Monday, May 25, 2009

It's been a long time I left Fenway Park as disappointed in the result of a Sox game as I was on Saturday night. J., R. and I went to Fenway to see the Sox take on the New York Mets in an interleague game. It looked to be a good pitching matchup as well, with Josh Beckett taking on the Mets Mike Pelfrey.

Since I started taking the kids to night games, we have been driving in to Fenway and parking into one of the nearby, very expensive parking garages. However, the last two times we have driven in, getting there and back has been something of a traffic nightmare. So, I decided to take the T this time. We parked in Newton Center, took the Green Line to Kenmore, got off and had dinner at the amazing UBurger, then walked over to the ballpark. We also got back on the T at Fenway after the game with a reasonable wait. Since I have a T pass and the kids ride for free, my total out-of-pocket cost to get to Fenway was 25 cents (1 hour parking in Newton before the meters turned off). This compares to $35 for the garage, plus additional gas and tolls to drive all the way into Boston.

There were a LOT of Mets fans in the stands. Between the New York transplants and people who had made the trip up for the holiday weekend, I sometimes felt outnumbered in the right field grandstand. There was, of course, one thing everyone agreed on, and that is "Yankees Suck!"

We settled into our seats and the game starts. The Mets scored a run in the first off Beckett, then the Red Sox got two in the bottom of an inning, as Youk drove in Ellsbury and Pedroia. Then the score stayed 2-1 until the top of the 9th.

Before I get into the 9th, let me talk about Josh Beckett. He had a brilliant outing, going 8 innings, giving up only the one unearned run (although since Beckett made the error, should it really be unearned?). This is the ace we need to see if we are going to have a great shot of bringing home another World Series trophy this October. Beckett and Lester both pitched well in their last starts, which is very encouraging.

OK, so now the 9th. Papelbon comes in to protect the one-run lead. He walks the leadoff batter, Gary Sheffield, but strikes out David Wright and Jeremy Reed. Up comes the Mets backup catcher, Omir Santos. I'm thinking there's no way Paps isn't going to strike this guy out and I'm thinking they're cueing up "Dirty Water" in the press box. Well, Paps leaves his first pitch, a fastball, out over the plate and Santos hits the top of the Monster with it. After some discussion and a review of the replay, the umpires correctly ruled it a home run and the Mets went up 3-2.

I still held out hope in the bottom of the inning. The Sox had the heart of the order coming up: Youk, Bay, Drew and Lowell. Youk walked and I had visions of Jason Bay sending us home, but it was not to be.

The last time I was that disappointed walking out of Fenway Park after a Red Sox loss? Game 4 of the 1998 ALDS, when the Sox lost to Cleveland 2-1 to be eliminated from the playoffs.

