Friday, September 29, 2006

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

Game 160 - Mets

Mets 4, Nationals 3
Record: 95-65

Actually, losing Pedro isn’t as bad as many might believe. I mean, he missed most of the latter half of the season, he’s been shelled more than he’s mowed ‘em down lately, and he seems to have lost his flair for the moment – not his charismatic appreciation for it, just his dominance in the face of extreme odds. Frantic friends amid the Township need to bear in mind that we lost the 2006 Pedro Martinez, not the turn-of-the-millennium Petey.

Yeah, okay, it pretty much blows.

Watching him would have been awesome, and who’s to say that he didn’t have a dandy of a postseason awaiting him? He certainly was rested. It now makes the Mets’ staff that much less fearsome – El Duque will take the hill in Game 1 for the Metropolitans . . . and there’s a statement I’d have fallen out of my chair upon hearing back in April.

It remains to be seen whom Hernandez and the Mets will face in the NLDS; as New York rests, hones, and simulates real-game situations against Washington this weekend, showdown upon showdown occurs around the league. The Mets could end up squaring off against San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Houston, or even Cincinnati – it’s that up in the air, even as there are only two or three games left on the docket. The only potential playoff team they won’t play in Round 1 is the Phightin’ Phillies, whose unbelievable fortnight was seemingly undone by a pair of unlikely losses to the scrappy Nats this week. They’re the team I’ve said I least want to face in October, due to their familiarity with and success against the Mets, plus their recent record. But they’re by far not the only club that induces a bit of worry, and there are too many teams in the mix tonight to figure it out.

It’s chaos, National League style, and it would only be fitting if a team or two backed into the postseason on a loss. The Mets are the duly crowned kings of the dipshits, but losing their ace has tightened the race significantly. Their 1-2-3 arms are among the worst in the running, save maybe the Cards and the long-shot Reds. That’s at first glance, of course; those of us who’ve caravanned alongside the Metmen throughout this marathon have more faith in our pitchers. Each of them has shown at least sporadic, sometimes even consistent prominence this season. Each has it in him to get it done, especially with the stalwart lineup clicking. Unfortunately, it’s also equally true that each of them has it in him to implode in an altogether messy display.

The first inning has seemed to plague Glavine and El Duque for much of the year. Dodging trouble in the premier frame with either of these two guys on the hill won’t assure anything, but I’ll breathe a sigh of relief if it happens. If Hernandez has that wicked curveball sliding all over the plate and Tommy G is working that in-and-out with a curve to boot, I’ll take my chances. If not . . . boys, bring them bats.

Steve Trachsel . . . I just don’t know. You know how Rob loves Timmy Wakefield but can’t bring himself to endure the spectacle of a Wake outing? It’s like that, except that I don’t love Trax at all. He’s absurdly frustrating to watch, “deliberate” in his approach to a fault and picking away at the corners while I pick away at my fingernails. Grass-growing or Steve Trachsel throwing – they’re neck and neck in speed as well as in the pleasure to bear witness. And while he’s fully capable of delivering, he’s been wholly mediocre for a large part of this season. It was just a few weeks ago that he was being penciled out of the postseason rotation, but for obvious reasons, he’ll get his shot. And I’ll have to watch.

The offense has simply got to show up. Every bit of it. There cannot be a lag after a meaningless tail end to a brilliant regular season. We cannot have Carlos Beltran reverting to ’05 form (after one of the more impressive seasons in Met history) when the bright lights click on; although he’s thrived in the NLDS/NLCS spotlight before, we’re left to hope that the pressure of top-heavy expectations doesn’t bring back his Punxsutawney Phil persona. The young guys need to appear experienced beyond their years. Willie needs to keep the team loose. In short, they just need to keep these wheels rolling. There’s every reason to expect it, and every fear at play that they won’t.

Clearly I’m already approaching basket case status with the playoffs still days away. Maybe it’s watching all of these battles for contention; tonight has been one of the greatest nights to have the Extra Innings package in memory, and every implication-laden outcome has me on edge. And yeah, my team clinched relative eons ago.

Gotta shake off losing Pedro. Deeply talented teams like the Mets can do that – or pretend to – a lot better than some of these barely-strung-together overachievers vying for next week’s contests. In a vague stretch of a parallel, I am reminded of one of my first rugby practices in college when I stopped to attend to a scrimmaging teammate who’d fallen with an obvious and painful injury. One of the veteran seniors told me after the play that I shouldn’t do that, that there was little I could do for the individual but that I could cost the team further in a match. He acknowledged the callous nature of such a notion, shrugging it off as part of the game. That’s where the Mets are right now; pausing to reflect any further on what losing Pedro might mean only serves to distract the gang from the mission and open holes for the enemy. Play on.

