You’re leaving that guy on the bench?

October 27th, 2007 → 12:14 pm @

Way back on Monday, I raised the question of which of the big four bats—Manny, Ortiz, Lowell, and Youk—was going to be on the bench when the Series moved to Denver. In 2004, this wasn’t a problem; as Bob Ryan put it, your Aunt Ethel knew to start Ortiz over Millar and Malphabet. This year, not so easy. Sitting Youk, as Francona has announced he’s doing, is without a doubt the easiest way out; Lowell’s a veteran entering into free agency; Papi has fully earned his reputation as one of the best playoff performers ever; and Manny is, well, Manny.

But Youk is having one of those unconscious runs that deserves to play itself out. So what to do? The always insightful David Laurila made an interesting suggestion in a recent Baseball Prospectus piece: play Youk at short. Laurila brings up the ’68 Series as precedent, when Tigers manager Mayo Smith started centerfielder Mickey Stanley at short. Now granted, Stanley was filling in for Ray Oyler, a career .175 hitter who batted .135 in ’68; Lugo, for all his struggles, is a legitimate MLB hitter. But he’s not Youk, and he’s definitely not Youk when the Great Goateed Jew is on a hot streak.

There are good reasons not to do this; what’s disappointing is that outside of Laurila’s piece, the notion isn’t even being discussed. That’s indicative of the ways in which managing a baseball team has become more rote, which does leech a bit of the fun out of the game. At least for me, but I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed a bit of bad craziness in his life.

Post Categories: 2007 World Series & David Laurila & David Ortiz & Kevin Youkilis & Manny Ramirez & Mike Lowell

Big Papi mojo: The 2004 ALCS, Game 5, bottom of the 14th

October 24th, 2007 → 10:59 am @

The comments section has been heating up—and lots of smart people have been making lots of good points. There’s a lot I want to comment on (like Manny’s freakishly similar Indians/Red Sox splits—I’m willing to bet no player has ever had two seven-year stretches that were so remarkably alike), and hopefully I will do that in these next few days. (I doubt I’ll revisit the always shocking uninformed inanity displayed by Murray Chass…but only because I’m exercising remarkable self control.) That doesn’t mean this here blog is gonna remain dark: In advance of my heading up to Boston to catch Game 1, here’s one of my all-time favorite Feeding the Monster excerpts; this one details an at-bat Theo labeled “the greatest at-bat to end the greatest game ever played.” (It really shouldn’t need saying, but here goes: if you don’t have your copy of FTM, you’re only hurting yourself. You can buy a copy from Amazon for $10.20 – cheap! – and request a personalized, signed bookplate all in matter of mere seconds.) Without further ado…

In the bottom of the 14th, Yankees pitcher Esteban Loaiza came out for his fourth inning of work. A bust during the regular season, Loaiza had been unhittable in this game, with a devastating sinker falling off one side of the plate and a wicked cut fastball collapsing on the other. His last three innings of work may have been the best pitched innings of the series thus far. Since entering the game in the 11th with runners on first and second and one out, he’d allowed just one walk. Now, Loaiza struck out Mark Bellhorn to begin the inning, and a pair of walks sandwiched around another strikeout put Johnny Damon on second base and Manny Ramirez on first with two outs. David Ortiz was due up at the plate. A base hit would likely win the game.

As Ortiz walked to the plate, he spit into his batting gloves and then smashed his hands together. As he dug into the batter’s box, he tried to drown out the serenading cries of “PAPI, PAPI,” to ignore the adulatory signs that freckled the Fenway stands. “You want to shut everything down,” he later told Globe’s Chris Snow. “After you shut down all the noise and everything around you, that’s when your concentration comes. That’s when you focus on what you want to do.”

