May 2006

Adjustment time for Schilling

Few pitchers understand themselves better than the Big Schill, Curt Schilling. This isn’t a case of him giving up six homers in his last two starts and not knowing why.

Schilling grasps exactly what he is doing, which is making it more frustrating for him. He is a power pitcher, always has been, probably always will be.

The problem he is having is that that power is now 91-93-mph instead of 95-98 mph. When Schilling is in jams, his killer instinct still makes him go for a high-octane fastball instead of concentrating more on location.

By trying to throw the ball too hard, Schilling is mislocating at key times — case in point, tonight’s 95 mph pitch that Gibbons deposited over the wall for a two-run homer.

Remember that Pedro went through this same adjustment around 2002, suffering a drop in velocity and learning how to win in spite of it. This is a hard transition for any pitcher to make, even guys who have the stuff of Pedro and Schilling.

Schilling needs to start focusing more on painting instead of power. I think he realizes that. The Yankees will be a crucial and telling test on Monday night at Fenway.

Tonight was a win, let’s not forget that. Loretta continues to be lights out. Papelbon is still unhittable. And Timlin is still getting it done at the age of 40.

To me, the bullpen and timely hitting are the two reasons this team is in first place right now.

Also, here is a plug for what sounds like a pretty cool upcoming event for you local Bostonians.

There is an interesting event going
on at the Boston Public Library from

10 a.m.-4 p.m.

(intermission for lunch) on Saturday.

SABR, the regional chapter
of the Society for American Baseball Research, is having a symposium on
sabermetrics that will give you insight on how general managers such as Theo
Epstein find strong bargains on the open market. The event is free and open to
the public.

Among other things, the
seminar will delve into the cutting edge findings of the stats gurus, including
news about clutch hitting and how to predict a team’s likelihood of success.

For more information,
contact Cecilia Tan of SABR Publicity at 617-290-9043, or e-mail sabrpublicity@yahoo.com.

More later,

Ian.

Trot vs. Wily Mo

Reading through some recent posts, it is inevitable that a Trot-Wily Mo controversy is going to develop about the second Coco comes off the disabled list.

But I’m pretty sure this debate will only take place in the media and on the streets, and not in manager Terry Francona’s office.

Personally, I think the combination of Pena and Trot is much more effective than asking either guy to be the everyday right fielder. Trot still hits with authority against right-handed pitching and I’m sure his power is going to increase as the weather warms up. Trot is also a very good right fielder, particularly in the vast playing territory at Fenway.

I’m not saying that Pena should only play against left-handed pitchers. By all means, give him a start  every week or two in center, let him play a game in left every now and again, and Manny can DH with David playing first. DH Wily Mo against the tougher lefties in the league and give David an occasional day off. I believe that Francona will be creative enough to get Pena 3 to 4 starts a week. It can be done, i think it will be done.

Nixon has been a class act and a sometimes overlooked performer throughout his time in Boston. This might be the last year for Trot in Boston, so let’s enjoy Trot and all he brings. Wily Mo will probably have right field all to himself next year, at which point he will have had a full year of absorbing lessons from Manny and David.

What does everyone else think about this? Does it make sense? By the end of the year, I’d look for Trot to have about 500 at-bats, with Wily Mo getting somewhere between 350 and 400. With those at-bats, I think the Red Sox will get some of the best RF production in baseball.

Give me your thoughts.

Thanks,

Ian.

Back in Birdland

Finally, we get to see some baseball. After an epic last Thursday at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox have played a grand total of 5 1/2 innings, and a dreary 5 1/2 at that. Crazy.

As baseball writers, players or fans, you get accustomed to a game every day. Two days without one feels like an eternity.

Beckett should have plenty in his arm tonight after getting an extra day of rest. You have to like the way the pitching lines up in these three games for the Sox, with Schill and Wake following Beckett.

Wells was supposed to throw a simulated game today, but it rained here at Camden in the afternoon, so he was pushed back until tomorrow. he seemed a little aggravated because this is obviously pushing back his return to the active roster. For now, it looks like he’ll pitch for Pawtucket on Sunday in Scranton, and perhaps start for the Red Sox five days after that.

Several Red Sox hitters were in a good groove last week, including Loretta, Gonzalez, Lowell and Youkilis. Actually Youkilis has been in a groove since the day the season started it seems like. Will the layoff slow any of those guys down? Maybe it has allowed Papi to get his swing back, just by clearing his head for a few days.

