Thursday, August 30, 2007

Please allow me to interrupt the Pennsylvania trip report in order to rant a bit about the Yankees sweep of the Red Sox.

I don't put this on the pitching. The Yankees scored 14 runs in this series. The simple fact is that that Yankees offense is going to score some runs. They just have too many big bats in that lineup (A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, Matsui, Damon, Abreu) not to score runs. The Sox pitching wasn't stellar in this series, but it was good enough to keep them in the games. Schilling in particular was good among the starters, giving up only two solo homers in seven innings this afternoon.

The big issue in these last three games, I think, is that you have to score some runs to win. The Sox scored only six runs, including today's shutout. Coco Crisp (0 for 12) and JD Drew (1 for 11) were real black holes in the lineup. Drew had a chance to come up with a big hit with two on and two out in the 8th on Tuesday night, and submitted perhaps as weak an at-bat I have ever seen by a major leaguer against phenom Joba Chamberlain. For $14 million a year, you should at least swing like you mean it.

I know losing Manny with an oblique strain didn't help, but it would be nice if one of our other outfielders would step up once in a while.

Hopefully, the Sox can get healthy against the Orioles this weekend, and maybe the D-Rays can steal one in the Bronx this weekend.

Different topic, but I couldn't believe this statistic when I heard it. The Brewers haven't won in Chris Capuano's last seventeen appearances (16 starts), and it's about to be 18 unless Milwaukee can rally from a 2 run deficit in the 9th against the Cubs. This is a guy who won 18 games with a pretty bad team two years ago. How can that be?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

PA trip, part 3:

Franklin Institute: This is a great science museum, with the Walk-Through Heart (pictured above) a highlight. Lots of great interactive exhibits on physics, space, health, flight and a variety of other topics. Named after you-know-who (no, not Voldemort), there is a giant statue of Ben in the lobby.

Adventure Aquarium: Our original plan was to go to the Philadelphia Zoo, but the rain we had for most of our stay in Philly canceled that idea. Instead, we decided to go the the Adventure Aquarium across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ. Camden has been named the "most dangerous city in America" several times, but they have done a nice job revitalizing their waterfront, with a naval museum highlighted by the battleship USS New Jersey and a minor league ballpark, along with the aquarium.

The aquarium was fine, and had a very cool shark tank, with a tunnel that you could walk through and be "surrounded" by the sharks. However, the aquarium was just too darn small. We got through it in about 2 and 1/2 hours, including the Spongebob "4-D" movie we saw. It just wasn't worth the money we paid for the four of us. And the Spongebob movie was surprisingly lame.

Our Hotel: We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Cherry Hill, NJ, about 10 miles from Center City Philadelphia. I have been staying at Marriott hotels for years, including the Hunt Valley Marriott, home of Shore Leave and one of my all-time favorite hotels.

The service at this Marriott was really poor, however. We made a couple of simple requests of the front desk (burned out light bulbs that needed replacing, clearing a backed up toilet) and it took several requests to get anything done. The light bulbs never were replaced. Then, on our last day at the hotel, housekeeping simply never showed up to clean our room.

We ended up complaining to both Marriott and AAA about our stay. I have to admit, the hotel did their best to make it up to us. They refunded us one of our three nights stay, which I thought was pretty reasonable. However, we decided to stay elsewhere our last night on vacation, which was the night of the Phillies game.

After we left the Aquarium on Tuesday, we made our way west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to visit Pennsylvania Dutch Country. I'll explore this part of our vacation in the next entry.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Part 2 of the Pennsylvania trip, written as I watch game 1 of the Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium. It's tied 3-3 in the 7th as I write this.

Duck Tour: The same day we saw the rest of the historical stuff, we took a Duck Tour. If you have never heard of them, you ride around town in a World War II vintage amphibious vehicle - over 2,000 of them were utilized in the D-Day landings. When I worked at the Prudential Center, I could see the loading area for the Boston Duck Tours from my window. I would watch the crowds of people handing over about $20 a head for a 90 minute ride and I would wonder, "Why didn't I come up with this?"

Anyways, since the Ducks are amphibious, the tour included a drive through the historic district, and a cruise on the Delaware River. The guide was both informative and very funny, and made the whole experience a lot of fun.