There's a Tear in My Beer

Well, not necessarily in my beer, but I bet Whitney's suds got a little salty yesterday after the news broke regarding Pedro's season-ending injury. I still think the Mets are the best team in the (weak, very weak, so weak that they went 2-16 against the mediocre Boston Red Sox) National League, and that they'll be favored in any series they play in the postseason. That said, their margin for error just got shaved to the width of John Maine's wispy mustache hairs.

I'm bummed, too, because Pedro on the hill in a late-season meaningful game is entertainment gold, regardless of how well he pitches. From his legend-making 6-inning no-hit performance against the Indians in the '99 ALDS, to his toreador impersonation on Don Zimmer, to his dominance of the Cardinals in the '04 World Series (have I mentioned in this space that the Sox won that Series?), the Duke of Duende is magnetic when the weather cools down.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Games 152 through 158 - Red Sox

Twins 8, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 6, Twins 0
Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 1
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 3
Blue Jays 13, Red Sox 4
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 0
Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 1
Record: 84-74

Apologies for the long hiatus - I've been at the beach with my blogging colleague, pickling my liver with assorted high-end microbrews (and the occasional Pabst Blue Ribbon) and avoiding any and all contact with the Boston Red Sox.

The last bits of the season are rapidly swirling towards the mouth of the bowl, soon to be swept mercifully away and mostly forgotten. As the seasons change here in the mid-Atlantic and the air takes on a welcome evening chill, it seems indefinably strange to be this devoid of anticipation.

The Sox haven't played out the string on a season since 2002, which is so long ago that I don't even remember it, lost as it is in the hyperbolic haze of the past 3 mega-seasons. As Whit's Metros hold their breath this evening in hopes that San Pedro's calf is intact, I find myself calmly melancholic for the first time in 4 Octobers.

I'll find some time in the next few days to tie a bow around this once-promising campaign. Until then, I live by the twin mantras, 'Let's Go Mets' (for after all, Whitney jumped squarely aboard the Sox train in 2004) and ABtY (Anyone But the Yankees). If Whit's boys get to stick a knife in the uber-Yanks, terrific. If the Tigers, Twins, or A's do it in the ALDS, so much the better.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Karma Police

I beg a million pardons for my time away from my home away from home, MLC HQ. I’ve been around the world, or at least to Beantown, Strong Island, and Big D, plus I’ve had an array of afflictions that Rob kindly detailed below. In truth, I was beset by technological woes as well, for which my wife continues to pay dearly. All in all, I’ve been utterly remiss in my blogging duties, but I have been locked in on these here New York Mets. Nothing can keep me from ingesting every last morsel of this refreshingly sweet season.

As the focus in the Township shifts rather abruptly from eyeing the magic number(s) to projecting the playoffs, the Mets should maintain top dog status for the National League. As Jerry pointed out in the first quarter of his post today at the Wheelhouse, he saw the Mets as head-and-shoulders above the rest of the division many moons ago, and called it as such. As it turned out, the talent differential was all that was needed, despite my restrained optimism. There is equivalent reason to believe that the Mets should succeed in the postseason; that said, you’ll have to permit me my standard aversion to heralding the Mets as front-runners. While there are very real question marks that could plague the Mets in a short series, it’s obviously more of a superstition thing with me to avoid anything that could be construed as premature boasting -- or more accurately, it’s a karma thing.

Don’t believe in karma as it pertains to baseball? Then you’re just not paying attention.

Karma, or the modern usage of the term, affects just about every aspect of life in some way, and baseball is far from immune. In many cases, karma isn’t enough to outweigh other forces in nature. Take, for example, the 2006 New York Yankees. They embody the worst elements of negative karma with their obscene payroll, some brazen usage of HGH, their fans’ egregious entitlement, their perennial status as Goliath, and . . . well, just Alex Rodriguez being there. But all of those sinister emanations can’t derail what is by all accounts an All-Star Team, and the Yankees have cruised to the division title with ho-hum aplomb – unless you actually listened to the fabricated, head-in-the-sand melodrama about overcoming odds with a couple of (the two dozen) key players injured. This is how empires are built in the face of karma.

Providence isn’t just where many of the late-season Red Sox belonged, it’s also a true component of the Fall Classic and the weeks that spill into it. In the oft-dreaded short series, there are many moments when brute force and sheer talent cannot overcome the will of the Fates. Take, for example, the 2001-2005 New York Yankees. By all rights, each of these squads held the pink slip for the World Series trophy before the regular season had taken its final bow. It stood to reason that there would be more refuse on the streets of the Big Apple after the ticker-tape parade (cheering on the Yankees, presumably). Reason doesn’t account for karma, however, and I do. Let’s review.

