Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

Games 75 & 76 - Mets

Brewers 10, Mets 6
Brewers 6, Mets 3
Record: 37-39

So in the bottom of the 4th with the bases loaded -- loaded in part because Kelly fell down on a routine fly ball -- this kid hits one over Ahmad's head in left. Ahmad retrieves it and fires it to Tanner, who throws a one-hopper to the plate, one that hit Engelberg in the gut but somehow caromed over to the backstop, allowing the 3rd run to score. But then when Amanda picked up the loose ball, she hurled it down to Jimmy Feldman to try to get the hitter there . . . but alas, she whipped it into left field, so all four runs came around to score on the play. Suddenly it was Brewers 5, Bears 2.

The Mets fill the air with beautiful music these days . . . music like this!

Any time I feel like the Mets make a play where even on our old beer league softball team we'd be annoyed at the poor level of play and boneheadedness . . . well, I need to stop letting that feeling get to me, because it's happening over and over. Tonight's play, filed away with the other moronic gaffes of the season, are starting to form a recurring theme for Jerry Manuel's fleeting 2009 season.

Here's the problem: you might absolve Manuel from any responsibility for the team's losing record because of the extreme ridiculousness of the injury situation. And you might not be wrong in doing so. Somewhere, though, you have to wonder why players like Ryan Church, Luis Castillo, Johan Santana, and other high-priced veterans keep making rookie blunders.

You have to look at uncannily bad defense.
And putrid baserunning mistakes.
Giving games away over and over and over again.

And you have to wonder if Omar Minaya places the blame on Jerry's shoulders the way he did last season when Willie's boys were engaging in similarly dysfunctional behaviors. And if there will be any consistency the way you want consistent treatment from GM's, managers, umpires, and parents (but not bartenders). And even if eventually the crosshairs will leave the manager's visage for something more . . . General.

For now, though, Willie's in the other dugout smiling. Actually, when FSN Wisconsin interviewed him the inning after the T-ball home run, Willie Randolph was laughing out loud. Saying the right things, but actually laughing. And he has every right to be.

[Of course, for all the Mets have shamefully done this season, they still have haven't done what the Red Sox did tonight. Not yet at least.]

No Time

6/3/09 - Phillies

39 wins, 34 losses - 1st place (by default) by 2.5 games over the Florida Marlins

I changed the format a little here because there was no damn way I was going to research the scores of every single game since I last posted. I suspect it was about 20 games ago or so and the Phils probably only won 6 of them. Perhaps if they'd won 14 of them, I'd be a little more industrious. I am afraid the combination of the cathartic 2008 season with the case study in mediocrity this year have left me completely uninspired.

Sooooooo with that being said, I think I will take the easy way out given my lack of inspiration and just treat the reader to what I like to call a "Larry King" post.

  • I hate interleague play. The only thing separating the Phillies from playing .600 baseball since opening day 2008 is interleague play. Their intraleague winning percentage is .599. It drops to .557 when you factor in their dismal 10 and 23 record vs. the Junior Circuit. I hate interleague play.

  • Whitney will forgive me for complaining about injuries but when you consider just how decimated the Mets have been this season, it's too bad the Phillies lost Myers for the season and his replacement Anotonio Bastardo as well as Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez and Scott Eyre for the better part of June. The Mets have gone 9-17 in the month of June. Despite having much better luck with the injury bug, the Phillies have underachieved to the tune of 11 wins and 14 losses. Yet they have actually picked up 2.5 games on the Mets! Can you imagine if the Phils won 14? 5.5 games going into July is a lot nicer than 2.5. Granted, that's a glass half empty approach. Sorry Whitney.

  • How can a team be in first place with a lead off man whose OBP is .254 and a rotation that has only produced 34 quality starts with a bullpen that has blown 9 saves that I can count? Easy, its the NL lEast.

  • The Phillies are 13 and 22 at home. Quite miraculously, they sport a MLB best 26-12 road record.

  • On June 30, 2008, the Phils were 5 games above .500 and .5 games ahead of the Marlins, 3.5 ahead of New York.

See you all in about three weeks.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Would You Say

Games 60 through 74 - Mets

Mets 6, Yankees 2
Yankees 15, Mets 0
Mets 6, Orioles 4
Orioles 6, Mets 4
Orioles 5, Mets 4
Mets 5, Rays 3
Rays 3, Mets 1
Rays 10, Mets 6
Mets 6, Cardinals 4
Cardinals 3, Mets 0
Mets 11, Cardinals 0
Mets 3, Cardinals 2
Yankees 9, Mets 1
Yankees 5, Mets 0
Yankees 4, Mets 2
Record: 37-37

I don't know what's more disappointing in the text above, that the Mets have slipped to .500 or that I haven't weighed in in 15 games. The Mets have done plenty to chase their fans away, but we're still watching. I'm still tuning in and pulling for them on a nearly-nightly basis. It's getting harder to justify it, but I'm still here.