Joba Chamberlain just retired the side in the 8th with the Sox down 5-3. This kid is incredible - if he's not the heir apparent to Mariano, I'm not sure what the Yankees are thinking about.

Cheesesteaks! Can't go to Philly without having a cheesesteak. A. did some research to pick the best cheesesteak in the Old City area, and she did a great job in picking Sonny's, a short walk from Ben Franklin's house (I'm sure Ben would have been a regular if Sonny's had been around 250 years ago). Bare bones atmosphere, but excellent steaks with a choice of cheese - I went for the traditional Cheez Whiz, of course!

I'll move on to the last parts of the Philly trip tomorrow night: the Franklin Institute, Camden's Adventure Aquarium and our experience at the Cherry Hill Marriott Residence Inn. Sox continue to be down 5-3 with Rivera coming in for the 9th.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We started our vacation trip in Philadelphia. The drive down took longer than it probably should have, as we made the mistake of driving over the George Washington Bridge and it took us more time than we would have liked to get through New York City. It occurred to me that it had actually been six years since my last drive down that way, so I had kind of forgotten that the Tappan Zee is usually the better course.

We checked into the Residence Inn by Marriott in Cherry Hill, NJ (more on them later) and started in on some fun stuff.

The historical stuff: On Sunday, we headed into Center City to check out the various historical icons that Philadelphia has to offer. We saw the Liberty Bell, then we toured Independence Hall. The main thing I noticed since A. and I last visited Philly around 12 years ago was the amazing increase in security. Bag searches and armed security was pretty standard around the historical icons. As a child, my grandmother lived in Philly, and I remember walking right up and touching the Liberty Bell. That's something that wouldn't be allowed today.

After that, we walked over to Benjamin Franklin's house. Franklin has always been one of my heroes. I consider him to be one of the great Americans in history.

Franklin's house isn't actually there any more. It was torn down by his descendants in the 19th century. Today, there is a courtyard that contains a metal outline of where the house actually was.

As we entered the courtyard, who did we find sitting on a bench but Ben Franklin himself! He looked pretty good for a 301-year-old guy. Seriously, "Ben" couldn't have been more realistic. He told the kids a great story and pretty much acted like you would expect Ben Franklin to act. For me, it was a high point of the trip.

The museum was interesting as well, with some artifacts of Franklin's, a diorama with some scenes from his life and a bank of phones. Calling a number on each phone connected you to a historical figure who had something to say about Franklin. It was pretty cool.

I was hoping to get through more of this than I did tonight, but it's getting late. More tomorrow.

Oh, and the Tigers just crushed the Yankees 16-0. The lead is 8 going into the three game series at the Stadium tomorrow.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

We're back!

We had a great week in Pennsylvania. In fact, we did so much that I'll be breaking the trip down into three posts. One will be on our adventures in Philadelphia, the second on Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Hershey and part three will be on our visit to Citizens Bank Park, where we saw a bit of history made by one of baseball's greatest pitchers.

I was glad to see that fortunes improved for the Sox while I was away. As hoped, the Sox have taken five out of six from the D-Rays and White Sox, while the Yankees have been having a tougher time against better teams like the Angels and Tigers. The lead is back up to 6 and 1/2 after the Yankees win in Detroit tonight.

Unfortunately, the Brewers aren't faring quite so well. They have fallen 1.5 games behind the Cubs. If the Brewers don't get it together, they are going to deny a lot of Milwaukee fans the opportunity to pee in their pants. This does give us an opportunity for the lost 2003 World Series matchup between the Sox and Cubbies, but it seems a lot less apocalyptic since the Sox won in 2004.

One last thing before I leave you for this entry. There was one historical site that we saw in Philly that rose above all others. I think this picture will speak for itself.

The birthplace of a Stooge. Truly, it brought a lump to my throat.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Greetings from Greater Philadelphia!

We're on vacation this week. We were driving down to the Philly area yesterday and we stopped off for lunch in Norwalk, CT. After lunch, we took a short walk to stretch our legs before getting back in the car. While we were walking, we saw this sign for a local church:

A sermon about the temper of Donald Duck? Now I would have liked to hear that one!

More on our trip later in the week.

