Monday, April 30, 2007


Game 24 – Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Yankees 4
Record: 16-8

It’s Yankee Fan’s turn to curse the baseball fates. One day after Kei Igawa limited the Sox to 2 hits in 6 innings of emergency relief, the Sox’ stopgap starter bested the Yanks’ putative ace yesterday in the Bronx. Other than one bizarre three-batter mini-stroke, Julian Tavarez fairly well owned the Yankee lineup in his 5+ innings. Alex Cora homered and tripled as the Sox roughed up C.M. Wang, and Mike Lowell managed to catch and throw several baseballs without endangering himself and others.

The Sox bullpen took over after Tavarez left in the 6th, allowing only one run in 4 innings. Hideki Okajima continues to be extremely impressive against both right and left-handed opponents, getting out of a little jam in the 6th by whiffing Jason Giambi, and then striking out switch-hitter Jorge Posada to open the 7th. All told, Okajima struck out 4 in 2 impressive innings of work to lower his ERA to 0.71. Domo arigato, indeed. Mike Timlin gave up a homer to Derek Jeter to get my nerves jangling, and then gave up a single to Bobby Abreu to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate as the tying run. I’d been Tivoing (I’m new to this, having just got the Tivo last week – is Tivoing a word?) the game on and off, and was sorely, sorely tempted to just fast forward through the A-Rod at-bat with my hands over my eyes. Timlin induced the suddenly mortal Rodriguez to hit an easy grounder to Lowell (and thank God it was easy) to trigger the 5-4-3 twin killing and end most of the suspense. I’m happy to know that the final at-bat of A-Rod’s almost-immortal April was a rally-killing double play.

Jonathan Papelbon “struggled” slightly, allowing a leadoff double to Jason Giambi before retiring the next three batters with ease to seal the series victory for the good guys. Papelbon’s now pitched 9 1/3 innings this season, allowing 2 hits and striking out 15. That smell you’re picking up is the candle I’ve lit in supplication to the baseball gods for a full season of good health for Paps and his right shoulder.

Manny and Papi homered in the same game for the first time this season, both going deep to right to bookend the Sox’ scoring. Manny’s 2-run blast in the top of the 8th put the Sox up 4 runs and gave me and the rest of the idiot Nation some sense of calm. Old habits die hard, even against a momentarily crippled Yankee squadron. I remember vividly, though, that the Yankees started 10-15 two years ago, and that team still won the division. Let’s save the grave dancing for a few months, shall we.

I don’t know why we at MLC keep doing things that reveal our ignorance, but I conducted a little thought experiment yesterday after Papi’s homer in the top of the 1st gave the Sox an early lead. “They haven’t done much in the early innings this season”, myself said to myself. Later, mysameself went online to validate that anecdotal musing. As it turns out (painfully, once again, to my sense of self-worth), the Sox are 4th in the majors and 2nd in the AL in first-inning runs, with 21. Where do we find people this dumb?

Off day today before the A’s come to town. In an unusual departure from Sox form, the pitching staff doesn’t really need it, but the regulars sure could. Everybody from Coco Crisp to J.D. Drew to Lowell seems a bit worn down. And I can use my new magic Tivo machine to catch up on back episodes of The Office. Win-win Monday in my house.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pink Floyd

Games 22 & 23 - Red Sox

Red Sox 11, Yankees 4
Yankees 3, Red Sox 1
Record: 15-8

The Sox knocked the Yankees' starting pitcher out of the game in the top of the first inning, held the Yankees to 3 runs...and never really had a chance in this afternoon's rather dismal outing. Baseball, it's fannnnnnfuriating. On the plus side, I've been drinking wine since 5:30 and am fairly comfortably numb, so I've come to terms with the fact that the Sox really weren't going to go 18-0 against the Yanks this season. Shiraz-aided stream of consciousness to follow:

Mike Lowell's hit in 14 straight for the Sox, and made errors in each of those games, as well. Okay, only in half of them. And that's only barely a joke.

Kei Igawa is Japanese for "Ted Lilly", which is English for "Otherwise mediocre lefthander who makes the Red Sox look anemic."

The Sox are 15-8, and Manny Ramirez has a .578 OPS. That's encouraging. I think.

I'm raising the first flag of concern about Dustin Pedroia's prospects. More than just about anyone, I'm rooting hard for the littlest Sox player, but his long, long swing seems to produce not much more than harmless pops to deep short or shallow center. He's slugged .282 in 142 career at-bats now, not quite enough to make a final judgment, but enough to start shuffling my feet and looking down at the ground.

Got the following text message from Whitney this morning: "I'm still alive. Barely." And I'm guessing that his JazzFest schedule prevented him from getting news of the Mets' loss to the Nationals - that might've changed the message.

Jon Lester pitched 5 shutout innings in Pawtucket last night. Looks like tomorrow will be Julian Tavarez' last day in the Sox rotation for the time being. That's fantastic news on lots of fronts.

Tim Wakefield didn't pitch well today, allowing leadoff runners in just about every inning and pitching out of jams in exactly every frame, but he did keep the Sox in yet another game. And the Sox offense let him down in yet another game. Dude, he said he was sorry for the herpes outbreak. Can you guys just get over it and hit the ball for him?

Speaking of the Mets, we're all gonna get very familiar with Kirk Radomski's face. The former Met clubhouse attendant/confessed steroid dealer is alleged to have named names, worn a wire, and otherwise cooperated with Federal authorities investigating illegal performance enhancing drug use in MLB. Frankly, I think the Players' Union needs to get all its members in a room for a day, and walk out with a complete list of who, when, and how much so that the game can start with a clean slate. We all as fans suspect each and every one of them (except Papi, of course, and the aforementioned Pedroia), so hearing the truth isn't going to change much. Rip off the band-aid, deal with the pain, and cleanse the wound.

Tom Verducci's story about Alex Rodriguez in this week's Sports Illustrated contains the following passage: "The remaking of A-Rod actually began late last summer when Boras and his team of fitness experts suggested to Rodriguez that he might improve his defense, which had suddenly become unreliable last season, if he lost some weight. In this three years since moving from shortstop to third base, after his trade from Texas to New York, Rodriguez had grown increasingly thick in the chest and rear. Rodriguez dropped 15 pounds over the winter and reduced his body fat from 18% to 10%. That he was sleeker and more nimble was immediately apparent on Opening Day, when he set up the winning run against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays by stealing second base on his own." The over/under on the percentage of people reading that and saying, "Well, fucking duh. He stopped cycling the 'roids" is 75. The other 25 are between the ages of 8 and 13. And sadly, he's guilty until proven innocent in today's MLB culture, unless and until the aforementioned come-to-Jesus meeting happens among union membership.

The Nats just scored to go up, 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th against the Mets. I hope Whit's drunk. Fortunately for him, that's a dead-certain lock.

Even with today's loss, the Sox will lead the AL East by no fewer than 3 1/2 games when they wake up in the morning. I'm gonna have a few more glasses of wine, pass out, and sleep the sleep of the momentarily contented.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Infectious Grooves

Game 21 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Orioles 2
Record: 14-7

9:06 -- David Ortiz thus far in this evening's increasingly infuriating contest against the Orioles: 0-for-3, 1 K, weakly grounded to the pitcher twice with two outs and a total of 5 runners on base. This game is a textbook example of Theoball - Sox get a good to decent start from Beckett, cause the opposing starter (the soon-to-be-scary-good Adam Loewen) to throw a lot of pitches (104 in 6 innings) and get to the opponent's bullpen in a close game with plenty of licks left. Textbook, except for the fact that the offense sold their copy back for beer money midway through the semester.

And not that you care, but this Baltimore rotation could be nastynasty in a year or two. Loewen's got a killer breaking ball and decent command of his fastball. Daniel Cabrera has, according to Curt Schilling, "electric" stuff, and he's massive at 6'7". Erik Bedard's been on the cusp of greatness for a little while now, thisclose to breaking through as a top-flite number one. Hayden Penn's struck out nearly a batter an inning in his minor league career, and is currently in Norfolk after a rough introduction to the bigs last season. Add Leo Mazzone's well-deserved reputation as a molder of young arms, and the AL East might want think about getting their shots in on the O's this season, because the orange and black might have something to say next year.

Of course, they're still owned by Peter Angelos, so it's a 50/50 proposition that their management will do something jaw-droppingly stupid. I'm a Redskins fan - I know from where I speak.


9:45 -- Holy Monkey Fuck. Two innings ago, I was about to wander in here and expound upon the giant sucking sound that is Wily Mo Pena's 2007 offensive output and plate discipline. As I clicked the 'Sign In' link, WMP ripped a double in the gap to left. FIrst time in weeks he'd centered a pitch. Then, just a minute ago, the O's walked Jason Varitek to load the bases for WMP. The result, a brobdingnagian blast into the Sox' bullpen to give the Sox a 5-2 lead. The level to which the MLC staff's collectve ignorance of the game of baseball sinks sometimes is beyond measure.


10:10 -- What the hell, while I'm here and not completely drunk (just a couple of Sam Adams' tonight - had 'em laying around and need to clear out the fridge for some Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA) let's go ahead and finish this one out. Beckett goes 8 and hands the ball to Papelbon, who works around a 2-out walk to Ramon Hernandez (bunting cocksucker - yeah, I remember you) to hammer it down. Beckett was absolutely phenomenal - that may have been the best 8-hit performance I've ever seen. He's actually *pitching* this year instead of trying to throw the ball through the backstop. His last pitch was a bat-freezing changeup that Aubrey Huff just waved at. He got through 8 full innings with only 100 pitches, getting outs by letting his defense work instead of trying to do it all himself. Beckett's 5-0 now, the third pitcher in Boston history to get to that mark in April (joining Babe Ruth and Pedro Martinez - how's that for company?). Cripes, if Beckett's for real...

(Editor's Note: In the cold light of day, "absolutely phenomenal" is perhaps a bit hyperbolic in reference to Beckett's performance last night. I meant to say that I was impressed by his ability to pitch through adversity, managing the game and keeping the damage down in situations that would have caused him to blow oil all over the scoreboard last year. It was a pretty damn terrific and encouraging effort for an 8-hitter.)