I just have less to say about it.

The injury-plagued lost season is the toughest on a guy like me. For although the '03/'04 seasons were misery at its nadir, the sarcasm and raggery were fun sidelights for me. Being able -- obligated, even -- to come up with new and creative ways to explain Robby Alomar's putrid plummet into doldrumville kept me going.

With the majority of the (supposedly contending) Opening Day roster dwelling on the DL for the better part of the season, what's left for us? Those tiny, fleeting glimmers of optimism when youngsters or retreads catch a little fire . . . only to fall back to earth. The notion that some potential unsung heroes are going to get some serious AB's . . . only to see that potential discarded. The tantalizingly mediocre division, keeping the concept of "still in this thing" floating around in our collective head . . . only to watch the Mets face a stalwart opponent and get swept, cast aside like (g)nats on a sweaty June afternoon. Delusion and disappointment are fishing buddies in this summer of our discontent.

So why do I continue to tune in? Well . . . what the hell else am I gonna do?

And I mean that in two ways. One, what other activity would fill my evenings of the next few months? Trust me, I'm not turning away attractive offers of any kind. I also mean it in a less Rodney Dangerfield way: as in, what am I supposed to do, give up and quit on this team? I haven't seen this team -- this collection of not-ready-for-prime-time players, this assortment of overachieving understudies, this batch of Mets-for-now with nothing to lose -- give up yet, so I have no business packing it in.

Fair weather fans have been leaving Mets Township in droves for years now. From the crappenstance of the early part of this decade to the heartbreak and collapses of recent years to the ridiculous parade of injuries this year, there's been a great deal of trimming the fat from the Metwagon. A few other fan bases could use such an era, though they aren't likely to any time soon. As for the Township, we're lean and mean and ready to bask in the revelry of something significant.

For now, though, we'll just wade along in this muck and hope some guys heal quickly.


Games 73 through 75 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Braves 1
Red Sox 1, Braves 0
Braves 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 46-29

The Red Sox scored 6 runs in 3 games this weekend. And won 2 of them. I can't be but so upset with their current 'win 2 of every 3' strategy.

In their last 10 games, the Sox have plated 38 runs, but 7 of those came in 2 innings against the Nationals' bullpen. Remove those gold-plated gimmies and the Sox' offensive struggles come into sharper resolution. And yet, in the immortal words of someone or other, it's baseball. In the course of any 162-game season every function will struggle to some degree. The season's final tally testifies to a team's ability to overcome those challenges. And the Sox are 6-4 over the 10 games in question. I hate to be all blandly complacent - it's certainly not a common personality trait - but my dominant emotion regarding the Sox at the moment is confidence. This too, I suspect, shall pass.

Now, the Mets, on the other hand...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Human Nature

Games 71 & 72 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Nationals 4
Nationals 9, Red Sox 3
Record: 44-28

I took my first trip to Nationals Park last night, arriving an hour before gametime in hopes of checking out the joint. (My traveling partner gave an alternative meaning to that last phrase.) By the time Jordan Zimmermann threw the first pitch of last night's game, I'd toured the ballpark extensively, devoured a half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl (all the way, with onions, chili, and cheese), had a Wild Goose Amber, cheered with my fellow Sox fans as John Smoltz made his way to the bullpen to begin his warmup, and read the news of Michael Jackson's death.

The highlight of the evening, by large measure, was the half-smoke. It was, without question, the single best ballpark food item I've ever eaten. For those unfamiliar with our region's only culinary claim to fame, picture a cross between a hot dog and an italian sausage, perfectly spiced, grilled to a crisp char, slightly split, with melted cheese atop mustard and onions. I'm salivating all over again.

Nationals Park itself is a well-designed, open (and massive) modern yard. It's got a ton of well-placed and easy to reach concessions and good to great sightlines. It's also got absolutely zero soul.

The crowd, as expected, was overwhelmingly pro-Sox, though the Nats fans in our section were enthusiastic in their support for the hometown 9. I could spend a few words on the pair of drunken douchemonkeys who ramped up their 'Red Sox suck' chorus as the game got out of hand, but that'd be wasting effort on dipshits of the highest order. Fortunately, they were a notable exception to the generally extremely accomodating home folks.

As for the ballgame, Dustin Pedroia's 3-pitch strikeout to open things fairly well encapsulated the Sox' ineptitude. Let's hope that the John Smoltz we saw last night was the beta version, because 4 earned in the first inning against the Nats really wasn't the debut we were looking for.

