June 2006

That baseball haven in South Florida

Fenway this isn’t. I’m sitting here right now at a football stadium, getting ready to watch a baseball game.

From the press box, all I can see is a sea of orange seats. yeah, that works for the Dolphins I guess, but there is no flavor of the Marlins in this place at all. It’s sad that this team has won more World Championships in the last nine years (2) than the Red Sox have won in the last 88 (1), yet there is hardly any passion down here for this team.

I’m sure it will really hit home tonight for Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez and Josh Beckett just how lucky they were to switch homes. But it’s also worked well for Hanley Ramirez, who has thrived at the opportunity to play every day.

History is on the line tonight as the Red Sox can become the first team in Major League history to go 17 consecutive games without an error. Ironic, isn’t it, that Gonzalez and Lowell are two of the biggest reasons for that streak, and the record can be set that their former home.

More later.

Ian.

Praising Pedro

Welcome back, Pedro. It was great to see Sox fans give him a warm welcome Tuesday night and I would think it’s going to give everyone with a pulse chills to see him take that Fenway mound again for the first time since Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS wearing a (Gulp!) Mets uniform.

Before that raw emotion takes place, I just want to say that watching Pedro Martinez pitch every fifth day for my first three years as a Red Sox beat writer was probably the biggest privilege that came with the job. This guy isn’t just a pitcher. He’s an artist. He’s a master at his craft. And he’s a fierce, fierce competitor.

Aside from that, I found him to be an engaging person. When you spoke to Pedro, he looked you in the eye and spoke to you like a human being. Not every superstar athlete does that — trust me. Pedro was a diva, yes. But he was also very real, and I miss following his career on an eveyrday basis.

Before moving on to tomorrow night, I wanted to re-live some the Pedro moments that still stick out in my mind, some of which took place during his golden years (1998-2000) when I was a baseball columnist for CBS SportsLine instead of a Red Sox beat writer.

Moment 1: May, 1999, Friday night against the Angels. I was dispatched to Boston (I was based in New York at the time) to chronicle Mo Vaughn’s first visit back to Fenway since leaving the Sox. But Pedro completely stole the show. He struck out 15 and didn’t walk anybody and the Fenway faithful roared with every pitch. That was the first time I saw live just how awesome Pedro was as a pitcher. It seemed like luck every time an opposing batter made contact.

Moment 2: July 13, 1999: The All-Star Game at Fenway. Again, I was lucky enough to cover this. Enough said. Pedro was truly caught up in this moment, electrified by the stage he was on. He threw pure heat, blowing high 90s mustard by the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Bagwell. He made them all look ridiculous. And for hours after the game, Pedro had a glow about him as he walked around the field with the MVP trophy. I later saw a DVD bonus feature of Pedro taking that trophy up to the owner’s box, where Ted Williams was. Watching those two giants of the game interract on that DVD is must-watch material for anyone who does not own the Red Sox 100-year anniversary DVD.

Moment 3: September, 1999: This was the greatest pitching performance I’ve ever witnessed from a pressbox, and it occured at Yankee Stadium. It was a Friday night and the plucky Sox were making the Yankees nervous during a late-season run. At this time, the Yankees were at their peak. They had Jeter, Bernie, Tino, O’Neill, Brosius, Posada and all those pitchers. Pedro hit Chuck Knoblauch in the Yankees’ first, then gave up a Chili Davis solo homer in the second. After that? There wasn’t a pinstriped baserunner for the rest of the night. Pedro pitched a one-hitter with 17 strikeouts against what was arguably the best lineup in baseball. At this time, he was Michael Jordan in a baseball uniform. Absolutely untouchable.

Moment 4: October, 1999: Game 3 of the ALCS, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Pedro vs. Clemens. This game truly was billed like a heavyweight fight. I remember walking into Fenway some three to four hours before the game on this sun-splashed afternoon and there was a palpable buzz on Yawkey Way, one like I had never really felt before. If it was indeed a heavyweight bout, it was en early knockout. Valentin took Clemens deep in the first. And Pedro, who had arm woes that fall that kept is velocity between 87-91, was beating the Yankees on guts and reputation. It was the only game the Sox won in the series, but also one that still stands out all these years later.

