Monday, August 28, 2006

Exactly Where I'm At

Games 125 through 128 – Mets

Mets 10, Cardinals 8
Mets 6, Cardinals 2
Phillies 4, Mets 3
Mets 11, Phillies 5
Mets 8, Phillies 3
Record: 80-49

Yes, it’s that time of year again when Whitney, weary of his Mets’ losing ways, grows complacent and allows some dust to collect on the blue and orange side of the MLC launch pad. Except, wait, this year I’ve grown complacent because of their winning ways? Shame on me.

There’s nothing like a pennant race to keep us blogging away, and this is nothing like a pennant race for the Mets. I’m beyond silly superstition at this point, free to talk about the Mets as postseason participants without jinxy repercussion. I’ll even agree – not boast, but agree – that the Mets are far and away the best team in the National League. You won’t hear me talk as if they’re a lock to move on even past the divisional series, because short series were made for underdogs and streaking inferiors (also what Rob, several others, and I were labeled as we dashed through the corridors of Monroe Hall in the 1980’s wearing only 12-pack cardboard helmets), but be happy for the baby steps.

I am reveling in the Mets’ season, despite my recent time AWOL. Since my last check-in I spent time in DC, Richmond, and Nags Head – watching or at least paying attention to the team’s nightly progress, but miles away from this keyboard and the philoso-babble that emanates from it. Today I got to watch John Maine and a host of pen-pals keep the Phillies mostly in check (excluding bombs from Met-killers old and new Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard) while the offense continued to utilize speed, power, and plenty of good fortune to pile up eight more runs at the Phils’ expense.

Even as a plumber dug a hole in my back yard, opened up sewer pipes, and attempted to snake out a disgusting problem 100 feet into the pipe, even as I sweated out the thought of tree removal and massive plumbing bills, even as the smells inside and outside my house made me feeling like Andy Dufresne during his escape, an afternoon taking in a Mets game such as this one propelled me to be Andy Dufresne in the river, arms skyward and free of the normal August/September doldrums of yesteryear.

Today’s worries about starting pitching are real, but what might actually be happening is that the key cogs are getting some late-summer rest before the autumn run. Pedro and Glavine missing time is troubling if there are larger problems at hand. For now, though, I am optimistic that the break in the action for these guys – and El Duque, for that matter – is a well-timed rejuvenator.

For now, I am looking for the Mets to continue to play solid baseball, the skipper to give all the right guys a rest (David Wright looks like he could use three or four days at Canyon Ranch), the injury bug to fly far away, and the Cardinals, Dodgers, and any other playoff-bound clubs to hit enough of a lull to award the Mets at least one advantage come October. There’s plenty of reason for me to still pay attention down the stretch; that was never really in doubt. But there’s also more than enough cause to keep me chiming in to chronicle whatever ups and downs remain in this regular season. See you soon.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Games 128 through 130 - Red Sox

Mariners 6, Red Sox 0
Mariners 4, Red Sox 3
Mariners 6, Red Sox 3

Well, I guess I'll just pour myself a nice warm glass of shut the fuck up and shuffle quietly off to bed.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fight the Power

I've been meaning to stop by and offer my take on the recent and ongoing Manny vs. Boston Media contretemps, but there's really no need after the always-eloquent Surviving Grady took the words right out of my mouth. Legion of Unstoppable Ass Kickers, indeed.

Insane in the Brain

Games 126 & 127 – Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Angels 4
Red Sox 2, Angels 1
Record: 71-56

I’m slowing regaining equilibrium after last weekend’s traveshamockery, but even as the good guys find ways to win again, the S.S. Red Sox continues to take on water. Last night, as the Sox played their second straight game with Manny Ramirez on the bench with a knee injury, Josh Beckett pitched like Josh Beckett for the first time in weeks. Right up until he cut his finger/incurred a blister in the top of the 7th inning.

All this on top of the news that David Ortiz spent Saturday night in the hospital with an irregular heartbeat that first surfaced after Friday’s twin-killing at the hands of the Yankees. (Insert joke about Sox fans experiencing heart pains during the Yankee series here.) This morning, Mark Loretta was seen walking around the team hotel wearing a dress and a Toledo Mud Hens hat and mumbling something about getting a Section 8 discharge. Hawkeye Schilling just sat back with a bemused look on his face, half-bombed on homemade gin, while Sherman T. Francona tried to figure out why the front office had called Gary Burghoff up from Pawtucket to play middle infield.

In the midst of all this carnage, the Sox picked up a game on the Yankees for the first time in a week. There’s a seed of something germinating deep, deep in the loamy soil of my imagination, and its microscopic form looks something like befuddling, illogical optimism. After spending the entire season riding high and then watching the whole thing come crashing back to the mean, the Sox suddenly find themselves in the often-enviable position of underdogs.

Realistically, these are still the same Sox that are 55-54 against American League opposition (in point of fact, these are a much weaker version of those Sox). The current roster, as related ad nauseum in this space, is a curious mix of stopgaps and prayers, with a still-healthy apportionment of studs (assuming Papi’s ticker holds out). As MLC regular (and that rarest of species, a Yankee fan without a sense of entitlement) Teejay Doyle noted to me Wednesday evening, the Sox thought they’d have an opportunity to let young arms like Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, Jon Lester, and even Jonathan Papelbon gain some seasoning this year – not be forced into the breach repeatedly in high-leverage situations. And still, they’ve got a chance.

The psychology of teams has always fascinated me – some clubs excel as frontrunners, while others spit the bit and fade, or run better from back in the pack. Some clubs need a bit of adversity, need to get punched in the mouth and taste their own blood before they fulfill their potential – anyone remember the 2004 Boston Red Sox?

Maybe it’s the caffeine talking. Maybe I’m just compensating after the soul-crushing events of last weekend. Maybe the Sox will get thumped tonight by the Mariners and I’ll come back here tomorrow and disavow this entire post. But I’m starting to wonder if this team isn’t the personification of the old maxim: if it don’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Game 125 - Red Sox

Angels 4, Red Sox 3

Last night's 10:00 EST first pitch and the culmination of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke documentary meant that I didn't see more than a snippet of last night's action. Judging by the fraction of the game I did catch, it's probably best for all parties involved that my viewing time was limited.

While I was fortunate to see Dustin Pedroia's first major league hit (and am happy to see one of the important cogs of the 2008 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox get a taste of life in The Show), his effort was balanced by the Three Stooges routine performed by Kevin Youkilis, Mark Loretta, and Gabe Kapler. The trio converged on a Vladimir Guerrero popup in short rightfield before peeling off like so many Wallendas, knees banging into heads, hands getting smashed between body parts, arms flailing ingloriously. Oh, and the ball dropping harmlessly to set up the Angels' 2nd run. It was right about that moment that I decided to punt and give in to merciful slumber.

While I missed most of last night's game, the good folks at helped me remember a game that I saw in its entirety. I was in Fenway with my dad and grandfather when Carl Yastrzemski hit his 400th career homer, back when that number meant something. As noted below, he hit it in the bottom of the 7th to break a 3-3 tie and propel the Sox to victory. We were sitting in the rightfield bleachers, about 10 rows back of the A's dugout - where Yaz's blast landed. We had a perfect view of the ball as it traveled a parabola from home in a straight line towards our seats. My other distinct memory of that evening is that the final score was a nearly perfect approximation of the 2 starting pitchers' ERAs entering the game - as a 9 year-old obsessed with baseball stats, I thought that was about the coolest thing in the world. The (probably brutally formatted) box score follows:

Boston Red Sox 7, Oakland Athletics 3
Game Played on Tuesday, July 24, 1979 (N) at Fenway Park
(25 years later - to the day - Jason Varitek would feed Alex Rodriguez a heaping helping of catcher's mitt, sparking the theretofore moribund Sox to a come-from-behind win over the Yankees and, eventually, their first World Series championship in 86 years.)

OAK A 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 - 3 8 2
BOS A 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 2 x - 7 10 0

Oakland Athletics
Henderson lf 5 0 1 0 0 1 1 0
Murphy cf 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Page dh 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Newman c 3 1 2 1 1 1 1 0
Revering 1b 4 0 1 1 0 0 10 1
Heath rf 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Armas rf 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Gross 3b 3 1 1 1 1 0 1 5
Picciolo ss 4 0 1 0 0 0 2 4
Chalk 2b 3 0 1 0 1 0 7 6
Morgan p 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Todd p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 34 3 8 3 3 3 24 16

DP: 3. Picciolo-Chalk-Revering, Picciolo-Chalk-Revering, Gross-Chalk-Revering.
E: Newman (16), Revering (9).

2B: Newman (9,off Eckersley); Picciolo (6,off Eckersley).
3B: Revering (2,off Eckersley).
HR: Newman (19,2nd inning off Eckersley 0 on 0 out); Gross (10,5th inning off
Eckersley 0 on 0 out).
IBB: Gross (8,by Eckersley).
Team LOB: 7.

SB: Henderson 2 (10,2nd base off Eckersley/Fisk 2).

Boston Red Sox
Burleson ss 5 0 1 0 0 0 2 4
Brohamer 2b 4 1 0 0 1 0 0 1
Lynn cf 2 1 1 0 2 0 2 0
Rice lf 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 0
Yastrzemski 1b 3 1 2 3 1 0 13 3
Watson dh 4 1 2 0 0 1 0 0
Fisk c 4 0 1 0 0 0 4 0
Hobson 3b 3 1 1 0 1 0 2 1
Evans rf 3 1 2 3 1 0 1 0
Eckersley p 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1
Totals 32 7 10 6 6 1 27 10

DP: 1. Yastrzemski-Burleson.

3B: Hobson (4,off Todd).
HR: Yastrzemski (17,7th inning off Morgan 1 on 2 out); Evans (14,8th inning
off Todd 1 on 1 out).
Team LOB: 7.

