Monday, July 31, 2006


Like my colleague, I spent the afternoon refreshing website after website in search of some news, any news regarding the Sox' trade deadline activities with a strong sense of ambivalence. While I believe that the Sox won't be able to pitch well enough down the stretch to be a real contender, none of the deals floated around gave me any warm, fuzzy feelings. I didn't want to see Mike Lowell go anywhere, even as his recent 2nd-half stats stare uncomfortably from the page - and the silly pick he just made against Andy Marte reinforces that emotion. I wanted no part of Julio Lugo in a Sox uniform, and Kip Wells smacked of nothing as much as desperation. Even the reported Andruw Jones deal seemed to cost too much, if the reports that it would have cost Lester and Hansen are to be believed.

So I sit here now, watching David Wells get battered by the Indians, scratching my head to figure out how I feel. I think that the Sox just became the 2nd-best team in the division, but I'm sure that I didn't want to see any of their chips traded in on the players that were reportedly available. Jason Varitek just left tonight's game with a leg injury, right after the announcement that Trot Nixon's been placed on the 15-day DL. (Though the freaking bomb that Wily Mo Pena just hit salves that pain for a moment.) Neither of those things portend anything good, even as Nixon's posting his worst power numbers in years and Varitek's defined mediocre for most of the season. Y'see - I can't make up my mind one way or the other.

Roll 'em out, hitch 'em up, and play the next 59 games, I guess. Me, I'm gonna sit here with a bemused look of my face, dumb as ever, and try to figure out what the hell I'm talking about.

Rise and Fall

An up and down afternoon today as I awaited updates on the Mets, ending predominantly on the downside.

The worst news of the day was the first news of the day, with word coming that Duaner Sanchez, who was putting together one of the finest seasons by a Met reliever in ages, suffered a season-ending separated shoulder in a car accident in Miami. That the accident occurred while Sanchez was riding in the back seat of a taxicab only added a dose of insult to this key injury. For those of you not keeping track, that’s two out of the past two serious injuries to baseball players riding in cabs that happened to front-line Met pitchers. It’s time to alter a stale motto of yestermonth, Mets: It’s Limo Time.

The next batch of news wasn’t any more musical to my ears, though I stand somewhat alone in my assessment of it. Xavier Nady was dealt to the Pirates for ex-Met Roberto Hernandez and ex-pitcher Oliver Perez. While “experts” and much of the Township deemed Xavier Nady expendable time and again, I was always a fan of the guy. I think he was more clutch at the plate than he was ever given credit for, and though he’s had more than his allotted ration of “interesting” plays in right field, he’s also dabbled in runner-gunning at key moments as well. A flawed player, but a more than solid part of the Mets lineup, now gone for . . . well, let’s take a look.

Roberto Hernandez put together a strong ’05 campaign as a set-up man, back before we knew what outstanding set-up campaigns looked like. He’s a poor man’s Sanchez, and he’s another year older. Here’s hoping he can offer a semblance of what we’ll miss. Meanwhile . . .

Oliver Perez is a poor man’s Victor Zambrano. People like to throw words around like “upside” and “potential” when they speak of Oliver Perez, but I am super-down on this guy. He had one brilliant season amid several other seasons of hapless ineptitude. What accounts for this is beyond me, perhaps something mental, something mechanical, or something . . . uh, chemical. But the fact that remains that he’s a significantly more challenging Peterson project than V-Zam was. Yes, I know, that comparison incorporates a little bit of fruit medley, but Perez is still a nothing addition to this deal, in my feeble mind.

Somewhere in the midst of it, the Worldwide Mis-Leader informed us that Oliver Perez was promptly dealt, along with Heath Bell, to San Diego for set-up man extraordinaire Scott Linebrink. This was brilliant news, and I took back the grumblings I hurled Omar-ward. Sadly, within an hour, this story was recanted by other news sources and deleted into revisionist history by ESPN. Thanks for nothin’, Bristol.

So, who comes up from AAA to replace Nady? All signs would logically point to Lastings Milledge. Of course, Milledge was last heard from making ego-laden remarks to the press in a Bizarro-Wright fashion. He was last seen getting thrown out of yesterday’s game against the R-Braves in the first inning, then chest-bumping the umpire like a . . . oh, let’s say a poor man’s Carl Everett. Would a AAA suspension keep him from being promoted? Frankly, with Mets not quite desperate these days, a little humbling (by calling up the vastly inferior Victor DiaZ) would be nice to see, but it’s probably more important to get him some more AB’s and TC’s at the major-league level and make his Fenway failures a distant memory.

On the whole, it’s been a bad day in Metville, but they largely heeded my “stay the course” advice and held fast for the unveiling of the next two months and beyond. Of course, when I offered that so-called wisdom, I wasn’t factoring in more metered havoc. Bring on the Roberto Hernandez Era, Part II. (Sequels are usually so terrific, no?)

Oh Atlanta

Games 102 through 104 – Mets

Mets 6, Braves 4
Mets 11, Braves 3
Mets 10, Braves 6
Record: 63-41

Beating the Braves isn't going to lose its appeal any time soon, that's for damn sure.

My brother-in-law called me Friday evening to vent a little about Pedro looking shaky and a lot about some of the comments the Braves had made prior to the series. While Marcus Giles’ and Jeff Francoeur’s comments weren’t extremely incendiary, they were just a little too proud for a team that was barely scaring .500 coming into the weekend. To insinuate that the Mets were still looking over their shoulders at the Braves – well, it might have been true for the fans, since we’ve been here all along as the Braves have won one division title after another, but it’s probably far from reality for the Mets themselves. Perhaps they were concerned about the Braves, just enough to concentrate heavily on sweeping the Braves in three games.

And that they did, sending Atlanta careening down to 15 games back in the NL East and 10th place in the Wild Card race. For the young Bravos who told reporters that they weren’t resigned to caring about the Wild Card standings, they’re vindicated – now they aren’t even included on a short list of WC contenders, anyway. I have to say, the fun of the “stinkin’ Braves” living up to their moniker hasn’t diminished one iota as this season has worn on. It will be a long, long time before they can evoke any pity in me.

Carlos Beltran has quietly but steadily emerged as the NL MVP. He’s been everything that the New York press and fan base foolishly expected to materialize in 2005; that they abruptly moved on some time ago to fixate on Golden Boy David Wright and NYC crosshairs-resident Alex Rodriguez has helped Beltran have his extraordinary season void of extra hassle. Keep it up, folks. Walk away. Nothing to see here.

Hear me now and believe me later: Willie Randolph’s reluctance to yank pitchers will undoubtedly cost the team down the stretch. It’s as if, as a former longtime player, he doesn’t want to show up any pitcher by pulling a starter before his requisite “quality start” tenure or a reliever before his inning is up. Tom Glavine was getting peppered on Saturday, again, and once again Willie looked to be posing for a portrait when the time came for a change. By my calculations, there’s an ever-present 2 to 5 batter lag between when the free world recognizes a pitcher needs removing and when he actually walks the green mile. This very often converts into 2 to 5 extra hits or walks, producing several runs. Sometimes it proves costly; sometimes, like Saturday, it does not. In late September and/or October, it probably will.

Time to sit back and wait for the trade deadline to pass so that all of the rumors can be forgotten or confirmed to our delight or dismay. Stay tuned.

Sugar, We're Goin Down

Games 101 through 103 – Red Sox

Angels 8, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 7, Angels 6 (11)
Angels 10, Red Sox 4
Record: 62-41

I’m stuck in the midst of an existential struggle for self-definition. I can’t decide whether I’m a pessimist or a realist. A representative of the optimist camp phoned in earlier and asked for a wake up call in April 2008. Realist or pessimist, the prognosis for the remainder of the 2006 campaign looks strikingly similar. Unless something changes in the next 7 hours, it sure looks from here like the Yankees are the team to beat in the AL East.

New York improved itself in 2 key areas of weakness yesterday, replacing Bernie Williams/Aaron Guiel/Andy Phillips with Bobby Abreu and slotting Cory Lidle in place of Sidney Ponson. While they’re both solid, Abreu and Lidle in and of themselves don’t strike raging fear in the hearts of gentle citizens of the Nation, but their obvious incremental value looks nonetheless to be telling in a race that’s currently measured in terms of half-games. The fact that the Yankees were able to pick up valuable parts for essentially nothing takes us down a well-worn path. INSERT ANNUAL RESIGNED RANT ABOUT YANKEE FINANCIAL ADVANTAGE HERE. The unassailable fact remains that the Yankees didn’t make up the current system – they’re just playing within it.

Seth Mnookin’s book Feeding the Monster defines a new operating model for the Red Sox front office based upon adhering steadfastly to a long-term organization philosophy and stanching the flow of leaks to the press. The Sox have been masterful thus far this trading season in disguising their intent, but the long-term view may dictate that they choose to play their current hand for the rest of 2006 instead of sacrificing that 2008 foundation for the possibility of short-term gains. And therein lies the struggle for Sox fans – intellectually, I believe in the front office’s model and am not interested in shipping Craig Hansen away for a 2-month rental that might or might not pay dividends. At a gut level, though, I’m sick and fucking tired of finishing 2nd to the Yankees, and a 9th straight replay of that result would make me want to break things. More things.

Tucked away in this weekend’s dismal series loss to the Angels is something that might be worth revisiting later in the season. Despite dropping 2 of 3 as a result of 3 relatively mediocre pitching performances (David Wells, a Nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Ugh.) the Sox showed once again that they are capable of competing with a great deal of heart. They came back from a 6-3 8th inning deficit on Saturday, courtesy of the obligatory Papi homerun/walk-off single. So cliché. Yesterday, after Curt Schilling’s spot-on Ebby Calvin imitation handed the Halos a 6-1 3rd inning lead, the Sox scrapped back within 2 runs and had the bases loaded with 2 outs – or should have, if umpire Kerwin Danley hadn’t flat out missed the fact that John Lackey’s 1-2 fastball had hit Mike Lowell in the forearm. Lowell’s strikeout on the next pitch killed the rally, and Jermaine Van Buren showed his Pawtucketness in the next frame, giving the Angels 4 runs to salt the game away. Regardless of the outcome, the fact that the Sox kept at it despite the deflating early deficit against their ace brought some solace. As the lads from Fall Out Boy sing, at least the Sox are going out swinging.

