Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Games 157 & 158 - Red Sox
That's Why He's Making ESPN Dollars

Red Sox 10, Devil Rays 8 (11)
Devil Rays 6, Red Sox 3 (in progress)

Had to break into my regularly scheduled aimless post-children's bedtime web surfing to make a quick comment. I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to find the words to describe my concerns about Pedro Martinez (tonight's line, 5 IP, 102 pitches, 10 hits, 6 earned runs - blecch). Turns out I don't need to worry about it, because Bill Simmons did it for me.

In his last 4 starts, Pedro's 0-3 (probably 0-4, unless the Sox bail him out) with 20 earned runs, 30 hits allowed, and 11 walks in 23 1/3 innings (a tidy 7.72 ERA). I cannot remember a similarly mediocre 4-game stretch in Pedro's Boston career. It's as if he's shrinking in front of our eyes, and it's not just his physical 'stuff' - Pedro's vaunted duende, his malevolent, arrogant, dominating mound presence has simply wandered off over the course of this season, leaving an obviously confused, very mortal pitcher to fill the void. You see it in his performance, and you hear it in his concession to the Yankees after last weekend's effort.

The impact of the loss of Pedro's mojo is immense. Simply stated, the Sox cannot win the World Series without Pedro. Hell, there's a good chance they can't get out of the ALDS with the current guy that's wearing number 45. Schilling's the ace now, the streak-stopping iron-willed hardass. Pedro just needs to be a 7-inning, 3-run kind of pitcher - the sort of guy he flossed with as recently as 2 years ago - that's all. And I'm really, really concerned that even that sort of effort's too much to ask.

At least Derek Lowe's rounding into shape.

Game 159 - Mets
Just In Case You Were Worried About Any Positive Momentum . . .

Braves 6, Mets 3
Record: 70-89

I'm "working at home" this afternoon, and I happened to notice the Mets/Braves game was being televised. Fortunately, I tuned in just in time to see the Mets give up four runs and go on to lose, 6-3. In doing so, they gave Bobby Cox his 2,000th victory. Awesome. If every one of the shots to the nuts the Mets have delivered to me this year were literal instead of figurative, I'd have gotten double-Kruk surgery months ago. Is it any wonder I alluded to abandoning this team?

I failed to mention the Mets' acquisition of former Expos exec Omar Minaya as president of baseball operations, squeezing him 'twixt the Wilpon Gang and Jim "What Exactly Is My Job Description?" Duquette. It remains to be seen whether this is either a step in the right direction and the Wilpons trust Minaya enough to turn all of the reins over to him or whether he'll just be another guy they survey among the scouts, players, radio show hosts, PA announcers, grounds crew, bleacher bums, and bloggers before arbitrarily making moves.

And I know I said I wouldn't talk about this Expos-to-DC business, but for some reason I feel no obligation to live up to claims I've made where MLB's executive office is concerned. I just need to underline the points Brer Russell made about the preposterous nature of the compensation MLB plans to provide Peter "There Is Currently No Expletive Vile Enough" Angelos. It's a dangerous, precedent-setting concession so they can avoid a confrontation they would have easily won. A couple of weeks ago, Thomas Boswell wrote an article in The Washington Post talking about how the deal was close to being done mainly because tough guy owner Jerry Reinsdorf was doing Bud's dirty job of standing up to Angelos. Now it's clear that this was the most misinformed 1,500 words since my outlook for the 2004 Mets.

The diminutive, surly Angelos has been likened to Napoleon throughout his tenure as Baltimore litigator and Orioles owner. Now Major League Baseball appears poised to complete the comparison with this coronation. Why not go the next step and guarantee the Orioles 75 wins a year and adjust the standings accordingly? Iron-clad guarantees are so ill-advised, and this will undoubtedly come back to bite baseball in the Bud. Rob is right about Angelos's track record of integrity, and it could be a very interesting few years in Baltimore. Leave it to Sneaky Pete to tank it for the next few seasons, blame the Senators, and make another mint. This is another shady deal to follow that initial purchase of the franchise by all of the owners. And as much as I'm thrilled baseball is coming here, this deal stinks.

How Bud Selig's popularity among the masses is at a "record high" is beyond me, but of course it's not the first approval ratings poll to stun me. Selig is a guy who, bless him, tries to please everyone but ends up bungling it every time. Bud, you can't make everybody happy, so figure out what's best for the sport and do it without feeling guilty, dammit. Washington, DC is best for baseball, though it may hurt the Orioles. So do it (two years ago). Compensate the Orioles, because fair is fair, but don't overdo it in an attempt to win back Angelos's love. Give him a few million dollars, maybe the clause about the sale price, and be done with it. Firm and fair. Instead, you've taken a win-scenario for your loss-loss-loss-loss-loss-loss track record and somehow, astoundingly, made it another loss. He's the anti-PR commissioner, saving embarrassment, criticism and ridicule from the jaws of public acclaim.
Games 157 & 158 - Mets
Cutting Our Losses

Mets 2, Braves 1
Braves 5, Mets 2
Record: 70-88

Like I said, it's always nice to beat the Braves. And like I also said, the Mets can't provide any smile that doesn't quickly become a smirk. There were but a couple of hours to enjoy the 2-1 win, what with the Braves leading 5-2 by the 6th inning of Game 2. Steve Trachsel was the star of Game 1, falling just short in his quest to dive back under a 4.00 ERA. He may have one more crack at it Sunday. The nightcap was simply more of the same for Tommy Glavine, who is employed by the Mets but owned by the Braves. Check out Glavine's month-by-month ERA:

April - 1.64
May - 2.59
June - 2.14
July - 4.31
August - 5.79
September - 6.69

Good thing the season ends now, eh? He did finish with a 3.66 ERA overall, but in case you can't recall (understandably so), he was gunning for the title a couple of months ago. As was Al Leiter, who was undone by a 4.46 August and a 5.33 September. Our well-documented concerns about these aged arms wearing down late in the season seem pretty obvious in retrospect, no? As for Trachsel, good luck figuring him out. His monthly progression:


I've had girlfriends that were less bipolar (not many, though).

Despite Game 2's perpetuation of the Met mantra what-goes-up-must-come-down-pronto, plenty of positive can be taken from the fact that a twinbill on the Mets' schedule didn't result in an embarrassing sweep. I did blanch when my eyes caught a snippet on the ticker saying that Wright had been hit in the ankle with a line drive. Of course it was Jaret Wright, but I mistakenly assumed it was David until further research steered me right. Phew. That'd be all we need. The right Wright continues to shine, one of the few bright spots I've talked about and longed for during the blight of '04.

A few of you have written in inquiring about the status of the two big wagers on the line for me. While the Mets are almost a lock to cost me 24 cold ones, at least they've dragged it out this far. Rob's magic number is 1 for a push and 2 to win, as the Sox have been hovering around that 25-game lead on the Mets for a few weeks now. I think he wanted Harpoon or something else Bostonian. He can post his choice once the unavoidable happens.

My other bet, the one involving DC's current hometown team (heh heh heh), the Orioles, is similarly coming down to the wire. After coasting to a huge lead, then utterly blowing it and looking doomed, the O's have rallied back into a comfortable 74-81 position, needing just one win to propel me to the break-even point in beverage bets. Think the Orioles can't lose all of their remaining games, though? You'd better believe they can. One comforting thought is that they still have a bone to pick with Rob Russell for his negative press in the face of their roughing up the Sox' wild card opponents (who, without Baltimore's contributions, would still be making the Red Sox fight it out until Game 162). So look for them to smack the Sox around just for kicks. I'll drink to that.

Speaking of things I'll drink to, as Rob mentioned (with a link to the Washington Times, defying my Top 10 list of things I swore I never see on this site), the Montreal Expos are becoming the Washington ______s next year. (If the Rangers extort this team for the rights to the Senators moniker after ditching DC 33 years ago, they ought to be contracted.) If you believe the press, which I don't, and if you believe MLB, which I gave up for Lent in 1994 and it stuck, and if you believe the DC City Council will do the right thing, which is to Total Recall yourself into not remembering that Marion Barry just received election onto the Council (that last bit is worthy of an entire blog of its own; not a blog post, an entire website), then you can safely be assured that Washington, DC will have a baseball team next year. If you're like me, you're cautiously optimistic at best, and at worst just waiting for the bomb to drop.

