Posted on: June 16, 2011 2:00 am

Great Day in Boston!

What a fantastic day for sports fans in New England. The Boston Bruins have won Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in 39 years. I wasn't alive the last time it was won with Bobby Orr's team. The Bruins were way out in Vancouver hoping to break the string of six consecutive games won by the home team in the Stanley Cup Finals. They had played three close games in Vancouver along the way, and had blown out the Canucks in three games in the Fleet Center in Boston. They needed to play their game on the road and force Vancouver's hand--and did they ever.
Vancouver hasn't won the Stanley Cup in 41 years of existence, and it had been nearly 40 years since Boston had drunk from the Cup. Apparently Boston wanted it more. We all know that both teams were very talented. Sure, I'd argue vociferously that Boston had the best goaltender in modern hockey history--and I've got stats to prove it; he surpassed Dominik Hasek's save percentage with .938 for the year. He has also almost single-handedly kept Boston alive during the season and during the playoffs. Boston had terrible trouble scoring throughout the year on power plays, and had even worse trouble during the playoffs. If Thomas hadn't been standing on his head throughout the playoffs, the Bruins clearly would not have been there this long. Without him, they wouldn't have made it to the playoffs. We remember what Tuka Rask was able to do last year for the Bruins, but Tim Thomas has reclaimed the reins and made this team his. And he carried them throughout the season and the playoffs.
All this defense from the hard-checking Bruins, and across the ice are the Canucks with their speedy skaters, and the two previous years' scoring leaders in the Sedin brothers. They skated with a finesse that Bruins fans sneer at--it's not hockey the way they are used to it. Hell, it's not even what they want to see on the basketball court. Boston likes their teams to be tough. Boston had no use for Sergei Federov back in the 1990's when I used to keep up with hockey a whole lot more than I do now. Sure, Federov was fast, had amazing skill with the puck, but how did he fare when he met someone from the other team in the corners? The Sedin brothers seemed to be scared to go into the corners against the Bruins. In fact, they seemed almost invisible this whole finals. I believe they scored three goals between them, and it was game six before one of them scored his first goal of the series. Soft players disappear in clutch situations--the Bruins proved that tonight and throughout this series.
This series certainly was entertaining. It was dramatic, and it had unique story lines to keep us rapt. Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron in game one of the Finals. We expected a suspension, but the league couldn't see conclusively what everyone else in America could. One would think that they could have checked Bergeron's finger for conclusive evidence. Regardless, the Bruins tried to get him to bite some more fingers in game two; he must have found that he didn't like the taste of human flesh (no worries with him joining a cannibalistic tribe) because after one bite, he refused to open his mouth for another serving. The league office didn't take too kindly to this, and issued a warning about taunting players by putting fingers toward their faces. In steps the fun police. Game three brought the loss of Nathan Horton via concussion doled out by Aaron Rowe. Thankfully, the league took into consideration the ferocity of the hit, and the Bruins valuable loss along with the fact that Rowe had hit Norton too late. Rowe was suspended for the final four games, and that suspension would carry over to next year if there were not four games more of the finals. Roberto Luongo obviously has very little confidence in his own game, so he complimented Tim Thomas. When kind words were not reciprocated, he felt slighted. I think Thomas learned from his mom what I learned from my mom (and hopefully you learned from your mom too) that if you don't have something nice to say, you keep your mouth shut. Is he not a good teammate? Do his own teammates not appreciate him enough? I'm sure Timmy couldn't hear enough times from his own teammates how much they appreciated that he was keeping them in games they had no business being in with their anemic offense. As for Luongo's performance, I'm keeping my mouth shut.
Finally, Daniel Sedin guaranteed a victory tonight in Vancouver. I think he should have been required to pass a concussion test in order to play after those comments. Brad Marchand must have hit him in the head harder than it looked like in the third period of game six. If you are going to guarantee a victory after such a pathetic performance in all three Boston games, and eking out victories by one goal in each of your home games, you are either trying to grab headlines with words because you know your game isn't getting them for you, or you are concussed.
Rumor has it that Tim Thomas would have won the Conn Smythe Award even if the Bruins had lost tonight. I initially thought that this was ludicrous. How could a guy from a losing team be the most valuable? This must have been a Boston beat writer. Quite a paradox isn't it? Tim Thomas was clearly the most valuable player on the ice. He single-handedly kept Boston alive and in games against the leagues best scoring team of the year. When they lost, it was by one goal. Even in the losses, his performances were off the charts. He stopped more shots in the Stanley Cup Finals than any other goaltender in the history of the game. His save percentage was .967--even higher than his league high of .938 for the regular season. Tim Thomas allowed eight goals over seven games to the league's highest scoring offense of the season. He consistently stopped far more shots than Roberto Luongo in each game. Tim Thomas will be in Las Vegas next week to win the Vezzina Trophy commemorating the best goaltender of the season. That's his case for, as for the case against: whom can you think of on the Vancouver Canucks stands out as having a fantastic series? Luongo had two shutouts from the net, but he played so poorly in their losses that he got pulled from two of the games, and probably should have been pulled from a third. His save percentage was atrocious. The Sedin brothers were nearly non-existent for the series.
Kudos to the Boston Bruins for winning the Stanley Cup after 39 years. Here's to all those years in between with great players coming and going. Cam Neely, Adam Oates, and Ray Bourque never won in Boston. Here's to Mark Recchi, at 43 years old, still playing after all these years. When I was in college, he played for the Philadelphia Flyers, and I always enjoyed watching him play. He was great then, and he's still a fantastic hockey player. It's so nice to see a guy go out on top, especially a class act like Recchi. Here's to Boston Bruins management, who stayed the course with Claude Julien even though he had suffered through situations that would have gotten a lot of coaches fired (case in point, the Flyers series of 09-10). To the fans--whether you just jumped on the bandwagon, or whether you've bled black and gold for years--for being there in the lean years, and sticking around long enough to see the Cup come back to the hub of hockey.
Posted on: May 17, 2011 2:18 am