The final high point of the night was Teejay's splendid navigation away from the ballpark (and the madding crowds) and into the Arlington evening. Park to his house in 20 minutes via Capitol Hill. Paul Revere wishes he traveled with such alacrity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Accident Waiting to Happen

Games 67 through 70 - Red Sox

Braves 8, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 3, Braves 0
Red Sox 6, Braves 5
Red Sox 11, Nationals 3
Record: 43-27

The Red Sox keep on keeping on, mixing a terrific start by Josh Beckett, some luck and a Nick Green walk-off, and some more luck and a bad Nationals bullpen into a tidy little 3-game winning streak. But we come here not to praise the Bostons. Rather, we come to this place today to bash our local team. More to the point, to hammer their management.

Dan Steinberg brings word this morning of the Nationals' ownership generating revenue by selling Red Sox merchandise at Nationals Park, the first time the Nats' have sold visiting team gear. In the abstract capitalist sense, I have no particular problem with this: professional sports franchises exist to make profits, and plenty of professional clubs sell their opponents' apparel. Were I a Nationals fan, though, in the midst of a dreadful season and already questioning the priorities of my team's ownership, the timing and symbolism of this decision would have me sputtering.

The Nats have done everything short of erecting a 37-foot wall in leftfield to make Red Sox fans feel at home in Washington this week. And as a Sox fan, I guess I appreciate it. As a baseball fan, a lover of competition, and someone who hopes that the Washington franchise succeeds, I think it sucks. It's one more off note in a series of tone deaf managerial moves by Team Lerner. The Nats have exacerbated their abysmal talent evaluation and development with an Angelosian mangling of their relationship with the community, failing abjectly in their stewardship of the public trust required to build a loyal (read: repeat customers) fanbase. It's no mystery that last night's game marked the largest attendance in the history of Washington's new stadium. Locals are tuning the team out in droves, and that's a shame.

I'll be attending Thursday's Sox/Nats game with TJ, and looking forward to seeing John Smoltz' debut for the Olde Towne team. I'm also eager to experience Nationals Park for the first time. Shame it's gonna feel like Fenway.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Big Hard Sun

Game 66 - Red Sox

Marlins 2, Red Sox 1 (5)
Record: 40-26


Can't win 'em all. And even if this one went the distance, the way Sox bats were flopping around like so many, um, fish against Ricky Nolasco, there's a better than even shot that the result would've been the same.

Bullpen gets rested. Bring on the Braves.

I'll be seeing the rest of the MLC staff later this afternoon. Hopefully I'll be able to put to bed the rumors that they've all retired from baseball fandom and started a Major League Soccer blog.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Arm Me With Harmony

Games 64 & 65 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Marlins 2
Red Sox 6, Marlins 1
Record: 40-25

I suppose it's a telltale sign that things in Soxland are heading in a positive direction when the biggest gripe I can muster is about Terry Francona using 5 pitchers in a 6-1 win. Or about Jacoby Ellsbury committing the first error of his career to lead to the Marlins' only run. Or, I guess, about the fact that the Sox will soon be testing the old adage about too much pitching.

After much hue and cry about the Sox' rotation over the first two months of the season, the starters have turned in an 8-3 3.25 mark over June's first 2 1/2 weeks, with a 1.19 WHIP and 83 Ks in 85 2/3 innings. (All the better if you remove Daisuke Matsuzaka's 6.14 ERA and 1.84 WHIP.) Monday brought news that John Smoltz will be making his Red Sox debut a week from today against the Nationals (coincidentally, MLC correspondents will be in attendance). Meanwhile, Clay Buchholz is dominating the International League to the tune of 5-0, 1.90 with a 0.83 WHIP.

You think we could convince Matsuzaka to pull a Rodney Dangerfield, "Oh! My arm!"?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Voices Carry

Games 61 through 63 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Phillies 2 (13)
Red Sox 11, Phillies 6
Phillies 11, Red Sox 6
Record: 38-25

Seems like only last week I was lauding Josh Beckett's recent run in this space. Ah, to be young and carefree again. Oh. It was only last week. The Curse of the Premature Utterance by MLC Know-Nothings struck again, as Beckett gave back a 4-1 lead, ultimately allowing 6 earned runs and taking the loss on Sunday afternoon.

We will not, then, be saying anything...anything...about Jon Lester.

Dispensing with the introductory, then, I'm really not all that upset with yesterday's result. Would've been nice to sweep yet another fellow MLCer, sure, but the Sox still took 2 of 3 on the road against a good team. In fact, the Sox' last 4 series were contested against teams that led their divisions at the time the series began (Tigers, Rangers, Yankees, Phillies). Boston's record in that span: a cool 9-3.

