I know I’m in the minority here…

January 3rd, 2007 → 12:09 am @

…but I’m gonna miss Keith Foulke, who looks to be taking his hockey-loving self to Ohio. (Someone should warn the ladies of Cleveland just what they’re in for.) The history of the 2004 World Series will be replete with tales of Christ-like Curt and Papi “David” Ortiz, but Burger-King Keith was as much of a hero as anyone, and should have gotten some kind of postseason award for his trouble. For whatever weird reason, two of my enduring images of those playoffs are: 1. Foulke on the mound in the bottom of the ninth in Yankee Stadium, blowing snot out of his nose (trust me, it was kind of amazing), and 2. Foulke with his arms out in the air after the final out of the Series in the ultimate “Can You Believe It? pose.”

Anyway, here’s my description of Keith at the end of that Yankees game as described in Feeding the Monster:

In the ninth, Keith Foulke was called upon for the third straight game. Out of everyone in Boston’s bullpen, Foulke was likely the most spent. He’d thrown 50 pitches two nights earlier in Boston’s Game 4 victory, and followed that up with 22 more pitches in Game 5. Before that, the most pitches Foulke had thrown in a game that year was 41, and the most he’d thrown in any three-day stretch was 62. When he came to the mound in Game 6, he’d thrown 72 pitches in the previous 48 hours.

Foulke’s best pitch is his changeup. Changeups are thrown with the same pitching motion as a fastball, but come in with less velocity; because the hitter can’t tell what’s coming, the reduced speed leaves him off-balance. In order for a changeup to be effective, a pitcher needs to have a decent enough fastball to keep the hitter honest. Foulke’s fastball had never been overpowering, but at 92 miles-per-hour was respectable enough to adequately set up his change.

On the 19th, it was clear from the first batter that Foulke wouldn’t be throwing in the low nineties. His fastball was topping out at 88 or 89 miles-per-hour, which didn’t provide enough deception to make his 82 or 83 mile-per-hour change its normal, knee-buckling self. What’s more, home plate umpire Joe West had a tight strike zone: anything the slightest bit off the plate was going to be called a ball. Hideki Matsui, the first man up in the inning, walked, bringing the tying run to the plate. After striking out Bernie Williams and getting Jorge Posada to pop up, Ruben Sierra came to bat. Like Matsui, Sierra—who’d been 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against Schilling—battled his way on base via a seven-pitch walk. He was followed by former Red Sox first baseman Tony Clark, and as Clark prepared to hit, the angry and frustrated fans in Yankee Stadium came to life. This was how it was supposed to work in New York. A walk-off home run by one of the Yankees role players would make up for the anguish of the last several days.

“That at bat, for me, was the most nerve-wracking moment of the series,” says Epstein. “Foulke has nothing, he’s getting squeezed, and a Clark home run ends it all.” At home, at least the Red Sox would get a chance to bat last—in Yankee Stadium, there would be no more chances. As Clark settled into the batter’s box, the Boston outfielders moved back about ten feet. They’d gladly sacrifice a single in order to save a game-tying double from getting over their heads.

When Foulke pitches, he looks a bit like a cobra striking: he has a compact delivery and jerks the ball out of his glove before exploding toward to the plate. He wound up and threw in to Clark. Ball one. Seconds later, he tried it again. Ball two. In the Red Sox’s dugout, Terry Francona bowed his head and began rocking back and forth. Foulke’s third pitch was eminently hittable, but Clark held off, bringing the count to 2-1, and a fourth pitch foul evened it up. The fifth pitch of the at bat was in the dirt. With a full count, the Yankee runners would be off with the pitch, meaning they’d be even more likely to score on a single. Foulke took a deep breath, walked around the mound, and started his windup. He threw an 88-mile-per-hour fastball, which Clark swung through to end the game. As Foulke ran off the field, his voice hoarse, he pounded Bronson Arroyo on the back. “Gotta make it interesting,” he shouted before heading to the showers.

In the twenty-five previous best-of-seven series in Major League Baseball in which one team had gone up three games to none, not a single series had been forced to a seventh game. “We just did something that has never been done,” Schilling said afterwards. “It’s not over yet by any stretch.” The Red Sox had already made history. Now the pressure would really be on New York.

Yeah…good times. Happy trails, Keith. I really will miss you.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & Keith Foulke

Why you knew the A’s weren’t going to be the second team to come back from 0-3.

October 16th, 2006 → 12:26 am @

“We’re running into a better team, and they’re knocking down everybody in their path. It’s not frustrating, they’re better than we are.”
— A’s third baseman Eric Chavez after Oakland’s Game 3 2006 ALCS loss.