Another Mother's Day Miracle

The Boston Red Sox again have won a game against Baltimore that should have been out of reach late in the game. It's not Mother's Day again, but it's the middle of May, so I'm willing to call it another Mother's Day Miracle. This one pales slightly in comparison, but it should definitely be a motivator for the players to continue to improve their play.
The players that were the same: Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek; Orioles: Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis. So, the names have mostly changed, with of course a few exceptions. What else is different? And what else is the same?

Both games happened at Fenway Park; I'm sure this helped the Sox as the crowd was definitely going to get behind any rally, and Sox fans are relentless and willing to give their team every opportunity to win a game. They will stick around as long as it takes until there are three outs in the bottom of the ninth. It's a passion that had earned them serious heartache for 86 years until they finally won the World Series in 2004.

Gary Cederstrom and Lance Barksdale were umpires at both games; Cederstrom was at home plate and Barksdale was at second base on May 13, 2007. Cederstrom was on second base and Barksdale was on third base on May 16, 2011.

Other than some of the players being the same, not much else can be said for similarities; even most of the players are at considerably different points in their careers than four years ago. The stars of the Red Sox and Orioles from four years ago are mostly gone, many due to retirement. David Ortiz is doing about as well as he was four years ago, but he is certainly declining as he gets older. Josh Beckett is still a star of the Red Sox pitching staff, but he lost his ace status to Jon Lester (as well as the opening day starter this year). Thankfully, his blister and finger issues have seemed to have gone away. During the game in 2007, he left the game because he had a skin tear on his finger. Kevin Youkilis was batting sixth and playing third and this year he is batting clean-up, but still playing third--though it's after a couple of years playing first. Jason Varitek was behind the plate for both games, but he is a significantly different hitter than he was four years ago. He's still a fantastic catcher and calls a great game, pitchers still love having him behind the plate, but he doesn't hit anywhere near as effectively as he did years ago. He did have a very important impact on both games though. His lines from both years are similar and impressive: (4AB, 1R, 1H, 2RBI) and (5AB, 1R, 2H, 2RBI). It was sweet to see him have a positive impact at the plate because it doesn't happen anywhere near as often as I would like to see it, but I still like the captain. Both of the other Sox players had positive impacts as well in both games.

