If not now, when?

October 10th, 2007 → 3:29 pm @

So writes Adam Robertson, who goes on to say, “I keep checking for updates and am always disappointed to see an old thread on there…a lot to get excited about right now.” (The rest of his note–“By the way, I read and really enjoyed both of your books”–warmed my heart.) Adam’s missive comes a day after Akiva Yasnyi was even more to the point: “It’s the postseason for god’s sake, blog a little.” And indeed, it’s been two days since the Yankees were sent packing, three days since the Sox swept the Angels for the second time in four years, five days since Manuel’s first-ever walk-off as a member of the Red Sox…and I haven’t written anything for a week. My excuse–too much to do, too little time to do it in–doesn’t cut it. I know. I’m sorry.

It is, unfortunately, true — honest. I haven’t even allowed myself to watch this season’s premier of the best show on television, and that unfortunate reality will keep me from writing anything too monumental (or at least anything that’d require hours or research). But there have been some thoughts swirling around in my muddled brain, and I’ll unload some about Game 2 here:

The Mrs. and I had the good fortune to be at Friday night’s game. Or most of it, anyway: despite leaving New York at 2:30 for what should have been a 3.5 hour drive, it took us a full seven hours to arrive in Boston, and we didn’t arrive at Fenway until the top of the third. That, it turns out, wasn’t such a bad thing: Most of Game 2 of the ALDS was pretty boring. Dice-K was off, and therefore not around for long. Neither the Sox nor the Angels put together any kind of real rally. There were no slap-your-head defensive gems. And Fenway was, for most of the night, slightly less electric than during a tight regular season game. (Example: the three mildly drunken guys sitting behind us had a lengthy conversation about MILF Island–Jack Donaghy‘s new NBC reality show with the tag line, “25 super-hot moms, 50 eighth graders, no rules”–and I followed along.) That all changed, obviously, in the ninth, when, as soon as it became clear that Ortiz was going to get a chance at the plate, everyone pretty much went apeshit. (Another quick observation: three years after the ’04 playoffs, the Sox are still playing “Lose Yourself” when they’re either tied or behind in the ninth. It is truly this generation’s “Eye of the Tiger.”)

That apeshitedness died down a little when K-Rod was ordered to give Ortiz an intentional pass, and not just because Senor Octubre wasn’t going to get a chance to add to his already jaw-dropping post-season legacy. It is because, as brilliant and majestic as Manny is, he doesn’t have much of a history of huge, late-in-the-game hits. (I was astounded when the Fenway scoreboard informed the hoi polloi that Manny had tied for the league lead in game-winning RBIs with 17…but only until I realized that a game-winning RBI can occur in the 2nd inning.) In fact, the man who still seems destined to break Lou Gehrig’s all-time grand-slam record had never had a walk off homer as a member of the Red Sox. (To put it another way: he has one less than Julio Lugo.)

That, of course, is no longer the case, which is cause enough for rejoicing. More exciting is the extent to which that ball was absolutely crushed. I’ve been at Fenway for almost 100 games over the past several years, and that was one of the three hardest hit balls I’ve seen. (The other two: another Manny bomb over the Wall and the rocket A-Rod launched off of Schilling in the ninth of the first game after the ’05 All-Star break.) It also was the type of swing that Manny unleashes when he is locked in and ready to roll, and I haven’t seen that happen since the waning days of 2005. (Indeed, I didn’t think the Sox had any real chance to go all the way that year, but I wanted to playoffs to go on as long as possible just so I could keep on watching him hit.)

Manny’s not the only one who seems dialed in, although Ortiz was pretty on the ball for all of last season. And having these two hitting at the same time is one of the things that, when it occurs, separates the Sox from other teams.

To be sure, they’re both going to be needed. If I wasn’t such a Sox partisan, I’d be tempted to say that the Indians are, pound for pound, the best team in baseball. I didn’t relish the idea of a Sox-Yankees ALCS not because I was scared of the Yankees but because as much as I relish beating New York, the whole Clash of the Titans thing is getting a bit tiresome. That said, I knew the Indians are a much better team. But not a perfect one, by any means, and the biggest weakness on their roster is Joe Borowski, one of those jokes of a closer who somehow amasses a large number of saves. If there’s been a team that good with a closer that imminently hittable, I don’t think I know what it is…

Post Categories: 2007 Playoffs & Cleveland Indians & Manny Ramirez & Yankees

The game’s on the line. Who do you want at the plate, Varitek or Drew?