Oakland Athletics
Morgan L(0-6) 7 8 5 2 6 1 1
Todd 1 2 2 2 0 0 1
Totals 8 10 7 4 6 1 2

Boston Red Sox
Eckersley W(11-5) 9 8 3 3 3 3 2

IBB: Eckersley (3,Gross).
Umpires: Dale Ford, Terry Cooney, Mike Reilly, John Shulock
Time of Game: 2:33 Attendance: 30393

RED SOX 7TH: Brohamer grounded out (second to first); Lynn
reached on an error by Revering; Rice forced Lynn (third to
second); Yastrzemski homered (unearned) [Rice scored
(unearned)]; Yastrzemski becomes the 18th ML and 7th AL with
400 HR
; Watson was called out on strikes; 2 R, 1 H, 1 E, 0
LOB. Athletics 3, Red Sox 5.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In 3's

Game 124 – Mets

Mets 8, Cardinals 7
Record: 76-48

They say that good and bad luck occur in threes; before Carlos Delgado could saunter to the plate with a chance to win the game with his third home run of the night, the other Carlos did it for him. Symmetry be damned; my leap off the couch was abbreviated only by a sure calculation that my face was destined for unpleasant contact with the ceiling fan. Aside from that, there was the usual muted but otherwise unrestrained bedlam here; the relative silence (to include a booming clap of hands and a holler that was demoted to a whispered shout by the time of its emanation) was necessary to preserve the slumbers of the wee Met fans of the house, but the flood of fist-pumps and some kind of white boy boogie mixed with an excited few laps around the den more than informed any nosy neighbors of the game’s outcome.

Triumph in triplicate did take place for the Township today, however. As documented earlier, short of learning that the clot in his shoulder was a subcutaneous hope diamond whose removal would add 12 mph and a little movement to his every pitch, Tom Glavine received about the best diagnosis possible. Just when many of us had begun scraping together an image of what a rotation minus Glavine might resemble, it became a needless notion.

Then, somewhere in the middle innings with the score Pujols 7, Mets 1, the booth boys announced that the deal for Shawn Green had become finalized. Time will tell if this middle prong of today’s three-tined fork of fortune can penetrate the porterhouse (honestly, I have no idea, but you know what I mean . . . maybe), but somewhere amid my grumbling in the dark about a certain unnamed St. Louis first baseman’s circumstantial connection to illicit performance-enhancing substances, this trade’s news generated a smile and a nod. It’s nice to see Omar, far from complacent, making the low-risk, high-potential moves. It gives us a sense that he has a master plan out there at Shea; if I recall, we weren’t even sure that Jim Duquette had a master key. (As always, we disparage Duquette only with the appended acknowledgement that he was on the recipient end of a “Muppet Special” by the Wilpons, mind you.) But Green seems to fit into the Mets Needs category nicely, checking off the corner outfielder, left-handed bat, and Judaism (in case Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke drop by the booth) boxes nicely.

The third tier of the trifecta was, of course, the game’s conclusion. John Maine actually pitched a fairly decent ballgame tonight, minus his lack of respect for Albert Pujols. He showed little concern with keeping Pujols’ plate predecessors off the paths, and even less for avoiding chucking something even mildly meaty in his direction. He didn’t walk the MVP candidate with men on second and third, and he paid for it. Then he did walk the two batters before him to load the bases, and he paid for it. Two swings, seven runs. Even as it was happening to the Mets, I was feeling more tip-the-cap than gnash-the-teeth. The dude is good.

Carlos Delgado, who seems to have swum upstream the length of the river to fight through a bad slump, is looking a whole lot more like that beast of the first six or eight weeks than the free-flailing, shoulder-pulling, befuddled fellow of more recent months. It’s as welcome a sight at this time of year as I can think of, along with Duaner Sanchez warming in the pen after applying a balm and healing magically. His solo shot opened the scoring; his grand salami made the game worth sticking around for.

Carlos Beltran has been far more consistent all year long, but in the bottom of the ninth he entered the box with an 0-for-4 night. Speaking of his consistency, how is he still hitting just .288? He’s been steady all season, and he’s not over .300? Meanwhile, David Wright has been dying a slow death at several intervals and he’s been perched above .300 all along? (Okay, I just checked, and the latest collar Dee-Dub took tonight edged him down to .299.) Regardless, with Beltran up, nobody out and Paul LoDuca on first after a single, I felt curiously comfortable – even down a run with three outs left to play with and Jason Isringhausen on the hill. This lineup will do that to you.

One pitch later, the game was over and I was in mid-air, moreso than a guy of my poundage can usually muster.

There were more things to praise, with new Met (and old enemy) Guillermo Mota looking sharp in his debut for New York, Chad Bradford drawing Pujols into a 6-4-3 inning-ender with a couple aboard in the eighth, and Aaron Heilman shutting the Cards down in the ninth to enable the heroics and earn the win. There’s more minutia to discuss, such as Bill Clinton in attendance (where he goes, drama follows), Delgado hitting his 400th career homer, and the Mets reaching a double-digit lead in the National League.

But I’m content to focus on the trio of excitingly positive events in MetLand today. Tomorrow’s another day and the Mets could just as quickly find themselves in triage rather than triumph. Tonight, however, these three developments have made me one happy man.

Blue Skies

Just got word that Tommy Glavine doesn't have the "knot" that would have required surgery, just the clot(s) that are doing good work inside his old body. And there was much rejoicing. Now we can stop worry about who in hell might be our ace or, Pedro willing, our #2 down the stretch and get back to worrying about why Glavine resembles very little of the lights-out brilliant pitcher he was in April and May.


Voices Carry

Nice article in today's Boston Globe by the estimable Bob Ryan. I agree with nearly every word, the notable exception being his characterization of the Yankees as a "likable and rootable team". I don't even think 'rootable' is a word.

I find Ryan's concluding thesis extremely on point and thought provoking. He writes,

Once upon a time, losing brought a brief period of sorrow. Now it brings
rage. The rest of the season, I fear, will not be much fun.

The truth is we need to sit down and figure out what sports are all
about. We've lost our way.

He's right - you can read my comments here over the past few weeks for proof. It's part and parcel of the coursening of manners and public dialogue in the country at large and of the increasing and dangerous spoils-to-the-winners approach of our political and economic elites. I need to ponder on this for a bit, but my eyes are open.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Paint it Black

Game 124 - Red Sox

Yankees 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 69-55

This'll be interesting. I've never had to chronicle the playing out the string portion of a baseball campaign here at MLC. 38 games worth of going through the motions are all that's left of this smoking wreck of a season.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives / Mother . . .

Games 119 through 123 – Mets

Phillies 3, Mets 0
Mets 7, Phillies 2
Mets 6, Rockies 3
Mets 7, Rockies 4
Mets 2, Rockies 0
Record: 75-48

The formerly even-keel Mets have undergone an unsteady patch of late, and while it’s not extremely unsettling, I look forward to a return to the “take two of three with cautious optimism” pattern that the Mets followed for four-plus months. While the coaster-car sped uphill over the weekend, news that a few spokes might be out in a valley below have us residents of the Township a little on edge.

The Mets capped off a wretched trip to Philadelphia (Rob would argue that there’s no other kind) with an impressive Thursday afternoon win. It was a soothing salve to the almost worrisome stumble the Metmen took over the first three games of that series. It’s funny what power the first and final games of a series can carry; tones for the games that follow are definitively struck, and the return to Shea – and all of the weekend hoop-la that was in store – was made on a significantly brighter note after the four-game sweep was thoroughly thwarted on Thursday.

By “hoop-la,” in case you missed it, I mean the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1986 championship team. I generally dismiss such events as contrived and sometimes awkward remembrances, and I eyed this weekend’s in exactly that way. I was wrong.

After a lead-in to Saturday’s game that consisted of a flurry of ’86 Met-related pieces on Sportsnet New York (which I was able to see and record thanks to my long overdue activation of the full sports package on the satellite), the Mets geared up to play the Colorado Rockies while donning their primo 1986 uniforms. (“The piping” was mentioned in nearly every ounce of coverage.) Before they did so, however, each of the available members of the championship Mets appeared from the stands, was announced, and came onto the field to be recognized. The old Mets were consistently portly, sporting far less hair, and beaming from ear to ear across the board. God love ‘em.

As opposed to the half-hearted attendance that some of these anniversaries manage, nearly every guy on the 1986 club, from GM genius Frank Cashen to part-timer Ed Hearn, showed up and embraced the night. (Missing were Davey Johnson, Ray Knight, Roger McDowell, and Dwight Gooden; McDowell’s the Braves’ pitching coach – for now, and Doc’s in prison; don’t know where Davey and Ray were, but it was their loss.) After the gathering of Kid, Straw, Mex, Nails, El Sid, Mookie, and all of the other guys we loved and they hated, the game began (after a little rain) and the SNY booth – ordinarily manned by two among that crew, received inning-long visits from many of the old gang. The highlight, predictably, was Dykstra. Still love that dude. Somehow the evening superseded the hoop-la, the hype, and the sensational NYC media coverage that usually dwarf such moments.

For Red Sox fans who lived through the ’86 Series, it surely would have agitated; for indifferent fans, it probably mildly interested; for young Mets fans, it certainly intrigued; for we who died a painful death or two in 1986, only to be resuscitated and taken to unbelievable heights . . . it was awesome. The memories of that year linger somewhere in the back of our minds like an overstuffed couch, exceedingly comfortable but often unremarkable. The elevation of these recollections to the collective conscious provided thrills all over again in a way I’d not figured would happen.

Rob has a horde of still-fresh thoughts about the Sox’ 2004 experience even as he curses his way through the current chapter of Boston baseball. He should rest assured that even if the Red Sox are working on another ugly drought of titles two decades from now, what went down two years ago can still be tugged to the surface with ease, ushering in that same excitement and contentment with an added twist of nostalgic “where I was back then” fondness.

Doesn’t reduce his ire today one iota, but it’s a far cry better than a trail of all angst.

Oh, and as if it mattered, the Mets went ahead and played the game Saturday night. As if orchestrated for ratings, New York went down 4-0, only to rally on a succession of alternately bizarre and clutch plays. Terrible Rocky errors coupled with a Met tandem of patience and aggressiveness resulted in a six-run inning; Lastings Milledge topped off his brilliant, image-inverting (to me, at least) night with a bomb to left to pad the lead. Winning the game in the same find-a-way fashion that carried the ’86 team was thrilling; that word risks overstatement but comes in under the wire.