There will be plenty of time to celebrate this new ballclub when the time comes, but that time is not right now. There will be time to ponder whether the heralding of the new team in DC is appropriate material for this space, considering the intended topic. There will even be time to investigate the heart and mind of Whitney Lester and try to determine whether his allegiances will be tested -- or even scarier, if his beloved Mets have burned him so many times of late that he'd just walk away given this unique opportunity. There will be time for these discussions and more, but until Bud, his owners, Peter Angelos, the Council, and the new owners all publicly confirm that the neo-Senators have arrived, I'm not saying a thing here.

But man, I wish I could.
Sitting Here Beside Myself

According to the Associated Press, Major League Baseball will announce today that the Montreal Expos will be moved to Washington, DC beginning in 2005. Inasmuch as this is the right move and long overdue, and that common sense and MLB have long been bitter enemies, you could knock me over with a feather. As a resident of the D.C. metropolitan area (Whitney might argue that), I'm pumped and jacked. As a baseball fan who has seen MLB in action, I'm not quite ready to buy my season tickets just yet. And as a Red Sox fan, this is great, because of the terms of the deal.

Apparently Oriole owner Peter Angelos is willing to stand aside graciously on 2 conditions:

1. The Orioles be guaranteed a minimum revenue stream each year - if they fail to reach such revenue stream, MLB will make up the difference.

2. Angelos be guaranteed a minimum sale price when he decides to give the fans of Charm City a real owner and divest himself of the team. If he cannot find a prospective owner willing to meet the minimum, MLB will subsidize the difference.

Forget for a moment that Angelos' rabid-dog personality and predeliction for legal bullying is the only leg he's got to stand upon, and that he holds no legal claim to the Washington, D.C. market. Even if he had iron-clad territorial rights, the conditions listed above are laughably generous. Angelos has shown no inclination to put a good team on the field in his tenure as Oriole owner. The notion of a guaranteed revenue stream will allow him to drastically cut costs in all areas, including player development and salaries, and field a team of bargain-basement castoffs and misfits, knowing that the lower he can drive costs, the higher his profit margin. MLB is asking for a disaster here, and even though I want baseball in Washington, and even though the new-look wOe's would be great for the Sox to play 19 times each season, this deal is bad for baseball.

Which, of course, guarantees that it'll get done.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Game 156 - Red Sox
Tito's Dilemma

Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 3
Record: 94-62
Clinched AL Wild Card

That sound you hear - not the clinking noise, that's Derek Lowe waking amidst the remnants of a 12-pack, wearing Trot Nixon's underwear on his head, face decorated with Sharpie-drawn penises courtesy of Varitek and Schilling - is the entire Northeastern seaboard and large pockets of people around the Nation exhaling.

It's been a foregone conclusion since early September that the Sox would make the playoffs, but that hasn't stopped me from fretting over every opponent's mini-rally, or from feverishly checking my Blackberry - even in socially unacceptable situations - for Sox/Angels/Rangers updates. That's the nature of Sox fandom, dontchaknow, to look for the dark cloud in every silver lining.

That said, clinching a postseason berth with 6 games to go presents the Sox with an interesting set of decisions and dilemmas. Do they rest their big guns and conserve energy in preparation for the AL Division Series, or do they go great guns to catch the Yankees and try to win the AL East? Would they rather play Minnesota or the AL West winner in the first round of the playoffs? Will one of Tim Wakefield/Derek Lowe snap out of his season-long stupor long enough to contribute in October - and more seriously, what does the playoff rotation look like?

The first one's a no-brainer, and a little bit out of the Sox' control. The psychological and actual benefits of winning the division and securing home-field advantage in the ALDS are important enough that I'd make every effort to win each and every game until the Sox are mathematically eliminated. The Twins have played the Yankees tough in recent series', so it's possible that the season's final weekend will matter. Of course, if it does, the Orioles will likely take 3 of 4 to doom the Sox. Bastards.

On the second question my preference is clear - if the Sox are the Wild Card entry, I'd much rather go out west to face Oakland or Anaheim than to the heartland to face Johan Santana and Brad Radke on the carpet in Minneapolis. The Sox have played really well against both AL West contenders this season - especially in the last several weeks, and Minnesota has both a historical advantage at home in the postseason and the league's undisputed best and most dominant pitcher in Santana. The Sox would be lucky - very lucky - to get out of Minny with a split in the series' first two games. If they went down 0-2, they'd be looking at Derek Lowe to keep the season alive, and that thought makes me want to solder my eyes shut without anesthesia.

And finally, while I believe that Curt Schilling's the Sox' best starter at the moment, I'd lead off the ALDS with Pedro, regardless of opponent. Pedro would be getting the ball on regular rest in Game 1, and I'd rather place the burden of a must-win start on Schilling's capable shoulders should Pedro falter. The difference between the two - at least from the talent perspective - is negligible. They're both studs. But Pedro's notoriously more of a prima donna, and there's no need to alter his routine if it's not absolutely required. So the mantra, then, is 'Petey and Curt and pray Derek loses his skirt'.

A week of relaxation - for me, anyway - before the tightness in my chest returns. Game on.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Games 151 through 156 - Mets
Cue the Mel Allen

Expos 6, Mets 1
Mets 3, Expos 2
Mets 4, Expos 2
Cubs 2, Mets 1
Mets 4, Cubs 3
Mets 3, Cubs 2
Record: 69-87

How about that? The Mets have won two series in a row, defying odds no bookmaker was likely bored enough to lay out. They staved off the Expos, who'd sneaked into the Mets' rearview mirror of late, and nearly ensured themselves of a 4th-place finish rather than the cellar. Then they stunned the contending Cubs, taking two of three in a match-up the Cubs had to love going into the weekend. Of course, I was actually pulling for Chicago, since I'd much rather see them make the playoffs than Barry Bonds & Co. So yet again the Mets administer a kick in my groin.

In truth, though, it is nice to see the Mets winning again. That it coincided with the return of their middle infield and the surprising contributions of some young call-ups is the type of garbage-time play that can keep lit the tiniest flicker of hope for next season during the winter months. The last six games of the season can extend this baseless optimism even further; beating the Braves is always an accomplishment, no matter if they're coasting into yet another postseason, and wins in the last three games against the future Senators could be an excellent way to cap off an otherwise dreary season.

You can't read anything about the Mets these days that doesn't rip into the Mets' management. The indictments of ineptitude are pouring in from blogs around the country and media personnel throughout baseball. The fans, through soapboxes like this one, have never had as much of a publicly audible voice, and their rumblings are registering on Richter scales throughout the five boroughs. It's never an easily rectified situation when the problems start at the tip-top of an organization, since, as we've discussed before, usually they're not going anywhere (and neither are the Mets so long as they're around). The best we can hope for is that they learn from their mistakes. Peter Gammons, in a recent diatribe that wasn't overtly harsh but included a few rabbit punches along the way, accused Team Wilpon once again of listening to two-bit opinions from everyone except Jim Duquette. Here's hoping that's just true enough to hear the outrage of the fan base and a few of the rational arguments. ("Screw the Wilpons" doesn't really get us anywhere.) Empower Duquette and live with his decisions. Quit trading away promising youth for more immediate results. Formulate a game plan and stick to it, for once. This scattershot misdirection is both infuriating and ineffective.

In the meantime, let's win 4 of the next 6 and spark something positive in Metland. It won't be Rob's Era of Positivity or anything, but you have to start somewhere.
Games 154 & 155 - Red Sox
Symmetry's a Bitch

Red Sox 12, Yankees 5
Red Sox 11, Yankees 4
Record: 92-63

The Yankees may be Pedro Martinez' daddies, but Curt Schilling sure bounced them on his knee like so many toddlers yesterday. Save for one bizarre and uncharacteristic loss of control, Schilling utterly mastered New York, giving up but a single hit and 2 runs in his 7 innings of work.

