Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Green Day

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the
spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer,
filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come,
it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to
buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive,
and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it

A. Bartlett Giamatti, excerpted from Green Fields of the
With much respect to the late Commissioner, whose words have ended seasons here at MLC in the past, I took the liberties of updating his sublime coda. I hope he’d approve:

It breaks your heart and it lifts your soul. It is designed to do both at intervals. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains stand ready to wash away another season, time stops for one glorious week. The Indian summer sun bathes you in its comforting glow before fading and leaving you to face the fall alone but for the long-lingering warmth of your memories. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it delivers again. And begins once more in the spring.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Camper Van Beethoven

I'm gonna keep this brief, because I don't want that picture of Papelbon's half-man, half-frog victory leap to move too far down the page, but I completely whiffed on a hugely significant aspect of the Sox' win.

My father's 61st birthday was yesterday, October 29. Papelbon's series-clinching fastball hit Jason Varitek's glove at 12:05 am, EST on October 29. I'm so totally absolved from having to get my Dad a birthday present, which is nice, because I was having a hard time finding a Red Sox tie that lights up.

I'll also be live-blogging the Sox' victory parade this afternoon*. So you've got that to look forward to.

* - Not true. Live-blogging takes too much effort for too little entertainment value. You can thank me later.

Monday, October 29, 2007


World Series – Game 4

Red Sox 4, Rockies 3
Red Sox win, 4-0
2007 World Series Champions

My 3 ½ year-old daughter has now been alive for 2 Red Sox World Series championships. So have my grandparents, all born in 1920 and 1921. If that doesn’t convincingly illustrate this brave new world, I’ve run out of ideas. The simple, indisputable fact of the matter is that the Boston Red Sox are the gold standard by which all major league franchises will be measured in the near term. How the hell did this happen?

The final frame of last night’s series-clinching win over the game but overmatched Rockies offers an example. Dustin Pedroia fielded Yorvit Torrealba’s grounder to second and flipped to Kevin Youkilis to record the first out. Jacoby Ellsbury raced to the wall to glove Jamey Carroll’s drive to left to bring the Sox to the brink. Finally, and fittingly, Jonathan Papelbon threw a fastball right by Seth Smith to kick-start the second delirious celebration in my living room in 3 years. Among other places. The 3 9th-inning outs were recorded by 2 rookies and 2 young standouts, all of whom were developed by the Sox’ system and all of whom are likely to be wearing Sox uniforms for the foreseeable future.

Combine an increasingly efficient player development machine with an increasingly deep-pocketed ownership group, and the total effect must be more than a little bit unsettling for the rest of the major leagues. I suppose I’m going to have to come to terms with my team being hated because they’re beautiful. I’ve already received my first “Sox = Yankees” email from a friend. (And another one that read simply, “I never want to hear another Red Sox-related whine out of you for the rest of your existence”. I’ll make that deal.) While I can’t argue that the Sox have well and truly taken advantage of baseball’s fucked up economic system, I’d differentiate the 2 colossi like this: the Sox are rich and smart. The Yankees are rich.

The stakes were higher on an emotional level in 2004, but the apprehension and exhilaration of the final out last night didn’t take a back seat. I was exhausted from a weekend of ridiculously misspent time travel, but I still leapt from my couch, arms thrust in the air. The final 8 games of the 2004 season represented an unexpected rocket ride of catharsis. The last 7 of 2007 were more a fulfillment of potential, a living up to expectations.

I’ve danced around this subject here at MLC, fearing that the act of committing it to public view would somehow change reality (old superstitious insanity is, indeed, hard to cast off), but this team was the best in baseball from the very beginning of the season. Despite the fact that it’s a dusty old canard, the Sox really did get contributions from every corner of their roster – and then some. Julian Tavarez gave them meaningful early-season innings before Jon Lester was fully recovered from his bout with cancer. Alex Cora channeled Barry Bonds for 6 weeks in April and May while Pedroia struggled. Bobby Kielty had the series-winning RBI in the World Series, for chrissakes. Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in the middle of a pennant race. Kevin Cash started a half-dozen games or so at catcher. Eric Hinske made one of the season’s great defensive plays in right field, and nearly wore out his jaw from smiling at his good fortune. And Terry Francona, brilliantly cast as the Sox manager, kept his team loose and rested and together the entire way. His contributions will forever be underestimated.

I’m still processing the entirety of the season, an activity probably best left for a time when I’m less drained and have more opportunity to think. Like 2004, I’ll stop back in here over the next several days as the memories come back. Just a handful of impressions from the past few days of the indelible marks from 2007:

Jonathan Papelbon is rapidly becoming my favorite player of all-time, for both his on-field performance and his genuine off-field childlike lunacy. His exhausted post-game interview last night revealed just how much he put into his role.

Watching Jason Varitek struggle with his emotions after the game was the first time I did the same with this team. The Sox’ foundation stuffed the ball from the final out into his pocket before embracing Papelbon. I hope they let him keep it.

J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo had their share of well-documented troubles during the season, but both made meaningful contributions in the postseason. I hope that shuts people up (present company included) as the 2008 campaign dawns.

Josh Beckett. Wow.

Hideki Okajima’s first and last pitches of 2007 were hit out of the park. The stuff in between was spectacular.

Curt Schilling may not throw another pitch in a Red Sox uniform, but I’ll be damned if I’ll root against him.

Oh, and Theo, do us all a favor and re-sign Mike Lowell, mmmkay.

Manny Ramirez said it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Sox lost to Cleveland. I guess we’ll never find out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Barenaked Ladies

World Series - Games 2 & 3

Red Sox 2, Rockies 1
Red Sox 10, Rockies 5
Red Sox lead, 3-0

The last time I watched a Red Sox postseason game in Williamsburg, VA's College Delly, the Yankees annihilated the Sox in the third game of the 2004 ALCS. Fortunately, an alcoholic haze softened the blow, if only slightly. Last night's buzz was quite a bit more celebratory, but man, am I getting too old to stay up until 4:00 in the morning.

