September 2006

Trot to the finish line?

Clearly, there is one subplot to this final, depressing weekend of baseball at Fenway Park.

Trot Nixon, one of the true class acts and fierce competitors to wear the Red Sox uniform, is likely approaching his final weekend with the team.

I’m sure Nixon will get plenty of love from the crowd, particularly during Sunday’s finale. Sure, his results have been inconsistent and trending downward, particularly the last two years. But could anyone ever question the effort this guy gives on the field?

Trot has never wanted the limelight. He just wants to win.

Remember when he flipped over the water cooler in the dugout after the Boone home run in ’03? That was vintage Trot. He hates losing, and he hates being in a slump.

Aside from those two aspects, which are inevitable at times, I think Trot has enjoyed every aspect of being in a Red Sox uniform.

I put together a list of Top Seven Trot performances:

July 24, 1999 – The rookie right fielder puts his name on
the map by belting three homers at Detroit in an 11-4 win over the Tigers.

May 28, 2000 – Nixon snaps scoreless tie in epic Pedro
Martinez-Roger Clemens duel at Yankee Stadium by taking the latter deep for a
two-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth. Martinez goes the distance
to earn the 2-0 win. The next night, the Red Sox return to Fenway and Nixon
gets a huge ovation in his first at-bat.

Sept. 1, 2003 – A wild and emotional comeback struggle at
Philadelphia finally goes in Boston’s favor when Nixon snaps a 9-9 tie with a
grand slam in the top of the ninth.

October 4, 2003 – A loss in Game 3 to the A’s would have
swept the Red Sox out of this best-of-five Division Series. Instead, Nixon
belts a walkoff homer off Rich Harden in the bottom of the 11th, sparking the
win, and, eventually, a series comeback in five games.

October 15, 2003 – Nixon jumps on a Gabe White pinch and
launches two-run homer into the upper deck in right at Yankee Stadium in Game 6
of the ALCS, icing the 9-6 victory that forces Game 7. Of course, he also took Roger deep to give the Sox a solid start to Game 7 but we all know what happened after that.
 
October 18, 2004 –- Down 4-2 in Game 5 of the ALCS,
red-hot Hideki Matsui steps to the plate with the bases loaded and hammers a
laser toward right field. It could have been a series-icing two-run double.
Instead, Nixon makes a sliding catch to get the Red Sox out of that top of the
sixth inning. In the bottom of the eighth, Nixon belts a hit-and-run single to
move Dave Roberts to third. Roberts scored on a game-tying sacrifice fly. The
Red Sox beat the Yankees in 14 innings, and wind up becoming the first team in
postseason history to rally back from 3-0. 

October 27, 2004 – Nixon opens up some breathing room for
Derek Lowe in Game 4 of the World Series, unloading on a 3-0 pitch for a
two-run double, leading the Red Sox to a 3-0 win over the Cardinals, and the
clinching victory of the club’s first World Series championship since 1918.

What are some of your favorite Trot moments? Please spend the weekend sharing them.

Later,

Ian.

 

Second fiddle

Here it is tonight, the showdown at the Rogers Centre for second place in the American League East.

If the Red Sox lose, the Jays will take over second, and the Sox will have just five games to get it back. Does it get any better than that?

Seriously, what a drag this last week is. I would think  the Red Sox front office is suitably fired up to make sure there is never again a dull finish to a season like this as long as the Epstein administration continues.

This is depressing to say the least. For the first time in five years, the Red Sox don’t matter to the baseball landscape as the season draws to a close.

The only real drama for tonight is Papi’s one crack at beating Babe for the most road homers in a season.

The homestand will be mostly about Trot’s final days — perhaps his final days but not definitely — in a Red Sox uniform.

Big Papi gets the big 5-oh

David Oritz provided the Fenway faithful one last magical moment for 2006 last night, belting No. 50 high and far into the night.

Hard to believe that of all the great sluggers that have been with the Red Sox, Ortiz and Jimmie Foxx are the only ones to hit 50. Teddy Ballgame never did it, Yaz never did it, Rice never did it, Boomer never did it, Mo never did it, but Papi did it.

