May 2007

Schill regains heat

I have to admit, i was very curious to see how Curt Schilling was going to pitch Monday night. Let’s face it, he had looked mighty ordinary in his last three starts. Combine that with his less than spectacular second half last season and it was only fair to wonder if, well, the aging process was getting the best of the big righty.

But the thing about the great competitors — and Schilling is definitely one of them — is that they just keep searching until they find some answers. It sounds like Schilling had worked overtime with pitching coach John Farrell leading up to this start. The result was Schilling having his best fastball in weeks, and, according to the pitcher himself, his best splitter in years. A large number of Schilling’s 10 K’s came on diving splits. It was definitely a good momentum boost for Schilling goingi into the Sunday night game against the Yankees.

Speaking of the Yankees, how in the world are they 13 1/2 games back? Roger Clemens must feel like he’s returning to a lost cause. Sure you can’t rule out the Yankees coming back. Just look at 1978 as a reference point. But I don’t see this Red Sox team squandering such a big lead with their pitching as good as it is.

Papelbon started out rusty in the ninth last night, but was good when he needed to be. The radar gun reading on his last pitch of the game? 97-MPH. It blew right by Hafner.

As if there wasn’t enough going on between Schilling and Papelbon and Trot coming back, the red-hot Youkilis put the ball in the perfect spot for an inside the park homer. What is the most exciting inside the park homer you all have ever seen? I’d take Pokey Reese’s in May, 2004 against the Royals. That was a photo finish with Pokey sliding in safely with a cloud of dirt following him.

Beckett is back tonight. For those who wondered if the Red Sox would cool off while he was out, consider that they boosted their lead from eight games to 11 1/2 during his DL stint.

Times are good right now for the Sox.

Later,

Ian.

Trotting back home

It will be a festive Memorial Day night at Fenway with Trot Nixon coming back to Fenway. It’s hard for people outside of Boston to understand, but Nixon’s return will generate much of the same emotion as when other favorites from the past have returned. Remember when Pedro came back last year?

I know Nixon isn’t in that class as a player, but they love grit in Boston, and I’m sure Nixon is going to bring down the house when he steps in for his first at-bat and public address announcer Carl Beane blurts out, "Now batting for the Indians, No. 33, Trot Nixon".

Trot’s helmet will be dirty and his hat will be soaked in pine tar. By the third or fourth inning, I’m sure his uniform will be covered in dirt. Trot’s popularity was secured in these parts long before he turned into "one of the 25" who helped this team win a championship in 2004.

Unlike when players such as Johnny Damon, Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn returned, there will be no mixed emotions for Trot. He wanted to come back, the fans wanted him to come back (granted at short-term length for modest money), but the Red Sox opted to go with the more gifted J.D. Drew. Take away the money and it’s hard to second-guess it from a baseball standpoint. At this stage of the game, Drew is the better player. But Trot brings out the emotions from the fans and he’ll get a hero’s return Monday.

What is everyone’s favorite Nixon moment? Mine is the Labor Day Grand Slam in Philly on Sept. 1, 2003. No. 2 would be his walkoff vs. the A’s in Game 3 of ’03. No. 3 would be his diving catch off Matsui in Game 5 of the ’04 ALCS. That was the single most underrated play of that entire postseason. If Nixon doesn’t catch that sinking missile, the Yankees probably take a 6-2 lead (minimum) and the Sox would not have come back against such a big deficit.

At any rate, here are some of Nixon’s recent comments — courtesy of Indians MLB.com reporter Anthony Castrovince — about his reunion at Fenway:

ON RETURNING TO BOSTON:
"I’ve got a lot of
friends on the team that I like and a lot of the people in the city who meant a
lot to my family and I, so it will be an exciting three days. And I’m hopeful
we, as a team, win these three games. We’re obviously playing a great team in
the Red Sox."

 

ON FACING SCHILL, BECKETT AND DICE-K:

"It’s obviously
difficult. But I’ve gone into series and faced Clemens, Mussina and Pettitte.
I’ve gone into series and faced Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. But it’s a good
threesome."