In a nod to the hangover implied by that last sentence, I'll be brief here today. It's a pretty simple equation that tells the tale of the series to date: the Sox are just better than the Rockies. As we've noted here before, it's not rocket surgery. Doesn't mean that the Sox will necessarily win tonight - hell, it doesn't guarantee that they'll win another game in the series, but that doesn't make it less true.

The Sox have also been the beneficiaries of all the bounces in this series. Jacoby Ellsbury doubled 3 times last night despite not really clobbering any of them. Daisuke Matsuzaka drove in 2 runs with a groundball single. Julio Lugo made a sick leaping catch to deny the Rockies runs of their own. And I'm sure there was a bunch of other stuff - hey, I told you there was alcohol involved.

Here's hoping that a different kind of spirit is involved this evening, one that's fizzy and requires goggles.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Gorillaz

World Series – Game 1

Red Sox 13, Rockies 1
Red Sox lead, 1-0

The only real drama last night was whether Terry Francona would let Josh Beckett pitch the 7th inning with a 12-run lead. He did, and millions exhaled. And then inhaled again, almost as if it were an involuntary action unburdened by any external stressors. Really sort of an odd feeling this time of year.

The Rockies got caught in a bit of a perfect storm, swinging the bats in anger for the first time in 8 days against a historically dominant pitcher, and pitching against an offense that’s as hot as any post-season squad has ever been. Couple that with their October inexperience, from the manager down, their lack of familiarity with Fenway’s quirks, and the fact that they were due to have a few bounces go against them, and the result was fairly well predictable. Enjoyable and blessedly angst-free after the first inning, mind you, but certainly predictable.

Beckett threw nothing but fastballs in the top of the first, striking out the side in the process. He was Chuck Norris putting a battery on his shoulder, daring the Rockies to knock it off. He was Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp. It was a man-sized performance: here it comes, see if you can hit it – because I don’t think you can.

After Beckett roiled Fenway into a suitable frenzy, Dustin Pedroia wasted no time dropping the other shoe, hammering Jeff Francis’ second pitch just over the Monster to give the Sox a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Kevin Youkilis followed with a rocket double to right-center and scored on Manny Ramirez’ bullet single to right (against an infield that had been drawn in to prevent a run with 1 out in the bottom of the first inning – it says here that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitski might have been able to catch Manny’s shot if he’d been at normal depth). The Sox plated one more on J.D. Drew’s double to right, and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

The Sox got 2 more in the third inning and then blew the doors wide open in the fifth, scoring 7 times on several rockets and a handful of walks issued by the Rockies. All told, the Sox clubbed 9 extra base hits in the game, tying a World Series record. The first 4 hitters in the Sox’ lineup started the game 9-14 with 5 2B, 2 BB, and a HR. Every starter except Mike Lowell had an RBI – before the fifth inning was over.

The 8-day gap between the Rockies’ NLCS victory over Arizona and Game 1 of the World Series was a major story line heading into last night’s game, and it seems obvious that it was a huge factor. Just last year, the Detroit Tigers saw all of their momentum blunted by a 6-day vacation in advance of the World Series. The precedent is there for all to see – it’s not rocket surgery. In baseball, the daily routine doesn’t allow hot teams any time to think – they’re just carried along on a self-perpetuating momentum as the bounces keep going their way. The game’s rhythms and instincts take primacy and the human instinct to look forward and fret about the unknown takes a backseat. Over the last 8 days, all the Rockies could do was think. Think about Josh Beckett, and the Fenway crowd, and Manny and Papi and Youks. And they got steamrollered. The Rockies never had a chance, and it showed on their stunned faces from the game’s earliest moments.

Despite Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal’s protestations to the contrary, I don’t expect the American League Champions to walk over the Rockies. They’ve taken that first punch and tasted the blood in their mouths. I’m pretty certain about the Sox’ makeup. Tonight’s game will tell a great deal about their Rockies’ guts.

I'm headed to rainy Norfolk, VA this evening to begin a sure-to-be futile, stupid, and entertaining weekend-long attempt to recapture my youth with Whitney and a merry band of immature layabouts. Blogging may be sporadic for the next several days, or at least characterized by hungover confusion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Black Eyed Peas

My, how the world is a different place on October 24, 2007 than it was just 3 years ago. There’s no “Win if For” thread on SOSH, because the Sox already won it for all those people. Curt Schilling’s still jumping into game threads to fire up the troops, but it doesn’t make one all goosebumpy like it did back then. The Idiots are gone, and though their spirit remains in Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz, and the bullpen fife and drum corps, the Sox are a loose, but highly professional collective. And nobody’s chasing 86 years of history, except for the last vestiges of the vast grumpy old media conspiracy.

But it’s still the World Series, so even as my head tries to remain calm, to rationalize the fact that the Sox had a great season, that playoff baseball is a crapshoot, that the Rockies are a solid team on a historic roll, that Manny’s right and the world won’t end if the Sox lose – even with all that, I’m sitting here 8 hours before gametime with a mess of butterflies in my stomach and the attention span of a puppy in a field of chew toys.

Man, I love this game.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Adam and the Ants

American League Championship Series – Game 7

Red Sox 11, Indians 2
Red Sox win American League Championship, 4-3

“It’s baseball, man. Silly damn game.”

Those words are as true this morning as they were when I first wrote them a few days ago. Then, I was lamenting the number of bounces that went against the Sox. Today, I’m unclenching my fists, trying to find intact fingernails, and taking a series of relieved deep breaths after a great number of fortunate occurrences in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS broke for the Red Sox.

