April 2007

Pole position

If you’re a Red Sox fan, you couldn’t have asked for a better April. A 16-8 record, a four-game lead in the division and a 6 and 1/2 game edge over the Bombers.

Interesting factoid: This is the largest Division lead the Sox have had at the end of April in team history. Does it mean anything? Not necessarily. But the Red Sox have put themselves in good position.

Unlike the Yankees, who look like an utter mess at the moment, the Red Sox are a team that seems to have it going in all directions right now.

The starting rotation has been everything it was advertised to be. The bullpen has found a new hero in Okajima and a very rested lights-out closer in Papelbon. The one problem I see in the ‘pen right now is not having one dominant eighth inning guy. Timlin hasn’t shown yet that he can be that guy again. There is still time.

And who would have thought the Sox would be off to such a good start with Manny, even with today’s homer, hovering right around the Mendoza line and I’m not talking about Ramiro. Manny will hit, we all know that. I think he must lead the league in warning track lineouts. I’ll say it until I am blue in the face, but he’s swinging the bat pretty well.

Assuming Lester resurfaces in the not too distant future, that makes this team even stronger. And if I’m Roger Clemens sitting on my couch in Katy, Texas, the Red Sox are looking a heck of a lot more appealing right now than the 9-14 Yankees or the 10-13 Astros. Rocket has always liked an ace closer and Papelbon is looking a tad better than Mariano these days.

Imagine a Rocket redux in addition to Dice-K mania? Four out of five days, you’d have Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka and Rocket? If that ever happened, the Red Sox would be must-watch TV for baseball nation, not just Red Sox Nation.

Just food for thought. You can stop salivating now.

Later,

Ian.

Stadium Saturday

Everyone recovered from last night’s four-hour special? It would be nice to see a Red Sox-Yankees game come in at under three hours.

All the pre-game buzz was on the Yankees. GM Brian Cashman was swarmed by the rabid New York media. Is Joe Torre’s job on the line? What kind of shakeup to the Yankees need to straighten things out? Cashman gave all the standard answers in his usual classy fashion.

Then the game starts and Karstens gets nailed on the leg on the very first pitch of the game. When it rains, it pours.

Fortunately it’s not raining in New York today. Wake’s knuckler is dancing, but in the words of Yankees announce John Sterling if that was in fact his inning of play-by-play, "Jorgie juiced one."

2-0 Yankees in the fifth as of this posting.

Interesting stuff regarding Dice-K last night. John Farrell and Tito both mentioned that he’s being too cautious when he has a lead, which is resulting on all the walks. They’re urging him to let it fly, and trust his electric stuff. Dice-K is a very cerebral pitcher. He’s still figuring all this out.

Thursday against the Mariners should give a pretty good read into his learning curve. We’ll see what Ichiro has in store for him this time after Dice handled him pretty well at Fenway.

More later,

Ian.

Back in the Bronx

Every time I walk into the hallowed halls of Yankee Stadium, I feel like I’ve never left. We come here three times a year — well, four during those years they meet in the playoffs — and it feels like a home away from home.

And, just like every time, there’s yet another subplot as we get here on a dreary Friday. The Yankees are reeling. Panic has gripped the Yankees universe. None of their starting pitchers can seem to get through five innings. Even the pitcher of the future faltered last night. But the Yankees have their most reliable guy going tonight. That, of course, would be Pettitte. He’ll have the cap tucked deep over those eyes tonight, making that Pettitte sneer as he fires off each pitch. Andy Pettitte is a the epitome of a competitor and the Yankees need him tonight.

The Red Sox? They have Dice-K going. This is Matsuzaka’s first time in Yankee Stadium since he ventured here many years back as a spectator during a Yankees-Braves World Series. I believe it was 1996. I’ll try to find out for sure after the game. Even though he beat the Yankees a few days ago, you know he’s intent on pitching better than that. This game should be great theater, and isn’t always here?

I’m going to enjoy the last two years of this ballpark. I’ve always loved covering games at Yankee Stadium. Who knows what the new place will be like.

As for Sock-gate, enough already. Let’s get our focus back to where it needs to be. Good old beisbol, Sox and the Yanks.

More later,

Ian.