If you believe in such things (and, as a Red Sox fan you're constitutionally obligated to) the psychological ramifications of the final two games between the Sox and Yankees loom fairly large. Joe Torre waved the white flag in the 7th inning of Sunday's game, liberally substituting for his starters as the Sox built an 11-2 lead. Torre's decision to start Kevin Brown against the Sox may have signaled an even more premature surrender. Derek Jeter 2 errors on a single play (he was only charged with 1, which was laughably generous) gave the Sox a 7-0 lead in the 2nd inning. Kenny Lofton whined like the me-first jackass he is when Doug Mientkiewicz' foot hogged first base on a not-so-close play in the early innings.

In all, the Yankees behaved like a team that didn't care much in the final 2 contests of this series - and with a 5 1/2 game lead going into Saturday, they'd earned that right. By doing so, though, they provided the Sox with a much-needed boost of confidence just one week after administering a public atomic wedgie to the ever-striving, never-reaching Sox. In the wake of Pedro's mystifying comments about the Yankees' dominance in his starts (New York is 16-5 in the last 21 games the Sox' erstwhile ace has started against them), the Yankees had a real opportunity to bury the Sox - at least their confidence - by winning at least 1 of the weekend's 2 contests. They not only failed, but they failed in a manner that has to embolden the Sox, putting up less than token resistance, in the final 11 innings of the series.

Schilling answered any remaining questions about which pitcher will lead the Sox into the postseason - all we need to know at this point is whether Pedro's father(s) will let him out of his room to pitch Game 2 of the ALDS. The first 2 days of my new era of fandom (2004 version) dawned bright and ended gloriously. Some ball left. Stay on target. And somebody figure out who the hell is impersonating Pedro.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Games 152 & 153 - Red Sox
The Last Games of the First Part of the Season...or Something

Orioles 9, Red Sox 7
Yankees 6, Red Sox 4

Last season's nadir prompted me to coin a slogan and resolve to be a new kind of Red Sox fan, and it almost worked all the way to the World Series. This year's team has been so maddeningly inconsistent, tempting and teasing, streaking and sucking, talented and uninspired, that my game-day reactions have mostly been of the frustrated variety. Last night was the breaking point.

As I watched in disbelief while Terry Francona stared history in the face and let it repeat, as I stared holes in my television while Pedro Martinez gave up the tying and go-ahead runs in the 8th inning with a rested relief corps ready to roll, I first released a stream of profanities, most of them from the "motherfucker" family, or its close cousins, the "cocksuckers". Then, I hurled my daughter's smiley-face ball against the washing machine - banished as I was to the basement out of regard for my wife's sanity and my daughters' need for sleep - and was rewarded, if only a little and only momentarily, by a resounding metallic clang. And then, as if the stages of lunacy were playing themselves out in miniature, I made peace with both my addiction, and with this Red Sox team.

I believed so very strongly in the 2003 Red Sox because of their chemistry, and because they earned my belief with wins like the 12th inning Nixon slam over the Phils, the late-season game won by Todd Walker against Baltimore, and the last three games of the ALDS against the A's. I haven't yet believed in the 2004 Sox, because for all their talent, they haven't won those kinds of games - at least until this week. Even worse, they've folded like little girls in their last three meetings against the Yankees, providing noisy affirmation for all those who rightly and loudly affirm that September and October games mean a hell of a lot more than April and May games, and call out the Sox for their inability to topple the Yankees when the weather cools.

So now, on the occasion of my 5th wedding anniversary, against logic, and against intellect, I push all my chips to the middle of the table and tell you now that the second era of positivity has come to pass. I will not rage impotently against the sins of my favorite laundry, nor will I break, kick, throw, or otherwise spindle or mutilate any household objects. I may evince disappointment, but I won't call Terry Francona an assmonkey, nor will I call Jason Varitek a sack of crap (as much as he may have deserved it over the last 4 Yankee games). I won't bemoan Pedro's demise, or Derek Lowe's limp will (and he definitely deserves it). I will continue to thrill at Orlando Cabrera's wizardy with the glove, and Doug Mientkiewicz's footwork (and be glad that Millar's bat is in the lineup until the Sox get a lead in the late innings). I'll silently believe that Manny and Ortiz will homer every time they come to the plate, and revel in Johnny Damon's bat control and Bill Mueller's pretzel-twisting swing. I'll believe in Bellhorn even as I implore him to swing the bat more, and know that Trot's playing himself into shape. I'll trust Arroyo, stand behind Timlin, Embree, and Foulke, and love to watch Pokey play defense. And I'll definitely stand a post in Curt Schilling's army, as the Sox de facto ace wills this team to his second World Series ring.

I stand by my belief in the talent of the 2004 Sox, lay before you the evidence of their stubbornness even in defeat, their legacy of almost, just-missed, shouldacouldawoulda, and state for the record that their mounting bad luck and ill-timed bad play melts into the mists beginning on October 6th, when they begin their run to the World Series. I do this in full recognition that they have but one reliable starter, are playing with a catcher who can't hit my weight (a buck 40 or so), have earned a deserved reputation as the Yankees' bitches, and will likely back their way into the playoffs as the AL West beats itself senseless over the next 10 days.

I said some months ago that this team would squeeze into the playoffs on sheer talent, despite their poor play for a the majority of the season, and that their relief in making the postseason in the midst of massive expectations would be the jet fuel that propelled them headlong into immortality. I believe it more now than I did then. They burned brightly in winning 25 of 30 games to get into position to make the playoffs, and are now in the middle of a slow, fading arc until the end of the regular season. They'll fire the engines one more time, slingshot around the slower traffic in front of them, and scream headlong into history. Pretty decent amount of ball left. Stay on target.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Games 150 & 151 - Red Sox
Queer as Foulke (Alternate title: Freaking Drama Queens)

Red Sox 3, Orioles 2
Red Sox 7, Orioles 6 (12)
Record: 91-60

I suppose that I could look at the Sox' last two games as tipping points, sure to be discussed from the future as the games that really cemented this team's identity and offered proof positive of their heart. I could do that...if I could stop hyperventilating and get my own heart to stop racing. For the love of all that is holy, boys, how about winning an easy one tonight?

Two nights in a row the Sox take 1-run leads into the top of the 9th inning. Two nights in a row, Keith Foulke offers up 3-2 meatballs to Oriole batters to lose those leads. And two nights in a row, the Sox bats pick Foulke and the team right back up. (And, for what it's worth, two nights in a row, the Mariners beat the snot out of the Angels, reducing the Sox' playoff magic number to 5. Seattle is the anti-Baltimore.) Last night it was Orlando Cabrera atoning for his inability to win the game in the bottom of the 9th (bases loaded, 1 out, and the O-Cab bounced into a forceout at home on a wickedly fine play by Melvin Mora, who barehanded Cabrera's chopper and threw to Javy Lopez to force speedy Dave Roberts. Helluva play.) by blasting a Rick Bauer offering into the Monster seats to end the game. Cabrera's game-winner was made possible by Doug Mientkiewicz and Pokey Reese, who bookended a terrific 3-2-4 double play to end a Baltimore rally in the top of the 12th. So that's what a good defensive team looks like. Interesting.

Note that I used the names Roberts, Cabrera, and Mientkiewicz in that last paragraph. Had I been forced to use Kapler, Garciaparra, and Millar, the Orioles win that game going away. I'm just saying.