Ortiz is often described as a hitting genius, as if his talent is purely God given. He’s more comfortable than many Latin players talking with and teasing reporters, but English is not his first language, and he often plays the part of the friendly jokester. But Ortiz works on his hitting as much as anyone in baseball. While his teammates are in the field, Ortiz often retreats to the Red Sox’s clubhouse to study his previous at-bats against that night’s pitcher. Ortiz had been preparing for Loaiza ever since he’d taken the mound. “I wasn’t trying to go too crazy with him,” Ortiz said later. Because of Loaiza’s pitches’ late movement, Ortiz said, he “just wanted to stay on the ball longer.”

Loaiza’s first pitch looked hittable, and Ortiz took a monstrous cut, but at the last moment the ball dove down and away, and Ortiz missed. Strike one. A ball and a foul made it 1-2. The Yankees were one strike away from sending the game, which had already taken longer than any postseason game in baseball history, into the 15th inning. The fourth pitch was outside but not by enough for Ortiz to take, and he punched it foul. He hit the next pitch deep enough to be a home run, but it hooked foul into the right field stands. Loaiza followed with another ball, bringing the count even, to 2-2. Ortiz stepped out of the batter’s box.

As Ortiz and Loaiza battled, Fenway was in a complete frenzy. A group of young men just behind home plate had been pounding on the dividing wall that separated the field from the stands since the eighth inning. Down the third base line, ESPN’s Peter Gammons stood, poised by the entrance to the field, as he waited for the game to end so he could run out and collect a few quick on-camera quotes. He’d been standing there for a couple of hours already, ever since the bottom of the eighth, when the Yankees looked as if they were about to put away the game, and the series. Gammons, who’d seen the Red Sox beat the Cincinnati Reds in extra innings in the Sixth Game of the 1975 World Series, couldn’t seem to erase the grin from his face. “Unbelievable,” he occasionally murmured, shaking his head.

Ortiz knew a walk would load the bases, and with Doug Mientkiewicz on deck, he also knew the Yankees would much prefer to pitch to the light-hitting defensive specialist than to the man whose postseason highlight reel seemed to grow with each passing day. At this point, the difference between men on first and second and men on every base was negligible: with two outs, the lead runner would be off on contact in either case, and a base hit would likely win the game regardless of whether Damon was on second or third. Even with two strikes, Ortiz knew Loaiza wasn’t going to give him anything on the fat part of the plate, and the way Loaiza was pitching, he could keep on painting the corners forever. Ortiz dug in, determined to foul off as many pitches as it took until there was one he could handle.

And so Ortiz fouled off the seventh pitch of the at bat, and then the eighth and the ninth. As he stepped out of the batter’s box again, he examined his bat before seizing it by the barrel and smacking it, handle first, into the ground to make sure one of Loaiza’s cutters hadn’t splintered it. Satisfied, he tucked it under his arm, spat into his gloves once more, smacked his hands together again, and settled back in to hit. And on the tenth pitch of David Ortiz’s seventh plate appearance of the night, Loaiza threw a cut fastball in on his hands. Ortiz, no longer swinging for the fences, fisted the ball over Derek Jeter’s head, where it fell in front of center fielder Bernie Williams. On national television, commentator Joe Buck exclaimed, “Damon coming to the plate, he can keep on running to New York. Game 6, tomorrow night!” As Loaiza walked dejectedly off the mound he spit out his gum and took a swat at it with his glove. This had been the best he’d pitched all year, and still Ortiz had beaten him.

It was Ortiz’s second walk-off hit of the series and his third of the postseason; no other player in history had hit more than two in his entire career. Afterwards, Theo Epstein said, “It might be the greatest game ever played. I’d like to hear other nominations…. That might have been one of the greatest at-bats to end the greatest game ever played.” Pedro Martinez, who’d made headlines in September after referring to the Yankees as “my daddy” after a tough loss to New York, said simply, “The Yankees need to think about who’s their Big Papi.”