Comparisons of the current roster to the Mets club that was honored Saturday night are cursory and dangerous; watching the coverage over the weekend underscored how rife with talent that squad was. To win you have to be good, well coached, and lucky. The ‘86ers were sublime on all counts. The ‘06ers are . . . well, they might qualify in each category, but not by as decisive a margin.

In the postseason, Gooden-Darling-Ojeda-Fernandez versus Martinez-Glavine-Trachsel-Hernandez? It’s not a whitewashing, but it’s a fairly solid win for the old fellers. Willie Randolph doesn’t appear to be the next Davey Johnson, though he’s not a real liability, either. On the plus side, the luck has appeared to go the Mets’ way all season – that is until recently. And on that note, the first comparison in this paragraph gets asterisked.

All of the good vibes of celebration weekend came grinding to an expletive-filled halt yesterday as I saw the following text appear on the ESPN ticker:

Tom Glavine is having his pitching shoulder examined for a possible blood clot; he felt coldness in his ring finger after Wednesday’s start; season-ending surgery could be required

Son of a bitch. With Pedro already on the DL (again), the Mets’ short staff rotation would currently look a bit like this:

Trachsel-Hernandez-Maine- uh . . .
Mike Pelfrey? Dave Williams? Brian Bannister? Oliver Perez? Aaron Heilman?

Oh, my. The New York lineup is stacked, but not that prodigiously. The jury is still out on the injury, and the Township now crosses its collective fingers for Glavine – fingers also grown cold, as the blood seems to have drained from our extremities as we wait for the news.

And yet, we’ll not let this half of this space fall into self-pity. A lot can happen between now and October – and since we fully expect to be playing into that month, we’ll hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and be glad this news hits us in summer rather than autumn. The Met train shall roll on; here’s hoping that Tom Glavine has his usual seat in first class for the ride.

Pain Makes You Beautiful

Game 123 – Red Sox

Yankees 8, Red Sox 5 (10)
Record: 69-54

At some point, you’ve got to look around at all the kids with their WWPD bracelets, and really ask yourself, “What Would Pedro Do?” Well, as he’s publicly stated in much less dismal circumstances, you just tip your cap and call the Yankees your daddy.

The Sox gave the Yankees everything they had yesterday, and it still wasn’t good enough. Mostly because everything they had included Mike Timlin. Curt Schilling and Jonathan Papelbon were nearly biblical last night in their efforts – Schilling missed his location once, and it cost him 3 runs. Papelbon authored perhaps the best performance I’ve ever seen in a blown save, entering the game in a bases-loaded no-out situation in the top of the 8th and yielding only a single run, then battling back from a man on third, no-out pickle in the bottom of the 9th to get within 1 out of victory. After consecutive strikeouts of Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon, Papelbon made a terrific 0-1 pitch to Derek Jeter, and the Yankee shortstop fought it off, dumping a bloop single into short right field to plate the tying run. Great pitch, great job of hitting, and effectively, game over.

The objective and subjective facts are damningly clear at this point. The Yankees are a much better team than the Red Sox. That may not have been true at other points in the season, but it’s dramatically so right now. The Sox effectively have 2 reliable pitchers at the moment, through a combination of injury-related attrition and just-plain mediocrity. As much as Timlin might wish to, the Sox staff can’t blame the offense – 25 runs in 4 games against the Yankees ought to be good for more than zero wins.

I can swallow hard and stomach the asskicking the Yankees handed the Sox this weekend – with 1 more merciful whipping to come – because I’ve been painfully aware of the Sox’ deficiencies for some time now. See below, and below, and below ad nauseum. What I can’t abide is the predictable ballwashing emanating from the national media this morning about the Yankees’ amazing pluck in recovering from adversity to take over the division. No less an expert than Dick Vitale fellated Brian Cashman and Joe Torre and their managerial acumen in overcoming the loss of Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Fuck me sideways, already. The Yankees are once again a very good team – no argument here on that point. They are not, however, some scrappy band of David Ecksteins, surviving on guile and duct tape. Probably more to come on that point when it sounds less like sour grapes.

It’s worth noting that the Sox are now 6-14 since Jason Varitek got hurt. Even as he was putting up mediocre offense numbers, the captain was a stabilizing force behind the plate. I don’t think many of us knew just how much that stability mattered. Theo Epstein is getting killed in the Nation right now for not making any major moves at the trade deadline, but I think he looked around and made a difficult but accurate assessment about his team’s chances. I think he folded an off-suited King/9 to live to play another day. And as much as my churning stomach and racing heart hate it during games, my head thinks he probably made the right call. One more starting pitcher – even the rumored Roy Oswalt – wouldn’t be enough to get this team to the finish line ahead of the pack.

I’m not ready to go Dandy Don Meredith on the Sox just yet. They’ll get Timmy Wake back soon, and David Wells may actually have some life. They do get 4 more against the Yankees, and if they didn’t get at least a little bit fired up by the guts Schilling and Papelbon displayed, then they’re not human. I’m counting on professional pride, if nothing else, to give them a lift down the stretch. All that said, don’t be looking for any eras of positivity in this space over the next 6 weeks.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Game 122 - Red Sox

Yankees 13, Red Sox 5
Record: 69-53

I've never been happier to have to go to a 5 year-old's birthday party in my life. My wife dragged me from my house just as Manny Delcarmen gave up the Sox' 10th walk and let the Yankees' 7th run jog to the plate. Mercifully, I didn't have to watch the rest of the carnage.

I was 8 years old during the original version of the Boston Massacre in 1978, so I really appreciate the 2006 Sox providing a bit of a historical primer for those of us not quite old enough to really recall the bitter feeling of getting absolutely smoked by the Yankees in a critical home series.

On the other hand, I was 34 years old the only time I've ever felt worse about a Sox performance against the Yankees - right after Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS. I think we recall how that turned out, even the pinstriped in our midst. Man, that's a really wispy limb out on which to climb, but beggars can't be choosers, and the Sox have made sure that the Nation is populated by panhandlers at the moment.

Almost makes me wish we had to attend another little kid's birthday party tomorrow.

Counting on a Miracle

Game 121 - Red Sox

Yankees 14, Red Sox 11
Record: 69-52

More than 12 hours later, and I'm still nail-chewing mad. Galvanized nails. Against all reason.

The Sox demonstrated for all the world why they'll be playing out the string over the next 6 weeks instead of making a run for the playoffs. I should be resigned to it, because nobody in their right mind should expect a team missing 60% of its starting rotation, its opening day closer, and 2 key starters to contend. I get it, in a big picture way, but that rational worldview clouds over in the time it takes Derek Jeter to reach out and poke a poorly located Mike Timlin fastball into the rightfield corner.

Not much more to say, at least without resorting to the same colorful language that echoed around my darkened house at around midnight yesterday. Still 3 more in Boston against the Yankees, but it looks like the strain of too many innings thrown by too many too young arms has finally taken its toll.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Game 120 – Red Sox
Live Game Thread

Yankees 12, Red Sox 4

5:03 p.m.

Just a lousy game all the way around. 16 hits and 7 walks allowed by the pitching staff. 11 men left on base by the bats. 2 errors by the presumptive best defense in the American League (oh, hey, great - NOW Youkilis gets a 2-out hit). Blech. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I think the Sox are like 0-38 in games liveblogged by MLC. I think I'll grab a beer or 6 and watch tonight's effort from my couch.

4:53 p.m.

I don't think it's much a stretch to label tonight's game the most important of the season for the Sox. Tough spot in which to put Jon Lester, but if the Sox can't batter Sidney Ponson and give the youngster some breathing room, they probably don't deserve to play much October baseball. On the bright side, the Yankee position players have to be tired from all this running of the bases.

4:46 p.m.

Is there any question that A-Rod hits a grand slam here to cap things off with the Yankees up 8 in the 9th inning?

4:38 p.m.

From my keyboard to Damon's bat, as Johnny runs his RBI total to 4. Okay, for my next trick, I'm gonna turn this bullpen into a newt.

4:36 p.m.

The Gonzalez/Crisp black hole ensures that the Sox leave 2 more on base in the 8th, then Rudy Seanez bookends the abysmal pitching performance by loading the bases with none out in the 9th. Wanna bet the Yanks get to double figures here?

4:07 p.m.

Loretta doubles. Again. Papi does nothing. Again. Youkilis strands a runner in scoring position. Again. The Sox go down with a whimper. Again.

3:56 p.m.

Yanks pull their Wang out with nobody gone in the bottom of the 7th. I'm a bit surprised that they'd do so with a 5-run lead and a tired bullpen. I'm not at all surprised that I'm resigned to making terrible dick jokes.

3:47 p.m.

And the Yankees make them pay. Mike Lowell's error opened the floodgates, and on top of his bases-loaded popout makes him the primary horn-wearer this afternoon.

3:27 p.m.

With good reason. Motherfucker. You've got to, got to, got to score more than 1 run in that situation. Geekage alert - the basic run expectancy table tells us good students that the average 2nd and 3rd, no out situation yields 1.91 runs. The Sox just underachieved by what will likely be the Yankees' margin of victory. And I repeat - motherfucker.

3:26 p.m.

This. Is. Torture. Hinske is quickly becoming a legend, but Lopez can't score anyone with runners on 2nd and 3rd and none out, and now the Sox are relying on Alex Gonzalez and Coco Crisp. You'll forgive me if my confidence is a bit low.

3:10 p.m.

And the Sox are about to follow up the Yankee outburst with a meager 1-2-3. Papi sure looks impatient on the GameCenter - another 1st-pitch out.

And Manny makes me an idiot with a longball. Better claw back in a hurry, because the opportunities draw short with a rested Fruitbat in the back of the pen.

3:04 p.m.

Awesome. Kyle Snyder’s turn to face the Yankees, and he gets to start with Giambi and Rodriguez. This should be super.

Just like Johnson in the opening frame - could've been worse. Damage done, though - Yankees up 3.

2:51 p.m.

Remember that deal with the devil thing I was talking about. Ironic that the erstwhile Johnny Jesus delivered the retribution.

2:41 p.m.

Hinske. Damn. Would that he and Loretta were closer together in the lineup.

