June 2007

Hotlanta

Yes, very hot in Atlanta today. I enjoy Turner Field. It’s a nice park, clean, easy to get around.

This series should be a good litmus test of whether the Red Sox are back on track or not? Kind of hard to tell, because from what I saw, the San Francisco Giants just aren’t a very good baseball team.

Clearly, the biggest thing to come out of the sweep over the Giants is this: Manny is getting hot. Manny is getting his powerball back. The ramifications of this are enormous. If Manny can go on one of those tears where he’s hitting eight homers in 10 games, pitchers can’t nibble quite as much around Big Papi. Ortiz himself has yet to go on a significant power tear this season.

So my pre-road trip prediction is this: Ortiz and Manny are both going to clear a few walls over the next nine games.

No DH for the next six games, so Tito will be mixing and matching. Look for Ortiz, Youkilis and Lowell to all start four out of these six games. Ortiz is out of the lineup tonight with the lefty going. Youk is hitting third and ‘Tek is hitting fifth.

Schill to the hill today: Do we get the one-hitter Schill of two starts ago or the guy who was hit pretty soundly by the Rockies five days ago? Also, Okajima is unavaiable today after pitching all three games against the Giants. Perhaps Timlin is going to have to get some big outs tonight.

More later,

Ian.

Homecoming King

Two straight opening game loud ovations for Dave Roberts. How can anyone be surprised, even if he spent all of three months as  Red Sox player and, if you recall, didn’t have a single at-bat in the 2004 postseason.

Roberts theft was the ultimate catalytic moment of a historic team. Every bit as much as Varitek’s leather sandwich in A-Rod’s face, followed by Billy Mueller’s walkoff on that July 24 of 2004.

I’d say that Orlando Cabrera and Roberts, for guys who only played three months in a city, have amazing and ever-lasting popularity here. The third guy acquired on July 31, 2004 — is not quite so popular. I speak of Doug Mientkiewicz, who has the third most popular "He Stole the Ball" in Boston sports history behind John Havlicek (1965) and Larry Bird (1987).

But it was nice that the Boston fans could at least take enough of a high road to give Mientkiewicz an ovation after his concussion. Cabrera and Roberts definitely brought a certain air of sunshine to the clubhouse after those lifeless three months in ’04 before they got there. Mientkiewicz also played hard, and his most memorable contribution was taking that Carlos Delgado shove during his one night at second base.

As for the Bonds circus, the treatment of him here has honestly been a lot more reserved than I would have thought. It didn’t seem nearly as nasty as it was for Johnny Damon when he came back last year, or A-Rod in any game he plays here.

Dice-K and Cain have a beauty going right now. It couldn’t be nicer hear at Fenway.

later,

Ian.

And now leading off for the Red Sox …

The leadoff man du jour at Fenway is, yes, J.D. Drew. Very surprising, but not altogether a bad move if you think about it. The one thing Drew always does is work the pitchers and swing at strikes. That is part of the qualification of a good leadoff hitter. He also has above average speed, another nice thing to have up top.

This doesn’t sound permanent by any means, but if it works, all bets are off! At any rate, J.D. Drew lifetime as a leadoff hitter: 42 games, 148 at-bats, 31 runs, 37 hits, six doubles, one triple, five homers, 13 RBIs, .345 OBP. I’m not sure how relevant those stats are because, by J.D.’s own admission, he has no clue when the last time he led off was. Upon further research and a lot of web clicks, I found the answer on baseballreference.com. The answer is June 18, 2003, when Drew went 0-for-5 in a Cardinals romp over the Brewers.

Curt Schilling is obviously amused by the panic on the streets. When he walked through the clubhouse today, the Yankees game was on the television and the ace shouted in the direction of reporters, "Oh my God, the Yankees are winning!". Ah well, a little levity never hurt anyone, I suppose.

Who gets a louder ovation Friday night? Barry Bonds or Dave Roberts? Hmmmm. OK, I’m thinking Roberts might just bring down the house. Barry? After the blonde masks the fans brought out for A-Rod, I’m not quite sure what the Fenway faithful will have in store for Bonds, who will be playing his first career game in Boston.