Speaking of out and swinging (Whitney was really hoping for some kind of gay expose here – sorry to disappoint), Trot Nixon may have inadvertently effed up Theo’s best-laid plans by injuring himself whiffing at a Lackey changeup last night. The Sox rightfielder will have an MRI today on his bicep after a wild swingandamiss left him grasping his arm in pain and led to the most predictable strikeout in baseball history, with Wily Mo Pena replacing Nixon with a 2-2 count and waving helplessly at the Lackey’s slider away. Far, far away. Nixon’s injury raises the ugly specter of Alfonso Soriano in a Sox uniform. None for me, thanks.

Last time I wrote the 2006 Sox off, they surprised me by going on a mini-tear to build their lead back to 3.5 games. This time, I fear they don’t have the horses to sustain an advantage on the Yankees. Pessimist, realist, whatever – in the end, the result looks exactly the same. I sure hope something happens in the next 7 hours to cause me to rewrite this post.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Wiser Time

Games 94 through 101 – Mets

Reds 7, Mets 4
Mets 4, Reds 2
Mets 7, Astros 0
Mets 4, Astros 3
Astros 8, Mets 4
Cubs 8, Mets 7
Cubs 8, Mets 6
Mets 1, Cubs 0 (10)
Record: 60-41

Taking a break somewhere amid the thrilling tedium of a 162-game season can be very healthy for a player. Let’s hope that Pedro Martinez is Exhibit A of that notion tonight in Atlanta. It’s also healthy for us fans to do the same thing; while you don’t have to be an physician to know that such a break filled with a steady regimen of ultraviolet rays and fermented beverages is actually far from healthy, a mental hiatus once or twice along this six-month slog can be invigorating. So why do I feel so sluggish about the Mets?

My second half of the New York Mets season may well begin tonight with Pedro’s start against the born-again Braves. It’s been a rather amorphous stint to close out July for the Mets, with some notable feats but little that bodes but so well or ill for the long haul.

John Maine has been surprisingly effective while Tom Glavine’s been his mirror image. El Duque has shown slightly less consistency and predictability than the Magic 8-Ball™. The hitters have hit, except when they haven’t. Willie’s been outdueled once or twice, been hammered by his supporters, and carried on vigilantly. Just another week in MetLand, I guess.

Overall, the Mets are doing what they need to do in this position. Keep winning more than losing, find some definition in that problematic pitching rotation, and try to keep the offense in tune. Trying to stay healthy is just ludicrous, since it’s when you fixate on avoiding injury that it strikes most often, so just keep a couple of fingers crossed. Remain loose, maintain clubhouse chemistry, and have some fun as the dog days of August wilt other squads. Avoid the huge collapse by emphasizing fundamentals, playing to strengths, and steering clear of premature autopilot activation.

And maybe – just maybe – add a player or two if and only if it’s the right deal for now and in the future. If that sentence seems tempered and timid, it’s for good reason.

A trade right now could improve the team and its chances for success in the 2006 campaign, possibly at the detriment of the ’07, ’08 and/or later seasons. Based on what seems to be available, though, the upside seems limited, and the aforementioned detriment could very well outweigh those chances of success. Consider Barry Zito – and Scott Boras – for three months and Lastings Milledge deleted from future media guides. The allure of Zito on this somewhat erratic staff is huge, but keeping an eye on the target doesn’t mean a singular focus on October 2006. Let’s revisit an ignored plea of old:
Then we hear about the possible trade with the Devil Rays (which would continue
a trend of acquiring pitchers from teams with dreadful ERA's) which would bring
the Mets RHP Victor "The Other, Less Talented" Zambrano in exchange for the
Mets' best pitching prospect, Scott Kazmir. This trade would mean
mortgaging the future for . . . God knows what. Kazmir could one day be
the ace, while Zambrano could one day set the record for most walks allowed in a
season . . . It all bodes ill, as far as I'm concerned. Walk away.
Just walk away.
It’s neither challenging nor enlightening to point out an “I told you so” passage, but it underscores my sentiments right now. No possible deal has been mentioned in the mass media which has made me feel as though parting with Milledge (or Pelfrey, or others of note) was worth it. Walk away from the high-risk/high-reward trades this year. Teams up 12 games at this point don’t need those deals.

Meanwhile, the Mets have been rumored (which we take with several grains of salt) to be involved in other deals that strike me as somewhere between minor upgrades and needless tweaks. Remember, teams up 12 games at this point don’t shuffle things up for the sake of it. Addressing a need, yes. Adding a wrinkle, no.

General Managers who ward off complacency in the face of regular season achievements often see the fruits of such labor, so I’m far from asking Omar Minaya to stop taking calls. It’s just worth reminding him that the next week is one of a select few amid the yearly 52 where folks in his position earn their keep most obviously, and the Mets’ particular situation demands patience and shrewdness more than gallantry and excitement. Next July 28th I want to be feeling no worse about the Mets than I do right now. Of course, a World Series trophy this fall could alleviate any angst next season might otherwise bring, but if there’s a transaction to be made in the next few days that all but guarantees that accomplishment, I’m not yet privy to it.

There are plenty of examples of past deadline deals that carried a team deep into the postseason, and the Mets have one on their roster in Carlos Beltran. Back in 1986, of course, the Red Sox made a rare August trade, sending Rey Quinones and three guys ineligible for the Baseball Encyclopedia to Seattle for Spike Owen and . . . wait for it . . . Dave Henderson. I dare say that this deal impacted their immediate future in a very big way. So the road is paved for Omar to add that last big piece.

Just remember that in the same breath the Mets, sitting comfortably atop the NL East in 1986, did next to nothing around the deadline. (They traded veteran pitcher Ed Lynch in June for a box of balls, some parachute pants, and the 12" dance-single of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” They also jettisoned George Foster, illustrating some more addition by subtraction, and added longtime Met Lee Mazzilli.)

I guess my point is that with Mets Township’s megaphone bigger and louder than ever, it may seem that we’re all clamoring for Omar to execute the big deal that makes the Mets more of a true contender to make some noise in the autumn. I’m not sure that’s the case among most die-hards. The skewed financial system of MLB gives the Mets the edge via the free-agent market, and Omar took full advantage last winter. The Mets may not have the most impressive hand we’ve ever seen, but with most of the teams around the NL circle looking like they’ll be folding, let’s at least think about letting it ride and see what happens.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Truth Hits Everybody

Game 100 – Red Sox

A’s 5, Red Sox 1
Record: 61-39

All things being equal, as of today I don’t believe the Red Sox will make the playoffs. There. I said it. The following table (Well, it would be a table if I had the patience to figure out how to drop in the appropriate html code. Just pretend, mmmkay.) is Exhibit A through Z in my case against the Olde Towne Team’s postseason hopes:

BOS - Schilling/Beckett/Lester/Snyder/???
NYY - Mussina/Johnson/Wright/Wang/Ponson
CHW - Buehrle/Conteras/Garcia/Garland/Vazquez
MIN - Santana/Liriano/Radke/Baker/Bonser
DET - Verlander/Rogers/Bonderman/Robertson/Miner

If you go 2 deep in the rotations of the 5 teams that are competing for 3 playoff spots (I'm disrespecting Toronto intentionally, despite their dominance of the Sox in 2006) the Sox are right there, arguably no. 2 behind Minny. 3 deep, and the Sox are still competitive, though Lester's inexperience is a concern. From there, though, the Sox fall off the face of the earth, giving 40% of their starts the rest of the way to...what? The sky, my friends, is falling - even with an offense that still ranks among the league's most fearsome.

Here's the thing, though. (C'mon, you know you've been waiting for me to break out that old chestnut. I can hear the cheers from Fairfax to Arlington.) If the Sox actually play the season's final 60 games with that rotation, I'll wear Teejay's Simspon (that's not a typo for those of you not way inside) jersey and a pair of seersucker pants into a biker bar, order a cosmo, and ask if everyone would please refrain from smoking. 4 days 'til the deadline with a season in the balance in Beantown - whattyasay, Theo, the Monster's hungry.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Dan Haren's dealing, Kyle Snyder just reverted to form, and things don't look so good for the Olde Towne team on getaway day in Oakland. Anyone for a little old-fashioned jinxing?

Behind the Wall of Sleep

Games 94 through 99 – Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Rangers 4
Red Sox 9, Mariners 4
Mariners 5, Red Sox 2
Mariners 9, Red Sox 8
Red Sox 7, A’s 3
Red Sox 13, A’s 5
Record: 61-38

I’m just now starting to feel like a human being after 4 days of liver-pickling, sun-worshipping, and face-stuffing on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. As always, my MLC compadre served as an incomparable host, providing a bucolic seaside venue for our always-rollicking festival. And, as nearly always, I spent the whole time in blissful ignorance of the Sox progress, save for a few minutes perusing the box scores in The Virginian-Pilot.

As a result of my coastal meanderings, I only caught one of the Sox’ previous 6 games, and boy, did I choose poorly. Sunday’s loss to the Mariners was marked by epic ineptitude by the outfield combo of Manny Ramirez and Coco Crisp, who conspired to provide the M’s with 3 crucial runs on a pair of the most comically absurd fielding efforts major league fans will see this year. Fortunately, I was so tired and hung over that I couldn’t muster enough energy to be more than mildly irritated.

The events of last week have elevated my mild concern about the pitching staff to the point where I’m actively searching for a way to lock the windows on the 2nd floor of my home to stop me from flinging myself into the back yard in dismay. Tim Wakefield went on the DL with an injury that’s variously been diagnosed as a back strain, broken rib, and muscle tear. Seems like the guys looking for WMD in Iraq had a better sense of their quarry than the Sox’ medical staff. Bygones.

Wake’s back/rib means he’ll be out at least a month, which leaves the Sox with 3 healthy starters, and one of those is a rookie with fewer than a dozen major league starts and a propensity to get himself into trouble just to see if he can get out of it. Kason Gabbard (called up from AA for an emergency start) and Kyle Snyder made starts for the Sox during the past week, with Snyder going again this afternoon. (Aside – did Roger Clemens have a hand in naming Gabbard?) I’m no Tim Kurkjian, except maybe in terms of size, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that championship-caliber squads don’t send the Snyders and Gabbards of the world to the hill with any sort of regularity.