Friday, August 17, 2007

J. and I had quite a baseball filled 24 hours. Last night, we headed out to Westfield, MA for the first-ever Vintage Base Ball World Series. Last nights game featured the local entrants, the Westfield Wheelmen against the Northeast playoff winners, the Hartford Senators. The World Series continues tonight with the winners of the Michigan and California playoffs. A consolation game is played tomorrow, and the finals will be on Sunday.

The game was played at Bullens Field, a charming little city-owned ballpark near the high school. After we parked and entered the ballpark, we quickly ran into my fellow Vintage Base Ball Federation board members Jim Bouton and Chip Elitzer, along with Jim's wife Paula.

One of the nicer touches (similar to the Hillies game back in 2004) was that Jim contracted with local businesses and organizations to provide the concessions. That gave these folks a chance to showcase their goods and make some money, while the VBBF is spared the trouble of providing food for the fans. It's a great win-win for everyone.

J. and I found a place to sit in the small grandstand and watched the game. I still find it remarkable that the players (or "ballists", to use proper VBB parlance) can make many of the plays they do using the gloves they do. They basically resemble leather gardening gloves.

The game continued on with the Senators leading. J., Chip (who had joined us in the stands) and I walked over to get some ice cream from the local vendor. It was really good stuff, and J. and I chatted with Chip and the ice cream guy while we watched the Wheelmen bat in the last of the 6th. And they batted for a long time, scoring 11 runs to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Wheelmen ended up winning 22-11 to advance to the finals on Sunday.

We left the ballpark after that inning, as it was late and we had a long ride home. It was a great time and, as always, if you have a chance to catch a vintage game in your area check it out!

Part 2 of our baseball (back to one word) adventure took place at Fenway Park today, as J. and I joined my oldest friend and his son to catch the first game of today's doubleheader between the Sox and the L.A. Angels. Top Sox prospect Clay Buchholz made his first major league start against 15 game winner John Lackey. Buchholz gave up an unearned run in the first on a J.D. Drew error, but was very impressive in pitching out of the trouble created by the error. Angels ace Lackey wasn't nearly as good, giving up six runs in the first (including a Big Papi homer) and taking the suspense out of this one early. Buchholz pitched six full innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). He was followed by three innings of scoreless relief from Okajima and Papelbon. The Sox won 8-4.

Things didn't go so well in the nightcap. It looked great for a while, as the Sox got four runs in the bottom of the 8th to take a 5-4 lead (Ortiz leading the way again with a two run double. However, Eric Gagne came in to get the save and was once again knocked around, giving up three runs to the Angels in the 9th. Unfortunately, Papelbon was unavailable after a four out save this afternoon.

Francona is going to have to decide quickly if he can rely on Gagne or not. He's now blown three leads in the short time since he came over from Texas. If Gagne can't get it done, we need to know.

All in all, though, it was a great evening and day. You can never have too much baseball, right?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

- It turns out that Mitt Romney owns a piece of the Yankees YES Network. As if I needed one more reason not to vote for him...

- Tim Wakefield came up big for the Sox last night, taking a no-hitter into the 6th and pitching 8 shutout innings before Papelbon came in to close out the 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.

Here's something kind of interesting. Wake has 151 wins in a Red Sox uniform. He's third all-time behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who have 192 wins each. If Wake pitches three more years (to age 44, far from unheard of for a knuckleballer), he has a very legitimate shot of being the Red Sox all-time leading winner.

If he pulls that off, combined with his unparalelled community service, I think he deserves to have his number retired by the Red Sox. Who's with me?

- Speaking of retired numbers, the Celtics signed center Scot Pollard and guard Eddie House to start to fill in some of the pieces around Garnett, Pierce and Allen. They will be wearing numbers 66 and 50, respectively. Pollard eloquently explained the reason behind their number selection, as quoted in the Boston Herald:

"“Because all the other (expletive) numbers were taken here,” Pollard said, looking around a conference room that had the numbers of Bill Russell (6), Tom Heinsohn (15), John Havlicek (17), Robert Parish (00), Larry Bird (33) and Kevin McHale (32) hanging on the wall. . . .

