Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A few quick things tonight:
  • If I had to pick a favorite moment from the weekend series against the Yankees, it would have to be Jacoby Ellsbury's steal of home Sunday night. Stealing home is such a rare feat to start with, and to do it against a couple of veterans like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada on national TV against the Yankees made it extra special.
  • A close number two was Jason Bay's home run off Mariano Rivera to tie Friday night's game. Mo's reverse-Fisk body english to try to keep the ball in the ballpark was priceless. That home run will show up on a lot of highlight films this season.
  • I was listening to the beginning of tonight's game on my way home from the train station and Joe Castiglione was talking about how cold it was in Cleveland tonight (47 degrees at game time). The first thing that came to my mind was, "That's what they get for building a ballpark so close to the ocean!" Thanks, Oil Can.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Anyone expecting a pitching duel between Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett today was very disappointed.

The Sox won game 2 of the weekend series against the Bronx Bombers by a score of 16-11 in a 4 hour, 21 minute marathon. The Sox were down 6-0 after the top of the 4th, went ahead 8-6 after 5 and were down 10-9 after the 7th inning stretch before scoring seven more runs to put it away.

Yankees pitching gave up 16 runs today, including a grand slam to Jason Varitek. This comes after they gave up 22 runs to Cleveland last Saturday. If I was Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners, I wouldn't feel like I was getting my money's worth.

So the Sox are now on a 9 game winning streak and the 2-6 start seems like it happened a long time ago. One more against the Yankees tomorrow night on ESPN.

One other thing: from the Epic Fail department. Somehow, the Cubs David Patton thought it would be a good idea to pitch around the Cardinals Colby Rasmus with one out and first base open in the 7th inning in today's game in St. Louis. Unfortunately for the Cubbies, the next guy up was Albert Pujols, who promptly hit Patton's fist pitch on a trajectory to hit the International Space Station for a grand slam. All those surprised? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Friday, April 24, 2009

If that was round 1, I can't wait to see what the next 17 bring.

The Sox just beat the Yankees at Fenway 5-4 on a walkoff 11th inning home run by Kevin Youkilis. The only reason the game got that far is that Jason Bay hit a 2 run bomb into the center field bleachers off the great Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th with two out.

They just mentioned on MLB Network that in extra inning games the two teams are 81-81 (with 8 ties) all time. Sox-Yankees just never gets old. I can't wait until tomorrow!

A few thoughts as I watch Sox-Yanks, 2009 Round 1:
  • I spent Monday and Thursday evenings watching J.'s Little League team play two exhibition games this week. I love watching him play, but it was frakkin' cold out there both nights. If I had a phaser I would have been heating up the rocks. Tomorrow is his first "real" game, and the temperature is supposed to top out in the low '80s. Typical New England weather.
  • Can things get much worse for the Washington Nationals? Not only are they already languishing in last place in the NL East with a 3-12 record (worst in baseball), they seem to keep having other embarrassing things happen to them. First there was the scandal with members of the scouting staff skimming a portion of bonuses from Dominican prospects that led to GM Jim Bowden's resignation. More recently, Elijah Dukes showed up late for a game after going to a Little League event (that the team said he should go to) and was fined and benched by manager Manny Acta. So, the Little League's parents hold a fund raiser to pay Dukes' $500 fine. Oh, and the word "Nationals" was spelled wrong on a couple of players jerseys a few days back. Are the Nats the reincarnation of the St. Louis Browns?
  • The AL Central is going to be fun to watch. We're only three weeks in, but the White Sox, Tigers and Royals are all tied at 8-7, with the Twins a game back and the Indians 3 back. These teams could just beat on each other all summer.
  • #1 on my list of players I would go out of my way to see play: Albert Pujols.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I'm wishing I lived in San Francisco (or was making a timely visit) so that I could go to the ballpark for Star Trek Movie Night. Talk about the ultimate combination of my two passions!

And I'll be looking on eBay to see if I can track down the Giants/Vulcan Salute foam finger.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Had a fun evening with the kids for my second visit to Fenway for the season. The Sox took on the Orioles in the second game of a four game set, and it was the first of our four SoxPak games for the season. The game itself was good; getting to and from Fenway Park was the problem.