Holy Homers

I guess it was just the latest case in point why all of us — from players to media to fans to anyone — enjoy coming to the ballpark so much every day. You just never know what you’re going to see.

For instance, when I got into my car yesterday afternoon and drove to Fenway, it never occured to me that I might see four consecutive home runs get it. That was simply wild.

I think what added to it was the stage — Red Sox-Yankees. Prime time Sunday night on ESPN no less. And the majestic way those baseballs left the yard.

Manny absolutely crushed that ball. I seriously don’t know if it has landed yet. Over everything by the Volvo sign? You don’t see that too much. J.D. Drew put one over the Sox bullpen and made it look easy. Then Lowell smashed one into the Monster and Varitek delivered a screaming liner. It all seemed to happen so quickly, which, of course, it did.

These Red Sox-Yankees games dating back to 2003 have been mind-boggling. Is there anything we haven’t seen yet? I’m sure we’ll see something new this weekend in New York. Don’t we always?

Not much in the way of fresh news today. Coco (oblique) is out of the lineup again, but it doesn’t sound serious at all. Look for him to be back in there tomorrow.

Wake tonight. Can he stay hot? It’s a summer night here at Fenway that’s for sure.

Ian.

Tough act to follow

Can anyone remember the last time they saw an April baseball game — Red Sox-Yankees or otherwise– with quite the drama as last night? There were about 19 storylines by the time the night was over.

If last night was an ALCS game, we’d be hearing about it for years. More sheer dominance from A-Rod. Gritty comeback by the Red Sox. Then the ninth inning — Holy Okajima!

It really was a fun night to be here. Pettitte seemed fired up to be part of Sox-Yankees again. He definitely pitched like he was. Schilling was real good for a guy who gave up five runs. It’s just that he couldn’t stop A-Rod. Then again, who can?

Down 6-2 in the eighth, nobody could have seen that comeback coming. Not the way the Boston bats have been going lately. Ortiz and Manny started the inning by getting on base, but then J.D. was retired, and the slumping lower part of the order was coming up.

Lowell comes up with an important knock through the whole and into left. Then Varitek with a very big hit, his second clutch hit of the night. And Coco — who among you predicted he was about to blast a triple into the RF corner? It will be interesting to see if there’s any carryover for Coco and ‘Tek, since both guys were struggling so much.

How many times can the Sox come back against Rivera? Is it just me, or are you still surprised every time they do? I know I am. Rivera is that good.

Beckett vs. Karstens today. Pedroia is on the bench today. Tito is obviously trying to protect the rookie’s confidence.

More later,

Ian.

Something's got to give

The Red Sox and their power arms. The Yankees and their power bats. Which will prevail this weekend? This series presents a classic contrast in styles, even for April baseball.

Are the Red Sox as good as they’ve pitched so far? Or have they just not seen a lineup like the Yankees yet?

Are the Yankees as good as they’ve hit so far, especially A-Rod? Or have they just not seen pitchers like Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka and Papelbon yet?

Plus, all the other subplots this weekend brings. Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew, welcome to the rivalry. Andy Pettitte, welcome back to the rivalry. Daisuke Matsuzaka has seen hype already this season, but nothing compared to ESPN Sunday NIght Baseball against the Yankees. Imagine if Matsui was playing?

Will the boos be any quieter for Johnny Damon this year?  Will Papelbon pitch a third day in a row if the game is on the line in the ninth?

Intrigue everywhere. I’ll be back later.

Ian.

A room with a view

For six years I’ve been coming to the Rogers Centre — formerly known as SkyDome — and have failed in my attempt to get a hotel room with the view of the playing field.

That all changed today when I checked in and the woman at the front desk said, "Mr. Browne, we’ve upgraded you to a room with a view of the field." 0417071254
 You’ll see the view of what the field looks like from my room right here.

So I’m staying in right-center field, about five levels above the playing field. I had an excellent view at 2 p.m. today of Julian Tavarez throwing a simulated game and could even hear the crack of the bat when I opened my window. I resisted the temptation to watch the game from my room, though I would have had a tremendous view of Dice-K warming up the in the bullpen.