Try this on for size – the following figures represent the OPS’ against right-handed pitching for Crisp, Youkilis, Hinske, and Lowell:

.718 (with a .328 OBP)
.843 (.385 OBP)

So it stands to reason perfectly that Coco bats first and Youks, Lowell and Hinske go 5-7. Cripes, Tito, even the blind kid from Dumb n’ Dumber could figure this crap out. Youks leads off, Hinske bats 5th, Lowell 6th, and Crisp 7th or 8th.

Hey! Manufactured run. Somewhere Joe Morgan is smiling, even though the Sox should've plated more.

2:22 p.m.

Let it be said that the Sox are getting opportunities against Wang - they just aren't capitalizing. Yet.

That "yet" is for you Mike Lowell, and it applies to the entire 2nd half of the season...well, that worked like a charm.

The Sox are making an ugly deal with the devil here - Johnson's thrown 62 pitches already, and the Sox have left 6 men on base through 3 innings. This game is a microcosm of the whole season, and we're only 1/3 of the way done.

2:17 p.m.

They just closed the SoSH Game Thread to the public. Effers. I guess it serves me right for losing my password.

Mark Loretta’s doing his part – 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles. Patience, Papi.

1:56 p.m.

A co-worker interrupted right in the middle of Youks’ 1st-inning at-bat. Since the score is now 1-0 entering the top of the 3rd, I’m assuming he got out.

Whit – thanks for the color commentary. Now go find the Sox some runs.

1:37 p.m.

True fact: Chien-Ming Wang has pitched 161.1 innings in 2006 after never going more than 150 in his career. He's also got the lowest K/9 ratio of any pitcher in the major leagues. Conclusion: those 2 first-pitch outs the Sox just made are brilliant baseball.

1:28 p.m.

Well slap my ass and call me Sally. Johnson limits the damage. Fools' gold, or harbinger of things to come?

1:25 p.m.

The SoSH server is going to crash any moment now. The natives are quite restless. Full count on A-Rod here - the ensuing 3-run homer is soooo predictable.

1:19 p.m.

Yep. That’s Jason Johnson showing his Jason Johnsonness. 1-0 Yanks on a Damon triple and a Jeter single. It’s gonna be a looooong afternoon – and I haven’t even started with the Wang/Johnson jokes.

1:06 p.m.

I can already tell it’s going to be torture watching this thing unfold via the MLB Gamecenter. Damn you 40-hour workweek.

12:49 p.m.

As noted in the comments below, the assembled brain trust here at MLC is looking at a Craig Wilson vs. Manny Delcarmen deathmatch for all the marbles. Which means that Papi will probably take Rivera deep to win the game.

Game 1 prediction, and there's not much the Sox can do about it: Yankees get to Johnson early and often, but Tito leaves him in to take the pounding because the Sox are sending him to Pawtucket after the game to add Keith Foulke to the roster. Johnson saves the bullpen, but gives up 8 earned in 6 innings. Wang's moderately better, and the Yankees prevail, 10-5.

If, and it's a big if, the Sox can get into the Yankee bullpen early in the first game today, it could be a long series for the Yankee staff after the Orioles made their long arms throw a bunch yesterday.

11: 17 a.m.

Here are the starting lineups for today’s first game:


1. Coco Crisp, CF

2. Mark Loretta, 2B

3. David Ortiz, DH

4. Manny Ramirez, LF

5. Kevin Youkilis, 1B

6. Mike Lowell, 3B

7. Eric Hinske, RF

8. Javy Lopez, C

9. Alex Gonzalez, SS

New York

1. Johnny Damon, CF

2. Derek Jeter, SS

3. Bobby Abreu, RF

4. Jason Giambi, DH

5. Alex Rodriguez, 3B

6. Robinson Cano, 2B

7. Jorge Posada, C

8. Craig Wilson, 1B

9. Melky Cabrera, LF

Must resist urge to club Coco Crisp. Not his fault that the manager keeps ignoring fundamental wisdom and pushing Kevin Youkilis down in the order. Not the manager’s fault that nobody (other than the missing Wily Mo Pena) in the lineup after the No. 4 slot has a slugging percentage that would make you more than mildly intoxicated were it your blood alcohol content.

Eric Hinske gets his first start in a Sox uniform after coming over from Toronto. Intruguing, as he hits righties with some aplomb.

I wonder if Johnny Damon’s gonna cry again when he gets booed to lead off the game.

Jesus, that Yankee lineup is right scary.

10:45 a.m.

Since there’s no realistic expectation that I’m going to get anything remotely productive accomplished today, figured I’d belly up to the bar and order a tall shot of liveblogging. Today might be reason enough for Whit and I to examine the podcasting phenomenon – while my voice is almost certainly 3 octaves too high for public consumption, though still huskier than Bill Simmons’, the animation and profanity is bound to be entertainment for the masses. (Man, try to diagram that last sentence. I’m reading the new Cormac MacCarthy book, No Country for Old Men, and am pained to note that he would’ve squeezed 7 crisp, weighted sentences out of the number of words I just vomited onto the page.)

On the good omen side, today’s a major Jimmy Fund telethon on Boston radio station WEEI. On the negative side of the ledger, Jason Johnson is still starting for the Sox.

Armageddon Time

Games 114 through 119 - Red Sox

Red Sox 9, Orioles 2
Red Sox 8, Orioles 7
Red Sox 11, Orioles 9
Tigers 7, Red Sox 4
Tigers 3, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 6, Tigers 4
Record: 69-50

My sanity, nursed back to health by the California sunshine (Monterey is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.) and a Sox-free week, is 4 hours from being sorely tested once again. When last my shadow darkened this space, the Sox were reeling, battered about by the league’s cellar-dwellers. Somewhere, off in the distance, you could hear a soft, feeble current carrying hope that this weekend’s series with the Yankees might mean something, but it was a hope born of obligation to the cause, lacking any real conviction.

Lo and behold, the magic balm of the Charm City 9 once again cast a restorative spell on the Sox offense, as the Sox extended their mastery of the Orioles before stumbling slightly against the Tigers. The Angels and O’s both played the Yankees tough, and I emerge from my brief sabbatical blinking against the klieg lights of a made-for-TV epic.

New York. Boston. 5 games in 4 days with the fate of the free world in the balance. I exaggerate, but only slightly more than the talking heads in Bristol and their counterparts in the sports media megadome.

In keeping with my recently discovered cleansing rituals, I’m trying to keep a lid on expectations for the series, especially knowing that the Sox will be running out Jason Johnson this afternoon against Chien-Ming Wang. Jon Lester takes his gifted left arm out to the hill in the nightcap, but he also brings his youth and recent wildness with him. Trust me when I say that I’d be more than happy with a split in today’s action.

Beckett, Schilling, and Wells take the ball in the series’ final 3 games against Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, and Cory Lidle. On paper, all 3 of those contests are tighter than Mel Gibson on a Saturday night. Paper, though, hasn’t proven over the past several weeks to be worth much more than that Rick Ankiel rookie card I’ve got framed in the den. And that’s one of the maddeningly beautiful things about baseball – all the predictions and guesswork amount to exactly bupkes in this most unpredictable of games. Only in baseball can Jason Johnson, Miguel Cairo, Rudy Seanez, Nick Green, or Alex Cora mean more than Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, or David Ortiz on any given day. Okay, I take back the Ortiz part, but my point remains otherwise intact.

Nothing to do, then, but watch the games and see what happens – and try really hard not to break any furniture or small appliances.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


With Rob in northern California on his mandatory but heartily welcomed sabbatical, I thought I'd check in with a singular, superficial thought on tonight's Sox game. In truth, with the Mets collapsing in the City of Otherly Love yet again, I tuned in to significantly more of the Boston-Detroit contest. And I've not seen a more laugh-out-loud hilarious couple of frames of a baseball telecast than the middle innings of this game. Funnymen Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke had invaded the NESN booth, purportedly to promote Leary's work with a number of fire departments but really just to watch some of the game with Jerry & Don and commandeer the broadcast. By the time Leary bellowed "Braveheart, my ass!" after Kevin Youkilis made an outstanding play, I was dying; Jerry Remy was nearly incapacitated. It's worth catching if, like me, someone you know TiVoed it.

Oh, and the Sox lost again. Not as funny.

If It Happens Again

Game 118 - Mets

Phillies 11, Mets 4
Record: 71-47

That's enough penance by now, don't you think?

I can't come up with any reason to put forth any effort here, based on what I've seen over the last 28 hours. At least Jose Reyes came to play, launching three dingers into the Philly night to account for all four runs and three of the five hits that Mets starting players notched. His was a shining image amid a dugout full of eyesores.

Gluttons for punishment can just re-read last night's account and insert El Duque's sucking for Pedro's hurting. Nothing else differentiates itself at the moment. Oh, El Duque set a record for most runs allowed by a Mets starter . . . ever. With 11 of them.

And just to ignore the identical rock and hard place flanking Willie Randolph again tonight, let me just say that there was no doubt in my mind that this record would be broken under Willie's watchful eye.

Met blogs and forums everywhere began tallying magic numbers a couple of weeks ago, not just for a Mets postseason berth but for home field advantage, 100 wins, and all sorts of more ludicrous plateaus. Right now I'm just hoping the magic number for not being the nightly laughingstock is somewhere under 3.

Whatever the "shake it off" ritual was after last night, it didn't work. Boys, here's Dr. Lester's prescription: head over to McGillin's in Center City, get shnockered, play some stupid games with the videocamera in their stairwell, and hit on the waitresses until you drop. Maybe you'll get lucky tonight, and if you don't, maybe you'll get lucky tomorrow.