Whenever possible, I take the T to Fenway. Although it might take more time, the stress level is generally lower. However, when I take the kids to a night game, I usually drive and spend the money to park in the garage on Ipswich St. across from right field entrance to the ballpark.

J. had baseball practice until 5, so R. and I picked him up and we headed into town. Nearly as soon as we hit the turnpike, traffic slowed to a crawl. Turns out there was an accident about 4 miles ahead that took the Pike down to one lane. We finally cleared that and traffic opened up until we got off at the Prudential Center/Copley Square exit. The Pru ramp was backed up into the tunnel. Fortuately, I know the area pretty well, so I got off at Copley instead, took a couple of back streets and was about to cross onto Ipswich St. for a quick drive to the parking garage...

...only to find out Ipswich St. was closed.

Switching gears again, I finally found a parking garage on Comm Ave., just past Kenmore Square. We took a short walk to the ballpark, grabbed some hot dogs for dinner and settled in our seats just as Josh Beckett was about to throw his first pitch.

The seats, where we'll be spending all four of our SoxPak games this year, weren't bad. They're in deep right field, but there are no poles obstructing our view and we face toward the infield. The Sox were also thoughtful enough to suspend a few widescreen TVs from the roof, so we're able to catch NESN replays and such during the game.

The game itself was all about Youk. Kevin Youkilis was 4-for-5 with a double and a three-run bomb into the Monster Seats. Youk had four RBI total and raised his average to .467 on the young season. Everyone else in the lineup had hits except for Jason Bay and Nick Green, with Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek adding the other two RBI in the 6-4 win.

Josh Beckett started for the Sox and, while he wasn't as sharp as he was on Opening Day, he kept the O's off the board for the first 4 innings. Things blew up in the 5th, though, as Baltimore scored four runs. The inning was highlighted by Aubrey Huff's two run double (doesn't he sound like a character in Clue? Aubrey Huff did it with the candlestick in the library). Beckett did come out for the 6th with no further damage, before turning it over to the bullpen.

Yet again, the bullpen saved the day with scoreless innings from Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito and Jonathan Papelbon. Other than Youk and Tim Wakefield's brilliant start the other day, the bullpen has been the standout feature for the Sox on the young season.

My favorite moment? The kids and I have started a tradition. They get up on their chairs and we put our arms around each other to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Sweet Caroline. It doesn't get much better than that.

We left the ballpark happy with the Sox win, only to get caught in more traffic on Comm Ave leaving the ballpark. I learned a few things that will likely save us a few minutes next time, but it was still tough going until we got past the BU Bridge. I'll need to rethink the whole driving thing before our next trip.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It was an October night in 2004. The Red Sox were getting pounded by the New York Yankees in game 3 of the AL Championship Series, eventually losing 19-8. The Red Sox bullpen was in tatters. So Tim Wakefield, normally a starter and always the consumate team player, took the mound in relief and provided Terry Francona with 3.1 innings of invaluable relief. This helped to preserve the bullpen and set the stage for the Sox comeback over the Yankees and first World Series victory in 86 years.

The circumstances weren't quite as dire today, in only the 9th game of the season, but Tim Wakefield came up just as big. Last night's debacle involved Daisuke Matsuzaka giving up five runs in one inning before heading to the DL and the bullpen putting in 11 innings before the Sox lost in 12 innings.

The Red Sox really needed a good, long, innings-eating start out of Wake today and they got it. Wake no-hit the A's for 7.1 innings and ended up with a complete game 8-2 win. He kept the relievers in the bullpen and, combined with tomorrow's day off, gives them a much needed stretch of rest. He also gave the now 3-6 Sox a much needed win and helps them to avoid a sweep in Oakland.

Tim Wakefield will never be a Hall of Famer, but he has been a reliable part of the Red Sox for 15 years now. He has started, pitched long relief, closed and always has done whatever asked. He is third in Red Sox career wins (behind a couple of guys named Cy Young and Roger Clemens). He has been a huge part of the success this team has had over the past few years.

