Sunday, June 24, 2007

Insane Clown Posse

Game 70 & 71 - Mets

Mets 9, A's 1
Mets 1, A's 0
Record: 40-32

It's staggering how logic is cast aside in nearly every moment of the baseball season rollercoaster. Early Friday evening my brother-in-law and I were bemoaning the state of the Mets, using expressions like "third place" and "next year" even as the Mets sat atop the division. Two games later -- ones we didn't see a lick of, mind you, just caught periodic updates from -- we're talking about locking in on playoff tickets and whether we'd stand a chance against more complete teams like the Tigers or Red Sox. Neither extreme is sensible in the least, but these are the buffoons you people call your fellow fans.

This is Mets Township. Get used to it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Georgia Satellites

Game 71 - Red Sox

Red Sox 11, Braves 0
Record: 46-25

J.D. Drew led off last night's game with a homer, rounding the bases and reaching the dugout moments before I tuned in. I blame the kids and their need for "story time" and "basic bedtime hygiene". When I was a kid, we made up stories in our heads because we didn't have books. And we liked it.

I watched the rest of the game with my Mom and Dad, visiting for an evening on their way to Vermont. Coco Crisp's 3-run blast in the top of the first made the rest of the game relatively anti-climactic, which suited me and my work-frazzled nerves quite nicely. Crazy Julian Tavarez pitched 7 shutout innings (perhaps I should've bet Gheorghe: The Blog's TJ on Tavarez vs. Clemens instead of Wakefield) as the Sox posted back-to-back blankings of Whitney's nemeses, giving Whit about the only good baseball-related news he's had in June. Lotta ball left, my friend.

Tavarez walks a fine line between endearingly eccentric and annoyingly batshit insane. When he's pitching well, the animated cajoling of his teammates and odd prediliction for rolling the ball to first base on grounders back to the box make for bemused smiles and clap-your-hands didja-see-that silliness. When he's off his game, I'd like to punch him in the neck. As Charlotte Rae so wisely noted, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the reality of dealing with a decently talented whackjob.

Curt Schilling's headed to the DL for a few weeks, mostly to rest his shoulder - his MRI showed no damage. Sure is nice to be up 10 games and go through a few injuries as opposed to the alternatives. Jon Lester may get the call in Schill's spot in Seattle on Tuesday. Lester's from the Pacific Northwest, so there may be a run on Kleenex if he does make the start. He'd be in line for a start in Fenway next weekend, and the ovation will rival the one that Dave Roberts got when the Giants came to town. I'm quite sure the tv room in my grandparents' cottage is pretty dusty - better look into that when I get to the Cape.

Poor Julio Lugo can't catch a break. He was 0-for-4 when he came to the plate in the top of the 9th, the Sox comfortably up. With runners on first and second and nobody out, he dropped a humpbacked liner in front of Jeff Francouer in shallow right - the kind of oops basehit that a ballplayer needs to get some confidence. Except that Jason Varitek had to hold close to second, unsure whether Francouer would catch the ball. Francouer threw a pea to third to retire Tek on the force, and turn Lugo's single into a fielder's choice. When it rains, it pours for Lugo right now. Thank the everlovin' Lord that Tito moved J.D. Drew into the leadoff spot.

Speaking of my man J.D., ever since this humble blog began its quixotic campaign to win the hearts and minds of Sox fans to his cause, the humble biblethumper's gone 4-for-15 with 5R, 2HR and 2 2B - good for a 1.211 OPS. He left last night's game with tight hamstrings and the Sox up 7-0 in the second inning. Yeah he's fragile, but so are Faberge eggs, and I find them exquisite. (Oh, crap. Wrong blog.)

Sox to San Diego, me to Cape Cod, Whitney to somewhere far away from the Mets.

Faith No More

Game 70 - The Clown Car Calling Themselves the New York Mets

Twins 6, Mets 2
Record: 38-32

See if this formula seems about right for the Mets of June 2007:

1. Score early.
2. Starter fades.
3. Squander opportunities to score.
4. Bullpen implodes.
5. Hitting decreases with every passing inning (1-2-3 ninth is a given)

Really, to me, the only question is whether, at the end of this month, the Mets will have compiled enough L's to have one pasted to each player's forehead. I suppose I'd complain just as loudly if the Mets were finding new and creative ways to lose ballgames, but seeing every defeat coming down Main Street is agonizing.

Last night the Mets tipped yet another cap to yet another mediocre pitcher, this time the Twins' Scott Baker (he of the 7.33 ERA entering the game). Meanwhile, Ollie Perez was C+ Ollie Perez, issuing too many free passes and surrendering a key tater to Torii Hunter after a bad two-out walk. His undoing, however, was exponentially worsened by the "pitchers who don't start ballgames." It's hardly appropriate to call them "relief" any more. Joe Smith was workmanlike in his 0.0 IP/1 H/1 BB/2 ER stint that closed the book on Ollie (after adding a run to his line), and you have to admire the German efficiency of Scott Schoeneweis, who escorted a pair of inherited runners plateward on his very first pitch. I'm growing weary of slagging these guys, but they don't seem tired of taking it.

Another series loss. Another series where the Mets won the first game, then dropped the last two. (That's three of the past four series where that happened; the only aberration was a sweep in L.A.) Keep on truckin'...

And really, I think the worst thing is how this is affecting the players -- not merely in morale, but in their play. Patience at the plate is a thing of the past. Everyone seems to be trying to end the skid with one at-bat. Walks and manufacturing a run are unheard of these days. And the pressing at the plate seems to be carrying over to the field. The defense is a far cry from the crisp crew that manned the diamond in April & May. (The difference between the speedy defensive wizards manning LF for the Twins and the "slow & steady" ball-fetchers in the same spot for the Mets proved costly again last night.)

It's all just peachy at Shea Stadium -- where the Mets are now 18-18.

The only thing going for the Mets right now is that their opponents in the division seem to be sleepwalking at nearly the same pace. There's no reasonable way the Mets are still in first place. It's extremely fortunate, though I wonder how falling out of first might affect the team psyche. Would they collapse entirely? Would they get angry and start fighting for wins? Would it make any difference at all? Hey, it doesn't make any sense when I play 18 with vastly more proficient golfers and their game seems to erode down to my level in many instances. Something about knowing you can coast with less takes all of the concentration out of the equation. Not saying I want the Braves and Phils to win, of course. Just wondering aloud.

As the desperation in the Township reaches new depths, here's the latest preposterous notion of what's going to turn the club around: today is the first day of summer. It's a new season for the Mets, sort of, so turn over the leaf that was the end of spring and let's play some baseball. Next stop: the personal boycott, if only so I can stop watching this mess and trying to make any sense of it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jane's Addiction

Game 70 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Braves 0
Record: 45-25

Jumping in here between meetings to throw a little praise Ebby Calvin's way, gasp at Coco's defensive wizardry and celebrate Manny being Manny.

Beckett's rapidly transitioned into the garter-wearing version of his namesake, spinning 6 scoreless innings last night to run his record to 10-1. He even doubled to left-center to score the Sox' second run. He didn't let Brian McCann's bullshit gamemanship distract him when the Braves catcher twice called for (and was granted) time while Beckett was in his windup. As questions swirl regarding Curt Schilling's arm, Beckett becomes that much more important to the Sox' chances.

Coco made perhaps the best catch of his short Sox career last night, blazing from right-center to the left-center gap before diving full-out to snare Tim Hudson's bid for a double. I had Coco's leaping snare of David Wright's gapper in Fenway last season in the top spot before last night, but the amount of ground he covered combined with the perfect timing and shortstop Alex Cora's premonitory arm raise (as if he knew/expected that Crisp would make the eyepopping play) elevate this most recent effort. Coco's still a liability at the plate, but there's growing noise around the league signalling that he's the game's best defensive centerfielder. His catch last night, juxtaposed as it was with Atlanta's Andruw Jones and his failure to secure Cora's drive into the gap in right-center, will serve as Exhibit A in the case for him. (And as for Jones, man is he costing himself some cash money during one of the worst free-agent seasons I can remember.)