Let the Idiot Speak

Game 117 – Mets

Phillies 13, Mets 0
Record: 71-46

You’ve got to be kidding me. No, seriously. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

I spend six paragraphs explaining why I should enjoy this easy coast towards the playoffs, and the Mets promptly ruin my evening. Of course, it’s just one game, but if you didn’t see it, you missed one of the most thorough pants-wettings in Mets history. Honestly, when’s the last time you saw:

1. The ace give up six “earned” runs (the Philly scorekeeper was apparently a surrealist) in the first inning, then leave with an injury
2. Said ace plunk two guys, including one to force in a run, as well as balk in a run . . . all in the first inning
3. The ace make an error on a throw-over, the statuesque first baseman (once again) make no play on a shot to the right side, the second baseman get no jump on a dribbler and toss the ball over the first baseman for an infield single, the rookie right-fielder (once again) make no play on a ball that landed 15 feet from where he stood, and the All-Star centerfielder make a weak stab at a ball that skipped by him to the wall, plating extra runs . . .
all in the first inning

And that was just the start of it. There were gopher balls given up to singles hitters (granted it, was the wiffle ball park the Phillies call home), a passed ball on the third strike – followed by an errant throw to first), and a Mets baserunner hit by a batted ball for a third out. (The only solace there was that a MetsGeek game thread commenter had predicted it innings earlier in a “What else can go wrong?” post.) It was a farce of a charade of a circus.

There was also an utter lack of hitting against Cole Hamels, the young Phils phenom who was at first highly touted, then highly pounded by opposing batsmen. While teams had recently pressed Hamels for more than a few runs per outing, the Mets were baffled all game long. The night at the plate was capped off with Julio Franco making his best contact in weeks, flinging his bat into the stands and clunking a woman in the head. (He would proceed to strike out on the next pitch for the second time in two trips to end the game. But at least he didn’t/couldn’t hit into a double play.)

Lastings Milledge continues to reside on my bad side for one reason or another. (And trust me, people you don’t want that, because . . . I don’t know why.) In addition to getting no jump / making no effort (let’s call the whole thing off) on the fly ball that was an integral part of the rally that ruined the game, he also bobbled a ball down the line that meant the difference between a runner just barely scoring and just barely getting tagged out. And, of course, he was the guy who got hit by a Jose Reyes grounder to end the top of the 8th. Sometimes this guy just shoots himself in the foot.

Truly, none of these things is so terrible, but it just doesn’t look like the kid is ready for the Mets in '06. (Too bad we traded away our rightfielder, eh?) Speedy centerfielders who oversee the outfield usually don’t have this enormous a learning curve to play the corner spots. And if he’s just unique like that, why was he playing center in Norfolk? As for getting hit by the ball, you just feel like maybe he’s got way too much going on in his head – nervousness and the uncontrollable distractions of playing big league ball in New York -- replete with the boos that have started to come, and I can't endorse those, speaking of shooting onself in the foot, Mets fans. I realize we’ve been spoiled by Reyes & Wright (“The Left Bank”), and he’s way too raw to be but so judgmental. Maybe the bar’s too high, or maybe he’s just not ready to make the leap.

Doesn’t really matter, though, he’s here to stay. So get your head out of your Phanatic, Mr. Milledge, and play baseball.

(Momentum-draining side note: the “Milledge People” at Shea make me chuckle every time. Not a full-on guffaw like they induce in Ron Darling, but it’s a chortle for sure.)

Speaking of the corner outfielders, Cliff Floyd was last spotted wearing an ankle boot and doing nothing baseball-related. In addition to being worrisome information for those of us interested in seeing the Mets’ powerful lineup meet its full potential sometime in the next two months, this information is pertinent for those trivia buffs looking for the answer to “What do Clifford Floyd and Elton John have in common?” You’re welcome.

And ah, yes, we can’t mention Mets worries without touching on Pedro Martinez’s calf strain that truncated his bizarrely gruesome outing. He’s currently day-to-day, but the flurry of injuries – albeit below-the-belt ones, thank goodness – represent Exhibits A-E why Rob’s Red Sox wouldn’t commit to a long-term Pedro. It’s not . . . it’s not good, Al.

And finally, what would one of my over-reactive, fly-off-the-handle posts be without a nice dig at our fearless leader? 99% of what happened last night was beyond the control of most managers, let alone our skipper, but I managed to find fault nonetheless. You see, when the bullpen was unfortunately shuffled thanks to that taxi debacle in Miami, Darren Oliver took on more of a set-up role. He had been long relief and spot-starter all year long, and would have been perfect to step in last night in Pedro’s stead. However, since the rearrangement, he’s gotten a lot of consistent work over the past couple of weeks – frequent, short stints like most set-up men see, including a few batters’ worth Sunday. Because of this, he wasn’t as fresh or geared for the long haul that Willie signed him up for (or the U-Haul Willie threw him under, depending upon your outlook).

Gary Cohen fell short of chastising or pleading with the manager, simply reminding viewers on a consistent basis for four innings that Darren Oliver was gassed from overwork. Meanwhile, Oliver was smacked around for seven runs in three-plus, including surrendering four on back-to-back long balls by sluggers Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. At the same time, somewhere across town, down the block from the Philadelphia Art Museum, there sat a version of The Thinker. From what I could see, Rodin’s masterwork had a fair degree more motion and reaction to him than Willie Randolph did perched in the dugout. (Some might postulate that which thinker had more cognitive thought is up for debate, but I’ll not sink that low.)

Was Willie in a predicament? Oh, most definitely. Because of the aforementioned Sanchez injury, the rippled repercussions have the Mets’ pen in a state of flux. The Mets have six pitchers who aren’t starters or closers on the roster, and each of them is being used as a set-up or situational reliever. They don’t have a true mop-up man, not since Oliver’s role has morphed. (You could argue that Royce Ring would be a candidate, but the guy’s been a closer in Norfolk, so he’s hardly equipped for the duty any better, either.) Given that, Randolph and Rick Peterson were fairly well screwed, even if it was by their own (add in Omar here) doing. Still, letting your pitcher – in this case, a guy whose done plenty for you this campaign – die a slow death while you bear witness doesn’t do the club any favors in the short or long terms. As Oliver handed the ball off and brusquely exited, he had a look of “Willie, if I need Tommy John, the tendon’s coming out of your forearm.”

To clarify, re-clarify, and take a baseball bat to Traveler’s corpse, it’s not that it was an easy situation to manage Monday night, but the New York Mets organization doesn’t pay its manager and coaching staff to handle the easy situations. Hell, you can get the Admiral Stockdale of MLB managers, Charlie Manuel, if you want that. It’s assessing the serious problem and seeing your way through it today with an eye on tomorrow that separates the Caseys, Earls and Sparkys from the Arts and Gradys. In this case, it was a jam to be worked out of with precision – an array of brief to moderate appearances by several among those six arms, refusing to sacrifice the series for this one game but just as steadfastly refusing to sacrifice one reliever for the team. It begins and ends with the coaches having all ten fingers on the pulse of their players at all times; when it has come to gauging his pitchers on a daily basis, Willie’s had his hands in his pockets for as long as he’s been around.

Nota bene, Signore Randolph, that the aforementioned Sparky rode his “Captain Hook” moniker for pulling pitchers early all the way to Cooperstown; where your reluctance to do so will take you remains to be seen. Styles will vary, though, and frankly your Walter Alston cool is respectable, especially when compared to, say, Larry Bowa’s on-his-sleeve sentiments that alienated many a player. Somewhere in the fray, however, calm under pressure can become hesitation to act in the moment, and the 100th “I’m not worried about that” starts to sound like “What, me worry?” The players seem to respect and admire you; the importance of that should not be understated, but it can be overstated if the rest of the managerial skill set is lacking.

Even more finally, if you thought I would get through this diatribe without turning the barrel around to my own self for committing an obvious karmic infraction, you don’t know me well enough. It was apparent sometime halfway through the bottom of the first inning last night that I was being disciplined for my flippant acknowledgment of the Mets’ imminent successes. I had tried like hell to take a diplomatic, hex-free stance on the whole thing, but I think we all saw last night that there’s no toeing this line. I presumed and reveled prematurely, and I was sternly rebuked for it. I, along with you, fair readers, was offered an appropriately administered reminder of the Mets’ weaknesses, problem areas, and full capability of resembling the league’s rubbish on a given night. Duly noted, cosmic law enforcement, and it shan’t happen again soon.

It was just one game, a laugher at our expense that should be deposited on the compost heap forthwith. Still, if we don’t learn the lessons contained within it, history will be repeated like it was Rob’s sophomore year when he was addicted to “Days of Our Lives.” (Actually, I think it was a Government class, but that didn’t suit the gag.) For even if I have joined the legions among the Township who’ve been declaring the rest of the regular season a formality for months, the dreaded thought of losing at home in a Divisional Series to some sad-sack NL opponent like the Cincinnati Reds became a slightly more plausible fear last night. And that should be more than enough to keep me cautiously optimistic about September and concerned about October.

Still happy, of course, but concerned.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I Love the Now

Games 114 through 116 – Mets

Nationals 2, Mets 1
Mets 6, Nationals 4
Mets 3, Nationals 1
Record: 71-45

Once a summer, anywhere between a dozen and two dozen maniacs pack up vehicles and embark upon a pilgrimage of varying length to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for an angling extravaganza. For many, the trip can be 5+ hours in the car with chances for traffic-related delays at every turn to take that number irritatingly higher. With a guarantee of fun waiting at the end of the ride, it’s easy to lament the journey as a necessary evil and the destination as the more-than-worth-it goal; the mere image of long legs folded up and stowed in mid-size sedans, crawling along Interstate 95 versus those same legs stretched out, lounging in the sun on the breezy deck by the cooler – it’s an obvious dichotomy.

That said, what many among the troupe have come to see by this, the thirteenth year of the excursion, is that while – make no mistake – it’s all about the destination, not the journey, the trip down can actually be a weekend highlight. While the sprint that some have made it for purposes of bed acquisition and beach maximization is arguably prudent, it makes for plenty of teeth-gnashing in the premier chapter of an otherwise entirely enjoyable three or four days.

Meanwhile, more and more of the dudes have taken steps to kick the annual jaunt off properly, enhancing an otherwise mundane passage with the proper preparation: assembling a worthy group, choosing the wisest vehicle, packing a robust cooler, stopping en route at the finest eateries, and making a path direct in route but meandering in spirit as the miles fly by. It’s a difference noted easily in faces as they arrive, either visages of angst requiring a period of cool-down, or hearty grins that indicate the party started somewhere in Stafford County. They took the same roads, but chose different avenues (though this partly profanes Frost’s poem, it does preserve his point), and that has made all the difference.