The Bloodhound Gang

Games 19 & 20 – Red Sox

Blue Jays 10, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 6, Baltimore Orioles 1

Record: 13-7

Assorted flotsam and jetsam today, as I missed last night’s game entirely while manning shortstop for the Arlington County D-League Hot Action squad and have nothing to say about the drubbing the Sox took on Tuesday night against the Jays. The fact that our softball team’s oldest player (by far) is playing shortstop is a reflection on our overall lack of talent and not any measure of my athletic prowess.

All of Boston (and, for that matter, much of the national sporting media) is abuzz with manufactured controversy after Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne alleged that Doug Mirabelli dropped a dime on Curt Schilling, revealing that Schill’s now-legendary bloody sock performance in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS was the result of artistic license and a bit of red paint. Mirabelli’s gone batshit denying it, the Sox front office jumped ugly on Thorne, and Schilling wearily denied the claim.

MLC reporters were actually in the room when Thorne and Mirabelli talked. The following is the transcript of their conversation:

Thorne: Hey, Doug. Got a few minutes?

Mirabelli (naked, scratching his balls with a used batting glove): Sure, little guy, Dougie's got time. What’s up?

Thorne: How’s Schill looking so far this season?

Mirabelli: Better than your hairline. Tough outing in Kansas City, but he’s been a stud ever since. He’s a horse. You remember what he did in 2004, right?

Thorne: The bloody sock. Sure – that was amazing. Lemme ask you something. Any truth to the rumors that the whole thing was faked?

Mirabelli (leans close to Thorne, whispers): Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve been dying to get this off my chest. Here’s the deal: Schill knew the cameras would be on his ankle, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to answer the bell, so he casually slopped a little bit of paint on the ankle, just to make the excuse better – if he needed it. Glad he didn’t. Helluva thing, pitching with your ankle sewn up like that. Me and Millar were the only ones that knew about it, too – that’s why the club let us both go in free agency. That, and we jerked off on Theo’s gorilla costume.

Thorne: Really? Is that true?

Mirabelli (louder now, bellowing): Of course not, you little ass-monkey. Now get out of here before Dougie uses you as a Q-tip for his taint. Dougie’s getting angry. (Softer) The stuff about the gorilla suit’s dead accurate, though. Theo’s still pissed at us for that.

Exit Thorne, quickly, stage left

We just thought you’d want to hear the truth about the whole thing. I'd bet dollars to donuts that Mirabelli really did tell Thorne that Schilling painted his sock as a joke, and that Mirabelli was laughing to himself after he did it - only to be forced to deny the whole thing after it came out. (Edit: should note that it looks like Sox blogger and MLC favorite Joy of Sox actually spurred the initial coverage of this incident.)

In other news, Whit’s in New Orleans this week, scouting the Mets’ new AAA farm club. Lastings Milledge just got demoted to the Zephyrs, so we’re looking forward to Whit’s recap of the young rightfielder’s Crescent City debut. And as soon as he dries out from Jazz Fest, I’m certain that’ll be high on Whit’s list of things to do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


It was bound to happen, the letdown after the heroics of last night. But must you guys really try to undo all of the good that came out of the prior night with such a beating?

It's currently 9-0, Rockies, after 3.5 innings. Oh, and the Mets haven't reached base. It's not even that much of a sub-filled lineup today (yet). And the rotation questions begin anew after Pelfrey gets bombed today.

Still . . . last night's game . . . mmmmm . . .

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Game 19 - Mets

Mets 2, Rockies 1 (10 innings)

Record: 13-6

The bow of the new season isn't really christened until it happens. Well, tonight it did. Mark it in your books. Game 19, a win against Colorado on April 24th, finally saw the up-from-couch leap into the air and spazzy den dance. The low ceiling -- and fan -- forces me to emulate Verreaux's Sifaka Lemur (okay, but if you haven't seen it, you should; the resemblance is uncanny) with a few bonus fist pumps for effect, and the whole spectacle is a silent, hurky-jerky mosh for one. The den dance is visible to nosy neighbors through an array of tall windows, but rest assured, when it happens, I can't care any less.

It didn't occur because El Duque was superbly on his game, even though he threw seven hugely important shutout innings. Granted, John Hirschbeck's parking spot is smaller than his strike zone (in the 12th inning, I chuckled because he calls 'em like he needs to be home by 10:00), but clear command for the better part of Duque's outing and super-sharp movement on each of his pitches had the Rockies baffled.

Unfortunately, they were no more baffled than the Mets hitters at Aaron Cook's similar combo of unwavering precision and umpire's decision. [Aside: we've discussed this before in this space, but the effect on a ballgame this kind of umpire has is marked and inexcusable. He very simply, and quite measurably, is calling balls as strikes. It's such an integral part of the game, and although players claim to simply want "consistency," umpiring performance should go beyond that. If an NFL referee consistently marked the ball six inches short of where it should have been, he'd be working Arena League games rather quickly. Alas, QuesTech was dropped, forgotten, and is never to be spoken of again -- like that little kid in "Married with Children" -- thanks to the whining of Glavine, Schilling, et al, plus the overreacting, cop-out umpires who really began to ruin games with a saucer-sized plate. Yeah, why would you want to police the officials? The NBA does, and look at the trouble that caused. But I digress, quite a bit.]

Regardless the cause, the top of the order went 0-for-16 through the first 10 innings, grounding just about everything rather routinely right at someone. Scoreless through nine, there were only a handful of opportunities, and the Mets capitalized on nary a one. Then Billy Wagner gave up a legit double and a semi-legit triple (but nobody who saw the Cameron Collision is griping about that one dropping in) in his second inning of work. 1-0, bottom 10, two outs, and I submit this mopey bitch to my brother-in-law:

"Damion Easley is our last hope?? Ugh."

I soon followed with "Um . . . never mind" as Easley hit a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left-center. I've seen a ton of baseball, especially in the era of the revered Extra Innings, and I didn't see that coming at all. Not even a tiny bit. The lesson, as always . . . well, you know.

And even that didn't propel me awkwardly into the air. I think I was too stunned. Understandably, don't you think?

After missing on a good chance in the 11th, the bottom of the 12th looked promising after a walk-bunt-balk sequence. After I mistakenly presumed David Newhan would pinch-hit the winning run home and extenuate the unlikely hero theme (he soooo did not do that), I felt sure Jose Reyes would shake off the mini-slump he's entered, but he was walked before he had the chance. It came down to Endy Chavez with two outs, who as most of our avid readers know has a permanent place etched in the Township HoF.

And Endy delivered in the exciting way that he and few others seem to know how to operate. Endy's 0-1 drag bunt exhilarated just for the bold idea; his execution of the idea tensed the muscles and gave hope; the result of the play defied gravity, sending a thirtysomething fatbody hurtling into the Norfolk night as, sad to say, only this child's game can. As Shawn Green scampered home, with only mine eyes to behold the otherwise unsightly Met Mambo, it was a beautiful thing.

Welcome to the 2007 season, Mets fans.

Blow Monkeys

Wily Mo Pena's pretty much playing his way off the Sox' roster, or at least deep, deep into Terry Francona's doghouse. His brutal fielding stylings tonight rest squarely atop the foundation laid by his undisciplined, resolutely unimproved approach at the plate. The Sox have now made 3 errors in the top of the 6th and 4 in tonight's game. 10-3, Jays. Empty the bench, Tito. Let's see if Tina Cervasio can hit a curveball.

The Main Ingredient

Game 18 - Mets

Mets 6, Rockies 1
Record: 12-6

There's a running line of commentary here and among our league of blogs about the stunning lack of accountability in sports journalism. Bold predictions and brazen statements are issued carelessly, free of any recoil when they're later proven asinine. Here at MLC, we do our part to rectify this corrosive trend.

In January of last year, I reacted to the trade that sent Kris Benson to Baltimore for Jorge Julio and John Maine. Considering each player's past, it seemed head-in-the-sand ignorant, and I said so. Considering what's gone on since I wrote that post, that descriptor suits me a whole lot better. Read on:
In one fell swoop, the Mets went from the new M.O. of freely mortgaging the future to acquire the brightest stars of the present to the old school routine of bungling deals and misreading the needs of the team. Kris Benson, selected more than once by Peter Gammons as a pre-season Cy Young winner, has never lived up to his billing, but he was still a very solid #3 pitcher in a not-very-solid Mets rotation. He and his charming wife depart for the Charm City in favor of John Maine and Jorge Julio. I’ll let Maine off the hook with a simple "minor league hero, major league zero" barb and say that his future is clouded at the moment. Meanwhile, Jorge Julio . . . deserves his own paragraph.

The scouting report on Jorge "Boo" Julio tells most of the story. His numbers have worsened with some regularity over the last few years. He throws hard, but painfully straight. The only mention of "movement" when it comes to his fastball refers to the pants-soiling he encounters in nearly every tight situation. And that’s what the reports don’t usually relay, what I’ve witnessed for several years while watching the pitiful Orioles. The bigger the game, the bigger the amount of pressure, the bigger Jorge Julio’s collapse.
Now, in fairness to myself, I was dead-on about Jorge Julio. That walking disaster was last spotted in the headline (not making this up) "Marlins send Julio -- and his 19.06 ERA -- to DL." You may recall that he gave the lowly Nationals their first win of the season; without him, the Nots may not have been inspired to notch a single victory all year long. (Why do I think that all of this Nat-bashing will result in the Mets losing a key game to them down the stretch?) Anyway, I was right about Julio, but I was wrong about Omar Minaya's intentions in acquiring him. I was even more mistaken in assuming there would be no GM Josh Byrnes to come through for us and send over El Duque in a trade for Julio. I should've known Omar had a plan, and I won't doubt him again any time soon.

Meanwhile, what I also failed to predict was the rapid ascension of John Maine into bona fide starting pitcher status. Hoped for the best, expected the worst (hey, if you weren't here for 2003-4, keep your judgments to yourself), and watched as he battled early on, progressed along the way, and has now turned into a reliable #3 on the staff -- at the very least.

The lesson, if not the mantra here, as always, is that I am an idiot.

Last night Maine scattered seven Colorado hits and a pair of walks over 7 2/3 innings, and as bro-in-law Patrick remarked, Maine looked pissed at being taken out. A little fire from the young guy goes a long way in our books, a concept not miles away from Rob's point in his latest offering. Keep an eye on John Maine; I see good things. (I'm praying I don't have to reprint this passage next year for another look at my own block-headedness.)

