Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A few things to think about:

- Barry Zito and his $126 million contract sent to the bullpen? This should be a wakeup call to general managers who sign pitchers to huge long-term contracts. For every one that works out (Pedro Martinez's Red Sox contract) there's one that doesn't (I'm looking at you, Mike Hampton).

- Baltimore, Tampa (tied), the White Sox, Oakland and Florida are all in first place in their divisions. I know there are still two days to go in April, but the world is a bit upside down at the moment. Only the NL West (D-Backs) and Central (Cubs) are performing as expected at the moment. Honorable mention: the Cardinals would be the NL wild card if the season ended today.

- Teams under .500 that shouldn't be: Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres. That's a lot of teams.

- I'm rethinking the Padres, though. They can pitch, but they really can't hit. They have only scored 84 runs in 26 games (3.2/game). By comparison, Arizona has scored 153 (5.9/game).

- Someday soon Manny will become the 24th player to join the 500 home run club. According to Memories and Dreams, the Baseball Hall of Fame magazine, there were only four members in 1964, the year I was born: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams and Mel Ott. There were a bunch of active players that year that would eventually become members of the group: Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey and Eddie Matthews.

- And if Manny's going to hit #500, how about doing it Saturday night against Tampa? I have tickets to the game.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Now how did that happen?

Actually, it's no big mystery. The Tampa Bay sweep of the Red Sox down at the Trop this weekend happened because the Red Sox couldn't score any runs. I don't know if it's the flu, injuries or the Rays pitching, but the Sox only managed to score six runs in the three games, four of those in Friday night's extra innings loss.

The Sox have a day off and return to Fenway tomorrow, so let's home some rest and home cooking can get them back on track

Saturday, April 26, 2008

When I think "home", three places come to mind. First is my current home in Framingham, where I live with my wife and kids. Second is the house where I grew up in Pawtucket.

Then there's my baseball "home". Some of you may be surprised to find out it's not Fenway Park. No, McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox is the place. Growing up less than two miles from the ballpark and, well, being me meant that I spent a good portion of my summers watching the Pawsox.

So I returned home for the first time in 2008 with the kids last night to see the Pawsox take on the Syracuse Chiefs. As an extra added bonus, World Series MVP Mike Lowell would be playing the first of three rehab starts as DH. Lowell was 1-for-5, but had a big two run single in the Pawsox four run second inning. He was greeted with big cheers at each at-bat from the Rhode Island chapter of Red Sox Nation.

The Pawsox played well the rest of the night. Chris Smith had a great start, giving up only one hit in six innings and getting his first win of the season. Edgar Martinez (no, not the Seattle DH) got a three inning save. People have started calling him "El Guapo", and he certainly shares the Rich Garces body type. Jonathan Van Every hit a home run for the Pawsox.

It was a fun night and the combination of Lowell and the nice weather helped to bring a big crowd of 8,777 to the ballpark. The kids had fun scoring the game (I love the fact that they actually fight over who gets to go first) and I didn't hear one souvenir request.

However, the highlight of the evening was that I won the trivia quiz. The Pawsox have had this contest at every game forever and I probably haven't won in 20 years. But last night was my night. The question was "Who is second the American League in hitting?" I happened to know that Dustin Pedroia was the answer. I filled in the answer sheet in the program book and R. handed it in to one of the ushers. Around the 7th inning, I heard my name announced as the winner! The prize wasn't terribly exciting (a case of Coke and a $25 gift certificate to the Mill Stores), but the kids were very excited that I actually won.

So our first visit to Pawtucket was a great success. We'll be getting back there again soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Well, if the Red Sox had won this one, I was going to go out and buy some furniture (if you don't know what I'm talking about, a local furniture chain is running a promotion where you get free furniture if the Sox sweep the World Series).

Daisuke was a late scratch against the Angels, as he came down with the flu that has been making it's way through the Sox clubhouse. This comes a night after Beckett couldn't start because of a stiff neck. I was listening to Joe Castig go through the injury report and it almost seemed like it would be easier if he just talked about the guys who weren't injured or ill. Matsuzaka, Varitek and Delcarmen were down with the flu. Aside from Beckett, Youk had a bad back, Lowell is still out with the thumb and Cora is having elbow problems.