The time off was great for the bullpen, especially Timlin and Papelbon. Sorry to inform you, but the weather is not nearly as miserable in Baltimore right now as it is back in Boston. It’s warm, and so far, bright, though i hear the forecast here isn’t that great this week.

That’s all for now. more later.

Survival in the Bronx

Mark Loretta now knows what it’s like to be in the thick of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Same goes for Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Lowell.

You can watch the rivalry and even experience it as a background performer, like Papelbon and Youkilis did previously. But you don’t know what it’s like to be in the middle of it until zany nights like Thursday.

As Papelbon aptly said after the game, the Red Sox laid it all on the line to win this game.

Loretta is taking great at-bats every time he’s at the plate. Same goes for Youkilis. Doesn’t it seem like Youkilis hits the ball hard every at-bat?

Perhaps not as hard as Papelbon throws it. This kid continues to be something. The Yankees aren’t used to seeing the Red Sox with such an overpowering weapon in the late innings. As good as Foulke was two years ago, I think it does more psychological damage for an opponent to see a guy like Papelbon out there, who just overpowers people.

We all had questions about how this particular Red Sox team would do when the pressure is on top of them. This is no longer the team of Johnny Damon and Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar, etc., who showed ealry on in their tenure with Boston that they didn’t fear the Yankees and could go toe to toe with them.

It appears that trait has been passed on to this group. You can say all you want about it being just a regular season game in early May. But these games really do come with the buzz of October.

And what a double whammy this was for the Yankees. Hideki Matsui might not play another baseball game in 2006. Fractured wrist, ouch! You don’t wish that on anyone. He has been such a key performer for the Yankees over the last four seasons, it’s hard to see this not being a major blow. What will the Yankees be able to get out of Sheffield? Will his wrist nag at him once he comes off the DL?

Brief three-game set at Fenway against the Rangers, but the forecast is bad. Hopefully we’ll see some baseball. It will be hard to see what we saw thursday though. Those games are a treat, even when they last four hours.

Talk to you from Fenway,

Ian.

Schilling shellacked

A 3-0 lead with Schilling on the hill. That’s basically gold on most nights. It was somewhat shocking to see Schilling make so many mistakes at Yankee Stadium, a place where he has normally pitched so well in his career.

This was a tough loss to take for the Sox. They had Mussina on the ropes and couldn’t finish him off. That fastball Schilling threw A-Rod might have been his fattest pitch of the year. A-Rod would hit that thing out of the yard 10 times out of 10.

So what is the deal with Schilling? Unhittable his first four starts, then not much of a mystery in the last four. He says he’s healthy; he looks healthy. His next start at Baltimore should be telling.

The best thing that came from tonight’s game was Ortiz going 4-for-4. Once he gets hot again, it changes the entire dynamic of the offense.

The forecast is bad for Thursday, but if they play, the Red Sox could really use Wake to pitch a gem. It’s always good to win a series in New York. Hopefully Schilling didn’t inadvertently give A-Rod his confidence back.

Hopefully they play on Thursday. The forecast isn’t good. Wakefield has definitely had a swagger about him in the two starts Mirabelli has been back. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches a gem in this one.

C Ya,

Ian.

Subway snafu

D Train stands for Dud. At least it did for me today when i tried to get to Yankee Stadium (from Times Square) in a relatively timely manner.

Little known fact. Baseball writers are very much like baseball players in one respect. We have a routine every and we stick to it like a security blanket. We leave for the park at the same time every day, we do the same thing every day once we get there, and we have the same routine once we get to the clubhouse for the pre-game fesitivities. We are creatures of habit, so getting thrown off that structure is annoying.

I like to get to the park by 3:15 at the latest every day. Well, my subway got stalled at 3:10 when we were about five minutes from 161st Street (the stop for Yankee Stadium). One of the doors was broken. So after five minutes, they made us de-board the subway and wait for another one, which didn’t come for another 15 minutes.

Once it got there, it was New York mayhem getting on. I didn’t have to walk on to that subway because a bunch of aggressive New Yorkers actually shoved me on to it in their effort to board in a timely manner.