A cursory glance at the record books will show that the Sox hammered the Indians to win the American League pennant in Game 7 of the 2007 Championship Series. Somehow, though, I think the heart-stopping action in the top of the 7th inning will remain etched more deeply in my memories than will the Sox’ late-game explosion. With 1 out and Kenny Lofton on 2nd, courtesy of the Sox’ only real defensive miscue of the series, Franklin Gutierrez rifled a grounder over the 3rd-base bag. The ball caromed off Fenway’s jutting stands into shallow left field, and I sagged, physically and mentally, knowing that the Indians had just tied the game at 3.

And then, the Ghost of Wendall Kim Past whispered into Indians’3rd-base coach Joel Skinner’s ear. I’ve got no better explanation for Skinner’s decision to hold Lofton at 3rd. Replays showed that Lofton would have scored easily, barring a detour into a concession stand. After the game, Manny Ramirez told the media that he wasn’t planning to make a throw home, saying, “I was going to hit my cutoff and let him handle it.” Ours not to wonder why, I suppose, but just to give silent thanks. When Casey Blake grounded sharply into an inning-ending and rally-killing double play, Fenway erupted and the stunned Indians squandered their best chance to win the series’ final game.

Speaking of Manny being canny, his stellar play on Lofton’s 5th-inning drive to left kept the Sox from deeper trouble. The Indians’ left fielder led off the frame against the obviously tiring Daisuke Matsusaka by rifling a liner over Manny’s head. Manny calmly turned, played the ball on the bounce with his bare hand, and whirled gracefully to fire a one-hop seed to Dustin Pedroia at 2nd. Though replays showed Lofton to be (barely) safe, the Manny-to-Pedroia wizardry made the play close enough for the umpire to call the fleet runner out. When the next 2 Tribe batters singled, Manny’s play took on even greater significance, and then again when Matsuzaka wriggled out of the inning allowing only a single Cleveland tally.

The worn Indians bullpen finally cracked after the Tribe failed to score in the 7th, with Dustin Pedroia battering Rafael Betancourt for a 2-run homer and a 3-run double in consecutive innings. Pedroia’s blast gave the Sox a 5-2 lead, but the Indians kept coming, leading off the bottom of the 8th with back-to-back singles against Hideki Okajima. Only after Jonathan Papelbon retired the heart of the Indian order, with each of Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Garko representing the tying run, did the Sox finally blow the game open with 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th.

The 9-run cushion proved both boon and bane for the Fenway crowd and the Sox’ players. Obviously, it’s much easier on the psyche to count down the final outs with a big lead, and a relieved Nation was clearly reveling in the moment. On the other hand, the Na Na Na Na Hey Hey chants that reverberated around the old ballpark were bush league, especially galling given the Indians’ gritty efforts throughout the series. And when David Ortiz appeared in the dugout wearing a t-shirt and goggles before the final out was recorded, I cringed. I haven’t scanned the blogosphere yet this morning, but I’m quite certain that the Sox and their fans will be on the receiving end of well-deserved scorn from all corners. This notion of entitlement is growing wearisome, and quickly. And I’ll freely admit that it soured me ever so slightly on last night’s win.

I got over it when Papelbon, that glorious moron, celebrated the win with another goofball Riverdance, and when Pedroia answered the media’s questions with a veteran’s poise and a rookie’s honesty, admitting that he had been nervous during the postseason’s opening days. I got over it a little more watching Josh Beckett give credit to Jason Varitek and his teammates when accepting the ALCS MVP award (which Kevin Youkilis nearly stole from him with 3 more hits and another long homer). And I got nearly all the way over it when every Sox player and executive talked about the Indians’ heart and the Rockies’ solid roster. But it still pissed me off, and I’m a little bummed to be pissed off when recounting the Sox’ second American League Championship in 4 years. In the words of the great Sam Wyche, you people aren’t from…mmm, yeah, that one doesn’t work quite as well in this situation. Alright, then, you people aren’t from New York. How ‘bout a little class next time, eh?

In the final accounting, I’m much happier to bemoan a hopefully isolated lapse in decorum during the celebration of the AL championship than I would be to eulogize the 2007 Sox today. World Series baseball at Fenway again, with the memories of 2004 still mostly fresh (and moreso if Kevin Millar keeps worming his way back onstage). Lotta ball left, stay on target.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


American League Championship Series - Game 6

Red Sox 12, Indians 2
Series tied, 3-3

In 2004, I wore the same pair of track pants, the same long-sleeved t-shirt, and the same faded Sox hat for each of the final 8 games of the playoffs. During that span, I sat in the same seat, drank the same beer (Red Hook IPA), and only changed the channel to CNN during breaks in game action.

I'd softened my superstitions a bit for the first 8 games of the 2007 postseason, changing clothes, randomly flipping channels, and drinking whatever I had on hand (Red Hook's IPA has been renamed Longhammer, which sounds vaguely gay pornish, so I usually stay away from it). After the Game 6 win, though, sparked by my consumption of a tasty Spanish Temporanillo, I felt obligated to do my part. And so last night, I donned the same outfit, cracked open another bottle of Tierra de Vientos 2004, and sat in the same seat. Lo and behold, we've got a Game 7 tonight. Wanna guess what I'll be wearing and drinking?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bee Gees

American League Championship Series – Game 5

Red Sox 7, Indians 1
Indians lead, 3-2

Is that post title too obvious? Yeah, I’ll give you that, but it sure beats the alternative. Since 1999, the Sox are 12-3 in postseason elimination games, so they’ve done their share of stayin’ alive. Now, like the Yankees and A’s before them, the Indians get to wonder why this freaking thing won’t die, already.

There was only one real story in this game, despite the best efforts of everyman’s favorite announcing tandem. Josh Beckett was Wolverine, the aloof alpha male badass, standing tall on the mound and dominating the Indians over 8 innings of 5-hit ball. After the Tribe squandered a 1st and 3rd, no-out opportunity in the first, scoring only a single run, Beckett brooked no opposition. At times, he almost looked bored by his superiority. Or maybe that was just the well-earned arrogance he carries to the mound when the leaves start to turn and the days grow short.

