only slightly more than Pedro Martinez does, based his non-baseball behaviors over the past year.  My problem is that the bullpen needs the type of help you don't visit the scrap heap for; trading for the reliever with the worst numbers on the worst staff in baseball (who makes $1.5 million this season) seems to be grasping at straws . . . at best.

Good thing I didn't yap too quickly; though Garcia began his stint by going yard twice in his first game, he's come back down to earth (or to the subterranean hole in which he dwells).  Meanwhile, though we're only in the short term thus far, Mike DeJean has been stellar.  Three outings (5 IP) untarnished against the Marlins and Braves.  I suppose the "change of scenery" tagline teams throw around like clockwork when they've just acquired a mediocre player sometimes actually takes effect.

The relievers have been horrible, to understate it.   Even the guys who were pitching well have now begun to unravel like knitted britches in a briar patch.  Ricky Bottalico, praised as a comeback story early, is getting hit hard.  "Metallica" Bottalico, nicknamed in part for his hard, fiery delivery (probably moreso because it rhymes), got soft and faded fast, just like the band.  Meanwhile, Braden "Damage, Inc." Looper is beginning to make every save opportunity a wild ride, and Mike "Enter Sandbag" Stanton has been simply wretched.  Jose "Sad But True" Parra started well, faltered, and landed on the DL, and then Orber "Jump In the Fire" Moreno did the same.  Dan "The Unforgiven" Wheeler's stint in AAA hasn't dulled the memories of his lightning ride relief appearances.

And then there's John "The Thing That Should Not Be" Franco.  A weekend New York Post piece highlighted the Mets fans' growing disenchantment for the Generalissimo.  Franco's not-terribly-veteran smirks and winces directed at the men in blue (on balls a foot from the zone) are painful, exacerbating an already annoying performance by the aged one this season.  (Franco's July ERA is 10.80; August's most terrifying spectacle may not be the new M. Night Shyamalan flick.)  But his groans and sourpusses directed at the bumbling fielders fly in the face of his captaining this team.  Ignoring the fact that captains of any kind usually perform at a higher level than he has, it's up to him to lead by example and show the young guys what team play is all about.  Has the defense been so reprehensible as to cause a million pained expressions?  Of course.  More than that -- it's enough to elicit nausea.  But if I threw up as often as Kaz Matsui's glove regurgitated a baseball, I'd have an eating disorder.  (Basebulimia? . . . I am so sorry.)  Hell, all Franco has left out there are his facial expressions.  Start being a real captain out there before the rest of your crew pulls a Captain Queeg on you.  I might have to follow my associate's lead and give him a color.

The worst part of this 3-7 stagger out of the gate of the second half?  That was the homestand.  Now the Mets hit the road for 13 games in 14 days.  By August 8, the Mets may well be able to cross themselves off the "contenders" list.  This game's about pitching and defense, and both have suffered lately.

Getting ready to dust off the trumpet (that's not a lewd euphemism, dirtbags) and cue "Taps" unless they can get healthy over a four-gamer versus Montreal.  It'd be a month later than we played that tune last year, but it would still be a disappointment.
Games 94 through 98 - Red Sox
Finding What Don Johnson Was Missing
Orioles 8, Red Sox 3
Yankees 8, Red Sox 7
Red Sox 11, Yankees 10
Red Sox 9, Yankees 6
Record: 54-44
Apologies for the headline above, which references the Miami Vice star's seminal hit song, "Heartbeat".  Just as the erstwhile Sonny Crockett was seeking a heartbeat, so too has Red Sox Nation been dying to find evidence of this team's guts.  And after Saturday's game against the Yankees, the question of the 2004 Sox' toughness and spirit has been asked and answered in the most emphatic affirmative.

When this team looks back after clinching the World Series title this fall, Saturday, July 24 will be the single most important date in team history.  It's the day Jason Varitek decided to impose his will upon this season and upon his teammates - and upon the Yankees, smashing his open hand into Alex Rodriguez' well-paid mug, then lifting the Yankee star by one leg and frog-hopping him 10 feet before collapsing under a pile of Sox and Yankees.

The fire shown by the Sox in the melee that followed the Varitek/Rodriguez contretemps would have been enough for me, even if the Sox had lost the game.  That outcome seemed assured after the Yankees took advantage of abysmal Sox pitching to take a 9-4 lead in the 6th inning.  It still seemed likely even though the Sox closed to within 9-8 in the bottom of the 6th, because Mariano Rivera took the hill in the bottom of the 9th with the Yankees protecting a 10-8 margin.

The game went from memorable to legendary when Nomar Garciaparra doubled, moved to third on Trot Nixon's long fly to center, scored on a Kevin Millar single (color change in awed recognition of Millar's jawdropping 10-for-13, 4HR, 8RBI three-game series), watched as Bill Mueller slammed a Rivera offering into the Sox' bullpen to win the game and magically resurrect a moribund season, and jumped around like an idiot with the rest of his teammates and one semi-drunk guy in a seaside house in Nags Head, NC.  I didn't fall asleep until 2:30 that morning, fueled by a combination of adrenaline, Sierra Nevada, and Red Bull.

Last night's win validated the energy created on Saturday, as Derek Lowe (!) pitched 6 2/3 very solid innings, even though his line shows that he gave up 4 runs (2 earned).  He was victimized by his defense in both the 1st and 7th innings, and not helped by the bullpen when Mike Timlin came in to give up a walk and a grand slam in the 7th.  As far as this correspondent is concerned, Lowe got the message from Varitek on Saturday and showed some steel of his own last night.

Only down note of the whole weekend is the defense, which went from bad to comically horrific against the Yankees.  The Sox committed 4 errors on Saturday, including errors on 3 consecutive plays to load the bases in the top of the 7th.  Alan Embree drank the Varitek-supplied Kool-Aid and got the Sox out of the no-out, bases-loaded jam, but that doesn't change the fact that the defense is simply execrable.  I expected Lowe to lose his mind when Johnny Damon and Gabe Kapler let a simple pop-up fall between them in the 1st last night, but Derek surprised me (and lost his puke green denomination) by pitching through it. 

No more bad mouthing from me here, though.  This team found its heart on Saturday, and its name is Jason Varitek.  Lotta ball left, and I can't wait to see the Sox get after it, and I bet they can't wait, either.


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Games 91 through 93 (in progress) - Red Sox
They're Hitting Bloop Singles (Deep Inside Joke)
Mariners 8, Red Sox 4 (11)
Red Sox 9, Mariners 7
Orioles 8, Red Sox 4 (through 6)
Record: 51-41

Quick and dirty here, because I'm packing for the 11th Annual (12th?  To tell the truth, in all the excitement, I've kinda lost track.  So you gotta ask yourself, 'Do I feel lucky?'.  Well, do you, punk.  Um...sorry.) Outer Banks Fishing Trip. 