Jon Lester stepped up on three days rest and didn't pitch too badly, considering. He gave up 4 runs in 5 innings and kept the Sox in the game (it was tied after 5). The Sox ended up losing 6-4, breaking the six game winning streak, but I thought they put up a good fight.

On the good news side, the Celtics are kicking the Hawks butts at the Gahden. Mike Bibby, who somehow thought it would be a good idea to call Celtics fans "fair weather" has been getting it all night from the crowd. Just before he sat down for the night, a "Rondo's Better" chant broke out.

So the C's are up 2-0 going to Atlanta and we'll see who's healthy enough to pitch for the Sox tomorrow afternoon at Fenway in the series finale against LA.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So Josh Beckett comes up with a stiff neck and David Pauley is summoned from Pawtucket to start tonight. You figure it could be a lost evening, right? Wrong. Pauley didn't fare particularly well (5 runs in 4.1 innings), but the bullpen gave up only one run the rest of the way and the Sox generated enough offense to win the game 7-6.

The bats were led by the kids: Dustin Pedroia (4 for 5, 3 doubles and the game winning RBI) and Jacoby Ellsbury (3 for 5, 2 HR and a bunt single to get on for Pedroia). Coco who?

It's been a pretty amazing run. Six in a row, 12-3 since the sweep in Toronto. Seems all the worries about the Japan trip messing up the start of the season were for naught.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A few thoughts on Patriots Day:

- Has anyone noticed that the Sox have quietly gone 11-3 since the sweep in Toronto? After coming home and getting their rings, they have won 2 of 3 from Detroit and the Yankees at Fenway, swept 2 from Cleveland and split 2 with New York on the road, and just finished sweeping 4 from the pitching-free Texas Rangers. I know it's only April and people are focused on the Celtics and Bruins playoff runs, but this could be a very fun summer if they can stay healthy.

- The Blue Jays and Frank Thomas parted ways after the Jays benched the Big Hurt in favor of Matt Stairs. Thomas whined about being benched (despite his .167 batting average) and didn't shake hands with his teammates after the Jay's win against the Tigers on Saturday. I know Thomas is a great hitter and a probable Hall of Famer, but why would you want a guy like that on your team?

- I can't believe Matt Stairs is still around. He has somehow managed to put together a 16 year major league career with pretty limited talent. Good for him.

- The Giants are pretty much keeping up their side of the bargain to meet my prediction of 200 Bay Area losses in 2008 (they are on a pace to lose 99 right now), but the A's are surprisingly 12-8 at this point. I don't expect them to keep this up, but even getting close to .500 would be a great accomplishment for this team.

- I just heard on the radio that the Yankees are selling 300 seats at the new Yankee Stadium in groups of four for $2,500 each! That means your bill for season tickets for the year would be $810,000. Assuming they can find at least 75 really rich people to buy these tickets (shouldn't be too hard in New York), that means they Yanks will be grossing nearly $61 million in revenue on just 300 seats. For comparison sake, this is more than the total payroll of seven teams (Florida, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Washington, Minnesota and Kansas City). It'll be interesting to see how big the Yankees revenue sharing check is once they move into the new place.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was watching the incredible ending of last night's Bruins game and it made me think about why I'm follow the sports I do.

Obviously, I'm a baseball fan. While the Red Sox are certainly my focus, I follow the game in general. That's not so for the other major sports. I follow the NBA and the NFL to some extent, but I don't give the same attention to the teams other than the Patriots and the Celtics that I do to the teams other than the Sox in baseball.

I stopped following hockey about 15 years ago. There were really two reasons. First, I found it difficult to find the time to follow four sports. Just following baseball the way I do is a big time commitment. It would be impossible to do for four sports (or even two) and have anything resembling a life.

The second reason I stopped following hockey is a little simpler. I find hockey unwatchable on TV. Hockey, for me, is a sport that needs to be followed up and down the ice, and TV just doesn't excel at that (although it's a bit better in HD). I like watching the game in person, but it doesn't work for me on the tube.