“We have to do what’s never been done in Major League baseball history and that’s come back from a 3-0 deficit.”
— Johnny Damon after the Red Sox’s Game 3 2004 ALCS loss.

“It’s as big a hole as you can dig yourself, but obviously, you’re going to keep fighting them and try to dig your way out of it.”
— Bronson Arroyo, ditto

“It’s never fun being down 3-0, but there’s still hope. We’ve still got a chance.”
— Tim Wakefield, ditto

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & 2006 Wrap-ups and report cards

It’s July. And you know what that means.

July 25th, 2006 → 10:05 am @

When I do readings, the two questions I get more than any others are:

* Was Nomar on steroids?


* What’s Manny really like?

I have no idea what the answer is to the first one. And I always struggle with how to answer the second one: Manny practically embodies the meaning of the word enigma. In an article in today’s Boston Globe, Gordon Edes does a wonderful, and wonderfully funny, job of describing what it means for Manny to be Manny:

“One must always allow for the prospect, even after last night’s 7-3 Red Sox win over the Oakland Athletics, that Manny Ramírez may awaken today to an entirely new world of possibilities. Perhaps he has dreams of relocating to his wife’s native Brazil to become a gaucho, riding tall in the saddle. Maybe he’d like to return to his old neighborhood on the far side of Manhattan, strutting through the streets with a boom box on his shoulder the same way he did in the Sox clubhouse the other day, saying, ‘This is how we do it in Washington Heights.’ …

“But happily for the Red Sox and their aspirations for October, Ramírez seems no more inclined to want any of these scenarios to materialize this week as he is to ask to be traded. By most any measure, that represents spectacular progress from this time a year ago, when a change of address was foremost on Manny’s wish list.”

As yes, a year ago. Manny had one of his little spells down in Tampa, didn’t start the first two games of a homestand, and then came out about a half-hour after the tradeline had passed to hit a game-winning single against the Twins. (All together now: double-finger point!)

Come to think of it, late July has been a weird, wild time for the Red Sox these last few years. Remember 2004? Sure you do. On the morning of July 24, the Red sox were 9 1/2 games out of first. The start of that afternoon’s game against the Yankees was delayed because Fenway’s field was soggy. Terry Francona got ejected in the 2nd inning. Jason Varitek tried to feed Alex Rodriguez his catcher’s mitt.* And the Red Sox capped a three-run, ninth-inning comeback with Bill Mueller’s walkoff two-run shot of Mariano Riviera. (True story: I “watched” that game from a computer in a hotel lobby in Dubrovnik, Croatia, waiting as a slow internet connection fed me the MLB Gameday info.) The match, which Theo Epstein called “catalytic,” came on the tail-end of a 75-game stretch in which the Sox went 38-37. A week later, Nomar was gone. A month later, the Sox began their epic winning streak. And three months later, they were world champions.

So far, July 2006 has been quiet. Too quiet…

*It’s been rumored that, after A-Rod took offense at being plunked by Bronson Arroyo, Varitek told the Yankees third baseman, “We don’t throw at .260 hitters.” That, alas, is an urban legend. But as far as urban legends go, it’s a pretty good one.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & A-Rod & Bill Mueller & Gordon Edes & Jason Varitek & Manny Ramirez & Mariano Riviera & Nomar Garciaparra

Outtakes: Terry Francona on Keith Foulke, Johnny Damon, and Theo Epstein

July 8th, 2006 → 8:19 am @

This is the seventh in a series of outtakes from interviews done for Feeding the Monster, to be published on July 11 by Simon & Schuster. This interview with Terry Francona took place on January 4, 2006, when Francona was recovering from offseason knee surgery. (Theo Epstein was officially re-hired by the Red Sox on January 19.) Read the book for exclusive details on Francona’s hiring following the Red Sox’s collapse in the 2003 playoffs, his take on the 2005 trade deadline controversy with Manny Ramirez, and his reaction to winning the World Series.

On the departure of Theo Epstein: I don’t think I’d say I was nervous or anything, I usually think I tend to believe that things work out for the best and there’s reasons things happened and stuff like that. But not knowing [how the general manager situation would be resolved], I think the word I’d use is unsettling. When there’s change you’re always a bit unsettled, but as far as myself I’ve been around this game a long time and I don’t have trouble getting along with people, so things usually work out.