Pedro was flat dealing through 3 1/3 innings, retiring the first 10 Orioles before David Newhan reached on a broken bat gleek to third.  Then, instead of realizing that his pitcher was dominant and letting him work, Sox manager Terry Francona called for a first-pitch pitchout to hold...David Newhan.  The 1-0 count became 3-1 to Melvin Mora, who ripped a double to left to put runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Miguel Tejada followed with a scorched line drive right at Johnny Damon, who...suddenly levitated as he realized he couldn't see the ball and let it scream past him for a 2-run triple.

David Newhan just hit an inside-the-park homer on another ball that Damon misplayed (and Manny Ramirez inexplicably cut off) to make the score 8-4.  All 8 runs charged to Pedro.  All 8 earned.  And if the manager had let Pedro pitch, a real chance that none of them would have scored - dinks, dunks, bloops, and one or two well-hit balls combined with comical (yet, error-free) defense are what you get on the night after an intercontinental flight. 

Nothing more from me until Monday at the earliest, which portends good things for the BoSox, if last week's Tahoe vacation is any indicator.  No blog = winning streak.  Let's hope so, because the Sox have three against the Yankees in Boston over the weekend.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Games 88 through 90 - Red Sox
Licensed to Schill (and Pedro)
Red Sox 4, Angels 2
Angels 8, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 6, Angels 2
Record: 50-40
With the Sox' drastic home/road splits this year, I'm counting the second half's first series as a victory - at least a moral one - as the Sox split with one of their chief competitors.  As is becoming violently obvious, the Sox have a great chance to win when either Pedro or Schilling take the mound, and a legitimate chance to look like the Expos when anyone else climbs the hill.
Boston's 26-11 when either Pedro or Curt start, and 24-29 with any other pitcher beginning the game.  That simply screams for Theo Epstein to get a third starter prior to July 31, or for an intervention/exorcism to get the 2002 Derek Lowe back in the rotation. 
Schilling continues to be the streak-stopping, team-stabilizing, backbone of the pitching staff.  The Sox desperately needed the last game of this series, and he simply refused to give in to the Angels.  8 innings, 113 pitches, 1 earned run, 3 hits.  No fuss, no muss, thank you very much, let's fly to Seattle.  Pedro's the artist, but Schilling's the foundation.
David Ortiz pulled an interesting nutty during the series, flinging bats dangerously near a pair of umpires after being ejected for arguing balls and strikes.  I like the emotion from a team that hasn't shown much this year, but I don't like the fact that the team's best left-handed hitter will miss at least 4 games.  Maybe Gabe Kapler could get pissed off as a proxy for the rest of the squad.
Oh, and in case you weren't clear, fuck Randy Johnson and the bad country song he rode in on.
Games 89 through 91 - Mets
Dr. Lester's Prescription for Success
Phillies 5, Mets 1
Phillies 8, Mets 2
Mets 6, Phillies 1
Record: 46-45
Friday afternoon I was standing in the Irish Times with a nearly-empty pint of Guinness and my Phillie-loving friend Nick.  (We'll excuse him for letting his Yankee-fan associate tag along.)  At one point, Nick threw this out: "If I offered you a split, would you take it?"  With one win in the 4-game tilt in the bag already, and with the Mets playing solid ball of late, I shook my head.  "No way."  I acknowledged that I was conceding Friday night's contest -- at the time I thought Scott Erickson was going to pitch -- but liked my chances with Glavine and Leiter.  By Sunday afternoon, I was ruing that greedy decision.
Erickson's Met debut was pushed back to tonight, so Jae Seo resumed his regular spot.  He pitched well, but Kevin Millwood pitched better.  After Seo-Seo left, having given up just a pair of runs through seven, "Hit-or-Miss" Stanton missed to Bobby Abreu for a solo shot, and Johnny "Misses" Franco faced five batters, retiring one.  It's just not going very well for him this year.  Meanwhile, the Mets' offense managed four hits and a single run.  They made Millwood look like the pitcher he was supposed to be and not the pitcher he's been all year long.
Saturday made Friday look like a highlights film.  Tom Glavine pitched, and though he wasn't brilliant, he pitched well enough.  The rest of the club should have issued him a sincere apology for what they did.  Ugh.  I don't really know why I bothered to watch the whole thing, but my persistence paid off in getting to see a Mike Piazza blast to center.  Small solace for the wreckage I had to witness for the rest of the game.
The defense was pitiful, illustrating that the worst-in-the-NL fielding stats aren't misleading.  The outfield was mediocre, simply not making plays that could have been made.  Cliff Floyd somehow didn't get to a fly ball to deep left, and Mike Cameron failed to make a key play in center which resulted in a couple of runs scoring.  Cameron's play wasn't awful; in fact, the degree of difficulty makes it a tough bone to pick.  Still, his hitting numbers only reinforce that he was signed to a moderately lucrative contract in large part because he could shore up a terrible defense in the outfield, and you could name a half-dozen or more centerfielders who you'd bet would've made this play without much trouble.  His untimely whiff later in the ballgame only reinforced this notion.
Then there was the left side of the infield.  Ty Wigginton cleated a grounder from the opposing pitcher, keeping the inning alive for Cameron to do his thing in center.  And Kaz Matsui committed two more errors; he's now projected to record more errors there than when a rash of freak injuries forced me to play Dave Kingman at short in Strat-o-Matic.
Meanwhile, the hitting was lethargic once more.  Jason Phillips had a couple of key at-bats, locking up the Phils' victory.  Richard Hidalgo apparently spent the All-Star break regressing, and Jose Reyes is still swearing off multi-hit games.  Piazza's dinger ended a streak of roughly six million AB's without going deep.  What hits they came up with were squandered, as they left 10 aboard and eked out just two runs.
Just for kicks, of course, Jose Parra came into a 4-2 game and catapulted it out of reach, with partial credit given to Kaz for his Diego Maradona-like footwork (also referred to as the "hand of dog" play).  Sunday looked pretty bleak going into it, but every day's a new day.
Here's where, like clockwork on most Mondays, I ignore the piss-poor performance of most of the weekend and ride the joy of the Sunday win.  Not today.  Sunday was a good win, thank you very much, Al Leiter.  Mike Cameron rebounded with a great play in center and a homer, Vance Wilson made a case for more regular play behind the dish, and five relievers surrendered just one run in three innings, which we'll take after the previous two outings.  That's enough back-patting; with the Braves and Phillies both playing improved baseball, it's a long road to hoe and a few changes are in order.  Namely:
  • Flip-flop Matsui and Reyes.  Matsui was given the benefit of the doubt, sight relatively unseen, and Reyes hasn't bitched much.  It hasn't worked out, and Reyes should be given a chance to be the vital cog in the infield.  Try it out "temporarily," then see how well it works and forget about the "temporarily" part.
  • Drop Reyes in the order.  He hasn't shown he can get on the basepaths to take advantage of that speed.  He needs to be in the lineup, for sure, but not at the one-spot.  Couple it with the move to SS and he can't complain too much.  Meanwhile, Matsui might worry about the move to 2B, but he can move up in the order.  Psyche preservation.
  • Vance Wilson becomes the everyday catcher.  Send Phillips to Norfolk, or just relegate him to the bench for a spell, but he's not the same batter he was last year.  Likeable guy, just not when he's up with the bases are loaded in a critical spot.
  • Find a fifth starter . . . fast.  Yeah, I know, easier said than done, but I have my doubts about Scott Erickson, and I think it's somewhere in the Tyler Yates / Matt Ginter area.  Of course, they now have Yates closing games in Norfolk for some reason, and Ginter hasn't been back there long enough to get him into a groove.  Maybe the Mets are just trying to slip into the postseason without a #5 -- where they won't need one.  Smart. issued an article ranking 16 contenders' remaining schedules by difficulty.  The Mets rank 6th, which made my day.  Not so much because they have a relatively easy schedule, but because it's July 19th and ESPN called them "contenders."  Eerily cool-sounding.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Good to See That Whitney's Awake
Nicely done, my friend. 
And as far as your knowledge of things trivial goes, I'll grant you music and movies, but I'll take no back seat to your prodigious back seat in sports and history.
Potshot Into the Shins
So Rob "Technicolor Dreamcoat" Russell issues me a libelous label because my vastly superior knowledge of all matters trivial and worthless clearly dwarfs his?  I am armed with just enough information about matters small and smaller to be dangerous, or at least to drone on and on indefinitely.  When I was 10, I knew Reggie Jackson's middle name (Martinez), Tommy Lasorda's birthday (my own), and Mookie Wilson's real first name (William).  I also knew that Frank Gorshin played The Riddler on TV's Batman, that The Shining made me soil myself, and that I would one day marry Cheryl Tiegs.  And I knew that the walker-thingie things were called At-Ats, mainly because my nextdoor neighbor the 7-year-old had one in action figure size.  I still know all of these things (especially the Cheryl Tiegs thing), despite giving my brain cells a barrage equivalent to a blanket party over the years since.  I will not apologize for this, especially to one who's heard Jawa/Ewok/R2-D2/Yoda epithets thrown his way from ages 7 to 34.  Retreat back to your oohing and ahing of nifty colorization.  Ted Turner has some old films for you.
In unrelated news, the Baltimore Orioles were just shut out on three hits by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Mixed emotions here -- the O's slip further away from the 75-win plateau that wins me two dozen beverages, but it'll likely spark yet another Angelos-smudging in the papers.  See for the rare type of negative press I actually enjoy.
Game 87 - Red Sox
Angels 8, Red Sox 1
Record: 48-39
The best thing about this game is the fact that Blogger's got a neat new interface that allows me to put colors into my posts.  See, that way, whenever I write about Derek Lowe, I can do it in this color, which represents puke.  Which is what I want to do everytime I think about the worst starting pitcher in major league baseball.
Lowe went another solid 4 2/3 innings last night, giving up 4 earned runs on 9 hits.  Sure, Kevin Millar (new color represents his decaying corpse, which apparently played left field last night) didn't offer much in the way of defensive help, but the fact remains that Lowe threw 114 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.  I'm past the point of hoping he gets better - I'm officially jumping on the Throw Lowe (Away) bandwagon.  Trade him, cut him, put him in the bullpen - I don't care.  Just stop making me have to resign myself to the fact that my team has very little chance to win every 5th day, especially against half-way decent teams.
Jimmy Anderson and Ramiro Mendoza combined to pitch two scoreless innings last night, so you may not ever get to read this post, as the end of the world and all its inhabitants is clearly nigh upon us.  It was fun while it lasted, except for the part about the Red Sox not winning a World Series for 4 generations.
More on the Randy Johnson front: it appears that his agent is telling the league that he'll only play in St. Louis or the Bronx.  Fine.  Pleasepleaseplease go to the Yankees.  Force the rest of the league to deal with the consequences of utterly indefensible competitive inequalities and then watch with the rest of us as the Sox scythe New York down like Luke Skywalker and his merry band did to those walker thingies in the Empire Strikes Back (Editor's Note: Whitney just called to tell me that the 'walker thingies' are more correctly known as AT-ATs.  See if you can guess which one of us grew up playing sports and which spent his youth making R2D2 hump Princess Leia in the privacy of his bedroom).  It's fun to watch top-heavy things fall to the ground, landing as they do with such a pleasing thud-bounce-thud.  (Man, this new Blogger stuff is soooo cool.)