It was a great, well played game. I just wasn't crazy about the ending.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I watched the 1964 World Series film on the MLB Network a few days ago, largely because my friend Jim Bouton won 2 games during the Series. What I found interesting was some of the differences in the games over the last 45 years.
    • There were four complete games in the seven game series (one each by Bouton and Mel Stottlemeyer and two by Bob Gibson, one of those a 10 inning game). By contrast, there were no complete games in the 2008 World Series. In fact, the last complete game in a World Series was in 2003, when Josh Beckett (then of the Marlins) beat the Yankees in Game 6.
    • Games were significantly shorter. The longest game of the '64 Series was game 1, which clocked in at 2 hours and 42 minutes. In 2008, the shortest game was 3:05 (game 2), and the longest game (game 3) was 3:41. A lot of the additional time is generated by longer advertising time between innings and more frequent pitching changes, but I have to think that the elaborate batters box and pitchers mound rituals undertaken by today's players adds to the time as well. It looked to me like there wasn't a lot of wasted motion in the 1964 games.
    • People in the stands didn't wear a lot of team logo gear. Sure, there was a Yankees or a Cardinals hat here or there, but most people looked like they were dressed for a night at the theater. It was especially strange in St. Louis, where we have gotten used to the stands being a sea of Cardinals red.
    • Despite the fact that Mickey Mantle won game 3 with a home run in the bottom of the 9th, no one used the word "walkoff".
    • Harry Caray, the Cardinals announcer at the time, was the narrator for the World Series film. He sounded much different than the lovable cartoon character most of us remember from his days with the Cubs.
The film was fun to watch. It was a 7 game series, won by the Cardinals. The Cards had just overcome the Phillies after their epic collapse down the stretch. Both teams featured future Hall of Famers: Mantle and Whitey Ford for the Yankees; Lou Brock and Gibson for the Cardinals.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A few thoughts while watching Celtics-Magic game 7:
  • I need to see Star Trek again. I loved the new movie the first time around, but I'd really like to catch it a second time in the theater. I was hoping to catch it at the Jordan's Furniture IMAX and probably would have gone tonight if the Celtics had managed to wrap this thing up in 6.
  • The Red Sox had a rough road trip on the west coast, losing 4 of 6 to the Angels and Mariners. Two of the losses were of the walkoff variety, with the Angels winning in 12 innings on Thursday and the Mariners beating Manny Delcarmen in the 9th today. Let's hope some home cooking this week does them some good.
  • Terry Francona did the right thing by giving David Ortiz the weekend off. Hopefully, a couple of days to collect himself will get Big Papi back on track. It will be interesting to see where in the lineup Ortiz is hitting against Toronto on Tuesday. I'm thinking he'll be dropped to 5th or 6th.
  • Speaking of Toronto, is anyone else shocked that the Blue Jays sit atop the AL East in mid-May? There's a question about the strength of their schedule - they haven't played the Sox or Rays yet, and only 3 games against the Yankees - but it's still quite an accomplishment to be ahead of what were considered by many to be the three best teams in baseball this deep into the season.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Things can only go up from here, right?

I speak, of course, about David Ortiz. Big Papi's 2009 reached what I'm hoping is the bottom today. During the Sox 12 inning, 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels, Ortiz went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts and left 12 men on base. He left the bases loaded twice. He's now batting .208 and is still looking for his first home run of the year.

I will never say anything bad about David Ortiz. He has done too much for the Red Sox and given us all too many great moments for that. But I really think it's time for Terry Francona to do something. I'm not sure what the right answer is: a day off? Move him down in the batting order? I don't know what might get Papi going back in the right direction, but we're 35 games into the season. It's time to act.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Manny, Manny, Manny...

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few days you know the story. Manny Ramirez tested positive for a banned performance enhancing substance and has been suspended for 50 games.

Manny's apparently disingenuous press release blamed an unnamed physician (has Manny every used the word "physician" instead of doctor?) for prescribing something for a "personal problem". The word is that he tested positive for a substance used by steroid users to enhance their testosterone levels when coming off a cycle. Manny hasn't tried to fight the suspension or brought forth this mysterious doctor to corroborate his story.

This raises a few questions:

What happens to Manny? You have to think his Cooperstown chances are severely damaged. Mark McGwire is the poster child for this - he received less than 22% of the votes in last year's election. I have to think a lot of the voting baseball writers will put Manny in the same boat. He also did great harm to his current team, the Dodgers, who put a big marketing campaign behind him this season. Manny will be back in July, but he's not going to be the lovable hitting savant we have watched all these years.

Who else? No one's name being connected with steroids surprises me any more. There are still 103 names on that list A-Rod was on that we don't know about. Many of the top home run hitters of recent years - Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Palmiero, A-Rod, Sheffield - have been connected to steroids or other performance enhancers. I don't know who's next, but I'm sure there are some big names we haven't heard yet.

Are the Sox World Series titles tainted? Not to me. I think it's fairly safe to say that virtually every team in 2004 and 2007 had some players using PEDs. Although no sigificant Red Sox names came out before Manny, I think it's naive to believe that the Red Sox (or anyone else) were clean during that period. There are three groups right now: those that have been caught; those that haven't been caught; and those under suspicion. It's not right, but that's the way it is.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I wrote this earlier today, before I heard about Manny testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. I didn't have time this evening to get into that, but I'll post about it on the weekend.

