Sunday, July 31, 2005

Really Dead Line

Games 102 through 104 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Twins 5
Red Sox 6, Twins 2
Red Sox 4, Twins 3
Record: 59-45
If we come out of this ridiculous soap opera of a week with a five-game winning
streak, we ought to be f*&^%0-ing estatic. - SoSH poster

I couldn't have said it any better, so I won't. I chronicled Wednesday's lineup below - the Sox went on to win that game easily. John Olerud was the Sox' cleanup hitter in the final 2 games of this weekend's set against the Twins as Manny Ramirez went on walkabout - and the Dark Helmet drove in 4 runs in those games and 8 in the series. Jon Papelbon made his major league debut today, and struck out 4 of the first 8 major leaguers he faced, and 7 total in 5 2/3 Clemens-esque innings (early, wild Clemens, mind you - but the kid was bringing it). Gabe Kapler returned to Boston from his Japanese tour and immediately contributed 2 hits and 2 runs. Adam Stern got picked off - again (on a brighter note, his barmitzvah went splendidly). In short, it was among the more bizarre weeks of this or any Sox season - and the Sox responded to the chaos by running off 5 consecutive wins. Idiots rule. And I take back all that stuff I said last year about the Vichy Twins - your capitulation this week was much appreciated.

The week's big circus was the Manny to the Mets saga. I'm interested in my colleague's take on the deal, but I can't say that I ever took it very seriously. The most realistic deal I saw involved the Sox sending Manny to the Mets and Hanley Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach, and Jon Lester to the D-Rays, with the Mets sending Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman (or some other prospect) to the Rays and Mike Cameron to the Sox, and the Rays sending Danys Baez to New York and Aubrey Huff to the Sox. Knowing as I do that Theo Epstein is not dumber than a fucking rock, I put the odds of that deal closing at somewhere between the odds of Manny joining Mensa and Kevin Millar passing a microphone without yapping into it.

The simple fact of the Manny matter is that the Sox will not get equal value in return for the game's premier run-producer, even if someone is willing to eat his salary. As he himself noted in the jubilant aftermath of today's win (a win made possible when he entered the game as a pinch-hitter and drove in the game-winner in the bottom of the 8th), "That's just Manny being Manny, man. I want to be here." And as much as that sentiment makes rational men batshit, we don't traffic in the rational here in the Nation, so welcome back, Manny - please refrain from thinking and commence bashing.

Weird trade deadline all over the place. After all the hue and cry that generally leads up to this date every year, nearly nothing of any import happened. A few mid-level talents moved - a Randy Winn here, a Kyle Farnsworth there - but none of the big names packed their bags. Nobody got A.J. Burnett, nor did the Rangers move Alfonso Soriano and his slider-missing bat. (Aside - were I a major league manager I'd fine any of my pitchers that threw him anything but offspeed stuff well off the plate.) The Orioles cemented their reputation as baseball's worst-run organization and my hatred of their franchise in one fell swoop, trading Larry Bigbie and his potential for Eric Byrnes and his Ritalin. The Yankees picked up Shawn Chacon, which helps their rotation, but only marginally.

The Sox got Jose Cruz, Jr. to add to their outfield-by-committee, in their only deadline move. With Trot Nixon out for a least the next several weeks, Cruz and Kapler will platoon in right, leaving Stern as all-purpose fill-in and designated pickoffee. Not optimal, but I suppose anything's better than giving Adam Hyzdu meaningful at-bats.

The best deal the Sox made was the one they didn't. You could see the fear in David Ortiz' eyes after Saturday's game, when the Twins walked him 4 times in front of Olerud - his future was writ large in the Minny staff's errant tosses. With Manny still in the fold, the league's most fearsome 3-4 combo remains intact. The other best moves the Sox made aren't moves at all - they have to be patient and pray that modern medicine knows what the hell it's doing. Pretty simple calculus to me at this point: if Curt Schilling returns to anchor the rotation and Keith Foulke gets back in time to solidify the pen, the Sox are the best team in the AL. If not, the Sox go down to the wire for a playoff spot, with no better than a puncher's chance. At least the offense looks to be there all the way.

The team that should feel best about the deadline activity is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds are clearly the class of the bigs this season, and with nobody else making significant advances this week, the Cards should be the odds-on favorites to finish what they started last year before Destiny steamrolled them.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Define "Hitter's Park," Please

Game 102 - Mets

Astros 3, Mets 2
Record: 52-50

The Mets have hit well in that new glorified wiffleball park in Philthadelphia, but they struggled to circle the bases in Colorado's stratospheric boon, and last night they flailed away in that softball field in Houston. What is it about these supposed hitter's parks that's confounding the Mets? They're afraid of getting hit by their own carom off the left field wall? They don't want to maim a fan with a line drive? Please, people, use these silly atrocities to your advantage.

Pedro held the Astros to two runs over eight innings. In other parks, that's a shutout. It's not going to get better than that in (Someone with) Minute (Intelligence) Maid (This) Park; in fact, with Benson/Glavine/Ishii slated for duty, it's going to get increasingly worse. The time is now to start racking up the runs. There were opportunities squandered all over the place last night, beginning in the first inning. Bases loaded, nobody out, they managed one run on a sac fly. Pitcher Ezequiel Astacio, who entered with an astro-nomical ERA of 8.24, seemed energized by that lack of Met productivity. Yet another struggling pitcher that the Mets revitalize. Here's an idea, Willie -- put in those bench guys tonight; it seemed to work in Denver.

I mentioned that Ishii will pitch Sunday, but I'm hoping he's long gone from the rotation by then. With the trade deadline some 60 hours away, there may be some transaction that deems his services unnecessary. More likely, however, is a bad trade that infuriates the Township to no end. See any post from early August of last year for an example.

Blogs throughout the 'sphere have spelled out what the Mets fans want out of this trading season, or really what we don't want. We don't want underachieving stiffs, which it seems Omar Minaya is exclusively interested in. We don't want guys whose numbers will plummet at Shea (that includes Alfonso Soriano, whose OPS is all "S" in yet another hitter's park), and we don't want older for younger unless that older is a top-tier talent. We don't want to hand over prospects like Lastings Milledge, Yusmeiro Petit, and Gaby Hernandez unless it's going to garner someone of serious clout, not a mid-grade player who needs to have his problems tinkered with by the brain trust in Queens. I'd apologize for another tired reference to last year's debacle, but it's still fresh, it's still painful, and it's still a terrible trade no matter how many "solid" outings Zambrano logs. Omar, please. I'd rather see nothing get done than another chunk removed from the Mets' foundation.

And on a lighter note, I'm glad to see that I was right about something else that should not have happened. Here's my plea against making the Bad News bears re-make, and here's Sports Guy's review crushing it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Drowning in Coors

Games 96 through 101 – Mets

Dodgers 6, Mets 5
Mets 7, Dodgers 5
Mets 6, Dodgers 0
Rockies 5, Mets 3
Rockies 4, Mets 3
Mets 9, Rockies 3
Record: 52-49

I decided to shake off the rust with a good, old-fashioned simul-blog of the Mets’ big game against the Colorado Rockies. After dropping the first two games of this series in rather atrocious fashion, somebody needed to do something to jar the pieces back into place. I’ll address those two losses amid the comments of this game, but let’s just jump right in.

Jose Reyes pops out weakly to lead off the game. Nice tone-setter. Up comes Miguel Cairo – it seems Mike Cameron has the night off. Let’s delve into why that might be.

Mike Cameron: wow, what a stellar and decidedly clutch performance he had last night. Top of the seventh, two down, down two, bases teeming with Mets runners. He was facing Mike “Back From” DeJean – yes, the same Mike DeJean who sported Met colors for a shining latter half of ’04 and a first half of ’05 that was something out of The Shining. The same Mike DeJean who earned – earned, mind you – the nickname “Hitaway” from my peer Metsradamus. The same Mike DeJean who’d just walked Jose Reyes to load the bases on a plate appearance that featured a rare sighting of a pitch that hits the backstop on the fly. Cameron flicked a couple of half-swing accidents, and a couple of pitches later was frozen on a breaking ball in the heart of the plate for an energy-sapping strike three.

Fast forward about 15 minutes and two innings later. Mike Cameron up again, two down, down one, tying run on second base (Jose Reyes on a huge upswing lately), Brian “Daisy” Fuentes looking for the save. A chance for redemption, or, in a surprising plot twist, a chance for déjà vu. Strike one (another glorious half-swing, as if he were conserving swings), strike two (looking . . . lost), ball, ball, and ugh, another ball down the middle that fooled Cameron again. Game over. Hence, the seat on the pine tonight. Well, these at-bats plus his steady march towards the .230 he hit last year.

Cairo doubles to left, but Carlos Beltran seemed distracted by a runner in scoring position, as he often is. His whiff, and a Cliff Floyd broken-bat groundout later, and another goose egg goes up for the Mets. You know how difficult it can be to score runs here in Coors Field. The Mets scored 3 runs on 5 hits two nights ago – that’s the equivalent of a 2-hit shutout in other, real parks. Last night they managed 3 runs once again. Somebody call HoJo – it’s time to start corking.

Victor Zambrano’s on the hill for the Metros tonight. This could be . . . unpleasant.

Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountains (a treat for the eyes and ears, three nights running) just posted the Colorado lineup:
Cory Sullivan CF
Aaron Miles 2B
Matt Holliday LF
Garrett Atkins 3B
Eric Byrnes RF
Ryan Shealy 1B
Desi Relaford SS
Danny Ardoin C
J Wright P

And Rob thought today's Sox lineup was weak? Willie Randolph is currently channeling Jon Lovitz: “I can’t believe I’m losing to these guys.”

Three singles = 1 run for Colorado. You know how people’s proverbial “15 minutes of fame” really translates into a few months or a year? I think Rick Peterson’s “10 minutes to fix Victor Zambrano” can actually be translated into 8 years. 1-0 after one.

I’ve liked Clint Hurdle since he managed the Tides, but really, guys, this three-game quest to save his job is a bit over the top.

Right-fielder Marlon Anderson homers to right! Mike Cameron’s Day Off has me issuing a Ferris Bueller memo to Mr. Minaya: When Cameron was in Omar’s hands..."Let Mike Cameron go!" Trade him. 1-1.

First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz hits a single+error that gets ruled a double. In case you were thinking last night’s loss was Mike Cameron’s fault, think again. In the middle innings, Jose Reyes fielded a grounder with two outs and fired a decent throw that did not bounce in the dirt but did bounce off Chris Woodward’s glove. The runner took second, was driven home with an ensuing single, and was immediately followed by a two-run home run. Three unnecessary runs, and the obvious difference in what would end a one-run loss. Woodward’s done too much good to come down overly hard on him with “jack of all trades, master of none” slags, but it hurt. Enter glove-handy Mientkiewicz tonight. Alas, he’s stranded, though.

Three up, three down. To Victor goes this spoiled egg salad sandwich of a bottom of the lineup.

Any inning in which Reyes singles to lead off is instantly one worth watching closely. Hold on a sec . . .

Any inning in which Miguel Cairo lines to right and doubles off a would-be stealing Reyes is one that chafes with all the friction of a sandpaper jock strap. Remind me not to watch the Mets too closely in this series. It’s like staring at the sun . . . above the image of a fat guy bending over naked. Beltran strikes out. Again.

Bottom 3. Two quick outs, but then a walk. A nice play by David Wright to bookend the inning that began with a nice play by . . . Doug. (Twice is plenty to type that last name.) 1-1 after three.

This Rockies telecast seems to interject a whole lot of extra fluff into nine innings of ball. Multiple interviews with fans in the stands, answering e-mails every other inning, random staffers brought into the booth, and an excess of explanations about nuances of the game (like how to throw a curveball). Since the first pitch, we’ve seen three times as much of the two cats in the booth than we’ve seen of the Mets players. Right now we’re getting to know Kim Hawpe. You know, Brad Hawpe’s wife (duh). She’s talking about Brad’s rehab from injury and an upcoming food drive. Who knew the Rockies played on public access channels?

MARLON ANDERSON DOES IT AGAIN. Honestly, this guy has had a more exciting season (pinch-hits galore, that crazy inside-the-park job, now this) than most of the regulars. More important than this, though, Brad and Kim Hawpe have been dating since high school.

Ramon Castro makes it consecutive executives! (I’m sick of “back-to-back jacks,” so I came up with this phrase, which should stick about as long as the Brian Daubach era.) In case it’s not obvious, he homered, too, making Willie Randolph the Manager of the Hour for benching Cameron & Piazza in this game. 3-1.

This just in: Rockies outfielder Danny Ardoin tells us his favorite movie is Top Gun. “Never gets old,” he proclaims. I can’t tell you any of the Mets’ favorite movies, and my question is – why the hell not, MSG???

Zambrano bunted his way on to open the 5th, startlingly. Reyes singles up the middle – the kid is hot these days. And Cairo singles in a run. 4-1. Finally the Mets crash through that stingy three-run-threshold at Coors. There’s action in the Rockies’ bullpen, or I should say, the Rockies’ little rock and fern garden where their relief pitchers warm up. Stuart Smalley owns this team, correct?

The home-plate umpire just called time at the last second and sprinted out from behind the catcher as if being pursued by a swarm of bees. I’m looking for these broadcasters to bring him a shawl and some tea to console him.

Beltran sensed the lack of critical need from the team and doubled in a run. Like clockwork. Now the Rocks walk Cliff Floyd to get to David Wright. I’m going to call this a mistake now.

Wright’s low liner gets by a diving Eric Byrnes (Rob Russell’s favorite hyperactive) to plate two more. 7-1 now, and Jamey Wright hits the showers.

Castro doubles in two more. The Mets’ lineup, featuring a few benchies, has notched nine earned runs in 4.1 innings. The “starters” could only muster three in nine. Twice. Baseball is funny. Life is funny. Losing a series to the worst team in the National League is not as funny.

Doug gets punched out to end the inning, then gets tossed as he adds a piece of commentary on his way back out to first base. Enter Chris Woodward. In right field, of course, as Marlon Anderson goes to first with the underlying Willie-message, “We want someone who can catch to play first.”

Coloradical scores on a single/stolen base/double. 9-2 now. You know . . . this team, with this guy pitching, in this ballpark . . . the deep exhale hasn’t been breathed just yet.

By the way, third-base coach Mike Gallego is miked tonight. So far we’ve been treated to gems like “Hold up” and “You’re scoring.” Well worth the replays. Now we’re up in the upper deck with the boys and girls club being interviewed. Not a single mention of “baseball,” “Rockies,” or “team,” but everyone agreed that “the sunset was spectacular.” This is the ultimate anti-New York telecast. I’m not judging it; not at all. I’m just stunned by the feelgood nature of this broadcast after watching New York coverage for so long. Everyone in Denver seems so happy, or so stoned, or both.

As if sensing that the game might still be in reach for the Rockies, Beltran fans for the third time.

Marlon Anderson makes a fine play at first as Spazmo-D Byrnes head-first leaps and slides through the bag. Chris Woodward is heard yelling, “Nice play,” from right field.

I don’t really want to talk about Tuesday night’s loss, either, except to say that a crap call at first gave the Rockies a fairly important run (at least one), Willie argued the call as if he were in a library, and Jose “Friggin’” Acevedo stymied the Mets like he did two years ago with the Reds. Memo to the Metropolitans: the rest of the league seems to like to tee off on Jose Acevedo; it’s not “bandwagoning” to do the same.

Floyd doubles to deep center, then makes a lazy error on the basepaths to get caught in a rundown, then makes a clever hustle play to ensure David Wright makes it to second, neutralizing his mistake. It’s a roller coaster of emotions here, people.

9-2 through six and a half. Every Met starter, including the pitcher, has at least one hit. 15 runs in three games is good; two losses out of three to the baseball equivalent of office temps is not as good.

Things are moving quickly, like everyone on both teams wants to go home. Even Danny Graves can’t sustain a Rockies rally, inducing a GIDP in the eighth after two guys get on. He’s pretty lousy, though, by the way.

Bottom of the 9th, still 9-2. After a walk and a double, Graves strikes out two. After a walk and a single, it’s 9-3. The Reds knew what they were doing, all right – a General Manager hasn’t made such a wise move in Cincinnati since Arthur Carlson hired Andy Travis as program director. Ah, a popout ends it. A nice comfortable win to blur the dreadful vision of those first two games. A more-than-solid outing by Zambrano, a Mets lineup hitting as if they were playing in thin air, and a nice welcome back for me after I ignored MLC for too long. Life is so swell, everyone is so wonderful, and the Mets are . . . still pretty damn average. Sorry, I must have gotten some Rocky Mountain contact high for a second.

Sweet Fancy Moses on a Popsicle Stick

This is the lineup the AL East-leading and defending World Champion Boston Red Sox are running out against the Devil Rays this afternoon:

Johnny Damon CF
Edgar Renteria SS
David Ortiz DH
John Olerud 1B
Bill Mueller 3B
Kevin Millar LF
Doug Mirabelli C
Alex Cora 2B
Adam Stern RF

Holy Mary, Mother of God. I think the D-Rays lineup may be stronger. Nixon on the DL. Manny with the day off - I guess. Varitek not playing because Wakefield is pitching - and apparently has to throw a shutout to have a hope of winning. Wow.

--- Update ---

This Murdered Row has gone 0-for-9 with 5 k's against Ray starter Seth McClung. Seth McClung.

--- Update, The Sequel ---

In the top of the 5th, Alex Cora homered and Doug Mirabelli stole a base. Find a warm body and get your last lovemaking on, because if that's not a sign of the Apocalypse, then I'm the Archangel Gabriel.

The Good, the Bad, and the Mannys

Games 99 & 100 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 4, Red Sox 3 (10)
Red Sox 10, Devil Rays 9 (10)
Record: 55-45

I'm not sure a late-July game against the Devil Rays can be fairly defined as a huge win, but last night's contest was among the most thrilling, aggravating, nerve-wracking, dissapointing, and ultimately stunning games of the season. Had the Sox lost, and I'd pretty much given myself over to that reality when the Rays went up 8-6 in the 8th, they'd have dropped into a tie with the Yankees, and been on the verge of being swept by Tampa Bay. They didn't, and the way they didn't was reminiscent in kind - though not in spiritual impact - to the 7.24.2004 season-defining win over Mariano Rivera and the Yanks.