The Orioles players that were involved in both games are at decidedly different stages in their careers also, but are amazingly enough still hitting in the same batting order that they were four years ago. Why is this amazing? Brian Roberts is still an okay second baseman, but he's hitting barely above the Mendoza line at .221 this year. Why would a team continue to hit a player that is struggling so badly at the top of the order? Even the Red Sox moved Carl Crawford down in the order after a very slow start. Crawford is in the prime of his career and has always been at or near the top of the order, but the Sox moved him down to sixth to allow him to see better pitches and to try to help him out of his funk. Markakis was just starting his career as a regular starter for the Orioles four years ago, and is now a foundation piece of their young team.

The weather was considerably different for this Miracle. Four years ago, the weather was sunny and a bit chilly at 58 degrees. This year it was raining and miserable and even colder at 48 degrees. Part of the temperature difference was the time of day. Four years ago it was a day game starting at 3:10 while tonight's game was a 7:10 start.

In 2007, Jeremy Guthrie had pitched an absolute gem against the Red Sox and he was taken out in the ninth inning. This ended up being a bad decision. Guthrie had allowed only three hits and one run. In less than an inning, that would become all for naught, as the bullpen would allow six runs in the ninth to lose the game. This year's game was also becoming a gem for the Orioles starter, as Chris Tillman had allowed zero runs after five innings. Buck Showalter removed him from the game because of stiffness in his back. Mike Gonzalez would quickly allow the Red Sox to get back in the game by allowing four runs in less than an inning. The Red Sox continued to chip away at the lead until they got the two runs they needed in the bottom of the ninth inning to win. Josh Beckett had to be removed from the game in 2007 because of an injury. This year, Terry Francona may have been better served to remove Daisuke Matsuzaka after his first inning scare where he was hit just above the belt with a line drive. He pitched terribly, giving up seven walks and five runs in less than five innings.

The Baltimore Orioles had a record of 18-20 following the Mother's Day Miracle of 2007. Right now they have a record of 19-21. The team has been mediocre for quite a few years, and their place in the standings has always been near the bottom, with the exceptions of early season when they have started out hot like this year.  The outcome of the game would have drastically different results for the standings for the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. In 2007, the Red Sox would have a 25-11 record to lead the division handily. Following this Mother's Day Miracle, the Red Sox have for the first time this year, gotten over .500. They are tied with Toronto for third in the division.

Games like this can allow a talented team like the Red Sox to flourish. Wins like this bring teammates closer together as they realize that their combined struggles can only be overcome by combining their talents. Adrian Gonzalez has been hitting as well, if not better, than expected this year, while players like Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford are finally starting to rebound from early season struggles. Wins like this will hopefully start the rest of the players toward better and continued success.

Posted on: April 20, 2011 5:54 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 9:52 am