Moment 5: Memorial Day, 2000: A Clemens-Pedro rematch in the Bronx, and this one lived up to every expecation placed upon it and more. Clemens, pitching what was basically his coming out game in a Yankees uniform, was utterly brilliant. He was overpowering the Sox. Pedro wasn’t as overpowering as usual, but still on his game. The game was 0-0 entering the ninth when Trot Nixon took Roger deep for a two-run homer. Pedro stifled the Yankees in the bottom of the inning to finish off the shutout. People don’t remember now that Pedro was pretty invincible against the Yankees the first three years he was on the team. This was an ESPN Sunday Night Game, giving the nation an idea of Pedro’s greatness.

Moment 5: June, 2002: Red Sox-Padres in San Diego. Pedro kept saying early in that season that he was in "Wonderland", not quite knowing how he would respond from the serious rotator cuff woes of the year before. On this night, the Padres were just wondering how to hit him. They couldn’t. Pedro pitched a two-hit masterpiece, showing that he was back to his Cy Young Award form. He went on to win 20 games in ’02 and was robbed in the Cy Young Award voting against Barry Zito. Let the record show that this absolutely should have been Pedro’s fourth Cy. He had Zito in every important category but wins. What a joke.

Moment 6: October, 2003: Red Sox-Yankees, Game 7 of the ALCS. Pedro against Clemens in what seemed like the biggest game any of us had ever seen. Clemens got knocked out early but Mussina saved the Yankees’  bacon. Pedro was pitching a gem early, save for two Giambi solo shots that barely cleared the wall. He struck out Soriano with two on and two outs to end the seventh and then pointed to tke sky, as he always did when he believed his night was over. Nomar hugged him in the dugout. He got several other well wishes. And somewhere along the line, Grady Little surprised Pedro and the rest of the baseball world by telling him to go back out for the eight. Being a competitor of the highest order, Pedro wasn’t about to say no. So he went out there and got Nick Johnson on that pop to Nomar. Just five outs left and a 5-2 lead. The Red Sox were about to play the Marlins in the World Series. And then disaster struck. A Jeter double over Trot’s head; a Bernie single up the middle to make it 5-3; A Matsui double to make it second and third. Then that utterly cheap bloop by Posada, a two-run double (A double because none of the stunned Red Sox covered second) to tie the game. What I remember most about that night is seeing Pedro’s glassy eyes in the clubhouse after the game. It was the first time he had ever looked mortal. He was in pain and I don’t believe it possibly could have gone away until the next October.

Moment 7: October, 2004, Game 2 of the Division Series against the Angels. The talk going into the game was that Pedro had lost his aura. Schilling had supplanted him as the ace going into the playoffs and Pedro had uttered the infamous "I guess the Yankees are my daddy’s" comment just a couple of weeks early. But this prideful man came out throwing heat, and delivered a win for the Sox, bringing the series back to Fenway with Boston leading 2-0 in the best-of-five set. Pedro put it best after that game when he said that any time he took the mound, he felt like an ace, no matter what pitching slot he might be at in a given series.

Moment 8: October 26, 2004, Game 3 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Could Pedro have picked a better final chapter in a Red Sox uniform than pitching seven shutout innings to put the Red Sox on the precipice of their first title in 86 years. Pedro was a little wobbly early but Manny bailed him out with a great throw from left to nail Larry Walker at the plate in the first, and Jeff Suppan ran the Cardinals out of a rally by somehow not scoring from third on a grounder to the right side and then getting thrown out by David Ortiz. Pedro got on a roll after that, making sure his last outing in a Sox uniform would be one without a blemish.

Moment 9 — closure — will come Wednesday night and I bet there isn’t a baseball soul in Boston who isn’t highly curious to see how it unfolds.