That said, I have definitely become a bandwagon jumper for this Bruins team. The third period of last night's game six was as exciting a sporting event as I have seen, with Boston and Montreal trading goals down the stretch like Rocky and Apollo Creed trading punches. The pressure is completely on Montreal tomorrow night. The Canadians beat the B's all eight times they met in the regular season. They held a 3-1 series lead. If they don't win tomorrow night, it will be the greatest upset, well, since the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

I doubt this will turn me into an NHL fan in the long term, but I'll certainly be watching tomorrow night.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

This is really funny. J.J. Abrams gives Paramount his initial pitch for Star Trek XI.

Thanks to the Butt Girls for the link!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Big Papi hit a grand slam against Texas tonight. He hit another ball hard with two on, but right at the left fielder.

I know it's the Rangers pitching staff, but maybe things are starting to turn for the big guy.

This could be quite a sports weekend in Boston.

The Sox start a four game series at Fenway with the Rangers, with the annual 11:00 Patriots Day game on Monday morning. Saturday night brings game six of the Bruins-Candians series after the Black-and-Gold's surprising win in Montreal last night. Sunday at 8 AM is the women's U.S. Olympic marathon trials for the right to go to Beijing this summer. Game 1 of the Celtics-Hawks series is Sunday night at the TV friendly time of 8:30 PM.

Monday kicks off with the 112th running of the Boston Marathon. If the Bruins can manage to beat Montreal at the Gahden tomorrow night, game 7 will top off the long weekend on that night.

Have fun!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Three thoughts:

- Saw the Celtics last regular season game with The Hey last night (thanks, Hey!). Not a bad game, and very low pressure, as the Celtics were basically letting the regulars tune up for the first round of the playoffs and the Nets were practically on vacation already. Four of the five starters played; the Big Three and Perk. Rondo got the night off, but won the 6th Man Award. The Celtics won the game 105-95, but it hardly seemed to matter. Best moments: First, Captain Paul Pierce thanking the assembled fans for their support all season. He mentioned how he had been out there the last few years promising that better days were coming. Well, better days are finally here. Second, Kevin Garnett swatted away a Nets shot with authority, announcing to one and all that he's ready for the playoffs.

- One good thing came out of the whole silly Red Sox shirt buried in the new Yankee Stadium controversy: the Yankees gave the shirt to the Jimmy Fund to auction off. They also threw in a Yankee Universe T-shirt, while the Sox added tickets to a Sox game (where the winner will be presented with the shirt) plus a new Ortiz jersey. The high bid at this writing is $30,201, so it looks like a big check will go to a great cause.

- I know it's early, but how on earth are the Cardinals 11-5, 1/2 game behind the D-Backs for the best record in baseball? This is a team that was thought to be at the start of a rebuilding process, with an injured Albert Pujols and a bunch of question marks both on the mound and at the plate. I don't expect this level of success will last, but if Tony LaRussa can even get them to be close to .500 he's even smarter than I thought.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Cleveland Indians must be starting to wonder what they have to do to beat the Red Sox.

The Sox just finished up a sweep of the quick 2 game series by the Cuyahoga River. Both games were come from behind wins. The Sox overcame a 4-3 9th inning deficit last night on a Lugo double, a Pedroia sac fly, then a 2 run bomb by Manny to win it.

The real hero of the game, though, was Julian Tavarez. He came on after Jon Lester started having problems with his control and pitched 2.2 scoreless innings to keep the Sox in the game and make the 9th inning offensive heroics possible.

Tonight the big bats belonged to Jason Varitek, who hit a 2-run pinch homer in the 9th and rookie Jed Lowrie, who drove in three runs in his major league debut. Wake pitched well, giving up two runs in seven innings.

That's five wins in a row over the Indians since the last loss in game 4 of the ALCS. Guess Ryan Garko is still waiting to drink that champagne.

On another note, I was looking at the pitching matchups in the paper this morning and I noticed that the White Sox were playing Oakland at U.S. Cellular Field this afternoon and the Cubs were taking on the Reds over at Wrigley this evening. A Chicago doubleheader? Now wouldn't that be the perfect day.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

You have to love this.

Despite his protestations, you know it had to be driving Hank Steinbrenner totally insane that there was a Red Sox shirt buried in the concrete of the Yankees new $1 billion+ playpen in the Bronx. If it didn't, why have two guys with jackhammers digging up the concrete to find it?