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & 2007 World Series & David Ortiz & Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Yankees

Sorry, dude: you’re on the bench tonight…

October 22nd, 2007 → 10:33 am @

2007 ALCS Stats

Player 1: .500 BA, .576 OBP, .929 SLG, 1.505 OPS, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 10 R, 1 2B

Player 2: .292 BA, .424 OBP, .542 SLG, .966 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 3 2B

Player 3: .333 BA, .375 OBP, .519 SLG, .894 OPS, 1HR, 8 RBI, 3 R, 2 2B

Player 4: .409 BA, .563 OBP, .727 SLG, 1.290 OPS, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 2B, 5 R

It’s an enviable position to be in, for sure…but next weekend’s games in Colorado mean one of these big four thumpers is going to be riding the pine at any given point. If you were just taking a gander at these numbers, you’d figure either player 2 or player 3 would be the odd man out, right? That’d mean that you’d be benching either Papi (Player 2) or Lowell (Player 3). My guess is that player 1 – that’s Youk, for those of you who haven’t figured it out by now, with Manny being Player 4 – is going to be the odd man out, at least at the beginning of any given game, but there’ll be plenty of chances for him to get in (filling in after a pinch runner, defensive replacement, etc).

Just to be a mild contrarian, I think there’s a good argument to be made for Youk to be starting lineup, displacing the consensus ’07 MVP at third. Youk is a good hitter on a torrid streak, and worse hitters have stayed white hot at crucial times: Think Bellhorn—whom I would have named co-WS MVP along with Foulke—and his game-winning homer in Game 1 of the ’04 WS along with his .700 SLG/1.263 OPS, or Todd Walker with a line of .349, .400, .778, 1.178 OPS as 5 HRs—out of 15 hits!—in the ’03 playoffs.

That’ll be one interesting thing to watch (along with the weather), when the Series gets to Denver next weekend. Another lineup development that should get some attention is situation in CF. I’ve been a fan of Coco’s all along, and the game-ending catch last night (I can’t find a pic or video clip, even in 101-page photo essay. Anyone else have any luck?) shows why. But Jacoby clearly is more comfortable at the plate, even if he’s not even close to comparable in center. (Check out the picture accompanying the story announcing that Jacoby would start Game 6 as evidence.) He’s good, to be sure…but we really have witnessed an historic defensive year from Covelli…if I was forced to decide, which, thank god, I’m not, I’d probably platoon them.
Lots of other things to discuss and mull over, of course, and hopefully we’ll all have time to do just that in the days to come. For now, congrats, folks. We’re going to the Series.

Post Categories: 2007 Playoffs & 2007 World Series & Coco Crisp & David Ortiz & Jacoby Ellsbury & Kevin Youkilis & Manny Ramirez

Filling the void: How the Sox got their groove back

March 26th, 2007 → 11:25 am @

Yes, baseball season is (almost) upon us, which means, of course, a glut of all things Red Sox-related. And if Boston needs anything, it’s more commentary about the team…and I’m here to fill the void. Specifically, I wrote a piece for this month’s Boston Magazine — the one with Big Papi’s smiling mug on the cover — about how the Sox, um, got their groove back. (Note: writers to do not get to write their own headlines.) (Another note: props to reader djarm18 for the story link; for some reason I couldn’t find it online earlier.)
So: go pick it up. You’ll get an excerpt from the Papi/Tony Maz book, which I haven’t read yet, but hey, it’s Papi, so I’m sure it’s worth at least checking out. And feel free to tell me what you think in the comments. I’m ready for the abuse…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Boston Magazine & David Ortiz

Big Papi: The biggest bargain in the history of professional sports

February 22nd, 2007 → 10:21 pm @

OK, fine, that’s probably an exaggeration, but David Ortiz has to be up there. (There was some brief discussion of Ortiz’s relative pay in today’s press conference.) To recap, here’s a rundown of the man’s paydays since he’s been in Boston.

2003: $1,250,000
2004: $4,587,500
2005: $5,250,000
2006: $6,500,000
2007-2010: $12,500,000/yr (with a team option in 2011).