Tuesday's game offers a glimpse of the depths to which my insanity goes as it concerns the Sox. My youngest daughter took a tumble that required my wife to take her to the emergency room (she's more than fine, thanks for asking, but you can send donations to me, just in case). As I watched Foulke put the final touches on Curt Schilling's iron-willed effort (8 IP, 3H, 14K), my wife called me from the hospital. She told me that the little one was okay at precisely the moment that Lopez drilled Foulke's 2-strike, 2-out offering over the Monster. I managed to muffle my expletives - really don't know how, to be honest - and complete the conversation before throwing the phone through the wall. She called back about 20 minutes later, right as Mark Bellhorn ripped a gapper to plate the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the inning. This time, I couldn't contain myself, shouting with glee and cutting her off as she was explaining the doctor's advice. "Sox win", I told her. "That's nice. Do you want to hear how your daughter's doing?" Um. Yeah. Sorry 'bout that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Game 149 - Red Sox
Assmonkeys on Parade

Orioles 9, Red Sox 6

Assmonkeys, I tell you.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Games 140 through 150 - Mets
You Can Go Home Again (Though You'd Never Know It from Mets Baserunners)

Phillies 9, Mets 5
Phillies 11, Mets 9
Phillies 4, Mets 2
Mets 9, Braves 7
Braves 7, Mets 1
Mets 7, Braves 0
Braves 2, Mets 0
Mets 9, Braves 4
Mets 8, Pirates 7
Pirates 1, Mets 0
Pirates 6, Mets 1
Record: 65-85

Wow, that's quite a stack of un-recapped games there. What can we take from that? Well, for one, it's time for my fall regional trips again -- the series of jaunts that took me to Boston and New York on successive nights during the first two games of the Sox-Yanks playoffs last year. Would it be too much to ask that I might get to be in New York for the first game of a Mets postseason series some year? And with similar visits to offices in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia around the same time, I might even catch the Mets in an away series as well. And maybe . . . what am I doing?? I bore witness to this hurricane-style wreckage of a season (although, let's face it, with these Mets it was more of a trashed trailer in Islamorada than a mansion coming down in Naples) and I'm talking about playoffs? Playoffs. Playoffs?! Sorry, I'm mixing my sports again.

Speaking of which, I need to acknowledge a pair of contradictory posts from Rob. (10-day lay-offs require a lot of backtracking.) He both proclaimed his relative disinterest in the newly christened football season and bemoaned yesterday's scalping of our beloved Redskins. My only thought here is that Beantown can still remain fully in Sox Mode despite the 18-win game for the Pats, while for some time now Metville has been Jetville or whoever else in or out of the Tri-State area floats your NFL boat. The dawn of a new season of any sport sprouts hope, even if it's tempered hope, while the last gasps of a losing season are sheer agony. Like a black sheep great-uncle on life support who won't kick the bucket and end his lousy legacy, this season can't die quickly enough. Despite not-even-that-vehement arguments to the contrary, the team has been mailing it in -- e-mailing it in, requiring even less effort -- for a while now, and clearly so have I. They're supposed to be the professionals, and they get paid millions, and blah blah blah, but my indifferent approach to this effort over the last month and subsequent passing the buck on to the New York Mets reeks of a hypocrisy generally seen in MLB's front office, not MLC's. I can only tip my bent-up, kicked-around, slammed-to-the-ground Mets cap in the direction of my cohort here and thank him for keeping the ship sailing in the meantime. Of course, his ballclub has provided him with more than enough incentive to blog it out, but kudos to him nevertheless.

That said, it's probably not healthy to dredge up the nitty-gritty of these last ten games, except in highlighted jabs to the face:

1. Another sweep given up to the Phillies. The Phils' Hindenburg-esque season (by the way, did anyone else hear Joe "Norman Einstein" Theismann call it the "Lindenburg" last night?) comes despite the best efforts of the Mets, who've handed over more W's than Presidential propaganda peddlers. You can see why "Dead Manager Walking" Larry Bowa is mentioned as a potential candidate for the Mets' helm in '05.

2. Taking 3 of 5 against the Braves. Sure, beating Atlanta is an inherently good thing. In this time of the season, of course, no good things happen without a negative rejoinder. In this case it's that the Braves simply don't care because they're on their way to winning yet another division title, amazingly (Phillies specialist Nick Luketic begrudgingly endorsed Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone for the Hall, and I must concur), and also because it derails my prediction for a noteworthy losing streak to finish the season for the Mets. Excavating a whit of interest in this last month of '04 is like spinning intrigue out of watching grass grow, and I figured that a back-page-grabbing losing streak might be the only reason to scan the box scores daily. They were still headed for a reasonable re-enactment of the 4-32 O's debacle until the Braves series. Now what am I supposed to hope for?

3. Another doubleheader sweep. After not being swept in a double-dipper against Atlanta for the second time in as many two-fers, the Mets gave the nostalgic among us one for old times' sake, one of those days with 18 innings and nary a good thing to report. They crapped out against the Bucs like they did so many times in double-ups over the past two years. It really took me back, and gave me that familiar warm wave of being home again that I get right before I throw up. On a related note, under Things I Learned This Season I can put that on those nights that the Mets are getting stomped by the 7th inning stretch (kind of like saying on those nights the sun actually sets, or on those nights Boston players do something really dorky or effeminate and yet it's still embraced by Red Sox Nation), I can load up on the Jamo's on the rocks, black the whole game out, and enjoy a pleasant good morning from wake-up until Sports Section perusal. Makes starting out the day significantly nicer, even with the headache, rot-gut, and tattered personal relationships.

So as you can see, we don't need to delve any further into the recent past, especially when the future is now an entirely new shade of midnight black these days. Firing Art Howe is just the latest in a long line of Mets' management removals of my favorite targets this year (see Weathers, Wheeler, etc.), but something I take positively; for one thing, they're listening to me, which everyone naturally should, and secondly, they seem to want the onus of failure directed only upon themselves, which is where it's probably better directed. More and more of Mets Township is taking aim at Team Wilpon, Jim Duquette (to a lesser extent), and even at the clubhouse veterans who've bent the previously mentioned folks' ear with personal gripes in wisdom's clothing. When things go bad -- and my oh my, they're bad now -- everyone's going to be a target. And it's a shame.

When the Mets' vets are getting pummeled for their inflated influence on team decisions, it's too bad, since these are the guys we should be most heralding, and it's a bit misdirected, since you can really only blame upper management for actually listening to them, right? Hey, if anyone's going to listen to me about any subject, I'll keep blathering on -- and while most people in my audience will just blankly nod, "Oh, I agree" while slugging their beer and staring over my shoulder at the hot chick bent over the jukebox, those who take my endless opinions and actually do something with that information do so at their own risk. So, too, do baseball franchise execs who give credence to the opinions of people whose jobs and reputations are not on the line. It's always hard to tell what's going on behind closed doors, and usually when a massive movement against someone/something is afoot, I tend, perversely, to sway to the opposition for some perspective, but in this case I tend to trust my blogging brethren and lay the blame with everyone involved. If Alois Leiter and his fellow senior citizens of Shea want to offer up some field-worthy thoughts based on their years of playing the game, such thoughts can be taken under consideration -- along with a mound from the Morton girl. And if you happen to go along with their advice, for Pete Falcone's sake, don't let any of it leak to talk radio. It seems like most actions these days are announced with a memo to the New York press and a subsequent "by the way" to the players and coaches involved. Why we need to know every detail, much less before they do, is a mystery that keeps me awake at . . . work.

So, with Gramps Howe putting the "lame" in lame duck these days, it's a chance to seriously think about the future even before Game 162 gets inked into the annals. The quest for the new skipper has too many ifs for overanalysis right now, though WFAN would eschew such a notion. The team itself is in need of some revamping, which I'm not sure at all why I bothered to type. The veterans I spoke of were critical to the early-season team "success," if you can call losing every other game success, but they have faltered just as some of the more keenly sophisticated bloggers had predicted (scroll down for a poor man's prophecy). And while other clubs would take consecutive seasons with a win total of sixtysomething (not to be confused with the new baby boomer TV drama in development) as the rock bottom at which point the term "rebuilding" becomes the mandatory catch-phrase, that's just not the case in Flushing. First of all, no New York City team has ever really had a rebuilding season, officially, thanks to the economics in place, and second, in a nod to Crash Davis, there's not enough fear and too much ignorance surrounding this team to do so. Pride's a dangerous thing; the first step to recovery is admitting you suck, so do it and let's get back to basics.

This can't be an original concept at this point, but it has occurred to me that the 2004 Mets executive management is all too similar to George Steinbrenner's regime in the eighties. Big Stein had the drive to win, without question, and he's always had the means, but his impatience and his ill-informed decisions converged in chaos, culminating somewhere around the Buhner for Phelps deal and ensuring all that money would be misspent. While George alienated the venerable, the Wilpons seem to suck up to them, but I'm afraid the result is the same. To be sure, the happy medium can be a fine line, one that Steinbrenner never toed but instead heaped a billion dollars into the mix to work around. From Charlie Comiskey to Peter Angelos, there are more historical instances of piss-poor management in baseball than shining examples of how to do it right, so finding a blueprint might be difficult. Instead, view it like any well-run business; hire good people and let them do their job. Don't micromanage, be true to your word, and keep an eye on the stockholder (ticket-buyer) at all times.