Kansas City Here I Come

At the beginning of the 2008 baseball season, I was chatting with a couple of friends about how well I thought the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be. They looked at me with a sincere look of confusion. The Devil Rays had gone 66-96 the year before, how good could they be one year later? They finished in last place in the American League East, and still would have to play against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees nineteen times each. They went to the World Series that year, and my friends were more amazed day by day as they continued to be division front-runners and even more when they won the division.
I would like to think that this year's team that will do the same is the Kansas City Royals. They have similar recent history of being terrible. Add that to the the fact that Dayton Moore traded away the only true staff ace that Kansas City has had in years with Zack Greinke, and you have to wonder where this sentiment comes from. The Royals are in second in the American League Central division, trailing only the Cleveland Indians. I truly don't expect the Royals to have the same run as the Devil Rays did back in 2008. I think they have as much of a chance of making it to the World Series this year, as I have of being their opening game starter in that World Series. I do not believe they will win the AL Central, but I believe that they certainly could win that division and make it to the playoffs.
By trading away Zack Greinke, the staff ace, a guy that had won the American League Cy Young Award with them a couple of years previous, that they were again retooling for the future. They did get Alcides Escobar, who potentially has the tools to be a fantastic shortstop and alleviates the club of the woes that they had previous years between Yuniesky Betancourt and others at that position. Perhaps Moore was more aware than any of us would give him credit for. Escobar has been a refreshing surprise for the club. He still isn't a fantastic hitter, but that should improve and keep pace with his defense and baserunning ability.
Luke Hochevar has helped alleviate the loss of the staff ace. He was a first round draft pick from the 2006 draft, so perhaps it was a now-or-never situation to force him to take the reigns of the staff. He certainly has the talent, and with a few years of experience under his belt, he has been a stabling presence at the front of the rotation. His struggles will certainly show during the season as a young pitcher, but he has the talent. Joakim Soria may be the best closer in baseball. His strikeout numbers are fantasic, and he's about as unhittable otherwise as any reliever in baseball. The pressure on him the past couple of years has been immense, as the Royals don't typically get themselves into cushy 3-run save situations, but he has shown his dominant stuff at the end of games for three and a half years now. Jeff Francis may be the best free agent signing by a club this year. He brings an experience of winning that these young pitchers are unfamiliar with at the Major League level. Just a few years ago, he was a staff ace for the Colorado Rockies that went to the World Series. His presence may be exactly what this young staff needs to mentor them through this season. He along with Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies will support Hochevar in this rotation. Robinson Tejeda and Tim Collins have stuff nearly as nasty as Soria. They can sit down batters in the seventh and eighth innings to get Soria those save opportunities.
Billy Butler is hitting as well as he ever has. His plate patience is evident also, as he has an on-base percentage of .493 right now. He finally has some protection in the lineup this year. Alex Gordon has been as fantastic as all that hype about him said he should have been; it just took a few years longer than it was expected. If he can keep this pace up throughout the season, he would probably get some consideration in Most Valuable Player discussions. It's exciting to see him hitting for average and power, and showing more patience at the plate than previous years. Something must have clicked in the off-season, because he has broken out this year like a true superstar. Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera have brought that winning experience to the lineup that Francis brought to the rotation. Both are having solid hitting seasons along with Chris Getz and Wilson Betemit who may finally be realizing some of the potential that was expected when he was drafted years ago. If Kila Ka'aihue can bring his average up and continue to hit for power, the corner infield positions will make a positive impact in games. The catcher position seems the weakest with Matt Treanor, but if Jason Kendall can come back and produce like his normal self, that position will be fine.
Probably nobody expects the Kansas City Royals to seriously contend this year. I really like the team, and I certainly don't expect them to have the same level of success that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays did in 2008, but I am not counting them out of possibly making the playoffs. They have the fortune of playing in the AL Central, which is likely the best situation for this team. They don't have the talent that the Devil Rays had three seasons ago. The Chicago White Sox are a big-market team, and the Detroit Tigers have a history and a fanbase that will allow them to typically spend some money, but I would hardly call them a big-market team. Cleveland has struggled almost as mightily as the Royals, and the Twins may be in the worst situation that they have encountered in quite a few years with Mauer being on the DL already this year. The White Sox haven't done anything to warrant serious discussion about winning anything. The Tigers have some top-end talent, but I don't believe they have a truly competitive roster. Whoever wins the AL Central will be expected to be fodder in the first round of the playoffs. It will be a winner by default, as they will likely have a worse record than any other division winner and possibly the wildcard winner. For this reason, I'm not counting the Royals out.
Regardless of what happens, I am truly hoping that they can have success down the road based on the first signs of success this year. Tampa Bay has made themselves much more relevant for successive years since 2008. With any luck, the Royals can catapult themselves to competitive status. The Zack Greinke trade may have given them a couple of solid pieces to that puzzle; not only did they solidify the shortstop position for years to come, but they also got Lorenzo Cain in that trade along with pitching prospects Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Lorenzo Cain is another highly touted prospect that should keep the outfield well represented. I remember the days that George Brett used to man third base, and Bret Saberhagen was the staff ace for the Royals. It was a better time for baseball. Let's hope this is the platform season for us to return to a time that the Kansas City Royals are contenders again.
Posted on: April 13, 2011 3:45 pm