That’s all for now.

Thx,

Ian.

New leading man

Even with a near double-digit lead in the AL East, it was obvious the Red Sox could not go on any longer with Julio Lugo (.274 OBP, .318 slugging) batting leadoff. Pedroia at the top makes sense. Like Youkilis, he waits for his pitch. I think the trickle down effect of having both those guys work counts before Oritz and Manny come to the plate will pay dividends.

The more mentally and physically exhausted the pitchers are by the time they get to Papi/Manny, the better chance there is of a meatball being left over the heart of the plate.

Maybe hitting at the bottom of the order can revitalize Lugo. He’ll stop worrying about his burden of being the leadoff man and just think about getting hits.

It’s a windy night here at Fenway. So far, it hasn’t had a negative impact on Wake. I must say, I’m a little tired after the journey back from Phoenix. Coming from West to East knocks you out with the time change.

I’ll have more pep in my step tomorrow.

Ian.

Duel in the desert

What baseball enthusiast doesn’t love this matchup? The guy who has a monster-like 6-foot-10 presence pitching against a guy who was known as the Monster during his years as a legend in Japan.

Just wait until Matsuzaka digs in against Unit at the plate. Before the game, Tito jokingly asked Dice-K if he wanted to hit cleanup. "Against Randy Johnson, no, no", was Dice-K’s response.

Randy Johnson seems to be regaining some of his aura back out here in Arizona. As Francona said, he still makes you switch your lineup.

No Ortiz, no J.D. Drew. Randy Johnson is that nasty against lefties. That slider coming from that near 7-foot-frame with that funky arm angle, there’s just no way to get a good look at it.

Matsuzaka was good in Oakland; I think he’ll be extra revved up today. He’s got his bats ready. And speaking of his bats, Rob Bradford of bradfordfiles fame pulled out this juicy nugget yesterday: That bat that Drew used to have his breakout two-homer, seven-RBI performance Friday night? You know who’s bat that was? Dice-K’s bat. Apparently, J.D. liked the feel of Matsuzaka’s lumber.

Anyway, the roof is closed And with the temperature outside a crisp 100 degrees, I’m eternally grateful.

Ian.

Julian and Lester

Don’t look for the Tavarez/Lester shuffle to take place just yet. Lester struggled tonight at Pawtucket, throwing 70 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. At a time when the Sox are looking for Lester to start working deep into games, this was definitely a short-term setback.

Then again, what’s the rush? Tavarez is doing just fine. Every start, it seems like he goes five or six innings and gives up three runs. For a No. 5 starter pitching behind an offense like the Red Sox have, that’s more than adequate.

And once Lester returns, the Red Sox will have yet another tough roster move to make, so there’s no reason to rush it. More development in the Minor Leagues can only help Lester and get him stronger by the time he does re-join the Red Sox.

You know that isn’t what Lester wants to hear right now. He’s a true competitor and I’m sure he just wants to pitch at the highest level. But he has a long career in front of him.

Once Lester is cleared to come back, Tavarez should become a key factor in the bullpen. He can be the guy Francona leans on to get double plays. Okajima can use all the help he can get in the seventh and eighth inning and I wouldn’t be surprised if Julian turns into a key guy out there.

The roof is open here in the desert. Nice night for baseball. But the Red Sox can’t get anything going with the bats against Micah Owings.

Everyone ready for Sunday’s Dice-K-Unit showdown?

Ian.

No one-hit wonder

That was an incredible performance by Curt Schilling. But the agony of it all, giving up a hit with two outs in the ninth. And congratulations to Schilling for reacting with complete class and having a big smile on his face over a victory his team desperately needed.

"We needed a win more than anything today," Schilling said to NESN’s Tina Cervasio immediately following the game.

And he’s right. A 1-0 win ends the four-game losing streak. Who would have thought a Big Papi solo shot in the first inning would make all the difference?