September 16th, 2007 → 12:35 pm @

Two games at Fenway left me with one sleepless night, one satisfying TKO, nine hours of sitting on my ass in my wooden seats in Section 17, and one excruciating backache; seriously, I haven’t hurt this bad in a good long time.

It also left me a new appreciation with the strange plight of J.D. Drew. Drew had ten at-bats in the two games, going three for eight with three singles, two walks, and two RBIs. (He also reached base on an error.) He had some hard-hit balls that didn’t get through—a shot down the first-base line in the first inning of yesterday’s game stands out—and several critical at-bats: his six-pitch walk led off yesterday’s four-run, five-pitcher seventh inning, and his leadoff single in the ninth inning of Friday’s game made him the first Boston batter to reach base on a hit or a walk since the sixth inning. Think about that for a moment: after the Yankees’ seventh-inning blitzkrieg, the Yankees retired nine out of ten batters, which obviously includes Pedroia, Ortiz, Lowell, Youkilis, and Ellsbury (who struck out on three pitches to end the game). The only rays of hope were when Lowell reach on a passed-ball K in the eighth and when Drew singled off of Riviera to start the ninth.

All of which is fine and good; what struck me, however, was how many times Drew came to bat with two outs and men in scoring position. Take a quick guess. OK, time’s up. I bet not many of you guessed five. That’s right: fully fifty percent of the time, Drew was at the plate with two outs and RISP. Out of those five at bats, he was two-for-four with a walk (for you statheads, that’s an OBP of .600). And yet? Drew was the only member of the team I heard booed at Fenway. You know who didn’t get booed? The guy with the next highest number of two out at-bats with RISP: Cap’n Jason Varitek (rapidly becoming the Sox’s own Captain Intangibles—because, you know, he calls a great game even if he’s batting .253, is ahead of only Lugo and Crisp in OBP, and isn’t great at throwing out runners). Tek went 0-for-8 with a pair of walks in the series’ first two games. He came to the plate four times with 2 out and RISP and went 0-for-4 without ever getting the ball out of the infield. (In yesterday’s game, Tek grounded to first on two pitches with runners and second and third in the first and popped up to second on two pitches with the bases loaded in the third; at that point, Wang had walked the previous three batters, included the previous two on a total of 10 pitches.)

That’s not knocking Tek (although I wasn’t a fan of the four-year deal he got after the ’04 season, not so much because he was so overpaid but because it meant the Sox were committing to someone who increasingly seems overmatched at the plate through next season). It is trying to highlight just how hard things are for J.D. at the moment. He’s hitting the ball well, he’s getting on base consistently, he’s working walks, and the crowd still hates him. I know major leaguers are supposed to be immune to that sort of stuff. But it can’t help…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & J.D. Drew & Jason Varitek & Red Sox Fans & Yankees

Dear Mariano – I’m doing everything I can to work you into the ground. Love, Joe.

August 16th, 2007 → 10:36 am @

2006: Mariano Rivera shut down for most of September after experiencing elbow problems.

Spring training, 2007: Joe Torre says he’d prefer not to bring Rivera in to a game before the 9th inning to protect the 37-year-old reliever’s arm.

Rivera’s game logs since last Sunday:

August 12: 1.1 IP, 3H, 1R 1R 30 pitches. (For the ninth time this season, Mariano is asked to record more than 3 outs. He’s brought in in eighth with the Yankees on top by a score of 5-2, 2 out, and runners on first and second. He hits Ryan Garko with a pitch to load the bases before getting a force out to escape the inning. He starts the 9th with a 3 run lead and allows to singles and a double before recording a single out.)

August 13: Blown Save, 1.0 IP, 3H, 1R, 1R, 19 pitches. Gave up three singles in the 9th to allow the O’s to tie the game; Melvin Mora thrown out at plate to help snuff Baltimore’s rally.)

August 15: Blown Save*, Loss, 1.0, 3H, 3R, 3ER, 1HR, 27 pitches. (Brought in in a tie game in the tenth at home; gave up two doubles to start the inning and a home run on the fourth batter of the inning. Fourth HR of the season; he hasn’t topped 3 since 2001.)