As a reward, the Sox don't play another team with a winning record (as of today) until they head to Toronto on July 17. That's a span of 25 games. And baseball being what it is and me being who I am, I fully expect them to go 10-15.

That, boys and girls, is what's known as a hedge.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

One Drop

Games 57 through 59 - Mets

Phillies 5, Mets 4 (11)
Phillies 6, Mets 3 (10)
Yankees 9, Mets 8
Record: 31-28

Does this kind of crap happen to other teams? Doesn't it seem like it only happens to the Mets?

Just when the thoughts of Ryan Church missing third began to fade away, another T-ball Special by the Mets invades the highlight films and blooper reels. Luis Castillo single-handedly (bitter pun intended) lost the game against the loathsome Yankees last night, dropping the would-be game-ending pop-up.

It was much worse than any words here could describe it. Think Buckner. Durham. Timmy Lupus. Jackie Smith. Robin Williams in The Best of Times. Chevy Chase, Jerry Lewis, TJ in right field after too much pregame in the parking lot. Hideous.

And so the Mets continue to defy the "just one game" philosophy. These kinds of losses have carry-over, and enough of them are making everyone see this team as cursed, crappy, or at the very least critically lacking in concentration.

It's obviously not just Luis Castillo's embarrassing drop. (Though there are few forums worse for that to have happened than Yankee Stadium. Poor guy.)

Or Church's gaffe at 3rd. (Memo to Jerry Manuel: your staunch support of Castillo for a very bad mistake is great; it just stands in stark contrast to the near-mockery you gave Church after his mistake. Way to be a dick who plays favorites.)

Let's remember that Carlos Delgado -- yes, he played this season -- dropped an even easier pop-up in the 9th inning a couple of months ago, but he was lucky enough to dodge the heat when the Mets held on for the win.

Let's remember the easy drops by our outfielders -- almost every regular out there has dropped a ball that led to a run, runs, or even a loss. It keeps happening.

D-W, for all of the incredible hitting he's been giving us -- and it's been awesome -- has made some severely costly errors of his own. We don't have to even get into Ramon Martinez; while he had so many muffs and boots they started calling him "Ugg," he's not the caliber of player from whom we expect strong play. And by "strong play" we mean "adequate fielding that most AA fielders can muster."

So what's the problem? Can you accurately point the finger at Jerry Manuel? Or is it Omar Minaya's fault? Or, and it pains me to say this cockamamie theory is gaining more credence, is it the Curse of the Wilpons? Are we destined to see our team wallow in miserable mediocrity, title-less unless you count "Kings of the Dipshits" for as long as this brain trust owns and operates it?

I don't know. I only know that my first question in this post was answered last night after the Mets game. Highlights from around the league included a bone-headed play by Milton Bradley who threw the ball into the stands with two outs -- costing the Cubs, who lost the game. So yes, these asinine things do happen to at least one other team: The Chicago Cubs. That's the comparison . . . the team cursed (or at least crappy) since 1908. Sweet.

Buckle up, Township. It could be a rough ride.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sweet Caroline

Game 60 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Yankees 3
Record: 36-24

On the one hand, the logical, measured hand, the Sox have 102 games to play and are up only 2 games on a talented Yankee squad. And Teejay got a silver lining last night, belatedly realizing that he gets the MLB Network.

On the other hand, suck on 8 in a row, Yankees!

I was perfectly prepared to let this one go after the Yanks scored 3 off Manny Delcarmen in the top of the 7th to ruin Brad Penny's 6-inning shutout effort. Even when Hideki Okajima danced out of trouble in the 8th, I didn't get my hopes up. I mean, how many times in a row can a team beat its evenly-matched arch-rival (the answer, in case you were wondering, is at least 8). Frankly, after Nick Green managed to reach against a tiring C.C. Sabathia to open the bottom of the 8th, I still found reasons to argue that the Sox' luck had run out.

But then Dustin Pedroia worked the tiring C.C. like a one-armed paperhanger, fouling off a brace of offerings and working a walk. And I began to get my hopes up. Yanks manager Joe Girardi tried to get one more batter out of Sabathia and J.D. Drew punished him for his insolence, ripping a single to score Green. Cue the soft underbelly of the Yanks' bullpen and my cast-iron belief that the Sox were going ahead. A soft single by Kevin Youkilis, a harder single by Jason Bay and a sacrifice fly from Mike Lowell later and the good guys led, 4-3.

Jonathan Papelbon quickly hushed the whispers of those who've been questioning his efficiency (cough, ahem) by setting down the Yanks 2-4 hitters with nary a stern objection. And all of Manhattan got real quiet.