The issue is exacerbated by the yawning dearth of attractive pitching options on the market, and with the first trade deadline coming on Monday, the Sox are in the fragile position of either hoping that some combination of David Wells, Matt Clement, and Wakefield can get them through the season’s final 2 months or overpaying for a mediocre 4/5 starter like Livan Hernandez or Odalis Perez. Based on the prospective cost associated with the latter option and the fact that Wells may actually take his turn in the rotation on Monday, I’ll choose door number 1 and cross my fingers. Given his long-demonstrated reluctance to trade young for old and longer-term strategy to make the Sox a mega-team in 2008, I think Theo’ll check his hand and place his trust in the offense.

Afternoon game today, which means I’ll actually be able to stay up late enough to watch it. If you’re good little boys and girls, I might actually cover it live for you. Of course, Kyle Snyder is starting, so the cursing may be a bit much for our more sensitive readers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Game 93 - Red Sox

Red Sox 1, Royals 0
Record: 57-36

I'll be damned. Right after he watched Jon Lester drain a rainbow jumper from over a tree and behind the neighbor's VW Bus, Ebby Calvin stepped up calm-as-you-please and made the same shot to avoid the "H". 8 innings, no runs, 4 hits, no walks and 7 Ks (though you could argue the technicality that he did it right-handed as opposed to Lester's southpaw effort) in a mirror-image dominance of the Royals.

The Sox did what they're supposed to do, sweeping Kansas City despite only scoring 7 runs in the 3 games. They defined doing just enough to win, but I can't quibble too much over style points. Would be nice if the offense wakes up in time for the weekend, but I'll be far too engrossed in pickling my liver and frying my skin to care all that much. Aloha until I dry out sometime next week.

And the Cradle Will Rock

Game 92 – Red Sox

Red Sox 1, Royals 0
Record: 56-36

If nothing else, last night portends great things for the next 8-10 years, Good Lord willing and the luxury tax don’t rise. Jon Lester pitched a terrific 8 innings, yielding 1 hit and 4 walks before turning the festivities over to Jonathan Papelbon for a tidy dispatching of the Royal offense. And yes, I recognize that the phrase ‘Royal offense’ is a bit of a stretch, and that young Lester was aided and abetted mightily by Kansas City’s lack of patience and overall embarrassing dearth of talent. Nonetheless, the Sox’ newest starter picked his team up when it needed him.

Lester’s now 5-0 with a 2.38 ERA and rapidly gaining on my compadre in my compendium of Top 10 Lesters (which includes Lester Hayes, Lester Bangs, Lester Claypool, and Les Nessman in addition to Whitney) – he’s number 2 with a bullet. I don’t think it’s much a stretch to say that without Jon Lester, the Sox would find themselves behind the Yankees in the standings (especially if the New Yorkers keep getting calls like they got last night from the umpiring staff), and probably not far ahead of the Blue Jays, either. Without Lester, some combination of Kyle Snyder, Jason Johnson, David Pauley, and the Sox’ batboys would be anchoring the 4th spot in the rotation, leaving the 5th spot for a JUGS machine, or perhaps Jose Canseco. In fact, you could argue (you’d be wrong, but still) that Lester’s been more important to the Sox in 2006 than today’s starter Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Beckett.

The fact that I could type that last sentence with a moderately straight face is telling testimony regarding Beckett’s erratic performance to date. He follows Lester’s gem today with a chance to send the Royals packing on the wrong end of a 3-game sweep. From a talent perspective, it’s a mismatch the likes of which you rarely see at the Major League level – Beckett should dominate the AAA lineup he’ll face this afternoon. I’ll be “watching” with interest to see how he follows up Lester’s performance – I’ve got a hunch that the competitor in him will be motivated to show the Nation that the new kid’s still got some learning to do. Just in case, it'd be nice if the Sox bats show up with more than the 3 runs per game they've laid on the Royals in the first 2 games of this set.

T-minus 18 hours before our annual pilgrimage to the sun, surf, and (apparently) tropical storms of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Enjoy the time away from MLC – I’m sure we’ll return to regale you with epic tales of debauchery and heroic manliness. Or tales of laying around the house drinking beer and playing poker. Too early to tell.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Life Is Grand

Game 93 – Mets

Mets 8, Reds 3
Record: 56-37

And life is grand
And I will say this at the risk of falling from favor
With those of you who have appointed yourselves
To expect us to say something darker

-- Camper van Beethoven

Yep, things are pretty good these days, and by “these days,” I mean the past few days when the grand slams just keep on coming. Actually, though, now that I consider it, it is really good living now for those of us who bought property in the Township when land was dirt cheap a few years back. And I don’t think it’s such a crime to say so.

Our job description – as Mets fans, bloggers, lunatics who not only bleed royal blue and blaze orange but whose bruises and scars all faintly resemble Mr. Met – mandates that we not get too high on the club’s midseason successes. We must keep an eye on the horizon and a mouth to the megaphone, heralding problems tremendous or tiny that just might stand in the way of long-term greatness for this club. Now, this practice can be a slippery slope toward the mud bank of “those guys” – the fringe fans whose every outrageous rant of a post begins with a self-absorbed “I” and ends with a venom-filled “sucks” hurled in some poor Met’s direction. (If only they’d confine their claptrap to those two words, it’d be a more honest – and really, no less grammatically correct than usual – assessment of things. But I digress; these folks are in the minority and a far too easy point-blank target for ridicule.) But I do agree with a continuing evaluation of the roster for the duration of the season, and there is much road left to hoe.

That said, the failure to pause periodically at a roadside saloon and take in the picturesque dusk (also Met-colored) with a tall glass in one hand and your best hoe by your side . . . well, that’d make this entire project a joyless exercise in self-torture. I’ve got a steep aversion to any part of that last clause, so this is my pause.

The New York offensive pattern in tonight’s game was reminiscent of Sunday evening’s contest; a couple of solo home runs preceded a Carlos Beltran grand slam that blew the game open. Okay, so there weren’t two grand slams, but what can you do? They’re slipping.
More notable was a fine outing by youngster Mike Pelfrey. The rookie avoided the serious threats of a potent Cincy lineup, a miniature ballpark, and gruesome New York Post headlines involving “bats” and his surname by working six solid innings tonight. Hands were on hairpieces in the Township tonight as the neighborhood exhaled deeply in unison at the rare sharp start by a call-up. No pressure, Pelf, but good luck – we’re all counting on you.

X-Stachio Nut – you didn’t think you’d like them either, admit it – combined for a 4-for-8 night with two taters, a pair of ribbies, and a nice sacrifice bunt. Xavier Nady seems to draw the occasional, brutal hatred post in the Mets ‘sphere, and I’m not seeing it. His game has a few issues, sure. His defense is somewhat holey, some of his wild swings unholy. But he has legitimate pop, a real right-fielder’s arm, and a knack for getting it done when it matters. It’s predominantly unquantified intuition on my part, but I’m still singing “Play Nady Play” while they tear him apart.

Jose Valentin mostly gets mocked for his moustache. Keep on truckin’, dudes.

One inverse shout-out from my rose garden here tonight . . . what’s up with Carlos Delgado’s “defense” lately? He had several grounders whiz by his ankles for base hits while he labored even to wave a glove at them, prompting me to holler (at the television) something about “the reflexes of a cat . . . erpillar.” Then, in a crucial spot, he had a sharp but playable one carom off him towards second – quickly enough for Valentin to snag it and fire it back at Delgado, who did cover first. Glad he made the heady play, glad the Mets seemed to be getting the bounces once again, not glad that he brought to mind images of Mo Vaughn at first base. I guess we overlooked it when he was creaming the ball, but it stands out more when he’s flailing away in the batter’s box all night.

We’ll gloss over that one quickly, however. I don’t know if a baseball season is about the journey or the destination more, but for now, listen to Mr. Lowery. Life is grand. Damn the instincts otherwise.


Game 91 – Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Royals 4
Record: 55-36

I snapped. It happens once or twice every season, and last night, after 4 days of indifferent baseball that coincided with 4 days of peace and quiet in my house (albeit lonely peace and quiet) I lost it with the Red Sox. The results were surprisingly refreshing.

My wife took the kids to see her parents last week, returning last night just a few minutes before Tim Wakefield threw out the game’s first pitch. My daughters, 4 and 2 years of age, were a lethal combination of overtired and overexcited when they walked in the door (and cute, can’t forget cute). Joyous hugs turned into frenzied screaming became earsplitting crying in the span of about 15 minutes.

In a case of baseball imitating life, Timmy Wake’s outing paralleled the chaos in my living room neatly, as a tidy first inning was followed in the next frame by a bogus hit batsman, a seeing eye grounder, 2 walks, and a Joey Gathright squib single to give the Royals a 3-0 lead. Fuck it, I’m done. And off I went to throw the girls into the tub, fully prepared to not watch any more baseball for the evening.

An hour or so later, girls fast asleep and my blood pressure moderated slightly, I took a deep breath and flipped back to NESN. 4-0 Royals. These asshats are gonna lose to the Kansas City Fucking Royals. I can’t watch this.

Another 30 minutes or so passed, and I was content to read Seth Mnookin’s Feeding the Monster, sating my Sox addiction with the story of John W. Henry’s purchase of the Sox and the subsequent tale of the rise and near fall of baseball’s most unique front office. Curiosity got the better of me though, and I turned quickly back to the game, finger poised on the recall button, fully ready to exhale another expletive and leave the Sox for dead. Lo and behold, the game was tied at 4, and Manny Ramirez was at the plate with nobody out in the 8th inning and the go-ahead run on 3rd.

I changed channels for an instant, as if to make a point to the Sox that I can quit any time I want, then turned back in time to watch Manny bring home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to left. Continuing the parallel themes, I made a similar point to a bottle of wine while my family was out of town, leaving an empty glass on the coffee table for a full 15 minutes on Saturday night – taught that sumbitch a lesson.

With the Sox properly chastened, I deigned to watch the final frame and ended the evening 180 degrees from where I’d started after Jonathan Papelbon blew away Doug Mientkiewicz on a pop to the catcher to end the game. From clinically insane to the picture of stability in 3 short hours. Maybe NESN could use that as a tag line.