But let's face it, the ownership infrastructure isn't going anywhere. In the meantime, the team is malleable. We need to assess our assets quickly, which, thankfully (be honest, your eyes have glazed over at this point, right?), Mike at ECA is doing on a day-by-day basis. We can cry about deals gone bad (Victor "Waive the Physical" Zambrano, is your elbow ringing?), prospects that have disappointed (Jose "Oh, I thought the scouting report said agile!" Reyes), and signings that haven't panned out as expected (Kaz "IF starts with I, and So Does My Wish List" Matsui). But it's far more rewarding to scour the scrap heap, ignore the fact that injuries often recur, and look toward 2005 sans the dread any sort of sensibility would include.

Let's start in the now. Right now we're on the verge of two series that's the key to the season, at least for me. The Mets begin a three-game series at Montreal (who, oh my dear lord are only two games behind the Mets), while the Red Sox tackle the house of cards known as the Baltimore Orioles. If the Mets can pile it on the Expos and the Sox continue the pants-wetting they initiated this weekend in the Bronx, there's a fighting shot the Mets can finish within the 22-game bubble AND the Orioles can win 75 games. Translation: Whitney wins two cases of beer and there is a blogging carnival thereafter. Trust me, people, you want this, and by "you" I mean me.

Okay, pretty rusty from my non-blog slog. I just need a few AB's to get back into a groove here. Stay tuned.
Games 146 through 148 - Red Sox
See a Little Light

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2
Yankees 14, Red Sox 4
Yankees 11, Red Sox 1
Record: 89-59

I guess a bunch of catchy slogans don't amount to a whole lot if you fail to show up. There's no sugar-coating the events of this weekend: the Sox flat got their asses kicked by a team that outpitched, outfielded, outran, outhit, and outmanaged them. No excuses, no analyzing how vulnerable the Yankees are on paper, no nothing - the Sox' worst enemies beat the shit out of them on national television.

Boston's collapse on the weekend is especially hard to take in the aftermath of their scintillating win on Friday night (the "little light" in the blogtitle above). The single positive to come from this series is the notion that the Sox have now beaten Mariano Rivera twice this season, and appear confident against the league's best closer. That positive is counterbalanced by the fact that the Yankees must have similar confidence when facing Pedro Martinez, who got lambasted on Sunday.

Mental Gidget hit new low(e)s during Saturday's ass-whipping, hyper-ventilating to the point that he couldn't think his way out of a paper bag, costing his team runs by a) walking several batters, b) failing to cover first in time, c) ill-advisedly throwing behind Bernie Williams at third on a comebacker, and d) showing up to make his start on time. Just when I think he's turned the corner, the Limp Willed Kid makes me glad he'll be wearing some other team's uniform next year.

Nothing much else to say about this series, except to note that I'm glad it happened now and not in October. The Sox have 14 games to get their heads straight (Lowe), their swings aligned (Varitek - Jesus, could he have been any more abysmal in this series), and their wounds licked (the entire 40-man roster and coaching staff) before the post-season begins. I said earlier that I'm all in on this team, and that hasn't changed, even if the opponent just drew to a straight flush on the flop. This week's a big one, with 4 at home against the O's and 3 more against the Yankees over the weekend. Forget the slogans, just sack up and play like you're capable.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Someday, years ago, I might have had a more sigh-inducing cockpunch of a day as a sports fan, but I'm hard pressed to recall it. To wit:

1. The Sox are simply being outclassed in all phases of the game by a Yankee team that came to play. I'm pissed more than anything else, because I know the Sox are better than they're showing right now, but that and $4.35 gets me an overpriced cup of coffee. Really disheartening in the short run, even if the logical me still expects to see them in the post-season. This Pedro and this offense in October will lead to a very brief stay.

2. The Redskins just committed their 5th turnover - a Patrick Ramsey pick in the end zone - and trail the woeful Giants, 20-7, early in the 4th quarter. It's hard to believe that my 2 favorite professional franchises could play this badly on the same afternoon against heated rivals.

3. The U.S. is about to suffer an all-time bad loss in the Ryder Cup. I don't care that much about this one, but I'm still pulling for the home side.

4. I've got Denver in a last-man-standing pool, and they trail Jacksonville, 7-6, in the 4th, with the Jags driving. Might as well have wiped my ass with that sawbuck.

5. For good measure, John Kerry continues to be the most inept major party presidential candidate in my lifetime.

That squishy sound you hear is me repeatedly stabbing myself in the eye with a fork. Strangely cathartic.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

For the Record

I'll blog the entire Sox/Yanks series on Monday, but I want it noted now that I am entirely unconcerned about the 14-4 drubbing the Yanks administered in today's game. The bad juju's been flushed from the system, and the Sox wake up tomorrow morning loose, rested and ready. So, when the Sox win the series tomorrow night, remember where you read it first.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Game 145 - Red Sox
On to the Main Event

Red Sox 11, Devil Rays 4
Record: 88-57

Here's today's headline in the New York Post: "The Red Sox are Coming", which is featured prominently above a cartoon of George Steinbrenner riding a horse. Two things immediately come to mind: a) yeah, it's true what they claim - Yankee fans really don't care much about the Sox. Sure. And, b) good thing cartoonists are available, because any live-action picture of Steinbrenner and a horse (at least of the hind part) would have left too much doubt about which was which.

The Sox followed my recipe last night nearly perfectly in drubbing the Rays. Sure, I would have liked to see Francona lift Schilling with an 11-1 lead after 7, and yes, it would have been nice to see Scott Williamson instead of Terry Adams, but I'm not quibbling. Schilling got his 20th win last night, and though his ERA climbed slightly to 3.40 because of the 3 earned runs he allowed in the 8th, he's still be everything Sox brass had hoped when they went after him last winter. He's been the glue of the pitching staff, and deserves to finish no worse than 2nd in the AL Cy Young voting. (He should lose to Minnesota's Johan Santana - who's been otherwordly in the season's 2nd half, but better men than I have lost money betting on the Baseball Writers Association of America to make the correct decision.)

So it comes down to this - 17 games to play, 6 against the Yankees, 3 games back in the loss column. By my reckoning, the Sox must win 4 of the 6 against New York to have any chance of winning the division. And with the way the Twins are playing, winning the division takes on greater significance, because the Wild Card entrant looks to catch Minnesota in the first round. Santana and Radke in the first 2 games of the ALDS, on the carpet in Minneapolis, with 60,000 or so bratwurst-addled towel-wavers bleating their midwestern lungs out is not a recipe for good times for the Sox, especially if season-ending events were to force Derek Lowe to pitch either of those games.

All three games against the Yanks will be televised, which means that I'll be going home after work this evening and hanging padding in strategic areas of my living room to protect the walls, furniture, children, and cat from my deranged behavior. The wife is big enough to fend for herself.

Of course, is calling for biblical rain in the Bronx through tomorrow. Let's play 3 on Sunday, anyone? That forecast, and that alone, should suffice to keep my angst at sub-Lewis Blackian levels for this afternoon.

And finally, for Kyle: the Nation can't afford a schism between our noble houses. We must find common ground, lest our sworn enemy gain succor from our division. What is it you kids are saying these days? Much love, and Sox wins to you, sir. And please forgive me if that saying is so last week. By definition, I'm soooo last decade.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A Quick One from the Road

Art Howe was officially fired en route to his second straight 90+ loss season. And I didn't even see it coming! More apologies for my silence while yet again away from the east coast (agony), but I promise a flurry of fun in the last fortnight of the Mets' season. After all, following the Mets is no fun whatsoever right about now if you can't make fun of them, and I have lots to work with when I get back. By the way, I'm in San Francisco today, yet another city where people are ga-ga about their baseball team. It's a kick in the groin for me to visit these towns and compare them to Metville. Makes me want to throw a chair at somebody.
Game 144 - Red Sox
Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Red Sox 8, Devil Rays 6
Record: 87-57

I love Tim Wakefield, but I hate watching Tim Wakefield. Especially when he sucks, which is often this year. Not a lot of pithy analysis to offer you, our faithful readers, beyond that pearl. At least the Sox won the game, despite trying hard to make it interesting.