Let’s start back in 1995, the year after the World Series was cancelled by a strike. (Incidentally, this event caused a storm of serious cosmic negativity that baseball hasn’t yet escaped.) The Atlanta Braves, or “America’s Team” as it was known to our less intelligent countrymen, were not exactly karmic darlings, but they weren’t the glowing mound of atmospheric wrong that they’d become after 1995. Meanwhile, Indians fans, much like Cubs fans, have been on the butt end of the world’s gags for an eternity. Advantage, Atlanta.

1996: The beginning of the Bomber “dynasty.” Baseball was quickly sliding into an era of haves/have-nots not seen since the days of Louis XVI, but the Yankees hadn’t yet realized how to exploit the system. The state of the once-great franchise was in serious question, as the Yanks hadn’t won it all in going on two decades. (God bless the Pags years.) The roster was comprised of unsung folks like Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, and a young rookie named Derek Jeter – very good, but not the bought talent of future years. Meanwhile, the Braves were already cosmically shopworn. Not even the bad vibes of a playoff game tainted by a 12-year-old brat who was championed rather than ejected could turn the momentum. Yankees win.

1997: The upstart Florida Marlins slipped one by the karmic goalie, playing the “feelgood expansion franchise” card rather than the “Wayne Huizenga rented a team of studs” one. They toppled the by-now cosmically friendless Braves, then faced the Tribe in the Series. When karma enters, Cleveland loses. Marlins take it.

1998: The feelgood Padres had to think that fortune was on their side, and it was. They knocked off the new karmic doormat in Atlanta and stepped in against the Bombers. Trouble was, they could have had Gandhi at short and Albert Schweitzer on the hill, but Los Banditos Yanquis were too damn good. 114-win good. As I said earlier, there are times when the world can’t right the wrong in time. (There may be an example or two in world history.) Yankees win.

1999: Yankees, still very good, but also facing the world’s spittoon in the Braves. A sweep, just to put an exclamation point on Atlanta’s plight, and just to ensure that no human with a soul gave a damn who won this Hitler vs. Mussolini showdown.

2000: Your New York Mets jump up and take their turn at ruining the Braves’ year. The Yankees were by now a tired act, and truly the Mets should have won this series. But God, Yahweh, or whoever resides on high believes in two principles: first, the more the dog waits patiently for his day, the tastier the treat; second, Armando Benitez reverses all karmic arrangements inextricably. Yankees win, and a Township mourns.

2001: Finally, at long last, there is enough of a divine backlash to what the Yanks were doing. What had begun in ’96 with those homegrowns and retreads was now a machine of spending and earning. Capitalism at its finest, equality at its weakest. The Arizona Diamondbacks – after smearing another Atlanta campaign – somehow pulled off the win despite a Yankee attack seemingly destined to pull out one last faux-karma black magic trick. This is how empires are smote thanks to karma. Miracles do happen. Diamondbacks win.

2002: Miracles often involve angels, and Anaheim ended a long run of pinstripes in the Classic with a first-round upset. Meanwhile, the first batch of non-Yankee, non-Brave bad karma appeared on the San Francisco Giants. The feelgood tale of a fabled franchise ending a severe drought stood no chance against the gargantuan wall of cold feelings emanating from ol’ number 25. Angels win in an agonizing fashion that chides “shame on you” to the Giants.

2003: Another case of bad vibe one-upsmanship. The Marlins, after what transpired in 1997 – or, I should say what went down in 1998-99 in Florida, deserved a fate much worse. The team should have gone decades without another title, long enough to call it the Blockbuster Curse. The problem was all in whom they faced. Round 1, the Giants. Barry trumps Wayne. Round 2, the Cubs. Back to one of the core principles, that of the inexplicable pain towards Indians and Cubs supporters. Round 3, the Yankees. End of story. Marlins win.

2004: It was time. The Red Sox had been the face and voice, thanks to the Nation, of the dogged quartet that included the Cubs, Indians, White Sox and them. They got their just desserts, too, with as dramatic an NLCS as ever dreamt and a clean sweep in the Series. Worth noting is that Tony LaRussa has spent most of his days on the cosmic firing line, with one title slipped into 25 years of too little, too late. Something about a little too much tough guy bravado and too many beanballs for the higher authorities. But regardless, it was time. Red Sox win.