Game 88 - Mets
"All Bunched Up" in the NL East
Mets 3, Phillies 2 (11)
Record: 45-43
The above quote refers to Art Howe's assessment of the current standings, as well as how I would describe myself when he refuses to yank a bleeding pitcher.  Here's a glance at the division:
TEAM             W  L   GB
Atlanta           46 42    -
Philadelphia  46 42    -
New York      45 43  1.0
Florida           45 43  1.0
Montreal       31 57  15.0
Four of these teams belong together, one of these teams just doesn't belong.  Sorry, Mes Amis, but you'll have to wait until next year, when you'll be playing in Monterrey, or San Juan, or Las Vegas, or somewhere that makes a lot of sense.  Quick question: how will I be able to find out the scores of the N.Y. Mets @ Las Vegas Expos game if what happens there, stays there?  Seriously, is that really the self-promoting slogan of an entire city that MLB wants involved with its precious game?  Just asking.
With four teams within a game of the top spot, this is getting fun.  There is always one eye on the results of the NL East opponents, anyway, but now it's tense throughout.  Now Florida plays the mighty Pirates (maybe they'll get swept, too), the Braves face Montreal, and the Mets have three more against the Phils.   No cakewalk out of the gate here, but they started well enough last night.
Once again Solid Steve Trachsel lived up to the nickname I just gave him right now, making but one mistake (a 2-run bomb to Bobby Abreu) while adding an RBI single of his own (which Pat Burrell allowed to bounce as part of his community service to atone for his his batting assault on the Mets for years).  With the game tied at 2 in the 11th (thank you, relief corps), Phightin' reliever Roberto Hernandez loaded them, bringing up Ty "Breaker" Wigginton.   Ty got Wiggy wit' it (just awful), meaning he hit a sharp grounder that Hernandez tried to barehand.  Hernandez, a poor man's Jose Mesa (a moniker which should automatically demote its descriptee to AA), knocked it down, then scooped it and flung it halfway home and then into Mike Lieberthal's chest protector.  Vance Wilson scooted by, tagged the plate, and ended the game.
Sure, a tater or even a line shot to end the game might've announced the Mets' presence with authority, to borrow from Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, but scrappy, patient, and lucky got them the same amount of wins this night.  Learning to win the close games is an oft-blathered but no less crucial element of contention.   And what with the division neck and neck throughout (minus one), that will be increasingly significant to remaining in it.
A few thoughts on the division:
The Phils are pressing.  It's Larry Bowa Severance Watch time again.
The Braves are surging.  This is the team the Mets least wanted in the mix.
The Marlins are fading.  The Mets don't play well against them, but everyone else will.
The Mets are overachieving.  Still due for a letdown, but don't tell them that.
A few thoughts, stream-of-consciousness:
Scott Erickson starts tonight for the first time since injuring himself during warm-ups in the first week of the season.  Prediction? Pain . . . The New York Post had a blurb about how the Mets are not interested in recently bumped Mariner and ex-Met John Olerud, who plays the same position as Mike Piazza.  You think?  Brilliant research.  Next up: the Mets are definitely not looking for a new designated hitter . . . Randy Johnson is also probably headed somewhere other than Queens, if anywhere.  Rob's earlier post eschewing the acquisition of a high-priced big name struck a chord with me.  To cross over Coach Dale, "My team's on the field."