Finally, during the middle innings, Manny went back on a ball hit over his head, reaching it and making a relatively routine grab at the warning track. Instead of turning and throwing like nearly every other player in the league would have, he seemed bummed out that he didn't get to crash into the wall, so he took an extra step and half-jumped/half-pirouetted into the padding before whipping around and flinging the ball to the cutoff man. The bewildered Edgar Renteria failed to advance from second to third during Manny's impromptu walkabout. No harm, no foul, and one more on the pile for the game's goofiest savant.


Game 69 - Mets

Twins 9, Mets 0
Record: 38-31

The score looks like a forfeit, and in many cases the game played out like one. In truth, the Mets were so bad last night that they did me a favor. A 5-0 hole in the top of the second inning with Johan Santana pitching and these Mets hitting? It's over. It became 9-0 by the 5th, but by then I was in the adjacent room working on my magnum opus. (It involves Thomas Magnum, Opus the penguin, and other 1980's pop culture staples.) Gary and Ron were imprisoned in the broadcast booth, and I left the TV on in the background if only so their sentence of nine full didn't go tree-in-the-woods style.

On Monday night I closed with something about a "hope for an end to the predictable recoil," but there wasn't a single play in last night's butchery to stave off what I'd feared. In some sense, re-learning to crawl before walking and running means waving off one loss against the reigning Cy Young winner -- who regularly baffles lineups that include DH's while pitching in "the Homer Dome." In a more practical sense, however, getting shut out in embarrassing fashion while pitching & defense went the way of the bullpen car . . . well, it's more reason to fret that the New York Mets aren't out of the woods yet. Yeah, Dr. Seuss could've inked that last line, but the reality is more Stephen King.

Santana threw nine shutout innings, needing but 92 pitches and but one very late strikeout. It's debatable whether he had his A-game last night, but the fact was that he didn't need it. The Twins' defense held fast, denying a number of lined baseballs access to outfield grass. Meeeeeanwhile, the Mets' glovework seemed to cue Bizet's Carmen every other inning. Four -- count 'em, four -- errors that directly led to a few runs.

And that's not what Jorge "But When She was Bad..." Sosa needed. He got peppered like a western omelet in a greasy diner on a Sunday morning, and I'm not just saying that because I'm hungry right now. Right now the starting pitching is making a whole lot of beat writers (and you know what I mean by that) look very good; you know, the ones who, back in March, used "ghastly" and other hyperbolic descriptors for the New York pitching staff. Damn you, hacks, you're not right. Or at least you weren't.

The Mets are now 4-13 in June. That's the most appropriate place to use the frequently floated "Amazin'" these days. In their four wins, the Metros have outscored their opponents 20-2 behind stellar starting pitching. In the 13 losses (dropping Alka-Seltzer into glass of water), they have been waxed by a count of 92-38. That's averaging a 7-3 loss most of the month. In the highly successful month of June, the Mets topped their adversaries by a total of 127-113, not nearly as dominant a statistic as their 19-9 record. (The Red Sox posted a 155-117 advantage in June runs.) Were the Mets doing it with smoke & mirrors?

Enough stats. You only need to have witnessed a fraction of this month's Met baseball to know that things are going horribly awry. Maybe it's donning the blinders, but for now . . . for today . . . let's just say that if the Mets can come up with a much-needed series win tonight, we'll just chalk last night up to a bad outing against a good pitcher and move on. Finding bits of optimism is grasping at straws these days, but I've talked myself into accepting far more ridiculous scraps of nonsense in the past.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sixpence None the Richer

Games 68 & 69 - Red Sox

Red Sox 9, Giants 5
Braves 9, Red Sox 4
Record: 44-25

Nothing. No thing. The absence of things and all thingy essence.

That's what Curt Schilling had last night. Even as he made it through the game's first few innings without damage, it was clear that he wasn't making the Braves miss, and that his command was erratic. When the inevitable explosion occurred, the Braves led 6-1 and the game was over, the Sox' anemic offense rocked to sleep by another mediocre lefty.

Mike Timlin channeled Schilling during his short stint, turning a 6-2 disadvantage (thanks, Coco, for the sudden outburst, even if ultimately not enough) into a 9-2 Braves edge.

Two starts ago, Schill fired a complete game 1-hitter against the A's. Since then, he's been abysmal, yielding 11 earned runs and 19 hits in 9 1/3 innings. Last night he looked, dare I say it, old. Two is a cause for concern, three becomes a trend, so I'll hold back the judgment until Schill's next outing. But if he continues to make me long for Julian Tavarez, the Sox just got a lot more interested in a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.

I'll not hold back the judgment on Timlin, sadly. He's toast. Done. I offered him a Gilley's gift certificate prematurely a year or so ago - now I'm hoping he'll take me up on it.

Here's advance notice that I'll be nearly silent over the next 10 days or so - I'm swamped to an unprecedented level here at the quarry, and I'm heading to New England on Friday for a week with the bluebloods on the Cape. Be good to one another while I'm gone.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dr. John

Game 68 - Mets

Mets 8, Twins 1
Record: 38-30

Now that's more like it. I knew the Mets were still capable of this kind of win, and I said so this afternoon, but even I was starting to wonder where these wins were.

A pleasant but unsteady 2-0 in the 6th became an eminently more comfortable 4-0 when Paul LoDuca hit a two-out, two-run single -- the likes of which had been a curious stranger in these parts for weeks. When Pedro Feliciano allowed yet another inherited runner to score in the 8th, he not only tarnished John Maine's rock-steady performance, but he allowed the demons to start knocking at the door of our collective psyche. It's the kind of thing to start me drinking. More. And nobody needs that.

And then, out of nowhere, Ricky Ledee crushed an up-and-over pitch up and way over the wall in right-center. The flood gates opened, and the climate in Mets Township turned breezy with many a deep exhalation. 8-1 feels good, really good, I now remember.

In truth, it was a well put-together game all around for the Metmen. The Twins had to come up with an array of defensive gems just to keep it close. But what made the difference here was that instead of ruing these early missed opportunities after failing to secure the lead down the stretch, the Mets kept fighting throughout. 15 hits, eight runs, one win.

Now we recall that it can be done. Next step: remembering that it can be done on a nightly, or at least nearly nightly basis. With Jorge Sosa facing Johan Santana tomorrow night . . . [gulp] . . . we're left to hope against hope for an end to the predictable recoil.

The Fall

Games 65 through 67 - Mets

Mets 2, Yankees 0
Yankees 11, Mets 8
Yankees 8, Mets 2
Record: 37-30

I think a few of us have been waiting for rock bottom. Despite winning Friday night's game against the Yankees, if right now doesn't resemble rock bottom for the 2007 Mets . . . well then, my October just got a whole lot freer.

It could certainly get worse -- like it did for last year's Red Sox, who saw the floor keep opening up with each new injury or slump -- but if these Mets are going to contend for a pennant, I'm thinking the turn-around has to start this week, maybe tonight. Rob's made mention of the law of averages and a reversion to the mean. This team simply cannot continue to perform this badly for much longer.

Well, not without the Township starting to make its dissatisfaction felt in an extreme manner.

Tom Glavine and El Duque have each tossed consecutive starts that, taken on their own, have both guys looking every bit of their combined 90+ years. The pen continues to spring leaks, and the hitting has gone from static to sporadic to erratic to problematic to traumatic in the span of a month. It's suddenly all ugly, but there must be something brighter along the horizon.