I could get used to this. I won't, but I could.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

For Your Eyes Only

Game 59 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Yankees 5
Record: 35-24

Owing to a combination of work-related issues and old-friend-related gatherings, I've witnessed a grand total of 0.2 innings of this week's Sox/Yanks series. The elevated heart rate, exasperated sighs, and eventual fist-pump-induced ribcage strain testify to the fact that those are 0.2 innings too many this early in the season.

In fact, I returned home last night just in time to turn on the television and watch Jonathan Papelbon walk Alex Rodriguez with 1 out in the top of the 9th. I'd listened to the 7th and 8th innings on the radio, tuning in precisely in time to hear Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira go back-to-back off of the heretofore untouchable Ramon Ramirez and then white-knuckle the steering wheel as Takashi Saito gave up a leadoff walk in the top of the 8th before retiring Jeter and Damon with the tying run on second.

Papelbon whiffed Robbie Cano and got Peanut Head to fly to Jason Bay on the warning track to end the game, but only after Dustin Pedroia made a phenomenal play to keep the tying run on second in the top of the 9th. George Kottaras' throw got away from Nick Green as Alejandro Pena stole second. Green got a glove on the ball, deflecting it towards right-center - in the opposite direction of Pedroia's momentum. Petey flung himself back towards the ball, flagging it with his glove as he spun in midair, and keeping Pena glued to the bag. That ball skitters away and the Yanks have the tying run on 3rd with 1 out. Whole new ballgame.

That little thing from the Sox' littlest player is emblematic of the Sox/Yanks season to date. The Sox are getting all the breaks, and making all the seemingly insignificant plays that make the difference. Baseball's got a way of evening these things out, especially between teams that are equals. But that sure as heck doesn't stop me from enjoying the ever-loving bejesus out of the current situation.

And fortunately, I've got a previous engagement tonight, so there's little chance that I see tonight's game. Which is for the best.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nasty Boys

Game 58 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Yankees 0
Record: 34-24

As the erstwhile Ebby Calvin continues to surge, it's only fitting that we use the words of the great Annie Savoy to describe the work of Josh Beckett and the Boston bullpen last night. "Oh, my", indeed. (Where's my Strunk & White? How the hell do you properly punctuate that quotation?)

Beckett gave up a single infield hit and struck out 8 in 6 innings before giving way to Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and Daniel Bard. The relievers combined to allow 1 more hit on the way to dealing the Yanks their first shutout of the season.

That makes 7 consecutive 'quality starts' for Beckett, and as useless as the stat is, his particular take on it has been downright nasty. In his last 5 outings, the Sox' top gun has allowed 3 earned runs and 14 hits in 35 2/3 innings, fanning 35 and walking 12 in the same span. While math isn't my strong suit, I'm pretty sure that's a 0.75 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP. Those are Greinkian numbers.

Papi seems to be a topic of some interest today at MLC, with Metboy offering a Roy Hobbs-style resurgence theory just below this text. I'm your huckleberry, Whit. The big fellow gave Beckett all the backing he needed last night, launching his first real back to the future, honest-to-God, did-you-see-that blast of the season. From your keyboard to...whereever they greenlight feel-good stories, Whit.

Wang/Wake this evening in the Fens, which is either a bad porn title, rejected Viagra tag line, or an Irish lament of libido long gone. Me, I hope it's a reprise of the Yankee hurler's season to date.

Food for Thought

And a quick word on a small matter across the aisle. It's something I've been thinking about for a couple of weeks now, something sparked by the wealth of thoughts on the woes of one David Ortiz as chronicled and just about eulogized by folks in and out of New England. Folks in places from NESN to ESPN to MLC have lamented Big Papi's plight, and rightfully so. He has sucked. Sucked bad. And it has to be painful to see a guy who once carried this club to new heights with his performance and his spirit now apparently left bereft of both.

I'm not suggesting that the collective groans, head-shakes, and resignation of the Nation that Ortiz's days are numbered are completely ill-conceived. Nope, he may well fade quickly and ignominiously into the sunset with some steroid theories to grease the skids.

On the other hand . . .

Let's quickly consider the 2004 World Series championship. A cursory scan of our pages from that whole month -- and the months that followed -- remind a reader of the pure bliss and gleeful release that the '04 win triggered in our one in-house Sox fan. Similar reactions were featured everywhere from Newton to Newfoundland to New Mexico. And in 2005, South Siders everywhere rejoiced in an even longer (if less poetically heralded) drought coming to an end.