One bit of Wake trivia. With 15 seasons in a Sox uniform, he is 5th all-time in years with the team. The first four? Guys named Yaz (23 years), Ted Williams and Dwight Evans (19 years) and Jim Rice (16 years). Three Hall of Famers and one of the greatest outfielders in history isn't bad company.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A couple of quick notes:
  • I'm not worried, yet. We're only 7 games in, but the 2-5 Red Sox have been getting mostly mediocre pitching and not much out of the offense (other than Youk). Of course, I suppose that's a prescription for a 2-5 record. Still, if this was happening in June or July we'd be looking at it as a minor slump. The Sox are too good a team for this to keep up for long, but I'd like it to end sooner rather than later. Tonight in Oakland would be good.
  • I was very saddened by the tragic death of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych yesterday. I was 12 when he burst onto the scene, winning 19 games, winning the Rookie-of-the-Year award and talking to the baseball. I couldn't have liked a non-Red Sox player more. His career flamed out with arm trouble all too quickly. I did have the good fortune to be at McCoy for his epic game against Dave Righetti in 1982 and I have rarely been in a ballpark with a more electric atmosphere. Good-bye, Mark. You were one of a kind and you'll be missed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Here's a few things I have been enjoying as the season finishes it's first week...
  • MLB Network's new show, MLB Tonight, is the best nightly baseball recap show I have ever seen. Lots of former major leaguers who can intelligently discuss the game and don't go in for a lot of schtick (listening, John Kruk?) are on the nightly panel and bring some great insights. My favorite thing about the show, however, is that they can go to any game in progress when something interesting is happening. Carlos Delgado up with the bases loaded against Edinson Volquez? They show it to you live. (That actually happened while I was watching last week.) It's like having someone watch all the games for you and directing you to the interesting bits.
  • The MLB At Bat iPhone/iPod Touch app was upgraded this year to include Gameday Audio. This means you can listen to the radio broadcast of any game if you have access to WiFi or 3G on the iPhone. I have subscribed to the Gameday Audio for the last few years and I enjoyed having it, but listening to the games involved being teathered to the computer. Now I can easily listen to a game anywhere in the house. The sound quality, at least over WiFi is pretty good - standard AM radio type sound.
  • The best moment of the Red Sox season thus far had to be the showdown on Saturday between Jonathan Papelbon and the Angels Howie Kendrick. Kendrick fouled off 7 consecutive pitches with two outs in the last of the 9th and the Angels down 5-4. Finally, Paps got him to line out to Rocco Baldelli in right to end the game and preserve the win for the Sox. The whole sequence had a post-season like feel to it, something you don't see much in the 5th game of the season.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I went to Opening Day at Fenway Park today with Bismo and The Hey. It was a heck of a day, on pretty much all levels.

First, I want to give some kudos to Red Sox management for calling the game so early yesterday. They made the call by 10 AM, which enabled me to stay at work and get some stuff done so that I could take off early for today's 4:06 start (yes, that was on purpose).

And second, thanks to Bismo for getting the tickets in the first place! As The Hey and Bis pointed out, next year is my turn to get my hands on some Opening Day tickets.

After getting out of the office a bit later than I would have liked, I arrived at Fenway a few minutes before the pre-game ceremonies. Needless to say, it wasn't nearly as dramatic as last year's ring ceremony, but it was nice all the same. Senator Ted Kennedy threw out the first pitch to new Hall of Famer Jim Rice. This was followed by color guards from all five branches of the service, the national anthem played by the Boston Pops, and a flyover by F-15 fighters that seemed like they were about 10 feet above the ballpark.

Two of the three seats that Bis got were marked "obstructed view" and they weren't kidding. A big green pole was blocking the view of either home plate or the pitcher. No complaints, though. I was just happy to be in the ballpark. However, I would like to suggest that maybe the Red Sox could build the poles out of transparent aluminum during the next Fenway renovation project.

Once all the pomp was over it was down to baseball. This year's opener was a rematch of the 2008 ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays. Josh Beckett opened up 2009 in great form, going 7 innings, giving up just one run, two hits, and striking out 10. If this healthy version of Josh Beckett had been available in last year's playoffs, we might have had two parades in Boston last year.