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Perspective's a Bitch
Sox: 48-38, in 1st place in the Wild Card, and I'm a quivering blob of doubt and depression.
Mets: 44-43, in 4th place in the division, and Whit's quivering too, but it's his ample belly jiggling with gleeful laughter.
Check-Up Time: Smiling While I Still Can

A few possible mantras for this season are being kicked around.

Location, Location, Location.
The Mets, at 44-43, are 2 games out and fired up (well, I am). The Astros, at 44-44, are 10.5 games out, in 5th place, just fired their manager, and are talking about dumping talent.

If she's below your standards . . . lower your standards.
Aiming 50 feet below sea level has made the ascent of this molehill mountainlike.

My Other Car is a 40-53 July 15 record.
All I need to do to get excited about these Mets is come here and scroll down.

Whatever the slogan, it's "we're just happy to be here" time in the Met fan household. Sure, there are 75 brutal contests left on the slate, beginning with the Mets going back out through the same gauntlet through which they came into the break. Four against the Phils and a pair against the Marlins, who looked eerily like the 1998 version of the club for a few weeks until taking two of three from the Mets. It's litmus test time once again. Though it has seemed like every time to gauge the Mets' future thus far has ended in a jury-still-out verdict, or lack thereof, this could be yet another chance to prove that they'll be there down the stretch.

What Goes Up

Veteran starting pitching. Tom Glavine. Al Leiter. Steve Trachsel. The Manny, Moe, and Jack of the Mets. We'll overlook Scott Erickson and James Baldwin, who are in another trio featuring a Moe.

Must Come Down

Young starting pitching. From Jae Seo's early woes to Tyler Yates being shown the gate to Matt Ginter's June-July splinter (he didn't have one, he just pitched like it), the young arms have faltered most of the time. Somebody's got to step it up, kids.

What Goes Up

Some of the bullpen. Braden Looper has been surprisingly stellar, Ricky Bottalico has only had one really bad outing (the "Deliverance" of baseball outings, but still), and no-names like Orber Moreno and Jose Parra have put in some quality innings.

Must Come Down

Some of the bullpen. Mike Stanton has been hit-or-miss, Dan Wheeler has been . . . interesting (at least his name lends itself to creative ragging), and John Franco makes me look like a bastard every time I have to write about him. On the plus side, we jettisoned David Weathers after wringing every drop of value from him. And for Richard Hidalgo, who . . . calm down, I'll get to him.

What Goes Up

Oh, hell, I can't wait any more: Richard Hidalgo. In 22 games since being acquired for the aforementioned heap Weathers, SeƱor Hidalgo has hit .314, slugged .651, and recorded an OPS of 1.024. 8 homers, 16 ribbies, 16 runs scored. He even had a pair of outfield assists! Here's hoping his productivity doesn't rub people wrong in the clubhouse. That just ain't how we do things 'round here, boy. Now is the time for me to rub it in with an "I told you so," quoting myself after the trade: "He's definitely a question mark, but he does fill a void, somewhat . . . Oh, well, what the hell. We'll try anything at this point." It always feels good to know you were one of the first riders on this bandwagon.

Must Come Down

Jason Phillips. .214-5-25 and the like was bad stuff in April, but it's July. On a team that has more catchers than a Chelsea salon, you're just not bucking for innings with those numbers.

What Goes Up

Cliff Floyd's return from injury.

Must Come Down

Jose Reyes's.

What Goes Up

Mike Piazza at 1B.

Must Come Down

Kaz Matsui at SS. E-3 we expected, but there've been more E-6's in the Mets' infield than at a Bingo convention in West Virginia.

What Goes Up

Just 2 games out in the division (though in 4th place).

Must Come Down

8th place in the wild card (though just 4 games out).

And Back Up

4.5 games behind the Red Sox, with 17.5 to spare.

Things That Worry Me

Those veteran arms over the course of a long season; Mike Piazza's slipping average; being the worst-fielding team in the NL; Jose Reyes's hamstring; Jae Seo's fingernail; Cliff Floyd's whole body; that Mr. Met might get a swelled head; that Richard Hidalgo will inevitably have to cool off; that Mike Cameron won't inevitably have to heat up; that a size 40 waistband is looming for me; that Art Howe might have to make some key in-game decisions; that Don Baylor might leave for the Astros job; that Armando Benitez has 30 saves and his head hasn't exploded; that David Wright might be a bust; that the Expos might go somewhere other than D.C.; that, as an organ donor, my liver will be used as a medicine ball someday; that the Yankees will win again, souring my offseason; that the Red Sox won't, souring my offseason time with Rob; that I will never live to discover why it's the Toronto Maple Leafs instead of Maple Leaves; that world peace will elude us for another three months of baseball season.

And oh, yeah, that the Mets will fold in the second half like a pair of dryer-warm boxer shorts. I'm gleeful for now (it's the little things, people), but well aware of the likeliness of a plummet from this summit.