A bit of fanfare was splashed over the ragsheets today about Carlos Delgado busting out of a homerless streak last night. I'll ask you not to color me too giddy over his homering off Rocky Mop-Up, but it was a pleasant change from the recent past. The hole in Carlos's swing had been gaining a little too much definition (belt to letters, inside edge), but if he's heading in the right direction, I'll be thrilled to use big, happy words of blissful celebration here soon.

As opposed to, say, . . . David Wright. (It pains me.) We'll keep the chronicling of Dee-Dub's ugly doings to the same dull whisper for now, but good God, man. In the words of a Samoan high roller in an Amsterdam coffeehouse, "If you don't know, mon, . . . ask somebody!" Get help, young man, before it all falls apart. Don't worry, Mets Township still loves you. Just get help.

I mentioned yesterday a focus on the starting rotation of the Mets. (I also mentioned a weakness in middle relief; last night the Amburglar walked the bases full in the final frame before stealing away with the lead preserved. Yikes.) The focus has been on Glavine/Hernandez/Maine/Perez/Pelfrey and the need for them to continue to perform effectively for the club to have a shot. Somewhere in all of it, I managed to forget about a little guy named Pedro Martinez, but I think that was by design. I think Omar, the Mets, and Township are all pretending that the possibility that Pedro won't take the hill this season (or ever again) -- a real one, for sure -- is actually the probable outcome. This way, if the reports we're hearing about Pedro's progress happen to turn out to be accurate, we will be adding a Hall of Fame caliber arm to the staff as the final stretch of the pennant race approaches. You can't buy an advantage of both skill and inspiration like that with an arsenal of prospects or George Steinbrenner's PayPal password. Sure, it's fabricated melodrama, but I'm already feeling the vibe months out.

For now, though, we'll exclude him from the equation. (Godspeed, Pedro.)

Men at Work

Game 18 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 3
Record: 12-6

You know, slackjawed and not much to say.

Pretty predictable return to terra firma for the Sox last night after three tight, dramatic games against the Yankees. Timmy Wake looked a little bit human for the first time all season, though he wasn't awful. The bats couldn't get much going against Tomo Ohka. Even the pen whiffed a bit, as Mike Timlin helped the Jays double their advantage in the 9th by serving one up to Aaron Hill.

As a fan, the Sox' laid-back public persona (what's the collective of persona? personii?) is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that laissez-faire approach helps the team stay calm when things are tight, even as the entire fan base chews through fingernails and wears holes in carpets - witness the last three against New York, for example. On nights like last night, though, the blase attitude takes on an indifferent cast, making the Sox seem like they're going through the motions. Seem is the operative word there, as I have no doubts about the Sox' professionalism and motivation. I guess I'd just appreciate a little redass from time to time, which is a patently stupid thing to want from a team that's posted the best record in the majors thus far.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Folk Implosion

Games 16 & 17 - Mets

Mets 7, Braves 2
Braves 9, Mets 6
Record: 11-6

My recent focus on the performances of the starting pitchers -- with satisfying results (Perez 6.2 IP, 9 H, 0 BB, 9 K, 2 ER; Glavine 6 IP, 7 H, 0 BB, 3 ER) -- was promptly interrupted by a sideways glare towards the bullpen yesterday. A chance to even the season score against Atlanta and win the weekend series was squandered in heartburn-inducing fashion, thanks to "Knockwurst" Schoeneweis and "Sauerbraten" Heilman. We aren't in crisis time where the set-up role is concerned . . . yet.

So far, the Mets have shone everywhere except versus the soulless Atlanta Braves. 9-2 when playing the others, 2-4 in play against the Braves. The New York nine finds themselves stubbing their toe on the rival club in the early-going; while the overall picture is obviously still pretty, helping the Braves gain some early confidence with a few big wins like yesterday's only makes the road longer and more arduous for the Mets. With an eye on the title, boys, you don't have to wait until Labor Day to start mustering something a little better for the Braves.

If you need an idea of what I mean, scroll down to Rob's recaps of the weekend series at Fenway. As statements go, Boston made a serious one about its discontent with the '06 progression. Meanwhile, the Mets muttered something about being really good against the rest of the NL and getting to face the Rockies and Nots this week.

All in all, the first few weeks are mostly about getting off on the right foot and seeing what weapons you have in your arsenal for the new campaign that's been launched. As such, it's hard to get too worked up about Aaron Heilman resembling a Grateful Dead lyric ("set up like a bowling pin"). But make no mistake: our full attention has temporarily turned from the rotation to the relievers. If they keep giving away Baltimore Specials like a Charm City call girl, we'll be calling for back-up well before the trade deadline.

The Standells

Games 16 and 17 – Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Yankees 5
Red Sox 7, Yankees 6
Record: 12-5

So what did we learn in the first chapter of the most recent renewal of ancient hostilities (or whatever treacly slogan ESPN was using last night)? Good pitching is capable of slowing down really, really good hitting – but not stopping it. Far more importantly in this little sample, solid hitting prevails against mediocre to poor pitching.

Just as I was reaching the brink of tantrum-throwing frustration, Sox bats proved the latter of those truisms emphatically. The Sox trailed, 3-0, with 2 outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the third after squandering golden opportunities in each of the first 2 innings by missing eminently hittable pitches from Yankee rookie Chase Wright. Manny Ramirez salvaged a little dignity with a blast over the Monster seats in deep left, and before I settled back down, J.D. Drew followed him with a mammoth shot to deepest right-center. Mike Lowell and his MLC-maligned bat speed made it back-to-back-to-back longballs with a laser over the Monster, and as I scrambled to my computer to post something pithy, Jason Varitek hammered another Wright offering over the wall in left. 10 pitches, 4 homers, a new club record for consecutive round-trippers, and a very, very different ballgame. Joe Torre lifted Wright after the inning, mostly to save his psyche, and the crucial difference between the two teams in this series stood in stark relief.

Sox starters went 7, 6 2/3, and 7 innings over the series’ three games, compared to 6 1/3, 4 1/3, and 3 for their Yankee counterparts. The Sox bullpen gave up 1 run and 4 hits in their 6 1/3 innings, while the Yankees’ already overworked relievers allowed 8 runs on 15 hits over 12 frames. Even as the Sox’ starters posted relatively mediocre runs-against numbers (16 total in the series), their ability to eat innings and keep the New York lineup from exploding was the signal difference in the outcome.

Josh Beckett’s performance on Saturday offered yet another encouraging sign that the 2007 model has been vastly upgraded. After 2 innings, Beckett had allowed 4 runs. After 6 innings, still 4 runs. He shook off a rocky beginning, kept his head, and mowed down Yankee after Yankee to keep the Sox in the game. Last year, the Yanks would’ve plated 9 runs in the first 3 innings and laughed their way to momentum-shifting victory.

Daisuke Matsuzaka has now officially passed all the major early-season hurdles, like Beckett keeping the Sox in the game despite less than terrific command. Matsuzaka missed his spots in a few critical situations in the process of allowing 6 earned runs in 7 innings of work, but he still went 7 (and started the 8th before being lifted). Now that the hype machine has finished its Sherman-esque march through the season’s first month and run out of fuel, I think Matsuzaka will have an opportunity to breathe a bit. After 4 starts, it seems reasonable to expect 200+ innings at a sub-4.30 ERA from the highly-touted righty, and that’d make him one of the league’s preeminent no. 3 starters.

While the Sox starting pitching was just effective enough, the bullpen leaves this series hoisting the hero’s mantle. From Hideki Okajima’s coming-out party (Jason Giambi will have nightmares about Okajima for a few days), to Brendan Donnelly’s clutch efforts with the bases loaded last night, to Jonathan Papelbon’s smoke, the Sox’ pen was dazzling against the league’s best bats. Through the season’s first 17 games, the Sox are last in the league in bullpen innings pitched, first in bullpen ERA, and second in bullpen batting average against. Those last two stats are clearly correlated to the first, for those of you with limited math skills.

The Sox are taking advantage of their opportunities in the season’s early weeks, making hay while the haymaking’s good. The Yankees have been devastated by injuries to their pitching staff and despite the fact that I don’t think their staff is all that great, it’s certainly better than the has-beens and never-weres taking the mound in this series. More importantly, the Yankees staff doesn’t have to be great for them to be successful – it just needs to get them deeper into games. The Yankee bullpen is on pace for a record number of innings pitched, a stat that even their hyper-muscular offensive attack will have a problem overcoming. Even so, it says here that the Yankees will be in the race all season, so you’ll excuse me if I get a little excited about sweeping them in Fenway for the first time in 17 years.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Boom Crash Opera

Things you don't hear from a broadcaster very often: "Oh my God!", from ESPN's Jon Miller after the Sox hit 4 consecutive immense homers in 10 pitches to snap out of a hitting funk against Yankee rookie Chase Wright.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Jesus and Mary Chain

Game 15 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, New York Yankees 6
Record: 10-5

Ridiculously good hitting looked for all the world like it was going to beat good pitching last night, as the Yankees took a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the 8th. In a heartbeat, timely hitting topped legendary pitching as the Sox plated 5 in the inning to grab a surprising lead. Finally, unknown pitching quieted otherworldly hitting to secure the unlikely victory for the forces of good.

I sent the following text message to Whitney after Alex Rodriguez' second homer of the evening landed in the Sox bullpen (along with Coco Crisp): "Arod. Jesus." Even now, I'm not sure whether I meant to express amazement at his current level of play, or imply that he is in fact the Son of God. Curt Schilling pitched fairly well despite mediocre stuff by his standards, "pitched" being the operative word. I hope Ebby Calvin was paying attention to the way Schill battled through 7 innings with not much more than his guile. If not for A-Rod's incendiary bat, Schill would've kept the Yankee lineup in check. Instead, No. 38 allowed 5 earned runs on 8 hits, with 4 of those tallies coming courtesy of A-Rod's equal opportunity blasts to left and right in the 4th and 5th innings, respectively.