With Beckett unhittable after the first frame, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver vainly sought new material to keep things interesting. As if on cue, Manny Ramirez delivered in the top of the 3rd. With 2 outs and Papi on first (natch – he and Manny have reached base in 15 of their 16 plate appearances against C.C. Sabathia in the series EDIT - that's wrong, it was 15 of 16 in games started by Sabathia at the time he left Game 5, it's more like 11 for 12 against Sabathia specifically), Manny sent a high fly to deep right-center. The ball hit the uppermost portion of the wall and caromed back into play as Papi rounded the bases to score. Manny thought the ball was out, the umpires disagreed, and the replays were inconclusive. Either way, Manny never made it past first base, a combination of lack of hustle and thinking the ball was gone.

Let’s be clear. Manny jaked it. He should have been on second base. His Mannyness could certainly have cost the team a run (though it didn’t, as Mike Lowell flew out to end the inning). The Mighty MJD noted that the game proceeded, “with Manny Ramirez being a one-man roaming carnival act”. All of those things are true, and any rational Red Sox fan was ticked at Manny for being Manny at that particular moment. But to hear Buck and McCarver, you’d have been absolutely convinced that Manny sodomized a puppy in front of the national television audience. How ‘bout a little bit of perspective, fellahs?

Here’s a little bit of fuel for that perspective. In this ALCS, Manny, Papi, and Kevin Youkilis are 22-for-51 with 15 walks, 5 HR and 15 RBI, good for a .560/.822/1.383 line. The entire rest of the team has posted a .259/.322/.581. Without Manny and his partners in crime, the Sox have already gone home for the year and the Indians are waiting out the interminable delay before the World Series begins early in February. So I’m willing to cut him a bit of slack and hope that he keeps hitting balls hard enough to slack off on his tour around the bases.

The Manny subplot was only one part of a smorgasbord of random, irrelevant fun from Game 5. We had Beckett screaming at Kenny Lofton after the only truly loathsome Indian flew out left (I choose to believe he said, “Yeah, motherfucker!”. Please insert your guess here ___________) which led to both benches “clearing” while Beckett stood by with a bemused look on his face.

FOX led the coverage by dragging the notoriously reclusive Kevin Millar out of his Salinger-esque respite to reprise 2004’s ‘Cowboy Up’ mantra. Wonder how Orioles fans feel about that.

Then there was Dustin Pedroia getting riled up at the media, telling them that he’s not slumping and to leave him the fuck alone before backing up his words with 2 ringing hits and a walk.

And finally, Beckett put a nice bow on things by dropping a very intentional F-bomb in his postgame presser in response to a question about his ex-girlfriend’s rendition of the National Anthem. Said Josh, "I don't get paid to make those fucking decisions. She's a friend of mine. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she can watch it for free."

Josh Beckett, ladies and gentlemen, savior of the season, raconteur, and all-around badass. See you on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The The

American League Championship Series - Games 3 & 4

Indians 4, Red Sox 2
Indians 7, Red Sox 3
Indians lead, 3-1

I'm trying, really trying to work up some righteous indignation, or some fire and brimstone rallying cry for this segment of the fanbase (Red and Denton at the sublime Surviving Grady have done a nice job on the latter), but my irritation is measured in thimbles and my outrage more embers than a conflagration.

And much like the aforementioned 2005 ALDS, it's the way the Sox have lost that's prompting this measured reaction. After Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, my vim was vigorous as I sputtered out the following:
I simply am not smart enough, or talented enough to put adequate words to my utter disappointment with these Red Sox. It would be one thing if they'd played the Yankees close and lost heartbreakers because of bad luck or quirky bounces. But they have simply not deserved to win any of the first 3 games of the series. Stupid baserunning, indifferent fielding, and godawful pitching have overcome any spark provided by their prolific bats - and the fact that they've scored 16 runs in the series is the lone bright spot, despite it being 3 fewer than New York scored last fucking night. The Sox deserve to be swept, plain and simple. And that is just abjectly painful to admit.
But after 4 games of the 2007 ALCS, the story is a combination of the Indians and their solid play and the Sox' inordinately bad baseball luck, not the Sox' ineptitude, though that's been on display at times, too. Indians pitchers have induced 8 double plays in the series' 4 games, many of them at crucial junctures. The Tribe is scorching the ball with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, while the Sox are 3 for 22 in the same situations. Papi got hit randomly by a groundball. Kenny Lofton hit a killer 2-run homer. Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd shut the Sox down. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield didn't reciprocate. The Indians bullpen has stepped up, and the Sox' stepped in it. And the beat goes on.

It all combines to produce not gut-wrenching angst or steely resolve, but a wistful sense of what-the-fuck. It's baseball, man. Silly damn game.

And still, Josh Beckett gets the ball tomorrow night, Commander Kickass of the Fuck-Yeah Brigade, with nothing to lose and everything on the line. A win gets the series back to Boston, and the doubts start to creep into Tribe minds, and Kevin Millar makes a phone call to Mike Timlin, who reminds everyone that'll listen about Dave Roberts and Curtis Leskanic and Derek Lowe and Saturn Balls Arroyo and Billy Mueller and Orlando Cabrera and that long-haired dude who moved away, and then balls start to fall just beyond the reach of Indians' fielders and Manny Delcarmen rediscovers his mojo and Jonathan Papelbon stares down the heart of the Tribe order and Fenway gets that late-October guttural roar thing going - 35,000 throats hoarse and arms raised in unison and then...well, then you roll the balls out and let 'em play and see what happens.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Damned

Been out of town for the past 2 days - sorry to all my fan, sitting vainly at his computer all day, waiting for a recap of last night's flat performance. As Game 4 starts in much the same way, this series is starting to resemble nothing so much as the 2005 ALDS against the White Sox in terms of the looming sense of inevitability. Boy, do I hope I'm wrong.