44-43, baby! It's a joy no Yankee fan can ever know!
Games 82 through 87 - Mets
Great Moments in Moral Victory History

Mets 4, Phillies 1
Mets 10, Phillies 1
Phillies 5, Mets 4
Mets 6, Marlins 3
Marlins 5, Mets 2
Marlins 5, Mets 2
Record at the break: 44-43

Finishing above .500 at the All-Star break: priceless. Yes, that ad and the umpteen thousand bad Internet jokes it spawned have a great deal in common with Secretariat, but I have very little thgat is new and insightful to inject in this space today. Let me do my best Rob Russell and blame my job for my silence. When you go away for 5 days, your desk should not become the john, i.e., people dumping crap jobs on you. People don't seem to understand that I have something to say about the New York Mets and the bliss they made my last few weeks simply by not being rancid.

Yeah, the Mets stumbled at the finish line, but they tumbled into the land of positive percentages, and that's all that concerned me at that point. A tiny milestone over which little national attention is being paid, but I'm happy. On to the Check-up . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Gnashing, Wailing, and Bitching: The Story of the First Half of the 2004 Boston Red Sox Season

Thoughts while still chortling over Roger Clemens' performance in last night's All-Star game, and hoping that Mike Piazza was tipping the Rocket's pitches to the AL batters

Let's get this out of the way early. I'm wicked confused by the 2004 Red Sox. Before the season began, I truly believed that this was the most talented Sox roster in my lifetime - and it may be. I believed that the playoffs were a foregone conclusion, and that the AL East pennant was a strong possibility.

When the Sox started 15-6, including a 6-1 run against the Yankees, I knew I had been right. And then...well, then they just started sucking and only stopped in the last 6 games. The Sox are 33-32 since their stellar early run, which doesn't feed the bulldog, gentle readers.

I posted numerous reactions, then rationalizations, and then temper tantrums during the Sox' 65-game malaise, which finds them 7 games behind the Yankees and nearly out of the divisional race. I accused them of not having any fire, of expecting to win without giving max effort - as if I know what happens in the Sox clubhouse. I waxed emotional about my daughters, for chrissakes, as if their innocent faces could drive from my mind the wrenching mediocrity of my ballclub.

Then I woke up this morning and looked at the American League standings, and this band of underperforming slackers is at the head of the pack in the Wild Card race. As poorly as they've played in comparison with their potential, look at the current AL Wild Card standings:

W L Pct. GB
Boston 48 38 .558 ---
Oakland 47 39 .547 1
Anaheim 47 40 .540 1.5
Minnesota 47 40 .540 1.5

I don't believe it possible that the Sox will play any worse than they have thus far, especially with their whole lineup back in place and healthy (with the possible exception of Nomar's psyche). If they play .600 ball the rest of the way, they'll wind up with 94 wins - good enough at least to be in the mix - and they're capable of playing much better than that, unless Derek Lowe gets to start every game the rest of the way.

The All-Star break came at a great time for this team - they went into the break on a roll and then Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz both hit two-run bombs against the NL (Manny's on an 0-2 slider from Clemens - almost looked like he knew what was coming. Things that make you go, hmmmmmmm.). I expect them to finally rip off the winning streak that I've been asking for the last three months.

Without further ado:

The good stuff

1. Manny's first half has been MVP quality, both on the field and off. He's batting .340 with a league-leading 26 HR and 77 RBI (only one off the lead), and leading the AL in both OBP and SLG - and, needless to say, OPS. He's a legitimate triple crown threat, and he's been really consistent all season long. If needed, he could carry this offense, but it hasn't been needed thus far, because:

2. David Ortiz is a big, giant stud. Tizzle's .954 OPS is sparked by 23 HR and a league-leading 78 RBI. He's a threat to hit the ball out of the county every time he comes to the plate, and his swing is a joy to behold - bat head dropping into the slot, ball just disappearing as if pulverized before reappearing in a majestic arc behind the rightfielder. On top of all that, he's a terrifically silly man who appears to realize that he's playing a little kid's game for an assload of money.

3. Curt Schilling continues to play his role as staff leader, stopping losing streaks, pitching deep into games, and sacking up despite injuries. Schill's 3.16 ERA is second in the AL as are his 118 Ks.

4. Johnny Damon's been as fun to watch play as he is to look at. He's been on a tear of late, with 2 multi-homer games in the last several weeks, but he's been a top-flight leadoff guy all season. He's got an .889 OPS (with a .401 OBP from the top spot) with 10 HR and 46 RBI - a huge first half for our Savior.

5. The bullpen remains among the league's very best, despite Keith Foulke's recent scuffling. The Sox' 3.38 ERA trails the Angels by a mere 0.01 runs, and Foulke, Timlin, Williamson, and Embree are a fearsome bunch for opposing teams should the Sox make the playoffs.

6. Pedro's finding his way back. 9-3, 3.67 would be sublime for many pitchers. It's mediocre for Pedro, but he's 4-0, 2.35 in his last 6 starts, allowing 26 hits in 36 innings. He's always been a brilliant pitcher, and I think he's figured out how to use his just-slightly-more-mortal stuff to get outs.

7. Several little guys have contributed mightily, including Mark Bellhorn (.831 OPS, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 61 BB), Pokey Reese (not much offense, but gasp-inducing defense), Kevin Youkilis (.831 OPS in his first major league season), and Bronson Arroyo (misleading 3-7 record despite an above-average 4.09 ERA - more importantly, he's kept his team in nearly every game, going at least 6 innings in 10 of 14 starts).

8. And this should probably be at the top of the list, but the Sox are healthy. Nomar's back and beginning to sting the ball (.889 OPS in 107 ABs and coming off a scorching week). Trot Nixon's also back in the lineup and appears to be playing without pain, as is Billy Mueller.

9. With the renewed health comes the sense that the Sox are gamers. I've been ripping them all year for their seemingly laissez-fair attitude towards the season. Last week's 8-7, 10-inning win against the A's turned that upside-down for me. They blew a 7-1 lead before scrapping back to sweep Oakland, giving the A's the briefest hope before snuffing them. Billy Mueller's game-winning double seemed to signal an important change in the Sox' attitude. Of course, I could be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.

As always, with the good comes the bad. Or, the Derek Lowe Memorial Section of Misery

1. The twice-aforementioned Lowe is the posterboy for disappointing performances this season, though his use of the phrase "Mental Gidget" in a post-game interview in one of this year's highlights. His 7-8, 5.57 is brutal, made worse so by his 5.5 innings per start and 1.62 WHIP. This guy's two seasons removed from a 21-8, 2.58 campaign. Seriously, what the fuck? It's time to consider taking him out of the rotation, which would be an option, except:

2. B.H. Kim is more of a headcase than Whitney's college girlfriends (present wife excepted). I have no idea if we'll ever see Kim in a Sox uniform again, which is a shame because he's got a world of talent. He and Ramiro Mendoza (Hey! The season's first Mendoza mention) are getting quality bonding time in Pawtucket as they cash the team's hard-won checks.