More on the near no-hitter later. http://www.38pitches.com should be a great read. I wonder if the Red Sox are going to start revving up those extension talks with Schilling soon.

It was an interesting day for Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who was trying to get ready for the draft and watch a no-hitter in progress all at once. Here’s what Theo had to say about the odd juxtaposition:

“It was an interesting day. This is the one day where
none of us really get to see the big league game. We were all in the draft room
and we had the game on outside the room and kept kind of poking our head out
and getting updates and trying not to jinx things. It was funny because the
ninth inning came around right when the 55th pick was about to be selected. We
were trying to do two things at once. We actually closed the door to the draft
room with one out in the ninth inning and asked people not to make noise
outside no matter what happened in the big league game. We actually saw the
basehit right before we selected. It was great to be able to see our club win
and than have two guys we weren’t sure would be at our pick get there at 55 and
62. All in all, it was a good day."

Speaking of the draft, you know this Red Sox regime doesn’t worry a whole lot about karma when they take a shortstop named Dent with their second pick. Fear not, Sox Nationers. From all the research I’ve done, Ryan Dent has no relation to Bucky Bleep. And he also has far better speed than Bucky Bleep.

On that note, my car service will be arriving at my house in five short hours, and than it’s off to Phoenix. I’ll catch up with you all from the desert.

Ciao,

Ian.

First signs of trouble

It took the first week in June for you to be able to say it: The Boston Red Sox are in a slump. It’s rather impressive it took this long. As any astute baseball observer knows, baseball is full of highs and lows and it’s the team that can minimize the latter that plays baseball in October.

I’m not in Oakland, as you can probably tell by reading the site, but just watching from afar, it looks like an entire offensive slump. The pitching is fine, which is the way you want it to be. Hitting slumps happen. This team has too many bats for it to keep going like this.

One quick fix for the offesne would be for the leadoff man to start hitting. Julio Lugo’s latest 0-fer leaves him at .221. With Drew sitting for the second day in a row, Youkilis was again out of the 2-hole. So, in other words, the other key is to get Drew going. Then they can keep Youk at 2 where he’s most effective.

The two big offensive signings haven’t gotten it done, and for the first time all year, the struggles of those two players are starting to hurt the team.

But I’ll say it again. As long as the Red Sox keep pitching like they are, they are going places. Schilling in a matinee on Thursday. One thing I like about Schilling is that he badly wants to be the guy to take the ball and end this four-game losing streak. I’m sure he’ll be revved up. And fortunately for Boston’s slumbering bats, the ball always carries better during the day-time in Oakland.

I’ll be back on the beat Friday night in Phoenix. I’ll be busy with draft coverage on Thursday.

Talk to you soon,

Ian.

A loss worth remembering

I think the Red Sox showed more about themselves as a team in Monday night’s loss than they have in nearly any of their victories this season. That night was just not set up for success.

Late Sunday game against the Yankees ends after midnight. Long flight that had the Red Sox spend all of their normal sleeping hours in the air. Arrival in Oakland in the wee hours of the morning . A game that night.

Terry Francona, who in my estimation, has done a masterful job this season, knew it was prudent to get some guys rest. No Julio Lugo, no Mike Lowell, no Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp stayed out of the lineup because of an illness. And the bullpen decided to go to battle without the top tandem of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon.

Still, the Sox were plucky enough to stay in this thing. Down 4-2 going into the ninth. Jerry Remy quickly pointed out that the A’s should have kept in their lefty with the tough arm angle to face David Ortiz instead of the straight-armed Alan Embree. Remy proves correct as Ortiz leads the inning off with a double. Manny strikes out. Youkilis grounds out. And Francona does a fairly gutsy thing here, hitting Jason Varitek for J.D. Drew. I say gutsy because many managers don’t pinch-hit for a hitter of Drew’s caliber — even if he’s in a slump — because the player might lose confidence or feel disrespected. At any rate, Varitek responds with a bloop single, bringing in a run to cut the lead to one.