It looked for a long time like the defining moment of this game would be the sickening sight of Carl Crawford's line drive off of Matt Clement's temple in the 3rd inning. The impact of the ball knocked Clement's feet off the ground as it caromed from his head into shallow left. The Sox' pitcher lay motionless for more than 5 minutes before being taken off the field on a cart. This morning, the Sox are reporting that Clement should recover fully, but the incident cast a pall over the game's middle innings - only a truly memorable conclusion managed to obscure it even slightly.

The Sox led, 5-1, when Clement left the game, and the emotional baggage of the right-hander's condition seemed to weigh heavily. The Rays plated 4 more runs in the bottom of the 3rd to tie the game at 5, and then the teams waded through the middle innings - the immortal Dewon Brazelton shutting down the Sox competely - before the Rays took a 6-5 lead in the 6th.

Billy Mueller's clutch 2-out hit in the top of the 7th tied the game at 6, but the Rays plated 2 more against Jeremi Gonzalez in the bottom of the same inning, blackening my mood and causing me to hurl a stream of expletives at Gonzalez' very being.

Even after Jason Varitek homered with 1 out in the top of the 9th, I was still scowling at the television, trying to capture the essence of my disgust with this team of underacheivers in preparation for blogging this morning. Even as Kevin Millar and then John Olerud singled to follow Varitek, my mood remained dark. I only grunted mild approval when Mueller doubled to right to score Adam Stern, running for Millar, to tie the game. And that mild approval quickly turned to more disgust for Dale Sveum when Olderdude was thrown out at the plate - could have been 2nd and 3rd, 1 out, but Sveum took a look at Olerud and saw Skeets Nehemiah.

Johnny Damon saved the game for the Sox in the bottom of the 9th, racing deep into the gap in left-center and sprawling against the fence to rob Jorge Cantu of a game-winning double. As Damon ran into the dugout, hair bobbing behind him, I finally smiled - "Hey, he's leading off the 10th for the Sox - that'd be a pretty cool combo."

And then, BOOM goes the dynamite. Damon backed up his great defensive effort with his 2nd homer in 2 nights, and the Sox held an improbable 9-8 lead. They plated another run when Jason Varitek connected for his 2nd extra-base hit in as many innings, and they needed it, as Curt Schilling's Excellent Bullpen Adventure continued in the bottom of the 10th with the winning run left standing on first. A bedside fist pump from me to match Schilling's, and the dark cloud was lifted. Sort of.

Lots of good in this game - not the least of which was the Sox' perseverance in the face of the Clement injury (and Trot Nixon's oblique strain in the same inning). Mike Myers pitched 2 scoreless innings before giving up a weak bloop double to Aubrey Huff. As expected, the offense was stellar before and after the Brazelton Lull. Tek was 2-3 with 3 walks. Damon and Millar had 3 hits each. Manny Ramirez hit another homer. Mueller had 2 incredibly clutch hits.

Plenty of bad, though, to balance the good. Looks like the Sox will be without Clement for a little while, and Nixon perhaps for longer. The Sox continue to run the bases like Helen Keller. Tony Graffanino became the latest in a much-too-long string of Sox to get picked off, and Sveum's ill-advised windmilling of the winter-time-molasses-slow Olerud in a clutch situation makes me long for the days of Wave 'Em in Wendall Kim. Jeremi Gonzalez just isn't very good, and Schilling continues to be off by thismuch - he left an 0-2 splitter up that Julio Lugo hit into left with 2 out in the 9th, and only Damon's sprinting catch on Cantu's subsequent drive bailed him out. And, in a minor piffle of a negative, Adam Hyzdu stinks on ice, regardless of how you pronounce his name.

Finally, there was a whole lot of Manny last night. Ramirez continued his recent slugging with a 2-run 1st inning bomb, but then he meandered about the premises like Charlie Babbitt looking for Judge Wapner. First, he coasted after Aubrey Huff's pop-up to left in the 6th, ensuring a double for the Rays when he tried to barehand the bouncing ball and then nonchalantly flipped it back to the infield. Then, in the top of the 10th, he jogged down the line after grounding into a tailor-made double play, and was rewarded for it when the Rays middle infield remembered that they played for Tampa Bay. I've defended Manny in the past from the Boston media's barely disguised contempt, but there's no denying that he spent long stretches of this game simply dogging it. And someone in the clubhouse should call him out for it - especially in the wake of his Capistrano Salmon-like annual whining about not being comfortable in Boston because the attention. Wake the fuck up, Rainman. We don't expect you to be Charlie Hustle, but we ask that you at least fake some effort for the $20m you're banking this year. It's almost as if the game comes too easy to Manny - that he gets bored this time of year so he manufactures some reason to care.

For the first time, though, there's another Manny story. Last night marked the major league debut of highly touted right-hander Manny Delcarmen, and he dazzled - blowing away his first major league batter with 95+ mph heat and recording a 1-2-3 frame in the 8th. Maybe John Kerry was right - help is on the way. A pitching positive - that's refreshing.

4 days to the trade deadline - and the Sox suddenly have lots of needs. At least I get to spend today in a good mood.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Pleasantly Ambivalent

Games 95 through 98 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Chicago White Sox 5
White Sox 8, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 3, White Sox 0
White Sox 6, Red Sox 4
Record: 54-44

I'm a bundle of contradictions this evening. The Sox lost today, but I'm moderately pleased with a split against the league-leading ChiSox. The Sox are in first place, but I'm mostly wondering how far they'd be in front if they hadn't played to such an indifferent pace. I cringe at the thought of Alex Cora getting meaningful late-inning at-bats several times in the last week, but I have no good suggestions regarding better options on the current (and please, Theo, make it temporary) roster.

This whole season's been like this for me. Pre-October, if the morning papers revealed the Sox up 1 1/2 games on the Yankees in late July, I'd vascillate between excitement and terror. Now, I spin wildly from content to exasperated - I'm no longer waiting for the collapse to come, but I'm still mildly disappointed.

Lots of new faces on the Sox roster, as Alex Cora, Adam Hyzdu, and Tony Graffanino joined the squad, with Alan Embree leaving for good, Kevin Youkilis going to Pawtucket, and Eeyore hitting the DL. Cora's a fine defensive player, and Graffanino's one of those solid-if-not-spectacular glue guys that help fill a 25-man roster - he won't hurt the team, if nothing else. Hyzdu's good for having an interesting last name that might be useful in a blog headline at some point. "Growing Like Hyzdu", for example. "Do Your Ass Cheeks Get Numb From Sitting on the Bench for Weeks at a Time? Hyzdu." Feel free to play along at home.

Even as I'm mildly alarmed at the mediocre nature of the Sox bench at the moment, I refrain from panic, as I feel confident that the Sox front office will make moves to solidify the roster for the stretch run. Lots of talk about A.J. Burnett, but I've never been sold. The best move for the Sox in terms of the starting rotation is clearly to get Curt Schilling ready to take a turn every 5th day - there's not a free agent starter available who'll provide a bigger boost. Schilling in the rotation assumes that the Sox get a quality arm in the back of the pen, so that's where I'd like to see Theo focus. I don't have to get into the value of guys like Dave Roberts on last year's roster - and this year's in woefully lacking. In Theo We Trust.

It was bittersweet to see Embree kicked to the curb relatively unceremoniously. In the parlance of SoSH, he was 1 of the 25, and for that, I'll be eternally grateful. In the remorseless calculus of high-stakes professional sports, though, he was simply no longer contributing to this team's success - in fact, he was preventing it in many cases. And that's the hard truth that both he and the front office had to recognize. So long, Hombre - hope that you can lift your arm to comb your hair when you're 45.

Guess a few moments on the series with the ChiSox are warranted at this point. For all the hullaballoo surrounding the Southsiders, you can color me unimpressed. Yes, they pitch well in all phases - solid starters, strong bullpen, which will make them a threat in any short series. They just don't have the sticks to scare anyone with a good pitching staff. And Ozzie Guillen strikes me as the kind of guy who's just insane enough to do something stupid under white-hot post-season pressure. Fine team, but they don't scare me. (Crow tastes very good with a pinch of cayenne and a pat of garlic butter, for future reference.)

If not for a random and highly unexpected appearance from Bad Wake (which followed 6 innings of Very Good Wake), the Sox could easily taken 3 of 4 from the Pale Hose. It's good to see Manny swinging the bat like a demon, and very good to see Wade Miller go 7 strong in a 3-0 shutout win. The bench, as stated above, is a bit of a drag on the offense , which made a difference in today's game, as Cora batted with 2 on and 1 out, and waived (EDIT: should be waved - talk about a Freudian slip) impotently at a Cliff Politte fastball. All in all though, today was a shoulder shrug. The Sox went on the road against the best team in the league, record-wise, and gained ground on both their closest pursuers. Not a bad weekend in the Windy City.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Stop It, You're Embarrassing Yourself

Games 93 & 94 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 2
Red Sox 9, Devil Rays 4
Record: 52-42

Not much to say about the final 2 games in Fenway against the Rays: the Sox are supposed to beat the Rays, and the Sox beat the Rays. Blah, blah, blah.