It occurs to me at this late juncture, with the three-quarter mark nearing, that I’ve spent too much of this season fixated on the destination without enjoying this journey quite enough. Consumed with staving off jinxes, refusing premature celebration so as not to lose face later, trying like hell to maintain a healthy perspective – these are all prudent, but they leave me feeling like this ride could be a lot more fun. Players need to keep their eyes on the prize and bear down, but fans? Hey, we’re paying them to worry about it, we’re just here for the beer, the dogs, and the good seats, so I should kick back more.

As fans go year to year from grumbling about their cellar-dwellers to urging on their contenders, instinctive forces take over. Cynicism can become iron-clad within a few years, and it takes some real success and a little bit of time to wear it away. Cockiness appears in only the most casual of fans; having looked up with disdain at arrogant fans atop the standings, we’re now too proud to go that route. In addition, an appreciation for the club’s newly prestigious position makes us cling to its presence and pray for its persistence. In doing so, we (only the most lunatic, idiotic fans) are thrilled for the progress but remain altogether engrossed in reaching those lofty heights when the view even this high above sea level is something to behold. To invert the advice Rob gave his club last week, stop thinking about tomorrow – if only to revel in the moment.

In short, “stopping to smell the roses” isn’t a metaphor whose utterance would go over very well on the fishing trip, yet it’s a piece of advice frequently adhered to by its participants. My life is rife with examples of how I’ve followed the adage to a tee, so why I wouldn’t with the 2006 New York Mets is puzzling to me. This team is kicking some serious ass, so I’ll try to dispense with talking around that fact and bask in a warmth that I know full well can be fleeting.

“Mets Fan, Mets Fan, you have no complaints,
You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t,
So listen up, buster, and listen up good,
Quit wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood.
Dear Abby”

--John Prine

Friday, August 11, 2006

Happy Colored Marbles

Games 112 & 113 – Mets

Mets 4, Padres 3
Mets 7, Padres 3
Record: 69-44

Expressing too much satisfaction over the way the Mets handled the Padres would just be rubbing it in, but Rob’s a glutton for punishment and coaxed me into depositing my pair of pennies. Well, the series that ended last night went about as letter-perfect as it could have gone; the Mets sweep, Piazza is given the royal treatment and then some – and responds, and the starting pitching looks good, albeit against one of the worst-hitting clubs in baseball. And there was much rejoicing.

It’s getting to the point (up 14 games in the division on August 11) where even I am starting to at least glance around the league with an eye on October match-ups and outcomes. And what I see is good news for the Metropolitans and mixed news for my little buddy and his Sox. There seems to be a league-wide lag of late, where almost nobody seems to be playing well. Granted, much of the National League has been playing less-than-stellar ball for most of the season, but even the Junior Circuit is experiencing some recent letdowns.

Rob can take solace in a couple of facts. While Socktown today resembles lower Manhattan in October 1929, the Olde Towne Team isn’t the only squad tumbling of late. The Twins – especially after the Liriano injury – are looking thinner than ever, and the Pale Hose – for the first time since the last few games of the regular season – appear imminently beatable. The AL West seems to be the distinctly mediocre division yet again, mirroring the West of the National League. There’s plenty of pitiful play to point at beyond the Sox’ recent portrayal of Kansas City you-know-whats.

Only two teams have continued to play good baseball and post wins in the American League – the Yankees and the Tigers. Despite the recent tumble, and despite the Boston faithful fully believing that the pit of despair that the Sox have fallen into may have no bottom to it, they’ll likely rebound quickly enough. When they do, they need only top a couple of teams that at worst look even matched to the Beantown nine.

The Yankees’ success drives you bonkers on a number of levels, my man, but forget them. They’re irrelevant at this point. Ah, never mind, with that big series right around the corner, there’s still plenty to froth about on the way.

Another reason for you to rest easy in Cali, young Rob, is that the Yankees seem to be hitting their apex now, rather than in October. Peaking in August does no team any good, so perhaps the Sox have hit that lull before a streak. Of course, Boston may have actually peaked in June. Like I said, mixed news. But I’m not done flipping over to the Rem-dawg between innings, not by a long shot. Enjoy your time away.

Meanwhile, this is supposed to be Met content, but there isn’t too much to say right now. The Mets, some have argued, are also peaking now, but that’s not really the case. They’ve been playing much the same level of “win two, lose one” ball all season long. A bump in the road here, put it all together for a few games there, no streaks of either kind. Frankly, this suits them very well. Something about slow and steady, I guess.

Meanwhile, everyone else in the division or the pennant race seems to have hit a bad stretch. The Cardinals have run into a brick wall, the Reds can’t seem to decide if they really will take the wild card or not, and the West is merely a random lottery for the postseason. It’s a mess among the “contenders” these days.

Right now, the Mets look comparatively great; of course, your team excelling in August guarantees just one thing – that it’s too early to turn your attention to football. But while I’m hoping that the Mets are hitting their stride rather than their peak now, but one thing’s for sure: I couldn’t care any less about the NFL at this moment.


Game 113 – Red Sox

Royals 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 65-48

My threats to break things in response to Red Sox misplays and brutal losses are a bit of a running joke in this space. I’m a spaz, but I generally refrain from causing actual physical damage to my stuff. Last night, not so much.

As Reggie Sanders’ 8th inning line drive headed into right field, I calmly changed the channel and said aloud, “I’m done. I can’t watch any more of this shit.” The calm lasted about 2 seconds. And then I lost the battle, hurling the remote against the coffee table and watching numbly as it bounced first against the wall and then off the slate floor that marks my living room fireplace. Batteries scattered in various directions, and my wife looked at me as if I’d grown a set of horns before taking her things and walking up the stairs without a word. I’m pretty sure I was in line for some conjugal activity last night, too – my idiocy has no bounds.

I didn’t turn the game back on, and I didn’t look for the score this morning. I knew without knowing that the Sox had lost, swept by the league’s worst team to fall to 2-7 since the trade deadline.

I’m headed to California on Sunday, assuming the airport is open, and the trip could not come at a better time in terms of restoring my sanity. I’m not gonna watch the Sox tonight or tomorrow by choice – doctor’s orders – and I’ll have no opportunity to see them play while I’m taking in the sublime sights of the Monterey Peninsula for the better part of next week. I need a break. They need a break. We need a break.

I come back just in time for the Sox to open their 5-gamer with the Yankees. I'll be tanned, rested, and ready. Ok, I'll be ready. Let's hope I can say the same thing about the Sox.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Scream in Blue

Game 112 – Red Sox

Royals 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 65-47

I’m sure I could search the archives over to the right and find a time when I was more bitterly disappointed in the Red Sox, but if the Sox can’t be bothered to give a quality effort, I see no reason why I should. I went to bed mad, woke up pissed off, and even my first cup of sweet, sweet caffeine hasn’t stemmed my bile. I spent my entire drive to work trying to come up with some clever metaphor or humorous theme and I’m flat out empty of any feeling other than fist-clenching, tooth-grinding rage. (Note to self – should probably keep this entry hidden in advance of the divorce proceedings. It’s probably not gonna be the most flattering character witness.)

I’d indicated yesterday that I’d keep a running log of my reaction to the game, but one can only get so much entertainment value out of “fuck” and its various derivations. My wife did enjoy the “holy hot fuck” that I broke out when Javy Lopez dropped a thigh-high curveball to let in the Royals’ 3rd run, though she did question why I was so agitated when the Sox held the lead.

The Sox failed in every phase of the game for the 2nd consecutive night, with major breakdowns in offense, defense, pitching, and baserunning contributing to a 4th straight loss to the league’s cellar-dwellers. I’ve not spent a lot of time this season criticizing the Sox, mostly because they’ve played up to or over expectations until this recent 6-11 skid, but there’s some blame to go around.

Perhaps the “idiot” atmosphere in the Sox clubhouse was played out and a move towards a more businesslike approach made some sense, but the 2006 Sox are left with no credible redass to shake them from the their current doldrums. Schill, Paps, Manny, and Ortiz, you guys are excused – go ahead and get a massage, ‘cause Lord knows you must be exhausted from carrying the rest of these pantloads. The rest of you, get in the shower and let me throw these bats at you, because it sure as hell seems like you need an asskicking, and your manager doesn’t seem willing to administer one.

As a wise man once said, baseball’s an easy game. You hit the ball, you throw the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains. You fuckers can’t do any of those things right now, except lose.

Lopez, you had more balls bounce off your face yesterday than Jenna Jameson in a greatest hits video. Kapler, you’re on this team to play solid defense and maybe contribute on the basepaths – you get picked off one more time we’re gonna make you clean Wallace’s colostomy bag. Wily Mo, you damn dummy, how about some patience at the plate after the pitcher’s walked 2 straight – you’re killing us with the bases loaded twinkillings. Beckett, stop throwing middle of the plate fastballs to mediocre hitters – we had a 4-0 lead and you pissed it away like Mike Tyson on a shopping spree. Coco, hit a cutoff man. In the air. Youks…ahh, I can’t be mad at you, but that 7th inning at-bat was freaking pathetic. You might as well have been Corky Miller. And speaking of Corky Miller, your insertion as that punch line is the most value the Sox will get out of you and your miserable 1-for-55 self. Timlin, Delcarmen, Hansen, Seanez, Tavarez, Wells - you’re all either too old or too young. Do something about it.

This team needs an enema something fierce, and it needs someone or something to light a fire and soon. 50 games left with a growing hill to climb and no apparent sense of urgency to put the pick into the ground and start moving. I can’t believe I’m longing for a Kevin Millar rallying cry.


The usually terrific Seth Mnookin tries to talk Sox fans like me back off the ledge today in his blog. I'm pleased as punch that the Sox' front office has a long view and I'm completely convinced that they're building a terrific foundation that'll put the Sox in contention every year for the rest of time. Intellectually, I get all that - y'know, duh. Problem is, they have to play games today and compete today and I have to watch them shuffle through the motions against the dreckish Rays and Royals while the Yankees pull inexorably away for the 78th consecutive goddamn season and it's really fucking hard to have a long view when you're a fan and not paid to be rational and emotionless and fuuuuuuuuuck.