Man. There'd better be.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Randy Newman

Games 64 through 67 - Red Sox

Rockies 12, Red Sox 2
Rockies 7, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 10, Giants 3
Red Sox 1, Giants 0
Record: 43-24

In the last two weeks, the Sox' run tallies are as follow:

5 (L)
4 (L)
0 (L)
2 (L)
1 (W)
10 (W)
4 (W)
1 (L)
2 (W)
2 (L)
1 (L)
10 (W)
1 (W)

They've scored 43 runs in 13 games, going 6-7 despite averaging only 3.3 runs a game. Eliminate the pair of 10-run outbursts and they scored 2.1 per game. The pitching, as it has all season long, continues to carry the inconsistent, erratic offense.

One of the exceptions over the recent span was Friday's bludgeoning of Barry Zito and the Giants, and even in the midst of that apparent offensive feast did we find more inconsistency. New leadoff duo J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia combined to go 8-for-9 with 8 RBI and 5 runs. The other 7 batters were 1 for 24.

That game was the first I've seen in quite some time, with business travel keeping me away from what certainly looked like several exasperating efforts. It's no secret in these parts that diminutive Sox second basemen have a special place in my heart, so the fact that my return to all things Red Sox coincided with Pedroia's 5-hit, 5 RBI outing was particularly enjoyable. Short people, indeed.

This week's Sports Illustrated reveals that MLB players rate Wily Mo Pena and Drew 1 and 2 on the list of players who get the least out of the most talent. Pena, I get - he's clearly got massive power and skill at the plate but seems incapable of the most basic adjustments. Drew, though, carries a career .892 OPS, is a superior defender, and despite scuffling thus far in 2007, has demonstrated an ability to be a top-flight major league outfielder. Yet players and fans seem to share an irrational dislike for him.

Y'know what? I'm starting a crusade to change that. A likely ineffective crusade, doomed to premature oblivion as a result of my short attention span and lack of follow through, but a crusade nonetheless. J.D.'s my guy, and with MLC's support, he's gonna be the spark the Sox' offense needs. All you doubters mark this date and remember to genuflect appropriately when I come around to bask in the "I told you so" at the end of the season.

My saintly wife will be taking the kids out of the house for the afternoon, leaving me to celebrate Father's Day by flipping between the Sox/Giants game and the final round of the U.S. Open. And reloading my iPod, which inexplicably decided to delete all of its 7,000 songs while I was traveling this week.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Game 64 - Mets

Dodgers 9, Mets 1
Record: 36-28

". . . I think a lot of us in the Township would quickly start to get past this atrocious, league-worst start to the month if we saw some real fire."

Not getting past it after last night's pants-soiling. Another Met starter wrecking his ERA, a dose of sloppy D, and oh, yeah, still not hitting worth a damn. Perhaps cutting ties with Louisville Slugger and signing on with Nerf at the beginning of this month was a bad idea. The "Used" Carloses resumed their stint of suck once again, with Beltran & Delgado taking a nifty 0-for-8 to defuse any meat-of-the-order rallies.

Saw this on a billboard in Mets Township the other day:

One day Carlos Delgado, by some strange circumstance, suddenly finds himself inside a large bag made of plain brown paper. His captor allows him one means of escaping these confines; he hands him a wooden baseball bat.

"Oh, crap," mumbles Delgado.

"Going through the motions" would be a particularly apt way of describing how the Mets spent three hours last night. Obvious losses of concentration manifested themselves in horrible pitch selection, multiple glove gaffes by Jose Reyes, Billy Wagner effortlessly allowing a home run to a left-handed batter (and a mediocre one, at that), and a general caliber of play we'd call soft. Granted, that assessment isn't fair to Jose Valentin (who's somewhat fresh, from his time off) or David Wright (who's our Golden Boy), but this team is under the weather.

I called for a little fire last night, a little ire to assuage the fans' increasing angst. It was probably poor timing for such a request. Southern California, where all of the drama is scripted and the passion is faked, is hardly the setting for real emotion. The irony of the city of Angels, a place utterly void of soul, is thick. Any incidents would undoubtedly have been pure theatrics. Even when Brad Penny seemed to try to start something with Shawn Green, Green gave him a look rife with Piazza's old "Just play baseball" scolding. It wasn't to be.

Oh, but fast-forward to Friday night, when the Mets visit the now World-Series-destined New York Yankees Baseball Club, and it's a different story. In New York City, the sentiments are sincere, and emotions are sewn onto sleeves. Especially when it comes to all things Yankees, the truest example of the love-'em-or-hate-'em cliché I know. With the Metcart careening towards second, maybe third place and the Bombers furrowing brows all the way up to Nova Scotia, there's every chance that the Mets could get torched three times this weekend in hideous fashion, and that will just shorten the fuse.

All we'll need is a spark, a Clemens HBP, an A-Rod schoolyard play, anything at all . . . and it could light up the New York skyline. We've seen what scuffles can do to galvanize squads before. It's a dangerous proposition, there's no guarantee such a brouhaha will help (it may even divide), and it caters to our most base instincts in an embarrassing fashion. Sure would be fun, though, and it might demonstrate some emotional investment on the Mets' part that these cool characters have been loath to reveal.

We fans are still waiting to be shown that we aren't the only ones regularly putting our frail psyches and eroding internal organs on the line. Wagner quipped after the loss last night, "I'm sure Omar didn't put this team together expecting this type of play, and Fred Wilpon didn't shell out this type of money for us to go out there and play like this." Hey, Billy, don't forget about the consumers in this economic dynamic; we aren't paying for tickets, concessions, satellite feeds, internet access, bloggers guild dues, ulcer treatments, hair replacement products, hand and foot casts, and psychiatry bills for you to go out there and play like this, either.

Dammit, dudes. Show us something.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Skids

Games whichever through whatever - Mets

Mets 3, Tigers 0
Tigers 8, Mets 7
Tigers 15, Mets 7
Dodgers 5, Mets 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 1
Record: 36-27

Ah, the June swoon. The New York Metropolitans can now boast a 2-9 record this month -- to follow a 19-9 May. It's been vexing, perplexing, and especially frustrating because there doesn't seem to be anything or anyone at whom to point the finger. For Willie Randolph, it makes it difficult to tweak his approach and fix the problem. For me, it makes it difficult to mock.

The beginning of the month saw the Mets drop a series to the Diamondbacks. Yes, the same Diamondbacks who dropped two of three to the Red Sox last weekend and who are now getting pulverized by the Yankees. Terms like "flat" and "lackluster" were bandied about in the post-series quotes. A telling sign, it could later be noted.

There wasn't much bounce-back in the three-game embarrassment against the Phils. (At home, no less.) Each of the games was close, and each was given away in some fashion. It pains me to type that it seemed like the Phillies wanted it more; in baseball, that's a depiction less appropriate than in other sports, but I got that kind of feel from watching that debacle.

Heckuva way to gear up for a big road trip, no? Especially one in which the Mets' interleague foes are all playoff teams from a year ago. (Oh, to be able to complain when facing the Rockies.) The Metros are running a gauntlet of visiting the Tigers/Dodgers/Yankees followed by hosting the Twins/A's/Cardinals -- all bookended by six games against the suddenly spunky Philthies. This is likely the toughest stretch the Mets will face all season, a true make-or-break period . . . and the Mets are looking awfully broken so far.

The Tigers simply overpowered our boys, pummeling Ollie Perez, Tom Glavine and the porous pen. The Dodgers have gone the pitching & defense route the past two nights, stymieing the Metbats while doing just enough to overcome El Duque and John Maine. Again, there's no glaring source of this Met Malaise. Believe me, I'm ready to rag someone, and at this point, I am willing to grasp at straws. Carlos Beltran, ye of the 20-point BA drop and anything-but-clutch at-bats, prepare for your ears to begin burning someday very soon.