When A-Rod scored on Jason Giambi's 8th-inning single to give the Yanks a 6-2 edge, I began mentally composing this post as an appreciation of the Yankee thirdbaseman and his gone-plaid start to the season. Even when Papi roped a double to left-center (arriving at second like a jumbo airliner trying to land in particularly windy conditions, bouncing and skittering to a halt) and Manny coaxed a walk, I only raised an eyebrow. J.D. Drew's grounder to second became the innings first out, brought Mike Lowell to the plate, and caused me to text, "Sox 6-9 are poop" to friend of MLC T.J. Doyle of Gheorghe: The Blog. Part reverse psychology, but mostly honestly held belief that Lowell, Jason Varitek, Crisp, and Dustin Pedroia/Alex Cora really don't strike fear in the hearts of many opposing hurlers.

Lowell slapped a seeing-eye groundball to left to plate Papi and bring the tying run to the plate, and I began to sit forward on the couch. Yankee skipper brought Mariano Rivera into the game to face Varitek, and my first thought was, "Good, maybe that'll wear him down for the rest of the series". Tek took the count to 1-1, fouled off three straight cutters, and then laced a high fastball to right to close the gap to 6-4. Crisp tripled down the line to right on the next pitch, even before I had a chance to lament his noodle bat, tying the game and sending Fenway into a very un-April-like frenzy.

With still only one out on the scoreboard, the Yankees drew in their infield with Crisp on third, only to watch Cora perfectly reenact Luis Gonzalez' 2001 World Series-winning single off of Rivera. Crisp scampered home with the go-ahead run, and I made way too much noise for someone with two sleeping kids.

Jonathan Papelbon's heavy workload over the previous two days rendered him unavailable, so Terry Francona bypassed the obvious options and brought Hideki Okajima in to try to close things out against New York's formidable 2-3-4 of Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and A-Rod. As the assembled masses of Japanese journalists gave silent thanks for a non-Matsuzaka story line, Okajima retired Jeter on a grounder to second. Abreu, though, worked a walk to bring Rodriguez/Jesus to the plate as the go-ahead run. My heart rate was approaching October levels, so I can't imagine what the slightly-built Okajima felt as he peered in at the best player on the planet. After falling behind 3-1, and eliciting a strained "Just walk him and take your chances with Thompson" from me, Okajima threw a sublime curve for a called strike and busted A-Rod in on the hands with a fastball to induce a soft liner to second. Big rice balls for the Sox' less-heralded Japanese import. Okajima overmatched Kevin Thompson, striking the Yankee reserve out on a dipping splitter to end the game and bring the Fenway crowd to release - and that's probably not too much of an overstatement.

The Sox sported green jerseys in a regular-season game for the first time in history in honor of the late Red Auerbach and his contribution to Boston sports. Bob Cousy threw out the first pitch - behind his back, natch. I'm usually not a huge fan of uniform gimmickry, but the kelly green looked good on the Sox, and clearly has some karmic value.

Obviously a big win, made moreso by the pressure it lifts from Beckett's shoulders as he takes the ball this afternoon. Not a true playoff atmosphere in April, but as I texted to the lads, "You're not gonna see a much better ballgame in April". Of course, as T.J. accurately replied, "You're only saying that because you won." He's pretty smart for a Yankee fan.

Here's what Schilling himself had to say about the win in his blog at (I'd link to it more traditionally, but Blogger and the Safari browser don't really get along):

"Common theory amongst many baseball people is that you win 50, you lose 50 and what you do in those other 62 is what determines the season. The last two nights we won games that should have been in the ‘lose 50’ column. That’s big no matter what day on the calendar it is, or who they happen against."

I'm pretty sure I invented that theory. I'm a legend in my own mind.

The Runaways

Games 12 through 15 - Mets

Mets 8, Phillies 1
Mets 9, Marlins 2
Mets 11, Marlins 3
Braves 7, Mets 3
Record: 10-5

A mere cameo today for me before this afternoon's tilt against the loathsome Braves. Much like the ballgames over this week's stretch, MLC has gotten away from me. If you don't make a concerted effort after each contest to weigh in, the next thing you know four games have slipped by; in a similar vein, the Phillies and Marlins watched slim leads evolve into fat ones before they could regroup and make a run. Laughers ensued in each case. And then Atlanta turned the tables on the Mets last night.

Crow is never eaten in April where baseball's blowhards are concerned, so it's hardly time to rub folks' faces in the fact that the Met starters have proven better than serviceable at this early juncture. Between the fact that it's only been a few spins through the rotation and Mike Pelfrey being pelted early and often last night, chattering about it now would be silly. But when the majority of the Township took an "I'm okay with it" attitude about a pitching staff that bozos with by-lines called "ghastly," this is roughly what we expected. Up until last night, quality starts were becoming the norm.

To date, the Mets currently have the best OPS and the best team ERA in the bigs. As Alex Rodriguez may find out the hard way, however, nobody remembers April stats come June, much less October. Those of us who watch nearly every pitch of each Metscast see a few holes that need patching (Delgado's swing, Heilman's elbow, etc.); no major improvement projects, just a little spackling and some touch-up paint. Randolph & Minaya General Contractors, Inc., need to get on it.

This weekend coincidentally offers match-ups with the Sox' and Mets' least loved opponents. Not a lot of gnashing of teeth in this early going, but there is simply something about seeing the pinstripes or the Tomahawk Chop that raises our adrenaline beyond the rational. It looked for all the world last night like we'd be miserable company this morning after series-opening drubbings; alas, it was not to be. Each club made some late inning noise, but all the Mets could manage was to bust up the shutout. David Wright can take some credit, breaking up a would-be game-ending double play that made Kelly Johnson's throw to (the) first (row) a chuckle-inducer. Shawn Green's subsequent bomb to right made it a more respectable score without really raising a glint of hope.

I was able to go most of last year without bitching about the Atlanta Braves and my impassioned abhorrence of everything about them. Looks like they aren't the middling, mediocre mass of nothingness amid the middle of the standings that they were a year ago. Stay tuned for more of the incessant whining you know you missed last summer.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Echo and the Bunnymen

Games 13 and 14 – Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Record: 9-5

Bring on the dancing horses, sang the above-mentioned Liverpudlians, and the Sox, Yankees, and media hordes will oblige starting this evening. All manner of dancing horses, circus freaks, and carny barkers descend upon the Bronx for the first of 19 between the American League’s colossi.

Both teams did their respective parts yesterday, coming from behind to extend recent streaks of success and ensuring that they’d enter this evening’s action atop the AL East. The Sox got timely hits from Manny Ramirez (finally) and Alex Cora (really?) to rally from 3-1 down to top the Jays. The Yankees, fresh off consecutive bludgeonings of Indian pitching, sportingly spotted the Tribe a 4-run lead and waited until two outs were recorded in the bottom of the 9th before flicking Cleveland’s Joe Borowski away like a gnat. The coup de grace in this cat versus prey tableaux was administered by the unconscious Alex Rodriguez, who blasted his 10th homer of the early season (and took a 10-5 lead over the Washington Nationals in MLC's running gimmick) to provide the game’s final runs.

And so it happens that April 20 brings us the next renewal of the age-old good pitching versus good hitting donnybrook. The Sox’ offense has been marginal, doing just enough to get by, lifted by dominant starting pitching and lights-out short relief. The Yankee bats have been epic, averaging a league-leading 6.5 runs a game. The Sox have been the league’s best team in terms of preventing runs, allowing a miniscule 2.57 tallies per. Boston starts Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka against New York’s Andy Pettitte, Jeff Karstens, and Chase Wright. The pitching matchups certainly look to be tilted drastically in the Sox’ favor, but the Yankee sticks are the great equalizer.

The Boston Herald’s Gerry Callahan does his part to fuel the fire today, predicting that A-Rod and his pretty pink lips (no, really, Callahan describes A-Rod’s lips – sick fuck) will be wearing a Sox uniform next season. Christ Almighty on a popsicle stick, can we just let them all play baseball without the attendant faux-dramatic media oneupsmanship?

I’d like to say that this’ll be fun to watch, but that would imply that an upset stomach, elevated heart rate, and flop sweat are all fun things. And I don’t really want to explore the psychological implications inherent in accepting those realities. I’m looking forward to the weekend, I think. Of course, I might just watch a movie tonight, instead, and save the angst for September.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stevie Wonder

The Sox have no hits through 4 innings against Tomo Ohka thus far this evening. Tomo Ohka.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Game 12 – Red Sox

Toronto Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 7-5

NESN’s cameras caught noted Canadian rocker Geddy Lee in the crowd for last night’s Sox/Jays tilt. Carlos Lee would’ve been more helpful to the Sox’ cause, as they once again found themselves dominated by a middling lefthanded starter. And much like the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, Jays’ starter Gustavo Chacin left the Limelight to Daisuke Matsuzaka while outpitching him.

The Sox’ first foray into the Great White North offered an echo of the Distant Early Warning signs that have Sox fans apprehensive. Yet again, the Sox wasted a terrific pitching performance, failing to muster anything at all against the Jays’ staff, despite several early opportunities. Outside of Julio Lugo, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew, the Sox’ bats have been beyond anemic. Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek look for all the world like their days as productive major league hitters have gone the way of Tom Sawyer’s youth.

Matsuzaka was flat out dominant, except for one bizarre and ultimately telling five-batter stretch. He held the Jays to one baserunner through the first three innings. Vernon Wells reached on a little nubber with one out in the bottom of the 4th, and though Matsuzaka was visibly miffed by an umpiring decision during the Wells at-bat, little seemed amiss. After Wells reached, though, Matsuzaka channeled Ebby Calvin for an uncomfortably wild stretch, walking Frank Thomas before giving up a ripped single to Lyle Overbay. Lugo should’ve turned Overbay’s well-hit smash into an inning-ending double play, but the ball eluded him to score Wells from second.

Matsuzaka walked Aaron Hill to load the bases on a combination of wildly high fastballs and 50-foot curves and then issued a walk to Gregg Zaun to plate Toronto’s second run. Then, as soon as the storm blew up, it dissipated as Matsuzaka blew Royce Clayton away and got Jason Smith on a long Fly By Night to center. Outside of that five-batter hiccup, the Jays only got one baserunner against Sox pitching. Matsuzaka’s ability to calm himself and regain his form was instructive, but so was the frustration and emotion that he showed while getting into the jam in the first place. Opposing managers (and AL umpires, not insignificantly) will watch this game tape with some interest.

The Big Money portion of the Sox offense (hell, all portions) took the night off, the only run scoring on Wily Mo Pena’s gargantuan blast to center in the top of the 3rd. Finally a Working Man after being invisible for the season’s first 10 games, Wily Mo was the only real bright spot for the Sox.