Couldn’t happen to a better guy. I don’t remember seeing so much genuine excitement from teammates over an individual accomplishment as that scene in the dugout last night when Ortiz finished rounding the bases.

This guy is one for the ages.

Maybe he can hit No. 51 tonight, at home, and give Fenway one more jolt of energy in ’06.

3-game playoffs start tonight at Fenway

The Twins come in for three games tonight, and this is the one and only chance the Red Sox will have to impact the 2006 postseason. What the Red Sox can do is dent the hopes of the Twins, and help out Detroit and Chicago. The Red Sox should treat these next three nights like their own playoffs, because it’s the only real taste they’ll have for the rest of the year.

Weird to be spoilers, isn’t it? As Mark Loretta said the other night, you take motivation anywhere you can get it.

The Red Sox have their top three pitchers on the mound — Wakefield, Schilling and Beckett. And it will be fun to watch Santana pitch on Thursday night.

I think these games will be entertaining. Maybe Manny will even play. Who knows.

After the Twins series, the Red Sox have the battle for second place this weekend in Toronto. Four games should go a long way toward determining who finishes second in the AL East.

Once the Blue Jays series is over, there won’t be much drama to watch. You’re looking at two games against the Devil Rays and three against the Orioles. But those of us who just love baseball will still find something interesting. For instance, can Pedroia play second next year? Is David Murphy ready? As Craig Hansen taken a leap forward since his latest stint at Pawtucket?

Talk to you later,

Ian.

Bronx blah

I never thought I’d live to see the day where I covered a Red Sox-Yankees series that felt so utterly meaningless. My buddy Mark Feinsand and I have sat side by side here in the third row of the Yankee Stadium press box the last  five years and covered such high-drama, meaningful games with so much intensity.

Today? Nothing. Just a game that might as well be played in a Spring Training outpost such as Tampa or Fort Myers.

It shows you how lucky we’ve been to be a part of what we were a part of from 2003-05. From the Cowboy Up madness to when Aaron Boone Cowboyed them right down of ’03, to the greatest comeback in sports history of ’04 to what essentially amounted to a tie for the division title last year, we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff.

Now? The big story is how many boos David Ortiz gets for some unfortunate remarks about derek Jeter that he already apologized for. And there’s also Papi assaulting Jimmie Foxx’s team record of 50 homers. He still needs two to tie.

As for Papelbon announcing that he’s all but certain to return to the rotation next year, I love it. Throw Papelbon out there with Schilling and Beckett and Wakefield and perhaps another big-time addition this winter, and he just might become the ace of a pretty fearsome staff. We’ll see.

Who will close next year? Hansen isn’t ready, so they’re going to have to find someone.

Well, five innings are in the books. Only another 22 left over the next two days.

Stay in touch.

Ian.

Back Comes Wake

When Tim Wakefield last made a pitch for the Red Sox, he was making it fora first place team. Tonight, he takes the Camden Yards mound in a different world, pitching for pride.

In hindsight, Wakefield’s injury happened at an awful time. His dependability and durability would have been huge at a time when so many other areas of the team were falling apart. And his absence also nullified the value of bringing Doug Mirabelli back, something made all the more painful by what Josh Bard and Cla Meredith have done in San Diego.

So what do the Red Sox do with Wakefield going forward? He has that $4 million option that the Red Sox can pick up for as many years as they want. On the surface, $4 million seems like a bargain for Wakefield when you consider all that he does for a pitching staff. Do you bring him back as a starter or a reliever? If you bring him back as a starter, you are also tying yourself to Mirabelli as your backup catcher again, because we saw earlier this year how much it is in Wakefield’s head when someone else is catching him.

Just another interesting piece of offseason fodder. My gut is that Wakefield will be brought back for at least one more year, presuming he proves his health the rest of this season.

Later,

Ian.

Playing out the string

Three weeks of baseball left, and the Red Sox are basically in the position of playing out the string. How odd is this? How could anyone have predicted they’d be in this situation?