You know, it's when the whole team seems to be sagging -- and playing with an extinguished fire to them -- that the manager gets the crosshairs close-up and might need to prove his mettle. Yes, I know the New York Mets are still in first place, still nine games over .500, still a quality club who's been banged up (sort of). It's not panicky desperation, however, to get pissed off about a ballclub sleepwalking for a fortnight and taking us down with them.

The Washington Post ran an article yesterday about Johnny Miller's record round of 63 at the 1973 U.S. Open. Amid the many eye-opening stats and statements, this little bit jumped out at me:
Still, there was a slight stall at that point when he left birdie putts of 10 and 12 feet short on his next two holes, then had his only bogey on the card when he three-putted the eighth from 18 feet.

At that point, Miller said he started telling himself what he's often said on the air about many other players heading in the wrong direction. He said he got angry and started calling himself a choker.

Properly motivated after posting 4-under 32 on the front, he ran off three straight birdies starting at No. 11 and got to 8 under for the day with his last birdie of the round at the 15th, when he hit a 4-iron to within 10 feet and made the putt.
It's that often-described dividing line between the great champions and the merely good also-rans. Miller hit the lull that occurs in every great round of golf, every big game, every baseball season, and it never occurred to him that it was bound to happen, that there were logical reasons for a return to earth, and that hey, he was still going to finish with a pretty good score. Instead, he got pissed, and willed himself back to that ultimate level of play. He expected greatness and refused to accept anything less. It's what "winners" do, and while I lack that overdrive Type A aggressiveness in my personal character, I'd sure like some of it in my baseball team.

They don't need to go crazy, but I think a lot of us in the Township would quickly start to get past this atrocious, league-worst start to the month if we saw some real fire. Somebody getting utterly pissed at these losing ways, throwing the team on his back, and willing these Mets to the greatness of which they are so plainly capable. We're beyond shaving heads in solidarity. Time to get angry.

White Zombie

Game 63 - Red Sox

Red Sox 2, Colorado Rockies 1
Record: 42-21

MLC fan (and co-proprietor of Gheorghe: The Blog) T. Coraghessen Boyle is all atwitter this fine morning, as his New York Yankees surged to their 7th consecutive victory last night. The Bombers are now 31-31, which is obvious cause for celebration. Yay, mediocrity!

We kid, we kid. It's an article of faith among Sox fans that the Yankees will rise like freaking George Romero zombies and stagger menacingly after the heroic, innocent red-stockinged heroes. As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. Or something.

Speaking of mediocrity, I had the following conversation with my colleague this morning:

Rob: Soooo, Whit. We planning on turning MLC into a Sox-only site, or should we look for Mets-related content anytime soon?

Whit: Traffic. Interview. Playdate. Dodgers.

Rob: What? There's a ton to talk about, right? Every team goes on a skid - our fan(s) wants to know how it feels.

Whit: Solar flares. Elton John. Tidal wave. John Maine.

At that point, I gave up. Here's hoping my pal gets something to you in the next few days, because I'm traveling for work and won't even see the interweb until Saturday.

Timmy Wake was sweet last night, just like the little girl with the curls. Just enough offense got him the win - it was good to see Tito and the brain trust elevate Dustin Pedroia to the leadoff spot and move Lugo and Crisp down. Pedroia's leadoff single in the bottom of the 8th became the winning run, and Lugo actually contributed with double and a steal to account for the first run. Papelbon was overpowering - nice, neat, and tidy.

I play the final games of my Arlington County Men's Softball career this evening. It's a bittersweet moment., you've heard that one before? Whatever. It's been terrific. Thanks for all the fish.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Game 62 - Red Sox

D-backs 5, Red Sox 1
Record: 41-21

Guess I'd better get this out of the way in preparation for the Sox/Rox series that starts today. And don't think that you won't see some form of that bastardization of the Colorado franchise's name in the public ad nauseum over the next few days.

I didn't blog yesterday because I don't have a great deal to say about the game that doesn't retrace the already deeply rutted trails of the 2007 MLC season. Lugo and Crisp batting first and second with a combined OBP of .276 is damn near criminal, and their 2-for-10 performance in front of Youks and Manny contributed significantly to the Sox' lack of offense. Dustin Pedroia and his .399 OBP scream "hello".

Mike Timlin's return from the DL was the one bit of new and different, not to mention extremely unsettling and grumpy-making. Timlin deftly combined hittable pitches with spastic defense and occasional wildness to turn the D-backs' 2-1 lead into a comfortable 5-1 margin heading to the final frame. Even though the Sox eventually got the tying run into the on-deck circle, they really didn't have a chance after Timlin's "performance". I've got my eye on you, old-timer.

Finally, from the mildly annoying file (today, with a 9 1/2 game lead - should that change, the annoyance grows to full-fledged tantrum), the Sox face the following NL teams during interleague play: Atlanta (6 games), Arizona, Colorado, San Francisco, and San Diego (on the road). The Yankees face the Mets (6), Arizona, Colorado, San Francisco and...Pittsburgh (at home). Notice any difference?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Counting Crows

On June 4, Matt Damon appeared on Letterman's Late Show in a Sox jersey and made a national-TV mockery of the then-hapless New York Yankees while grinning away at his own team's successes. I enjoyed it wholeheartedly . . . right up until the point where he dragged the Mets into the conversation. Damon mentioned the Mets being so good, an additional craw-sticker for Yankee fans. At least as wary of self-inflicted, prideful hexes as Rob is, I hadn't felt so blind-sided by late-night talk show chatter since Dave Grohl unprovokedly and inexplicably bashed Bruce Springsteen on the Daily Show during the Kilborn era (for which he received a personal boycott that lasted four years).

The suddenly foundering Mets didn't need more reverse momentum in their way. Since the interview:

Red Sox: 3-4
Yankees: 6-1
Mets: 1-5

Braggadocio is a boomerang, people; we've pointed out examples and occasionally illustrated it ourselves for years here. I still like Matt Damon, maybe just a tiny bit less since he did his part to convince karma to step in and help detour what was a very nice little season thus far. Of course, if the trend continues, he's got bigger problems than a solitary Met fan deep in the blogosphere.

(Not that the Mets should think they can blame a Hollywood actor for their stumblings of late. After dropping three series in a row, it's time to regroup.)


Editor's Note: As you well know, I'm usually in the foxhole with you on this one, ducking and praying, but let's look at the details. The Sox' stumbles came after a brutally scheduled cross-country road trip. The Yankees got to play 6 at home against the mediocre White Sox and the AAA Pirates. The Mets faced tough Philly and Detroit squads. I'm not pleased by last week's turn of events, but I can explain them.

Now back to your regularly scheduled panic.


Killing Joke

Games 60 & 61 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Arizona Diamondbacks 3
Red Sox 4, D-Backs 3 (10)
Record: 40-21

Let us now praise famous men, and compare the lines of two of yesterday's starting pitchers:

Pitcher A: 6IP, 5H, 3ER, 2BB, 7K, 108 pitches, W
Pitcher B: 6IP, 6H, 3ER, 1BB, 5k, 97 pitches, ND

Pretty similar lines, no? That similarity melts quickly under the klieg lights of SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, both of which led with Pitcher A's efforts last night. Pitcher B is the batshit insane 5th starter for the team with the league's best record, but his exploits didn't rank a mention, even though they were arguably more important to his team's win. I'll be thrilled if Pitcher B produces that line every time out - something tells me that Pitcher A's employers might be a bit chagrined if he doesn't improve.

Julian Tavarez (Pitcher B for the irony-challenged) was his normal partly wild partly brilliant self, but as has been the case in nearly all of his starts (8 of 11), he kept the Sox in the game. Tavarez' bunted for a base hit and walked, as well, making him infinitely more valuable to the Sox' offense than leadoff "hitter" Julio Lugo. Jason Varitek drove in 3 and Mike Lowell's 10th inning sacrifice fly brought home the winning run.