3. To put it simply, the Sox are the league's worst fielding team, and it's not even close. They're 28th in the majors in fielding percentage, and they've given up an astronomical 67 unearned runs - basically, they've handed their opponents .78 runs every game. The Cubs have given up 18(!) unearned runs, or fully half a run per game fewer than the Sox. The Sox don't have bad defensive players; they've just played like ass, which is the basis for my they-don't-care-enough sermons from the first half of the season. It's things like this that make me wish they had a fire-breathing, asshole-reaming, cocksucker of a manager.

4. Nomar's pouting has me ticked off. Yes, the Sox didn't do themselves any favors by so openly courting A-Rod in the off-season, and yes, I'd be pissed off, too, were I Nomar. But it's not the team's fault that he (and his agent) turned down a 4-year, $60 million contract before last year's Spring Training. It's been remarkable (and in many ways remarkably sad) to watch Manny transform into a fan favorite while Nomar's been cast as the gloomy prima donna. I still love Nomar, and I'll always enjoy watching him play the game, but I won't be nearly as sad to see him go at the end of this season as I would have 4 months ago. Just another spoiled ballplayer, which breaks my heart to type.

A final thought for the road

There's been a lot of talk this week about the Sox trying to get Randy Johnson for the stretch run, even about a Nomar/Unit deal. Y'know what? I don't want him. I don't want the Sox to win the World Series by buying it. I don't want to be a Yankee fan. I want my team - my really, really talented team - to strap it on, play up to their potential and smoke the American League over the next 76 games, then roll through the post-season like Sherman through Atlanta. The Yankees or Angels or Twins can have Randy Johnson and his mullet. It'll just make the victory beer taste sweeter.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Games 78 through 86 - Red Sox
The Restorative Power of Clean Mountain Air

Atlanta Braves 6, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 6, Braves 1
Braves 10, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 11, A's 0
Red Sox 11, A's 3
Red Sox 8, A's 7 (10)
Red Sox 7, Rangers 0
Red Sox 14, Rangers 6
Rangers 6, Red Sox 5

Record: 48-38

I cannot offer enough superlatives about my week in Lake Tahoe, beginning with the sublime weather, stunning vistas, and overconsumption of adult beverages in the company of great friends (do you think I'm too old to be puking on my shoes at a wedding reception?), and ending with the clear connection between my presence there and the Sox' ability to put a serious ass-whipping on some pretty good teams (the 6-5 loss to the Rangers occurred after I'd returned to Sacramento - the Sox were 5-0 while I was in Tahoe).

More to come later, including a mid-season report, but the Boston 9 that I saw against Oakland was the real deal - equal parts explosive offense, stellar pitching, and gritty resolve. I'd like another big helping of that with a side order of someone to take Derek Lowe's place in the rotation, please.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

81-Game Check-up Placeholder

This here's the promise of a synopsis of the Mets' first half of 2004; at 41-40, I'm thrilled. I'm off to join my Sox-loving cohort and a slew of friends out west for a wedding weekend in the mountains. Let's hope by the time I write the 81-game check-up that the Mets haven't screwed things up so as to jade my overview.

See you at the Break.
Games 78 through 81 - Mets
Spanking the Yankees!

Mets 11, Yankees 2
Mets 10, Yankees 9
Mets 6, Yankees 5
Phillies 6, Mets 5
Record: 41-40

The Mets, whose season has been predictable only in its unpredictability, reverted the month-long pattern of losing all weekend until the final game, sweeping the New York Yankees (that phrase hasn't lost any of its appeal yet) but dropping the long-weekend finale to the Phils last night. Just as last-gasp wins didn't soothe the sting of a string of losses but so much, last night's misstep did little to suck the air out of the weekend heroics.

Averaging nine runs a game against the Yanks is both a huge step in the right direction for the Mets and also probably alarming enough for the Yankees that I expect Mr. Steinbrenner to have an All-Star caliber starter imported within the week. The addition of Richard Hidalgo came with only a modicum of fanfare, but it's apparent that we underestimated the shot in the arm he could provide. The way he's swinging now . . . well, he probably won't continue at this pace, but it's been a well-timed influx of incredible power. Remember last Wednesday's shutout loss to the Reds? That's the last time Hidalgo didn't hit a home run. Anyone who can go deep every game he plays against the Yankees will always have a place on this team and in my heart.

Monday was a sharp dose of reality, though. Sweeping the Yankees -- especially on the heels of their dispatching of the Red Sox -- felt like three big-time, momentum-swinging wins, but they actually weren't as significant as, say, sweeping the division-leading Phillies might have been. With the Phightin's . . . phighting their way past Florida in the standings, it's clear they are poised to pull away from this pack of NL East water-treaders. Last night Tom Glavine got roughed up early, but he quickly settled down and the Mets had their chances to come back. Another winnable loss, after recording a handful of imminently loseable wins.

With the score 6-5, Jason Phillips fouled off ball four, then fanned. Had he been more patient, Glavine might've bunted them over and the top of the order would be up with runners on second and third. As it was, Glavine had to swing away (sort of -- he struck out looking). Little squanderings like that hurt. Then again, the top of the order was Jose Reyes, who continues to look as if it's St. Patrick's Day instead of Independence Day. He's understandably rusty, and the only WD-40 in baseball is at-bats, but he might need to get those somewhere other than in the 1-spot. Immediately following Paul Abbott's second walk of Tom Glavine -- with Abbott looking rather spastic -- Reyes proceeded to swing wildly at three consecutive out-of-the-zone pitches and sit down. The two-run rally that inning could've used a more productive appearance from a leadoff hitter. Two innings later, when Reyes finally did reach, he got doubled off second on a line drive by Matsui. A little bit of bad luck, a little bit of bad baserunning. I dogged Jose Reyes in this space for his failure to rehabilitate quickly, and I predicted a lost season; perhaps I should have been more careful what I wished for? Reyes will hopefully return to the '03 form that was a smile among winces, but in the meantime, he's one of the few hiccups in a line-up clicking on all cylinders lately.