(Oh, and speaking of NESN, watch this space for a profanity-laced rant in the next several days if they don’t reverse their recently adopted policy of blacking out pre- and post-game coverage for non-local subscribers. Every other regional sports network has paid the appropriate fees to MLB to continue to provide full content to their satellite-based subscribers outside their region. I’ll give NESN a few days to come to their senses and then I’ll let loose an ineffectual stream of bile that’ll knock your socks right off.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

New York Minute

Games 90 through 92 – Mets

Mets 6, Cubs 3
Cubs 9, Mets 2
Mets 13, Cubs 7
Record: 55-37

Just about the time Rob was penning his latest post, I was feeling precisely the same way about the Mets that he felt about the Sox. With the Metropolitans down 5-0, looking like they were heading toward dropping the series to the hapless Cubs, all I could think about was the massive pile-up of media scribes who have already awarded the division to them. From New York dailies with their fingers supposedly on the pulse of the club to Podunk publications who have effortlessly written off the division at its halfway point, there was unanimity in the high praise of all things New York Mets over the Break. And as of the middle innings of last night’s game, it appeared that no collection of people had been reading such material with more interest than the Mets themselves.

For a pastime that is a marathon of mostly shallow-grade hills and dales, as Rob noted, it’s peculiar that momentum – and the flurry of sentiments that are derived from it – can change so dramatically, so quickly. Frustration and ire became pleasantness, then awe in mere minutes. Such is baseball, strange to say.

For the first three innings, the Mets seemed completely helpless in the quest to solve the puzzle of Chicago pitcher Sean Marshall. Meanwhile, the Cubs batters took a chapter from a legendary but unnamed Chicagoan, leaving “Bad, Bad” El Duque looking like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone. (Kudos to Darren Oliver and an array of relievers, Errant Heilman excepted, for stopping the bleeding.) My agitation was growing as I watched the Mets’ lackluster effort against the Cubs on the heels of their coronation as the NL’s best team. Meanwhile, the Braves, after leaving the city of San Diego as shell-shocked as they’d been since CBS pulled the plug on “Simon & Simon,” seem to be tiptoeing towards making things interesting. (Yes, I’m not glossing over a 12-game lead, but it’s not out of the question, especially when every day brings more doubt about the New York rotation.)

After a couple of Met homers served only to make me gripe that they were of the solo variety, the top of the sixth started slowly but quickly became an avalanche of Met offense. The Cubs decided to remind the Mets that it was no accident that they were 35-55, with former MLC subject Todd Walker botching a pair of plays that kept things rolling along. Juan Pierre missed a tough diving play and the outbound wind picked up even more, setting the stage for . . . well, for what happened. First, Cliff Floyd took an outside pitch over the left-field bricks for a grand slam to give the Mets a 6-5 lead. Then the Mets loaded the bases again, plating a run in the process. Then Carlos Beltran took an outside pitch over the left-field bricks for a grand slam to give the Mets an 11-5 lead. Two batters later, David Wright hit an opposite field tater to add another pair of runs. 6-2 became 13-6 in the blink of an eye, and the storm cloud dissipated instantly. And there was much rejoicing.

In truth, there is still plenty to fret about in Metville today. The three Met starters over the weekend – at this time, the top three arms in the active rotation – were decent, half-decent, and disastrous, respectively. Pedro “The Riddler” Martinez seems to be carrying around more question marks than ever. Young fireballer Henry Owens was knocked around so hard on Saturday that he woke up in AA. Rumors continue to swirl about acquiring a starter, and they make me simultaneously eager and anxious. Reyes’s finger, Beltran’s knee, Delgado’s foot (the one between his bat and the ball much of the time) . . . it’s reasons for doubt to at least knock on the door.

Keeping worries at bay, however, is a Met team that continues to find new, different, and often creative ways to win. Last night was a fireworks display. Not sure what’s ahead, but it should be interesting, and a single inning of play last night has me looking forward to it with anticipation rather than dread. Plus, a dosage of appreciation was spoon-fed to everyone in Mets Township last night –wow, is it nice not to be a Cubs fan right now.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Long Way Down

Games 88 through 90 - Red Sox

A's 15, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 7, A's 0
A's 8, Red Sox 1
Record: 54-36

Red Sox Nation and most of the Boston media spent the All-Star break in the throes of an epidemic of self-congratulatory blathering. Emergency rooms all over New England reported a series of dislocated shoulders and swollen lips from all the backpatting and horn-tooting. The AL East was a foregone conclusion - the only mystery was whether the Yankees would miss the playoffs or catch one of the teams that lead the Central for a Wild Card berth. Unfortunately, it sure as heck seems that the 25 men that actually have the most say in the matter believed the hype way too much and way too early.

The A's aren't a bad team, but they aren't as good as the Sox, either. In taking 3 of 4 in Fenway, though, they were certainly sounder than their hosts. If it weren't for a sterling and desperately needed performance by Curt Schilling on Saturday, the Sox would find themselves trailing the suddenly resurgent Yankees. The Sox' pitching troubles were once again exposed against the A's, as Ebby Calvin was shelled for 7 earned runs on Friday and Kyle Snyder couldn't get out of the 5th inning today. David Wells' suprising rehab progress passes for good news these days when it comes to the rotation, which puts the Boston 9 in a much more precarious position then last week's optimism may have anticipated.

I missed today's game because of family obligations, which is probably for the best. That said, I'm feeling fractionally less angst than I expected I might. The baseball season is a study in peaks and valleys, and even as I hurl invective screenward from my seat on the couch during games, I still remain condfident in the Sox' chances at making a run at the postseason. The A's series may serve as a much-needed wakeup call for a team that's 3-8 in its last 11 against AL opposition - the Fool's Gold of interleague play being the only reason they're still in first. Though that's undoubtedly true, the fact remains that the Sox are in first with time to right the ship.

If I'm back here in 3 days trying to rationalize a series loss to the Royals, you have my permission to send out a search party for the guy that's assumed my identity.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bad to the Bone

Game 87 - Red Sox

A's 5, Red Sox 4 (11)
Record: 53-34

Not much to say after the Sox' 2nd consecutive nutpunch of a loss. No reason to lose this game. Mark Loretta's error in the 7th will be singled out by the Nation, but although it was a big gaffe and it allowed the A's to score 2 runs to tie the game at 3, bigger goats abide.

The offense managed to draw 11 walks from A's pitchers - and none of them turned into runs. Willie Harris sealed his DFA papers by getting picked off first with nobody out in the bottom of the 9th. Terry Francona chose to pitch to Frank Thomas with a base open and 2 out in the top of the 11th, and the Big Hurt's single gave the A's a crucial insurance run. Jon Lester only gave the Sox 5 innings, which in turn meant that Julian Tavarez was on the hill in the 11th. As the Smiths sang, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Shitty loss, probably the worst of the season. At least there's another game today.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Games 87 through 89 – Mets

Marlins 3, Mets 2
Mets 17, Marlins 3
Mets 7, Marlins 6

Record at the All-Star Break: 53-36, Up 12 Games in the NL East

Well, just before the Mets’ season resumes play, I’m going to toss in a quick “state of the union” to counter my partner’s stellar work somewhere below. Although the outcome of the Midsummer Classic irked me, I won’t presume its result will have any bearing on the Metropolitans' fate, nor will I let it detract from one of the most enjoyable half-seasons in Mets history.

I’ll just jump right in here with minimal further preface; I’ll only say that lately the range of my creativity seems about as broad as Miguel Cabrera’s range at third base, so I won’t go far beyond the musical theme that’s been the tapestry draped on the back wall of MLC this year. I’ll be making this up as I go, so bear with me and we’ll see if I can make anything of this concept.

How to gauge the Mets at the Break? Well, if the New York Mets roster were comprised of musical acts . . .

. . . we’d certainly have one future candidate for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’d be an all-star rock and roll quartet probably featuring golden boy David Wright as frontman, drawing most of the media attention but backing it up completely. His obvious vocal talent would be matched only by sizzling guitar maestro Jose Reyes, a flashy, eye-catching wonder who rips through chords at a record pace and challenges his mates to keep up. That they do, as rhythm guitar and bass man Carlos “Ring My” Beltran, somehow overshadowed in this band, churns out steadily amazing sounds while Duke LoDuca mans the drum kit and leads from behind the scenes. If this group were to remain intact (always a big if in rock & roll), they could be kicking out this brilliant output for some time. Only one or two need to be “on” to carry the band, but if you catch them when all four are clicking, you’ll know you’ve really seen something. This act could be called something like The Clutch, with songs like “Walk Off” and “Legging It Out.”

Okay, we might have a few more sounds at Shea. We’ll keep it going for now.

Of course, Carlos Delgado would have been a part of The Clutch for some time, but he parted ways with them a short while back (creative differences). The Carlos Delgado Phenomenon has issued some mellow R&B guitar noodling of late (“Donning The Golden Sombrero” was an absolute dog of a record), but the fans know he contributes far more when he muscles up and plugs in. Look for a possible reunion with his old group as the summer wears on.

I also very much enjoy the sounds of Endgame, a blaring metal band. The outfit is carried by lead man Billy Wagner, hollering out his anthems while playing his enormous axe. Duaner Sanchez and Aaron Heilman fill out the trio, capably supporting BWAG on “7th 8th 9th” and “Lowdown Mowdown.” They’ll issue a few duds, like their insipid cover of “Closing Time,” but they go beyond solid and represent a significant step up from the previous dearth of good hard rock.

Swerving towards the other end of the dial, the Adult Contemporary niche is brilliantly filled by piano man T. M. Glavine. His recent renaissance has been a return to his early days, best evidenced by more rocking tunes like “Added a Curve” and “10 Early Wins.” He’ll still occasionally show his age, nearing John Tesh territory with his rendition of Wang Chung’s “To Live and Die in L.A.,” but he represents the best of the genre, as far as I’m concerned.

Another leader in the singer/songwriter vein is, of course, Peter Martin, a.k.a. Pedro Martinez. “The Dominican Neil Young” is a legend in his own right, but recent years have found him more erratic than in his heyday. He’s still a marvel to watch live, even as he opts to play new works of questionable merit like “Toe Hip Labrum” or “Please Come to Boston and Beat Me Around Like a Slobodan Milosevic Effigy” instead of age-old classics like “Wicked Slurve” or “Horsehide Earring.” You just feel like he’s got another vintage record in him at any time.