Crisp was too sick to start, but Tito calls on him to run for ‘Tek. That only ends up being huge when he calls for a hit and run and Pena wacks one into the gap in right-center. Coco scores all the way from first. Do you guys realize where Wily Mo’s liner would have went if Coco didn’t take off? You got it — right where the second baseman would have been standing, that’s where.

Anyway, bottom of the 9th now and the bases are loaded with nobody out, thanks in large part to Eric Hinske booting an easy grounder. So what happens next? J.C. Romero gets a huge strikeout and then a 5-2-3 DP to end the inning. The sight of Hinske widely smiling and pumping his fist was great to see. He got picked up by a teammate and he’s loving it. Hinske is a tremendous teammate and his excitement was due to the fact that he would have been crushed if he had lost the team the game. Romero, who had some control issues, was equally ecstatic. Here are two of the more unheralded players on the team coming up huge on a night many of the stars were out. That does wonders for a team.

The Sox finally lose the game in the bottom of the 11th when Chavez loses a meaty offering from Snyder. But that’s besides the point. This team played with all of their collective heart on a night they very easily could have lost 7-2 — remember Tavarez was pitching against A’s ace Dan Haren — and nobody would have knocked them. But they went down fighting until the end.

I thought that said a lot about the character of the club. That’s all.

Ian.

Long time coming

0603071122aI needed to put the scoreboard photo
up as proof. In a moment that was
long overdue, The Boston media prevailed over their New York counterparts in the Media game. We played at Fenway this morning, winning by the score you see — 14-7 — in what barely qualified as an official game. We had the field until 11:30. We play twice a year — once
in the Bronx and once at Fenway — and this is our first victory since 2001.
It was definitely a team effort all the way. Tony Massarotti from the Herald had a rough first inning, giving up four runs, but the offense picked him up. Tony actually supported the cause with a couple of knocks of his own. We broke through with a big bottom of the third, with hits coming from all over the place. Actually, I’d say our best hit of the day was a foul ball. Kevin Gray of the New Hampshire Union Leader smoked a foul home run to the left of Fisk Territory. It was eerily similar to the 90 or 100 foul home runs Millar hit to that exact spot during his years with the Sox. A few years back, I’m told that Kevin Gray actually cleared the wall in fair territory. Speaking of Gray, the dude went Jeter on us, diving into the stands to catch a foul popup. It was inspiring. And kudos also to Andy Hackett for nailing a double about halfway up the Monster.

It felt a lot different to be in the winner’s circle. I got a crash course in how big right field is at Fenway Park when Bob Klapisch smoked a liner way out of my reach and into the corner. I had this vision of the ball rolling all the way along the line like Pokey Reese’s inside the park homer a few years ago. But i managed to use my less than blazing speed — but all-out hustle — to hold Klap to a triple.

Rob Bradford of the Herald — best known for his blogging prowess — can also pitch. He came on in relief of Tony and gave us two shutout innings to earn the win.

As for my two at-bats, I popped out to second the first time up. My second time at the dish, I came up right in the middle of the rally and hit a roller to second that Pete Caldera apparently couldn’t get a handle on. I didn’t see the play because I had my head down in an all-out effort to get to first base in time. Caldera, who is a great guy, tells me he would have had me by five feet if he had handled the ball cleanly. I believe him because, yes, I’ll say it again, God granted me with less than average foot speed. Anyway, Uri Berenguer ended up trying to score from second on the play and the ball skipped to the backstop, allowing me to reach second. The official scorer — who is generous beyond belief — somehow ruled it a hit. I think I’ll take it because my poor media game batting average needs it.

Anyway, I don’t have as many great game details as usual because my seven-year-old son Tyler was at the game so I spent a lot of time checking on him and hanging out with him. He’s a big baseball fan and he shagged some flyballs off the Monster once the game was over.  Anyway, that’s all the organized baseball I’ll play until next year.0603071131
Below you will see Tyler stuck inside the Monster but not seeming to mind.

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