You want more? OK: Taking out his rookie year, Mo’s opponent’s batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS — all of which remain impressive — are the highest of his career’s. They’re also higher than Beckett’s, Okajima’s, and Papelbon’s. Even Manny D. has better numbers in everything except OPB, where Mo edges him, .290 to .294. His ERA stands at 3.46; it hasn’t been above 2.00 at season’s end since 2002. Since 2002, the latest in the season his ERA has topped 3.00 was August 11, 2002.

Now, I know I’ve been harping on Joe Torre’s bullpen use all season. But I’ve had good reason. (All of this raises a question: why aren’t we reading any of this info in our daily sports sections? Just wondering.)

* Brain fart: since Mo came in in a tie game, he took the loss, but that’s obviously not a blown save.


I know it’s been a while, and I don’t want to disappoint those folks who expect me to be constant hawking my wares, so here goes: Don’t yet have your copy of Feeding the Monster, the Boston Globe and New York Times bestseller that’s been called “Red Sox porn”? Well, now’s the perfect time to buy your copy (available from Amazon for only $10.20 (cheap)…and you can even get your copy inscribed with one of these free, signed, personalized bookplates. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Mariano Rivera & Yankees

How’s that for a roller-coaster ride? From Gagne to Lester to Lowell, oh my…

August 15th, 2007 → 9:12 am @

Yeah, last weekend sucked. I mean, it really, really sucked. I had forgotten what a good, swift gut punch to the stomach felt like: on both Friday and Sunday, I went into the eighth totally sure the Sox would win. (I was once again reminded of the Celtics-Sixers game when Bird missed two free throws at the end of a game in Philly; the result was that the C’s lead remained at 2. Dr. J, naturally, hit and throw-up-a-prayer three to win the game.) Those blown saves, coupled with a still-sputtering offense, coupled with a Yankees team that seems incapable of losing…well, let’s just say even though I might pretend I like the excitement of a tight pennant race, I was really looking forward to nice, calm September.

So, to deal with all this, I took refuge, as I oft do, in the life of the mind…or, at least, the life of the procrastinator, and tried to figure out some lessons to take away from what will heretofore be referred to as the Great Gagne Massacre of 2007…

1. Gagne is still filthy; some of his 69 MPH curves last night looked downright unhittable. I’m not (that) worried about him not being a reliable 8th inning guy. No matter what, striking out the side is an impressive feat.

2. Speaking of a reliable 8th inning guy, I’m sure as shit glad that Okie from MuskaHokkaido is getting some rest. He needs it. (See: Proctor, Scott.) Despite the unfortunate results, last weekend’s — and last night’s — bullpen use by Tito made me glad, once again, that Torre ain’t in the Sox dugout. No team is going to succeed in the playoffs without a stable of relievers that can be relied upon, and if you want to rely on guys, you need to both keep them healthy and use them in enough situations to give them the confidence they can succeed when the game’s on the line.

3. Speaking of Torre, did anyone notice what Mariano has looked like the last few days? On Sunday, slow-and-steady Joe called on Mo to pitch an inning-plus for the ninth time this season. In the ninth, the great Panamanian One gave up two singles and a double, prompting Torre to come out to the mound to make sure the Greatest Postseason Closer in History (TM) wasn’t injured. Then, after throwing 30 pitches in that game, Mariano was called on again on Monday; not surprisingly, he gave up three singles in the ninth to allow the O’s to score the game’s tying run; if the O’s third-base coach hadn’t foolishly sent Mora home earlier in the inning, Baltimore would have gone into the bottom of the 9th with a 7-6 lead. That two-day sequence exemplifies Torre’s foolishness as well as anything: on one day, he’s worried he’s injured Riviera by riding him like an overworked hooker; a little more than 24 hours later, he throws him out there again.

4. Is there anyone else out there that would rather have Mike Lowell at the plate with the game on the line instead of Papi or Manny? (I know this is heresy, but I think right now, I might even prefer DP at the plate over the two Dominican sluggers. The world is a weird place.)

5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Coco.