Ah well, I ended up venturing over to the park for some more Dice-K madness. What can you say? He pitched fine, except for that momentary lapse of control in the fourth inning. The Red Sox aren’t locked in at the plate yet, except, seemingly when Beckett pitches. If Matsuzaka keeps giving up three runs or less, he’s going to win a lot of games this year.

Nothing earth-shattering before the game. In a show of faith by Francona, Coco batted second tonight despite his .111 average. He wound up getting two hits. Just wondering, but would batting second on a permanent basis revive Coco? He’s a fastball hitter and he’d see a ton of fastballs hitting in front of Papi and Manny. Just food for thought.

I think I’ll venture back to my hotel room now and watch 24 from last night and see what my idol Jack Bauer is up to. Later,

Ian.

North of the Border

I’m headed to Toronto tonight, one of the better stops on the AL tour. The ballpark is good to work at, the city is full of friendly people and it’s a nice place to walk around. And as Mike Lowell said this afternoon, he’s very excited to be able to play baseball in short sleeves again.

Beckett has been awesome in his first three starts. Full disclosure here. I play fantasy baseball and selected Beckett in the fourth round. I was laughed out of the on-line chat room by these so-called experts, some of whom said, "I had Beckett projected in the 12th round" and other such mindless blabber.

Just watching Beckett this year, he "gets it" now. He looks completely confident and in total control of what he’s doing.

One big concern on this team right now is center field. I know it’s early, but Coco Crisp looks completely and utterly lost. Is this a classic case of a player who is having a hard time in a market such as Boston? I’m not sure. I really do feel his year last year was totally due to his injured hand. The guy is a dead fastball hitter. I thought he had had it back this spring watching the way he was swinging during some of the later exhibition games. It just hasn’t carried over. Oh well, we all know the rule. You have to wait 100 at-bats before getting any revealing judgments.

It would be nice to see Coco get it going and be able to use those legs to the team’s advantage.

Dice-K back to the hill tomorrow night. This is by far the best lineup he’s faced to date. Let’s see what happens against the Hurt and Vernon Wells.

I’ll talk to you later.

Happy Marathon Day, and happy birthday to my lovely wife on Tuesday.

Ian.

Down time

Just wanted to let you know I’ll be taking the next couple of games off. It’s been a pretty good grind since the start of Spring Training, so as a good friend of mine likes to say, I’m going to get the old battery recharged.

Speaking of battery, nice to see the 2003-04 MIrabelli — the guy with the sometimes dangerous bat — re-emerge at Fenway last night. Great game all around. I love the way Tito is handling Papelbon. He is throwing conventional wisdom to the wind and actually trying to win games rather than do things the cookie-cutter way. Where this team would be right now had not Papelbon moved back to closer?

Weather permitting, I should be back at the Fens for Marathon Monday, and then Toronto after that.

And a belated congratulations to my good friend Rob Bradford of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune for getting hired to write baseball for the Herald. Rob is one of the great writers an humans in the Fenway Park press box. Good for Rob. I’m hoping the Herald keeps his blog, which you see under my links. I think it’s one of the most informative reads around.

On that note, you guys and gals will probably keep a closer eye on the games than me the next couple of days, so don’t hesitate to fill the comments section by keeping me in the loop on what I miss.

Thanks,

Ian.

Dice-K vs. Ichiro (and Felix)

When was the last time everyone just wanted to get the Fenway opener out of the way? Let’s face it, this is a unique occasion when the second Fenway game is about 20 times more intriguing than the first Fenway game.

How many flashbulbs will go off in the yard when Dice-K throws that first pitch to Ichiro? If you don’t love this matchup, you don’t love baseball. This is what it’s about, as a former Red Sox first baseman who wore 15 and now plays for the Orioles always loved to say.

This is going to be some matchup. What is more fun: Dice vs. Ichiro or Dice vs. Felix Hernandez?

Find me two more exciting young pitchers in baseball right now than Matsuzaka and Hernandez. Waiting, waiting, waiting. You can’t come up with any can you?

This should be something. Can it possibly live up to the hype? This is how we used to feel when Pedro was in his prime and he’d be facing Roger Clemens and the Yankees.

I hope everyone has a blast watching this one unfold.

Until tomorrow,

Ian.

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