Oh, and Dustin, take a fucking pitch. Cripes.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eric Clapton

American League Championship Series - Game 2

Indians 13, Red Sox 6 (11)
Series tied, 1-1

Helluva game last night between the Sox and Indians, full of the theatrics and drama that make baseball's postseason singularly entertaining. Shame Eric Gagne had to show up.

Ah, that's too easy. While Gagne's all-too-familiar failure was a proximate cause for the Sox' loss (and, let's give some credit where it's due, for the Indians win), he'd never have had an opportunity to continue his French ways (speaking of too easy) had not Curt Schilling failed his teammates. The Sox handed Schill a 3-1 lead after 3 innings, and he not only gave it back and then some in the top of the 4th, he failed to get out of the 5th, triggering a chain of events that stretched the Sox' bullpen to the ultimate Gagne/Lopez breaking point.

Manny Delcarmen didn't help things, either, failing to get through the 6th inning after Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell handed him a lead on the strength of back-to-back homers. Schilling's failure begat Delcarmen's early entrance and lack of command begat Hideki Okajima's elevated pitch count, which begat Mike Timlin in the 8th and 2 innings of Jonathan Papelbon before Gagne came bringing calamity.

While the Sox pitching staff didn't cover itself in glory, the offense rested on its laurels after putting up 6 runs in the first 6 innings. Much of that, to be fair again, was due to the outstanding efforts of Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt for the Tribe. Betancourt's 2-out 9th inning duel with Kevin Youkilis was the game's single biggest moment. With the swift Jacoby Ellsbury on second base, and a base hit likely to be a game-winner, Youks battled Betancourt for 11 pitches before ripping a liner to left-center that stayed up just long enough for Grady Sizemore to glove it to end the threat.

The Sox had another chance in the bottom of the 10th after Papelbon retired the Indians in order, as Terry Francona kept pulling strings to give his team every opportunity to pull this one out. The scorching trio of Ortiz, Ramirez, and Lowell faced middling reliever Tom Mastny with a chance send the Fenway crowd home happy. Mastny, like Lewis and Betancourt before him, delivered for the Tribe, retiring the heart of the Sox' order without much drama and setting up the Indians' 11th-inning touchdown.

I'm moderately disappointed, because the Sox really should have won this game - they'll hopefully be kicking themselves all the way to Ohio. On the other hand, though, I didn't really expect them to win 11 straight - only Rockies fans can hope for that. This Indians team is tough, talented, and fairly deep. I expected and expect a tough series. And even in the loss, Lord forgive me, this was a fun game to watch. Until, of course, the Gagne reared its ugly head. Chances are, that won't happen again.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Big Star

American League Championship Series - Game 1

Red Sox 10, Indians 3
Red Sox lead, 1-0

I'm quite certain that the rest of this series won't be as easy as the Sox made it look last night, but if Manny and Papi are half as good as they were in Game 1, Indians pitchers are in for a long, generally unpleasant slog. After a perfect 10-for-10 outing against C.C. Sabathia and friends, the Sox 3-4 bats have reached base 29 times in 36 postseason plate appearances - a tidy .806 OPB. Those are Nintendo numbers, well past the point of ridiculous into plaid territory.

Josh Beckett was the beneficiary last night, even as he probably didn't need the largesse. The Sox' offense outburst allowed Terry Francona to get Beckett out of the game after 80 pitches and 6 innings of 2-run ball, and preserve the option to bring the ace back on short rest for Game 4. The only real moments of trepidation came when heart attack in waiting Eric Gagne decided to load the bases in the top of the 9th, just for kicks, before finally striking out Grady Sizemore to end the game. I do appreciate the soon-to-be former Sox reliever for giving me just a few moments of irrational postseason white-knuckle tension - the rest of the game didn't offer much in the way of suspense.

Speaking of Nintendo, as I did above, Indians' Game 2 starter Fausto Carmona brings an array of pitches that heretofore have only been available to video gamers. His fastball is explosive and his slider beyond absurd. He pitched 9 innings of 3-hit ball against the Yankees in his last outing, so he's at the very top of his game. In July, he beat the Sox, 1-0, throwing 8 scoreless innings and allowing only 4 hits. How the Sox got 4 hits is beyond me. Immovable Object, meet the Irresistible Forces in the middle of the Sox' lineup. This should be fun, to the extent I can have such a thing while watching October baseball.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Boz Scaggs

So there I was at the breakfast table, minding my own business and perusing the Washington Post Sports section, when my favorite baseball columnist up and smacked me in the mouth.
The Diamondbacks, Rockies and Indians are three of the cheapest teams ever to reach the playoffs -- and now they're all in the final four. It would be remarkable if one team constructed of homegrown players, and held together by crucial rookies, made it this far. But, except for the $143 million, buy-a-title Red Sox -- who now look so much like the Empire they claim to hate that they should consider switching to pinstripes -- this October is going to be a tale about how less can be more.
I can only surmise from this gratuitous and smug shot from Thomas Boswell that things aren't going all that well on the homefront for the versatile scribe. Bos' wife and in-laws are famously die-hard Red Sox fans, and he's built a well-deserved reputation for displaying a deep understanding of baseball's nuances. In short, he's a guy that knows better than to believe that any team can buy a World Series title. Which leaves us wondering about what his wife did to tick him off so much that he took a shot at her in the morning paper.

We kid, we kid. The Sox are fair game for this particular line of argument, spending more than double this season than any of the other remaining clubs. And while I've declaimed loudly in this space that baseball's finances are fucked up like a football bat, I can't in good conscience argue that the Sox don't have a real monetary advantage over the Indians. Doesn't guarantee a damn thing, though - ask the 2007 Yankees, and keep asking them until you get back to 2000.