Schill on the Hill

Lester spins a beauty Wednesday night; Beckett follows suit on Friday. Is today Schilling’s turn? Not so far, as the Phillies are off to a quick 2-0 lead.

But in the grand scheme of things, I think this pitching staff is an absolutely perfect situation for Schilling. He’s got young guys like Lester, Papelbon and Beckett pushing him.

Sure, Schilling is rooting those guys on and helping them every step of the way. But this guy is one of the fiercest competitors in the game. He wants to prove that even at the age of 39, he’s still right with these guys.

Schilling pitches so much with his mind now, he really uses that side of the game to his advantage. it reminds me of the early 1990s when Bird, McHale and Parish lost a step but were still high level players because of how smart they were. That’s the same deal with Schilling right now.

It’s going to be sad to see the Red Sox go back to Varsity competition in a couple of weeks. Yes, the NL really has become the JV.

Talk to you later,

Ian.

The Kid is For Real

OK, OK, a bit premature to say that Jon Lester is all that after three Major League starts? Perhaps, but I’m going to say it anyway.

He has a low 90s fastball that explodes at the hitter, making it seem more like mid 90s. He has a cutter that causes uncomfortable swings. And he has a nice curve that sets it all up. Also, Lester has a premier game caller in Jason Varitek and a solid offense that should give him some breathing room, as was the case on that Papi granny tonight.

It’s exciting to see the Red Sox developing prospects again. Many of you probably remember the Gold Dust Twins of ’75. That was too long ago for me, but I remember the excitement around Fenway when Clemens, Hurst, Boyd, Burks, Greenwell, etc. were coming into their own.

Young stars create excitement at a ballpark. You  could feel it at Fenway tonight when Lester recorded his 10th K to finish his night in style.

So there you have it, I’m sold on Lester. Is everyone else? Am I being too optimistic?

Later,

Ian.

From waiver wire to Fenway

It’s official, Kyle Snyder, the waiver pickup of a few days ago, will take the ball for the Sox on Monday night at Fenway.

It sure looks to be a one-and-done thing, as the Red Sox do not need a fifth starter again until July 1. Who knows, maybe Snyder can surprise everyone like Pauley did that night at Yankee Stadium.

Manny is back in the lineup tonight. Coco Crisp continues to struggle at the plate. Perhaps Manny and Coco will both get their grooves back tonight against Smoltz.

Happy Fathers Day to all the dads out there.

Ian.

Pleading the fifth

So who will start Monday in place of Matt Clement? As of Saturday morning in the manager’s office, Terry Francona wasn’t saying, and neither was Jed Hoyer.

Will it be Kyle Snyder, who was claimed off waivers from the Royals? Will it be Matt Ginter, Abe Alvarez, David Pauley or somebody else from Pawtucket? Will it be a trade acquisition?

Fact of the matter is, Monday marks the last time the Red Sox need a fifth starter until July 1, when they play the Marlins. They have a day off next Thursday and again the Monday after that, which means they can go with a four-man rotation that would break down like this.

Tuesday vs. Nats, Wakefield; Wednesdy vs. Nats, Lester; Friday vs. Phils, Beckett; Saturday vs. Phils, Schilling; Sunday vs. Phils, Wake; Tuesday vs. Mets, Lester; Wednesday vs. Mets, Beckett; Thursday vs. Mets, Schilling; Friday at Florida, Wake; Saturday at Florida, fifth starter or Clement.

By the way, there should be some extremely intriguing matchups when the Mets come to town. Pedro will either pitch Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whether the Mets want to give him an extra day of rest. That means he’d eitehr match up with Lester or Beckett, and while not as compelling as a duel with Schill, it should still make for great theater. Schilling could be matched up with Glavine, which would be fun.

As for other developments, Manny again woke up with a sore right knee and was out of the lineup. Considering he is in an 0-for-17 slump, the timing isn’t that bad.

Lester had the lineup card and a game ball in his locker this morning from last night’s game. Good stuff. I’m sure he’ll get that stuff framed and in a nice display case ASAP.