Dice is Plural for Die

That's what Matsuzaka seems to be doing out there on the mound when it's his turn in the rotation. The Red Sox are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place; they can't waive him--he's owed too much money. My guess is that they'd love to waive him, but it's not really a matter of the money that makes them continue to "roll the dice." If Daisuke fails, it was an embarassing baseball move four years ago when they paid over $50M to the Seibu Lions just to be able to negotiate a contract. It was considered a steal when they signed him to six years and $52M, but added to the $50M posting fee, it was merely a solid contract offer. If Matsuzaka fails, this bid by the Red Sox was a big mistake.
But how many tries does one player get? Matsuzaka hasn't been the player they envisioned since his second season. If only those World Baseball Classics counted toward his Red Sox contract. He was voted the MVP of the inaugural and second Classic. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, he just doesn't seem to pitch with the same fervor as he does when it is world competition. Perhaps the level of competition is overwhelming at the Major League level? This would be a valid point, except Japan has won both World Baseball Classics. Apparently their players are at least on par with US players. Also, let's not forget that US players are on many of their home teams' rosters.
Looking back on Matsuzaka's stats over the years, it would be hard to argue that he has earned his contract with the Red Sox. If he had been paid just the $52M from the contract, it still would have been money poorly spent, compound that with the posting fee, and it becomes a mistake of huge proportions. The real winners here were the Seibu Lions who pocketed $51,111,111 just for allowing Matsuzaka to negotiate with the Red Sox. That's enough money for them to pay their entire payroll for over two years!
In 2010, Matsuzaka had an ERA of below 4.00--following only one game! On August 5, 2010 the Red Sox faced the Cleveland Indians. Matsuzaka pitched quite well; he pitched 8 innings, allowed 5 hits, 1 earned run, walked 2, and struck out 6. His ERA after that game was 3.96; it was the only game that he ended with a cumulative ERA for the season of under 4.00. His next start a few days later, corrected that anomaly. It continued to get worse until his second to last start on September 26, 2010 in which he pitched 8 innings, allowed 2 earned runs, walked 1, and struck out 7. He didn't pitch terrible against Cleveland for his first start of 2011, but it certainly wasn't expected to be leaps and bounds better than his second start of this year.
Daisuke Matsuzaka has a no-trade clause in his contract. This is fairly normal, and I'm glad the Red Sox gave in on that demand. It was a reasonable concession as Matsuzaka was excited to play for the Red Sox. He was taking a chance on the situation, and I can certainly understand his desire to make sure that the Red Sox didn't undermine that by trading him away. I imagine that Matsuzaka would not accept an outright assignment to the minors where he could continue to work out his mechanics, timing, or demonic possession that has been affecting him over the past couple of years. I think it's time for the Red Sox to bring Matsuzaka and his translator into the office and tell him that he has an injury and is going on the 15-day disabled list. This way, he can save face, and the Red Sox can explain that it wasn't a mistake to sign him, but he's been trying to work through an injury. Whatever their decision, they have to do it soon. I realize that they don't have many options for starting pitching to turn to, but Tim Wakefield is still on the roster and there are minor leaguers that can give at least comparable results--Felix Dubront comes to mind.
Posted on: April 10, 2011 11:15 pm

Is This Baseball Heaven or Purgatory?