2005: Same story, different town. The other Sox pulled off an even longer drought-killer, in part because it was time, and in part because the Red Sox fans had been bawling and blathering on in blustery fashion for a year – so the powers that be decided to top 86 years with 88 in a “whatever you can do” statement. It worked, to some degree. Pale Hose win over an Astro franchise that hasn’t seemed to earn one lick of karma – good or bad – in its 45 years of existence. The ‘Stros play, Yahweh yawns.

2006: ??? Who’s on the right side of destiny this year? Who’s tinkering with their fortunes in all the wrong ways? It’s too early to tell for sure, but there are a few clubs that seem sprinkled with just enough good will to make the difference, and a few others that fucked with the wrong Fate.

I had a funny feeling about one guy messing with his own fortune a few months ago: everybody’s favorite target, Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie had become a fan favorite last year by leading his surprising Sox to the title with off-the-beaten-path, occasionally off-color quips. He was funny, he was embraced, and he was successful.

The world outside these two guys at MLC dog-piled Ozzie when he called Gay Mariotti a “fag” earlier this year, but Rob and I tried to take the piss out of the windbags who made an issue of it. Somewhere in the weeks that followed, however, Ozzie lost me. When he publicly blasted the kid reliever in plain view of the sporting world for not plunking a batter, he went against everything we’ve ever been taught about how a team works. Aforementioned unnecessary tough guy bravado aside, if he wanted to tear the kid a new one, go ahead – just do it in the clubhouse away from fans and reporters. You don’t turn on one of your own in public. Behind closed doors, call him every name in the book and ship him off to wherever, if that’s your policy. I was once told that inside the [clubhouse] I didn’t amount to crap as far as the [manager] was concerned, but outside it I was better than everyone else on any other [team]. It rang true, and it fostered the same amount of solidarity that Ozzie surrendered when he screamed bloody murder at a middle reliever in the dugout. Hence, the rather inexplicable late-season tumble for the ChiSox. And the wind . . . whispers . . . Ozzie.

On a similar note, Miguel Cabrera’s finger point in his pitcher’s face – and the on-field sniping that precipitated it – supersede 10,000 gallons of Joe Girardi get-go and the amazing story of a $15M payroll maximized, if only when topped with some Jeffrey Loria demon-seed.

To a lesser extent, Rob’s band of scarlet sanitaries might have incurred the activity of karmic backlash when he and his Nation bemoaned the weak state of the team when they were still neck-deep in the pennant race. After the much-mocked “woe is us” cry sounded, it was as if we got a garish display of “You wanna see not-in-the-race? I got your gonna-fall-short right here.” Yikes. Remind me not to jump that gun.

And then there are the Yankees, who, as mentioned, stormed through the turmoil of having to replace a $15M All-Star with a $16M All-Star. Karma be damned, they’ll outbid the Fates all the way to the Series.

On the plus side of the intangible ether, those damnable Philadelphia Phillies could be the best story going. After sending their star and solid arm to the Bronx, they coagulated like Mark Lemongello – even as their spiritual leader was lost to his second gruesome injury of the year. Hear me now and believe me later, we do not want to see this team in the playoffs. What those P-marked duffel bags lack in talent, they fill with feelgood.

The Tigers have plenty of good-story mojo to them, but they may well square off against the Yanks before long, and that’s not likely a happy ending. Same goes for those scrappy A’s and sneaking-in Twins. Just doesn’t measure up.

Out in L.A., the Dodgers would ordinarily be void of the good stuff, but now that they’ve fleshed out their roster with a horde of ex-Sox, it would be a big middle finger to the outside-looking-in Beantowners. It’s a stretch of a storyline, but not beyond the wiles of that crack Fox Sports squad.

So what to make of the Mets’ karma in 2006? Yeah, it’s been a long while coming to get to some actual Mets content here, but like I said, it’s time to size up the other contenders as much as it is to take a look at the Mets. The Mets are long on talent, especially when that lineup is healthy and producing at even a modest clip. The rotation has been the subject of much scrutiny in spaces within this blog and throughout the Township. Unfortunately, it’s that facet of the club where the talent may be mitigated, and other factors may have to take over. You know – managerial shrewdness, defense, and big offensive outbursts (the kind Rob has on the softball field, in more ways than one). Plus, the thing I’ve been babbling on about for some time here. The big k-word.

Outside of Philadelphia (I’m forever thankful I largely remain), the Mets’ mojo matches up fairly well. They did pay through the schnoz for this team, and that always bodes ill in this conversation. If you’re going to spend lavishly, you’d better either spend wisely or spend 200 million bucks to offset the repercussions of a store-bought team. So far, Omar seems to have accomplished the former. Still, you have to fight through that purchased-their-way-here negativity.