In the series' first game, another of the oft-maligned Sox bats woke up with a vengeance, as J.D. Drew homered twice and drove in 7 to pace the offense. He'll be leading the blanket party for Lugo if the shortstop can't snap out of this prolonged funk.

Friday, June 08, 2007

New Birth Brass Band

A happy birthday goes out to my little buddy across the MLC aisle.

He's already weighed in with his thoughts about this particular milestone. Meanwhile, I was all set to get him a really cool birthday gift, but Curt Schilling went out and got him exactly what he wanted. Yeah, it was one out shy of being something extra special, but Rob has never been one to return gifts.

Happy Day, old man.

Mr. Big

Game 59 – Red Sox

Red Sox 1, A’s 0
Record: 38-21

There are wins, and there are wins. Curt Schilling’s been pretty vocal about wanting to be the man. Yesterday, he put his money where his mouth has been, taking the ball with the Sox mired in their worst stretch of the season and slamming the door. Shannon Stewart’s 2-out single in the bottom of the 9th broke up Schill’s bid for his first career no-hitter, but #38 retired Mark Ellis to preserve the shutout and give the Sox a much-needed win.

The 100-pitch outing marked Schill’s first shutout in Sox flannels, which could not have come at a better time. As my colleague almost certainly knows, even when you’re pretty sure your team is good, four-game skids start the demons dancing at the corners of overactive imaginations. For all the grief he gets from those who like their star athletes dumb and obsequious, Schilling’s never shirked from the big stage. I hope that the Sox’ young arms were paying close attention yesterday.

From the sublime to the below replacement level, we’re beyond the small sample size excuse-making for Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, and J.D. Drew. The Sox have now played five consecutive one-run games, losing four for the want of a single tally. It certainly doesn’t help when a full one-third of the batting order is putting up OPS+ marks of 56, 58, and 74 (OPS+ is essentially a league-adjusted OPS comparison. 100 is league-average, and each point above or below implies a percentage point better or worse. Lugo’s 56, then, is 44% below league average out of the leadoff spot. Gack.) Doug Mirabelli’s OPS+ is 54. The Sox are essentially leading off each game with Doug Mirabelli (and batting Jason Bartlett in the fifth slot, for kicks). Again, gack.

The fact that the Sox are 4th in the league in runs scored and 3rd in team OPS (.798) while carrying the lifeless bodies of Crisp, Lugo, and Drew is actually heartening in some small measure. All three are markedly down from their respective career OPS+ levels (94, 90, 130, respectively), and if yesterday’s regression to the mean lesson was worth anything (questionable, I understand) the Sox should see improvement from all three. At this point, a shrubbery made of baloney casings would be an improvement – and we could give it a cool nickname, like Meat Shrub.

Sox get to see two more lefties this weekend, as they face sizzling Diamondback starter Doug Davis and sizzle-faced Randy Johnson. Praying for two of three – we’ll see tonight if the erstwhile Ebby Calvin was suitably impressed by the senior senator’s work yesterday. And keep our fingers crossed that the bats that have been lost at the airport since Sunday will finally catch up to the Sox equipment bags.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Guess Who

Game 58 - Mets

Phillies 6, Mets 3

Record: 35-23

Remember that bully who used to pants you every 6th period, then apply melvins, swirlies, noogies, and every other term in the ruffian vernacular? Remember how you heard he was serving time now, or maybe was actually dead? Well, at about 9:30 or 10:00 tonight, he showed up at your door and enacted a space wedgie of the worst kind. Deep in your darkened subconscious, you knew he wasn't done with you yet.

Pat the Bat. Fucking Pat the Motherfucking Bat.

Pat Burrell drilled his 37th career home run against Mets pitching to lead off the ninth inning and tie the game tonight. The fact that he hit it came off Billy Wagner had to make it even sweeter for Burrell; that fact also meant that the corrosion of the Metropolitans' bullpen was utterly complete. Scott "The Door Shall Be" Schoeneweis and Joe "Dear God! This Isn't a Hose, It's a Gas Pump!" Smith showed Wagner how to really leave your mark in a loss. Thanks, boys.

The "relief" surrendered 10 earned runs in 10 innings of work in this three-game sweep to the instantly energized Phils. That's just atrocious. At some point you can stop tipping your cap to Chase Utley as just being a great hitter and consider retiring him in the late innings. Schoeneweis was crushed by the Shea wrathful upon his exit, and make no mistake: a 7.17 ERA in early June gets you at least a shower of boos, perhaps some paperwork.

And don't let the offense off the hook simply because they executed back-to-back-to-back ding-dongs in the 6th. Indeed, it was thrilling to see them storm back from two down with two down and grab the lead. If only the other three hours and ten minutes weren't rife with more of the same angst-inducing lack of productivity. Nine more men left on, ducks stranded on the pond, bats just getting colder.

Here's a thought: If your offense is averaging between two and three runs a game while your bullpen gives up one run every single inning it throws, you may not win. Ever.

Okay, one positive: finally a guy exited the DL instead of landing on it. (Of course, Endy Chavez quickly replaced him.) Jose Valentin was back in the lineup and looking good -- but different. Something . . . what is it? . . . is it . . . holy crap! Stache shaved his moustache! A hearty welcome back to the steady veteran -- if only so we don't have to deplete the Brooklyn Cyclones to replace the hobbled Metmen.

Off to Detroit, who's about to win its fourth in five. Sheffield is just killing the ball. Comerica won't solve the hitters' woes. The Tiger offense won't cure the pen's. Hmmm. This means only one thing.

Bad news for the Tigers. (Hey, it worked for Buttermaker.)

Thomas Dolby

Game 58 - Red Sox

A's 3, Red Sox 2
Record: 37-21

Allow me for a moment to completely misuse a scientific/mathematical construct, if you will. Regression to the mean implies that over time, observed outlying results will correct themselves and that the results of any measured activity will conform to an expected value. Basically. I'm a History major - sue me.

My point, to the extent I have one, is that the last week has been an expected correction for the Sox. They probably aren't a .705 ballclub. Very few teams win 114 games. They may well be a .637 team, though, which is where they've landed after 6 losses in the last 7 outings. And as my esteemed colleague notes a few notches below, shit happens, even to good teams, in the course of a 162-game season.

If Schilling craps himself this afternoon, I reserve the right to abandon this measured, reasoned approach.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Altered Images

Game 57 - Mets

Phillies 4, Mets 2
Record: 35-22

Another aggravating loss? Another stellar outing by a starter spoiled by a slumping reliever - before the starter even had time to hit the showers? A nothing opposing pitcher made to look outstanding not just by hideously slumping bats, but by an extended series of pathetic attempts at finding timely hits? Stranded runners, hamstring pulls, and lying down and dying in the last couple of turns at the plate?

Oh, God.

We're the Phillies.

Happy Mondays

In response to Whit's response to my inquiry below:

The past week notwithstanding, my answer to your question is an unequivocal "yes". It seems to be the consensus of the Sox blogosphere and beat media (that's the day-to-day writers, not something I'd like to do with a bat) that this Sox team has terrific chemistry and that they enjoy coming to the yard.

My own decidedly unscientific research comports directly with that viewpoint. Terry Francona had a great moment during last weekend's Sox/Yanks series that illustrates the issue for me. As Tito was being interviewed by the broadcast team during the game (I can't remember if it was Saturday or Sunday), David Ortiz stood behind the skipper rolling his eyes and making blahblahblah hand gestures. As the broadcasters informed Francona of Papi's insubordination, Francona smirked and said (on national television, mind you), "I'll knock him on his ass". The cutaway shot revealed Ortiz and Francona in joint giggles.