Unsung punk act The Minions are surprisingly listenable these days. While clearly on the short end of the talent stick, the effort these guys put into every show is worth noting. Woody Woodward mans the mic but can play every instrument in the van. Chav Chavez only knows a few chords but hits them with impressive results most every time. Cass Castro is the burly big man banging out the beat in steady time. And new addition Frank Franco, an old blues musician, bops the bass beat with a casual cool that brings an unexpected boost to this otherwise straight-ahead group. A low risk/high reward result from these lads thus far. If you can dig up “Day Game After a Night Game” or “PH-Balanced,” you’ll undoubtedly like what you find.

Speaking of surprising, there’s no way you would have otherwise convinced me that a kazoo, tuba, & banjo trio would make for good music, but the corps of Xavier Nady, Jose Valentin, and Eli Marrero, who call themselves X-Stachio Nut, have somehow made it work. Their alternative alternative alternative rock act, with wacky tunes such as “Smoke & Mirrors,” “I Told You I Didn’t Suck,” and “Are You Sure They Can’t Test For This?” draws heckling from the purists among the music fans, but the proof is in the pudding, or something like that.

Also pleasing to the ears is a new 80’s cover band, Ollie & the Sidearms. You know you’re not getting the cream of the crop in this genre, but you can still like what you hear. With Ollie Oliver on lead guitar/vox and Chad “Rad” Bradford and Pedro “Feliz Navidad” Feliciano on twin synths, their versions of “Walking in L.A.,” “Cruel Summer,” “WHIP It” and “Hold It Now, Hit It” have kept me smiling all spring and summer so far.

Of course, not all of the sounds emanating from the clubhouse have been a joy to hear…

Hip-hop legend Cliff Floyd, a.k.a. “HBP,” has fallen on some hard times. It feels like he hasn’t had a hit in years, it seems like eons since his classic “Bombing Anaheim,” and his once cutting-edge production now sounds dated. He’s still got more talent in his pinky toe than most urban acts can cram into a room full of bodies, so I refuse to believe he’s done wowing us. He’s a guy, when the setting is right, than can knock one out of the park, if you will. It just happens a lot less these days.

Others are doing a better job, but I simply can’t sit through one of their albums. Steve “Tex” Trachsel’s slow-footed neo-country work is one of those. He’s clearly a solid talent, but the time-consuming, plodding twang of his sappy ballads is too much to bear. If you’re flipping around, you’ll discover he’s the best thing going in the genre these days, but if I have to endure “Throw Over (Part 7)” or “I’m Takin’ My Time, You’re Takin’ Your Base” one more time, I might break something.

Meanwhile, there are entire classes of music I’m just not digging. Take for example the carousel of performers in the techno outfit Staff Infekshun. DJ’s Sinister Bannister, Maine Man, Pelf, and the Pair o’ Cubans have all taken their turn at the helm, looping their bloops and blips and dunts and dunts, and as I took it in, it all seemed like one big amorphous blob of the same mediocre sound over and over. Not one song jumps out at me – don’t get me wrong, it’s not God-awful music I have to turn off, but it’s not the lift I was looking for, either. It’s going to either take a new mix-master or a renewed approach from one of these cats to get me back into it.

And what do the kids see in this young artist Heath "Clang" Bell? They all love him, but I hear crap like “Bleacher-Bound Catapult” and “Nice Nice BABIP” and I just don’t get it. Am I just getting too old?

Finally, it hardly warrants mentioning in the same post, but how about that horrible boy-band Fiasco? With Lima Time, Jorge Julio, Vic Zam, and Simply Kaz on various synthesizers and Casio recorders, this quartet of silence-destroying ear invaders stands out as the only wretched blemish in a summer of otherwise predominantly pleasant listening. Fortunately, their label tore up their contract, but the damage was done to my eardrums. I hope I never, ever again hear the a capella version of “Baby, No One Knows How Much I Love You But Everyone Knows How Much I Suck.”

And with that, I have to slag the program director and on-air DJ just a tad. I mean, how do Captain Minaya and DJ Willie defend some of these acts? It frightens me to think they might not have learned from some of their errors in judgment, but I’ll not give up on them yet. They’ve compiled a half-season’s worth of mostly toe-tapping tunes for us music aficionados so far, and there’s something to be said for that.

As for baseball . . . hell, I’ve got no time for baseball now, what with all the music to hear. You’ll have to figure out the state of the Mets yourselves.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Multitasking while watching the latest installment of Jon Lester's Year of Living Dangerously, I noted with interest the following snippet from this week's Sports Illustrated:

The Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club, a predominantly gay bar in Cubs country, a
few blocks from Wrigley Field, is "honoring" White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen -
who sparked a furor by calling Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jay Mariotti a "f-----
fag" last month - with the Effen Ozzie GuillenTini, a martini made with Effen
vodka and "a whole lot of fruit." Kit Kat general manager Kami Cantrell
says the libation is truly an homage to Ozzie and that the Mariotti comments
were blown out of proportion. "If the word fag offends you," she says,
"you're too new to the scene."

Inasmuch as we here at MLC said the same thing a few short weeks ago, one of the following is true: we're really, really gay; or, we're highly evolved 21st century men, tolerant of all our fellow human beings (with the possible exceptions of Alex Rodriguez and Peter Angelos), defenders of the downtrodden, champions of the oppressed. You be the judge.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Space Cowboy

If you get NESN, you've gotta find some time to watch Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey, a documentary about the legendary (for a lot of reasons) Bill Lee and his continued love affair with baseball. It is so, so cool to see someone love the game as much as he does. I hope I'm still playing when I'm 58. I hope, but it's not bloody likely.

Forever Young

Looks like the Mets will be coming to Fenway for the first 2 games of the World Series. You've got Trevor Hoffman and Bud Selig to thank, Whit.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thunder Road

Games 84 through 86 – Red Sox

Red Sox 7, White Sox 2
Red Sox 9, White Sox 6
White Sox 6, Red Sox 5 (19)
Record: 53-33

Despite yesterday’s blown tire of a loss to the Pale Hose, the Soxwagon pulls into the pits for the All-Star break with just about every cylinder firing. After rebounding to take 2 of 3 from Chicago, the Sox lead the Yankees by 3 in the division race. While that’s assuredly not a massive gulf, the alternatives posed by parallel Sox/Sox and Yankees/Rays series’ were much grimmer than the actual outcome. Psychologically, the Sox (or, more accurately, the mental cases that make up the Nation) are on solid footing heading into the break.

Through the season’s first “half”, the Sox’ motor hummed along as well as most observers would have expected, aided substantial by the high-test octane of interleague play. Aside from a handful of speedbumps (noted below), the backseat drivers of the Nation have very little about which to complain. Here’s what the season looks like from this passenger’s viewpoint:

The Lamborghinis

Sox fans have become very, very spoiled by David Ortiz’ ongoing heroics, so much so that we’re in danger of losing sight of Manny Ramirez’ continued excellence. Papi’s walk-off theatrics and team-record 31 pre-break homers are well documented, but Manny’s quietly posted a better OPS (1.049 to .997) and not fallen prey to the usual Manny passion plays that dominate some part of every season. (Despite, I might add, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck’s best efforts on Saturday to convict Manny of a capital crime for not wanting to play in the All-Star game.)

The biggest story of the first half, and the most important in both the short and long terms, is the emergence of a new generation of talented young arms from the Sox’ farm system. Rookies Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, and Jon Lester have combined to shore up both the bullpen and the rotation when such fortification was desperately required. Papelbon’s been spectacular – the run he allowed to the White Sox in yesterday’s game was the first he’s given up on the road all season – but he was at least expected to contribute meaningfully this season. Hansen and Delcarmen have stepped in to earn important setup roles in the ‘pen, while Lester filled a gaping breach in the rotation in June, going 4-0 and keeping the Sox in all his starts despite marginal command. The heat of the pennant race will test the both the poise and the stuff of these 4, but the early returns commend the youngsters’ preternatural mental makeup nearly as much as their power arms.

Aside from the kids on the pitching staff, the emergence of Kevin Youkilis as a consistent weapon from the leadoff spot and an above-average defender has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises. Youks’ Moneyball-aided celebrity had outpaced his on-field production during his first 2 big-league seasons, in part because of Terry Francona’s allegiance to Kevin Millar (a reliance that, in hindsight, sure may have cost the Sox the division title last year as Youks languished in Pawtucket while Millar told funny jokes and sucked donkeys at the plate and in the field). Now, with an opportunity to play every day, Youks has posted a terrific .407 OBP, chipped in with a plethora of clutch hits, hustled his ass off, and played Gold Glove-caliber first base. On top of all that, he’s a goofy-looking, unpretentious Everyman who’s quickly becoming the next in a long line of blue collar Fenway heroes.

Finally, the Sox’ defense has been a revelation. I remember writing something in the precursor to MLC that decried the Sox’ ham-handed approach to glovework and suggested that they’d be equally effective with pots and pans on their hands. Trust me, it was comedic gold. Now, though, the Sox have the fewest errors in the American League, and are making the difficult look routine, especially on the right side of the infield. Hell, the defense has been so good that it convinced Theo Epstein that Jason Johnson could be rehabilitated – and that’s one hell of trick.

The Beemers

Just a step below the ultra-performance vehicles listed above, mostly because of age, Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell have been reliable, steady contributors over the first half. The Nation expected Schilling to bounce back from last year’s injury-riddled campaign, and the loquacious right has done just that, leading the staff in both performance and presence. All we asked from Lowell, though, was that we wouldn’t have to release him and eat his $8m contract. Far from it, with his 31 doubles putting him close to record pace and his spectacular defense. Lowell and Alex Gonzalez combine to give the Sox the majors’ best right-side glove tandem

The Pickup Trucks

Steady and unspectacular for the most part, these guys are nonetheless doing their jobs and carrying their share of the load.

Mark Loretta started abysmally at the plate, but he’s quietly brought his average up over .300 and his OPS to an acceptable .738. He’s an All-Star, for what that’s worth, but he’s also been rock-solid in the field and turns a quick double play. Another in a long, long line of unassuming pros at second base in Boston.

Trot Nixon’s power numbers are down, but he’s getting on base like a machine (yesterday’s 0-for-9 notwithstanding), posting a .415 OBP. You could make the argument that he’d be a better no. 2 hitter than his current 5 or 6 slot, but that’s a small quibble. He’s even hit lefties semi-decently this year.