The Sox play 10 of their next 12 against the Blue Jays and Yankees, both of whom are significantly banged up. There’s no such thing as a must-win April game, or even series, but if the Sox fail to make hay over the next two weeks, they may look back with fond regret as the temperatures climb and their Freewill becomes subject to other teams’ whimsy.

Reverend Horton Heat

Game 11 – Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Angels 2
Record: 7-4

I’d like to thank the magic of portable electronic communications technology for keeping me up to date with the Sox yesterday, with a big assist to Whitney. I was stuck in an all-day meeting here at Inatech’s global headquarters in Philly and assumed that the biblical deluges along the Eastern Seaboard would wash out the day’s action entirely. I got an email from my brother in blog telling me that the game was on and asking if I’d like him to update me on its progress.

And update me he did, though the game was effectively over before the Sox recorded a single out in the bottom of the first inning. Thanks to Angel starter Ervin Santana and his array of meaty offerings (and free-flinging second sacker Howie Kendrick and his avant-garde defensive stylings) the Sox led 6-1 after a single frame. Whitney’s updates got much shorter from that point on, though I particularly liked the one entitled “Whoa”, which read:

“Manny makes a crazy grab on a pop-up in short left that this Candlestick-like wind did goofy things with. Saves a run. Going to Bottom 2. Still 6-1.”

The mental image of Manny sauntering in circles, dancing to his own salsa/punk beat before snaring the ball made me smile, and brought back fond memories of his convention-defying adventures during Game 1 of the 2004 World Series.

The stats say that Beckett continued his torrid April pace, and the highlights I saw on Baseball Tonight confirmed something I noticed in Spring Training. Beckett’s throwing far more breaking pitches far more effectively thus far in 2007 than he did last year during his introduction to the American League. Per ESPN, 75% of his pitches last year were fastballs, while 63% of his 2007 pitches come after Jason Varitek extends a single finger. That mix, combined with the enhanced movement Beckett’s getting from his two-seam fastball versus the very straight four-seamer he threw most of the time last year (and you know what Serrano says about straight balls), has been deadly to hitters in the early going. Beckett’s pitched 18 innings, striking out 18 while only allowing 10 hits. Still early, but I’m pretty sure I saw Matsuzaka nod slowly and approvingly in the dugout yesterday, and I like what the early returns imply for the rest of the season.

My trip to Citizen’s Bank Park got rained out last night – probably for the best. It was miserable here yesterday. I’m catching a cold just thinking about sitting out in the elements for 3 hours in that drizzly dreck. Jose Reyes’ hamstrings and the entire Township give thanks to MLB for calling that one off.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Game 10 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Angels 0
Record: 6-4

When Jason Varitek lined out to center to leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, this game turned from mildly frustrating to cat-kicking aggravating. The Sox had similarly failed in the bottom of the second, with Julio Lugo swinging at ball four and flying to center with the bases loaded to allow Angels starter Hector Carrasco off the hook. Varitek's failure to come through in the clutch was especially wrenching considering the fact that Erik Hinske had led off the bottom of the third with a triple in front of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The Sox stranded 7 runners in the game's first 3 innings, and appeared well on their way to boosting drywall repair bills across New England.

Except that Varitek didn't line out to center. His swing connected so purely with Carrasco's offering that the ball screamed to center in an unholy conflagration of Josh Beckett's fastball and Tim Wakefield's knuckler, caroming painfully off of Gary Matthews' wrist and bounding away to allow the game's first two runs to score. Matthews was charged with an error, but he had absolutely no chance. After fate opened the doors for the Sox' offense, they did the rest, battering the Angels' bullpen for 6 more runs to back Curt Schilling's second win in as many outings.

And just like that, the Sox chose Frost's path, traveling the road they've largely eschewed during the season's first 10 games and taking the easy route to victory. Schilling was dominant again, going 8 innings and allowing 4 hits and no runs. Papi drove in 4 runs, the final 3 on a mammoth blast to deepest centerfield. Hinske played his role to perfection, reaching base 4 times and scoring 3 runs in his first start of the season. Mike Lowell made a sick diving grab to keep Schilling out of trouble in the early going, and Brendan Donnelly pitched a perfect ninth inning to close out the tidy victory.

The Sox reach the 1/16th pole with the American League's best ERA, posting a 2.79 mark to date. Sox starters have averaged 6.2 innings per game, allowing 18 earned runs and 48 hits in 62 innings. With the offense scuffling along to a .722 OPS and scoring runs in uneven lumps (1,7,4,0,4,3,14,0,10, and 8 in the first 10 games) the staff has clearly been the squad's dominant unit in the early going.

That early going looks to stall here for a while, just like the massive storm front that's taken up residence on the East Coast. Today's tilt with the Angels has already been washed out, and tomorrow's traditional early morning Patriots' Day game will almost certainly meet with the same fate. As an aside, Whit and I have a friend running the Boston Marathon tomorrow. With forecasts calling for sub-40 temps and 20-30 mph winds, I sincerely hope he ducks into the first open pub and spends his morning quaffing whiskey and smoking cigarettes instead of carrying out his scheduled agenda. Knowing our guy, the odds of him choosing the former are probably better than even. We'll be rooting for him either way.

I've got tickets to tomorrow night's Mets/Phils contest at Citizen's Bank Park in the City of Brotherly Love. (One day we'll examine the most ironic/least fitting city nicknames. Outside of Baltimore's Charm City moniker, Philly's may well be the most laughably ill-suited nom de metro. The City of Fuck You, Asshole is a bit closer to accurate, but doesn't sell as many t-shirts.) As much as I really would like to see the ballpark, I also really like the fact that I've never had pneumonia, and sitting outside in drizzly, 40-degree weather doesn't make the few-of-my-favorite-things list. I'll still probably go, but I'll reserve the right to whine and complain bitterly.

The large-scale washouts across the league put a bit of a damper on the celebration the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's barrier-shattering debut with the Dodgers. I know as much about the black experience as I do about particle physics, so I'm ill-suited to provide much worthwhile commentary here. I do think that recent highly-charged and widely publicized events frame Robinson's struggle and ultimate triumph in much starker and more remarkable terms. If 60 years later, we're still struggling to gain relative equilibrium and transparency on racial issues, what must society have been like in 1947?

As the answer to that question damns us all in places we don't want to talk about at cocktail parties, it also serves to elevate Jackie Robinson's accomplishments beyond their already esteemed status. End of misplaced rant, and back to your regularly scheduled idiocy in a few days when I get back from Philly.

El DeBarge

Game 11 - Mets

Nationals 6, Mets 2
Record: 7-4

"We worked so hard, I mean so hard, to get these girls to come up to my apartment, and now all I want in the world is for them to leave."
--Bryan S., Richmond, VA

Hard not to feel like MLC fan Bryan yesterday, as I wrangled and juggled and carved out a little afternoon time to take in the Mets, then wished I hadn't bothered. They just didn't look the part of pennant contenders yesterday, stranding runners and giving up four-baggers with all too much comfortable consistency. Bit of an eyesore, it was, and here's hoping today either brings a revitalized approach or an April shower to prevent more of the same.

It wasn't a blowout -- the Nots don't do blowouts -- and actually, David Wright's fly ball off Jon "Who's Jonny?" Rauch in the 8th was a foot and a half from being out of reach and into the pen for a game-tightening three-run dinger. As it was, Ryan Church made a nice play look easy, Shawn Green followed that disappointment with a nifty 4-6-3 inning-ender, and there went any hopes of a rally.

Meanwhile, Orlando Hernandez served up lunchables to Dmitri Young, Church, and Chris Snelling (in chronological order as well as that of acceptability) to the tune of five runs. El Duque couldn't seem to get into the rhythm of the afternoon, missing the zone entirely and finding the meat of the plate intermittently. He got tossed for plunking Shawn Hill after the second gopher ball, which was a rookie mistake by a veteran umpire, but it didn't change the outcome.

This game toed the line between a winnable loss and one of Rob's 35 games that you aren't going to win. For every time the Mets began to put something together (like when Endy Chavez led off an inning with a triple and 3-4-5 coming up) the Mets seemed to undo themselves (like when 3-4-5 stranded Chavez in hideous fashion). El Duque failed to provide a quality start, but the offensive efficiency was nil. Any way you looked at it, and I looked at the whole thing, it frustrated more than entertained. Wipe it clean and move on the next one.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Queens of (in) the Stone Age

Game 10 - Mets

Mets 3, Nationals 2

Record: 7-3

Through five innings, last night's game was playing out exactly as I'd feared and mentioned below. When you're the clear favorite, sometimes you get away from the fundamentals and the measured game plan. And sometimes it takes a wily veteran to know his limitations, play within himself, and get the job done. Case in point.

The Washington Nationals were -- and are going to be all season -- massive underdogs. Most gambling sites (and we here at MLC do not encourage gambling for anything except massive quantities of malt beverage) have the Nots posting a slim-to-none chance of winning any ballgame in this early going. The Mets are projected to win more games this year than Washington may win in two seasons. And yet, as they say, on any given Friday anything can happen in baseball.

The Mets were facing the Nots' "ace," John Patterson, while they trotted out youngster Mike Pelfrey for his first start of the season. There was a seriously stiff win blowing in, one which knocked down a handful of would-be taters off Met bats. These are factors to level the playing field, and there were more. The home plate umpire -- standing in for a fellow crew member who was off for family reasons -- had a . . . peculiar . . . strike zone. I'd call it amoeba-like: very small, amorphous, and perpetually changing dimensions. Not what Pelf needed to get into a groove. The temperature was thirtysomething, and ultimately the game's fate came down to the only man in the ballgame who was in the big leagues when that show was on the air.

The heart of the Mets' lineup seemed to want to ignore that there was a more than serviceable pitcher on the hill and that gale force winds were flying in over the Home Run Apple. Many a great power stroke was rendered inconsequential by the wind, but the Metbats seemed determined to better this inferior club through the long ball. Didn't happen. The night's five runs were plated on two groundouts and three singles.