The interesting corollary here, though, is the realization for me that the Sox are playing the postseason Goliath role for the first time in my memory, and maybe ever. Actually, no maybe about it. I need to sit down and think about this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Beatles

I must admit that I'm finding it a bit difficult to get fired up for the Indians series. Maybe the 4-day break between series has my angst stuck in idle, ready to roar from 0-60 on Friday evening. Perhaps the ease with which the Sox dispatched the Angels has fostered a sense of security. Or, (and here's where we have to start being honest with ourselves) like many (most?) Sox fans, even the ones who won't admit it, the sigh of relief I breathed after the Yankees fell to the Tribe is still lingering.

All of the above is probably the correct bubble to color on the test sheet. Fortunately, I and millions of like-minded Red Sox fans won't be the ones that will decide the outcome of the ALCS. In Tito we trust, especially in the postseason.

Another factor in my motivational malaise is the fact that I like the Indians club, except for that former Yankee bastard Kenny Lofton. I can't work up a healthy disdain for any of the rest of them - they seem like good guys who enjoy the game and play hard. Hell, Trot Nixon's on their roster - the Original Dirt DogTM. It's quite impossible to properly hate these guys?

So I'll keep working on the motivation angle. In service of that search for mojo, I'll hearken back to the last postseason game played between these two squads, Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, which took place 8 years ago tomorrow. Without exaggeration, it featured the single gutsiest pitching performance I've ever witnessed. The Sox trailed the Tribe 8-7 after 3 innings, with both teams unable to get anyone out. The Sox had won Games 3 and 4 by a combined 32-10 count, including a record-setting 23-7 clubbing in Game 4 - pitching was not exactly at a premium.

After the Sox scored a single in the top of the 4th to tie the game, Pedro Martinez made the long walk from the bullpen to take the ball. Pedro's arm had been bothering him over the season's final months, and he'd only managed 4 innings in Game 1 of the series. His appearance in this game was nothing so much as desperation on the part of the Sox. 3 innings of hold-the-line relief would have been manna from heaven. Instead, the little gladiator gutted his way through 6 shutout, make that no-hit shutout innings with nothing but a few threads holding his shoulder together. It was an epic, legend-securing performance, the one Peter Gammons calls upon again and again to define Pedro's duende. It was the greatest one-man show I've seen in baseball - inning after inning he defied the Indian bats despite not having his normal arsenal of incendiary stuff. I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.

Boston Red Sox 12, Cleveland Indians 8

Division Series Game 5 Played on Monday, October 11, 1999 (N) at Jacobs Field
BOS A 2 0 5 1 0 0 3 0 1 - 12 10 0
CLE A 3 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 8 7 1

Boston Red Sox
Offerman 2b 4 0 1 0 1 0 2 1
Valentin 3b 4 2 1 2 0 0 0 2
Daubach dh 5 2 3 0 0 0 0 0
Sadler pr,dh 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Garciaparra ss 3 3 2 3 2 1 2 4
O'Leary lf 4 2 2 7 1 1 0 0
Stanley 1b 4 0 0 0 1 3 10 1
Varitek c 5 0 0 0 0 1 10 0
Lewis cf 4 1 1 0 0 0 1 0
Nixon rf 3 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
Saberhagen p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lowe p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
P. Martinez p 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Totals 36 12 10 12 6 7 27 8

2B: Daubach 2 (2,off Nagy,off Jackson); Lewis (1,off Nagy); Garciaparra (2,off
HR: Garciaparra (2,1st inning off Nagy 1 on 2 out); O'Leary 2 (2,3rd inning
off Nagy 3 on 1 out,7th inning off Shuey 2 on 1 out).
SF: Valentin (1,off DePaula).
IBB: Garciaparra 2 (2,by Nagy,by Shuey); O'Leary (1,by Jackson).
Team LOB: 4.

Cleveland Indians
Lofton cf 2 1 0 0 1 0 1 0
Roberts cf 2 0 0 0 0 1 3 0
Vizquel ss 5 1 1 1 0 1 2 1
R. Alomar 2b 4 1 1 0 0 1 2 5
Ramirez rf 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 0
Thome 1b 4 2 2 4 0 2 8 0
Baines dh 3 0 0 0 1 1 0 0
Cordero lf 4 1 1 0 0 2 3 0
Fryman 3b 4 1 1 2 0 0 0 2
S. Alomar c 2 0 0 0 1 1 7 0
Wilson ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nagy p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
DePaula p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shuey p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jackson p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 34 8 7 8 4 10 27 9

E: S. Alomar (1).

2B: Vizquel (1,off Saberhagen); R. Alomar (4,off Lowe); Ramirez (1,off Lowe).
HR: Thome 2 (4,1st inning off Saberhagen 1 on 2 out,3rd inning off Lowe 1 on
0 out); Fryman (1,2nd inning off Saberhagen 1 on 0 out).
Team LOB: 3.

SB: Lofton (2,2nd base off Saberhagen/Varitek).

Boston Red Sox
Saberhagen 1 4 5 5 1 0 2
Lowe 2 3 3 3 0 2 1
P. Martinez W(1-0) 6 0 0 0 3 8 0
Totals 9 7 8 8 4 10 3

Saberhagen faced 2 batters in the 2nd inning

Cleveland Indians
Nagy 3 6 8 7 2 2 2
DePaula 3 0 0 0 2 2 0
Shuey L(1-1) 2 2 3 3 1 2 1
Jackson 1 2 1 1 1 1 0
Totals 9 10 12 11 6 7 3

Nagy faced 1 batter in the 4th inning

IBB: Nagy (1,Garciaparra); Shuey (1,Garciaparra); Jackson (1,O'Leary).
Umpires: John Shulock, Durwood Merrill, Jim Joyce, Chuck Meriwether, Tim Welke, Jim McKean
Time of Game: 3:12 Attendance: 45114

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Grateful Dead

Ultimately, after all the Pavlovian night terrors, the hand-wringing, and the ulcers, the Yankees are what we thought they were: a superior offensive club hamstrung by a pitching staff not quite good enough to compete in the postseason.