Jered Weaver just pitched the game of his life tonight; he pitched seven innings, allowed one run, struck out a career-high fifteen batters. Absolutely fantastic achievement! As I was reviewing the article about his triumphant game, I started to think about Jeff Weaver's career. Jeff Weaver was a fantastic young pitcher with Detroit when I first started to like him. The Tigers were terrible, but Weaver put up a few winning seasons to start his career. Assuming a normal player will continue to improve, I thought he was going to be a star of the game for years to come.
When he got traded to the New York Yankees, I thought they had stolen him from the Tigers--how could the Tigers give up a guy in his young twenties that they could build their rotation around? I was disappointed also because I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The Yankees had bolstered their rotation with one of the best young arms in the league. The Red Sox had fallen further behind merely because they had gained. Jeff Weaver had a modicum of success with the Yankees. By Yankee standards, he was a failure. He went 12 - 12 over his year and a half in pinstripes.
There are websites and blogs set up around players that flopped for the Yankees. It makes sense, there are numerous players they have traded for or signed that have come to New York and failed. Some were able to get out of New York before they had ruined their careers beyond repair.
Carl Pavano got paid $40M to pitch about 145 innings and go 9 - 8. He was 18 - 8 the year before with Florida. In 2010 he pitched 221 innings for Minnesota and went 17 - 11. What happened in New York? Chuck Knoblach was an All-Star second baseman for Minnesota. After one year in New York, his career fell precipitously until he had to be benched because he couldn't throw the ball to first base, and because his batting had dropped over 100 points. He had never had more than eleven errors in a season, his last full season in New York, he had 26.
Do the Yankees cause these players to fail? Is it the pressure of playing in the American League East? Is it the spectacle of the city, the franchise, the media? Or is it bad scouting and management in the Yankee organization?
Some fans will say that Brien Taylor is the biggest bust in franchise history. He got a lot of money and was the number one overall draft pick, yet he never played in the majors. That is different than the Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez stories--those players were already stars that had established themselves before going to New York. Taylor never had anything more than hype.
George Steinbrenner may have made the Yankees great after purchasing the franchise back in the 1970's. He certainly was willing to put himself out there as a figurehead of the team, but he was also willing to put his money on the line. He could not imagine what the Yankees had become after the decades of amazing teams that he remembered as a kid. He would do whatever it took to return the franchise to its rightful esteem. He was willing to lose money if that's what it took. In some ways Steinbrenner made the Yankees a better team, and in others he was a part of their failure. He had every right to do whatever he wanted, but his style of management cost him and the team. Managers and coaches got fired at the drop of a hat, players were constantly feeling scrutinized about their play, and executives wondered constantly whether their jobs were secure.
Were these conditions the cause of some of the great players' failures in pinstripes? It takes a special type of player to play in New York and succeed. There are expectations on any player on a team that spends that much money with the intention of winning every year. Guys like Chuck Knoblach who play in smaller markets with lower expectations might have a hard time adjusting to the cruel businesslike feel of playing with so much pressure. Perhaps Knoblach would still have played at an All-Star caliber for years if he hadn't gone to New York. Kevin Brown played in Los Angeles for the Dodgers, so he was used to playing in a big market, but the West Coast is considerably different with their sports attitude. Los Angeles really hasn't made a valiant effort to get and NFL team back in the second largest US market. Do you think they put a pile of pressure on its baseball teams? One can understand the trials that Hideki Irabu had coming over from Japan; he was facing social and cultural changes. They play the game differently across the Pacific.
It takes a special type of player to succeed in New York, but with that success comes history. Sure the Steinbrenners will continue to put pressure on their players, perhaps not as much as George did, but they are already making headlines in their own right. The city will continue to revere its sports heroes and criticize those that aren't capable of handling all the spotlight has to offer. The failures of these stars and many others has kept some players from signing contracts there--Cliff Lee comes to mind immediately. One thing is for sure, if money were more of an object, the failures of these players would have had more of a lasting effect on the franchise and its ability to compete. Instead, they throw more money at more players than anyone else can. If you are a Yankees fan, consider yourself blessed that your team can afford to burn money on the failures, and still go out and compete year after year. Major League Baseball would be a considerably different league if all franchises could do this.

Posted on: April 8, 2011 11:11 pm

This is How You Treat Us?!