Tonight sets up as a classic trap game, with the Sox needing to clear the decks before heading to the Showdown in the Boogiedown, or whatever clever slogan ESPN will apply to the upcoming series with the Yankees. We saw Lou Piniella manage last night's game like a World Series Game 7, and I expect more of the same tonight. Dr. Rob's prescription calls for lots of early offense, 7 innings of dominant Schilling, 1 inning of Scott Williamson, and whichever scrubeenie can get ready in the 9th.

I freely admit that I'm looking ahead to this weekend - which, because of the weather, may well be a bigger anti-climax than Whitney's bedroom adventures during the Mr. Softy period of his college career. (Do ask him about it - loads of fun for kids of all ages.) In deference to the Baseball Deity, I'll refrain from speculating about the Sox/Yanks, and trust that the Sox will do the same this evening.

One final note: Big Mike at East Coast Agony's been in good form of late (though both he and his partner in crime have been leaving their fanbase wanting more, at least in terms of quantity - college life is sooooo difficult), with the Mets' not-so-slow descent into the abysmal providing ample melocomedic fodder. Whit, the gauntlet has been thrown down - let's step up and prove that we truly are the internet's leading purveyors of old-guy-with-kids-run Mets/Red Sox entertainment/bitch session content.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Game 143 - Red Sox
Bone Picking

Devil Rays 5, Red Sox 2
Record: 86-57

A Laurel and a Hardy handshake this morning to:

1. The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon stretching his prolific talent to craft a penetrating and completely original column about...wait, it's a good one: how the Red Sox and Cubs are cursed. Splendid effort, Michael. Mail-it-in hacks all over the country salute you this fine day. Dan Shaughnessy's on top of his desk applauding, mostly because you probably sold another dozen copies of The Curse of the Bambino for him.

2. The New York Mets, for their brilliant trade of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. As Whit no doubt knows, Zambrano's on the shelf. As he may or may not know, Kazmir shut the Sox down last night, tossing 6 innings of 3-hit ball at the AL's best offense. At least Rick Peterson's a genius. Too bad he's going the way of the dodo as soon as Art Howe gets a haircut from the Mets' management.

3. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for growing a spine - as predicted in this space last week - against the Sox after laying down in a thumb-sucking, pillow-cuddling, make-it-stop-mommy 4-game disaster against the Yankees last week.

Losing 3 of 5 to Seattle and Tampa, coupled with the Yankees' semi-resurgence, puts the Sox 4 back of New York with 19 to play. The division's not over-the-horizon lost, but it just got harder. A letdown of sorts was to be expected in the wake of the Sox blazing run through August and early September, but the good guys need to snap to quickly and remember that they haven't won anything yet. Tonight would be a good time to jump right back on that Good Times Express, because the alternative makes my face hurt.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Jumpstarting the MetWagon

Looks like Art Howe's gonna get the gasface from the Wilpons. Speculation places Lou Piniella at the top of the Metropolitans' wish list. Manna from heaven for you, Whit. Let's get cracking.
Games 139 through 142 - Red Sox

Mariners 7, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 13, Mariners 2
Red Sox 9, Mariners 0
Mariners 2, Red Sox 0
Record: 86-56

In most cases a road split on the West Coast is entirely acceptable. This weekend's halve against the Mariners was disappointing, especially given the fact that the Sox won 2 of the first 3, and that Derek Lowe gave up 2 earned runs in 7 innings yesterday - and, not incidentally, the fact that the Mariners stink on ice.

I can't really work up a good lather, though, because the Sox are now back on the East Coast for the season's final stretch. 20 games to play against Tampa Bay, New York, and Baltimore. One of these things is not like the other is a vast understatement. Hurricane Ivan permitting, this weekend's 3-game set in the Bronx is shaping up as a season defining tilt. The Sox are 3 1/2 games back at the moment, with 3 games at home against Tampa in preparation for the Yankees. New York, meanwhile, plays 4 in Kansas City. Barring something bizarrely good (the Royals play out of their minds) or horrific (Tampa Bay wakes up from their 3-week slumber), the Sox will probably be 4 games out when they get to New York on Friday. In that situation, 2 of 3 is a flat-out must if the Sox want to have a chance at winning the division.

No real point in making predictions, though, because mine generally aren't worth the bytes upon which they're printed. Despite the stumble against Seattle, I can't remember a more enjoyable August/September, even as it sets up another wrenching October. The Sox are 5 games up on the Angels (and 3 up on the A's) with 20 to play, largely on the strength of:

1. Pedro, Curt, Derek, and Bronson. Note that Tim Wakefield is conspicuously absent from the list of starting pitchers who've shouldered the load over the past 6 weeks.

2. Consistent offense from just about every slot in the order.

3. Vastly improved defense, especially at shortstop and first base.

(Knocking furiously on wood) Frankly, the Sox are playing more complete baseball at the moment than any Sox team I've ever followed. If Scott Williamson returns to his form, and Trot Nixon rounds into shape, the Sox almost have too much depth. Almost. At the very least, Terry Francona is faced with some pleasant problems in terms of lineups and late game replacements. Bellhorn or Reese at 2nd? Nixon, Kapler, Millar, or Roberts in right? Timlin, Williamson, Embree, Leskanic, or (dare I say) Mendoza to get to Foulke? How do we get Millar into the game without hurting himself or the team in the field? Better Francona than me to make those decisions.

As a complete non-sequiter, I note with interest that Kyle from East Coast Agony shamelessly plugged his own blog recently in SoSH (it's in a password-protected forum, so no link), but failed to do the same for MLC. A more insecure Soxblogger might wonder if he still loves us.

The NFL season started yesterday, and I found myself not only agreeing with my wife to take the kids to a local farm (and by so doing, ensuring that I'd miss the first half of the Redskins/Bucs game) but actively looking forward to the experience. Thinking about that stuns me just a little. Even with the return of the legendary Joe Gibbs, my level of intensity regarding the 'Skins pales in comparison to my interest in the Sox. If nothing else, this blog's taught me that I love baseball before all other sports, or at least care more about it.

Husbanding energy (and hoarding canned goods) in preparation for this weekend's series. Let's hope the Sox aren't overlooking the D-Rays as much as I am.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Game 139 - Mets

Mets 4, Marlins 0
Record: 61-78

Well, just like that we re-discovered something to hope for with the remaining games. Kris Benson fired a quality start, and although he's currently unsigned beyond October 3, here's hoping (a) that's rectified quickly and without unnecessary bad press and (b) he keeps pitching like he did yesterday. I'm still not in a place where I feel the responsibility to allocate brainpower to depicting this team's fortunes in my oh-so-clever commentary, but if they can just muddle through the weekend without anything embarrassing, I will pony up with some decent work here. Scout's honor.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Brazelton! (Said just like 'Newman')

Is it too much to ask for the Devil Rays to show some spine against the Yankees this week? Seriously, Tampa, the Yanks impugned your integrity, tried to get a forfeit, and showed no compassion as you and your families suffered through a natural disaster. Doesn't that piss you off? If you get swept by the Yankees and then show some sack against the Sox in the coming weeks, I'll...well, I'll probably break some stuff, rant for a few minutes, and then storm off in a fit of ineffectual rage. That oughta show you.
Games 132 through 138 - Mets

Marlins 5, Mets 4
Marlins 9, Mets 6
Phillies 8, Mets 1
Phillies 7, Mets 0
Phillies 4, Mets 2
Marlins 7, Mets 3
Marlins 3, Mets 0
Record: 60-78

Well, la-di-frickin'-da. Those nifty BoSox have not only ripped off 20 of 22, invigorated a Nation, scared an entire bandwagon silly, and given my little cohort a gleeful few weeks of bliss, but they've also made a joke of the would-be drama of The Case Bet. Now there's absolutely no reason to follow the Mets in these last few weeks of their 2004 campaign (one only slightly less successful than the 1984 Mondale/Ferraro campaign). Neat.