I have to admit, after all the decades of the Yanks being the boogeyman in Red Sox Nation's anxiety closet, it's nice to be inside their heads for a change.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The first two rounds out of 18 between the Red Sox and Yankees have resulted in a split decision. Both aces got wins so far. Chien-Ming Wang was brilliant for the Yankees last night, pitching a complete game two-hitter. The only run he gave up was a J.D. Drew home run into the Sox bullpen, a ball that could have been caught be Bobby Abreu.

Today, Beckett looked much more like himself than he did in Toronto, giving up three runs in 6.2 innings as the Sox won 4-3. Manny provided most of the offense, with a homer and a two run double. The highlight of the game was Papelbon coming in after a 2+ hour rain delay and striking out A-Rod with two on and two outs in the 8th.

I know MLB loves to hype up the Sox-Yankees rivalry, but does anyone else think that 18 games are too much? Actually, I think the whole unbalanced schedule is a bit too unbalanced. It feels like we see too much of the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles. I wouldn't mind seeing them scale the division rivals back to 12 games each and playing more games outside the division or even more interleague play.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A few follow up thoughts on Opening Day and other things...

The most exciting play of the day yesterday was Manny's "Little League homer" (triple and an error). He hit it to the triangle, the deepest part of the ballpark. See what happens when you run instead of watching the ball, Manny?

I saw a TSA guy (one of those airport screeners) on the Logan Airport Silver Line bus today. I had a sudden urge to take off my shoes.

Neil Diamond filmed a new version of "Sweet Caroline" that was played during the 8th inning yesterday. There was some cranky guy complaining about the playing of the song at Fenway in a letter to the Globe, but not me. I think it's a lot of fun. Some folks really need to lighten up. It's a baseball game. It's OK to have fun.

The Sox are undefeated in the U.S. going into game 2 of the Detroit series.

Eric Gagne blew another save last night against the Reds, but was bailed out again by the Brewers, who won the game in extra innings. The early returns are that his stint with the Sox wasn't a fluke.

Bismo's comment on yesterday's post reminded me of this: Dwight Evans is still the best all-around player to wear number 24 in Red Sox history.

I'm hoping the Tigers don't get hot until at least Friday.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What a day.

There's nothing quite like Opening Day at Fenway Park. And when the Red Sox are celebrating a World Series Championship and handing out rings, that makes it even better.

I hooked up with my friends Bismo and The Hey, although getting from my office to the ballpark wasn't quite as easy as I had hoped. Despite an earlier claim that the 12:10 Framingham train was going to stop at Yawkey station for the game, it didn't so we had to hike from Back Bay to Fenway. Not a big deal, but it would be nice if the T would get it's story straight for a change.

It was a nice day for the opener, sunny, low 50's and a bit windy. Not balmy, but better than many early April games I have attended over the years. The Hey and I met at the train and met Bismo near the Ted Williams statue. We entered the ballpark through a nearby gate.

We grabbed some beer (Smitwicks for me and Bismo and a Harp for The Hey - if you are going to pay a fortune for beer, it might as well be good beer!), plus some food and found our seats. Not bad seats, section 10 in the grandstand, although a pole was obscuring part of our view. We wedged ourselves into the ancient wooden chairs and got ready for the ring ceremony.

Things started with the Boston Pops playing and Don Orsillo and Joe Castiglione doing the MC duties. The Sox unveiled championship banners from the pre-Curse days on the Green Monster.

Then, to the delight of the crowd, this banner was dropped.

Finally, the banner at the top of the page came down to the roars of the Fenway Faithful.

The next step was to get the rings out to the field. To do this, the Sox brought in representatives of the other Boston teams, along with their teams trophies. A group of Bruins, led by the great Bobby Orr carried the Stanley Cup; the Celtics were represented by Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Danny Ainge, among others, along with one of their 16 NBA Championship trophies (hopefully they'll add to that total in a couple of months). Tedy Bruschi led some of the Patriots with a Lombardi trophy. Even the 2004 Sox were represented, as stalwarts like Curt Leskanic and Dave McCarty brought out that team's World Series trophy.

The rings made it to the table, and the players were introduced on the video board to with the Pops playing various movie themes. Here comes Manny to get his ring.

After everyone got their rings, the team trooped out to center field to raise the championship banner. The 2004 part of this ceremony seemed focused on the past teams that came close to winning the World Series but failed. A large group of former Sox were there, and Yaz and Johnny Pesky actually raised the banner. This ceremony was much more about the current team, and less about exorcising the ghosts of the past.