Manny Ramirez retired today. It's the end of an era that should have probably ended a couple of years ago. This isn't Manny being Manny as his attitude has so affectionately been described, this was Manny getting out with the last shred of respectability that he could leave with. If he had stuck around, he would have undoubtedly been suspended. The last time he was suspended it was for 50 games; I don't recall right off what the suspension for subsequent issues involving performance enhancing drugs (PED's) is. Would this have been a one year suspension? If so, did Manny just speed up the inevitable? He retired rather than face the humiliation of another suspension. Another suspension would have brought his career to a halt anyway.
Manny hasn't been exceptionally relevant in baseball for a few years now. If you are into fantasy baseball, do you remember when Manny was his generation's Ryan Braun? He was a first round pick, which as an outfielder is huge. My guess is that you probably didn't even consider drafting Manny in this year's fantasy baseball draft. If you did, other owners in your league snickered as you picked him up, but secretly hoped that he didn't perform to 75% of what he used to do, and probably still could do. If so, he was a steal. Imagine picking up a player in the 20th round of the draft that batted .275, hit 20 homers, had 85 RBI with 75 runs scored--that would be the find that won your league!
Thanks for the memories Manny. You provided that lethal combination with David Ortiz that got the Red Sox a couple of World Series rings this century. You provided a bit of comic relief in an otherwise stodgy old sport. It was fun cheering for you to take those massive swings against the rival Yankees, and be successful. I remember hearing that the Red Sox signed Manny and thought: this is the guy they need in the middle of their lineup. I wasn't excited about the amount of money, but wasn't it great when the commissioner's office devalued the contract so that it ultimately became less than what he would have gotten if he had gone and resigned with the Cleveland Indians with the contrac they offered? Still eight years and $160M was a lot of money to a guy that was arguably a poor outfielder with a bat.
I remember being at the Philadelphia Phillies game that first time they were playing interleague play at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. I had seats right over by the third base line and quite near the front--it was the section of the stands that juts out very close to the foul line. Manny made an amazing catch while sliding into the wall that night. I was so close to the play that I couldn't see Manny because he had disappeared below the level of the wall. He got up with that wry smile that he had when he knew he just exceeded people's expectations of him, but not his own expectations. The guy I had gone to the game with had gotten up to go to the bathroom; when he got back, I told him that he had just missed the play of the game.
I remember that same smile while watching the Red Sox against the Yankees--I forget the year and the circumstances. I do remember the opposing player. Enrique Wilson had just nutted a fly ball over the left field wall in Yankee Stadium. Manny somehow got to the spot at the wall where the ball was going over. It seemed like he was jumping seven rows into the stands to rob Wilson of his homerun, but it was probably just the front row. Because it was Manny, it was larger than life. Enrique was rounding the bases in the fashion of a person who had known that he hit it out of the park. As he rounded second, the look on his face went from glowing delight to bewilderment; why were his teammates not lauding his achievement?! He looked at Manny, and there was that wry smile. Manny had not only robbed Wilson of that homerun, he had robbed the entire Yankee team and all of their fans in attendance, watching on television, and those that would later find out as they watched the highlights.
I just wish those were the ilk of memories that flooded my thoughts. Instead, I'm stuck with the memories of how Manny left Boston, how his attitude became bigger than the team could handle. I remember the irritation I felt when Manny refused the Dodgers' contract offer of one year and I believe $20M. He wanted two years and $50M. Nobody else was bidding anywhere near that, but he refused to believe that his career was ebbing. He got big money and two years from the Dodgers. I don't believe it was $50M, but I think it was close. I really stopped paying attention during that ordeal. Manny was overpricing himself, and distancing himself from his adoring fans. The game was no longer the game that it was while he was playing in Cleveland. It was no longer the game/business it was while playing in Boston, where he was worth the hassles because he truly was one of the few difference makers in the game. This was Manny's narcissism. Unfortunately, there were still some that were willing to feed that hubris.
Posted on: April 7, 2011 10:25 pm