Coco Crisp has flashed a brilliant glove and an adequate bat in his first year in Boston, and probably more importantly has not made a peep about being demoted in the batting order after Youks proved his value in the top spot. There’s a little sumpin’-sumpin’ about Coco – I think he’s poised for a big 2nd half.

Although he’s self-immolated twice in the past week, Mike Timlin’s been Mike Timlin for most of the first half, anchoring the bullpen amidst the chaos of Papelbon’s insane start and the veteran arms growing ancient before our eyes. At some point, Timlin’s age has to start to show, but he’s offering no signs that it’ll be this year.

Finally, the Sox reserves have contributed in key spots all season long. Alex Cora’s almost as good as Gonzalez at short and continues to get key hits. Gabe Kapler fought back from a major injury and has been a stud in his short stint. Doug Mirabelli’s struggled a little bit behind the plate and at the bat, but looks to be coming around after a solid performance against the Rays. Wily Mo Pena had some moments early in the season, and will have a chance to play a big role down the stretch. Even Adam Stern, long since back in Pawtucket, saved a game during the season’s first 2 weeks with a sprawling catch. We'll just sweep Willie Harris under the rug here, if you don't mind.

1992 Jaguar

A class all to himself, Josh Beckett has been the epitome of the stylish roadster that can’t stay out of the shop. Soooo much potential, such electric stuff, and so many goddamn gopher balls. 27 homers allowed after another 3-bomb torching by the White Sox (in a game the BoSox won!), including 23 on the road. He’s so close to giving the Sox the league’s best 1-2 punch (okay, 2nd-best after Minnesota’s Santana and Liriano), but he can’t get over the longball hump.

In Need of Jumper Cables

Jason Varitek caught all 19 innings of yesterday’s loss, and in so doing fairly well encapsulated his whole season. Ineffective at the plate (0-for-8 with a walk), and stoic in his resolve behind the plate. I’m starting to seriously wonder if Tek’s hit the wall, careerwise. His numbers have been mediocre, at best (.386 SLG – blech), but even more worrisome is he way he approaches his plate appearances. On more than a few occasions this season, Tek’s just waived harmlessly at pitches as if he has no objective more pressing than to run back to the dugout to put on his gear. In one particularly pitiful display, the lefty Tek’s front foot seemed to be headed back to the dugout before he swung the bat, setting up a particulary nifty pirouette that followed the inevitable whiff. Tek’s been the heart and soul of the Sox throughout the current Golden Era, but it sure looks like they may have to take him out back and shoot him. How do you like that mixture of metaphor?

I hate to include him here, mostly because he doesn’t deserve it, but recent whispers about Tim Wakefield’s potential back injury move him into this category. If he’s okay to go after the break, he takes his rightful place amongst the core of the squad, eating innings and keeping the Sox in nearly every game he starts.

On Blocks, Rusting

For obvious reasons, these guys have been the real lemons in the Sox’ first-half fleet.

The veteran pitching tandem of Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez have ceded their high-leverage roles to the aforementioned youngsters, and that’ saying something on a Francona-led ballclub. Sadly, though, neither righthander has been remotely dependable. For every great outing – Tavarez’ 4 scoreless innings yesterday stands out – these 2 have turned in 3 miserable ones.

The black hole at the back of the Sox’ rotation is, to me, the single biggest point of concern for the season’s 2nd half. David Wells begat David Pauley begat Kyle Snyder begat Jason Johnson begat much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair in the Nation. Matt Clement’s head-scratching headcasery exacerbated the issue – if Clement were capable of holding down the no. 4 role, Jon Lester’s an easy fit into the 5th slot. Theo Epstein’s right to say that the Sox won’t mortgage the future to find a replacement level arm at the trade deadline, but should they fail to figure something out, they’re looking at likely losses every 5th day. And that’s not a winning prescription.

I suppose Keith Foulke fits here, too, but I’ve thought so infrequently about him since he went on the DL that it’s hard to consider him part of the team. Be nice to have another reliable arm in the pen come September, but I’m not counting on it being Foulke.

All in all, that’s a lot more positive than negative – which makes sense, I suppose, for a team that’s on pace to win 100 games despite only playing 43% of its games at home. The Sox play 44 of their final 76 games in Fenway, where they’re 27-10 this season, good for a .730 winning percentage. If they keep that up, they’ll only need to play .468 ball on the road to clinch a 100-win season. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts, blah blah blah, but the bottom line is this: if Tito can keep the car on the road for the next 2 months, the Sox are once again in position to make a serious postseason run. At the end of the day, that’s all any fan can ask.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Time After Time

Games 85 & 86 - Mets

Mets 7, Pirates 5
Marlins 7, Mets 3
Record: 51-35

Guy #6: I know his ERA is sky-high, and 50,000 Mets fans are screaming against it, but I think I'll bring Jose Lima back up for another start.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Every Breath You Take

Game 83 – Red Sox

Red Sox 12, Devil Rays 5
Record: 51-32

Though they tried mightily to make this game interesting, Tim Wakefield and Javier Lopez were no match for the combined forces of David Ortiz, Craig Hansen, and the 2 Mannys, Ramirez and Delcarmen. The Sox salvaged the trip to Tampa, putting the game away with a late flurry (courtesy of a Papi grand slam) and setting up an intriguing 3-gamer with the White Sox in advance of the All-Star break.

The Sox never trailed last night, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t pace nervously for most of the game. Manny Ramirez got things started in the bottom of the 1st with a textbook at-bat, working a 1-2 count full and staying balanced enough to blast a changeup into the left-field seats. Never one to accept prosperity gladly, Wake gave a run back in the 4th on an Aubrey Huff homer – right on the heels of Don Orsillo reciting Huff’s career 4-for-45 performance against the Sox’ knuckleballer. Raise your hand if you yelled at Orsillo after Huff’s shot, as if his words caused Wake to leave a pitch knee high on the inside half.

Doug Mirabelli gave his battery mate another 2-run cushion with a high-arching blast to start the top of the 5th, and Tampa Bay rookie starter James Shields learned a major league lesson the hard way later in the inning when he walked Mark Loretta with 2 outs to bring Papi to the plate. No sooner had I explained the error of the young hurler’s ways to my cat then Papi defeated Joe Maddon’s limp-wristed shift by blasting a ball into the left-field seats to give the Sox a 5-1 advantage. Yeah, that’s right, I just called Joe Maddon a fag. Send me to sensitivity training.

Carl Crawford, 1-man Red Sox Wrecking Crew, got the Rays back to within 3 in the bottom of the same inning, hitting a flutterball so far that it never came down. Literally. It got stuck in the catwalk suspended above the right-field seats, causing Remy and Orsillo to go into a not-so-veiled trashing of Tampa’s execrable facsimile of a ballpark.

After Alex Gonzalez’ triple plated Mirabelli from first (to the immense delight of his teammates, who lined up to provide the burly catcher with water after his tortugan gallop), the Sox led 6-2 in the top of the 6th, and I started to breathe. The lesson, as always: I’m an idiot.

Wake snapped me right out of my torpor by giving up a 2-run laser to Jorge Cantu and his big-ass ears. He was quickly replaced by Hansen, who backed up Tuesday’s stellar strike-out-the-side performance with a scoreless inning. He got 2 outs sandwiched around a walk to Julio Lugo in the 7th before Tito removed him. Enter Lopez with 1 job to do: retire the lefty Huff and strand Lugo on 2nd. Exit Lopez a few pitches later with 1 job left undone and the Rays within 1 run. Delcarmen came on in perhaps the most pressure-filled moment in his young career, and recorded a strikeout to end the inning. And so continues the care and feeding of the future of the Sox pitching staff.

The Sox still led, 6-5, after a scoreless 8th punctuated by a rock-solid effort from Mike Timlin. They loaded the bases with nobody out, Loretta once again walking in front of Papi. The ursine lefty’s blast into the stands in left-center was nothing if not predictable, letting the air out of the Rays’ sails and my lungs as I was able to breathe for the first time in 4 innings. The Sox tacked on 2 meaningless runs to complete the scoring, and since Jonathan Papelbon was warm, he came on to get some work and turned in a ho-hum 1-2-3 inning.

29 homers now for Papi, and 82 RBI in 83 games. If he’s not the mid-season AL MVP, then Ozzie Guillen must be doing the voting. (Honestly, how Carl Crawford, Travis Hafner, and Francisco Liriano don’t make the AL All-Star squad is beyond my limited comprehension. At least Scott Podsednik’s staying home. But I digress.) The media will make a great deal about the face-off between Papi and Jim Thome over the next few days, but the pitching matchups are pretty stellar, too. Jon Lester tries to harness his wildness tonight against Mark Buehrle (this may not be pretty, as the Sox have demonstrated a consistent inability to hit lefties this week). Josh Beckett takes on Freddy Garcia in Saturday’s game, and Curt Schilling closes the season’s first half against Jose Contreras.

Even though it’s only a 3-game set, there’s a lot at stake for the Sox as they head to Chicago. The Yankees are in Tampa, and are unlikely to flail as badly as the Sox did against the Rays. The Chisox are playing great ball at the moment and will be pumped up to play the Sox at home in the league’s marquee pre-break matchup. The good Sox need to bring some focus into this series, lest all the strong work of the season’s first 3+ months come undone in 3 days.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sir Duque

Game 84 – Mets

Mets 5, Pirates 0
Record: 50-34

Scoring early and often was more than a characteristic of the victories the Mets racked up before the recent slide, it was a large part of why they won. Then, during those beat-downs in Beantown and the Bronx, when the Mets couldn’t score in the first inning, it was if they didn’t know how to proceed from there. They were baffled by their own early inefficiency, and that bewilderment translated into stumbling through a hazy nine innings of lackluster baseball. I love that they’d come to expect more of themselves, but it was painful to watch.

Last night, the Metbats were back at it again, piling up hits early and . . . just early. They knocked around Kip Wells (back from arterial transplant surgery in March; modern medicine is amazing) in the first for five runs, but once they saw El Duque start mowing through the Pittsburgh lineup, they felt no need to humiliate the Bucs. I guess that’s what it was, because they didn’t collect another hit after that first inning. Two walks, and a whole slew of grounders and flyouts. It wasn’t much to watch after that premier frame, but it was nice to see Hernandez cool down a surprisingly hot-hitting Pirate squad. Oh, well, we’ll take it (we seem to utter every time we beat this club).