6. I also feel the man-love for Jon Lester.

That’s all for now. More on (He’s not Henry) Clay, among other topics, later…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Coco Crisp & Eric Gagne & Joe Torre & Jon Lester & Oblique References to American History & Oblique References to Merle Haggard Songs & Yankees

Shine on me crazy lady luck

August 6th, 2007 → 2:08 pm @

For folks interested in how the Yankees are now just a half-game behind Detroit in the Wild Card, let’s look at what’s been happening over the last several months. Since July 1, New York has gone 23-10, good for a .700 winning percentage. (For the record, that’d be good for a season total of 113 wins, just off the record of 116 set by the (19)06 Cubs and the ’01 Mariners.) Add in June, and the club’s record is 39-21, which works out to a .650 winning percentage. To do this, they’ve averaged about 800 runs per game over the past several weeks.

The Sox, meanwhile, have gone 19-13 since July 1 (.593) which is still good enough to lead every division in baseball. (They’ve gone 32-27 since June 1, for a .542 winning percentage, which would only bring them to the top of the heap in the NL Central.)

So: are the Sox lucky to have a 7 game lead, or are the Yankees lucky to have gone through this torrid hot streak? The former, actually. The Sox’s Pythagorean W-L is 69-42 (they’re actually 68-43), while the Yankees P W-L is 68-42 (they’re actually 61-50). (The Baseball Reference link above explains P W-L, which is “an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed,” a stat developed by Bill James that uses a team’s runs scored and runs allowed.)

That doesn’t mean that entire seven-game lead can be attributed to luck; one thing the Yankees’ record shows is the importance of a bullpen. And Torre’s continued abuse of his pitchers wouldn’t inspire much confidence in me if I were a Yankees fan (which, of course, I am not). Exhibit A: Mariano was called on yesterday to, for the eighth time this year, record more than three outs…this after Torre said in spring training that he wanted to limit the 37-year-old Rivera — who strained a muscle in his right elbow last September — to pitching in the ninth: “I’m not of a mind to use him in the eighth inning.” What’s that saying about best laid plans?

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Bill James & Oblique References to Pink Floyd Songs & Red Sox & Yankees

With 64 games remaining…it’s coming down to the wire

July 23rd, 2007 → 11:33 am @

So: there are 64 games left in the season, the Sox are within a whisker of having the best record in baseball (.602 winning percentage vs the Tigers’ .604), they’re 7.5 games up on the Yankees, they’re fourth in the AL in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, and 2nd in OBP. Their pitching staff has the second best ERA, the second most K’s, and the second best batting average against.

All of that’s good news, and (and yes, this has already become a very tired refrain) if anyone told any of you during spring training this is what the baseball universe would look like with a little more than a week left in July, you’d be ecstatic. If I was a betting man (note: I am a betting man), I’d put good money down on Boston to win the AL East.But since bloggers and sportswriters alike need something with which to occupy their time (and space, whether that be virtual or actual), let’s break down some numbers. Since the beginning of June, the Sox have been a .500 team (on the dot, actually, with a 23-23 record); during that same period, the Yankees have been a .640 team. That’s a good stretch of time; if those numbers were to hold for the remainder of the year, the Yankees, with 93 wins, would win the division by 2 games.

But wait! If you go back and count off 64 games (the number of games actually remaining in the season) and replicated those patterns, you’d end up with the Sox winning the East by…7.5 games, since both teams have put up 36-28 record in that time. And certainly you’d be more likely to expect the Sox to play at something closer to a .600 clip than a .500 clip, right? Because, really, how many good baseball teams play .500 ball for months on end?

How about the ’04 Boston Red Sox? (You had to have seen that coming.) Before running away with the, er, Wild Card in August, the Sox had a three month stretch — May through July — in which they played .500 ball (.506, actually; they were 41-40).

All of this still leaves me without any discernible point. Fear not; I actually have several.

1. It’s patently ridiculous for sportswriters to declare in May (or June, or July) that a race is “over” unless it’s actually, mathematically over. Nevertheless, that’s what lots of people were doing, from the folks over at “Baseball Tonight” to almost every newspaper in the greater New England area. (That tendency is excusable; it takes someone with a true dedication to stupidity to posit the opposite.)

2. The Yankees were never, ever as bad as they looked. They have a scary offense — as shown by the fact that they’re leading the AL in plenty of offensive categories. And their pitching staff is good enough to carry them along: Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2007 is a far cry from Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2003, but it’s not awful; throw in Wang and the potentially terrifying Phil Hughes and you’ve got yourself a rotation.