That level of joy was something you could not find in Miami after the 2004 World Series. While we were all glad the Yankees lost, seeing the Marlins win their 2nd World Series in their first decade or so of existence was impressive but not fodder for a movie, book, etc. It didn't tug heartstrings or even evoke a warm smile. It was simply another baseball result. Even the 2007 Red Sox win, while obviously enjoyed and remembered fondly, in no way whatsoever could compare to its predecessor three years prior. You had to have been a Sox fan in the valley for so long to appreciate the rise to the mountaintop in 2004. Staying atop those mountains -- impressive, not storybook.

So what David Ortiz has done for millions of Boston die-hards (and bandwagoners) has been to now set a stage where he can singularly bring a much smaller but still palpable version of that feelgood dramatic moment into a realm where another trophy would not. And he's really had to stink up the joint this bad to make this many people wallow in his own misery. He's looked worse than his stats. He seems oddly out of place on a baseball field. He makes fans almost wish he'd get hurt or retire so they didn't have to witness him in this condition.

But if he came come storming back, even for one glorious last hurrah, the bedlam in Beantown could resume. For Pete's sake, the guy's a 33-year-old (maybe) DH, this isn't out of the realm of possibility. Left for dead in May and June, the table is set for him to hit 10 dingers in August, a dozen more in September, and catapult the Sox into the postseason, blah blah blah . . . Imagine the rejoicing then.

So maybe let's hold off for just a little longer on the 21-gun salute and the Sox flag draped over his casket. I suppose the more maudlin Rob, Bill Simmons & Co are now, the greater the revelation will be down the road, but I'll be watching old Papi's box scores and I've got a feeling he's not dead yet. Stay tuned.

The next controversy will be when we discover he was tanking it for two months for dramatic effect . . .

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Games 52 through 56 - Mets

Pirates 11, Mets 6
Mets 3, Nationals 1 (10)
Nationals 7, Mets 1
Mets 7, Nationals 0
Mets 6, Phillies 5
Record: 31-25

When the Mets went down 4-3 on Jimmy Rollins' home run last night, I was irritated and unhappy, but I had to shake my head and smile. Just an inning before, I'd thunk to myself how much better it was that there is now an actual rivalry between the Mets and Phillies after four and a half decades of we're-good-you-suck and vice versa. (Mostly vice versa.) It feels right to loathe these division opponents, and it's exciting every single time they come to town.

When Rollins hit his tater -- and as much as I do like Jimmy Rollins, what we don't need is him jump-starting his season thanks to Met pitching, Johan -- that prior notion came into question. What I really want is a Mets title, and let the competitive rivalry be damned.

. . . Except that in baseball, it has to be more about the journey than the destination, right? Six months of watching, following, (sometimes) blogging, culminating in one winner and 31 losers. Gotta be more to a season than whether you win the World Series. Even Yankees fans have had to learn that lesson. And the mini-dramas that dot the season are what keep us entertained. Mets-Phils is a big part of that for the past few years.

Over on the other side of the MLC aisle, it's a battle to diminish the media-driven melodrama when the Sox and Yanks square off. There's such hype that perspective and eyeing the long road ahead are advised by the sage fans. Where's the fun in that? While every battle doesn't have to be World War III and you can temper the long-term consequences of every individual game won or lost with the understanding of the 162-game season, go ahead and revel in the animosity, tension, and elevated excitement of playing an age-old nemesis.

Last night was a great example of the Mets and Phillies taking it up a notch in a crucial-for-June kind of series. Back and forth, close all the way, one-run game. Seven home runs in a pitchers' park (by order-meat Rollins, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Wright, Beltran, and Church). Frankie Rodriguez shutting the door on a dangerous PHL lineup.

It's great baseball to watch, and I would have said this even if it had concluded the other way. Woulda been pissed, but still would've appreciated it.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Games 55 through 57 - Red Sox

Rangers 5, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 8, Rangers 1
Rangers 6, Red Sox 3
Record: 33-24

Celebrating my favorite Texas musicians, headline-style, on the day after the Rangers won their first series against the Sox since 1997. Not first series in Fenway, first series anywhere. Guess we'll file this one in the 'Can't Win 'em All' folder and move on.

Jon Lester was the bright spot, whiffing 11 in a complete-game win on Saturday. That's 23 K's, 2 ER and 5 hits in the last 15 innings for the young lefty, who's finally showing why any number of observers expected him to challenge for the Cy Young this season. Lester toyed with the second no-hitter of his career, holding the Rangers hitless into the 7th inning.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, on the other hand, has done the impossible. The vexing righty is now officially harder to watch than Tim Wakefield, rendering 40% of the Sox' rotation Must-Cover-Your-Eyes TV. Matsuzaka played against type yesterday, not allowing a single walk in his 5 2/3 innings. Instead, he gave up 10 hits to account for the 5 earned runs he gave the Rangers. Kudos on the creativity, Daisuke-san. Maybe next outing we can keep both the hits and the walks down. Just don't ask me to follow along.