Stuff floating around in my head:
  • The Dodgers broke the all-time record with a 13-0 start at home, which is pretty amazing. And they have another game against the Nationals tonight!
  • I'm very excited about going to see the new Star Trek movie tomorrow night. Despite 34 years as a Star Trek fan, I'm not one of these people who is crazy about canon: I don't expect the bridge in a $150 million movie made in 2009 to look the same as the one in a $300,000 per episode TV series made in 1966. I have three criteria for this to be both a good move and good Star Trek for me:
    • It has to be a good story, well told. This seems pretty basic, but there have been enough Trek movies that have gotten this wrong (The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier and Nemesis, anyone?) that it's a concern.
    • They have to get the Classic Trek characters right. I'm not saying the actors should be imitating Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, et al. That would be a disaster. I'm saying that the new actors need to figure out who these characters are based on what we saw over the decades. It's easy in either fan or pro fiction to tell when the author has the characters "voices" wrong - they just don't react to situations and to each other the way they should. It's critically important that Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov are true to what we know they will become.
    • The movie has to stay true to what Star Trek is. Above everything else, Star Trek embodies an optimistic view of the future and embraces the differences between people as something to take delight in. As much as I love Battlestar Galactica, the new Star Trek can't become dark like that. If it does, it's not Star Trek any more.
  • Justin Masterson had his second straight mediocre start last night. At this stage of his career, I think Masterson is best suited to be in the Okajima/Ramirez/Saito/Delcarmen rotation in the 6th-8th innings ahead of Papelbon, and he can pitch multiple innings when needed. I think Francona may move Masterson back into that role once Daisuke comes back from the DL and keep Penny in the rotation, at least until Smoltz is ready to pitch.
  • Heard an interesting interview with a physicist on Baseball Prospectus Radio this morning. He was talking about how randomness affects baseball statistics. For me, the most interesting thing he came up with was this: in a 7 game series, the most talented team should only win about 60% of the time (explaining say, the 2006 Cardinals). To statistically guarantee that the most talented team would win 95% of the time, the World Series would have to be 269 games long!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A few Tuesday evening thoughts...
  • The Red Sox against Tampa Bay: 2-5. The Red Sox against everyone else (heading into game 2 at Yankee Stadium): 14-5. Anyone seeing a problem here?
  • I'm not seeing the new Star Trek movie until Friday, but the critical reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and the movie is being called accessible to everyone. According to The Onion, some hard core Trekkies are unhappy. Check it out here.
  • 6-0, 0.40 ERA. I think most people knew Zack Greinke was a pretty good pitcher, but this good? Well, no one is this good, but Greinke is on one of the great runs of all time. I'm guessing the magic carpet ride will come to an end fairly soon, but he's certainly a early contender for the Cy Young Award.
  • The Dodgers are 5 games up in the NL West, 11-0 at home and the rest of the teams in the division are mediocre at best. L.A. could easily run away with this division if they stay healthy. How are Manny's hammys, anyways?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

We made our first visit to McCoy Stadium this today. J., R. and I were joined by The Hey and his daughter and Bismo and his son for the Pawsox first ever Star Wars Day.

Yes, that's right. Two of my favorite things in the world, baseball and Star Wars. Could it get any better?

Well, I don't think it could. We arrived just after 12 and were greeted by local members of the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion, Star Wars costuming groups. There were stormtroopers, clone troopers, Jedi, TIE fighter pilots, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Han Solo and Princess Leia, among others. I got lots of great pictures of the kids with the characters, which will be posted on my Facebook page in the next couple of days.

The quality of the costumes was incredible. You can tell these folks do a lot of work on these things and really care about the quality and detail.

After taking a bunch of pictures, we made our way into the ballpark. The Pawsox are having a "kids eat free" promotion, so we got the kids coupons and grabbed some lunch, then made our way to our seats.

The game itself was a classic pitchers duel. Clay Buchholz started for Pawtucket, and Brad Penny should be looking over his shoulder. Buchholz went 5.1 innings, giving up no runs and two hits and regularly touching the mid-90s on the radar gun. Whatever Buchholz was missing last year, he seems to have found it again.

The starter for the Guinnett Braves was nearly as good, as Charlie Morton went 7.1 innings and only gave up one run. The run came on a dropped Chip Ambres pop-up, allowing Sean Danielson to score the game's only run. The Pawsox went through three more pitchers before it was over, but came away with their third 1-0 win of the season.

A great ballgame, some Star Wars and good company (including visits with some old high school friends who work the beer stands at McCoy). It just doesn't get much better than that.

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