While there are those that may be disappointed to see the Yankees eliminated by someone other than the Sox, I’m not in that number. Beating the Yankees is an immensely satisfying feeling, exhilarating and cathartic (as, I am quite sure in this post-2004 world, Yankee fans would agree if the Sox are on the losing foot). But the process, the agonizing process, is crushing for both sets of fans. Sleepless nights, gnawed fingernails, hoarse throats, and over-elevated adrenaline levels are the norm. Sox/Yankees postseason series’ may not take years off my life, but I’m quite sure they subtract a measurable period from my final tally.

One final Yankee note before happily burying their 2007 season. If, as is widely rumored, this is finally the year Joe Torre shuffles off to Billy Martin’s condo in Boca Del Vista, I couldn’t be happier. Torre has been the perfect manager for the Yankees since his arrival in the Bronx 12 years ago. He’s a master manipulator of egos and a truly terrific motivator. Yankee fans might argue that he could be a better in-game strategist, and I wouldn’t quibble, but I’d damn sure rather see Joe Girardi and his intensity or Don Mattingly and his inexperience in the other dugout in 2008 than Torre. Please, please, please make this happen.

On to the Indians, then, because, unlike the Yankees, they’re still standing. And not by any luck or random occurrence – these guys are good. In C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, the Tribe rolls out 2 of the AL’s 5 best starters. I’ve lamented the Sox’ troubles against lefthanders ad nauseum in this space. Carmona’s already pitched a shutout against the Sox once this season. At worst for Cleveland, they get to send Sabathia and Carmona to the hill 4 times in a 7-game series. That’s daunting.

Beyond the bookend stud starters, the Indians boast a pretty good bullpen, especially at the back end. Rafaels Perez and Betancourt both posted sub 2.00 ERAs in more than 60 innings. Closer Joe Borowski doesn’t strike fear, but he manages to close games.

The Tribe batsmen are solid, top to bottom, as well. (Sorry, that wasn’t meant to sound like a gay porn liner note.) They don’t have a really fearsome A-Rod/Papi type, but they demonstrated an ability and willingness to work counts and battle against the Yankees, and they didn’t falter in critical situations. Eric Wedge has his team confident and focused – I was a basket case last night when the Yankee echoes rose in full throat at several moments, but the Indians never wavered.

Now that I’ve channeled Lou Holtz for a few paragraphs, I can’t really deny that the Sox are playing perfect baseball right now. They’ve been built to excel in the postseason, and they paid off that planning in spades against the Halos. I won’t be slinging the doom and gloom, even if I’m constitutionally inclined.

This has the potential to be a terrific ALCS. And I might even get a chance to enjoy it, now that the opponent won’t be wearing pinstripes.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Easy E

Game 3 – American League Championship Series

Red Sox 9, Angels 1
Red Sox win, 3-0

per·func·to·ry [per-fuhngk-tuh-ree] –adjective
1. performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial

Today’s dictionary lesson brings us the word best used to describe the Sox’ thorough dismantling of the game, but woefully short-handed Angels. The Sox did what favored teams are supposed to do, methodically and inexorably crushing their foe with a combination of stellar postseason pitching and first timely, then explosive offense. The Halos never had a chance, especially without a healthy Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson. I'd feel sorry for them, except that nobody offered the 2006 Sox the same pity, nor should they have.

MLB doesn’t typically offer MVP awards in the Division Series round, but MLC doesn’t play by the Man’s rules. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will each be receiving copper-plated replicas of the keyboard I use to pound out these pithy dispatches (copper, because we can’t afford bronze) in recognition of their combined excellence in carrying the Sox’ offense against Los Angeles. Papi reached base in 11 of 13 plate appearances, batting .714 with 2 lead-giving HR and 3 RBI, and posting a 2.417 OPS (yes, I’m aware of the size of the sample – can’t ask the guy to play more games in service of statistical validity now, can we?). Manny only hit .375 and turned in a 1.740 OPS, but he wound up driving in the eventual winning runs in both of the final 2 games of the series.

Even as the offense rose to the occasion when it counted, the Sox’ arms don’t suffer all that much in comparison. The Angels managed a total of 4 runs in the series, with yesterday’s Gagne-being-Gagne episode accounting for 1 of them. Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett hung 16 scoreless innings on Los Angeles, pacing the Sox staff, which kept the Angels to a team OPS of .503 in the series.

That’s 2 big, black checkmarks on the Sox season-long to-do list. Thanks to their efficiency in dispatching the Angels, we all get to wait until Friday before they get a chance to begin work on the third. I’d like to say I’m torn about my preference for the opponent, but that’d be lying – I’m rooting for the Indians, not because I think they’d make an easier matchup (in truth, I don’t – the Tribe’s pitching is far superior to the Yanks’), but because I’m completely exhausted by the Sox/Yankees Festival of Hype.

Either way, I’ve got a feeling that the ALCS might offer a bit more nail-chewing drama than did the ALDS. Stomach, you’ve got 4 days to commence churning.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Kim Wilde

American League Division Series - Game 2

Red Sox 6, Angels 3
Red Sox lead 2-0

Jeffrey Maier, meet Danny Vinik (maybe you should ask him about proper fan etiquette, and bring Richie Garcia along for giggles). And Danny Vinik, nice grab.

Vinik, the 17 year-old son of Sox' limited partner Jeffrey Vinik, contributed as much to the Sox' Game 2 win as any non-player ever has. With runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out in the bottom of the 5th, Manny Ramirez lifted a foul pop down the first base line. Angels catcher Jeff Mathis sprinted toward the stands and flung himself over a temporary photographers' pit that stood before the paying customers. In the moment before Ramirez' popup fell into Mathis' glove, Vinik's young hands reached out and snared the ball, keeping Manny alive and giving the youngster an instant rap boost with Boston's female Soxfan population.