3. Inre #2: It is time once again to praise Joe Torre’s bullpen management. If — and this is an enormous if, obviously — the Bombers do make it to the playoffs, the combo of aging starting pitchers and a bullpen full of dead-arm relievers is going to be a big problem.

All of this, I suspect, will make for a fun couple of months. If I was being forced to guess (note: I do not need to be forced to guess), I say Boston’s division lead will be as low as 4 games and that they’ll ultimately end up winning the East by somewhere between 6 and 8. Oh, and I’d also guess that New York won’t be in the playoffs, A-Rod won’t be in the Bronx come next spring, and Joe Torre will wish he’d retired a year earlier.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Red Sox & Sports Reporters & Yankees

Back to the future: The players association, the 2004 offseason, the scariest 3-4-5 combo ever

July 14th, 2007 → 2:09 pm @

Ah, yes, the wonders of 20-20 hindsight. Back in 2000, when A-Rod signed a 10-year, $250 million deal, Rangers owner Tom Hicks was widely derided as a total buffoon for offering that kind of money. He most certainly way; Hicks’ offer was about $100 million more than the next highest one. But with three years remaining on the deal, it looks like $25 million/year is going to be, in the through-the-looking glass world of MLB, a relative bargain. So much of a bargain, in fact, that A-Rod said yesterday that he was refusing the offer to negotiate a contract extension during the season, preferring to take an out-clause in his deal and become a free agent when this season ends.

Those with extra good memories — and close readers of Feeding the Monster, the NYT and Boston Globe bestseller (available now in paperback for only ten bucks — cheap!) will remember that it was exactly this type of out clause that Union Prez Gene Orza ridiculed as being worthless…and it was Orza’s stance (combined with Larry Lucchino’s volatility) that squashed the A-Rod to Boston deal.

I wrote about this same thing back before the season began; that post contained an excerpt from FTM that quoted from “The A-Rod Chronicles,” the book’s relevant chapter. I’ll reprint a paragragh of that here:

“The Red Sox and Rodriguez ended up working out a deal in which Rodriguez would cut approximately $4 million a year off the last seven years of his deal in return for some licensing rights and the ability to declare free agency at different points during the remaining years of his contract. When the two sides presented the deal to Orza, he was dumbfounded. No one had signed a contract for as much as $20 million in years, Orza said. The made the offer of free agency essentially worthless — there was no way Rodriguez would ever sign a more lucrative contract again. (emphasis added) Orza made a counter-proposal he said the union would be able to accept, in which the Red Sox would save a total of about $12 million instead of $28 million. The Red Sox initially rejected Orza’s figure…”

I’m on the record as calling the Players Association “full of crap,” “moronic,” and “power-hungry,” so I don’t think my feelings about Gene Orza and crew are all that opaque. But here is another instance where Orza et al were egregiously wrong; unfortunately, many of the players are so convinced everyone else is out to screw them it’s unlikely anything will ever change…at least for another couple of decades, when retired players start growing tumors out of their eyeballs and guys on the field wonder if the fight against effective drug testing was really worth it.

It’s also interesting that note that had Orza been a bit more prescient about the vagaries of the marketplace, the Sox would, in all likelihood, currently have A-Rod at short and Magglio Ordonez in left. Or, to put it another way, we’d have a guy with 14 HRs, 54 RBIs, and a .992 OPS batting third, a guy with 31 HRs, 87 RBIs, and a 1.083 OPS batting cleanup, and a guy with 13 HRs, 72 RBIs, and a 1.028 OPS hitting fifth. This is, of course, based on a whole mess of assumptions, including the re-signing of Magglio; lots else would have been different as well (Jon Lester, for example, wouldn’t be a member of the Red Sox organization; he was heading to Texas with Manny). But as much as I despise A-Rod — and I do despise A-Rod — that is an absolutely terrifying trio. (Suffice to say that, at least thus far this year, Papi would be the weak link.)


I haven’t been posted as much as usual…which means I haven’t been reminded everyone out there about my offer of free signed and personalized bookplates. They’re really nice, and will be the icing on the cake for all of those copies of FTM you buy as gifts for the loved ones and beachgoers in your life. Don’t delay! Act today!

Post Categories: A-Rod & Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Manny Ramirez & Players association & Yankees