Three more against the Phils, starting with Al Leiter versus Randy Wolf tonight. Speaking of Leiter, am I the only one who thinks Al Leiter should have been at least considered as an All-Star candidate? I'm less irked by his exclusion on the roster than I am by his omission from any and all All-Star discussion of the NL pitchers. When the press issued their Pavlovian "who got snubbed" lists after the teams were announced, his name wasn't among any I saw. His 4-2 record and three missed starts while on the DL work against him, but his 2.12 ERA speaks for itself. I guess the knock has to be not enough IP, but when he's been out there, he's been spectacular. His record would be much better were it not for his meager run support. Check out these no-decision performances:

5 IP, 0 ER
7 IP, 1 ER
5 IP, 1 ER
8 IP, 1 ER
5 IP, 0 ER
7 IP, 2 ER
6 IP, 2 ER

It warrants an apology from the hitters -- perhaps they can recycle the one they issued Denny Walling. Anyway, Glavine's All-Star selection was followed by a disastrous couple of opening innings last night, so maybe it's just as well.

And finally, Billy Wagner is a serious stud, so the Mets need to do whatever they can to dodge save situations for Philadelphia. Cameron, Zeile, and Reyes went quickly, and Reyes was fortunate to put one into play. Cue the "Ride of the Valkyries" when he enters.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Uh Oh

The Red Sox have turned my friend into Mister Rogers! Somebody get me a handle of bourbon, a Penthouse, a wiffle bat & ball, and a copy of the 1986 ALCS Game 5. (That '99 ALDS Pedro game will suffice.)

Rob's last post is Exhibit A that the Sox are killing their formerly rabid fan base. Welcome to the numbing world of mediocre team rooters, my man. If a large Native American leans over you with a pillow, just take it.

And as for the heads-up that you won't be writing anything for the next 10 days, your spotty June pretty much covered that for you.

Sorry, but 42-35 isn't bad enough to go into the tank just yet. And when the Sox season does get that bad, I want cynical sarcasm dripping with clever but brutal witticisms, not pensive reflections by Mike Brady.
Deep Cleansing Breaths

I don't think I've ever felt worse at the end of a July loss than I did last night. I stared in disbelief at my computer screen for about 15 minutes before slowly, quietly unplugging the modem line and heading upstairs to try to sleep. Funny thing happened before I got to my bedroom, though.

Every night before I go to sleep, I look in on each of my daughters - really just watch them sleep for a few seconds or minutes. As I gently closed the door after leaving my eldest daughter's room (the child, by the way, who identified this week's Sports Illustrated coverboy, Manny Ramirez, as one of the Old 97s - how's that for perspective from youth?), I really didn't care very much about what happened to the Red Sox.

I will care, and care deeply and insanely, in the very near future, but last night was a great lesson for me. I'm headed to Lake Tahoe on Monday for a week. I probably won't post in this space before July 13, and I probably won't see much more than newspaper accounts of the Sox' efforts until that time. And right now, that's all the tonic this kid needs.

A Few Thoughts on the Boston Red Sox

I realize by having any opinion on the cross-blog squad, I open myself up to criticisms similar to those of the ref who calls the foul from the far side of the court. Especially since I relinquished the Extra Innings package this year, meaning I've seen a fraction of the Sox games I watched last year. But a lack of knowledge on a given subject has never, ever prevented me from opening up my yap at length about it . . .

All I really wanted to say to Rob and his Red Sox Nation ilk is that the media folks have given you all of the jinxy momentum you need. It's one thing for Bostonites to count the Sox out early. A pair of college summers on Cape Cod opened my eyes to this perennial practice, as the locals would call it quits on the Sawx before Memorial Day. (Actually, back then in the Morgan/Hobson era, that was only slightly premature.) But again, it's one thing for the Sox fans to "chicken little" it on July 2, but it's a vastly different karmic entity when supposedly impartial, supposed experts make assertive statements about the Red Sox being dead in the water.

ESPN's people unanimously agree that there is no chance for Boston to pull itself from the depths of 8.5 games out. Berman and Sutcliffe in a broadcast booth; Stu Scott and Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter; Ravech, Gammons, and the eloquent, never redundant Jeff Brantley on Baseball Tonight; a slew of no-names doing ESPNewscasts: they all spoke very definitively about the Red Sox now being relegated to the wild card race. More talking heads than . . . there are Talking Heads albums have weighed in on how the Yanks have it locked up, how they've never blown even a 6.5-game division lead in their century-plus of play, and how the Sox will be lucky to battle for any postseason ball. I'm probably getting too wrapped up in the ethereal side of baseball and ignoring the reality of the situation, but I'm startled at this.

There are 85 games to be played, and nobody has won anything yet. Sure, the Yanks are the closest thing to a lock there is. They were before any games were played. But while they are on top of their game in early July, they have some serious question marks that they've skated on thus far. Kevin Brown says his back continues to bother him, and he thinks it's because of the same intestinal parasite (!) that plagues Jason Giambi. (Will the Boston-based catering company handling the Yankees' food service please identify yourself?) That's ridiculous. Gary Sheffield is playing with a damaged shoulder, and he's one step away from a backless linen robe. Their bullpen has been unreal, but they're also logging an unreal amount of IP. The role players have come up huge . . . so far. This is a team playing kick-ass baseball right now, but one for whom an August breakdown would not be unforeseen.

The problem is that right now, the Yankees aren't just playing much better than the Red Sox, they're also playing much harder. This doesn't begin and end with Derek Jeter's play last night; Pokey Reese's catch earlier in the game was just as tough, and frankly, it looked like Jeter clumsily launched himself face-first into the seat, thinking his beloved fans would catch him. (That they didn't is either a lasting repercussion of the Alou-Bartman debacle of '03 or an indictment of the type of character who has front row box seats for Yanks-Sox.) But the Boston club who scrapped for wins last year hasn't shown itself yet in 2004. Still, it's not too late.

Like many, I have long contended that those who need to rely on bulletin-boarding quotes by the opposition or the media to energize themselves are in deep, deep Cedeno. But if the Red Sox can right the ship -- start playing fundamentally solid baseball, doing what they're capable of, and showing a little fire, the breaks may start to go their way thanks to this latest twist in the fates. Positive vibes won't be enough, though. Black Label in a chilled, crystal pilsner glass is still swill. If the team can begin to brew up something more palatable, though, the cursed paper cup that has soured all of the fine ales of past years may crystallize. (Sorry, people, it's Friday and I'm thirsty.)

Use the negative image of 1978 as a blueprint. Enact the Curse of Michael Kay or any one of those bozos in the YES booth. (As an aside, what's more aurally painful, three hours of YES commentary or two hours of live Yes? I've seen all good people turn their heads and retch dissatisfied, I'm on my way to get earplugs.) Do what you have to do, but put the word "comeback" in your heads and get that pilot light re-lit before it really is too late.