ON PLAYING AT
FENWAY:

My first couple
years, I don’t think they sold out every game. We had a lot of sell-outs, don’t
get me wrong. But now it’s a premium ticket. [Playing there] has never lost its
luster. People don’t realize… those fans are not just in the city. They’re in
the suburbs, they’re in the next state over, all over the northeast. They know
the players, they know what they look like with a hat on, a hat off, glasses on.
They know your numbers, your stats. They just want you to play hard and win.
That should be the goal of every player.

ON THE INDIANS
PLAYING THE TIGERS AND RED SOX FOR 10 GAMES IN 10 DAYS:

"You can learn a
lot about this team in how we play [during this stretch]. This is probably one
of the two or three tests that we’re going to have this year. The first test was
losing off days and having to make up four games against Seattle, which is Major
League Baseball’s fault. I’m sure there will be another time in the season where
we’ll run into a series or a couple series that are going to define this team.
You just have to try to relax. When I see guys all worked up or too quiet, I
start yelling at them. It’s important to relax and live in the moment. There are
times where I didn’t live in the moment, especially in some of those Yankees-Red
Sox games. You’ve got to live in those moments, because they’re not going to
happen for everybody."

I’m sure Trot will have a full-blown press conference before Monday’s game. More then!

Ian.

Texas no step

No Texas for me this weekend. I’m going to lay low and rest up for an intriguing homestand against the Indians (and Trot Nixon) and the Yankees (and Roger Clemens). Should be fun.

This weekend, why don’t all of your faithful readers serve as my eyes and ears. I’ll be away, so I doubt I’ll see any of the three games in Texas.

Let me know how Dice-K looks and any other developments you might view as meaningful.

I’ll see you on Memorial Day. I expect that ovation for Nixon to start sometime around 9 a.m. on Monday. It will be nice for the Fenway faithful to have a chance to welcome back one of their favorite Dirt Dogs.

Maybe J.D. Drew will get on track between now and then so the typical knee-jerk reaction won’t take place.

See you later,

Ian.

Tough loss

No, I am not referring to last night’s Red Sox-Yankees game, but today’s annual Boston-New York media game.

I’m proud to say it was a highly competitive game. We took a 4-2 loss on the fabled lawn of Yankee Stadium, but we’re in it the whole way. In fact, we were winning 2-1 entering the bottom of the fifth and wound up out-hitting our New York brethren, 7-3.

Unlike last year’s debaccle, when we made 10 errors in a 15-0 loss, there was just one error in this one and it didn’t lead to any runs.

Let me first say that if I had an MVP award today, it would go to Mike Salk of 890 AM in Boston. Mike hit the ball hard in all 3 plate appearances and had two hits to show for it. He also took an extra base on a throw back to the infield, which wound up enabling him to score on a sac fly. Mike has a disability with his left hand, so he does the Jim Abbott thing with his glove in the outfield. He really has it down pat, switching the glove over and throwing the ball quickly back to the infield.

It’s inspirational to see that kind of thing. A lot of people in his position wouldn’t want to play in a game like this, but Mike not only played ,but played probably better than anyone on our team today.

If I had a second star, it would be a tie between our two pitchers, — Bill Kulik of the Spanish Baseball Network and Rob Bradford of the Herald. The game was at a very sensitive point as Bradford, who did an excellent job in a starting role, got into a nasty jam in the bottom of the fifth. I believe Kulik inherited a bases loaded, nobody out jam and really minimized the damage. We could have gotten crushed that inning, and he kept the game manageable.

Other players who really deserve mention: Mike Petraglia, our always able catcher, who shrugged off two borderline called strikeouts and got a hit and his third at-bat, and per usual, did a great job behind the dish. Ken Powtak, a free-lancer from the Associated Press. He’s been battling immense pain in his back and probably shouldn’t have played. But he did, starting at third base and playing well on both sides of the ball. Uri Berenguer, Boston’s radio broadcaster on the Spanish network, played a strong game also, morphing into Roberto Alomar at second base. We should hardly mention when he was caught stealing third during a pivotal rally, but sometimes you need to take a chance if you want to win.