Add to that the recent reports about Dustin Pedroia's team-first attitude, Eric Hinske's blissful relief upon being bailed out by JC Romero after making a potential game-losing error, the Papi hug ritual for nearly all run-scorers, and the singular lack of grousing in the media, and I think you get a powerful argument that this team's got a very positive mindset.

In a complete non-sequitur, I note that Sunday's Sox/Yanks telecast was the highest-rated game in the history of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. I'm wholly ambivalent on that, as I'm increasingly fatigued by Sox/Yanks overkill - to the point where I'm glad that they don't meet again until August. If I'm tired of it, it stands to reason that regular baseball fans must be at head-in-the-oven levels. But if that's the case, why did nearly 4 million people tune in even while the Sopranos penultimate episode aired?

Tom Waits

Game 56 - Mets

Phillies 4, Mets 2 (11)
Record: 35-21

This is why nobody can figure out the Phillies -- because they punt, pass, and kick the ball around and manage just two runs through 10 innings, yet somehow they walk away with a victory. Tom Glavine offers what they call in StatLand a "quality start" and what I'd call "plenty good," yet the Mets drop their fourth in six and Tom's quest for his 300th win remains at arm's length. Can't quite comprehend it -- cue the clip of Jon Lovitz as Mike Dukakis, deadpanning, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."

The Mets and Red Sox seem to be stumbling at the same time, and my counterpart's mild concern below mirrors mine. But I'm no more panicky than I am psyched about losing to the Phriggin' Phillies. I'll soon take a closer look at what's not quite clicking, lest we bop along ignorantly and invite the ghosts of Beantown '78 to pay a visit. But there's a list we need to keep posted in every bloghouse: The 5 Baseball Inevitables. Here's a copy.

1. No team goes through 162 games without a stumble. Even history's best clubs have a bad week. The 1927 Yankees dropped four of six in May, six of ten mid-summer, and lost four straight in August, and this is a team so mythologized that you'd think it was unfathomable. The '84 Tigers started 35-5, then went 4-9; people immediately questioned the club's capabilities. The Mets of 1986 finished 21 games up, yet had several stints along the way that were uglier than any these Mets (or these Red Sox) have known. But in each of these cases, the team held together and promptly re-announced its presence with authority. It's what you do during and after the bad stretch that defines the club and secures its place in title contention.

2. No team goes through 162 games without injuries. The Mets and its Township can keep complaining about Pedro, Stache, Alou, Green, Duque, and now Beltran, but we still have to thank our lucky stars that we still have our lucky stars. You only have to look over to the next borough to see how a series of serious injuries to legitimate cogs can cripple a club. The holes the Mets have had have been filled nicely thus far, but the bench is starting to get spread just thin enough to show some holes. And when the Mets do lose somebody down the stretch, they'll need a Brian Doyle/Mickey Hatcher/Buddy Biancalana to step in and make some noise. (As much as our hero Endy Chavez made the best catch in the history of webbed leather last fall, he also hit .185 as Cliff Floyd's fill-in in the NLCS.) It's avoiding the big disaster and filling in with clutch replacements.

3. Good teams playing crappily in springtime will come around. It always happens, and it's terribly annoying. It's the Yankees many a year, though this year it will be severely tested. It's the Twins. It was the Braves for many years, then somehow last year they didn't. It's Oakland. And yes, it's the Phillies this year. As much as I'd like to count them out, I didn't when they were 3-10, and I'm not now. Dammit.

4. Even the best teams can use a spark down the stretch. In a six month season, players get tired, even bored, maybe even sick of baseball. What's going great guns in May may be pathetically stale by August. "Colorful" players creating media stories in the spring are distractions when the dog days hit. Adding something to the mix , even if you're supremely confident in your 25-man melting pot, can propel a team to that oft-mentioned "next level." Sometimes that means bringing a mascot monkey to the fray, but usually that means adding a player (or adding by subtraction, like in the case of George Foster). Jeff Weaver and Ronnie Belliard were under-the-radar type trade acquisitions in July of last year; by October, they were key pieces of a World Series-winning puzzle. Same with Geoff Blum the year before, Dave Roberts the year before that, and Ugie Urbina the year before that. The Mets did better than well last year with Ollie Perez and Roberto Hernandez, plus Guillermo Mota and Shawn Green. As comfortable as we are with this club, I'm excited for whom we might add to the Metpot between now and the finish line. (Beware the Mike Bordicks of the league, though, good guys who inexplicably don't work out. Ugh.)

5. No season goes by without our kindred spirits at East Coast Agony bailing out along the way. As sure as the sun will rise again tomorrow, youngsters Mike and Kyle will deliver early season goods, then drop off the face of the 'sphere without warning. We keep believing they'll stick because we want to believe. It's their ADD generation, I guess. These whippersnappers need to learn the value of hard work and persistence. When I used to blog as a young lad...

There you go. Learn it. Know it. Live it. Today's message involves Inevitable #1, so let's see how these Metropolitans turn a sour stretch into a return to winning ways.

In response to Rob's inquiry below:

The Sox were bound to come back down to earth a tad. Their stats through two months in categories like team OPS+ and ERA+ don't lead the league, but they're each very close. And it's when you put them together that you see how complete a team they are. The only other club to be even near the top in both categories? The Mets. Fear not, friend; though the rest of their division simply has to perform better (see Inevitable #3), the Sox should be well on their way. (The "barring serious injury" asterisk is always implied.)

I have one question about the Red Sox: In beating up on the league so far this year, is this team having fun? It's not a pointed question; rather, I've watched a slight bit less Sox action this season, and I'm asking.

The Mets seem to be having a blast at every turn -- in fact, their lackadaisical play may well need some tightening right now. Watching Jose Reyes, the fans can't help but laugh along with him, and he's the catalyst for the rest of the roster. We all heard about, read about, and were beaten over the head with the 2004 Sox' obvious looseness and goofball demeanor. It's not always a formula for success, mind you; the pulse of the team begins with its marquee players, and you won't find "fun" in Kirk Gibson's or Paul O'Neill's clubhouses. But just three years removed from the Cowboy Up/Hell's Coming/Idiots, is anyone besides Manny treating themselves to some fun?

The Pietasters

Game 57 – Red Sox

A’s 2, Red Sox 0
Record: 37-20

The Curse of the Mediocre Lefthander strikes again, as Lenny DiNardo (incidentally, one of the 25) shut the Sox down for 6 innings despite having no control and admittedly marginal stuff. This was the letdown game I expected to happen on Monday. The fact that I felt compelled to check the score at 5:30 this morning after my daughter woke me didn’t help my mental state.

We’re now officially in the midst of the season’s first slump, and even though the Sox still lead the division by 9 games, the worry lines are beginning to crease my brow. Not because there’s any particular consistent underperformance, but because 5 losses in 6 games simply sow the seeds of doubt. And in a field as fertile as that of the Sox fan’s worst imagination, those seeds find purchase and begin to take root.

I wish I could be more like Matt Damon, whose what-me-worry? appearance on Letterman’s show Monday night was hysterically funny even as it made me cringe just slightly in hopes that it wouldn’t come back to haunt us all. Until I figure out how to embed a YouTube machine here, check out The Joy of Sox for a look at the clip.

The A’s trot out another middling lefty tonight, as Joe Kennedy takes on Timmy Wake. It’d certainly be a good time for the Sox’ longest-tenured player to snap out of his recent stomach-curdling funk.

Here's a psychological experiment for my colleague. It sure looks to me like the Mets are unbeatable in the NL East, barring some bizarre and untimely injuries. I know you can't really say that, because of the Non-Arrogance Pact all fans of any team other than the Yankees signed several years back. And I have to remain blithely ambivalent about the Sox' chances for that and manifold other obvious reasons. What's your relatively unbiased spidey sense say about the Sox?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Men Without Hats

In case you're wondering why all the half-assed bloggery around these parts (well, why all the more half-assed than usual bloggery), we've been efforting a major contribution to the blogosphere over at Gheorghe: The Blog, MLC's semi-illegitimate half-brother. It's really too complicated to get into much detail. If you want to go see a terrific story well told, click the link.