No, I join you tonight in awe of the worst pair of announcers I've heard yet this season on Extra Innings. The White Sox network is covering the telecast from U.S. Cellular, and though we're only 1+ inning into the contest, I'm dumbstruck by the egregious homerism displayed by Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson. Their synchronized "Stretch...Stretch...Put it on the Board...YES!" after Carl Everett's first-inning longball was possibly the low-water mark in my baseball viewing experience this season. These guys make Michael Kay sound like John Jay.

How I long for Jerry Remy's New England burr, or at least Fred Manfra's even-handed tones. More to come tomorrow, unless I hang myself after having to listen to this dreck for 3 hours.

--- Update ----

I solved the problem, at least for most of the game, by turning off the sound and cranking up the Dave Matthews Band's new effort, Stand Up. Killed 2 birds with 1 stone, as I hadn't heard the album yet. Mini-review after 1 listen: darker, edgier DMB with a handful of top-notch tunes and an overall very solid effort. I think it'll grow to become one of my favorite DMB records.

I did have to listen to Hawk and DJ from the 8th inning on, however, and am pleased to report that their grating reportage led to my extreme satisfaction when the Sox held on to win. I might hate the ChiSox more than the A's after last night.

Pure Gravy

Game 95 - Mets

Mets 12, Padres 0
Record: 49-46

If you'd told me that this game, featuring starters Jake "The Amp" Peavy and Kaz "For Alarm" Ishii, would end in a 12-0 score, I wouldn't have been all that surprised. The Mets were due for an offensive recoil after cleating the dish ten times in two games (that's a lot for them), Peavy's an All-Star, and Ishii's been less consistent than a he/she. If you'd asked me to wager on which team inked in 12 and which laid the bagel, I'd have put a quick hundred on San Diego 12, New York 0. It was that obvious.

Good thing I only wager lager.

Even as I brimmed with confidence towards the end of this morning's post, I was putting the primer coat on the big L painted into today's entry in the Mets' schedule. And the first couple of frames supported what I considered realistically minimal expectations. While Peavy pitched two perfect innings to start, Kaz allowed a few runners but escaped unscathed. When the first two Padres reached to start the 3rd, that painful, uneasy feeling (also a little-known Eagles B-side) began creeping in, but Mark Loretta somehow bunted into a double play. (Boy, did the Padres leave their A-game in SoCal.) Time to expect the unexpected.

Doug Mientkiewicz, out on strikes more often than Lech Walesa lately, hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the third. Hmmm.

In the fifth, the Mets picked up four runs on a two-run job by Ramon Castro (!), a walk of Ishii (!), a Reyes single/SB/errant throw, and a Mike Cameron double (.). (No exclamation point for Cameron, though he has been slumping bit of late.) 5-0, which is when I got the e-mail from Jerry about a sweep. Which, not coincidentally, was when I started yelling viciously in Jerry's direction across the Potomac.

Bottom 6, and 5-0 became 12-0 just like that. After a couple of hits to lead off, Peavy was pulled for newly acquired ex-Yank reliever Paul Quantrill, who provided "relief" akin to chunky-style hemhorroid cream. Four singles, a double, a walk, and two flyballs later -- after every starting position player except Beltran had recorded a hit in the inning (and Beltran hit a sac fly), it was over to the point that I was thinking about the sweep.

Willie emptied the bench as the PA blared "Send in the Clowns," and the rockin' trio of "Blow Your" Koo, "Ring My" Bell, and "Dig My" Graves composed funeral dirges for the downtrod Pad Squad. 12-0, Mets. I just didn't see it coming.

A nearly perfect series for the denizens of Mets Township, capped off with this whitewashing of a division-leading team. The erstwhile Trolley Dodgers come rolling into town tomorrow night; after that, the Mets hit the road for two stops in Synthetic Statistics Stadia (Coors & Minute Maid; the "shandy circuit", if you will.) Most of the Metropolitans -- and certainly the team as a whole -- have experienced tremendous difficulty turning flashes of offensive spark into sustained hot streaks; the time is now, with the trade deadline 10 days away, the division lead visible to the naked eye, and some hitter-friendly venues on the itinerary, to keep the bats sufficiently warmed and the run support piling up.

Nothing like a pretty petty winning streak to get the fans all fired up again; it may not be equal parts rational expectation and blind optimism, but it's closer to even than in delusions past. Remember, all you Townshippers, what Lenin said: "The most important thing when ill, is to never lose heart. " And remember, all you Mets, what Lennon said: "Don't let me down."

Keeping the Faith

Games 90 through 94 - Mets

Braves 2, Mets 1
Braves 3, Mets 0
Mets 8, Braves 1
Mets 3, Padres 1
Mets 7, Padres 3
Record: 48-46

Standings: 4th place in NL East, 5.5 GB Washington; 4 GB Red Sox

My sincere apologies for my lack of input lately, and I offer kudos to my cohort for not chastising me more publicly. I hope the usual Met-readers were properly re-directed to Jerry's great take on the Mets over at the Wheelhouse yesterday; ignore the inane non-Met-related Comments, but take Jerry's fine points regarding this C-level performace. In the meantime, I am back. No, please, you're too kind.

The last few games have offered plenty to enjoy for us the viewing audience. I've been able to take in every pitch of the last two nights' games against the Pad Squad, and I've been treated to heroics and healthy play by the hometown nine. I've said it before and I'll say it again; Extra Innings + TiVo is sheer brilliance. Surf 'n' Turf. A shot and a beer. A ménage à trois without the inevitable apologies for not pulling your weight. You can't put a price tag on being able to rewind key moments, like when Francis X. Healy blurts, "I'd actually rather Reyes were more aggressive up there," but if you could, it'd have to be more than the $4.95 I pay a month.

Tuesday night featured more of the light-hitting offense that's keeping the Mets from accelerating within the division, but outstanding pitching by Kris Benson and the pen, plus two long balls -- one early from Cliff Floyd and one in the bottom of the 11th by Chris Woodward -- saved the game. You can't say enough about the pinch-hitting this team's recorded, and credit Willie Randolph for timely usage of the bench; on Tuesday, he called Gerald Williams back from the on-deck circle when Mike Piazza singled, running G-Dub for Piazza and letting Woodward step in to pinch-hit. Game over. Sure, sometimes you luck out in these scenarios, but Willie's strategies when it comes to tweaking lineups mid-game dwarf his apparent acumen in the bullpen arena.

Last night Tom Glavine outfired Woody Williams in a pitching match-up that had us longing for the mid-90's -- both the era and the fastball speed. "Outfired" is probably the wrong term for these two slowball specialists, but Glavine had enough in the ol' whip to produce a few strikeouts to his one walk, and it proved another solid start for the recently sharp rotation. Meanwhile, the lineup scratched out some runs, drove the ball for power, and took what the Padres' D gave them to bang out seven runs. Carlos Beltran (lookee there) and Mike Piazza went deep (now more than ever, a great pleasure to see it), Jose Reyes burned them at every turn with his speed, and the Mets' parlayed Xavier Nady's losing a flyball in the moon into the inning that would carry them to the win.

Tom Glavine said it the other day, in reference to not wanting to be traded, and I believe it: in terms of talent, this is one of the best teams in baseball. They're mediocre through and through in their results, which is maddening, but brief glimpses like we've seen in the last three games -- against playoff-contending teams -- make me a believer. Granted, these wins have come on the heels of me throwing up my hands (and my lunch) at their previous patheticism. So take it with a grain of salt, but to butcher the musings of another Whit-man, I see great things in the Mets. They're our team. And may they overtake those Sons of Walt known as "America's Team."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

No New Tale to Tell

Games 91 & 92 - Red Sox

Yankees 5, Red Sox 3
Devil Rays 3, Red Sox 1
Record: 50-42

"Fuck you, Jeter," I muttered at my television as I reached for the remote control. The Yankee shortstop was happily pounding his fist into his glove after the Sox fell on Sunday night, blowing a chance to salvage a series split. Talk about displaced anger. I had no beef with Jeter, it was the sorry, no-account Red Sox at whom I was livid.

The Sox had the bases loaded with nobody out, trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th after a series of hits against Mariano Rivera. I silently implored Alex Cora - not exactly the optimal choice in that situation - to do no harm. "Just make a productive out," I whispered under my breath, figuring that a fly ball would make it a 1-run game, or a bouncer to the right side would only yield 1 out with Cora's speed. Instead, a rally-killing 5-2-3 double play, followed immediately by my bellowed, "That was not a PRODUCTIVE FUCKING OUT," followed equally quickly by the unmistakeable sound of my older daughter opening her bedroom door.

Cora was a goat, but the fact that the Sox only got 1 run on 3 hits in 6+ innings against Al Leiter means that every man in the lineup did his share of bleating. Al Leiter, who had more walks than K's coming into the game, struck out 8 Sox batters while walking only 2. Al Leiter, who averaged less than 5 innings per start with a 6+ ERA, made the AL's best offense (in name only, at this point) look like the Washington Nationals. Al Leiter, Exhibit 34903 for the people's case against the half-assed Boston Red Sox.