* * *

That said, I would really be enjoying the fact that the good team is 8.5 out while the crummy team is 3 out were the Sox' woes not part and parcel of the Yankee's success. I know it's an enormous long shot given the schedule, but if the Mets are ahead of the Sox by the break, I'll be lobbying for a bonus case of suds from Rob.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Sounds Like Whitney Should Investigate CBS Sportsline
Tugging on Superman's Cape

We're testing a new theme in this space: anti-superstition. I'm following the Sox/Yanks (3-3, top of the 8th, after the Sox came roaring back from a 3-0 deficit) and I'm here to tell you that Boston will win this game. To hell with jinxes - give me a black cat, stat - screw mountains, positivity can piss right off. The Sox are going to win this game and I'm going to banish for all eternity - or at least the next several weeks - all baseball-related rabbit's feet. I'm gonna stomp on the baselines when I leave the field. I'm gonna talk to the pitcher while he's throwing a no-hitter. I'll hit the ball back up the middle in softball. Okay, maybe not on that last one - that's always a dick move.

But I'm truly going to stop looking for signs, struggling for themes, desperately searching for clever metaphors. I'm going to follow my team, dammit, because (as Bill Simmons points out today) I have no other choice.

Interlude: this is working great so far - Ortiz and Manny have been retired with nary a whimper - well, Tizzle's fly to right almost left the yard, but I've got poetic license.

And kudos to Whitney. This afternoon's effort had me laughing out loud. Of course, the second Sierra Nevada I just tossed down my throat played no small role in my easy humor.

Varitek lines to 3rd to end the inning. Starting to wonder...if it off, shake it off.

I'm vamping to kill time now, so that's why this sentence is about Steve Nash joining the Suns. I suppose it's cliche for me (suburban white guy) to say that Nash is one of my favorite NBA players ("favorite" is perhaps too strong a term, as I haven't actually watched an NBA game since the strike in the mid-90s), but guys like me are contractually obligated to root for guys like Nash. (See, Barry Bonds, there is a pact, and we do all hate you. Well, we do, except it's because you're a selfish, arrogant prick, not because you're black.) It's disappointing that he's given up a championship shot with the Mavs for the Valley of the Sun(-drenched babes), but I'll get over it, thanks to the love of a good woman and the restorative powers of good American micro-brewed beer.

Keith Foulke says, "Enjoy this changeup, A-Rod". I'm enjoying the Keith Foulke era. Too bad he can't pitch 9 innings every day.

Damn. The top of the 9th went by faster than one of Whitney's college-era lovemaking sessions.

Matsui singles to lead off the bottom of the 9th. I've long tried to maintain my belief that he's an overrated stiff with no defensive abilities whatsoever, but his 15 HR and 50 RBI before the mid-season mark argue otherwise. Still can't field though, and has weird, meaty man-haunches.

Man, do I wish I had broadband. This is a perfect argument for

And, Posada doubles to deep right, Matsui to third with one out in the bottom of the 9th. Dare I say, "neat".

Foulke gets out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam. Saves me from having to explain to my wife why we have to buy a new computer. Thank you, Keith. But if Pokey Reese actually gets to bat in the top of the 10th, Terry Francona's buying me a new microwave.

Francona owes me $450. Fucker. Pokey Reese has the same chance against Mariano Rivera that I do. Jesus, another blinding 1-2-3. Ortiz, Manny, Varitek up in the top of the 11th. You feelin' that, Superman?

Timlin hits Jeter to start the bottom of the 10th, bringing up Sheffield and then A-Rod. Awesome. Heyyyy, double play. Carry on.

A-Rod doubles to bring up Bubba Crosby with 2 out. Hear me now and believe me later: Bubba Crosby will not beat the Sox in this game. (He didn't, because Alan Embree walked his 1-for-13-against-lefties ass.)

Sportsline's about 30 seconds behind the SOSH game thread. The SOSHers are all exhaling, and I still think it's 1st and 3rd with two outs. I think maybe the Luddites were on to something.

TIZZLE! MANNY! 1st and 3rd, nobody out, top of the 11th. Beg your pardon, 2nd and 3rd, as Bubba throws one around the infield.

No. Fucking. Way. Millar hits into a 5-2 double play. Sportsline called it thusly, "Millar unknown into double play third to catcher, Kapler out at home, Ramirez out at third, Varitek to second." I wish Millar was unknown. No. Fucking. Way. And McCarty flies out. Bases loaded. Nobody out. No runs. Seriously. That's just a cockpunch.

Oh, and in case Whitney forgets to mention it - which is unlikely - Tony Clark's rotting corpse has 2 homers in this series, including 1 tonight against Pedro.

1-2-3 for Embree in the bottom of the 11th. Looks like Tanyon Sturtze for the bad guys in the top of the 12th. It must be late, because I can't think of anything funny to say about his name.

Youks! walks after going down 0-2. Well done, young man. Good think Pokey's still in the game. And now so is Cesar Crespo, pinch-running for Youkilis. I'm going to bed.

I could save the Red Sox just by ignoring them tonight. I can't find the words to make it right, make it right.

1st and 3rd, 1 out, and Bellhorn goes to 0-for-6 with a pop to 2nd. Fuck me. At least now Trot Nixon gets to do his Kirk Gibson imitation pinch-hitting for Gabe Kapler. Or pops out in foul territory, whichever. Feh. And even better, seems that it was an all-time play by Derek Jeter, adding to the Legend of the Most Overrated Player in Baseball.

Miguel Cairo triples to lead off the bottom of the 12th off of Curtis Leskanic. Looks like I'll be getting to be on time tonight.

Siddown, Giambi. 1 down, 2 to go.

Bases loaded, 1 out. And I repeat, Bubba Crosby will NOT beat the Sox tonight.

Throw fucking strikes, Leskanic.

Did I mention I had the game-winning RBI in a classic softball game last night?

Nice - fielder's choice, Cairo out at home, 2 outs.

Leskanic strikes out Bernie Williams with the bases loaded. Twice in three innings the Sox escape huge jams to stay alive. I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. If nothing else, they've proven me wrong about their heart.

MANNNNNNNYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!! YARD. Of course, SOSH told me, not Sportsline. Cancel that headline, if you don't mind. Tonight's line: Ramirez LF 6 2 4 3. Sweet.

This just in: Cesar Crespo still sucks. And why the hell is Nomar still sulking on the bench? (SOSH is speculating he's been traded.) Headed to the bottom of the 13th with a lead. Deep breaths.

2 down. Turning blue from not breathing. Sierra scratches out a single. No. Fucking. Way. 2 outs, 2 strikes, Miguel Cairo doubles in the run. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

They just lost that game. They just got beat by Miguel Cairo and John Flaherty after having nobody on and 2 outs in the bottom of the 13th. I just, I mean, can you, what the,