May 2007

Crossroads

Which Daisuke Matsuzaka will we get tonight at Rogers Centre? The one who looked so good his first three starts, or the one who was, yeah, very mediocre the next three times out.

Matsuzaka was here at the ballpark at 2 p.m. today and was out on the field doing cardio work by 3. This isn’t all that typical for a pitcher on the day of his game, but it’s a little fascinating.

Manager Terry Francona said that Jamie Moyer is another guy who runs on the day he pitches. Again, Daisuke is still trying to find a balance between what worked for him in Japan and what can work for him here. Tito also mentioned that Daisuke stayed off the weights this week and focused more on the running.

This is the first time this season that I have felt zero buzz for a Daisuke start. The whole thing has kind of flat-lined after the way he pitched the last three times out, and Okajima has become the bigger story to the media.

But it will only take a dominant outing or two from Matsuzaka to reverse that.

As for the latest controversy surrounding Schilling, I’m bored by it. He said yesterday what a lot of players think, but don’t publicly say. The apology was necessary because I think he did misrepresent some things. For example, Bonds has never admitted to knowingly using steroids. He did admit to taking the cream, which he claimed to think was flaxseed oil. Any way, it’s all semantics at this point.

More amazing to me is the way Papi’s comments to Michael Silverman were misconstrued. Terry Francona told us today that a Toronto journalist actually came up to him in the manager’s office yesterday and said, "What do you think about David Ortiz admitting to using steroids?"

What are some people thinking. I thought the article was good, and that Ortiz represented himself well. All he said was that he used to take some protein shakes in the Dominican and not know every ingredient that was in them, and that he is a lot more careful about that stuff now. Much ado about nothing.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Dice-K responds to his recent crisis tonight. Will he sink into a deeper hole or will he bust out with a 10-K performance?

Later,

Ian.

Rocket re-enters rivalry

Rocket Roger Clemens will not pitch for the Red Sox again. That has become blatantly clear the last two years. If Clemens truly wanted the Hollywood ending the way so many Sox fans did, he would have come back in either of the last two years when he had the freedom to make that choice. But in both cases, Clemens decided to pitch with Andy Pettitte.

He is maybe the greatest pitcher of all-time when you put the whole body of work in perspective. Therefore, Clemens more than has the right to make his own choices. Maybe he felt bad that Joe Torre — a man he respects deeply — is on such thin ice. Maybe the bond he built while winning championships with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Pettitte is something that he missed terribly.

Still, it’s a shame because the addition of Clemens could have made this one of the best Red Sox teams ever. A rotation of Schilling, Beckett, Clemens, Matsuzaka, Wakefield and perhaps Lester? That would have been something. I think he makes the Yankees better, but I think his impact would have been felt even more in Boston where he could have made an upper echelon team a juggernaut.

Full disclosure here: When i was in my youth, well before my days as a sportswriter, there were two athletes who stood above all others on my pedastal. One was Larry Bird. The other was the Rocket. So yeah, it would have been a cool thing to cover him on a daily basis. But it ain’t gonna happen.

And like Schilling said today, you still have to like this Red Sox team. The Red Sox-Yankees has somehow added more juice as you just know the Fenway faitfhul is absolutely going to lay into Clemens with the boos when he comes back to Boston at some point this year.

Clemens wanted to pitch four months. The Red Sox only wanted to pay him for three. At the price-tag he is reeling in, I can see their reservation about paying that freight. One injury to Roger and it would suddenly become a real bad move cost-wise.

Can Clemens be as dominant in the American League East as he was for the Astros the last three years? I have serious doubts. Let’s not forget that in 2003, the last season Clemens pitched in New York, the Red Sox thumped him on quite a few occasions that year.

So Clemens definitely brings a lot more intrigue to the AL East race. But i don’t think he switches the balance of power as dramatically as Jonathan Papelbon did the day he returned as closer.

One thing is for sure. The 2007 baseball season got a lot more interesting today in both Boston and New York. Clemens is one of those athletes who just captures your interest.

Stay tuned.

Ian.

Rookie of the Month

All of you who predicted that a Japanese pitcher not named Daisuke Matsuzaka would be the American League Rookie of the Month please raise your hand. I don’t see any hands. Is there a hand somewhere?

Let’s face it, none of us would have gone out on that limb. Okajima is a middle reliever. That said, he’s taken that job to another level with the way he’s pitched. Papelbon probably won ‘t pitch tonight. You can count on Oki being out there for the ninth. Nobody from the bullpen — aside from Paps — has earned more trust in the manager than Oki.

What can you say about Papelbon last night? He had nothing. It happens to the best of them sometimes. One obvious thing was his fastball didn’t have that explosive finish it usually has. It was the first time he pitched an entire inning without notching a strikeout since July 17 of last year.

I need to see multiple bad outings from Pap before he is classified as any kind of surprise.

Ichiro vs. Matsuzaka part deux tomorrow night at the Fens. With that, let’s resurrect one of the great quotes of all-time.

"I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the
innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with
the zeal of a challenger."

That was Ichiro speaking with the Seattle times prior to the first matchup with Matsuzaka this season. Isn’t it impossible not to love that quote? I can’t see it enough times.

As for Beckett, he was filthy again. A 97-MPH heater to end a solid, seven-inning performance. For those who remember, I was predicting Cy Young-caliber stuff from Beckett this season. So far, so good.

Oki does it again in the eighth. Here’s Timlin in the ninth. It is clear that Francona was very serious about not over-using Pap this year.

 

More later.

Ian.

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