Unlike Maier's celebrated interference, Vinik was well within the stands when he made the catch, giving the Angels no cause for argument - just frustration. Given new life, Manny promptly walked to load the bases, and Mike Lowell immediately drove a Kelvim Escobar offering into left-center, his sacrifice fly plating Dustin Pedroia with the game's tying run.

The score stayed knotted at for the next 4 innings, with both bullpens living up to their advance notice. The Sox' pen didn't allow a single hit in 4 1/3 innings of work, as Terry Francona once again showed his chops as a postseason skipper. Jonathan Papelbon survived a slightly nerve-wracking 8th inning, aided not in the least by Mike Lowell's uncharacteristic throwing error, but set down the side in order in the 9th to set up the game's climax.

Julio Lugo singled to start the bottom of the 9th for the Sox, and moved to second on Dustin Pedroia's groundout. Kevin Youkilis flew out against Angels' closer Francisco Rodriguez, leading Mike Scoscia to walk David Ortiz to get to Manny. All game long, Angels pitchers had been playing this particular roulette, passing Papi 4 consecutive times and living to tell about it. Finally, in the bottom of the 9th, the single bullet in the chamber fired, and Manny's blast over everything in leftfield became instant legend.

The 447-foot bomb was the third-longest hit in Fenway this season, and, shockingly, Manny's first walkoff homer in his Red Sox career. And as he bounded down the third base line to meet the joyous throng of teammates at the plate, I swear I've never seen a more joyous look on his face. If I'd had a mirror at that moment, I suspect mine was probably similar.

It's a curious thing, as I noted to Whit this morning, that even in a game as tight as could be imagined, I really didn't feel particularly nervous. During Papelbon's aforementioned rocky 8th inning, with the Angels speeding around the bases undeterred in the least by the Sox' defense, I felt like it was preordained that the Sox' closer would get out unscathed. And when he finally struck out the game but overmatched Chone Figgins, I did give a little fist pump, but it was almost as if to say, "Yep. Had it the whole time."

Whit thinks the nerves will come in the ALCS, if the Sox get there, but I'm not so sure. This team, unlike 2004's version, seems to thrive on calm. They don't panic, don't get too high or too low - ever - so why should I, then? Terry Francona might finally be getting through to me.

Oh, and that last sentiment is subject to rapid and irrational revision at any moment. But you already knew that.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Highwaymen

American League Division Series – Game 1

Red Sox 4, Angels 0
Red Sox lead, 1-0

Wow. Not a whole lot of fancy language needed to describe this one. The Sox got a whole lot of Josh Beckett, and a couple of fine defensive plays. Youks and Papi homered, and the Sox had enough offense by the 3rd inning to make this one of the least dramatic postseason wins I can recall.

Beckett allowed a leadoff single to Chone Figgins, and then set down the next 19 batters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 consecutive Angels. His 2-seam fastball was unhittable, especially where he located it. His curveball was just mean. And his mound demeanor revealed nothing so much as disdain for the Angels’ batters. It was a textbook, make-a-copy-and-show-the-kids performance by an ace.

It was such a tidy effort by the Sox that I never had time to break into lunatic, knee-bouncing, spasms of nervous anticipation. Almost didn’t feel like the playoffs.

I’m quite sure Daisuke Matsuzaka will change that on Friday night.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

John Fogerty

Games 161 & 162 – Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Twins 4
Twins 3, Red Sox 2
Record: 96-66
American League East Champions

Time to open some windows and get rid of the funky smell in this place. While the final week of the Mets’ season certainly cast a pall over our little blog, one of our two teams still has some ball left and targets to hit. And even as I’m disappointed that my pal has nothing left to write about, I’m still looking forward to the Sox’ playoff opener this evening.

I’ve been reviewing my pre-playoff postings from 2004, trying to compare my feelings across three years, and I’m struck by the difference. In 2004, as the legendary Idiots began their playoff odyssey and Curt Schilling jumped headlong into the fracas with his “Why Not Us” post on the Sons of Sam Horn message board, I was a bundle of nervous energy before, during, and after each game of the postseason. Some of that had to do with the still-fresh memories of the devastating 2003 loss to the Yankees, and still more was directly related to the Sox’ then-real quasi-tragic history.

Today I find that my sense of anticipation is slightly diminished, though I’m quite certain that I’ll be a nail-chewing, superstition-following, curse-spewing mess when Josh Beckett throws the first pitch of the ALDS during dinner this evening. I’m able to compartmentalize the angst, at least on this postseason eve. Part of that owes to the Sox’ clinching the AL East title for the first time since 1995 – that accomplishment is meaningful, and serves as a little bit of a cushion against any postseason failure. A little bit of one. And let’s be sure about this: 2004 is still working its magic, sanding away the jagged edges on this once-lunatic psyche.

In the interest of full disclosure, though, should the Sox wind up facing the Yankees in the ALCS, I hold out no such hope for balanced rationality. Those bastards still scare the bejeezus out of me.

In terms of the Sox’ postseason chances, well, hell, I don’t know. The four AL playoff teams are separated by a total of two games over the entire season. They all have at least two starting pitchers with talent, big-game experience, or both. They all have solid to great bullpens. They can all score runs. They can all play defense, with the possible exception of the Yankees (who, it should be mentioned, can really score runs). It’s a crapshoot. I’d do no better at making a prediction than a team of trained monkeys.

Basically, then, I agree with this guy. The Sox have been highly proficient at just about every phase of the game in 2007, but they’ve not been dominant in any single one. They play very solid baseball, which worked out terrifically well over the regular season and gives them a chance in every game they’ll play in the postseason. They also have some exploitable weaknesses, especially against left-handed pitching. But at the end of the day, they’ve got as good a chance as anyone that’s left, and they’re still in the mix. I’d be willing to bet that my partner in this blog would take that 10 times out of 10.

In the interest of superstition, then, let’s roll the balls out and see what happens. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.