Three in the Bronx this week with first place in the AL East at stake. That sound you hear is the hype machine's early-warning test siren. I suppose it's too much to ask for the Sox to continue to be perfect against the Yankees in 2009. Although I do have a birthday happening one of these days.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Movin' Right Along

Games 53 & 54 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Tigers 5
Red Sox 6, Tigers 3
Record: 32-22

Little bit of everything for the discerning baseball fan over the last few days, as the Sox dispatched the Central-leading Tigers on the strength of timely offense, a little bit of luck, and gritty starting pitching. Toss in an injury to Kevin Youkilis and an ejection to mild-mannered Mike Lowell, a 2-run double by Papi (!) and a concerted effort to keep the Tiger faithful interested with some indifferent defense and daredevil relief efforts and we had the full buffet. I'll thank the Sox kindly to keep their knees on the throats of their defeated opponents from here forward.

And so we find ourselves at the 1/3 pole, which is like the 1/4 pole, only curvier. My attention deficit issues are more pronounced this season than most, with a renewed interest in the NBA and a particularly compelling series of Good Eats episodes distracting me somewhat. Nonetheless, I can't help feeling fairly good about the fact that the Sox have had mediocre starting pitching, dreadful defense from the shortstop position (Nick Green has 9 errors in 30+ games and Julio Lugo is Julio Lugo), pitcher-like production from the DH spot, and below-average production out of erstwhile leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury and still find themselves tied for first.

The much-mentioned work from the bullpen and the offensive contributions of Jason Bay (and his 53 RBI in 54 games), Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Varitek(!) are the foundation for the Sox' 96-win pace. The fact that most of those things should continue (obvious exception noted and not discussed) and the starting pitching has to get better and indeed has already begun to do so is the cause for optimism.

Which brings us (briefly, because I'm as tired of writing about it as you are of reading it) to the vexing DH issue. ESPN's Buster Olney postulated a Manny Delcarmen for Nick Johnson trade as a solution. Put me in the 'no thanks' column, please. Johnson's a solid ballplayer and an OBP machine, but his introduction into the Sox' mix (like Chex Mix, but smellier and without the crunch) creates more problems in my mind than it solves while simultaneously weakening the team's greatest strength. On any given day, and on every given day, Terry Francona would need to figure out who to sit among Johnson, Ortiz, Youkilis, and Mike Lowell, four guys used to being in the lineup. Unless you convince Ortiz that he's 'injured', you create a potential clubhouse problem.

Papi's shown signs of being able to contribute over the past few days. My solution is to ignore the problem until it goes away. If it doesn't go away, it was too big to solve in the first place, and the Sox pursue options while shelving the big fella for a significant period. I don't expect him to return to past glories, but if he posted even an .800 OPS for the rest of the way, the incremental improvement would make the Sox' offense lethal. And that's not too much to ask.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?

Games 38 through 51 - Phillies

Reds 5, Phils 1
Phils 12, Reds 5
PHILS 7, yanks 3
yanks 5, Phils 4
PHILS 4, yanks 3
Marlins 5, Phils 3
Phils 5, Marlins 3
Marlins 6, Phils 2
Phils 5, Nats 4
Phils 9, Nats 2
Phils 4, Nats 2
Phils 5, Padres 3
Phils 10, Padres 5
Phils 5, Padres 1

Record 31 wins, 20 losses

It's amazing how much changes when you go two weeks between posts. We are 51 games in now and we have witnessed the demise and revival of the dead man walking Jamie Moyer. It seems Lazarus still has some tricks left in the bag. Granted picking the Nats to get win #250 was a bit unfair of Jamie but he did shut them down pretty effectively and this is not your little brother's Nats offense these days. Well done Jamie.

Joe Blanton has had two straight solid outings after having a horrid 6 weeks to open the season. Brett Myers undergoes hip surgery today. Unlike Chase Utley and A-Rod, he won't be back in 2009. Myers was the Phils most consistent pitcher since opening day and hadn't missed a start. This injury came on the heels of the demotion of Chan Ho Park to the pen in favor of J.A. Happ. No matter. Happ has performed admirably and young lefty Antonio Bastardo made his way down the Schuylkill Expressway in time to catch a flight to San Diego where he pitched a helluva game against the Padres in the place of Myers

That makes this a very interesting time for the Phils and its quite frankly uncharted territory for their phans. Just 3 weeks ago, only Cole Hamels and Bret Myers could be counted on to pitch into the sixth without imploding. Blanton, Park and Moyer were plain awful. The move of Park was a desperate one. At the time, the Phils believed they were simply trading one problem for another as it was largely unknown if anyone in the organization could step up. Then Myers went down. During all this, the Phils have miraculously gotten 11 quality starts in the 15 games. As mentioned, Blanton has improved, Happ stepped up and Bastardo in his first start showed tremendous promise. Instead of having to make a desperate move to acquire pitching, the Phils have a bit of breathing room. That breathing room will no doubt change their approach to their discussions with the teams that are looking to trade their front line starters.