- Condolences to the family, friends and fans of Phil Rizzuto, the Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop and broadcaster. He may have been a lifelong member of the Evil Empire, but even I can appreciate one of baseball's all-time great characters. I'll be thinkng of him tonight while I'm playing Paradise by the Dashboard Light on my iPod.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I was so worked up about Gagne last night, I didn't post about the Futures at Fenway doubleheader we took in on Saturday. This is the second year they have held this doubleheader. We missed last year because we were on vacation in Vermont. This season featured the Lowell Spinners against the Hudson Valley Renegades, followed by the Portland Sea Dogs against the Harrisburg Senators in the nightcap.

The first game was great. 21-year-old Jose Capellan, who isn't going to be in the NY-Penn League for long, pitched six innings, only giving up one run. The Spinners trailed for most of the game, but came up with a run in the 8th and a walkoff double by Jorge Jimenez to win the game by a score of 2-1.

We left around 4:00 (the doubleheader started at noon), since we had plans to meet my folks before they headed back to Florida (and I think most of the family was ready to go after four hours in any event), so we only caught the first inning of the second game, but the fans who hung around were treated to another walkoff win as the Seadogs beat Harrisburg 12-11.

The whole experience was a lot of fun. We were able to get loge box seats in section 16 for a fraction of what we would have paid for the same seat at a Red Sox game. Even parking was cut-rate; we only paid $10 to park at the Ipswich St. garage. The kids enjoyed sitting in good seats and it was fun to watch the minor leaguers play at Fenway. I even caught up with a couple of my childhood friends, who were both at the game with their families. It's always nice to see those guys.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Remind me why we got Eric Gagne again?

Gagne turned what could have been a sweep of the Orioles this weekend into a series loss. On Friday, he blew a 4 run lead in the 8th. Today, he gave up a 2-run homer to Miguel Tejada in the 8th when the Sox were up 3-1. In both games, great performances by the starters (Daisuke on Friday, Schilling today) were wasted. To twist the knife a bit, Kevin Millar won the game in the 10th today with a 3-run homer off Kyle Snyder.

Gagne was brought in here to strengthen the back end of the bullpen. He's been a disaster so far. He has a 15.75 ERA, giving up 10 hits and seven runs in five games since he came over from the Rangers.

These performances cost us two games in the standings. The lead is now down to four games, while it could have easily still been six. If the Red Sox end up blowing the division by a game or two, we could point to Gagne's lost weekend in Baltimore.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Clearing out a few things:

- David Wells got designated for assignment by the Padres. It looks like this is the end of the road for Boomer, which would be too bad. Wells was one of the games true characters and was never afraid the say exactly what he was feeling. Bob Ryan points out a few interesting things about him, including the fact that he has a better career record that Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter and Don Drysdale and that he has an amazing 44 post-season decisions. Those kind of statistics don't happen by accident. Plus he wore Babe Ruth's hat (which he had bought in a auction) while pitching a game for the Yankees. How can you not love that?

- I'm not sure what it says about me, but I have always been a fan of pitchers who have been, let's say, less than popular with management. Jim Bouton, Bill Lee and Wells are three examples. I'm sure it means something.

- Has anyone else noticed that the Cardinals have crept back into the NL Central race? They are only 4 games behind Milwaukee and the Cubs in the loss column as of this morning.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

So, Bonds did it last night.

His 756th homer off the Washington Nationals Mike Bacsik broke Hank Aaron's 33 year old record. He did it at his home park in San Francisco, pretty much the only place he would be universally applauded for the feat.

I'm really glad this joyless pursuit of the record is over. When Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record, I was 10 years old, and 1974 was the first year I really followed baseball closely. Breaking the home run record was a huge, exciting thing. I remember watching Monday Night Baseball and seeing Aaron's home run. I knew nothing of the racism Aaron was facing at the time. Someone hit more home runs than Babe Ruth! That's all I really cared about.

Fast forward to today. My son is a few months younger than I was at the time Aaron hit number 715. Instead of being able to enjoy Bonds' record the way I did Aaron's, my son is full of questions. Did Barry Bonds do steroids? Why do they let him play if he cheated? What do steroids do? Why are they bad? I answer these questions as best I can, but he shouldn't have to be concerned with these things at his age.

So, it's over. Barry may play another year as a DH in the American League and then he'll go away. Hopefully, A-Rod (seemingly the most likely candidate) or someone else can beat Bonds record sometime relatively soon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

What's more impressive, 300 wins or 500 home runs?