If you throw in the $2 million signing bonus Ortiz got when he re-upped last April, that’s a total of $82,087,500 for nine years of service (or $69,587,500 for eight years, if the Sox decide he’s not worth the $12.5 in ’11). Put another way, if Ortiz never played another game in his life and still collected the four remaining years of his contract, he’d have averaged $17,396,875 per year for ’03-’06. That’s less than Manny, Jeter, and A-Rod…and none of them has finished in the top 5 in MVP voting each of those years. (Fine, fine…A-Rod did win the award twice. But his lips are blue.)
Eighty two million dollars — or sixty nine million, for that matter — is an obscene amount of money, and it speaks to nothing so much as the insane paydays afforded professional athletes than there’s any world in which this could be considered below market value. But take a gander at this season’s free agent signings. That’s right: Ortiz was signed last April for just a little more than guys like Gil Meche and Ted Lilly are making.

Post Categories: David Ortiz & Major league contracts

This makes me feel old.

December 8th, 2006 → 3:41 pm @

Larry Bird is fifty years old.

I love David Ortiz — you know, that other Boston sports hero with a tricky ticker — but Larry Legend will always have that special, first-true-love place in my heart. (For a great Larry v. Papi piece, check out Bill Simmons’s masterpiece on the subject.)

Happy birthday, you ol’ hick.

Post Categories: David Ortiz & Larry Bird

“Eso no es problema,” dijo Ortiz

November 29th, 2006 → 1:46 pm @

One of the many mistakes I made in high school was taking French — which has come in handy exactly never — instead of Spanish. So I can’t be sure that I’m reading this right, but I’m pretty sure that “eso no es problema” can be translated as, “It won’t be a problem.” That is, David Ortiz told El Diario that it wouldn’t be a problem is Manny Ramirez weren’t on the Red Sox next year.

(I’m actually more confident in my translation than in Babelfish‘s. Here are some selections from their attempt at deciphering the piece:

“‘Manny is a key card in the equipment, but… I have been developed all my single life and single it is necessary to battle, which is is that to throw p√°lante’, it indicated.
Ortiz and the Ramirez form one of the more frightful offensive pairs of the baseball of the Great Leagues and the year last with the Red Averages they added towed quadrangular 89 and 239. …
‘that is Already problems between Manny and the equipment of Boston, but we will see in what it finishes. They finish almost always with Manny in the equipment, we hoped that she happens thus ‘, added.”

Indeed. Who doesn’t hope it finish with Manny in the equipment? But I digress…)

Ortiz’s statements seem to offer even more evidence that Manny is likely on his way out; I can’t imagine Papi hasn’t been in touch with both the team and with his partner in the most frightful offensive pair of the Great Leagues. Lots of press reports seem to indicate this as well: ESPN’s Buster Olney reports the chances of the Sox dealing Ramirez are a 9 out of 10 (it was Olney who tipped me off to the El Diario piece); the Globe‘s Gordon Edes has some specifics, mentioning San Diego’s Scott Linebrick, Jack Peavy, and Adrian Gonzalez and the Mariners’ Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson as possible bounty; while the Herald’s Michael Silverman raises the possibility that the Sox are responding to Manny’s latest trade requests by doing some reverse-psychology jujitsu, fermenting all this “activity on the Ramirez trade front” as a “good-faith gesture to keep Manny happy.” (Believe me, it’s not the craziest notion in the world.)

I’ve had some more thoughts since yesterday, when I said I was stumped as to why the Sox would consider trading Ramirez and signing J.D. Drew (with whom the Sox are apparently on the verge of finalizing a 4- to 5-year deal for $14 million per), and, in my usual flip-floppy way, I think I’ve come around to why some sort of trade does make sense, or at least is, at this point, unavoidable. (My inability to take a position and stick to it is one reason I’ll never be a successful politician, although arguably not as a big of one as my sordid past). But that’ll have to wait for later…

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & David Ortiz & Making flippy floppy & Manny Ramirez