At that point, New York had relieved starter Tyler Kepner (NY Times) with their most dominant pitcher, Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record. Klapisch has been known to pitch in semi-pro leagues and has a fastball that has, at least in the past, has touched  80. I didn’t get any fresh radar gun readings today. He also has a nasty slider. Klapisch  got Tyler out of trouble and came through with the save.

From a personal standpoint, I played OK. I hit a soft grounder to third against Kepner in my first at-bat, but the always nimble Jack Curry made a nice play. In my second AB, it started bad as a the first pitch — which was a foot outside — was called a strike. I have to admit I wasn’t mentally right for the rest of that at-bat. But in my final AB, leading off the last inning, the first thing I did was tell the umpire he called a great game. I was trying to play the psychology  game. First pitch was over the outside corner for a called strike. Second pitch, I belted straight back for a foul. Third pitch was right on the black and the umpire literally had his right hand poised, but then held it back. The catcher said, "You owed him one from last at-bat." Next pitch was a ball low. Then, on 2-2, I got pretty good aluminum on the ball, but right at second base, and I was thrown out by a couple of steps. Oh well.

I played the whole game in right field and only one ball was hit to me. I didn’t get a very good jump on it, and it was an RBI double over my head. I must say it’s not easy to judge a flyball when you play two baseball games a year.

But all in all, a fun day of baseball. I think the only right way to top it off is to get some Sushi at my favorite Japanese restaurant in New York, Raku on 47th Street.

More from the Stadium later.

Ian.

New York State of Mind

The two hour and 30 minute rain delay finally in the books, it’s hard not to think past today and think about what is ahead in the Bronx. The Red Sox have the type of opportunity that doesn’t come along often. They have a chance to flatten the Yankees before Memorial Day.

Of course, to do this, they would need a sweep. Likely? Of course not. But the possibility still exists. For the first time I can ever remember, the Red Sox can go into this series free and easy. All of the pressure, and i mean ALL of it, is on the Yankees.

They are at a fragile point here. Rocket is rushing to re-launch, wondering if there will even be a cause to pitch for by the time he returns.

Hudson against Gabbard doesn’t favor the Red Sox, but how many times have we said things like that this year and then the opposite of what you expect ends up happening? And what ever happened to the American League East? Only one team is over .500.

I liked Tito’s move of saving Schilling for the final game in New York. Watching Schilling his last two starts, he hasn’t looked like the same guy. I’d think that giving him an extra day of rest would only help. He always loves pitching in New York.

By the way, does Jonathan Papelbon ever pitch anymore? What a luxury for the Sox to be able to rest him so much.

How is everyone else doing on this fine Sunday afternoon?

Ian.

Dry doubleheader

The rain is gone, and the Red Sox have sent a thank you note to Mother Nature. The way they are playing, and the way the Yankees are playing, the last thing they need are rainouts.

It’s amazing that this is the first time in club history the Red Sox have had a 10-game lead as early as May 19. Where do they go from here? They need to just keep pitching and stay healthy. This team is loaded.

We’ve seen everything around here the years except this. We’ve never seen the Sox just steamroll their way through a season. 1995 seems like a long time ago, and that year was sort of a fluke because of the 144-game season caused by labor strife. Besides, that team was swept in three straight by Cleveland in the playoffs. When I think of that team, I think of over-achievers like Troy O’Leary and Lee Tinsley. That team sort of did it with smoke and mirrors.

I repeat, this team is loaded. Is this to suggest the American League is over? Of course not. We’ve seen far too many crazy things to believe that. But the Red Sox have built themselves a mighty comfortable cushion.

Is Youkilis hot or what? I type that after watching him just crush one to center. And now, Manny fields one off the scoreboard and side-arm slings a perfect throw to second to nail Diaz trying to stretch a single. The replay did show that the runner was safe, but that doesn’t matter for the Red Sox now. When you’re hot, you also seem to bet every break.

Dice-K looks locked in. We’ll see.

Later,

Ian.

Pitching plans

OK, so we know that Josh Beckett won’t pitch Friday night. We don’t know who will, though all signs point to Devern Hansack. Yes, Hansack was scratched from tonight’s game at Pawtucket, which seems to be a dead give-away that he’s Fenway-bound. In fact, he was seen leaving McCoy in civilian clothes before tonight’s game, another pretty good hint.