On former assistant general manager Josh Byrnes, who was named general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks last fall: Josh was a real stabilizing force in that office. He’s somebody I really looked up to a lot. I say that in past tense. I still do, but he doesn’t work here. He’s a great guy. Great head in his shoulders, and when he spoke he was guaranteed one person was listening and that was me. Then we lost Peter Woodfork [who followed Byrnes to Arizona], who was also down there, so you know you lose three people: Theo obviously, his name was out there because he ran the show, but it was the whole office that worked together. You lose three of the guys down there. That’s tough. From where I sit, I know they’ve taken some shots for hiring Ben [Cherington] and Jed [Hoyer as co-general managers] and the two-headed whatever-you-call-it, but I’m glad they did because I think there’s a lot of stability. Things are getting done like they always have. Those guys all work together and they still are. They’re a couple of guys short right now, which I’m sure is making their man-hours a little bit more, but things are getting done like they always do and I’m comfortable with that.

On the attention that comes with working in Boston: I just think its part of what we deal with here. There’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of interest. The media, their job, I guess, is to explain to the masses how they view things. How they view things – that’s what it is – it’s how they view things, it’s not necessarily always correct. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you disagree but that’s how they view it, and that’s their right. And again in a place like Boston where there is a lot of passion and a lot of interest, you can get some interesting articles.

On the 2004 offseason versus the 2005 offseason: Well, it is a more normal winter. Last year wasn’t normal for anybody. Everybody was making appearances and talking about how good we were and it was a big love-fest. This is a little bit more normal. Last winter was a little more fun. Winning brings that. This has been a unique winter here for us, a lot of things have happened: Theo and Johnny Damon and all kind of things happened. So, like you said, anything that happens here is big news, and when it is big news it’s real big news.

On Johnny Damon going to the Yankees: You know what, you know it’s a possibility that a guy can leave, because he’s a free agent he has that right. It’s hard because I don’t think I hid the fact of how much I respected and liked Johnny, but there comes a point when ownership…that’s why I really try to almost stay out of it, because it’s not my money. And you start talking about 40, 50, 60 million dollars – holy smokes. That’s up to ownership and front office to make those decisions. I’m allowed my opinion but I’ll tell you, when you start talking about those kind of millions of dollars, I don’t want to hold ownership or front office hostage by saying things, that’s just not right. The reason these guys have gotten to where they are in life is because they know how to do business. So, you got to sit back and respect that a little bit.

On Keith Foulke: I don’t think [his 2005 season] had anything to do with focus. Foulke comes in to spring training and his knee hurts. That’s not focus. He threw a lot of innings in the playoffs [in 2004]. Sometimes guys maybe achieved some things maybe their bodies really shouldn’t allow them to achieve. And they pay the price. And Foulke was unbelievable. We don’t win [the World Series] without him. It was unreal. He didn’t get the most valuable player, but it was as valuable a contribution as you could find. He was unbelievable. Our whole bullpen was fantastic. It was incredible. It was awesome. Striking out Tony Clark [to end Game Six of the American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium]: It was awesome.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Red Sox & Sports Reporters & Terry Francona & Theo Epstein

Combine a DSL connection, some free time, and lots of online videos… (Warning: no porn content)

July 2nd, 2006 → 1:59 pm @

It’s Sunday, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, and the superballs got me poking around for some great ads. The first one I sought out was “The Showdown” (click on McDonalds in the left-hand menu). Speaking of Jordan, I’m partial to the “Jordan 21” ad. There’s also, of course, some obligatory World Series ads: the funny one and the dusty one.

Once you start poking around for videos, it’s hard to stop. For anyone who hasn’t turned on their TV in the past 24 hours, you can compare Gary Matthews to Coco Crisp. (I know Crisp’s catch was a game-saver, but I don’t see any way Matthews doesn’t come out on top.) I couldn’t find video of Pedro’s 99 All-Star game performance, but here’s a nice tribute (I’d forgotten about the time he offered his glove to an ump and told him to pitch). And then there’s this weirdly touching super-fan remix throw-down, the battle of the Dream Ons, with the Sox going old school and Larry Legend getting the Eminem treatment.

(Apologies to Bill Simmons for the blatant appropriation. And when you go to the Simmons column, check out Will Leitch‘s picks in a sidebar on the right.)

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & Ben Cohen & Coco Crisp & Deadspin & Gary Matthews & Larry Bird & Michael Jordan & Red Sox

David Ortiz admits he’s confused; thought it was October.

June 26th, 2006 → 6:40 pm @

October 17, 2004: David Ortiz hits a home run in the bottom of the 12th to win Game 4 of the ALCS.

October 18, 2004: David Ortiz muscles a single into center field to drive home the winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 of the ALCS.

June 24, 2006: David Ortiz hits a two-run shot in the bottom of the tenth for his second walk-off homer of the month.

June 26, 2006: One game (and one rain delay) later, Ortiz muscles a single into center field to drive home the winning run in the bottom of the 12th.

At this rate, they’re going to need to updatethis on a daily basis.

Next up: the Mets. Right arm of god, meet the left arm of god.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & David Ortiz & Red Sox & Walkoffs