On the positive side, the energy, youthful exuberance, and utter watch-ability that Jose Reyes and David Wright bring to the Mets is a huge plus. They seem to be doing it all the right way, they came up from the farm, and they’re locked up long-term. They are the face of the franchise, even in the wake of the big signings that stand out on the roster. There's a ton of good to come from this pair.

Oh, and 20 years since the ’86 team. A nice, round number. Worth a mention.

I’ll just say that this team feels like a winner, feels like a good group without any serious anti-karma dragging it down. Obviously, I am immensely biased, but from here, the high salaries seem to be the only detractor from the good vibes and the enormous talent. I certainly like their sense of destiny better than LaRussa’s gang’s or the rest of the NL’s. And if the Mets could find the fortune to advance, and they square off against the Yankees in the final showdown . . . well, if that contest ever came down to matters beyond the stratosphere, I’ll take those odds any day.

So that’s the lowdown on karma in baseball. I feel sure by now that you’ve been convinced that it plays a very real role in the outcome of October games. For analysis in a more linear sense . . . just go back to the Mets sites you’ve been visiting for the past three weeks in my stead.

See you again soon. I promise.

Return to Sender

Game 151 - Red Sox

Twins 7, Red Sox 3
Record: 81-70

I bathed my kids last night, read them stories, and put them to bed at about 8:15. I turned on the Sox game just in time to see the Twinkies go up, 6-0, on a Torii Hunter longball against the game but rusty Tim Wakefield. I spent the rest of the evening surfing between the Crocodile Hunter Memorial Service (did Anthony Wiggle really need to get into costume to emcee that thing?), Bobby Flay on the Food Network, and various National League games. Can you tell that the thrill is gone?

One more measly game and the Yankees clinch the division, and 2 or 3 more than that before the Sox are officially eliminated from playoff contention. I've heard that the New York Mets clinched their division this week, but I'm not sure if that's the case - if they had, I'd expect that my colleague would have posted something.

Speaking of Whitney, he cabled me last night from Waziristan, where he's leading a group of Pashtun tribesmen in a valiant effort to unearth Osama Bin Laden's collection of Whitney Houston memorabilia. It appears that the Whitneys like to stick together. Guess I would too, were I saddled with such an unfortunate name. Between that, the painful toe fungus, and the heartbreak of chlamydia, it's been a tough few months for my pal.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lost and Found

In the interest of keeping the MLC readership informed, just wanted to let you know that I got a call from Whitney last night, so we can put to rest the rumors of his demise. He's deepinthehearta Texas, valiantly combatting the twin scourges of psoriasis and alcohol-induced anxiety attacks. He expects to post sometime in 2006, so until then, we'll do our best to keep you posted on his where- and whatabouts.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Am I Too Late?

Games 147 through 150 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Yankees 2
Yankees 7, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 6, Yankees 3
Red Sox 5, Yankees 4
Record: 81-69

Finally, a bright spot amidst the post-apocalyptic dreamscape that’s served as the backdrop to this season’s 2nd half. The scrappy, patchwork Pawsox hung just tough enough to sweep a doubleheader from the mostly disinterested Yankees yesterday and take 3 of 4 in the Bronx over the weekend. What a difference a month makes.

The ongoing theatre of the absurd opened to rave reviews in its off-off-off-off-Broadway curtain on Saturday, with Josh Beckett finally resembling the guy the Sox shelled out long dollars to retain. (The location refers not to Yankee Stadium, but the metaphorical site of the first Sox/Yanks series in nearly 4 years not to cause Tim McCarver’s eyeballs to bleed from overwrought dramatic tension.) Julian Tavarez tried gamely to lead the Sox to a sweep in the day’s 2nd game, but the Sox bullpen gave up 2 late runs to the Yankees after the offense had knocked Randy Johnson around – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Young David Murphy led off yesterday’s first tilt with his first career homerun, a sure harbinger of things to come. Papi momentarily silenced his detractors in the Yankee Stadium crowd with his 49th homer of the year, and Kevin Youkilis ripped a 3-run 7th-inning shot to break the game open and lead the Sox to the win, guaranteeing that the Yankees would be unable to celebrate their division championship in front of the Sox.

The Sox scrapped back from a 4-2 deficit in the series finale to sweep a doubleheader in the Bronx for the first time in 30 years. Too little and far too late, indeed, but I suppose it’s better than the alternative. From the get your happiness where you can department, it’s been nice to see Murphy and Pedroia break into the bigs, even as the diminutive infielder’s struggled a bit.