Later,

Ian.

Here in Hotlanta — Gabe is back

In case anyone wondered if I was ever going to post again, here I am. Sorry, I had a rare five-day break from covering the team, so I stayed away from posting a blog, though you will notice I made my share of comments throughout the week.

In news that will make one of our most prominent posters happy, Gabe Kapler is back. That’s right — he’s in uniform, wearing No. 44 and he’ll be active for tonight’s game in Atlanta. The corresponding roster move was the inevitable DL move with Matt Clement. There is nothing structurally wrong with Clement, but after the invasive MRIs, he wouldn’t have been able to pitch for a couple of weeks anyway. His arm strength isn’t what it should be, so the team will put him on a strengthening program.

Anyway, I’m really fired up for this pitching matchup tonight. Lester vs. Hudson. It seems like just yesterday that I was at Fenway watching Pedro and a young Tim Hudson duel it out, and Mr. Hudson got the win that night in the summer of 1999. Maybe Lester can do the same thing to the now-veteran Hudson this time around.

Sunday’s matchup is also a gem. Schill and Smoltz. I love watching guys like that go up against each other, because you know that they both get a little extra edge knowing who they are pitching against. Two guys pitching on Father’s Day, trying to fight off Father Time. gotta love it.

It’s a 7:30 game tonight. Remember when 7:30 games were a way of life?

Later,

Ian.

Lucky 7 for Papi — and re-living the six that came first

How many more times can the man do it? Simply amazing that David Ortiz has hit seven walkoff home runs (including two in the postseason) since arriving in Boston in 2003.

I bet there are players who have had 15-year careers without ever ending a game with a home run and this guy has done it seven times in less than four years! That’s insane.

Here are the seven, for those of you who might not remember one or two.

*Walkoff 1: Sept. 23, 2003. Ortiz smokes a 2-1 offering from Kurt Ainsworth over the Monster in the bottom of the 10th for a solo shot to beat the Orioles and put the Sox on the precipice of winning the AL Wild Card, which they would clinch 48 hours later. If you remember, the only reason the Ortiz was in position for that walkoff was because Todd Walker drilled a two-out, three-run homer against Jorge Julio in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. That was a magical Fenway night.

*Walkoff 2: April 11, 2004: Ortiz blasts a 2-2 pitch from Aquilino Lopez over the Monster for a 2-run shot in the 12th inning, sending an Easter Sunday crowd home happy after a wild win against the Blue Jays. Remember, this was Curt Schilling’s first Fenway start in a Sox uni, but No. 38 became a footnote by the end of the day, thanks to Ortiz’s latest flick of magic.

*Walkoff 3: October 8, 2004: Who doesn’t remember this one? Ortiz wallops the first pitch he sees from Jarrod Washburn in the bottom of the 10th for yet another Monster walkoff, clinching a Division Series sweep over the Angels. This is Ortiz’s only walkoff to date that has set off a champagne-filled celebration in the clubhouse. Remember, the Red Sox had this game in control. Bronson Arroyo had spun a beauty but Mike Timlin served up a game-tying grand slam to Vladdie Guerrero to temporarily silence Fenway. But it didn’t stay silent for long, thanks to Papi. Remember Derek Lowe pitching a scoreless 10th to get the win?

*Walkoff 4: October 17, 2004: Just nine days later, Ortiz hits what has to be considered the biggest of all his walkoffs. This one gets the Sox up off the mat in the ALCS against the Yankees after falling behind 3-0 in series. Most people remember the Dave Roberts steal and the Bill Mueller game-tying hit. But without Ortiz’s grand finale — a laser into the visitor’s bullpen in the 12th inning off Paul Quantrill — you might still be hearing about 1918 every time you go to Yankee Stadium. All he does the next day is get another walkoff hit — this one a single in the 14th inning — to set up the historic end of the ALCS in New York.