Considering that the Patriots open up today in Foxboro, this Red Sox-Royals game feels like the most irrelevant game i’ve covered since I started this beat in 2002. I was lucky to have four highly eventful years, and this season is closing out like a train wreck. Five losses in a row to the Kansas City Royals? At least they snapped out of it today.

Julian Tavarez is fun to watch when he’s on his game, isn’t he? And Big Papi launched one for the first time since his two-day stay at Mass. General. Just two more homers and Ortiz ties Double-X for the team record. It would be nice to see him hit No. 51 at Fenway, but i’m thinking he gets it at Yankee Stadium.

After the game, as I was finishing my gamestory, I couldn’t help but look down on the field, where Theo Epstein was taking part in batting practice in what was apparently an event involving his charity, A Foundation to be Named Later. His performance included a lot of infield grounders, but also a couple of basehits to left and left-center. I can see why he didn’t break any baseball records at Brookline High. But it should also be noted that Theo did help pick up the baseballs after his round was over.

Feel free to chime in with Patriots game thoughts on today’s blog. Who’d have thunk they would have won the game on a safety by Ty Warren.

Later,

Ian.

Moving on

All this good news for the Red Sox this week, it’s hard to imagine after what has taken place the previous few weeks. Let’s see, Ortiz has a healthy heart, Papelbon just has a tired arm, but no tear, Manny is back, Varitek is back, Trot is back, Gonzalez is back, Wakefield will probably pitch early next week in Baltimore.

And out of nowhwere, they received gems from Kyle Snyder, Julian Tavarez and Kason Gabbard. But Snyder fell back to earth last night, and that’s just the way it is going to be from here on out. I thought the only outside chance they had to get back into this thing is if they had swept Chicago and Minnesota. Climbing six games against two teams in 22 games just does not seem realistic at all.

It just seems that mathematically, the Red Sox are going to need a winning lottery ticket-style miracle to get in. Looking back, that five-game Yankees series was the ultimate killer, even before all the injuries. If the Sox could have just taken two out of five in that series, they would have gone to the West Coast 2 1/2 games out of first place instead of 6 1/2. That series meant everything, it might have crushed the whole season.

But at least we’re watching an entertaining product again. Wait until Ortiz and Manny start hitting again.

I think the Jon Lester matter has given everyone great perspective. How can anyone be stressed out about a baseball game when you see what that young man is going through?

Back comes the Varsity

Just like that, a varsity baseball team returned to Fenway tonight. One healthy biceps muscle, and two somewhat healthy knees, and suddenly you had Trot Nixon, Manny Ramirez and Jason Varitek in the lineup instead of Carlos Pena, Doug Mirabelli and Dustin Pedroia.

This is nice to watch. I must say, from purely a journalistic standpoint, the past two weeks have been tough to watch. Those lineups had no chance, no matter who was pitching. Just uninspiring stuff to write and report about, let alone watch.

it’s too bad that the hitting gets healthy at the same time the two best pitchers — papelbon and Schilling –are both on the shelf indefinitely.

But at least these games should be more interesting to watch. That should be something if Big Papi comes back tomorrow night.

Talk to you later,

Ian.

Reality sinks in

The offense, entering the ninth inning of Sunday’s game, has produced a grand total of six hits — all singles — in the last two games. Sure enough, just as I typed that, Mike Lowell and Wily Mo hit doubles and Doug Mirabelli singled in a run. Not that it could right the damage already done on a drearily depressing day at Fenway.

There are four weeks of baseball left on the schedule and you wonder how much of it will actually be relevant. Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek return to the lineup on Monday, but it sure seems like it’s too late for that to make a difference.

Just when the bats are starting to resurface, the pitching staff is depleted beyond recognition. No Schilling, no Papelbon, no Wells, no Wakefield. The current state of affairs are brutal, to say the least.

Now we’re looking for side stories that make good theater, such as Ortiz coming back, which will hopefully happen in the next few days. Watching him chase 50 homers should be entertaining.

I’m curious to see what type of things will keep the interest of all of you blog watchers over the next four weeks.

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