Finally, my stress level was going down as we got to Yankee Stadium at around 3:40, and then i’m walking through the metal turnstile to exit the station and another aggressive New Yorker hauls that circular rotating turnstile so hard that it rocked off the back of my left foot. Nothing like getting your gameface on early.

My friend and colleague Sam Borden of NY Daily News fame was on the same subway and shared my annoyance. Unlike Sam, who has to travel like this to every home game, I cherish my easy commute to Fenway. I live in West Roxbury so I have a nice six-mile drive with no highways. On most days, it takes me about 22 minutes to get to Fenway.

Anyway, I got to the clubhouse only about 10 minutes later than normal and didn’t miss much, if anything, in the way of newsworthy developments, so it was really nothing to get too worked up about.

Now that I’ve gotten my rant out of the way (thanks for listening!), here’s the news from the park. Willie Harris is playing center instead of Wily Mo because of the vast center field at Yankee Stadium and the fact that Schilling is a flyball pitcher. We’ve also learned that Coco Crisp has been stuck home sick in bed for hte last few days so his rehab is going to be pushed back a little. At this point, I’d be surprised to see Coco play for the Red Sox before May 22.

I know last night’s pitching matchup proved to be a dud, but I think today’s will live up to expectations. Schilling and Mussina. Those vets know how to pitch. And you know the Yankees will be hungry after last night’s embarrassment and you know that Schilling loves nothing more than sticking it to the Yankees!!

Later,

Ian.

Back to the Bronx

Last week was a tease. One Red Sox-Yankees game to get everyone’s juices flowing, then a rainout, then the Yankees leave town.

Here we go again, back to New York, with Beckett pitching at Yankee Stadium for the first time since his epic performance in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. That night is one that stands out for all baseball fans. This kid was on three days rest, and his old school manager Jack McKeon threw him out there for nine innings, and all Beckett did was pitch the game of his life to close down Yankee Stadium for the season.

At the time, it looked like Beckett’s coming out party. Instead, it was a little preview of what this man can do when he puts it all together, only circumstances have combined to prevent him from doing it on a consistent basis. Blisters, bad market in South Florida, little nags here and there, perhaps some inconsistency on Beckett’s part.

Perhaps being right in the thick of this Red Sox-Yankees thing, and pitching in Boston in general, brings Beckett to that peak he was at in Oct., 2003 more often. Beckett against Randy Johnson is going to be something. Can you have a baseball game with more sizzle in May than this one?

The other matchups are both pretty appealing also. Two old warriors in Schilling and Mussina. Talk about guys who know how to pitch. Both of them have looked rejuvenated this year. Then you have Wakefield and Chacon. Wake has pitched some of his best games in Yankee Stadium the last three years and Chacon is still a bit of an unknown in the context of this rivalry. Can he get it done against the Red Sox on a consistent basis?

The homestand was big for the Red Sox, particularly for Wily Mo Pena and Mike Lowell. These guys brought thump to the bottom of the batting order and gave the team better balance than they’ve had all year.

Also, Mark Loretta took some great swings today. That is a very good sign. And what can you say about Youkilis? The man is always on base. What should they do with the lineup when Coco comes back? Would you hit Youkilis second and move Loretta toward the bottom of the order, or would you go Coco-Loretta and Youk eighth like it was earlier in the year.

I’m curious to see what everyone has to say about that.

Ian.

Ortiz makes them pay

Bases loaded, two outs, tie game. 0-for-11 or 0-for-50, I think all of us knew that Ortiz was coming through in that spot tonight. Does he ever not come through?

This is the 26th year that I’ve been watching baseball and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyyone nearly as clutch as this guy. David loves these moments. He was very frustrated on the first pitch, which he thought was well out of the strike zone. But he didn’t let it get to him.

With the heavy shift on the right side, David could have easily bunted his way on for the go-ahead run or just hit a cheap ground single. But instead, he bashes the ball right into the teeth of the defense, finds some daylight on the grass, and the ball rockets into the right field corner. It’s a full count, so all the runners are off on contact and they all score. Just a great moment.

And it took Loretta’s bunt to set it up. A bad bunt, definitely. Loretta got too much wood on the ball. But perhaps in a sign that his luck is about to change, Mora can’t make the play. Was anyone else having de ja vu to when Renteria put that bunt in front of Mora last year and Ortiz clocked one against B.J. Ryan?