On August 6th, the Red Sox were a mere 6.5 games better than the Mets, needing to finish 23 better to win Rob beer & bragging rights. By August 15th, they'd bumped it up to 8 games, and by the 21st the lead was 10. At that point, it really looked like there might be some excitement all the way down to the wire. It stood to reason that the Mets would limp toward the end of the season while the Sox would pick it up in the heat of the pennant race. Understatements of the month, those reasonable assessments were. Since 8/21, the Red Sox have gone 15-2 while the roadside carcass known as the New York Mets have managed to go just 1-16. For the non-math majors out there, that's a 14-game swing in 17 games, catapulting Boston two games past the push-line and into a lead they simply will not relinquish before season's end. The only thing that would be more remarkable than this streaky stretch is if, as I suggested last week, the Mets duplicate the 4-32 magic of the '02 O's. That would be something special. Don't bet against it, though.

Recaps are for teams worth recapping, and the Mets ceased qualifying weeks ago. I just got back from a long weekend in Maine, the northern contingent of Red Sox territory. On a Thursday night in a Portland pub I watched the Sox in a tight battle with the Angels. Lots on the line, an energetic crowd at the park and in the bar, and the team delivered a win. It was such a contrast to the combination of apathy and agony that the Mets' fan base goes through on a nightly basis. This is what they talked about as "meaningful games," and boy, are we not playing them.

I'll try to bring something more positive to the table next time, but this team has created every ounce of the indifference that's overtaken me at this point. This losing's like the muggy, humid weather here that just withers away my spirit.
Games 136 through 138 - Red Sox
Please Don't Pinch Me

Red Sox 8, A's 3
Red Sox 7, A's 1
Red Sox 8, A's 3
Record: 84-54

I haven't been neglecting this blog (at least not to the degree my depressed Metfan pal has), I promise. It's just that I'm having a hard time finding the words to describe the otherworldly run of Sox play that began nearly immediately after the trade deadline. I don't want to say too much for fear of the dreaded "J" word, and because speaking certain things aloud simply isn't done in the Nation, but this team is 28-8 since Nomar (who?) left for Chitown.

The Sox faced the AL West's three best teams over the last 9 days, and left them reeling in a puddle of their own sick, taking 8 of 9 from Anaheim, Texas, and Oakland. Boston's won 13 of 14 and 20 of 22. The Yankees are so apoplectic that they've screamed for a forfeit - against a Tampa Bay team that was caught up in the midst of a hurricane. Many better scribes than I have already made this point, but do you think they'd be pulling that sort of low-rent crap if the Sox were still 10 games back? Yeah, me neither. But their corporate haircuts and lack of facial hair make them the league's classiest ballclub, right?

Speaking of haircuts (how's that for a silkysmooth segue), did anyone get a load of Bronson Arroyo's new style last night? It's really hard to have the very worst look on a team that features Pedro Martinez' jheri/mushroom, Manny Ramirez' Sideshow Bob, Trot Nixon's doublewide mohawk, Kevin Millar's lumpy buzzcut, and Johnny Damon's Captain Caveman/Our Lord Jesus Christ, but Arroyo has lapped the field. I've been Googling to try to find pictures, because words simply don't do justice to Arroyo's White Guy Cornrows. That's right, you read correctly, Bronson Arroyo is sporting tight little cornrows. Set off against his teenage rebel tuft of chinfuzz, the overall look is somewhere between Lil' Bow Wow Grows Up Rough and David Beckham's Goofy Twin. I guess the heat of a pennant race will do bizarre things to otherwise grown men.

The Sox have 24 games left, with 18 of them against fairly mediocre opponents (Seattle, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay). The obvious caveat to that sentence is that the Sox have played like assmonkeys against the Orioles, but I prefer to believe that it was the early version of the 2004 Sox that took on Balmer in the season's first months - not the new and improved wrecking machine that's torn through the AL since August 1.

The other 6 games are against (cue the Darth Vader March) the Yankees - 3 in the Bronx and 3 in Fenway - in a 10-day span beginning September 17. A realistic 3-3 split in those games makes September really, really interesting for fans of both teams. Sox fans are holding their breath, hoping against hope that this year really is different. Yankee fans are holding their breath too, with the seeds of doubt creeping in as their pitching staff crumbles and their once-enormous lead shrinks. So much of Yankee Nation's self-worth is tied up in the (to date true) notion that their team will prevail against the Red Sox, regardless of statistics, momentum, and talent. If the Sox catch and pass the Yankees for the division championship, the shock to the system will have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.

Down the stretch they come. Lotta ball left. Hell's Coming with Us. Blah blah blah. Let's play some baseball.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Games 133 through 135 - Red Sox
Wyatt Earp and the 2004 Red Sox

Red Sox 2, Rangers 0
Rangers 8, Red Sox 6
Red Sox 6, Rangers 5
Record: 81-54

Word from the Nation indicates that chief cheerleader Kevin Millar's coined (hijacked?) a new phrase to fire up the Sox as they head down the stretch. Millar, the author of last year's 'Cowboy Up' mantra (and star of the critically adored Rally Karaoke Guy video) has appropriated one of cinema's all-time great goosebump moments, commissioning the printing of t-shirts emblazoned with "You Tell 'Em We're Coming..." on the front, with "And Hell's Coming With Us" on the back.

It's worth noting that I'm getting all kinds of fired up just typing that last sentence. I've watched that particular scene (from Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp) dozens of times, and it has never failed to make me want to run out of the house, guns blazing, to follow Russell/Earp into battle. 'Cowboy Up' was cheesy and funny and perfect for a loose, goofy team that had already exceeded expectations. 'Hell's Coming With Us' is equally perfect for a professional, driven, exceptionally talented team that seems bent on inexorably tracking down the evil villain and driving them from their accustomed place. Makes me wonder if Jason Varitek might have said, "I'm your huckleberry," to Alex Rodriguez before giving the Yankee thirdbaseman a two-fisted facial back in July.

Job well done against Texas, winning the series despite the end of a 10-game winning streak. Now three against Oakland with the pitching matchups and home field squarely in the A's favor. 1 of 3 will be acceptable, but I wonder if these Sox have more in them than that. The Yankees caught a huge break when the Devil Rays' travel plans were disrupted by Hurricane Frances, and I fully expect the Sox to drop a game or 2 to New York in the next several days. Despite that, Kevin Brown's hand injury looks to have a major impact on the Yankees' over-worked bullpen and makes them extremely vulnerable down the stretch. To say that this thing is getting interesting is an understatement on the scale of Val Kilmer (as Doc Holliday) saying to his then-recently deceased adversary, "You're no daisy, Johnny Ringo, no daisy at'all".

Hell's Coming With Us, indeed.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Game 132 - Red Sox
Train Kept-a Rollin' All Night Long

Red Sox 4, Angels 3
Record: 79-53

I'm running out of good things to say about this team. Admittedly, my long-term memory isn't what it used to be (how would I know, right?), but I'm hard-pressed to recall a stretch of games where the Sox played as well in all phases of the game, and got contributions from so many players. 15 wins in 16 games, at a time when they had to win to keep up with their chief post-season competition. A sweep of the red-hot Angels, dropping Anaheim 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race. The closest thing I can remember is Morgan Magic, when the 1988 Sox ripped off 19 wins in 20 games under new manager "Walpole" Joe Morgan (not to be confused with the Luddite Hall of Famer-cum ESPN broadcaster of the same name) to jump into the pennant chase.

Derek Lowe continued to make progress last night, overcoming a shaky start (single runs in each of the first 3 innings) to go 7 1/3 innings and save the bullpen - which needed it after Arroyo's meltdown on Wednesday. The defense continued to shine, with Dave Roberts making a spectacular catch to atone for an error on the previous play and stunt a rally in the making. And the offense did just enough, pounding Bartolo Colon so relentlessly that he was out of the game before the end of the 5th inning. Tiger starter Jeremy Bonderman was the last starting pitcher to last into the 5th against the Sox, and that was over the weekend.