Your irregularly scheduled Sox/Mets action will return in due time.

Beach House

Games 53 through 55 - Mets

Diamondbacks 5, Mets 1

Mets 7, Diamondbacks 1

Diamondbacks 4, Mets 1

Record: 35-20

"The Mets keep taking series from teams that don't call Georgia home, and to keep that trend in motion they'll need to cool a surging Arizona Diamondbacks team this weekend."

Well, that didn't quite happen, did it? I spent the weekend in the Outer Banks, which is always a sure-fire way of increasing my appreciation for my technology-enhanced home upon my return. Things like the Extra Innings package, TiVo, and even real-time Internet scores quickly go away at the ol' beach cottage. Frankly, it'd miss the point to implement them down there, and as it is, it's merely a brief step away from my Mets that makes me enjoy my re-immersion that much more.

As it was, I have little to nothing to offer on how the Mets played over those three days. I did manage to catch some of Sunday's loss, since Tropical Storm Barry (no relation) seemed to bring a low pressure system (read: whipping winds and torrential rain) to the eastern seaboard, sending me packing. Twice the reason to lament the weekend-curtailing weather, thrice the reason to be annoyed by the name Barry.

The chatter in the clubhouse after the weekend made me feel a lot worse about my performance, frankly, since more than one Met referred to the "Lack-Lester" play. I get it, guys, I'll try to resume my religiously regular ritual of tuning into the Mets' games without fail.

Oh, lackluster? Never mind.

Into Shea Stadium tonight march the Phightin' Philadelphia Phillies. It's still tough to get but so much of a bead on this club. With crazy Uncle Charlie still piloting this vessel, there's always reason to believe . . . they'll screw it up. The talent hasn't diminished, however; if anything, with Ryan Howard back and Cole Hamels creeping into the uppermost echelon of starting pitchers, this is the wrong time to face them. But the Phils just completed a trio of series in which they swept the Braves at Turner Field, dropped all three to the D-backs at home, and split a four-gamer in San Fran in which they were outscored 32-14. How do you take the pulse of such a squad? Don't ask me.

Meanwhile, let's borrow this speculative stat from the spectacularly thorough MetsBlog (who in turn borrowed the data from the Prospectus)...
"According to Davenport the Mets have a 93.4% chance of making the playoffs, which is only second to the Red Sox, who have a 96.5% chance."
Summertime . . . and the living is easy. Unfortunately, we aren't even to summer yet, and the breathing doesn't match that living just yet. Hold steady, boys.

The Dream Syndicate

Game 56 - Red Sox

A's 5, Red Sox 4 (11)
Record: 37-19

I must admit that I'm getting a bit tired of "good losses", even as last night was yet another in the recent string of valiant but ultimately unsuccessful efforts. The Sox scored 2 in the 9th (with a 2-out Wily Mo Pena single as the big blow!) to tie the A's, but fell in the 11th on an Eric Chavez homer. Losing 4 of 5, regardless of how the losses happened, starts to grate on a soul.

Fortunately, I was asleep for nearly all of it, the Sox still lead the Jays by 10 games, and I quite suspect that they're more ticked than I am about the recent skid. Daisuke goes against old pal Lenny DiNardo this evening in Oakland, and I'll be finding out about the result via CBS Sportsline tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and the Queen

Games 53 through 55 – Red Sox

Yankees 9, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 11, Yankees 6
Yankees 6, Red Sox 5
Record: 37-18

Even as the first reaction might be to hurl inanimate objects wildly across the living space, sometimes the right course of action is to just tip one’s cap to an opponent who made the plays when it mattered. Last night, Hideki Ojakima and Jonathan Papelbon each made one bad pitch, and Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez did what elite athletes are supposed to do with those pitches.

Papelbon had Rodriguez down 0-2 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th inning and the game knotted at 5. Though I was alone in my living room at the time, I said aloud, “Don’t throw him anything to hit.” Paps got too much of the plate with a fastball that was supposed to be away, and A-Rod reminded us all why his bank account is so large, drilling the pitch deep into the Sox bullpen. Great hitter making a great play. Shrug of the shoulders from me and Papelbon.

Baseball’s not a game of perfect, even as Okajima and Paps have been as close as nearly anyone in the league over the season’s first third. Though they eventually lost this game, the Sox showed once again a determination and balance that should hold them in good stead for the remainder of the season. Despite falling behind the Yankees, 4-0, heading into the bottom of the 5th, the Sox scrapped back to score 5 in that inning to take a lead that felt like it was going to hold. The bottom of the order keyed the rally, loading the bases for the exceptionally hot Dustin Pedroia, who lashed a 3-run double to left-center to break up Andy Pettitte’s shutout. Pedroia’s batting a cool .500 during his current 13-game hitting streak.

Josh Beckett threw the ball extremely well, but was victimized by bad luck and one bad defensive play. He should be 9-0 this morning. Even as Okajima and Papelbon take the blame, they both pitched well for the most part – Oki especially, who stranded Cano at third after the latter’s no-out triple. Not much to be mad about, except the result, so I’ll save the agita for another time.

I suppose the ancestry of my newfound equanimity can be traced to the double-digit lead the Sox continue to maintain over the rest of the AL East. Despite losing 4 of 6 to the Yankees over the last 10 days, the Sox still head the New Yorkers by 12.5 games. Context is everything – if you’d told me in March that I’d watch Alex Rodriguez hit a game-winning homer in the 9th inning of a June game at Fenway and react by merely pursing my lips and shifting in my seat, I’d have asked you for a nickel bag of the same stuff you’d been smoking. (Editor’s Note: Any drug reference in the preceding sentence is purely hypothetical and in no way implies past, present, or future use or abuse of illegal substances by MLC staff. Certainly not using a potato named after a Japanese outfielder. MLC’s drug testing standards meet or exceed those applied to NORML staffers, rock musicians, Billy Donovan, and/or professional baseball players.)

Tough start to the new week for the Sox, who are probably asleep in a hotel somewhere in the Bay Area after a late-night flight to Oakland. They face the A’s tonight behind Julian Tavarez, and are 50/50 to throw feces all over the place – if not today, then tomorrow. At least I’ll get some sleep.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Byrds

Cuing off Rob's post centered around Mike Lowell, I just can't resist. We are good enough about issuing mea culpas when we blow it around here to throw in a "we told you so" now and again.

This is the type of thing that makes the Peter Angelos Era Orioles the laughingstock of baseball for the last decade...

Remember two years ago when the Orioles were set to acquire AJ Burnett from the Marlins? The Fish were prepared to take:

Hayden Penn (2007 Update: Still stuck on the DL of the beloved Norfolk Tides)

Larry Bigbie (2007 Update: just Friday this news came up -- "Outfielder Larry Bigbie exercised his escape clause and was granted his release from Triple-A Las Vegas. Among the possible destinations for him are Oakland and Japan.")


Jorge Julio (if you need an update, you haven't been with us long here)

Florida was willing to part with Burnett for this dreck; all the O's had to do was also take Mike Lowell. At the time, Mike Lowell was hitting about .230 with no power, a complete reversal from a number of highly productive years prior. And his steep contract ($9M/yr) runs through this year. The Orioles, who'd foolishly overpaid for the likes of Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Sammy Sosa, and a slew of others, decided not to pull the trigger. And when I say "the Orioles," I mean Peter Angelos. According to the Washington Post, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan wanted the deal, but he nixed it. Add "short-sighted simpleton" to the long list of epithets hurled his way in this space.