The Sox are 6-12 in their last 18 games, and losers of 4 of 5 at home since the All-Star break. They've relinquished first place in the division to the Yankees, and are at this very moment making Casey Fossum look like a world-beater. The good people at SoSH are working hard to contain the Chicken Littles, but this little outpost of the Nation couldn't be any more disgusted. The only, only silver lining at the moment is my certainty that the team the Sox are running out to the field every day right now is markedly different than the one we'll see in less than 2 weeks. Theo Epstein's not a whiny fanboy, but even he's got to be more than a bit nonplussed about the way his team's performed this season. Of note though, is the fact that the Sox were 51-41 at this point last year. I guess that worked out okay.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Game 90 - Red Sox

Yankees 7, Red Sox 4
Record: 50-40

A few random observations while wondering why Willie Randolph took Pedro out after 6 innings (and only 61 pitches) of 2-hit ball:

There's no such thing as a must-win game in mid-July. That said, if the Sox lose tonight to the Yankees with Al Leiter taking the hill in pinstripes, I predict some shit gets broken in my living room, and hopefully in Theo Epstein's office.

The Sox are keeping their divisional opponents in the race at a time when both the Orioles and Yankees have major challenges with pitching depth. With rumors abounding regarding both teams' efforts to bolster their weaknesses, the Sox seem certain to regret their recent 6-10 run. Once again, it's as if they're bored after last year. Comparing the Sox lineup against the Yanks and O's, it's hard to fathom how the division is so close. Let's look closer:

C - Varitek (BOS), Posada (NYY), Fasano/Gil (BAL): With Javy Lopez hurt and Posada showing his age, this one's a clear advantage to the Sox.

1B - Millar/Olerud (BOS), Martinez/Giambi (NYY), Palmeiro/Gibbons (BAL): Question marks abound in this comparison, but based upon current production, slight edge to the Yankees.

2B - Bellhorn (BOS), Cano (NYY), Roberts (BAL): Brian Roberts is an MVP candidate - easy edge to the O's.

SS - Renteria (BOS), Jeter (NYY), Tejada (BAL): Jeter's having a terrific season, but Miguel Tejada's the best shortstop in baseball right now.

3B - Mueller (BOS), Rodriguez (NYY), Mora (BAL): A-Rod's a prick, but he's killing the ball.

LF - Ramirez (BOS), Matsui (NYY), Bigbie (BAL): As dangerous as Matsui is, he's no Manny Ramirez.

CF - Damon (BOS), Williams/Cabrera (NYY), Matos (BAL): Possibly the biggest incremental difference between the teams. Damon's head and shoulders above the others.

RF - Nixon (BOS), Sheffield (NYY), Sosa (BAL): Sheffield gets the nod over Nixon, but not by as much as first glance might suppose.

DH - Ortiz (BOS), Giambi, et al (NYY), Palmeiro, et al (BAL): Landslide for Papi.

So the tally, 4 for Boston (and none are even close), 3 for the Yankees, but only A-Rod is a clear differentiator, 2 for the O's. Even where the Sox trail the Yankees and Orioles, their talent is in the top half of the league, with the exception of Bellhorn. And they drift with the slightest of margins.

The title of today's entry refers both to the Sox' outlook for another long playoff run and to the great song by the band of the same name, "Middle of the Road," which is sadly descriptive of the Sox season to date.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Because I've Got Nothing Better to Do

Game 89 - Red Sox

Red Sox 17, Yankees 1
Record: 50-39

Here's some MLC trivia for you. This marks the first time since May 14-15 that I've posted on consecutive days. The first step in getting better is admitting that you have a problem, and I'm here to tell you that I suck.

The Sox, though, certainly didn't tonight. What are the odds of any team drilling their arch-rival by a 17-1 count twice in a single season? Longer than the odds of Trot Nixon hitting an inside-the-park homer? A bigger longshot than a team with a $200 million payroll having to start Tim Redding? More unlikely than Hideki Matsui fielding a fly ball of the Green Monster cleanly?

It's fun watching games when the Sox have an 11-run lead in the 4th inning. Stress, I fear not thy sting. Harpoon I.P.A, though, I feel thy sweet, dulling incantations. Perhaps a new stretch of superstition to follow? If I must, I'll soldier through. Or join the gang at Jerry's Wheelhouse.

Every Sox starter except...wait for it...Mark Bellhorn got a hit tonight, as did replacements Alex Cora and Adam Stern. As much as I've given Bellhorn grief thus far, it's been mostly out of a belief that he would turn it around. Now, though, I've gone around the bend on Eeyore. The Sox need more than he's giving them - Bellhorn is a liability, despite his still adequate OBP. Someone smarter than me (okay, someone with more time than me - it'd be hard find someone smarter) can compare the incremental value of Alex Cora's defense as compared to Bellhorn's, but if anyone could use a week of just sitting and watching, it's Eeyore. He just looks lost - swinging over low curveballs, and through high fastballs, pressing like a dry cleaner on a deadline.

Gabe Kapler officially rejoined the Sox tonight, but Kevin Youkilis was sent down yesterday, so my plan for a B'Nai Brith mixer at the Fens is on hold. Trade deadline is 16 days away. I'm waiting for a scorched earth policy from the Bronx in pursuit of a starter, any starter. As it stands, I think Ed Whitson's getting the call on Sunday.

Everything In Its Rightful Place (Except Me At My Desk)

Games 87 through 89 - Mets

Pirates 11, Mets 4
Mets 6, Pirates 1
Mets 6, Braves 3
Record: 45-44

I love rooting for Mike Piazza. There are no internal conflicts to resolve in pulling for the guy, there's no hesitation, there are no strings attached. I don't root for him like I do for Pedro, where I don't care for him personally but I have to admire what he does for the club. Instead, I usually end up keeping my fingers crossed for Mike Piazza not to continually hurt the team.

And then he hits a three-run opposite-field bomb to win the game against the loathed Braves, and all is right in the world. The All-Star break had me in a Metblog slumber, and while I'm not exactly springing out of the sack with anything worthwhile here today (I'm not a morning person), I'll be back again soon with more inane commentary. Coming soon: I'll delve into why the Mets have a team comprised exclusively of Gold Glovers and DH material.

Hometown heroes the Washington Nationals will be out of first place by July 25. The question is: how many games back will the Mets be when that happens? Seven back now, they should be just three back by then. You read it here first, and there's a reason for that.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Best Laid Plans

Game 88 - Red Sox

Yankees at Sox (in progress)

My wife and kids are out of town for the week. I know what you're thinking, and yes, I am living a bachelor dream. If by dream you mean grilled cheese sandwiches, laundry strewn about carelessly, and copious masturbation. Ok, I lied about one of those things - I'm actually a decent cook.

Temporarily free, I thought I'd let it all hang liveblogging tonight's Sox/Yanks game. A series of late crises at work followed by a run on my local supermarket which caused 8-deep lines at the checkout, topped off by a malfunctioning grill puts me in front of my keyboard just in watch Gary Sheffield lead off the top of the 5th with a solo homer to make the score, 5-4, Sox.

The good guys spotted Bronson Arroyo a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st, but he's spent the rest of the game trying to give it back. Arroyo's been wild in the zone all night, missing his spots in just the right place to find the fat part of Yankee bats. Thankfully, Mike Mussina's just been wild.

Musical interlude - Barry White's I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby just hit the iPod, playing in shuffle mode. Aw yeah, sugar. Right in time for Big Papi to make sweet love to this Mussina offering...or whiff.

6-pitch 5th for Mussina. I need a new theme song.

Mike Myers and newly acquired Chad Bradford are warming together in the bullpen. This needs to be handled delicately, as the chances for a season-ending knuckle-collision are extremely high.

Silly good play by Bill Mueller to stop Derek Jeter grounder. Silly bad throw by Mueller in combination with a hideous full-body contortion by Kevin Millar to get out of the way instead of blocking the throw hands the Yankees the game-tying run. Millar, German for Designated for Assignment.

Manny! So nonchalant, but just turned in his 2nd fine defensive play of the evening. How 'bout leading off the bottom of the 6th with a go-ahead longball?

'Course, that would be easier if he hadn't already batted in the 5th. DFA leads off the 6th. Robinson Cano covers 2nd on the pitch, even though no runner was on - DFA takes advantage with a roller through the vacated spot.

Now it's Eeyore's turn to fulfill his destiny - 1st and 3rd, 1 out. I smell a strikeout. Sigh. That is simply too easy.

Mussina vs. Damon. Full count, 2 on, 2 out. Annnnnd...Johnny watches strike 3 sail by harmlessly. Attakid. Fuck.

2 mildly interesting developments in the top of the 7th: Chad Bradford makes his Sox debut after coming over from the A's for Jay Payton and Alan Embree stole Matt Clement's facial hair. Also, Bradford throws to first the same way he pitches - DFA's brain nearly exploded.

And this is where I welcome Bradford to the Nation by saying, "Throw a fucking strike, assmonkey."

Trotman! Saved Embree's goofy-tufted ass with a nice catch, retreating to the wall in right to glove Matsui's drive.

It's Tanyon Sturtze, dammit. Swing the bat, Edgar.

Papi makes me happi! Tanyon showing his Sturtzeness. 6-5, Sox.