Tonight Steve Trachsel tries to stabilize further the questionable rotation situation, picking up where El Duque left off last night. He faces youngster Tom Gorzelanny, a fresh-faced Pirate rookie with one start under his belt this season. That gives me a peaceful, easy feeling, but making me feel less comfortable is (a) the fact that his one start was a solid no-decision against an offensive juggernaut in the Detroit Tigers, plus (b) the fact that Trachsel “disturbed his groin” last time out, a description that in turn disturbs me. He says it’s okay and that he’ll be fine.

Speaking of which, the Mets trainers are apparently being phased out in a cost-cutting strategy. In addition to Trachsel clearing himself to play tonight, the Mets are waiting for Pedro Martinez to make the final determination as to whether he’ll pitch tomorrow night. Why let managers and general managers make such decisions based on medical staff’s analysis and the player’s input when you can just let players decide for themselves what’s best? I understand that Pedro isn’t just anyone, and I understand that nobody knows Pedro’s body and its limitations better than he does. I also understand that pride in what you do and a commitment to the team can actually work against the best wishes of said team. This is where having the skipper make the final call works best. Get the full scoop on his injury, gauge as best you can the immediate and future needs of the club, and go with your gut. We really don’t need another serious injury followed by Willie Randolph shrugging and quipping, “I had no idea.” It goes back to entries #1 and #2 of my last post. Sit Pedro down and take charge of this team, Willie.

Regardless, it was nice to see the Mets put together a couple of wins to begin beating the teams they should beat once again. Can’t get but so swept up in such successes, but it sure beats the hell out of getting throttled, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

You Don't Get Much

Game 82 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 4, Red Sox 1 (in progress)

This just in...the 2 teams that have given up on Jason Johnson in the last 2 years weren't wrong. I can't believe the Sox are gonna drop 3 straight to these asshats.

Carl Crawford...just...stole...home. So, Johnson makes up for his massive proclivity for suckitude with significant doses of inattention and lack of focus. 5-1, Rays. On the plus side, it is pretty cool to see someone steal home. I can't recall the last time I saw that.

Per SoSH poster 'sonsoftrotnixon', "This game is uglier than a bucket of fuck". Yeah. That's about right. Oh, and the Rays announcers are proving over and over again why they're stuck in that backwater minor league market. It's been nearly a week since I got to hear Jerry Remy's dulcet tones, and I miss that silly fucker and his Wally doll.

Leadoff basehit, stumble around like crack addicts, Varitek flails impotently. Lather, rinse, repeat.

More wisdom from SoSH, this time from 'NYCSox', "This team went from white hot to ice cold in less than 24 hours. Strange game this baseball. "

Sigh. This isn't working. I'm going to go get drunk.

Little Things

Game 83 – Mets

Mets 7, Pirates 6
Record: 49-34

The Township has been amok lately, with the loudest voices wailing away at the recent slide and the proudest voices chastising them for their collective lack of faith, perspective, or support. One sentiment shared by nearly every resident, however, is that the unwelcome return of Jose Lima to the New York Mets bodes acutely ill for the short-term while taking the extended outlook several degrees south. When the kingdom’s court jester is tasked with a significant role in defending the castle, things aren’t quite right in Camelot.

The rotation – if that’s what you want to call this jumbled array of arms – is in shambles right now, thanks to tweaks, pulls, bruises, and horrendous outings. For all of the winter wranglings that made Omar Minaya the toast of the town, we noted even then that starting pitching stood out like a forgotten stepchild. Omar fixed holes in the bullpen and lineup brilliantly, but he not only failed to bolster a moderate staff, he depleted it further. Granted, the Jae Seo for Duaner Sanchez deal looks terrific now, but John Maine + El Duque = Kris Benson doesn’t work out in the Mets’ favor when you can only insert one of them into the game at a time. Moreover, the new era of Moneybag Mets should have meant a free agent of some merit could have been lured Shea-ward. Didn’t happen, and now the Minaya & Randolph Custodial Company is left to clean up the mess. The result has been that, much like a janitor with his huge chain of office keys, the duo is trying the lock with every key on the ring. So far, there hasn’t been a match.

Despite these woes, what the Chicken Littles among our peers didn’t notice (and what the rose-colored homers will overstate) is yesterday’s comeback win, rife with tiny elements to induce optimism. Let’s examine.

Throughout much of the game, the Mets were on that same dismal autopilot they’ve been running on for a while. Collect a few hits, plate even fewer, drop a ball or two, and play largely uninspired baseball. By the time I bothered to tune in – hey, Independence Day means many things to many people, and to me it meant a day independent of being irritated by my baseball team – it was 6-4. Almost immediately, however, everything began to change. Giving myself credit for the heroics, that’s just me being me.

A pair of walks, a slap double the other way (the Endy Special – he warrants more of a shift than Delgado does), and a clutch opposite-field single by Xavier Nady illustrated a return to the patience and precision that helped carry the Mets to so many early wins. Taking pitches, hitting the ball where it’s pitched, and running aggressively – doing the little things rather than taking Reggie Jackson body-twisting hacks in hopes of a three-run game-changer. It was as promising a half-inning as there has been in weeks.

Most positive of all, though, was the iffy, Met-swaying call by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez when Chavez slid either into or under the catcher’s mitt before skimming the dish. Replays have offered little conclusive evidence either way; Jim Tracy and the Bucs are convinced they were rooked, while Met coaches, players, and fans are sure the right call was made. I myself remain gratefully doubtful. All I do know is that this was one of those calls that the Mets didn’t get in years past, did get in April/May/early June of this year, and hadn’t caught a whiff of since the first day of summer. Angel Hernandez is known more for his rampant douchebaggery than his penchant for making right or wrong calls, but his track record calling Mets games had me certain he’d punch Chavez out. Then the Mets would have once again (a) squandered an opportunity, (b) run themselves out of an inning, and (c) followed the Manny Acta Windmill into an out. But just when I’d begun calling in a telegram to Mr. Acta (holding is a penalty in most sports STOP not baseball STOP please stop STOP), Angel spread his wings and put the go-ahead run on the board for the Metmen. It’s a little moment that will be long-forgotten a month from now, but these little moments can be huge.

Sure, you might say that actually needing a late rally and a fortunate call to defeat the NL’s scrap heap is fairly feeble. Sure, winning just their second game in eight isn’t necessarily “back on track” for the Mets. Sure, the pitching problems didn’t evaporate with one exciting win. What I’m opting to focus upon today, however, is a return to the New York Mets doing the little things to win ballgames. Like my old chum Jim Infantino (and his Big Ego) sang a few years back, it’s the little things that get you when you weren’t paying attention. To see the Mets refocus their attention to the minutia and watch the breaks instantly slide their way was as refreshing an inning and a half of baseball I’ve witnessed in some time.

But speaking of “Time” . . . nah, I’ll wait until his start is actually imminent before I launch into that one.


Games 80 & 81 – Red Sox

Devil Rays 3, Red Sox 0
Devil Rays 9, Red Sox 6
Record: 50-31

“For any media types wanting to lift some comments from me here, shit fuck shit
fuck shit fuck. Print that.” – Curt Schilling on SoSH following yesterday’s ugly
loss to the Rays

Seems like No. 38 sums up my feelings precisely on the morning after consecutive losses to the cellar-dwelling D-Rays. His specific comments related to his leaving a 2-out fastball over the heart of the plate for Ty Wigginton to blast into the seats to break a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the 7th. Mine are more generic.

Wigginton and Scott Kazmir killed the Sox in their first games post-break (or, post-interleague play, whichever term you prefer). In homage to my favorite Met, the Sox should just tip their caps and call Kazmir their daddy. The erstwhile Met was awesome on Monday, giving up 2 hits and recording 10 K in a complete game effort. Somewhere, a mournful Township weeps not so silently. Especially since today’s paper brings news of Lima Time’s return engagement in Queens.

Despite 2 mediocre performances, the Sox remain 4 games ahead of the Yankees and Blue Jays as they hit the season’s midpoint. For all their well-documented flaws, they’re on pace to win 100 games and they’ve only played 37 games at home. So, try as I might to gin up some full-fledged angst, I must admit that my personal Homeland Security threat level remains at green.

Of course, Jason Johnson goes tonight to try to halt the Sox’ 2-game losing streak, so all bets may be off.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Funky Boss

Games 80 through 82 – Mets

Mets 8, Yankees 3
Yankees 16, Mets 7
Pirates 11, Mets 1
Record: 48-34

Last night’s blowout in the Bronx had everyone mocking or bemoaning the state of the new, new Mets today, and the jeers/fears were somewhat justified. It wasn’t that they lost by a count of 16 to 7 to the universally loathed Bombers, it was how they lost. After knocking Jaret Wright out of the game early with a 4-spot, the Mets saw the Yankees come storming back against the woefully overmatched Alay Soler . . . with “Nero” Randolph fiddling with his moustache all the while, staring blankly at the spectacle as if it were some kind of bad dream he just needed to ride out. Towards the end, most of us were wishing that were the case, or at least wishing that we’d ventured off into dreamland instead of staying up to watch the carnage.

The Yanks piled it on, of course, led by the “Bride of the Yankees,” Alex Rodriguez. When Paul LoDuca barked at A-Rod for supposedly showing up his pitcher, it seemed to be a case of willful misdirection. Nobody saw Soler’s painful struggles more obviously than the Mets’ catcher, and the guy who showed up the young Cuban the most last night was the manager who wouldn’t spare him further humiliation. A wise choice by Paulie to single out the easiest target in the five boroughs rather than create dissent by placing the blame where it was most deserved.

When Willie was standing stoically in the dugout as if he were the warden overseeing Alay Soler’s death by firing squad, I screamed obscenities at him from 500 miles away and felt convinced he was the worst manager in all of baseball. When Joe Morgan began to come down on him, I was less sure of Randolph’s culpability for obvious reasons. When the Township's masses went ballistic on him in game threads, there was more reason to step back and reassess. While I love the pulse of MetLand as taken through the blogging quotient, their twist on Newton’s third law (“for every action there is a not-even-close-to-equal and off-base overreaction”) as a credo makes you take every consensus with a grain of salt. Despite these caveats and a day to apply perspective, all signs still point to Willie Randolph as the most deserving of our ill will.