There was, however, one ghost left in the house. After the national anthem was played by the Pops and four F-16 fighters flew over the ballpark, we were down to the ceremonial first pitch. Fenway Park just exploded when it was revealed who would be getting that honor.

Yes, Bill Bucker had returned from Idaho, no doubt with some trepidation, to stand on the Fenway turf once again. I have to say, this was one of Boston fandom's finest moments. Probably the loudest, longest ovation of the day was given to Buckner, and it had to be an incredibly emotional moment for him. The man has had that one error overshadow his legacy as a very good ballplayer for 22 years, and it had to be great for him to get that kind of reception from Red Sox Nation. Bucker threw out the pitch to his former teammate Dwight Evans and the crowd roared.

Oh, and there was a game, too. The Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 5-0. Daisuke Matsuzaka was masterful for 6.2 innings, pretty much shutting down the potent (at least on paper) Tigers lineup. The best thing that may have happened today from a 2008 Sox perspective was that Manny Delcarmen pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, recovering nicely from his problems with Frank Thomas and the Blue Jays last weekend. The Sox are going to have a tough time this season if Delcarmen can't fill that 8th inning righthanded bridge to Papelbon, so it was good to see him pitch so well.

It was a long game, especially on the Tigers pitchers side. Kenny Rogers threw 107 pitches in only 4.2 innings, and his relief, Jason Grilli through another 41 in only 1 inning. The only pitcher who had any real success against the Sox lineup was Aquilino Lopez, who held the Sox scoreless for the final 2.1 innings.

All in all, it really couldn't have been a better day. The ring ceremony, a Sox win and I spent the day with two good friends. How do you beat that?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rough weekend in Toronto, as the Sox got swept with a 7-4 loss today. Goat horns were worn by Manny Delcarmen, who got the Big Hurt put on him when he gave up a grand slam on the first pitch he threw to Frank Thomas and Julio Lugo, who made three errors.

Three errors? I could play the field just as well for $9 million a year.

Anyways, Terry Francona put it all in perspective, as the Sox return to Boston after the 18 day, three country, 16,000 mile road trip:

"How do you beat getting a ring and clean underwear?"

Not a good weekend for the Sox in Toronto so far. Let's hope Beckett can stop the bleeding.

My fellow Vintage Base Ball Federation board member, John Thorn, has started up a new blog called Dear Abner. If Mr. Thorn's name isn't ringing a bell, he's a noted baseball historian who appeared in Ken Burns Baseball series many years ago.

By the way, in case you didn't pick up on it, the picture above is of Abner Doubleday. While Doubleday didn't really invent baseball, he was a Civil War general.

It's good reading. Click the link and take a look.

Friday, April 04, 2008

So, how does this happen? The mighty Detroit Tigers, with a nearly $138 million payroll, are off to an 0-4 start. They got swept in their opening series by the Royals (total payroll: $58 million) and could only manage one run in two games against Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke. Then they lost another one to the White Sox today, leaving them as the only MLB team without a win.

Obviously, guys like Cabrera, Ordonez and Sheffield are going to hit. If I were the Tigers, I would be most worried about my relief pitching. Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are both on the DL, and they guys they have left in the bullpen just aren't as good. And who knows how much closer Todd Jones has left.

Obviously, the Tigers aren't a bad team, and if they had a four game losing streak in June nobody would think much of it. Are they feeling the pressure of high expectations? Maybe. It'll be interesting to see if Dontrelle Willis first AL start can get them back on track.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Things are looking up in Oakland.

The Sox got two brilliant pitching performances from Daisuke and Lester, totally shutting down the A's offense. All they could manage was a Jack Cust home run yesterday, and nothing today.

With Beckett returning on Sunday, strong pitching from two other members of the rotation bodes well. The offense started to wake up, too, as Papi and Tek hit home runs, although they left a lot of men on base (including a bases loaded, no out squander in the first.)

Interesting fact: the Sox are no longer second in the game in payroll. They were passed by the Tigers and Mets over the winter to fall to 4th. The Yankees are still first by a wide margin, of course.

Hopefully, this quiets some of the talk about no one being able to match the Red Sox and Yankees financial resources. It's obviously not true in the Sox case.

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