(Read that last sentence quickly, without taking a breath, and you'll be able to approximate my experience in writing it.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Whisper to a Scream

Allan Wood at Joy of Sox puts more statistical gas on the fire in the battle against common sense masquerading as Tito's continuing reliance on Coco Crisp in the leadoff spot. Coco's put up a sizzing .542 OPS from the top line in the order, while Youks has submitted a crisp .842 mark, bolstered by an OBP advantage of more than 100 points. I mean, holy hot fuck, Terry.

Slip Slidin' Away

Game 111 – Red Sox

Royals 6, Red Sox 4
Record: 65-46

In an effort to spare Whitney’s delicate sensibilities, I’ll refrain from recounting most of what went through my mind last night as the Sox sputtered in every phase of the game to punt a winnable game to the league’s worst team. No, in keeping with the dictum laid down by Thumper’s daddy, it’s all about the positive here at MLC today, even as the Sox have lost 3 straight to Tampa Bay and Kansas City.

Wily Mo Pena hit a massive bomb into the concession stand in left to give the Sox a short-lived lead in the 4th inning. (It’s a measure of the low-rent nature of the entire Royals franchise that the camera crew lost track of the ball.) Then, later, the indomitable David Ortiz crushed a ball to dead center to get the Sox within a run in the 7th.

Okay. That’s all I got. If you can’t say something nice, better not to say anything at all, I’ve always held.


Alright, maybe this one thing. If Tito chooses to keep running Coco Crisp and his .330 OBP out at the top of the order instead of Kevin Youkilis and his .400, I’ll be forced to…pout indignantly and say mean things. Also, in keeping with the Coco theme, if you run a major league baseball club and notice that your centerfielder requires a cutoff man to make a short throw home, or allows a runner to advance from 1st to 2nd on a medium-length flyout, perhaps you should reassess. Kudos to the Sox for finding the 1 guy in professional baseball who makes Johnny Damon’s throwing arm look like Vladimir Guerrero’s.

Oh, and there’s this. Javy Lopez looks more lost behind the plate than Josh Bard did. At least Bard had an excuse. Good thing Javy’s brought his bat to the party. Sadly, it’s one of those giant, red Flintstone-looking things.

Well, the bullpen improved, allowing only 2 runs to the Royals in 3 innings after Sunday’s 5-run immolation in Tampa. Of course, those 2 runs were the margin of victory.

At least the Yankees lost. But the White Sox and Twins won. Fuck.

They say that it's impossible to appreciate the moment when you're stuck in the middle of it - sort of a forest-for-trees analogy. Man, do I hope I wake up 30 days from now and get to make fun of myself for this run of hand-wringing. I'm sure Whitney's already got a dead white guy's quote prepared for the occasion.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Game 111 – Mets

Mets 3, Padres 2
Record: 67-44

Somewhere between insulting the Philadelphia Phillies and chiding Rob Russell last night, I managed to drop a mild barb in the direction of the San Diego Padres regarding the series that began tonight. “Hard to get overly enthused” about the match-up, said the idiot, forgetting that the Pad Squad had conducted one transaction months ago that made tonight’s a must-see ballgame for Mets fans of any tenure whatsoever.

1/31/06 - The San Diego Padres agreed to terms with C Mike Piazza on a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007.

I mean, duh. Mike Piazza’s return to Shea for the first time was an obvious reason for excitement, but even if I’d pieced it together last night, the spectacle tonight would still have superseded my anticipation. So much for discounting any Mets game. (For the record, I still think the Nats series may well be underwhelming.)

The Mets fans in attendance, many sporting their not-quite-obsolete Piazza 31 jerseys, came out in droves to cheer on Mets old and new, and the scene couldn’t have been any better. Mike Cameron, last seen at Shea pre-face-smash, got a rousing round of rahs when he stepped to the plate, deservedly so. But it paled in comparison to what Piazza got. Deservedly so.

Mike Piazza came to bat to lead off the second inning, and he received a gracious, grateful, and far from gratuitous standing ovation. The place went nuts, there were signs galore, and they even played his old music on the PA (the familiar start of the tune that entitles this post) as he strode to the plate . . . and paused to take it in.

Then he struck out, and it seemed like nobody was too happy about that, oddly enough. (Some nights Steve Trachsel can do no right.) But it didn’t detract from the moment, and paired with the send-off Piazza was given last fall, the Mets fans have done right by one of the greatest Mets of my lifetime. He'd later single to another great hurrah.

Rob was understandably keyed up when Pedro came back to Fenway in June, and this felt similar to that night for me. They are vastly different players with vastly different personalities, and they’ve meant different things to the two of us over the years, but the tributes were much the same. The roar of a usually hostile crowd for an old friend in enemy colors just gets me, and this was the apex of that occurrence.

Well played, people.

Ron Darling has seen his fair share of “moments,” and said that he’s not one to feel the tingle at sporting events; then he admitted to having chills.

Piazza came up in the eighth with a chance to be the go-ahead run. Out of nowhere, Gary Cohen asked what the Mets fans really wanted to happen, deep down. Now, that was a bit over the top, thinking we’d rather see the hometown team go from winning to losing just to see Mike Piazza do it again in front of the Shea faithful. And it was exactly what I was thinking. Probably the first sign of my overconfidence in this club, but I was willing to give up the lead there to see that kind of exuberance. Didn’t happen, and it’s probably just as well. But that woulda been cool, dammit.

As it turns out, the apple of the Big Apple’s eye in 2006 – David Wright – made the difference in the game, rapping out a few hits, driving in the tying and winning runs, and making plays (all but one miss in the 9th) to remind people that there’s a Golden Boy of the future. Meanwhile, it was a nice juxtaposition to see the perennial fan favorite standing on third base on inning next to Wright. The baton has officially been passed, and Mike Piazza can now fade into the heroes of yesteryear.

And so I tuned in with far greater enthusiasm than I’d figured. It turned out to be a rare spark on an otherwise random Tuesday night of Mets ball against a non-division rival with the Mets up 13 games and throwing the most visually aggravating pitcher on the roster. How about that?

Just shut up and watch the games, Whitney. Live up to the extended title of this blog, hunker down, and watch baseball. It so rarely disappoints, even when it torments.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Many Rivers to Cross

Games 108 through 110 – Mets

Phillies 5, Mets 3
Mets 4, Phillies 3
Mets 8, Phillies 1
Record: 66-44

2006 continues to be like something of a cheesy action/horror movie for the Mets, with the team revisiting old enemies that had kicked our heroes around for so long to settle the score one by one. The sweep of the Braves a few series ago is still fresh in our memory, and that played out like a gory, one-sided Steven Seagal flick. This past weekend was significantly uglier in parts, took some time to get into it, and at times was downright silly. Call it the Toxic Avenger weekend.

In addition to further damaging the NL East rival Phillies’ chances of season extenuation, New York held historical Met-eater Pat Burrell in check (1-for-8 on the weekend) as they took two of three from Philthadelphia. There are seven more contests in the next three weeks versus the Phightins, so there is plenty more left to write, but similar to the feeling of beating the Braves, knocking over the Phillies never leaves me wanting.

In truth, the Phillies pretty much handed the series win to the Mets. In both Games 2 and 3, a Philadelphia pitcher made a very costly error to spark a game-deciding rally. In each case, the pitcher wasn’t helped much by his defense, but it was his own gaffe that got things started. My old buddy Nick could go into more detail, and the next time we spill a pair of pints gulletward he will, but it seems like this wasn’t the first time for such woes to flare up.

Now, we in the Township aren’t experts on this subject, but the Philadelphia Phillies just don’t seem to have the make-up of a playoff team. (I prefaced it, now let me postscript it: not that I would know from recent firsthand witnessing.) They seem to be playing many a game as if they’re biding their time until that inevitable, unsettling moment spills the cart; if it never arrives, they’ll more than likely win with that lineup, but any small bump in the road could mean an immediate and certain detour off the road to winning and into something heinous and non-triumphant. (Sorry, Bill & Ted’s was on the other day and it stuck.)

The fact remains that they seem to be the most talented challenger in the division, and with a docket chock full of intra-divisional games still to be played out, I’m still . . . still resistant to breathe but so easy, despite my counterpart’s mockery. That said, deep down I am banking on any potential late-season Phillie noise being muffled by a collective dearth of intestinal fortitude. If they were a band of 25 Aaron Rowands, it’d be a different story, but that’s the not the case. Oh, and their manager seems to be some combination of Fred Mertz and Ernie Pantusso. And not in the good way.

Until the next round of Phanatic v. Mr. Met goes down, though, there are series against San Diego and Washington. Hard to get overly enthused about either, but I don’t get paid barrels of dough to get pumped up for each and every match-up in these people-wilting days of August. I just get paid a buck a word (apparently) to discuss them, or something tangential, or not. Enjoy.

I will also occasionally chime in on the wordsmithing happening on the other side of the aisle. Rob has taken once again to spelling out for us just how terrible the Boston Red Sox are, and if that’s overstating the point, then I’ll fit right in. The past couple of weeks have had us bearing witness to Rob’s labored lowering of his own expectations, a yearly ritual whereby members of Red Sox Nation go on record dismissing the club’s chances for postseason success. In doing so, they make me dredge up Thomas Hardy’s stance once again:
"Pessimism is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may
gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having
reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as
they may, life becomes child's play."
And I’m not saying I haven’t done the exact same thing with my own team in the past (or even this year). But one post like this is a proper epiphany, while the repeated mention of it, as if it’s an ongoing dosage of self-applied therapy, gets absurd when you realize that we have a third of a season left to play.

Yep, the Yanks are probably in better shape to snag another division title at this juncture, especially if the season ended on Labor Day. But “down the stretch they come” isn’t going to be called out for another month or more, so let’s postpone the pity party for the Nation until then. Hey, who knows, Mussina could tear his triceps, Giambi could get indicted and/or suspended, or a wicked strain of MRSA could infiltrate the Yankee Stadium locker room between now and then, tilting the odds back into Boston’s favor. A lot can happen, so unless you’re trying to go on record for an “I told you so” later or heighten your glee to the nth if and when the Sox make a run into October, there’s little point in worrying about whether Boston is the first or second best team in the American League East on V-J Day. (Someone needs to tell the Baseball Tonight crew the same thing.)