For as much as Soler disappointed the club with an atrocious outing, he’s a rookie pitcher (sort of) who’s going to have tough nights along the way. A similar feeling goes for Heath Bell. Xavier Nady’s 1-2 punch of failing to notify Jose Valentin that he was getting tagged out at home plus a 4-run doink off his glove to usher in garbage time didn’t make us feel great about him, but it didn’t erode all remaining confidence we had in the guy. The same can’t be said for the Mets manager who appeared bewildered by the way the game unfolded. Willie Randolph seemed as helpless in his role as I was in mine, and that’s a problem. That he apparently had some misguided master plan that involved tonight’s outcome didn’t matter; by night’s end, he’d already lost most of our support.

It didn’t help him that just a few dozen yards away, a negative image of his inaction was on display. Joe Torre didn’t need to see any more of his starter after an inning-plus, and his quick hook shifted the Yank-train back onto the tracks. Meanwhile, Boxcar Willie, our Casey Jones at the lever, had our engine diverging out of control and rolling into a hayfield while he watched along indifferently. Hindsight is 20/20, but let’s not pretend it was sheer luck that led to those results. When the other guys got in trouble, their skipper rolled up his sleeves, made some changes, and did what he could to fix things. It sent a message. When our skipper sat by, letting Soler crumble before us miserably, it also sent a message. White flag waved, series surrendered, let’s slink back to the pathetic National League with our tails ‘tween our legs and try and limp to the division title.

Maybe that’s an overstatement, but when the manager is admittedly worried more about tomorrow’s game against the Pirates than tonight’s against the Yankees, the signal sent is one of “pick your battles” and some sort of strategic concession. The Met team that was finding creative ways to win any ballgame despite any deficit is now appearing to choose when to gut it out and when to simply go out there and take a ration of shame for the team. A few minor injuries – and if anyone doesn’t think the Mets have largely skated on the injury front, just ask the Yankees if they’d like to switch places – have the Mets playing timid.

That is if we’re to believe Willie actually had such a game plan Sunday night. His inability to manage his bullpen, and specifically to know when one of his guys is lacking the stuff or control to get anything done that doesn’t evoke images of the movie “Firestarter” has been shouted from the blogosphere rooftops for as long as he’s been doing it. Every pitcher on the staff is going to have games when they just can’t get it done; it’s not a mere footnote on the respective job descriptions of manager and pitching coach to be able to gauge the pitcher’s performance in real-time and get the most out of him before he catapults the team’s chances to win into the DMZ. I knew Soler was cooked early in that dreadful inning. LoDuca knew it, the other players on the field knew it. Hell, Soler knew it, and he kept shooting quick, darting glances into the dugout like “Really? You want me to stay in?”

I’m not ignoring the fact that there are only so many pitchers on a roster. I’m not ignoring the fact that there are 162 games in a year and that overextending your pen in one could inflict damage that impacts several others. You just have to live by a few simple guidelines.

Wave the proverbial white flag only if you must, but never:
1. In the first third of the game.
2. When you have the lead.
3. When you are losing by a run or two.
4. When you’ve already chased their starter in the second inning.
5. When it means you embarrass a young pitcher.
6. In the name of saving Darren Oliver to start the next day against Pittsburgh, and then not.

Willie claimed that the game got out of hand very quickly, as if in a split second it went from a 4-0 joyride to a 13-4 wreck. Granted, 13 runs in three innings is relatively rapid, but it was over a span of 20 to 25 minutes. Football coaches have 35 seconds to call, relay, and execute a play that will sink or save them – hoops coaches have a fraction of that at times. Baseball managers have a relative eternity to see a sweating, shaking starter heave 77 mph curveballs wide and wider of the zone and do something about it. Yes, four-pitch walks fly right by when the batter isn’t conveniently fouling off a few to give you time to crank those wheels in your head. Games can get away from you for a few runs, but a barrage during which the watching world is beckoning and bellowing for what by then seems incredibly obvious – that Alay Soler simply could not get it done – isn’t zipping by in an instant. I pray that was a bad excuse off the cuff and not the reality in his mind.

Speaking of hindsight, the Sunday night game looks that much worse after having watched tonight’s debacle. Hmm, I guess when you finish up interleague play on such a sour, sad, surrendering note and think that a return to playing the dregs of the Senior Circuit will magically cure what ails the team, you’ve got another think coming. The Mets went out and got some hits tonight but lacked that spark to knock them in with well-timed smacks. John Maine -- who, inexplicably, started despite all of the shrewd thinking ahead -- pitched well enough for a while, but then the bullpen collapsed like the house of cards it’s been set up to be lately. Being embarrassed by the Yankees is one thing, but to get clobbered by the Bucs is a disgrace of whole other depth. Yikes.

And here’s where we change gears, giving this schizo post a whole new outlook.

Hypocrisy #1: Despite a plea not to show signs of crying “uncle,” Pedro needs to be sat down. He should rest from now until the second half of the season. Pride and the fun of the All-Star game are swell until they get in the way of long-term plans. Whatever is ailing him in his hip (his toe probably isn’t feeling all that keen these days, either) need not be tweaked, inflamed, and aggravated in the next 10 days or so. We need a 100% – or as close as we can get – Pedro down the stretch.

Hypocrisy #2: Despite my feeling that Willie Randolph is sending his club signals of weakness and submission, there may be no better time during this season for him to demonstrate his skills as a leader than right now. This is the first real bump in the road for the Mets, and to deal with it by not dealing with it may let the team know that an even keel will see its way through the stormy seas . . . or it may let them know that Willie is in over his head. Take charge and make this team yours today, Mr. Skipper. Show us something.

Hypocrisy #3: Exaggerated words like “embarrassment” and “humiliation” made their way throughout Met-related news content everywhere today, and there will be more of the same tomorrow after the drubbing at the hands of the worst team in the worse league. (Truly, to watch Chad Bradford’s and Pedro Feliciano’s work tonight, maybe those words aren’t such an exaggeration.) With the right clubhouse talk from the right coaches, though, these can be shaken off and the order of most of the first half can quickly be restored. We’ve seen how the vibe and direction of the team can change at the drop of a hat. (It seems quick to us the way things can turn around, but you should see how fast it goes for Willie Randolph. Whoa.) Seven games left before the Break. That’s more than enough of an opportunity to have everything in command by the time we regroup for the rest of this slog.

Hypocrisy #4, and this is the doozy: I’ve been concerned for the Mets’ long-term plans for many lines here, and as recently as last week I assessed the Met rotation as being sorely lacking for the race to the pennant. And as much as I think that the Mets really need one or two new pitchers to arrive between now and July 31, I have a very bad feeling in my gut right now. I have this sense that the ass-kicking the Mets took in Boston and the Bronx, plus Pedro’s woes, plus Soler’s and El Duque’s struggles, have Omar closer to frantic than he’s projected. Immediate instinct says the time is now to go out and get someone, to deal Milledge, Pelfrey, Floyd, and whomever else he has to in order to get a starter. Please, Omar, don’t do anything rash. If the GM’s of the league’s doormats are worth their salt, they all placed calls to Mets HQ tonight to dangle an A- or B-tier starter out there in exchange for the rest of the Mets’ farm. Beware them, Omar, and beware your own frustrations and impatience. The one thought that should keep Omar out of any lopsided deal would be the thought of the current state of the Mets with Scott Kazmir in the 3-spot of the rotation. It’s the one time when such thoughts might be healthy.

So there you have it: Whitney’s lessons through his own self-contradictions. Learn them. Know them. Live them.


Games 77 through 79 – Red Sox

Marlins 5, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 11, Marlins 5
Red Sox 4, Marlins 3
Record: 50-29

I’m gonna get my stuff out of the way early today to clear the decks for what promises to be a lollapalooza of teeth-gnashing from my compadre. While I only caught a few innings of last night’s Mets/Yanks contest, it was enough to make me turn away in disgust. I can only imagine the impact to the Orange and Blue faithful.

Despite the inevitable end of the Sox’ once-in-a-decade winning streak, the weekend was a positive one for the Olde Towne Team. Newly acquired Jason Johnson wasn’t given much hope against Dontrelle Willis on Friday night, and he certainly didn’t do much to give any hope back to the fans, giving up 3 in the first and setting the tone for a flat performance from the whole team. After 13 straight wins, they get a pass.

Fox Sports and MLB, however, do not get a pass for the inexplicable Fox Saturday Baseball blackout rules. Fox carried the Mets/Yanks Saturday tilt – a 1:00 start in the Bronx. As a rule, on Saturdays, Fox has broadcast rights to all afternoon games, which means that out-of-market games (which means Boston when you leave in Greater Washington D.C) that conflict with the national broadcast are generally blacked out. Okay, makes sense. Fox paid a bunch of money to those rights and wants to protect their franchise. I get it.

What I don’t get is the fact that the blackout extended to the Sox/Marlins game, which started at 6:05, almost 2 hours after the Mets/Yanks game had ended. In the highly unlikely event that the national broadcast extended into the 6:00 hour, I’d grumpily understand a blackout that continued until the original game ended. But my pea-brain can’t wrap itself around a blackout of a game that presents no conflict whatsoever. As a result, a whole evening of Sox/Marlins on the CBS Sportsline GameCenter. Pisser, as both Manny and Ortiz went deep twice, driving in 9 runs in long overdue support of Tim Wakefield.

Back to normal yesterday, sort of. The game was on, so I sandwiched the first 2 innings and the last 3 around a bout of self-punishing exercise (y’know, because of the excessive lifestyle). Though the Sox led, 2-1, as I headed out for a ride, I was fairly confident the lead wouldn’t last, as Jon Lester was in the midst of what appears to be a patented struggle with his command. Came back just in time to see Mike Timlin wriggle free of a bases loaded, 1-out jam with the score tied at 3 in the bottom of the 7th, then settled in as the Sox plated 1 in the 8th on a Loretta sac fly. Papelbon shut the door in the 9th, despite a 1-out walk to Wes Helms (which was actually a strikeout, though Joe West’s myopia missed it) and the Sox have embarked on another winning streak.

Another series win closes the books on interleague play with the Sox posting a record-tying 16-2 mark against the Pacific Coast League. Um, National League. I expect a sterner test beginning today when the Sox head to Tampa.