Now, we also don’t know who will pitch Sunday. Tito was very coy about that. He said it will all make sense once they announce it. Wake was supposed to pitch Sunday, but he’ll know twirl his knuckler in the Bronx on Monday night.

The strong speculation is that Kason Gabbard will get Sunday’s nod. That is his day in Pawtucket anyway. Both of those guys pitched well when the Sox called them up last year, and they were both impressive in Spring Training. So with a nine-game lead in the standings, I don’t think you can go wrong with Hansack and Gabbard.

Ortiz is sick, so Manny will DH tonight. Wily Mo will play left. J.D. will be in right.

Anyway, I have to start writing, so I’ll add to this entry later in the day when I have more time.

Thx,

Ian.

Complete gem

How much fun was that to watch last night? As a sports writer or sports spectator, there is nothing more enjoyable to watch then a master at work. That’s how I used to feel when Pedro was on the mound. That’s what it felt like with Daisuke last night.

The amazing thing was Varitek saying after the game that Dice-K had great command of his cutter, but he sensed in the bullpen that a lot of the other pitches weren’t working. he’s going to pitch complete game masterpieces when he only has one or two pitches working? That’s going to be interesting. And it’s sort of a depressing thought for opposing hitters. Jim Leyland, who doesn’t toss praise around loosely, was impressed.

The real star athletes always seem to elevate their level when the crowd gets electric behind them. And I suppose it takes a star to generate such electricity. You saw that in the ninth last night with the crowd basically standing on every pitch.

It seems like all of a sudden, Dice-K is getting it. He’s getting the type of workout routine that works for him. More running,less weights. He’s getting used to gripping the bigger baseball. He’s making do with a smaller strike zone.

The Red Sox are just rolling in every possible way right now. The offense is hardly dominant, but they always seem to get that hit when they need it. And it has to be so much less taxing for an offense when the starting pitching is getting it done basically every night. And the bullpen is getting so much rest thanks to the starters.

Sure, the Sox got off to a great start last year. But didn’t you always see the flaws in that team? This team looks loaded, and you feel that "winning vibe" in the clubhouse that I never felt as much last year. The ’03-04 teams had a special feel from a chemistry standpoint, and I think these guys are starting to get that.

Hopefully we’ll get more of an update on Beckett today, and whether he can make his next start. The way things are going for this team right now, Snyder will step in and allow two runs over seven innings.

I’ll talk to you later,

Ian.

No O's (for me)

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll be out all weekend. I was actually at Fenway today as a paying spectator. A four-hour game is a little more bearable when you don’t have to work, but I must say, baseball was not meant to be played in four-hour increments.

Beckett puts his 7-0 record to the test on Mother’s Day. His starts have been elevated to "must watch", so, yes, I think i’ll able to sneak to a TV tomorrow.

Sitting right near the third base dugout today, I got a good look at Kevin MIllar — who didn’t start — yapping away. The man has a gift for gab. When he got into the game and reached third, Mike Lowell seemed to smile every time Millar opened his mouth. Always good to see one-five.

Anyway, I’ll be back at Fenway Monday for the Tigers. Just wanted to check in.

Talk to you later,

Ian.

Making the adjustment

That’s what this whole season is going to be about for Dice-K. Adjusting to his environment, adjusting to hitters, adjusting to a different baseball, different mounds, different stadiums.

Last night, he won the adjustment game, recovering nicely after those three bad outings. It was interesting to hear him after the game. He certainly was a little relieved, but in no way does he feel as if he has all this figured out now.

I think the struggles of those previous three games were a little eye-opening to this man, who has only known success in his life. Now he knows how stiff the competition is against American League hitters, and he’s in the process of tacking that challenge. It’s going to be an ongoing one.

The team itself has a good vibe to it right now. There seems to be a different offensive hero every night, though nobody minds when Ortiz belts four hits, as he did Wednesday.

Wakefield vs. Halladay. This will be fun. Two pitchers who know exactly what they want to do and work quickly. A sweep for the Red Sox could be enormously damaging to the reeling Blue Jays.

Later,

Ian.

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