The Phils have two shiny position player prospects in Lou Marson and Jason Donald. They also have a handful of young pitching prospects led by Hector Carasco and Kyle Drabek. It appeared that whomever the Phils dealt with, at least 1/2 of that group would be surrendered. If Happ and Bastardo can keep their heads above water and if Hamels, Moyer and Blanton can stay on track, the dynamics will work in the Phils favor.

After losing Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen for a bag of shit and a pile of rocks earlier this decade, the Phillies are actually window shopping with the big boys. Funny what a great farm system, home grown stars, a World Championship and a shiny new park that sells out every night will do for you, eh?

If only we knew that 15 years ago!

Let It Rain

Games 45 through 51 - Mets

Mets 2, Marlins 1 (11)
Marlins 7, Mets 3
Mets 3, Marlins 2
Pirates 8, Mets 5
Pirates 3, Mets 1
Record: 28-23

Somehow we're into June already. The All-Star Break is a month away, and teams are starting to make deals. Skippers are getting canned. Things are getting shaken up. Some teams have already punted on 2009, either eliminated realistically (Rockies, A's, D-backs) or mathematically (Nationals). The season has taken shape, but the 2009 New York Mets really haven't.

The Braves are getting aggressive, dumping Tom Glavine and picking up Nate McLouth (last seen making Jerry Manuel look like a moron in Pittsburgh). The Phillies are on their haunches, glad to be getting PED-erast J.C. Romero back after a 50-game but eager to replace injured RHPOS Brett Myers in the rotation. Please, GM's, if you could avoid sending a Peavy/Oswalt/Bedard their way, we'd be much obliged.

Meanwhile, Omar Minaya sits back in his easy chair, strikes his best Norman Dale pose, and quips, "My team's on the field." (On the field in Port St. Lucie, it's presumed.)

This series against the Bucs seems to be where the uncanny spate of injuries finally has taken the Mets down. You can't really blame every bit of their shabby performance on injuries, of course; Castillo, Wright, and Sheffield going 2-for-22 in the series has little to do with the continued parade of pulls, tweaks, tears, tendinitis, sprains, strains, soreness, bruises, barfing, and going down the road feeling bad. It's unrelated unless, of course, you consider the gradual malaise setting in on this team from a new lineup every night, no off-days, and lingering questions riddling the Mets. But you're professionals, fellas, and we're just 50 games in. Buck up. Be better.

Last night the Mets had a much-welcomed rain-out; we'll take it. This is supposed to be the easy part of the schedule, so get out there this afternoon and take one from the mighty Pirates. Omar doesn't seem to be about to make the blockbuster, so deal with the injuries best you can and fight through it. Our team's on the field.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Games 51 & 52 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 2
Red Sox 5, Tigers 1
Record: 30-22

Games of inches writ large over the past two days, as Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka take baby steps and Jonathan Papelbon escapes his self-made troubles by a whisker.

Lester struck out 12 while allowing a single run in 6 innings in Toronto on Sunday as the Sox salvaged a lone win against the Jays. Last night, Daisuke needed 96 pitches to get through 5 innings in Detroit, but his line showed only a lone scratch by the Tigers in that time. Like I said, baby steps.

Meanwhile, the Sox' bullpen keeps stepping into the breach, with 7 innings, 1 run, 5 hits of metronomic consistency over the past 2 games. If I may torture an analogy here, the Sox' pen is like good jazz combo, with different instruments combining to create a uniquely polished sound. Extending this analogy to a completely ridiculous breaking point, Jonathan Papelbon becomes Animal, of Muppet fame. The rest of the pen keeps the beat, dropping an improv here and there, but otherwise playing sweet music. Papelbon/Animal stays with the story for a few bars, but in the end can't help himself, flying loose on and off the field, roaring and howling, and creating a chaos that makes even the hardiest of fans clutch his chest in cardiac concern.

Case in point, Animal's 9th-inning outing last night, when he allowed 3 consecutive singles to begin the frame before whiffing the next 3 batters to preserve the win. Nice and tidy, just like Fozzy drew it up.

Kevin Youkilis, he's clearly Cookie Monster.