MVP Dustin Pedroia started off great as well, hitting a James Shields pitch into the Monster Seats in the first inning. The Sox added three more in the third and a final run in the 6th on a Jason Varitek home run. The Captain got a great ovation during the pre-game introductions and an even bigger cheer when the ball went over the fence. If we could get a .250/15/75 year out of Tek, I think everyone would be very happy.

Joe Maddon may want to consider shuffling his rotation so that James Shields no longer has to pitch at Fenway. He had a 10+ career ERA at Fenway going into the game and gave up 5 runs in 5.1 innings today.

Probably the only significant negative today was a shaky outing from Hideki Okajima, who came in to relieve Beckett in the 8th. He hit a batter and walked a batter, then got a strikeout before giving way to Justin Masterson. Masterson allowed both inherited runners to score, but avoided further damage. The 9th was another episode of The Jonathan Papelbon Show, with the usual happy ending (death stare, strikout, Dirty Water by the Standells). The Sox let the Fenway faithful go home happy with a 5-3 win.

It was a great day, even with the cold weather. And hey, we're a game up on the Rays and the Yankees!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Since Opening Day has been postponed, we submit this joke instead:

Q: What's the difference between a Fenway Frank and a Yankee hot dog?

A: You can get Fenway Franks in October.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I was hoping to get this done yesterday, but it wasn't to be. However, without further ado, here is my 2009 American League preview!

AL West:

1. Los Angeles Angels: Does it mean I'm old because I still think of them as the California Angels sometimes? Losing Teixeira had to really hurt this team, but they have the best starting pitching in the division and the lineup is still pretty good. I don't think this team would win the Central and would be in 4th place, at best, in the East.

2. Texas Rangers: The eternal Rangers issue is not enough pitching, and nothing much is different this year. Texas will score plenty of runs, but they're going to have a tough time preventing the other guys from scoring. 62-year-old team president Nolan Ryan may have to make an emergency start this year.

3. Oakland A's: Billy Beane stocked up on veterans in a buyers market during the winter. Matt Holliday, Nomar Garciaparra and Orlando Cabrera could very well be trade bait come June/July to help restock the A's farm system. The A's will be OK, but it will be a significant accomplishment if this team finishes .500

4. Seattle Mariners: Too many big contracts and not enough talent. It could be another long season at Safeco.

AL Central:

1. Cleveland Indians: There are at least three teams that could win this division, and I think it's the Tribe's turn after a tough 2008. Grady Sizemore is a potential MVP candidate and Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee headlines the pitching staff.

2. Minnesota Twins: I think a bunch of the young pitchers are going to step up to keep the Twins in contention this season. Add that to Mauer and Morneau and it'll be another year where Minnesota is right in the thick of things. And they have Boof Bonser, who still has the best name in baseball.

3. Chicago White Sox: The defending champions are still going to be pretty good this year. I think their biggest problem is going to be staying healthy, as they seem to have a bunch of guys who are coming off injuries last season (Jose Contreras, Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko).

4. Kansas City Royals: The Royals finally seem to be moving in the right direction with some good young talent and some decent starting pitching. I don't think they're quite ready to compete with the top of the division yet, but they could be there next year.

5. Detroit Tigers: Was this team really in the World Series just three years ago? They just ate Gary Sheffield's $14 million contract. With the economy hitting Detroit as hard as it is, there could be a fire sale by mid-season if the Tigers get off to a slow start. Magglio Ordonez, anyone?

AL East:

1. Boston Red Sox: The Sox have the deepest starting pitching in the league, one of the best bullpens and very good defense at nearly every position. The offense will miss Manny Ramirez, but I think Big Papi will bounce back and the top of the lineup could generate a lot of runs, especially if Jacoby Ellsbury can close up some of those holes in his swing.

2. New York Yankees (Wild Card): Sometimes money can buy happiness, although I'm betting A.J. Burnett spends significant time on the DL. The starting pitching is top notch, but the bullpen looks iffy getting to the great Rivera.

3. Tampa Bay Rays: The defending AL champs won't take anyone by surprise this year, and I think that will mean a bit of a fallback for the Rays. I'm talking 85-90 wins, not back to the 100 loss days that were normal at the Trop pre-2008.