Yankee fans are ticked at Ortiz because he publicly politicked for his primacy in the MVP race at the expense of Derek Jeter. I’ve been trying to ignore my obvious bias on the topic and really dig into my MVP choice. For me, the following criteria matter:

  • The MVP really must come from a team that’s headed to the playoffs or in serious contention until the final weeks. Value is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m a lot more compelled by performances that elevate teams from good to contender than efforts that make an awful team slightly less awful. Sorry to Travis Hafner and Ortiz (not to mention Manny Ramirez) on this count.
  • The best MVP candidates have to stand out on their own teams, and if you could make the argument that their absence wouldn’t have much overall impact, then they’re not an MVP. While Derek Jeter’s having a very, very good year (although his OPS is but 3rd-best on his own team), I simply have a hard time believing that a team with Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano would suffer significantly with a lesser player at short. In this case, Jeter suffers because the Yankees are so damn stacked. Not his fault, but it does reduce his “value” in this context. Ultimately, to me, the single most important component of the MVP calculus is this: which guy would hurt his team the most by his absence.
  • Fielding is most always a red herring, and the DH vs. field player argument makes little sense to me unless the fielder in question is outstanding. I fail to see the logic that defensive adequacy translates to additional value.
  • Big-game, big-moment performance matters, because momentum is a real, if intangible component of a baseball season and standout performances in the clutch contribute significantly to that momentum. Jeter gets high marks here, as does Papi.
  • Finally, pitchers are a part of every team’s roster, and they are arguably the single most important component of every single game, so to argue that they shouldn’t be considered for the MVP is ludicrous.

By my reckoning, Ortiz and Hafner lose out because their teams aren’t going anywhere. Jeter’s eliminated by dint of the overall excellence in the Yankee lineup. Justin Morneau’s got nice numbers, but they pale in comparison to a number of other offensive stars – he’s 9th in the league in OPS. So it’s down to Jermaine Dye and Johan Santana, and it says here that the Twins would be in deep nowhere without Santana, while the ChiSox would remain competitive in Dye’s absence. Johan Santana’s been the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2006.

In a brief housekeeping note, Whitney's nursing a painful case of plantar fascitis and fighting off a recurring halitosis outbreak - we look to see something from him should the Mets ever clinch their division.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New York City

Games 144 through 146 – Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Orioles 5
Orioles 4, Red Sox 0
Red Sox 6, Orioles 5
Record: 78-68

The Sox overcame Mike Timlin’s one-man crusade to repay the Orioles for their generosity this season, taking 2 of 3 from the Birds despite the desiccated hurler’s best (?) efforts in the first and 3rd games. The Sox are now 13-2 against the Charm City 9, leading snarksters across the blogosphere to petition David Simon to set next season’s episode of The Wire in and around Camden Yards. The despair and violence wrought by the Sox is at least a match for that found on the Corner. The first episode will focus on the reunion of Kevin Youkilis and his long-lost identical twin brother, Det. Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauc.

(Note to self: a comparison of the Sox roster and the cast of The Wire is a splendidly hackneyed idea. Get to work on that. Big Papi as Stringer Bell, Curt Schilling as Tommy Carcetti, Jason Johnson as the hapless Prez – this could be interesting. Somebody alert Deapspin to watch this space.)

Hidden by the Sox’ dominance against the O’s is their 65-66 record against the rest of the major leagues. And, in the interest of further turning my stomach, let’s extricate Boston’s 16-2 interleague mark from that tally, which yields a ghastly 49-64 record against all teams not from Baltimore or the NL East. Gack.

Turning on a dime, does anyone else have a mental picture of George Steinbrenner sitting in a darkened control room, rubbing his hands and muttering a Burns-esque, “Exxxcelllent” as every other contender in the American League dashes themselves against a series of very hard, very unforgiving boulders? The Tigers are in freefall, the Twins – despite playing good baseball at the moment – have lost Francisco Liriano for the season (and with him any chance of taking a series against the Yankees, in my extremely unbiased and expert opinion), the White Sox are playing as if they expect someone just to grant them access to the postseason, and the A’s are quietly working to get just far enough to be exposed by the Yankees in October.

I’ve seen this train coming for some time now, and I’ve refused to acknowledge it, but the Yankees sure look unstoppable right now. Whitney would have something to say about that, but the stitches from the liver transplant/gender transformation surgery make it difficult for him to type. We’re tentatively expecting him back for October.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Distant Early Warning

Games 142 & 143 - Red Sox

Royals 10, Red Sox 4 (12)
Red Sox 9, Royals 4
Record: 76-67

Yayyyyy! We beat the Royals! I can die happy now.

