Sunday, August 21, 2005

End of an Eeyore?

Games 116 through 122 - Red Sox

Tigers 7, Red Sox 6
Red Sox 10, Tigers 7
Tigers 6, Red Sox 5
Angels 13, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 4, Angels 3 (10)
Angels 4, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 5, Angels 1

Record: 71-51

Unplanned blog hiatus this week, as a long business trip combined with a sick wife kept me away from this space. Since I only saw the bookend contests in the 7-game run listed above, you didn't miss much from me in the way of enlightened analysis. Whit drained all the words from the MLC account, anyway.

What I saw in the first game of the Tigers series and the last one of the Angels set doesn't give me a great deal of confidence after hearing that Curt Schilling will rejoin the Sox rotation on Thursday at Kansas City. Schilling threw up all over himself against Detroit, blowing a 6-4 9th inning lead, and then made a laugher against the Angels way too close, permitting the tying run to reach the on-deck circle after opening the bottom of the 9th with a 5-0 lead. I think that 2005 is destined to be a lost season for the iron-willed Schilling, despite his best efforts to contribute. And frankly, after 2004, I'm willing to give him a pass for the rest of his career.

As Schilling continued to author the worst of times, Jonathan (nee Jon) Papelbon - Charles himself couldn't have contrived a more Dickensian name - stepped up and offered the flipside best of times in today's contest. The rookie continued to impress, going 5 2/3 scoreless against the division-leading Halos. Papelbon lowered his ERA to 2.25 in 16 innings, and though he's still looking for his first big-league win has shown signs that he can be counted upon to contribute through crunch time. He's got a big-time fastball, used to great effect in blowing away the lethal Vlad Guerrero with 1 on and none out in the bottom of the 4th. If he regains the control he showed in the minors, he could be a fixture at the top of the Sox rotation for the forseeable future.

The Sox and Angels entered the top of the 8th tonight deadlocked in a scoreless tie. After Edgar Renteria's 2-out, 2-run homer plated the Sox' first 3 runs, the next 2 batters offered an object lesson in why the brilliance of the design of the game of baseball is in the details. David Ortiz, the fearsome slugger with the awe-dropping power, took out 3 games worth of 1-15 frustration by...bunting to beat the Angels' shift. Ortiz reached first easily on what might well have been his first bunt single ever, and as soon as he did, I said to my daughter, "Manny's going yard here". Forget for a moment whether I may have confused a 3 year-old about why a baseball player was on our lawn.

When Manny returned to the dugout after ripping Brendan Donnelly's outside fastball over the wall in right-center, he was rightly congratulated by his happy teammates (likely because they were breathing a bit more easily, almost sure that Schilling couldn't blow a 5-run lead). However, Sox skipper Terry Francona and team mascot Kevin Millar (he must be the mascot, because there's no other explanation for why he's still on the active roster) sought out Papi and knowingly congratulated him for making Manny's blast possible. Great baseball, great result, and one of the little things that make the game such a joy to watch.

I had very little time to follow the Sox' comings and goings this week, but I did note with a mixture of sadness and resignation the likely end of Mark Bellhorn's career in Boston. Bellhorn's .216/.328/.360 line, in combination with his ungodly strikeout rate made him expendable in the wake of Tony Graffanino's stellar start in Boston. I've spent lots of copy on Bellhorn's exasperating failures this season, and he was quite simply hurting the team with his presence, but I'll always remember his death-knell clout in Game 7 of the ALCS as one of the signature moments of my baseball fandom. The amplified sound of his 8th inning homer clanging off the foul pole in Yankee Stadium signalled clearly and finally the end of the Yankees' dominance and the beginning of a new era. Bellhorn also ripped big homers in Game 6 of the ALCS and Game 1 of the World Series, and at the end, it may be the potential evident in those clutch blasts that makes this final chapter even harder to take. Godspeed, Eeyore, as the SoSHers say, you were 1 of the 25, and for that I'll always be grateful. I'm also grateful that I probably won't ever have to watch you swing futilely over a 2-strike curveball.


Bet update, because I need to employ a jinx. Sox are 8.5 games up on the scrappy Mets at this juncture. 13 is the cut line for this year's wager, so I need my guys to make up 5 more games over the season's final 40. Possible, especially in the wake of last season's late-season runs (in opposite directions). But the Mets seem to be making things happen in ways that they haven't during the life of MLC. Fun to watch, admittedly, but I've got quite a substantial gambling winning streak going against Whitney, and I don't want to end it now.

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