I had hoped that the Sox could go 8-5 in the 13 games beginning with the Detroit series last weekend. Now that they're 7-0 in the middle of that stretch, I'll be right bummed if 8-5 is all they can muster. Their next 9 games are against Texas, Oakland and Seattle, with the latter two series on the road. Under normal circumstances, 2 of3 against Texas and Seattle and 1 of 3 against Oakland sounds about right. Today, though, the curse of expectations raised by the Sox' recent play makes anything less than 6-3 disappointing.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Game 131 - Red Sox

Red Sox 12, Angels 7
Record: 78-53

Bill Simmons wrote a column this week on his page about the current state of the Sox/Yankees race. It was reasonably well-articulated, cogent, and made some very good points about the perceptions harbored by each team's fan base. And on behalf of all Red Sox fans, I'd like to take this moment to tell Mr. Simmons to shut the fuck up. Right as he may be about the Yankees' weaknesses, the Sox' strengths, and each team's chances over the next 6 weeks, the Red Sox Nation Handbook clearly - clearly - stipulates that we underestimate the Yankees at our own peril.

With that necessary public service announcement out of the way, I'll turn my focus to the current action on the field. I'm getting a mental picture of Jeremy Piven as Droz in the seminal classic, PCU, as I think about the Sox over the past month. As Piven's character digs through old term papers to pacify a horde of agitated students, he comes across a Physics tome to satisfy the needs of a girl who lost her own work in a power outage. "It's a scorcher," Piven intones, mocking and supportive at the same time, in the way comes naturally to 6th-year seniors the world over.

That example is really apropos of nothing - I'm just pleased to be able to get both PCU and Piven into a blog entry - but the quote "It's a scorcher" succinctly describes just about everything going on with the Sox at the moment. One year to the day after Trot Nixon's extra-inning grand slam fueled the Stay on Target season-ending run of the 2003 Red Sox, this year's version inexorably ground down their closest playoff competitors. Symmetry, thy name is the Olde Towne Team.

Two months ago, the Sox would have been drummed by the Angels in this game. Anaheim staked the Sox to a 4-0 first-inning lead, but Bronson Arroyo couldn't stand prosperity, and only lasted 2 2/3 innings before giving the entire lead back. With the score 5-5 entering the 4th inning, the Nation held its breath, fingers placed over eyes all over New England. The Sox didn't even blink. They plated 2 runs each in the 4th and 5th innings, and never looked back.

The Sox won this game with pitching (Mike Myers and Terry Adams handcuffed the Angels from the 3rd through 6th innings, and Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, and Curtis Leskanic pitched just well enough to hold the fort in the final 3 frames.), defense (Jason Varitek single-handedly snuffed out the Angels in the 5th inning, first throwing out Adam Kennedy trying to advance to 3rd on a pitch in the dirt with no outs, and then pegging a seed to nail Chone Figgins stealing second to end the inning. And Orlando Cabrera made two stellar plays from short to cut down Angel rallies.), and Lord-have-mercy-hide-the-women-and-children offense (12 runs on 16 hits with only 1 homerun). In short, every facet of the team contributed to this win, and every facet of this team seems to be in perfect synch.

6 weeks and 31 games is a long time, and any number of things - good and bad - can and will happen in that time frame. I'll leave it at this: if this Sox team plays up to its potential, there is no team in either the American or National leagues that I fear. That's an "if" the size of Michael Moore's ego, admittedly, but that doesn't make the underlying premise wrong.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Game 131 - Mets
Getting X-ed Like the O's

Marlins 5, Mets 0
Record: 60-71

A few weeks ago, in an all-too brief moment of concession after lauding the Orioles' soon-to-be-halted success, I mentioned their 4-32 finish to the 2002 season. (Aside: two of those four wins came in one three-game series at Fenway. Maybe Rob can be justified in his Oriole irritation.) The O's, 63-63 on August 23rd of that year, were clearly overachieving, but very few knew to what degree. While 0-21 to begin 1988 still receives notorious mentions on a regular basis, 4-32 from a .500 team was only slightly less . . . impressive, for lack of a better word. To rip off 8-, 10-, and 12-game losing streaks (that's 30 games worth of streaky suckitude) in just 32 games is stunning. That it didn't cost manager Mike Hargrove his job really says something, though I'm not sure what. Either it clearly was beyond his control, or Baltimore's upper management had their heads up their inner harbors, or he had naked pictures of Peter Angelos (is there vomit on your computer screen right now?), I don't know. That despite this cliff-dive the Orioles still finished 11.5 games ahead of the Devil Rays is possibly even more startling. It was all remarkable, noteworthy, and quite obviously the most interesting thing in one long, boring Oriole season.

You must realize by now why I would bring up this dreadful finish. Yes, your New York Mets may well be on their way to an equally brutal, monumentally poor close to the 2004 season. Don't think so? I grant you that the '04 Mets roster is nearly to-a-man better than the '02 Oriole club -- check it out, it's wince-inducing. Only Buddy Groom as a middle reliever had a better season than his Met counterpart. But Hargrove was a solid manager who'd led his squad to performing way above their heads for 126 games, and even he couldn't muster up any more magic. Meanwhile, the Mets have Arthur Howe, a fine, grandfatherly (so the players say) man whom Mike Hargrove could out-manage with one hand tied behind his back. (Which would mean he could only call lefties or righties in from his pen, which would certainly make the game more interesting.) Howe's had the Mets on auto-pilot for some time now, and the last month of the season could look like Airport '04. (We here at MLC will at least try to lampoon it into Airplane! III: The Trilogy.)

More than the absentee managing, there have been the frequent injuries, the tired melodramas, and the poor performances. (Hey, are we on General Hospital?) We've go the no-name offense, the no-defense defense, and Fire Marshal Bill in the bullpen. The players just seem to want to get the season over with, a sentiment that corrodes winning percentages in the final months like little else. With an aged pitching staff on the verge of total collapse after carrying the club for 2/3 of a season, box scores featuring more rookies than an NFL preseason game, dwindling faith in the decision-makers throughout, and the team's heart having been Temple of Doomed about a month ago, here's what you'll see: close games interspersed with lopsided laughers. The laughers, of course, will all be losses, with the other team doing the laughing. The close ones will find the Mets on the butt end roughly four times out of five. That's about one win out of ten, which is about the same pace as the Baltimore Special Eds had two years ago. Keeping in mind that the Mets already have Chapter 1 under their belts, having dropped nine of their last ten, look for more of the same to come. More clever newspaper headlines, more comedic commentary, more ownership vilification, more mid-60's-win finishes. And Art Howe keeps his job.

In early August the Mets were just three games under .500 and still pretending to contend after sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee. What an unfortunate coincidence that the Old Milwaukee slogan -- also toasting something wasn't exactly top-of-the-line -- was "It doesn't get any better than this." It certainly has gotten no better for the Mets, but it could get far, far worse.
Game 130 - Red Sox
Cleveland Rocks!

Red Sox 10, Angels 7
Record: 77-53
August Record: 21-7 (!)

Two exclamation points in the header! Wow! Something spectacular must have happened yesterday! And it did!!!!!!!!

Orderly No. 1: Sir, back away from the keyboard.

Rob: No way! The Yankees got beat, 22-0, by the Indians! Their worst loss ever! Michael Kay called Loaiza and Vazquez embarrassments on the radio this morning! All hell is breaking loose in the Bronx!

Police Officer: Sir, you're out of control. Please step back or we'll have to forcibly remove you.

Rob: You'll never take me alive! Or, at least never take me before I talk about Schilling's 17th win, and the Sox' 2 1/2 game lead in the Wild Card!

Sox Fan No. 1: Please stop him before he begins to rant about the shrinking Yankee lead in the division. That's not good for anyone.

Police Officer: Let us do our jobs, sir. We're professionals.

Rob: So is Tanyon Sturtze! Bwaahaaahaaahaaa!

Sox Fan No. 1: Rob wants me to tell you that he's properly chagrined about his momentary loss of perspective, and that he will return tomorrow - highly medicated - with a much more rational take on the season's final 6 weeks. I guess we can't really blame him - the Sox have won 13 of 14, and they're simply scorching in all phases of the game. They're playing .750 ball since the Nomar trade, and their starters won 20 decisions in 28 August games. They haven't had a bullpen loss since July. I mean, damn.