How long 'til Schilling makes his debut as relief ace? And will his ego fit through the clubhouse door if he slams the door shut? Or, alternately, Embree could simply piss the lead right away. With help from Timlin, game tied at 6.

Schilling warming. DFA walking. Beer flowing like wine. Nonsense flocking to this blog like the salmon to Capistrano.

Yankee-killer Billy Mueller has a nice ring to it. 3 unassisted, not so much.

Fenway's going bonkers as Schilling enters to pitch the top of the 9th. Gotta admit that I'm a little bit giddy. He might throw his first pitch over the backstop.

Menacing is the first word that comes to mind when I look at Gary Sheffield at the plate. Doubles off the wall to lead off the 9th. 2 doubles and a homer tonight for Sheffield. And now A-Rod. I don't like this movie. Nor the 2-run homer A-Rod just cranked to center. The Schilling Experiment is off to a Hindenberg-esque start.

Liveblogging, as I recall now, is an exercise in crappy writing and poor results for the Sox. My work here is done, as are the Sox.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wheeze, Rattle, Shudder, Hisssss

Games 85 through 87 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Orioles 2
Orioles 9, Red Sox 1
Orioles 4, Red Sox 1
Record: 49-38

The Sox sputtered into the All-Star break, hacking and gasping like David Wells trying to run the bases. Two days ago, I was mildly disgusted. Today, thanks to the twin balms of time and alcohol, I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy. Yeah, the Sox blew a chance to seriously wound the Orioles and keep the Yankees a more comfortable distance in the rear-view. But, frankly, the Sox are in first place in the AL East - and they haven't really played all that well.

Outside of the recent 12-1 run, the Sox have played exactly .500 baseball this season. And they're still in first. The Sox' bullpen has been absymal by any standard. And they're still in first place. Curt Schilling's done nothing, Wade Miller's been below average, Kevin Millar's corpse is rotting in front of our eyes, Mark Bellhorn just went on a 4-32 stretch with 16 Ks...and the Sox are in first place.

As I watch the All-Star Game (This Year, It Counts!) out of the corner of my eye, I note with interest that the Boston Globe is beginning to include Sox blogger content in its new 'Sidekick' edition. Here's the break we've been waiting for, Whit. Today, humble scribes churning out content every (third) day (give or take) for an audience of 45 or so. Tomorrow, the darlings of the literati, feted at award shows and salons alike. Our only problem is that mainstream media already has a glut of under-reported, poorly-sourced rantings and biased screeds - so we need a new schtick.

4 games with the Yankees to start the 2nd half of the season. If it weren't for the fact that Lance Armstrong's in the middle of his final ascent of the Pyrenees, I'd be bracing for another round of Armageddeon-style media coverage. This time, though, a little bit of sensationalism might be warranted. The Yankees can really kick their season into gear by taking more than 2 from the Sox. On the other hand, the Sox can ratchet Big Stein to Defcon 5 by winning the series. 2 teams with spectacular lineups and mediocre pitching staffs might make for a slo-pitch style scoring run.

Word on the street is that Gabe Kapler is heading back to Boston after he gets released from his Japanese club after batting .153 in the Land of the Rising Sun. Of note, the addition of Kapler would give the Sox 3 Sons of David on the 25-man roster (in addition to Adam Stern and Kevin Youkilis). Chosen people, indeed. The Sox are trying to corner a controlling interest in global economic markets in addition to winning a World Series. Zion train is coming our way.

And on that note - and Manny's inning-ending double play - more to come sometime in the next several days, if I get my head out of my Klaven.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Game 86 - Mets

Pirates 6, Mets 5 (10)
Record: 43-43


Wow, was that terrible.


I should end this recap here, but this game was so bizarre, it warrants a little descriptive drivel. I was out for dinner and drinks last night, but the beauty of Extra Innings + TiVo (the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of the new millennium) allowed me to tune in and catch the Mets on my time, Mr. Hand. Sometimes that's a bad thing, as it unfolded.

The first inning set the tone of "weird" that would last throughout. Jose Reyes walked to lead off the game. Yes, that in and of itself is uncanny. He attempted to steal second but was called out after the second baseman tagged him . . . with an empty glove. The ball had squirted through and the shortstop had gloved it behind him, but neither the second base ump nor Reyes saw it. So Reyes gets thumbed out and starts walking back to the dugout, at which time the shortstop tags him out. The ump then does a triple-take, and we pause for station identification. After an explanation from the crew that probably fell short of "I completely and utterly blew the call," Reyes was deemed safe. A groundout later, he's on third, and then Josh Fogg balks him home. Sure, why not? It didn't really look like Fogg made any sharp movements in any direction at all, but who am I to argue with these professional umpires? 1-0, Mets, just like that.

Victor Zambrano looked every bit of the player that Scott Kazmir (who got roughed up last night to fall to 3-7) was traded for. He mowed down the Pittsburgh lineup effortlessly. Meanwhile Ramon Castro provided the offense (!) with a homer and an RBI single. He was also part of an inning that featured hits by both Jose Offerman and Brian Daubach, pretty much right in my face. Daubach doubled off the wall but Castro couldn't score from second, amazingly. The third baserunning snafu in three games, but until last night, they'd dodged the bullets they were firing at themselves.

5-1, bottom of the ninth. Zambrano exits, the much heralded (in the blogosphere) Aaron Heilman enters. Out, single, single, out. Just throw strikes and we're out of here.

Jack Wilson walks on four pitches. Nice.

Enter Braden Looper. Braden Looper, the man I damned with faint praise yesterday, and the man I damned with loud shouts late last night. Tike Redman waited out an 11-pitch at-bat until he found one to put between the lines, and his grounder back through the box scored two. Then, the oddest play of the night occurred, much to the chagrin of everyone in royal blue and blaze orange.

Matt Lawton hit a medium-depth fly ball to left, and I figured the game was done. After a deep exhale, a gasp as I see that the ball wasn't hit all that hard, and Cliff Floyd's jump wasn't all that good. Pretty bad, actually, but not as bad as his decision to dive for the ball. Awkward, clumsy, oafish. All of these the normally adept Floyd appeared as the ball skipped underneath his horizontal frame and rolled to the wall. Tie ballgame.

When team blows a four-run lead in the ninth, you just know they'll lose it in the extra frames, it's just a matter of how. As much as I should have seen a scenario of groundout, two-base error, advancing groundout, intentional walk, and single down the line, I didn't. The error was awful, as Miguel Cairo threw a little wide of first, the always-agile Jose Offerman did a spot-on rendition of Michelangelo's David, and the ball flew into in the dugout. As if they hadn't handed the Pirates the win enough already . . .

So on a strange, dark night in Steel Town, the Mets squander an easy opportunity to secure a victory and keep their winning ways intact. The way Pittsburgh stole this win, it's like they were . . . Pirates or something. (Trust me, you wanted that terrible line more than the one about "Stealers".) And so I close an otherwise sensible post with a cruddy pun that makes you wince. I am the New York Mets of the blogworld, and that's a sad state indeed.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Little Late for a Split Squad, No?

Games 82 through 84 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Rangers 4
Red Sox 7, Rangers 4
Orioles 3, Red Sox 1 (6)
Record: 48-36

I'm posting this under duress, as Whitney's informed me that he's prepared to take over the Soxblogging duties if I don't get off my ass. Probably would be more entertaining than what you're about to read.

This was the starting lineup for the defending World Series champions in last night's contest against the Orioles:

Alex Cora SS
Bill Mueller 3B
David Ortiz DH
Trot Nixon RF
Kevin Millar LF
John Olerud 1B
Doug Mirabelli C
Adam Stern CF
Mark Bellhorn 2B

I'm as speechless as that lineup is (was) punchless. Despite drawing 5 walks and 2 hit batsmen from Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, the Sox managed 1 run in the rain-shortened contest. Yes, they had to travel from Texas the night before. Yes, it was raining. Yes, Johnny Damon's nursing a bum shoulder and Manny on wet turf is a Rube Goldberg invention waiting to happen. All of these things are true. That lineup is a living, breathing white flag.

Much hue and cry in Beantown about Curt Schilling's return to the Sox as a late-inning relief pitcher instead of a starter. Here's my take: Schilling and the Sox front office know a hell of a lot more about his condition and the state of the trade market for pitching talent. I'm going to sit back and trust that Theo and Tito and the boys know what the hell they're doing. Were I a betting man, I'd toss a sawbuck on the Sox grabbing another setup arm and planning for a postseason run with Timlin, Embree, Foulke (post-surgery), Schilling, and New Guy forming a pretty formidable relief corps. One more starter would ease my nerves a bit, as I have no confidence in David Wells' conditioning, but I'll live if the Sox don't pull that trigger.

Jay Payton and Ramon Vazquez, we hardly knew ye. And from what's coming out of Boston, we're pretty glad we don't know Payton any longer. That noise you hear, Kevin Millar, is the clock ticking on your Sox career if you don't get with the program.

That's all I've got. Why spend time and thought on a blog entry, when random ill-researched scatterthought is available.