As I said, after five frames I was getting antsy. This was the blueprint for losing to the worst team in baseball. Overswinging on offense and some early wildness from the young starter. Not good. 2-1, Nationals, in what was presumed (to a degree) to be a cakewalk of a series. Soon enough, however, the Mets reverted to the other potent aspect of their game: speed and the ability to manufacture runs.

Jose Reyes did what he wouldn't have a year or two ago; he led off with a walk. After stealing second (a given, it seems), Carlos Delgado plated him with a base-knock in the sixth. 2-2.

It's too early to get the excitement into overdrive, but David Wright has come around nicely over the last couple of games. We love the guy, but don't let the 10-game/22-game hitting streak fool you; he'd been popping a floof-ball into the shallow outfield for a hit once a night for a stretch, but the last couple of games have brought us the Dee-Dub of last year's first half. Avoiding the urge to pull the ball for power has always netted him big results. Thursday's triple and last night's up-the-middle single in the bottom of the eighth were the crunch-time successes we're used to seeing. Please, David, keep on keepin' on.

And then he stole second, taking a page from his partner in poster-boyness. That set the stage for Julio Franco to shuffle to the plate with two down. I'll be honest, as much as I think Franco's is a great story and his clubhouse presence shouldn't be understated, it seemed to me that, with a few exceptions, the latter half of '06 saw more K's and GIDP's from him in crucial moments than any sort of heroics. Not enough to bash him, just enough to trample expectations when he's announced.

And then he shut me up and raised hopes for his 2007, knocking one into center field to score Wright and leave the game in Billy Wagner's capable hands. It goes without saying: like my little friend across the aisle, I am an idiot.

Keep making it happen, boys. (And elder gentlemen . . . sir . . . Mr. Franco.) El Duque -- another person who was alive when the Washington Senators were still playing; true fact: the Nationals cannot claim one such player on their roster -- goes against Shawn Hill this afternoon in a match-up in which projects a 67% chance of a Met win. Let's pretend we didn't see that.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Game 9 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 1
Record: 5-4

As far back as MLC's inaugural post in April 2003, we've understood and cautiously embraced the Epstein/James high-leverage bullpen construction model. Cautiously embraced in theory, anyway, because the Sox never had the overall depth to make it really work in practice. The model says that the game's final three outs may not always be the most important, and that a manager should be willing to use the best arm(s) available in non-traditional closer situations.

Last night was one of Terry Francona's shining strategic moments as the manager of the Sox, and a repudiation of sorts of the nattering ninnies who decried the new-fangled bullpen thingy when it collapsed under the weight of too many Chad Foxes, Bobby Howrys, and Brandon Lyons back in 2003. The Sox led the Angels 4-1 in the top of the 8th, but found themselves in a tense spot when Brendan Donnelly hit old friend Orlando Cabrera to put runners on the corners with one out and the menace of Vladimir Guerrero digging in at the plate.

Tying run at the plate in the form of the opponent's most dangerous bat, and Francona wasted not a moment in going to the pen to get Jonathan Papelbon. Six pitches later, Guerrero had whiffed to end a mano a mano showdown and Garrett Anderson had lined to left to end the inning. The game was saved in that sequence.

The Sox plated 6 in the bottom of the 8th and Francona lifted Papelbon, saving his most explosive weapon for another day. No save for Paps, which might impact the ego of a more fragile or less team-focused closer. Managers don't often win or lose games, but you could argue that Francona's prudent and decisive deployment of his best bullpen arm weighed heavily in the final tally last night. Even more importantly for the long term, he sent a clear signal to his team that wins are more important than individuals - and Papelbon boosted his skipper by going right along with the decision. It's worth highlighting, by the way, the balls Paps showed in staring down Guerrero and beating the Angels' stud strength-on-strength. I've analyzed this in some detail, and I've come to the conclusion that Papelbon can pitch the baseball.

Tim Wakefield turned in his second sterling outing in as many chances, and was finally rewarded with some offensive support. Wake scattered 5 hits in 7 innings with only 2 walks on his ledger, and only Mike Lowell's wide throw on Maicer Izturis' leadoff grounder in the top of the 8th kept Wake from going deeper into the game.

Papi shook off consecutive strikeouts to start the game to drive in 3 clutch runs on roped liners to right. J.D. Drew continued to endear himself to Sully and Murph, driving in 2 runs on 2 hits and smoothly handling a tough chance on a liner by Casey Kotchman that kicked crazily off Fenway's unique walls. In fact, in what's becoming a mournful and increasingly bitter refrain, the only part of the offense that underperformed was Coco Crisp.

The Sox' centerfielder had real and viable excuses for his struggles in 2006 - he was burdened with high expectations and huge shoes to fill as he replaced the beloved Johnny Damon, and Crisp's early-season broken finger impacted him for the rest of the year. The Nation was unusually patient as Crisp turned in a .702 OPS, more than 100 points below his 2005 mark with the Indians, partly because the rest of the team wasn't very good, and partly because his performance could be written off to the injury. This year, though, that patience has already begun to wane. Crisp's 0-for-5 last night dropped his average to .121 and his OPS to a pitcher-like .353. As bad as that sounds, it looks even worse - the newly bestowed Coco Pops nickname testifies to his inability to drive anything and the overmatched presence he's carried to the plate thus far in 2007. Francona's next miracle: to lift Covelli from the depths of this slump, because the Sox haven't much in the way of options behind him in center.

After last night, though, in Terry We Trust, at least for now.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Doug E. Fresh

So Doug Mirabelli walks to the plate in the bottom of the 5th inning tonight, Sox trailing by a run and scoreless for 13 straight innings. And as the NESN graphic displays Dougie's 0-for-5 start, I say to myself, "It's a shame, sure looks like Mirabelli's toast."

One pitch later, Mirabelli breaks up John Lackey's shutout with an absolute bomb to deep, deep right-center.

The lesson...c'mon, do I really need to say it? I am, as you know, an idiot.


The always-entertaining (and massively prolific) team at Surviving Grady posted their AL East season preview this morning. Good stuff, as usual, from Red and Denton, but I mention it mostly because of the fantastic picture of Jonathan Papelbon and NESN's sideline babe Tina Cervasio. Papelbon, like any normal red-blooded American in his early 20s, is getting a serious eye workout while examining the rear-facing curves of the comely Ms. Cervasio. His expression is, as they say, priceless. Add one more to the long and growing list of reasons to love young Paps.


Game 9 - Mets

Mets 5, Phillies 3

Record: 6-3

Chalk one up for the hometown nine -- a losable win that takes the series, alters a downward trend, features a comeback, gains a game on the Braves (for whatever that's worth on April 13), and sends the fans home happy. Tom Glavine earns win #292 (and #50 as a Met), suffering only Jimmy Rollins-inflicted damage along the way. The bullpen holds, the defense shines, and Jose Reyes is carrying the team in stretches at this point.

Rollins' pair of homers capped off a strong series for the guy most written about for his preseason quotes. If all 25 Phils had made such bold statements and followed through with Jimmy's tenacity, Charlie Manuel wouldn't be headed for the unemployment line. As it is, they're 2-7 and underachieving, albeit at this early juncture, and even Jimmy Rollins' old friend Roy Hobbs couldn't will this team to win.

This was a big victory for the Mets, relatively speaking; the lowly Washington Nationals come to town this weekend, and losing 4 of 5 before facing the league's worst team (by leaps and bounds; see Gheorghe: The Blog for an ongoing look at "The Nots") might've made the Mets tight and apt to force things as the huge favorite. After a series win, there is just a palpable degree of calmness to take into the next battle.

Tight is the last thing they'll need to be tonight, as Mike Pelfrey makes his first start of the season in 30-40 degree weather. As expected, Lastings Milledge, who's been seeing the field with the regularity of a back-up quarterback, heads to N'Awlins to pick up some at-bats and ready himself for an inevitable return. The Mets' shift from the AAA Norfolk Tides to the New Orleans Zephyrs doesn't make much geographic sense, and it certainly foils my plans for following the club's prospects, but it should make for more appealing demotions. See you in two weeks at JazzFest, Lastings; save me some oysters at Cooter Brown's.

Pelfrey represents another piece of what many considered the Mets' overstuffed question mark this year. In theory, it's fortuitous that he can open up with a wretched Nationals squad; after they beat John Smoltz and the Braves last night, however, let's not look ahead to the two-gamer in Philly next week just yet.

And did I mention Jose Reyes?

He currently leads the team in hits, runs, RBI, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He has more walks than strikeouts; hell, he has more stolen bases than strikeouts. It's apparent that he's worked extremely hard to address the few but obvious flaws that hampered him the past few seasons while expanding his strengths even further. It's almost as if the public's fawning over David Wright has inspired him to greatness in a "Hey, don't forget about me, guys" kind of way; unfortunately, we now need Dee-Dub to take a page from Reyes and continue his own evolution. Legging out last night's opposite-field triple meant an insurance run and a pleasant reminder of Wright's capabilities. Keep it up -- both of yous.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

BB King

Game 8 - Mets

Phillies 5, Mets 2
Record: 5-3

Whoa. It was throwback night at Shea Stadium last night, both in the sense of saluting the "gory days" of 2003-04 and also in the sense of throw-up in the back of my mouth.

Come the second inning, the Jekyll/Hyde Oliver Perez was as effective in locating the strike zone as this search. He walked the bases loaded in unsightly fashion (12 balls against two strikes, with a three-pitch strikeout in the middle just for kicks) but escaped trouble by retiring Phillie pitcher Adam Eaton. The next frame began promisingly with a pair of outs, then let us the viewing audience know that Inning 2 was no anomaly. X's cover of the Troggs classic echoed throughout Shea while "Juuust a bit outside" could be heard from every grimacing fan. Lordy.

Fast fact: A skateboard move where you get air without grabbing your board with your hands is called an Ollie.
Fast fact 2: An attempt at said move that results in road rash on your face and neck is called an Ollie Perez.

Aaron "Postur-Pedic" Sele filled in fairly nicely in a not-quite mop-up (swiffer-up?) role after Ollie was -- eventually -- lifted with the score 3-0. Meanwhile, the Metbats were as effective at getting to Eaton as Eaton himself was at getting to his new CD a few years back. And so went the Mets, 5-2. End of story. Fini. That's it.

Oh, right. Like we can leave well enough alone.