For the record, the Sox and Kansas City now share identical 23-34 marks since the All-Star break. That's possibly the single most depressing statistic in a period of grossly disappointing performance.

The Nation is breaking out the big guns on boy genius Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona in a mad rush to assess blame. As therapeutic as such assignation might be, this corner of the blogosphere screams "Stop the everloving madness." The Sox will fail to make the playoffs this season, and 2006 will go down with 2001 as one of the most remarkably disappointing campaigns in memory, but the reasons are pretty goddamn simple - the Sox fell victim to extraordinarily bad luck. Period.

The same Sox team that was 65-43 in late July would have coasted to a playoff berth (or at least been in contention until the season's final days - and probably at a bare minimum would've kept me in the race to win free beer from Whitney) if they'd stayed even moderately healthy - that team was on pace to win 98 games, and they had the bulk of their remaining schedule at Fenway. We've been here before, so I won't belabor the details, but teams missing 3 starting pitchers and 3+ regulars for long, critical stretches simply don't win. Again, period.

There's a lot of "blow it up and start over" talk in the Nation at the moment, a notion that I find inconceivably short-sighted. I'll come back when I have the time and do a less half-assed (though not full-assed - perhaps 3/4-assed) look at the holes that need to be filled in the off-season. Suffice it to say, though, that any team that starts a season with David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling (in his swan song), and Jonathan Papelbon on the roster has a pretty decent core around which to build.

Finally, Whitney wants everyone to know that he's not been around for the last 2 weeks because he's busy composing his World Series Champion acceptance speech for the Mets.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

All My Exes Live in Texas

Games 140 & 141 - Red Sox

White Sox 8, Red Sox 1
Royals 10, Red Sox 9
Record: 75-66

Title line today courtesy of Mike Timlin, in sincere hope that he returns home to his Texas roots after the season, hanging up his spikes and pursuing a long, healthy life of hunting, fishing, and conservative politicking. In short, I'd really love for him to be an ex-Sox, and soon. After last night, TImlin's been the author of 2 of the most painful Sox losses of the season, giving up 7 runs to the Yankees in the midst of the 5-game asskicking, and blowing a 9th-inning lead against Kansas City last night - topped off by a game-winning double by Joey Gathright. Joey Gathright, the worst hitter in the American League. Godspeed, and God Bless, Timmy - thanks for 2004.

In their last 9 games against the Devil Rays, Royals, and Mariners, the Sox are...wait for it...0-9. I really don't need to say anything else, do I? Still watching, still hoping until the good guys are mathematically eliminated, but it sure feels like play out the string time.

Hey, Whit - according to Thomas Boswell, your boys are all that stand between the Yankees and another championship (well, he included the Tigers, too, but c'mon). We're all counting on you.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Captain of Her Heart

Games 137 through 139 – Red Sox
(and yes, I realize I fucked up the count somewhere - my blogging has been as solid as the Sox' play)

Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 3, White Sox 2 (10)
Red Sox 1, White Sox 0
Record: 75-64

Jason Varitek returned to the Sox’ lineup on Monday night, going 0-for-3 in the Sox’ victory-from-the-jaws win. Coincidentally, the Sox haven’t lost since his return.

Or is it a coincidence? Consider the following: On August 1, the Sox woke up with a 63-41 record. They also awoke to the news that their starting catcher would be sidelined for 4-6 weeks. From that day until Monday, the Sox posted a 10-23 record, sliding 8 games behind the Yankees and nearly falling out of postseason contention altogether. (Cue chorus: “And nearly falling out of postseason contention”. Apologies for the very, very inside joke.)

Had the Sox merely treaded water in Varitek’s absence, playing to a 16-17 mark, they’d be 3 games in back of New York, and 1 behind the surging Twins. If ‘Tek hadn’t been injured, and the Sox could have maintained their .606 winning percentage, they’d be sitting at 83-54, with a 1-game lead over the Yanks, 3 games up on Minny. If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle, or a very, very successful adult entertainer.

All of that happy horseshit ignores the fact that Varitek was far from alone during his time on the shelf. However, this being revisionist, speculative history, I choose to believe that the captain’s William Wallace-like leadership capabilities would have healed Tim Wakefield’s back, Manny Ramirez’ knee, Trot Nixon’s bicep, Wily Mo Pena’s wrist, Jonathan Papelbon’s shoulder, Mike Timlin’s suck joint, Dustin Pedroia’s inexperience, and Alex Gonzalez’ whatever-ailed-him. And certainly, just a kind word from Tek would have set Papi’s fragile ticker to beating at a firm and steady pace. Alas, no form of horse whispering can save poor Matt Clement’s spooked psyche – time for that sad nag to be taken out back and set free from its misery.