Swatting Away the Nats

Game 85 - Mets

Mets 3, Nationals 2 (11)
Record: 43-42

It's probably wise to temper the excitement of winning three of four against the division leader by duly noting the house of cards that is the Nationals' first half of the season, but hey, it's always nice to win. Yielding a dozen baserunners to a lineup void of All-Star consideration is not particularly propitious. Requiring eleven innings to notch a third run in a game started by a pitcher with a 5+ ERA in the National League whose home starts come in the cavernous park that's witnessed the fewest home runs of any this year is . . . not entirely encouraging. Making SportsCenter highlights for the second time in two nights for baserunning while blind is thoroughly disenchanting. Doing whatever it takes to win? Now that's what I'm talking about!

The poor Nationals (still eight games better than Mets; don't cry for me, Argenwhitney) look like a team on its last legs, but if a few of their key injuries heal, they may be in the running a bit longer. The Braves, meanwhile, are marching through opponents like a certain unnamed Civil War general marching through a certain unnamed southern town. And that's without the Chipper; I cringe at what they might do upon his return. The Marlins are coming around, too. Could get tight right before the break.

This baserunning blunder was worth mentioning -- it was strangely similar to the previous night's mistake. Hitter gets a hit, runner scores a run, catcher doesn't catch, mayhem ensues. This time it led to two outs, stunningly, as Mike Piazza tried for two and got hosed, then Cliff Floyd tried to score from third and suffered a similar fate of hosiery. I'm giving Piazza's maneuver the benefit of the doubt and suggesting it was sacrificial so as to score Floyd's insurance run, and I'm also acknowledging two brilliant throws -- Brian Schneider to Jamey Carroll was a rocket, the reciprocal toss was a bullseye, and the entire exchange was textbook. But the Mets looked slow, painfully slow, and the play was another bust (two outs on a single to right?) in an increasingly long line of supposed think-on-your-feet Mets plays. For the second straight night, it should have cost the Mets, but it didn't.

Why didn't it? More hearty shout-outs to the bullpen. Roberto Hernandez, Heath Bell, and the Loop-dog shut down the Nationals after Big Benson recorded another quality start. Looper, though he still doesn't believe in the three-batter inning, notched his 20th save -- not bad, considering how many folks have clamored for his sacking this season. About the best compliment I myself can muster for our closer is that his spot is not one of the areas of greatest need for improvement as the team moves towards the second half of the season. Don't let it go to your head, Braden.

Pedro's bagging the All-Star game. This is not really news-worthy, despite the publicity it's garnering, and we the Township are happier in the long run. End of story. If the Mets make it to the World Series and are burned because a sub-Pedro NL pitcher costs the Mets home-field advantage, we'll revisit this. Also, if my Powerball ticket gets drawn as I'm walking on the moon making arrangements with Tina Fey (unsung beauty) for some lunar action, I'll probably take a brief hiatus from MLC. You've been forewarned.

Two tickets to Pittsburgh, as the saying goes. If our resident seer (Patrick, not our colleague over at Metsradamus) is right, we'll see good things over the weekend. Funny thing, though. The Bucs have pulled the rug out from under the Mets twice in two years in should-be, would-be cakewalks for the Metmen. Not this time, Biff. Not this time.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Winning Ugly Beats Losing Pretty

Game 84 - Mets

Mets 5, Nationals 3
Record: 42-42

The Mets defied the odds and my know-it-all prognostication, winning convincingly over the division-leading Nats. This was a game the Mets should not have won, so it qualifies as a losable win, but that's not necessarily all good news.

Livan Hernandez looked hot, tired, and somewhat out of shape on the hill, struggling with a small strike zone and firing 125 pitches in seven-plus. That the Mets were able to pile up five runs against him was a coup of sorts, and that Tom Glavine surrendered nine hits and three walks but only three runs was another. That this all happened with the Nationals playing generally good baseball and the Mets playing generally bad baseball has me a bit confused. The Mets reaffirmed my earlier accusation of being fundamentally weak. Two more errors (did I see Jose Offerman giving David Wright fielding tips before the game?) and two wince-inducing baserunning gaffes within 30 seconds of each other keep me doubting this team's solidity.

In actuality, Wright's "error" was far more of a scorekeeper's boot than his own. Jamey Carroll laced a fierce one-hopper at Wright, who didn't field it cleanly but made a good play that just missed getting the speedy Carroll at first. 24 hours earlier, Marlon Anderson watched a medium-pace grounder dart under his glove for a "hit." I've griped before about rampant scorekeeping discrepancies, but the problems continue.

More than the fielding mistakes last night, the baserunning equivalent of stepping on a rake and simultaneously cracking one's forehead and racking oneself could have cost the Mets dearly. They had bases loaded with nobody out. One single and a lineout later, the inning was over. Seems like that'd be hard to do, doesn't it? After Ramon Castro plated two with a single, he rounded first as the throw home caromed off David Wright's leg. Livan threw what was basically his 126th pitch of the night, a strike to first that nailed Castro as he tried to dive back to the bag. The very next pitch became a low liner at Jose Guillen, who snared it and zipped a laser to second to double off a befuddled Marlon Anderson. These are the basics, people; value your importance on those basepaths and stay focused.

I felt sure this would come back to haunt the Mets, but it didn't. Give Aaron Heilman credit for that. He was the picture of "relief" as he replaced the imminently hittable Glavine by mowing down Nationals left and right. It shouldn't have been all that surprising (but it was), considering the Nationals lineup, which featured . . .

. . . wait for it . . .

. . . Wil Cordero in the clean-up spot! Yes, Wil Cordero, he of the .119 batting average going into the game. The same Wil Cordero who's made more headlines for domestic abuse charges than baseball successes in the last few years. Memo to Jim Bowden: if Nick Johnson isn't ready by the time the second half resumes (thereby sliding Jose Guillen into the 4-spot), you might want to find a legitimate power threat to hit clean-up. Meanwhile, Vinny Castilla's got to be shaking his head and wondering what he might have to do to get bumped up from the 5th spot. He's half-expecting to see one of the RFK ushers penciled in above his name today.

Tighten up the ship, Steamboat Willie. Keep the guys concentrating on the task at hand and maybe, just maybe, Patrick's seemingly deluded 46-42 prediction is in your future. Oh, and send every member of the '01 Red Sox to Norfolk, Binghamton, back to Boston, or anywhere else outside the itinerary of the New York Mets. They aren't helping.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I Thought Clowns Were Supposed to be Funny

Games 79 through 83 - Mets

Mets 7, Marlins 6
Marlins 7, Mets 3
Marlins 3, Mets 0
Mets 5, Nationals 2
Nationals 3, Mets 2
Record: 41-42

Well, then. In a little-known corollary of a lesser-known rule of Major League Baseball, any 2005 squad that loses to a team with Carlos Baerga batting clean-up is deemed instantly ineligible for that year's World Series. So there it went. I mean, seriously, Carlos Baerga???

The Mets, who themselves missed the (dollhouse-sized) window on Baerga by a few years kicked him to the curb as relative refuse seven years ago, and I'm not sure they were wrong. They were, of course, wrong to trade for him and Alvaro Espinoza -- who led the league only in geeky appearance -- and give up Jeff (2005 NL All-Star) Kent and fellow journeyman Jose Vizcaino. But if Baerga represents the best good chance the Nats had at clean-up/1B against Pedro, the Mets had to be salivating. And Pedro did indeed shut him down.

The problem was, of course, that both guys named Carlos B. went 0-for-4. When the guy whose best days were pre-strike takes the collar, the Nats can find another way to win. When the guy whose best days were supposed be right about now gets stymied, the Mets seem to flounder around him. Cameron, Piazza, and the Mets' own power-slugging first baseman, Chris Woodward, also went hitless -- the four of them were a combined 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts. And there's your rally-killing contingent, meaning five of the eight hits were scattered over eight innings and the other three weren't enough of a ninth-inning surge to make the difference.

Now, Esteban Loaiza is actually a good pitcher, but a few months ago he was on the scrap heap after bombing out with the Bombers last fall, and leave it to the Mets to further rehabilitate a down-on-his-luck starter. All season long they've been handcuffed by two-bit losers, and while I might know how frustrating that feels, I was assured by the City of Virginia Beach that those records would be expunged on my 18th birthday. And that's all I have to say about that.

On a trivial (meaning trifling, not meaning info-worthy) note, Carlos Baerga was a member of the 2002 Red Sox along with Brian Daubach and Jose Offerman, each of whom pinch-hit in utter vain for the Mets last night. How that Sox team won 93 games is simply beyond me.

Tom Glavine goes against Livan Hernandez tonight. If you look closely, there is already a vaguely penciled "L" in the Mets' schedule there. You can dredge up a wee drop of hope knowing that Glavine's few strong starts have come against the weakest-hitting teams, and the pesky Nats qualify. I'm just curious to see Shane Mack, Travis Fryman, or whatever mid-grade player of yesteryesteryesteryear the Nationals throw out in the 4-spot en route to another one-run win.

Mid-Year Review to come soon. (I won't be comparing the New York Mets to any kind of woman for fear of losing all interest in females.) For now, I'll leave you with a pair of transmissions from my brother-in-law Patrick, who made me laugh:
It will be nice to take 3 out 4 from the Nats, sweep the Pirates going into the
break, and be 46-42. I know that is a lot to wish for, but not

and cry, or at least wince:
How psyched do you think the Mets are to have to pay Piazza 50k, Pedro 50k, and
Beltran 100k because they made the All Star team?