The furor in the Mets' tiny corner of the blogosphere over the last day or so has had everything to do with Willie Randolph pitching to Ryan Howard, a move I lambasted below but ultimately cast aside as a one-off blunder. The scrutiny, analysis, and cases made for the prosecution and the defense were everywhere, and from my cursory scans of them, I came away with just one thing: the Township-given nickname for Ambiorix Burgos, "The Amburglar," is one of the best the Mets have ever had. So good.

Wont as I am at times to take Robert Frost's road when it comes to the pervasive sentiments kicking around the Mets' fan base, I didn't dwell on Willie's bungling Monday like the masses did -- instead, I'll flout him for last night's work, which will probably go unmentioned by most. I'm special like that. Anyway, it's the recurrent theme in Mr. Randolph's handling of the pitching staff, his consistent knack for leaving pitchers in the game one to three batters too long. It's a point I've made throughout his tenure here, and it's one contested by more than a few when I've made it, but I won't abandon it just yet.

Based on the second inning's hideous near-miss, Willie Randolph & Rick Peterson should have had the bullpen on high alert, just in case. The aforementioned two quick outs were calming but obviously misleading after the single/walk/walk that followed. And make no mistake -- watching Ollie struggle, it was far clearer than any recap could convey. He didn't have it. A number of his Ball Fours (there were seven of them in 2 2/3 innings, mind you) were two feet out of the zone, high and wide and wild and a sure sign that things were not right with him last night. After he walked Wesse Helms on four not-even-that-close pitches to bring in a run, it was time to go get him.

And then there was that lull, the one where you just know Willie's going to leave him in there. Which was more predictable at that point, the mighty skipper's statuesque, stationary stance or the subsequent base on balls that Oliver Perez promptly issued?

And after that . . . Willie looked on stoically. Okeydokey, Cap'n.

Perez then proceeded to fire a 2-2 pitch off Rod Barajas's knee, so a third Phillie run jogged home. Oh, well, I figured, this is what Willie does on occasion. It's the Alay Soler disaster all over again, conceding victory after a few runs in the early frames. He'll leave Ollie in there to work himself out or die trying, and in turn he saves the bullpen for another day.

And just as the thought crossed my mind, Willie yanked Ollie (turn that around and this site is blocked from work) so that Aaron Sele could come in and face Adam Eaton . . . what??

Well, at least the Met's pitcher spot was second to bat in the bottom of the inning so Sele could hit for himself. I can't comprehend what passes for the handling of pitchers in the Randolph Regime.

I'll refrain from insinuating that this thought process, or lack thereof, was devastatingly egregious, but Willie Randolph's day-late-buck-short hook drives me up a wall. Short of hitting Mr. Met atop the dugout, Oliver Perez couldn't have sent any clearer a signal that he couldn't find the plate last night. When he's on, Smokin' O.P. is unhittable. When he's off, he's also unhittable; some sort of a boat oar or pole vault would have been needed to reach a great many of his offerings. And yet the manager either didn't notice or didn't think it mattered.

In ninth grade, I took the mound for the JV Bulldogs one afternoon with great excitement. I got the first batter to fly out, then walked the next four batsmen on an array of horrible pitches, including one that bounced well before the plate. I was dying out there; I couldn't figure out what was wrong, but nothing was going to help me that day. My manager came out, took the ball, and mercifully sent me over to play first base. (Though I was wishing I could hide my face in the dugout.) The first thing that happened was the old first baseman / new pitcher zipped the ball to me, I tagged out the leaning runner, and it was two down. Refreshed, we came back and won something like 8-3. So maybe that recollection makes me more of a quick hook kind of guy (or maybe it's my softball squad, who let me hand out 41 free passes in 33 innings one season before making a change). Not sure, but I just know there are days when guys "don't have it." Pack 'em up and save 'em for another day.

I can make the standard concessions about using your bullpen shrewdly, patience with pitchers being a virtue, etc., but I'm not being the ignorant fan hollering "Get him outta there!" at every turn. Such hesitation costs the Mets games. Games add up. Last night was even more annoying, since he bailed out on his usual M.O. halfway through it. Look, I can say what I want about the tenets of leaving young pitchers out there to dry, but at least it's an ethos.

All new managers that weren't pitching coaches say that the hardest part of the job is learning to manage the pitching staff during the game. It's Year 3, and this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up Big Willie Style of working the 'pen seems as "by the seat of the pants" as any greenhorn skipper.

And that's all I have to say about that. For now.

King Missile

Game 8 – Red Sox

Mariners 3, Red Sox 0

Record: 4-4

Man, how great is baseball? I’m quite certain I’ve never felt less deflated after watching the Sox flail harmlessly about for nine innings. Last night was an object lesson in potential realized, and even though it came at the Sox’ expense, I’m glad I got to watch it.

Mariner righty Felix Hernandez woke the echoes of Pedro Martinez in Fenway Park, dominating the Red Sox offense in a complete-game 1-hit effort. J.D. Drew’s sharp single up the middle in the top of the 8th broke up Hernandez’ no-hit bid, but there was little to no chance that the Sox would mount any kind of sustained threat before or after. None of the 3 baserunners wearing home whites so much as reached second base, thanks to Hernandez’ otherworldly assortment of pitches and some timely defense from the Mariners’ middle infield.

As a SoSH poster from last night’s game thread eloquently put it, “I watch Matsuzaka pitch and I think, ‘wow, that’s nasty’. I watch Hernandez pitch, and my reaction is, ‘wow, that’s unhittable’.” Hernandez struggled through a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2006 as a result of carrying a few too many pounds on his young frame. Now 20 pounds lighter after offseason workouts, he’s held opponents to 4 hits in 51 at-bats thus far in 2007. His fastball topped out in the high 90s, and was augmented with nose-diving high 80s curveballs and sliders that skittered away from bats with alarming alacrity. (Cue Bill Raftery, I’m starting to feel it here.) After last night, I’m torn between wishing the Sox played the M’s more often so I could see this kid pitch more frequently, and really happy that the Sox don’t play the M’s more often so they don’t have to get bitch-slapped by a 21 year-old.

With all the oxygen in the greater New England area and most of the sporting universe sucked into Daisuke Matsuzaka’s orbit, it’s a wonder that that Sox’ import was able to lift his arm to get things started against Ichiro last night. Given the circumstances surrounding his home debut and the 45-degree weather, Matsuzaka’s 7-inning, 3-run performance was fairly damn impressive. He clearly struggled with his command, especially on breaking pitches, but even so managed to post a very quality outing. That bodes well for future starts when the weather approaches comfortable and he can relax a bit. Nothing to be ashamed of in last night’s loss, despite the obvious dejection Matsuzaka displayed in his post-game presser.

No real shame for the Sox’ batsmen yesterday, either. They just got beat by a guy who pitched what will almost certainly wind up as one of the top 3 games anyone will throw at the Sox all year. Tip your cap, and dig in against Jarrod Washburn this afternoon. Baseball, it’s pretty damn cool.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Wreckers

Game 7 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Seattle Mariners 3
Record: 4-3

Hard to find anything to complain about in a 14-3 asskicking, so I'll just sit back, smoke this cigar, drink this beer (Sierra Nevada - nothing fancy this evening) and enjoy the afterglow.

Josh Beckett's now pitched 12 innings in 2007 and given up 4 hits and 2 runs. A few more outings like this afternoon's and we'll have to consign the Ebby Calvin moniker to the celluloid dustbin. Matsuzaka lifts an eyebrow and smiles coyly, telling Beckett, "Ah, you are indeed a gladiator. Perhaps I underestimated your karate after that season-opening start." Of course, he was speaking Japanese, so all Beckett understood was "karate". In fact, I'd pay really good money to watch Beckett and Matsuzaka try to communicate with one another.

Jason Varitek had 3 hits and drove in 3 runs, silencing for the next day or so the growing chorus of worry surrounding the captain and his diminshed batsmanship. In terms of the volume of grumbling, it's pretty much Varitek, Coco Crisp, Julian Tavarez, Mike Lowell, and the field for Sox fans over the season's first week. I'm all for the wisdom of the masses in this case.

J.D. Drew chose an auspicious time to hit his first homer in a Sox uniform, launching one to centerfield to give the Sox a 7-0 lead in the 2nd inning. WEEI plans to run an expose tomorrow on Drew, certain that he could've hit a homer in the first inning, but for his utter lack of "gamerness" and "dirtdoggitude".

Matsuzaka takes on the Mariners tomorrow evening as he makes his debut in home whites. I'm trying, really trying, to manage my expectations. He is, after all, human. I think.

The Clash

Special MLC Feature: A-Rod versus the Nationals

The Baseball Poets wax rhapsodically about the game’s balanced rhythms and timeless charm, its yin and yang, alpha and omega. Most of the time, though, that poetic effort lauds the alphas far more than the omegas.

Here in the shadows of the Nation’s Capitol, home of the original Omega Dogs, the Washington Senators, history’s ugly lessons are being ignored and repeated on a major league stage. And no, this isn’t another thinly veiled shot at the President. The Washington Nationals took the field in 2007 with one of the least competitive big league franchises in modern memory, a squad that gets sand kicked on it by the 2003 Detroit Tigers. The Washington Generals had a better chance in most of their games than do our Nats, or as Whitney calls them, "The Nots."

Other sites on the intertubes are following the Nationals’ quest for ignominy using more conventional metrics like wins, losses, and runs scored. Here at MLC, we’re going a different route, nodding to those aforementioned Poets and linking the fortunes of the least with those of the greatest. In the spirit of the 2003 Tigers Watch (lauded as the catalyst for Detroit ’s 2006 World Series run) and the 2004 Expos Watch (which led directly to Montreal migrating to DC, according to at least one expert), we bring you the Japanese horror movie, A-Rod vs. the Nationals.

Alex Rodriguez has five home runs in the Yankees’ first six games, many of them prodigious and even timely. While I’m certainly no fan of Slappy, for obvious reasons, I do think he gets a bum rap from both Yankee fans and the national media. The Nationals have one win in their first seven games, and that one was a mad scramble back from a large deficit. They have not led at any point in any of their losses – in fact, they didn’t lead in their win until after the final pitch of the game. And while I am, in fact, partial to the Nats, I think Stan Kasten’s reputation has given them an undeserved pass in the national press, though not necessarily here at home.