Now, Rob and I were more familiar with Lowell's upside than most because he was on our rotisserie squad (I believe he has a ring), but it didn't take that much of a crystal ball to see there was just as much chance that Lowell might revert to form as not. We both agreed that Baltimore was crazy to balk at the Lowell inclusion; rather, Lowell could well rebound and it'd get Melvin Mora back to the OF. (Mora was booting balls galore that year at 3B). It was so worth the risk to get Burnett.

The strange outcome: The Marlins dealt Lowell to the Sox that offseason with Josh Beckett for decidedly more stellar returns. And Lowell arguably has outperformed Burnett over the past couple of years, though his Gold Glove third-base work (oddly lost in the discussions of his fading bat skills in 2005) has somehow evaporated this year.

The predictable outcome: At the time of the deal discussion, the O's were 50-42, half a game out of first place, and hungry for actual contention for the first time in eight years. After Angelos ever-so shrewdly declined, the team went 1-14, Lee Mazzilli was canned, and the Orioles spiraled down to a 74-88 finish, 21 games behind the Yankees. Then 70-92 last year. Under .500 this year so far. And the Angeleno Curse continues to thrive.

Would the trade have saved the Baltimore franchise, or even their 2005 season? Would it at least have sent a positive message to players, fans, and the league? Is hindsight 20/20? Is Peter Angelos still seeing things at a steady 20/800 clip? If firing Davey Johnson was his Russian Invasion, how far off is his St. Helena? Do we talk too much about karma at Misery Loves Company? Do we even understand true karmic principle? Do the teachings of Dharmic religion actually apply to major league baseball? And more importantly, has there ever been a cover medley called "Instant Karma Chameleon Police"?¿?¿?

Big Punisher

I'll blog the entire Sox/Yanks series tomorrow when I have a little more time, but let me note for the record that Mike Lowell is a baaaaaaaad man. Undersung by most Sox fans, present company included, Lowell's been one of the two most important offensive cogs for the Sox over the season's first third. His performance yesterday in a game that looked for all the world like a big adrenaline boost for the Yankees chances may well turn out to be the 2007 version of Jason Varitek's frogmarch of A-Rod in July 2004. His quote afterwards in response to questions about the legitimacy of his hard hit on Robinson Cano spoke volumes about his understated leadership ability, as he said this:
"My take is it's kind of ironic, because that's what they taught us in the minor leagues, and I was with the Yankees in the minor leagues," said Lowell. "We had two rules: You can never peel off, you had to slide no matter if you had to slide halfway; and if the second baseman tried to tag you, you did everything in your power to not let him get rid of the ball. I'm not throwing an elbow or anything, but I'm trying to make him not be able to throw the ball."
A subtle tweak to those inclined to equate Lowell's actions with A-Rod's elbow of Dustin Pedroia, and a measured but firm belief in the right way to play the game. Perhaps we should be singing his praises more often - but that doesn't seem to be his way.

Oh, and there were definitely giggles emanating from my living room when I heard the news of Roger Clemens' groin fatigue. Karma's a motherfucker.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dire Straits

There was a pitcher named Wake
Who threw balls that would break
And make the catcher's face quite florid.
And when he was good
He was very, very good
But when he was bad
He was horrid!

Tonight, as horrid as he's been all season. It's simply impossible for my ADD-addled brain to sit and watch Wake when he's like this. 9-3 Yankees, bottom 4.

The Hold Steady

Game 52 - Mets

Mets 4, Giants 2
Record: 34-18

Not a lot of time to wax philosophical or get silly with last night's victory. The Mets keep taking series from teams that don't call Georgia home, and to keep that trend in motion they'll need to cool a surging Arizona Diamondbacks team this weekend. And they'll have to do it without my direct support, as I am beachward within the hour. Press on, lads.

After the first inning the Mets were sporting exactly none of the starting outfielders on Opening Day. With Shawn Green and Moises Alou DL'ed and Carlos Beltran suffering a knee bruise in a first base collision with Rich Aurilia, it could get dicey out there . . . or more likely at the plate. No worries, Omar's understudies just keep holding steady until the stars re-align themselves in the outfield.

Endy Chavez y Chavez . . . what the hell can I write about him that would do him an iota of justice? He dropped down another textbook one last night to plate the fourth run. With two outs, of course. No fear there. Jose Reyes is the acknowledged catalyst, the exciting firecracker of a leadoff leader. Endy's content to remain in those shadows, stunning the opposition with thrilling plays on a remarkably routine basis. Still searching for the #10 CHAVEZ shirt.

El Duque dazzled (after the first), Joe Smith impressed, and Billy Wagner smoked (in the good way). As Rob alluded to and we continue to illustrate, neither of us are all that comfortable (or used to) with having our beloved teams in the fabled catbird seat on June 1. But these two clubs are clearly the cream of the MLB crop so far this year, and to deny it would be farcical. For now, we're gonna sit back right easy and laugh until later, when Scooter and the Big Man may well split the misery in half.

Duncan Sheik

Game 52 - Red Sox

Indians 8, Red Sox 4
Record: 36-16

Didn't see any of this game, as my appointed rounds as one of a miserable collection of softball misfits took precedence. I've been on the receiving end of a few drubbings in my day, but none quite so demoralizing as the twin 20+ run ass-whippings our inept squad absorbed. As I've told Whit and Teejay, my agent is calling a press conference to announce the likely end of my playing career. I'm preparing my emotional farewell speech (and still writing that primer on proper selection of at-bat music).

As the Sox race past the 50-game mark as the league's hottest team, my natural tendencies are locked in mortal struggle with the tangible, demonstrable facts. Part of me worries of channeling Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, hugging and loving this new pet so much that it suffocates under the weight of the long, hot summer and reminds me why we gave this blog its name. Another part of me (more of me, at this point) looks at the objective facts and the subjective viewpoint that comes from watching the Sox closely and sees real reason to believe.

Let's not dance around the issue. Every Sox fan old enough to remember 1978 will be holding his or her breath for the next 4 months, because until the Sox vanquish that demon, it'll always be there, holding its little corked bat and taunting us. 2004 washed away nearly all of the accumulated existential angst of a Nation. Nearly all, but some scars are deeper than others. The Sox still haven't won the AL East since 1995, and of all the tears shed in my lifetime over fate's cruel intervention, those that fell after Yaz's popup to Craig Nettles in the 1978 playoff stung the most.

I'm not going to spend much time on a specific 50-game recap, because I've basically been saying the same thing for the past month. In haiku form, then:

The pitching sublime
Youkilis, bearded beast-man
Please hit, J.D. Drew

You could argue that there's a little more depth required, and you'd be right, but the fact of the matter from my biased (and lazy) perspective is that not much has gone really wrong for the Sox over the season's first third. The cause for optimism is bolstered by the realization that while lots of things worked for the Sox, not all that many things have gone spectacularly well other than the team's record. A few guys are overachieving (Youks, Okajima, Lowell, Pedroia, Snyder, Beckett - though I'd argue he's reaching his potential, not pitching over his head), but more are achieving in line with expectations (Ortiz, Manny, Wake, Schilling, Matsuzaka, Papelbon, Pineiro, Varitek), and a few keys are still significantly underperforming, (Drew, Crisp, Lugo, Donnelly in May, Romero). The whole, it seems thus far, is greater than the sum of the parts - perhaps a nod to Terry Francona and the convivial vibe that this team casts off is in order.

The cause for concern is stated in the irrational echoes of the 1000 or so posts that precede this one - I won't belabor the point.

This week's installment of Armageddon kicks off tonight in Fenway as the Yankees come to town for a three-game set. As the estimable Peter Gammons noted this morning, the series means a great deal more to the New Yorkers than to the Sox. I might exhale slightly for a week or so if the Sox can take two of three.