4. Baltimore Orioles: After about a decade, the O's finally seem to be headed in the right direction. They won't do a whole lot in 2009, but the prospects they have coming up, headlined by catcher Matt Wieters, bode well for the future.

5. Toronto Blue Jays: The starting rotation after ace Roy Halladay, is downright scary. The offense is unimpressive. They are a long way away from the top of this division.

Red Sox beat Angels
Yankees beat Indians

ALCS: Red Sox beat Yankees (in slightly less dramatic fashion than 2004)

World Series: Red Sox beat Mets (did you think I was going to pick anything else?)

AL MVP: Grady Sizemore
AL Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia

Weather permitting (and it doesn't look good), I'll have an Opening Day report tomorrow.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The baseball season starts on Sunday night, and that means it's time for our annual predictions. I decided to expand them a bit this year. The last few years I have just picked the division winners and wild cards, along with some of the post-season awards. This year, I'll do a team-by-team rundown of each division, with a brief comment on why I think each team will end up where I have them.

Everyone starts these things with the AL East, so just to be different we'll be going in the reverse standard order.

NL West:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: The best of a mediocre division. The Dodgers offense, led by some guy who used to play in Boston, will be enough to win this thing.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: Gotta love to top of the rotation with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, but the bullpen makes me nervous (how old is Tom Gordon, anyways?) and the offense is questionable.

3. San Francisco Giants: The Giants have a strong starting staff with 2008 Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson and Matt Cain. We'll see if Barry Zito makes a bid to look like he's worth even 10% of his $126 million contract. The biggest issue by far is the offense, where the Giants start the season with Bengie Molina as their #4 hitter. Yikes!

4. San Diego Padres: Worst team in baseball. This team could easily lose 110+ games.

NL Central:
1. Chicago Cubs: The Cubbies are no doubt the class of the division, but I'm not sure that matters to North Side fans anymore. After their embarassing sweep at the hands of the Dodgers last October, the pressure is really on the Cubs to break the now 101-year curse. Heck, even an NL Pennant would probably be OK, a feat they haven't accomplished since 1945.

2. Cincinnati Reds: I love the young starting rotation, improved defense and young stars like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. With some luck and health, the Reds could easily challenge for the wild card or even the division if the Cubs falter.

3. St. Louis Cardinals: Any team with Albert Pujols has to be considered dangerous, but this team's success depends on the health of the pitching, most notably former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter.

4. Milwaukee Brewers: They'll still score a ton of runs, but I'm not feeling great about a team that has Jeff Suppan as it's #1 starter.

5. Houston Astros: They won't score quite as many runs as the Brewers (although they'll score quite a few), but the pitching may be even more suspect after Roy Oswalt. Any team that's counting on Mike Hampton to be a contributor is in serious trouble.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates: Awesome ballpark, lousy team. I hope Pirates fans have something to cheer for someday. Their only saving grace is that they're not the worst team in the league as long as the Padres and Nationals are around.

NL East

1. New York Mets: They can't really blow it three years in a row, can they? The Mets solved their biggest weakness, the bullpen, in the offseason by signing K-Rod and J.J. Putz. Add that to one of the best offenses in the league and the Mets should finally take home the division title.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (Wild Card): The defending World Series champs will have a good year, but won't quite overtake the Mets. Any team with Cole Hamels as their ace and Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup is going to be tough.

3. Florida Marlins: If the Marlins can hold this team together, they could be pretty good when their new stadium opens in a few years. Hanley Ramirez could be the best all-around player in the game, and the top three starters are very good. The Marlins could contend into September with some breaks.

4. Atlanta Braves: How the mighty have fallen. I just can't see how this team be much better than .500.

5. Washington Nationals: This team could be really terrible. Former GM Jim Bowden left an awful mess behind when he resigned in the wake of the Dominican signing bonus scandal.

Mets beat Dodgers
Cubs beat Phillies

NLCS: Mets beat Cubs (sorry Cubs fans)

NL MVP: David Wright
NL Cy Young: Cole Hamels

American League preview tomorrow!

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