It says here that A-Rod will finish the 2007 season with more homers than the Nationals collect wins. And there’s a chance that it won’t really be close. We’ll be watching the Nats closely, so you don’t have to. You're welcome.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Rollins Band

Game 7 - Mets

Mets 11, Phillies 5
Record: 5-2

Sometimes you just have to walk away before you say something you regret, or far worse, injure your television. After the aforementioned mental face-plant by Skip Willie, I turned off the TV in melodramatic disgust. In truth, it enabled me to get a few things done today; it may have also been the one cosmic alteration necessary for the Mets to regroup and . . . well, do what they did.

(I know, but hell, it worked in 1986.)

A pair of miracles of modern technology permitted me to actually view the crazy, seven-run eighth inning that catapulted the Mets to this win. First, my attentive partner in MLC ownership dropped me a message that registered on my mobile cellular texting thingmajig. Big thanks for that, little buddy; "whatever you did must have worked for the Mets" sent me barreling to the telly, and more importantly to the TiVo. With the prior 30 minutes of the contest automatically accessible (God bless TiVo), I backed it up and hunkered down for the onslaught. It lost some of the moment, since I already knew that good things were on the way, but it was still an enjoyable thing to see.

By "onslaught," of course, I overstate the Mets' role in all of this. I wouldn't want to be labeled an ingrate, so hearty thanks go out to the Philadelphia Phillies, most notably Geoff Geary and Jimmy Rollins. Three walks and a wild pitch by the reliever plus a crucial error by the shortstop certainly aided the Mets along the way. The Metmen did their part, for sure, but the Phils' assistance made a comeback a romp.

And so the crosshairs dart away from Willie Randolph's visage onto two obvious candidates: Rollins and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. In truth, neither deserves much more finger-wagging than Willie does; Randolph's blatant refusal to acknowledge an obvious threat to the Mets' tenuous lead was far less competent. Alas, in baseball as in life, a whole lot just isn't fair.

Jimmy Rollins booted a grounder with one out, the bases loaded and the Phillies up one, but for anyone thinking that it was an inning-ending double-play ball, all you need to know to have a second think on it is who the batter was: Jose Reyes. (Jose B. Reyes, of course; the much slower Jose A. Reyes was in the opposite corner of the Keystone State, presumably throwing on the tools of ignorance in hopes that the Binghamton Mets would actually get a game in after their entire first series was postponed thanks to Punxsatawney Phil being way, way off his game this year.)

I digress, but the point is that it would have taken a play for the ages to double up Reyes on that ball. Wasn't happening. The run was going to score regardless, and the game would have been tied regardless. Of course, just as in the '86 game I referenced, details hardly matter to the masses. For all intents and purposes, Buckner's gaffe gave away the World Series; on a seriously smaller scale, Rollins' botch is making its way into every headline on Ye Olde Interweb. (See "Rollins' error helps Mets rally past rival Phillies" on, for instance.) While not factually incorrect, it lets Geoff Geary's dismal attempt at a hold off the hook; same with Jon Lieber's clever prank of putting kerosene in the fire hoses. Just to stomp the point to death, if Rollins makes that play and Geary goes ahead and issues that wild pitch, the Mets regain the lead either way. So there.

Since I am already donning the Devil's Advocate horns, I might as well help young Jim out one more time. Even without making my rounds, I can already hear the Metsbloggers unleashing their banal barrage upon Rollins for his pre-season remarks. As I indicated, I neither disagreed with nor found much offense in what he had to say about his team's chances, and so I don't really relish his role in this bad Philly loss . . . nearly so much as I enjoy the mere thought of Joe Six-Pack everywhere from Malvern to Media to Merchantville to McGillin's throwing their half-empty Yuengling against the wall in a rage. Now that's worth stoking the embers for.

And finally, ol' Charlie Manuel will probably also unduly suffer thanks to Jimmy's prediction. If upper management bought into the new era of the Phightin's, 1-6 after a gnarly-looking loss like today's likely ain't sittin' too well with them. By all accounts, and there are many, Manuel is a great person, but he just sort of seems like your grandfather's crazy brother -- the one who was too close to too many shells in WWII and whom you wouldn't trust to bait your hook, much less drive you to town, much, much less manage your hundred million dollar ballclub. He seems to have a bit too much Ernie Pantusso in him, and while it makes for unintended hilarity, that's not really what you're going for with that post. I see Great Uncle Charlie watching the Kentucky Derby somewhere other than the clubhouse at Pac Bell, if you get my convoluted point.

And so goes the Mets' home opener. A wild seesaw affair to induce tantrums and reconciliations within the hour. Kind of a mess, not without its angst-causing moments, and a mighty roar of the crowd in the final act.

Wouldn't have it any other way - would you?

The Call

Mets winning, 3-2, top 6th. Reliever Ambiorix Burgos in the game, Phils have 2nd & 3rd with 2 outs. Burgos had just struck out Chase Utley in a 12-pitch at-bat -- a great showing. But with Ryan Howard coming up and 1st base open, it seems a no-brainer. Willie decides to let the youngster pitch. I alert the TV that I am formally protesting this call. Yeah, let the kid get some exposure to moments like this by going after guys, but don't throw him to the wolves. It's Ryan Friggin' Howard, MVP.

Keith, Ron, & Gary agree.

As the 2-2 pitch enters the bullpen, it really, really bugs me to have been proven right on this. Sometimes the answer is just as easy as it seems.

North Mississippi All-Stars

Game 6 – Red Sox
Red Sox 3, Rangers 2

The 2007 season meandered sleepily along through the first 5 games, easing me slowly into the grind without much drama or angst. The soundtrack, accordingly and fittingly, has been more Sunday at The Masters than AC/DC. Last night, though, baseball roared back into my bloodstream, bringing with it elevated heart rates, late night fist pumps, and the season’s first involuntary “holy shit” utterances.

Nearly all of that physiological stimulus came courtesy of Jonathan Papelbon and his electric stuff. Ranger batsmen were breaking bottles and destroying tables in the saloon when the bullpen doors swung open to let the big right-hander enter, and the Rangers’ partisans were in full throat. To steal from Kenny Rogers, you could’ve heard a pin drop by the time he was done.

The Sox led, 3-2, with 1 out in the bottom of the 8th, and runners on first and third when Terry Francona summoned Papelbon to face Michael Young. Papelbon’s got this glare that would skirt the boundary between silly theatrics and intimidation if it didn’t come as part of a package deal with his exploding fastball and bat-breaking splitter. He fixed Young in his sights and proceeded to summarily dispatch one of the game’s great hitters, blowing 2 fastballs by the Rangers’ shortstop before closing with a wicked knee-high fastball on the outside corner that earned a called third strike. The dangerous Mark Teixeira couldn’t catch up to a high fastball, and the threat was doused when his towering popup settled into Mike Lowell’s glove. Fist pumps all around, in recognition of Papelbon’s dominance and of Francona’s exquisite use of his bullpen in the pivotal 8th inning.

The Sox failed to dent the Ranger bullpen in the 9th – shocker – and Papelbon started with a fresh sheet in the home half of the inning. Sammy Sosa still swings from his heels, but the 2007 model had no chance against Papelbon’s high gas, popping up mightily, but harmlessly to Kevin Youkilis. Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson really didn’t need to bring bats to the plate, as helpless as the both were against Papelbon’s momentum. Neither came close to hitting anything Papelbon delivered, as both he and the Sox fans in attendance (and in one living room in Leesburg, VA) got more and more intense. Papelbon’s final delivery was a fastball, low and outside, and the home plate umpire kindly put Wilkerson out of his misery, even though the pitch probably missed by an inch or so – wouldn’t have mattered, as Wilkerson’s chances of reaching base in that situation were lower than the Nationals’ projected winning percentage. (Some portentous foreshadowing, that.)

Papelbon’s 5-batter performance was as epic as the season’s first week could possibly allow. The stakes weren’t particularly high in the season’s grand sweep - had he blown the save (which would have carried no shame whatsoever), the Sox might’ve limped home from a 2-4 road trip. But even then, I really wouldn’t have forecasted any long-term hangover – the soothing balm of Tuesday’s home opener probably would’ve washed away any lingering ill feelings. Even with the win, the Sox still find themselves a mediocre 3-3 with no real offensive spark. Psychologically, though, Papelbon’s staredown of the Rangers finally and irrevocably shuts the door on second-guessing of the rotation/bullpen decision-making process, and reminds the Sox in no uncertain terms that they’ve got one of the league’s elite stoppers at the back of the pen.

The Sox got 2 other boosts from the series finale in Texas, equally important though slightly less dramatic. Curt Schilling served notice that the rumors of his demise may have been slightly exaggerated, shaking off a first-inning homer by Sox-killer Frank Catalanotto and silencing the Rangers to the tune of 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 hits, and 6K. On the offensive side of the ledger, David Ortiz ended his season-opening mini-slump with homers in his first 2 plate appearances to account for all of the Sox’ runs.

And slightly less important, but fortuitous nonetheless, the Sox and Rangers had the courtesy to do absolutely nothing of consequence in the game’s middle innings, meaning that I was able to watch the season premieres of the Sopranos and Entourage in their entirety and still catch every meaningful pitch of the game. I could really stand to see less Janice over the final 8 episodes, Mr. Chase, if that wouldn’t be too much to ask. Entourage seems to be astride the motorcycle, revving the engine, just waiting for the right moment to head skyward over the shark’s seeking jaws.

The Sox head to Boston for tomorrow’s home opener carrying a 3-3 record despite scoring only 19 runs. I expect they feel both a little bit fortunate and a little bit overdue at the plate. I also think they’re all looking over at the kid wearing No. 58 with a mix of awe and gratitude that he’s on their side.

One final note of annoyance that’s building into a full-on rant: I can’t overstate my disdain for Sox fans that go to opposing ballparks and start the “Let’s Go Red Sox” chant. I find it bush league annoying bullshit, like the stereotypical Ugly Americans who go abroad and insist on eating at McDonald’s. I don’t mind that the Sox have a large fanbase – frankly, it’s one of the reasons they can maintain the payroll and exorbitantly high standards they’ve established under this ownership team. I do have a problem with loudmouth obnoxious guests. Cheer as loud as you want for the Sox’ actions on the field, but show a modicum of courtesy otherwise – channel Sam Wyche, only replace Cleveland with the city of your choosing, perhaps the one over there on the island.