That third of the season yet to play is also why I am neither counting any chickens nor panicked about the state of the Mets’ lackluster rotation. A third of a season ago, Jose Lima was in the mix, Aaron Heilman was pitching well enough to be considered, and Alay Soler was on the rise. Now John Maine looks as reliable as anyone, Steve Trachsel appears destined for the scrap heap, and Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine have switched places on the Worried/Not As Worried meter. There will be plenty of time for speculation, but for right now, we’re still gradually assessing things one game at a time.

Oh, and David Wright is locked up long-term now, just like Jose Reyes. I will say this: Good times we’ve had, we’ll have again.


Games 108 through 110 – Red Sox

Red Sox 3, Devil Rays 2
Devil Rays 8, Red Sox 5
Devil Rays 7, Red Sox 6 (10)
Record: 65-45

My current mental state regarding the Sox is one of the perverse side effects of the 2004 championship season. Pre-2004, every time a promising Sox team took a header, I rationalized it and highlighted the positive aspects, the potential for a rebound – as if giving voice to the negative would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 2004 freed me from all that. Now, I’m much more coldly rational in assessing the Sox’ outlook – I can call a spade a spade without the psychic baggage. (Note for the record: that cold rationality only applies during the fallow periods between games, when the mind gets to wandering towards the philosophical, especially in the midst of the doldrums. During games, when I’m focused on the action, all claims to rationality should be taken for the absurd misstatements that they certainly are.)

The Sox closed up shop in St. Petersburg for the season with a 3-7 record in the gloomy warehouse that passes for the Rays’ ballpark, and they did it on the strength (weakness?) of 2 consecutive bullpen implosions. Saturday’s result was slightly easier to swallow than Sunday’s, as the Sox never led – though they did close to within 1 run in the 8th inning. Craig Hanson gave up 3 in the bottom of the 8th, and despite scoring once in the 9th and loading the bases with 1 out, the Sox fell short.

Yesterday was a true kick in the pants, and effectively the culmination of the compiled fears of the Nation. Jason Johnson gave the Sox 6 strong innings, leaving the game on the right side of a 6-2 count, even as the Sox offense gave away chances to pad that lead (though with a 7-9 of Alex Gonzalez, Alex Cora, and the immortal Corky Miller, 6 runs is an explosion). Manny Delcarmen began the parade of ineffective relievers by giving up 2 7th-inning runs on a 2-out double by Ben Zobrist. Don’t ask – I don’t know who he is, either. In retrospect, the inning’s big hit was B.J. Upton’s single up the middle on an 0-2 fastball that caught way too much of the plate and put runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out.

Mike Timlin continued the parade in the 8th, giving up a long homer to the Travis Lee, the worst-hitting first baseman in the American League. The indignity was made nearly complete later in the 8th when Jon Papelbon got too much of the plate with another 0-2 fastball and the legendary Dioner Navarro took him deep to tie the game. Julian Tavarez completed the cycle by giving up a game-ending blast to Greg Norton in the bottom of the 10th. 4 relievers, 3+ innings, 5 runs, 3 homers, game over.

Ben Zobrist. Travis Lee. Dioner Navarro. Greg Norton. Those are the guys that beat the Sox yesterday. Sorry, but I just don’t see that happening to the Yankees or the White Sox or the Twins. Even on a day when the close-your-eyes-and-hope starter exceeded expectations, the rapidly fraying bullpen couldn’t get 9 outs against a AAAA offense.

Not to get too repetitive in this space, but this spade is most certainly a spade – a high octane offense with a pitching staff rendered not ready for prime time by injuries and ineffectiveness at the least opportune juncture. I expect to be highly grumpy for the next 2 months, because while cold and rational means that I can be objective about the Sox’ prospects, there’s no amount of analysis that permits me to stop caring way too much. The remote control hurled couchward at the end of yesterday’s game is People’s Exhibit A on that count.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Game 107 – Red Sox

Indians 7, Red Sox 6
Record: 64-43

Lather, rinse, repeat. Or, put to the tune of the 2006 Red Sox: Ebby Calvin gets shelled, the Sox make a valiant comeback and fall just short, another loss that could’ve been a win. And before I’m accused of seeing only the empty volume inside the glass, I’m well aware of the number of wins the Sox have compiled that probably should’ve been losses. Still doesn’t make last night any less frustrating, especially since the Sox wasted a 3-0 lead and several stellar defensive efforts by Alex Gonzalez.

3 more homers given up by Beckett told the tale against the Indians. Yielding a bomb to Travis Hafner is no great shame, but when luminaries such as Aaron Boone and Shin So Choo (or, as Beckett called him after the game, “Whatever his name is.”) play longball, it’s well past time to reassess. Beckett’s now given up 31 taters on the year and his ERA sits at an even 5.00. Effectively, the Sox are down to 1 above-average starter, and that guy is almost 40 years old and coming off of his worst drubbing of the season. And I’m getting clubbed around here for being pessimistic. Sheesh.

Help is on the way, though, to paraphrase 2004 presidential candidate John Edwards. Of course, help in this case is embodied by Javy Lopez, acquired from the Orioles to fill Jason Varitek’s shoes for a few weeks. I’d like to find some of Edwards’ perpetual optimism, but I’m finding more parallels in his running mate’s day late and a dollar short campaign efforts.

The Sox wake up this morning in solo second place for the first time in months, and the next 17 games are critical. The Sox face a stretch of very winnable series against Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Baltimore before welcoming Detroit to Fenway. The Yankees take on the O’s (6 times), White Sox, and Angels over the same 12-game period. After both teams dispense with the preliminaries, the hype machine will ratchet up to DEFCON 5 as the Sox host the Yankees in a rare 5-game set kicked off with doubleheader on August 18. I’m eagerly awaiting massive doses of Chris Berman, eye-gougingly exasperating homilies from Tim McCarver and 4 days of stomach-churning anxiety.

Meanwhile, Whit’s Mets own precisely the same record as the Sox and get to coast along for the next 2 months, sniffing roadside flowers, writing poetry, and taking leisurely naps to the soft strains of a roaming calypso band. I’ll trade you.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ugly on the Outside

Games 106 & 107 – Mets

Mets 6, Marlins 5
Marlins 4, Mets 1
Record: 64-43

Back in early April, a Mets writer who shall remain nameless wrote:
. . . the rookie-ridden, no-name Marlins are taking this premier stint in the
season to evaluate themselves, gain some experience, and develop some confidence
in these young players. In April that’s hard to do, but this team does have
talent, and by July they may well put forth a far greater challenge for the
Genius, he.

And so concludes what by most accounts is a rather unsightly three-gamer in Miami: a giveaway in the ninth, a damn-near-giveaway the next night, and a struggle to plate runs while the new hot-seat set-up man gets roughed up for the loss on the third night. It appears this series had no alibi, as the youngsters might say.

Ah, but I of the mauve Ray-Bans contend that we had something rather attractive to ogle during this losing series. For starters . . . well, that’s about it: the starters.

In Game 1, Mike Pelfrey was actually solid. He gave up a two-run mistake to Hanley Ramirez, but if you forgive that (alas, the scorekeeper did not), he pitched well enough to put the Mets in a situation to win. I guess I have to mention that not only did Bwag ruin it in the 9th, but Pelf also got demoted immediately following. Still, baby steps rookie didn’t get throttled, baby steps fastball looks nice.

Game 2, the lone win. Steve Trachsel was also susceptible to the long ball, but with everything being relative, he pitched better than he has in a while (despite racking up win after win). Baby steps veteran didn’t get throttled, baby steps the game didn’t take five hours.

Tonight . . . Pedro. Petey. P-Mart. The ace. The Dominican can grin again. Call him anything you like, just note that he was back to his old form, minus 7 or 8 miles per hour but plus some crafty sage advantage. He never broke 90, according to the local gun. (Of course, with the current state of equipment at old Pro Joe Dolphin Robbie Player Stadium, I’m pretty sure the radar gun was donated by the Miami-Dade sheriff’s department after 25 years of service, takes several 9-volt batteries, and predates the digital age, so who knows how fast Pedro was gunning it?) All that mattered was that he was mixing his pitches, changing his speeds, and hitting his spots. Only ex-Met Mike Jacobs’ blast to right tarnished Pedro’s night. And this, my friends, is without a doubt the freshest breath of air we’ve taken lately.

It’s widely acknowledged inside and outside these parts that the Achilles heel of this first-place team has been the starting rotation for some time. Now, with the bullpen on an obvious and understandable downturn for the first time all season, I’d like to believe the starters are picking it up and gutting it out, knowing their back end may be suffering. (Insert George Brett joke here.) It doesn’t overjoy us to describe the bullpen’s collective three-game series as “Stink, Stank, Stunk,” but there’s reason to believe that the next two months will provide time to stabilize that element; meanwhile, I’m taking serious solace in the sighting of an old-style Pedro performance and improved outings by other starters. Tom Glavine, please follow their lead.

So that’s why I’m surprisingly upbeat after the beatdown, even though I missed watching the only win of the series. Last night I was attending a blog summit with the wizard of Gheorghe: The Blog, who, despite being a rather large Yankee fan, has thus far declined to pay for the right to watch them play on a nightly basis. In lieu of seeing my Mets, we conducted several unrelated debates, such as whether Jason Giambi is saturated with Human Growth Hormone because the Yankees’ payroll is so astronomically out of whack or vice versa. (Trust me, it’s a “the chicken or the egg” type of argument with little resolution.) Tonight, of course, I was able to hunker down and take in the gnarled image of GIDP after GIDP and Aaron Heilman’s continuance of his down-escalator-like season. Well played.

In spite of all this, and perhaps in part because Jose Reyes signed a long-term deal to stay a Met for a while, I’m casting aside the sour trip to the Sunshine State (made most sour by Duaner Sanchez’s accident) and looking forward to the Phils coming to town this weekend. Philly seems invigorated by Chase Utley’s huge hit streak; may the Mets shut him and them down in one fell swoop.