Both milestones were hit this weekend, with Tom Glavine getting win number 300 yesterday and Alex Rodriguez getting homer number 500 on Saturday. 22 players are members of the 500 homer club while 23 pitchers have 300 wins.

I would say that 300 wins is a much more impressive feat today. Home runs just seem easier to get these days with bigger, stronger hitters and many homer friendly ballparks (and let's not even get into the illegal enhancements that likely helped some of these guys). With 5 man rotations, pitch counts and deeper bullpens, wins for starters seem to be harder to come by.

Put it another way: 8 players (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Mark McGwire, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, A-Rod, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas) have hit 500 home runs since 1990. Three more (Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield) will likely get there before the end of the 2008 season. Only 4 pitchers (Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Glavine) have hit 300 wins since 1990. It's fairly likely there will be no more 300 game winners for quite a while. The only guy who is close is Randy Johnson, at 284 wins, and he has been plagued by injuries in the last couple of years. No other pitcher is within even 50 wins of 300.

Changes in the game over the last couple decades have made it a lot easier to hit a lot of home runs than get a lot of wins. Good for baseball? Well, chicks dig the long ball, right?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

If you haven't been paying attention to my National League favorites, the Milwaukee Brewers, check out young Yovani Gollardo. This 21-year-old rookie took Ben Sheet's spot in the rotation when he went down with a finger injury and he has filled in to the tune of a 4-0 record and a 2.47 ERA in seven starts. I watched the Brewers take on the Phillies last night and Gollardo shut down a good hitting Philadelphia team (even without the injured Chase Utley). Gollardo went 6 and 2/3, giving up 1 run, 4 hits 1 walk and 7 K's. He has a very good mound presence for such a young player. Time will tell if he can keep up this success, but he's certainly off to a good start.

Now, let's see if the Sox can break this unbelievable 9 game losing streak in Seattle behind Daisuke. It's time, guys!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

We may be able to retire the Red Sox Quote of the Year Award with this gem from yesterday's emergency starter Julian Tavarez, who replaced the traded Kason Gabbard (quote from the Boston Globe).

"I told [manager Terry] Francona, 'Just tell me 30 minutes ahead of time, that's all I need,' " Tavarez said. "A little Bengay, some coffee, some Red Bull, I'm ready to go."

How can you not love him?

Sox took last nights game and today's from the O's. They White Sox beat the Yankees in a slugfest for the ages today, as both teams scored eight runs in the second inning. It's only the second time in baseball history that both teams have scored at least 8 runs in an inning. The Sox lead is back up to 8 games.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More fun with Retrosheet today, as we go back in time to August 18, 1993.

The 1993 season was a pretty dismal one for the Sox, as they finished the year two games under .500, 15 games behind the eventual World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays. However, this game was one of the highlights.

I went to Fenway with my friend Bismo. Danny Darwin started for Boston against the White Sox Jason Bere. Darwin was the very definition of a journeyman, playing for eight teams over a 20 year career, including two stints each with Houston and Texas. However, on this particular night he had the magic.

A big crowd of 31,550 watched Darwin befuddle the White Sox for 7 and 1/3 innings, as he held the Pale Hose (I love calling them the "Pale Hose", by the way) to no hits. The Sox had built up a 5-0 lead, including a solo home run by John Valentin. Darwin got one out in the top of the 8th and then the immortal Dan Pasqua hit a long drive to center field. Center fielder Billy Hatcher ran back and leaped at the wall, but the ball just eluded his reach. Pasqua ended up with a triple, ending the no-hit bid. Darwin then got Lance Johnson to ground out and Mike LaValliere flew out to Mike Greenwell in right to end the inning. Darwin set down the White Sox 1-2-3 in the 9th, striking out Joey Cora (Alex's older brother) to complete the 1-hit shutout.

This was the closest I have ever been to seeing a no-hitter live. I remember telling Bismo at some point that I was so nervous that my teeth hurt. A no-hitter is such a tenuous thing. A little flare into the outfield or a ground ball deep in the hole at shortstop by a speedy runner can end the whole thing. It was incredibly exciting, and the excitement was enhanced by having a nearly full house at Fenway to watch what was a mediocre team.

Back to the present, the Sox beat Baltimore 5-4 tonight, maintaining a 7-game edge on the Yankees. No Gagne tonight, but I'm sure we'll see him soon enough.

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