It was a great night at Fenway. Schilling was workman-like. Papelbon got a seven pitch save. And Millar got a nice ovation.

I was glad to see Millar get such a nice reception. Sure, he had a bad year last year. But few players have embraced all that comes with playing in Boston as much as this guy. He was a tremendous teammate in Boston, and, in my opinion, is missed quite a bit in the clubhouse. David Ortiz said as much before tonight’s game.

It’s not as if they could have brought him back with the limited production he had last year, and Youkilis has certainly justified the decision. But Millar was a unique clubhouse guy, able to put all of his teammates at ease in a stressful environment. I was glad to see him get a nice hand.

I’m off tomorrow, but i’ll be back in the saddle on Sunday.

Ian.

Papelbon proves to be human

We all knew it was coming. In a way, it was better to see Jonathan Papelbon’s streak of scoreless innings end in a game like Wednesday’s, a non-save situation, then if he had coughed up a one-run lead in the ninth.

I think you learn a lot more about someone on a bad night than when things are going well. And Papelbon showed true class and composure after tonight’s game, talking in the same confident tone he speaks with after a save and not making any excuses.

Papelbon spoke the other day about once blowing a save for Mississippi State with a trip to the College World Series at stake. Maybe it’s not Red Sox-Yankees, but Papelbon played in an ultra-intense atmosphere in college, so he’s used to the scrutiny and the pressure. One loss is not going to rattle this kid in the least. He is special.

More troublesome tonight was the game Beckett had. This is three games in a row where he hasn’t pitched well. He was so dominant those first three starts, you wonder what has happened in the last three. Are teams getting a better scouting report on him as he works his way around the American League? There’s no reason to think he’s having health issues, because he’s still hitting the mid ’90s on the gun.

Oh well, next time we get to see him pitch in Yankee Stadium to start the latest showdown next Tuesday. That will be a pretty good indication if Beckett is just in a mini-slump, or if a bigger problem is developing.

Meanwhile, it was nice to see the bottom of the order come up with some key hits in this one. Mike Lowell and Wily Mo Pena in particular took great at-bats all night. And Pena has been steady in center field, even though I know a lot of us had doubts.

Papelbon sort of took Foulke off the hook tonight. Everyone kind of forgets that Foulke also blew a lead tonight. While Foulke has pitched far better than he did last year, he is still prone to having off nights here and there. I think he is still getting the strength back in his knee, and still trying to erase some bad habits he developed last year.

Clement and Towers tomorrow. Clement hasn’t pitched his best game yet. Perhaps that will come Thursday.

Until then,

Ian.

Another rainy Fenway day

Is there anything quite as depressing as staring at a rain-soaked field? It was miserable all day, but finally it has cleared up and they are projecting a 7:15 start time.

I’m lucky, I sit in a press box with windows, but I felt  bad for fans just sitting out there earlier today and last night wondering if there would even be a game. You sit out there and eat a hot dog, drink a cold or hot beverage  to keep warm and generally sit in misery. I’ve been there, done that, I think any baseball fan has.

It’s the worst to be excited about having tickets to the game and then having it be lousy out, but I guess that should be expected in these parts this time of year.

It feels like forever that there’s been a game and you could tell in Francona’s pre-game session with reporters today. It was the third time we’ve spoken with him since they last played a game, so what more is there to ask?

There’s not a whole lot of pre-game news. Boomer continues to get better, and Tito made it sound like they’re going to try to reign him in so he doesn’t force a re-injury.

In the meantime, what to do about the fifth starter spot? DiNardo? I still think he’s best suited as a long reliever, and I think he can be a pretty decent one. But I’m not sure he’s a guy who can succeed every fifth day at the Major League level.

What an outstanding pitching matchup tonight. Beckett and Halladay, nice one to watch from a cozy living room with the fire going. Not sure how fun it would be to be here in this raw, miserable weather.

As for the whole Damon situation, I’m glad it’s over. The comments in the blog were wide-ranging and interesting to read. Everyone has an opinion but certain posters  seem absolutely incredulous when someone else disagrees. Different opinions make the world go round, so we should all just enjoy trading them, and not get furious just because someone else sees something a different way.

Tonight’s Lineup:
Youkilis
Loretta
Ortiz
Ramirez
Nixon
Varitek
Lowell
Pena
Gonzalez

Pretty standard fare. More later,

Ian.

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