*Walkoff 5: June 2, 2005: This one was probably Ortiz’s most suprising walkoff when you consider who it came against. B.J. Ryan, big, tall and dominant from the left side, held a 4-3 lead for the Orioles with two outs in the ninth when Edgar Renteria dropped a surprise bunt down the third base line. Melvin Mora was practically playing on the left field grass and had no play. Ortiz stepped up next and rocked one to dead center field, giving Boston a 5-4 win and setting off a frenzied end to a weekday matinee at Fenway.

*Walkoff 6: September 6, 2005: Every Ortiz walkoff has had something unique about it, and this one was by far the most majestic. As a matter of fact, I don’t think this ball has landed yet. Ortiz absolutely obliterated this Scot Shields offering to the moon, or actually, just way back in the RF grandstands. This was an absolute rocket. Probably Ortiz’s longest shot in his career. And it also came in the heat of the pennant race and gave Tim Wakefield (complete game gem) a highly satisfying 3-2 win.

*Walkoff 7: June 11, 2006: This is the only of Ortiz’s seven Red Sox walkoffs that I was not sitting in the Fenway Park press box to witness. I had the day off, hadn’t watched much of the game, but I did go to the bottom floor of my house to watch the bottom of the ninth. Don’t you always when the Red Sox are in striking distance and Ortiz has another at-bat left? So I settle down on my futon and brace for Ortiz’s at-bat when I notice that my cousin-in-law Mary Beth’s running shoes are sitting on the floor in front of me. Knowing that Mary Beth is in my wife’s car and they’re about to leave and that MB won’t be back before she goes back to California, I run up the stairs with the sneakers and catch them before they pull out of the driveway. As my wife rolls down the window, she tells me that "something just happened in the game … Papi hit a walkoff", then I hear a delirious Joe Castiglione discussing the aftermath of a wild win over the Rangers. Oh well, I didn’t see it live, but I saw enough. I went back downstairs and saw the replay and caught Ortiz’s latest helmet flip and pile-on at home plate. What more can you say about this guy?

Ian.

Baseball and dogs!

Well, the long, long, long, long, long, long wait was actually worthwile. After a four hour and 47 minute delay, Jon Lester finally got to throw his first Major League pitch. And just like Papelbon, he struck out the first batter he faced in his career.

Now, Game 2 — originally scheduled for 8 p.m. tonight, as I’m sure most of you have heard, will be played at noon tomorrow. The regularly scheduled game for tomorrow has been switched from 2 to 5 p.m. So fans who had tix for tonight’s game, those tix will be good at noon tomorrow, and fans who had tix for the regular game on sunday can use them at 5.

Again, those fans who sat here for that four hour and 47 minute delay deserve the biggest props humanly imaginable. That is great. And how about this for an added twist? In about the second inning, the Red Sox announce that they were giving out free hot dogs all night, as long as supplies last!

More later,

Ian.

Watching the Rain

Still sitting here, wondering if there will be a baseball game played at Fenway Park . We now know Game 2 has been postponed. No makeup date has been scheduled.

How does it feel to be Jon Lester? He’s all pumped up for his first Major League start and he’s been sitting in the clubhouse for over six hours wondering if he’s going to pitch.

I got here at 10:30 this morning and the only activity I’ve witnessed is side sessions from both Curt Schilling and Mike Timlin in the bullpen. Time is literally standing still.

I think that every fan who has sat at Fenway Park all day for this rainy, soggy long day deserves a big-time, shout-out. Any fan who would sit here for that many hours is a great fan, and you deserve kudos for that. If I was a paying spectator instead of being paid to be here, I can’t honestly say that I would have stuck it out all day. How is that for honesty?

As for when Game 2 might be replayed …  The teams do share a common off-day on Sept. 11. The Red Sox are in Baltimore on Sept. 12, and the Rangers are in Detroit, but they also have a game in Seattle on Sept. 10, which would make it a short night of sleep coming into Boston.

I’m dizzy with all the scenarios. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out anything official about anything. Still not even sure if Lester is pitching today if they  actually play. It could end up being Beckett.

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