Still much ball to be played, with 23 games left to determine the Sox’ fate. Slim playoff hopes still abide, especially with guys like Julian Tavarez and Kason Gabbard pitching their figurative asses off while the offense tries to figure out what to do with all these guys back in the lineup. Unfortunately, the Tavarezes, Gabbards, and Kyle Snyders of the world will have to carry a sizable chunk of the load over the next month, making the current 6-game Wild Card deficit look daunting indeed.

Daunting, but not insurmountable. Once more into the breach, lads, with your captain charging into the opponent’s terrible maw.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Save a Prayer

Games 135 through 137 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4
Red Sox 2, Blue Jays 1
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 1
Record: 74-63

The Sox took 2 of 3 from the Blue Jays despite starting Julian Tavarez, Kyle Snyder, and Kevin Jarvis (yeah, I don't know who he is either, but thanks for asking) - a little tiny silver lining in a brimstone-black month. On top of that, Curt Schilling will miss his next start due to a strained back muscle. We're beyond the pale on the plague and pestilence stuff now, and that's before we get into the decidedly unfunny news about Jon Lester.

The young lefty went on the 60-day DL yesterday following his diagnosis of treatable anaplastic large cell lymphoma. No jokes to be told, no witty repartee, just positive thoughts and prayers and thanks that the physicians seem to have caught the disease early. The Sox have a long standing relationship with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund - not a bad link to click on if you've got a few bones to donate to a good cause.

Friday, September 01, 2006

We're a Happy Family

Games 131 through 134 - Red Sox

A's 9, Red Sox 0
A's 2, Red Sox 1
A's 7, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4
Record: 72-62

Tropical Storm Ernesto's on his way to Whit's neighborhood a day or so after thrashing my parents' house here in Myrtle Beach, SC. The damage here was relatively minor, but like baseball, it was a game of inches. A 20-foot Bradford pear tree was cleaved in half by the winds last night and toppled to the ground, missing my folks' house by about 6 inches and avoiding my car by about 6 feet.

Apologies to Sebastian Junger and to literary devices everywhere, but the last 5 weeks of the Sox season have been the perfect storm of bad luck and bad baseball. If my vacation to see my Mom and Dad were recast as the Sox' season since the trade deadline, that tree would've crushed the garage, ripped the gutter from its mooring, and continued on to demolish the front half of my Durango. Then, Gabe Kapler would've been forced to hit in the no. 5 spot - oh, wait, that part actually happened.

Here's the lineup that backed Curt Schilling on Sunday in Oakland:

Youkilis LF
Cora SS
Loretta DH
Lowell 3B
Kapler CF
Mirabelli C
Hinske RF
Pedroia 2B
Pena 1B

Those of you scoring at home will note that exactly 3 of those 9 players are regular starters, 1 of 9 are starting in their optimal spots in the field, and 1 of the 9 is taking his regular turn in the order. Missing and conspicuous in their absence are the names Ortiz, Ramirez, Nixon, Varitek, Gonzalez, and Crisp (though I could be convinced that his absence is less than completely conspicuous). Note further that Gabe Fucking Kapler batted 5th.

The ever-frantic Nation is casting far and wide to find a scapegoat for this season, with Theo Epstein and the front office leading the early returns. From where I sit, there's not much Sox fans can do except sit back, accept the fact that the Sox had some really, really, really fucking bad luck and enjoy baseball for baseball's sake for the next 6 weeks. Sure, Theo missed on a couple of bets this year, but if the only bad things that happened to the Sox in 2006 were Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez' implosions, the Olde Towners would be cruising to their first division title in years.

The Sox were 65-43 just a month ago, right before they dropped 5 straight to Tampa Bay and Kansas City. They've gone 7-19 since, losing one key cog after another. And there's not a damn thing they could have done about it. The pseudo experts in the media and the blogosphere have excoriated Epstein for not getting a starter at the deadline, but what starters of any consequence moved this year? The going rate was way too high, and the same guy that traded NL batting leader Freddy Sanchez for Jeff Suppan was right not to overpay when he knew (like the rest of us should have) that 1 starter would not likely have been enough to fill the increasingly large holes in the bullpen, the bench, and the lineup.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, it keeps raining and raining. As Whit's sage colleague from many years past once summed up, "Fuck it. Drive on." There's always next year.