As I told him, Pedro's spot was well-earned (does he give back the bonus if he refuses to play?), but the other two were Exhibits QQ and RR why the fans are asking to have their voting privileges stripped.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Games 79 through 81 - Red Sox
A Sort of a Mid-Season Update

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 2
Rangers 6, Red Sox 5
Record: 46-35

When the Sox are locked in a Wild Card scramble with the Twins and Orioles this September, they'll look wistfully upon this week's debacles against the Indians, Jays, and Rangers and point to them as innocence lost. By rights, the Sox should have a 6 or 7-game lead on the Orioles right now, and a similar margin over the Yankees. And they need only look as far as 60' 6" from home plate to understand why they don't.

The Sox, you see, are like a stunning woman - an Elle MacPherson look-alike - with chronic, wretch-inducing halitosis and seriously abcessed teeth and gums. Their offense - the T&A of this sqaud, if you will - is spectacular, producing at a sublime clip, wearing out opposing pitching staffs almost as they please. The Sox lead the league in OPS, average, and runs per game. They've even stolen 20 bases in 21 attempts. Individually, they've got 4 players in the AL All-Star starting lineup. Johnny Damon's been among the league leaders in runs and average all season, and just extended his current hitting streak to 21 games. Manny and Tizzle are in the league's top 3 in homers and RBI. Varitek leads all catchers in homers, slugging, OBP, and runs scored. Trot Nixon's got an .853 OPS, and he's holding his own against lefties. Doug Mirabelli's slugging .505 in limited duty.

They've been dominant on offense even with several relative disappointments. Mark Bellhorn's Milne fixation has been well documented here, but Kevin Millar's .732 OPS hasn't received quite enough negative press at MLC. I'll be working on that. Edgar Renteria's much-improved since the season's first month, but he's still only only carrying a .718 OPS. Billy Mueller hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been good, either. These guys are like Cindy Crawford's beauty marks, though - a tiny bit distracting, but interesting and exotic as a part of the total package.

The pitching, though, is as ugly as the daughter of West Virginian cousins. Keith Foulke is single-handedly responsible for 2 bad, bad losses in the past week, including last night's curse-inducing gack-fest against the Rangers. Foulke's ERA is over 10.00 in save situations - his impending trip to the DL is a mercy killing. The problem is, the bullpen's woes don't end with the closer's cringe-worthy early efforts. Only Mike Timlin and Mike Myers have been remotely consistent, and Timlin's starting to show the effects of a heavy first-half workload (8 hits and 3 ER in his last 3 1/3 innings), while Myers is a novelty act at best; only worth a damn against lefties.

The rest of the bullpen has been worst-in-the-league bad, saved only from that actual distinction by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their 5.77 ERA. The Sox and their 5.58 bullpen ERA are closer by far to the Devil Rays than to the 12-best Rangers (4.86). I don't probably need to spell out the fact that teams with championship aspirations don't get taken seriously with bullpens only marginally better than Lou Piniella's Bad News Rays.

The good news for the Sox starting pitchers is that they have the bullpen to make them look stellar by comparison. Their middle of the pack 4.53 ERA is adequate, but only adequate. The maddening thing about the Sox' starters has been their inconsistency. Each starter has had extended stretches of brilliance - Tim Wakefield's in the middle of one right now, David Wells went 15 straight scoreless innings in the season's early stages, Bronson Arroyo won his first 4 decisions, Wade Miller's first few starts were very promising, and Matt Clement's been good to very good almost all year. Each starter has also had starts or stretches of starts that define putrescence. They've been like the Seinfeld girlfriend that looked great in one light, and ghoulish in another.

The positives for the Sox at the mid-way point are many: they're in first-place in the AL East, despite (cue broken record) not playing up to their potential. Curt Schilling comes back soon, and with Matt Mantei and Foulke on the DL, bullpen help is probably on the way before the trade deadline at the end of this month. They are clearly in the top 2 or 3 in the AL in terms of overall talent, and they have big-game experience that most other teams don't have. It's hard to be too down on this team. (Ducking.) Especially given the events of the fall.

On the other hand, it's hard to be too excited about this team. There is simply no reason that they're not running away with the division. The fact that they've let the AL East's other supermodel climb to her feet after a particularly wicked bender with 3 Italian photographers and a mountain of blow is galling. That pinstriped supermodel is certainly flawed, but she's also only 3 1/2 games behind the Sox as I type this, and more than capable of a last-gasp Christie-Brinkley-in-Sports-Illustrated jaw-dropping stretch.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Games 78 & 79 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Indians 2
Blue Jays 4, Red Sox 1 (in progress)

All-Star balloting closed yesterday, and most pollsters seem to think that the Sox will land 4 of the 9 offensive starters (Damon, Varitek, Ramirez, and Ortiz) and a pitcher (Clement). And each of those guys will deserve their spots, which has me - admittedly a bit of an idiot - scratching my head when I look at the Sox performance to date.

On the one hand, they've got a 2 1/2 game lead on 2nd-place Baltimore in the AL East, and lead the Yankees by 6 games. They've won 13 of 16, even after losing 2 of 3 to the Indians (although Sox part-owner Ted Lilly has them in check through 5 tonight).

At the same time, it took a 13-3 streak to get time into the division lead, and they're still only sporting the AL's 3rd-best record. I can't shake the feeling that they're underachieving. And for the record, I do realize that I sound like a whiny, spoiled little bitch, so those of you that are shouting at your monitors can kindly take your meds and simmer down. You forget that I have to unlearn 30+ years of ingrained doomsaying; all I'm asking is for a bit of latitude. And another starting pitcher and a closer. And the head of Alfredo Garcia. And this paddleball game. And my dog, shithead.

I'm interested in Whit's take on Pedro's All-Star stance. New York's new favorite diva is telling the world that he doesn't care about going Detroit - appreciate the honor and all, but I'd rather go chill under the shade of a banana tree in the D.R. The Baseball Poets will probably excoriate him, but if I'm a Metro backer, I think I'm in Pedro's camp on this one. He's got nothing to prove, he could use the rest, and I'd rather have him ready to throw hammers at the Braves than cockfight with Manny, Ortiz, and A-Rod. Discuss.

SoSHer extraordinaire Shaun Kelly, author of the Win it For thread (relax, I'm not going there again) is back at it with a really cool memoir of his time as a young stringer for the AP in 1978. As scared as he says he was, it must have taken cast-iron balls to carry out his adventure. Enjoy.

Blue Jays now up 5-1 with the bases loaded and 2 out in the 6th. Clement stands to take the loss. I'm talking to you, benefactor of all that is reverse mojo. Reed Johnson's grand slam against Mike Myers says hi, fuckface.

Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight

Game 78 - Mets

Mets 5, Phillies 3
Record: 39-39

It's hot out there, people, and intense heat makes people go a little bonkers. Automobile accidents are more frequent, crimes of passion go through the roof, people get fired more often, and baseball folks simply lose their minds. I can't even begin to comprehend Kenny Rogers' state of mind lately, and yesterday three out of the six managers in NL East games were run by the second inning. Former Met hero Todd Pratt bitched about some bad calls from his crouched position behind the plate and got tossed. It seemed a little premature, but MLB umps -- draped in that heat-friendly jet black from head to toe -- seem to be rather on edge lately, and they're taking no guff from no man. Yeah, they probably need to be reined in a bit, but until they are, watch yourselves, guys.

Pedro was slightly off yesterday, and he followed Zambrano's lead from the day before in a high pitch count / early exit. But he pitched well enough, and Chris Woodward's 2-run single, Jose Reyes' 2-run triple, and Mike Cameron's base-knock to plate Reyes covered the damage Pedro (and Bell/Ring) allowed. The pen was sharp, which, considering the muggy heat and their penchant for unnecessary dramatics, was a pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately for the Mets, those crazy Nationals keep winning, despite a recently released poll taken in spring training in which MLB players voted Frank Robinson as baseball's worst manager. This, my friends, is why it's cruel and unusual to interview ballplayers with anything but eephus-level questions. The stereotype of the dumb jock lives on every time an idiot baseball player opens his mouth. (Carl Everett, you take a 7 ¾ dunce cap, no?) Anyway, as long as the Ex-Expos keep chugging along, even a .500 record keeps the Mets eight games out.

Meanwhile, nobody here was buying the Philadelphia Phillies surge to the top of the division a few weeks ago, and we're not stunned to see them tumble back down to the valley of mediocrity. Vic Ferrari was fun to watch for a while, but it's ultimately more enjoyable to watch the Latka Gravas side of the Phils.

39-39. Feels like the Mets should be better than this, especially when you know they were 39-39 last year. (They even rose to 41-39 before going 30-52 on the hairy backside of the season.) The Marlins come to town over the weekend before seven road games close out the Mets' first half. You can find out what the key match-ups are in this weekend series in many other Metblogs (at right), but all you really need to know is encapsulated right here: it looks pretty skunky for the Mets. Taking one of three from the will be a break. Show me something, Metropolitans.