Signs of Hope

The good news has to be that Jon Lester pitched a true gem tonight against the Indians. Kudos to him for doing his part to get the first Red Sox win of the year, unfortunately, he couldn't pitch the entire game. The bad news has to be that Daniel Bard lost the game again. This wasn't a full-out wheels-off-the-bus sort of meltdown like he had his previous outing; this was merely that lone run that was one run too many. The fact that he could lower his ERA while inking a game ERA for himself of 9 isn't so promising. I have faith in him, I just need to see reciprocity from him soon.
This whole situation reminds me of that infamous circumstance that Grady Little got himself into by leaving Pedro Martinez in one out too long. Pedro was having trouble getting wins that year because the bullpen kept giving away his leads. They had solid guys in the bullpen that year too; they just couldn't pull it together. Was it complacency? Did people tell them that they were supposed to be that good, so they started to believe it? Regardless, is Jon Lester going to start having those same situations arise? We all know this is a bad thing to feel like as a starting pitcher, as a manager, or as a fan. Grady Little got fired at the end of that year--thank goodness. We as fans hung our heads. But as a starting pitcher when you can't feel comfortable handing over a lead to your bullpen, you know they just start to try a little too hard for a little too long. They try to make every pitch perfect, and work through Jello-arm and dead-arm because they feel like the team needs them to.
The Red Sox don't need anyone to try to be the hero on the mound. They have a very nice pitching staff, from the starters to the closer. Each guy has got to have the comfort of knowing that the guys around him are capable of bailing anyone out on any given night.
The pitching effort by Lester was fantastic tonight, but let's not forget that Fausto Carmona did nearly an equal job. I'd take Lester's nine strikeouts and three walks over Carmona's four strikeouts and two walks. I was excited to see that Fausto may have returned to his front-of-the-rotation ability. He was exciting a few years ago and has had his share of injuries and setbacks.
I'm a little worried about the Yankees visiting Fenway tomorrow and having Lackey start. I know he's still a quality pitcher, but his confidence didn't seem like it was in the correct spot the other night after the Rangers beat up on him. Here's hoping that we don't have to hear about him never pitching well against the Yankees. Goodness knows we need a guy to step up for the Sox and do his job while all the others are doing their jobs too.
Posted on: April 5, 2011 3:56 pm

Beckett Poised to Jumpstart Red Sox Season

Hopefully Josh Beckett can get the Red Sox started on the path everyone believes they are destined to go down this year. I'm not sure what sign Beckett is, nor do I particularly believe in astrology, but everything seems to be aligned to make this a nearly perfect situation to begin a bounceback year for both Josh and the Sox.
Josh Beckett is a big game pitcher; there is no better proof than his 2003 World Series MVP Award against the New York Yankees. More relevant to Red Sox fans was his pitching against Cleveland in 2007 that sparked a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS. His record in that series was a stellar 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA; this effort garnered him the ALCS MVP Award. He continued that effort with a winning effort in the World Series that year in game one against the Colorado Rockies by pitching seven innings and only allowing one run off six hits, with nine strikeouts.
This game is not of the same magnitude as those previous, but the Red Sox need a jumpstart, and Beckett may be just the person to give it. His psyche still tells him that he's capable of being the ace of that staff, even with great young pitchers in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. He's still got the heart of a champion, and he knows how to carry a team that needs a lift.  
There are other factors that may lead to a breakout game by the Sox. Red Sox hitters aren't accustomed to long losing streaks, and the mix of veterans and young players should lend to a hitters' delight tonight. It's also the Cleveland Indians; this isn't to say that the Indians aren't a good team, it's just to state the obvious that they aren't on the same level as the Sox. They can certainly beat the Sox on any given night, but I'd be willing to bet that out of 100 games, the Sox would win 95 of them with current lineups. This isn't the Indians team of the early nineties when Manny roamed their outfield, and Bartolo Colon aced a staff that annually made them contenders. This is a team working with some young talented players to rebuild.
Josh Beckett will undoubtedly get these young and veteran free-swingers to flail hopelessly at his pitches. He worked on some mechanical issues in the spring, and showed some comfort in his last outing of the spring when he pitched five innings allowing only one hit. Those mechanics are starting to feel more like second nature to him, hopefully that means great things for the Red Sox. They certainly need a shot in the arm at this early juncture in the season. Hopefully one of the most clutch pitchers in recent memory can prove that he's just the guy to give the ball to.
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