May 2008

Friday at Fenway

It’s raining. Game is officially in delay mode. It’s coming down pretty steadily but supposed to let up soon. I’ll keep you posted. It looks pretty ominous out there.

Good to be back at Fenway. A three-game series with the Brewers looms. The Red Sox are beat up and in a slump. Probably nothing 37,000 vocal enthusiasts can’t solve.

A couple of interesting subplots tonight. I know everyone will be happy to see Gabe Kapler back. Who doesn’t like Gabe Kapler? He’s not playing, however, so the standing ovation might have to wait until tomorrow.

It will be a far different story for Eric Gagne. There have been few less disastrous trade acquisitions than Gagne, though the Red Sox did win a World Series in spite of him. It should be high comedy to see the reaction he gets if he comes out of the bullpen tonight.

The guy starting for the Brewers tonight is also a former trade acquisition the Red Sox would have loved to have a re-do on. Remember how they traded Freddy Sanchez for Jeff Suppan on July 31, 2003? By the time the playoffs rolled around, a struggling Suppan didn’t even make the rotation. However, Red Sox fans do love him for his incredibly poor baserunning on behalf of the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 2004 World Series.

This could be the night for Manny to hit 500. Yes, he is two away, but he’s had good success against Suppan (7-for-21, three homers) and that doesn’t include the blast Manny hit off him in the World Series.

The Red Sox are healthier then when you saw them last. Drew (wrist) and Lugo (concussion) are both back in the lineup. Coco is still feeling sick. Ellsbury is in center.

Oh, and there’s also quite a big Celtics game tonight. I thought Game 5 was a breakthrough performance for Rondo. Perhaps he can carry it over tonight on the road and they can be playing Game 1 against the Pistons on Sunday instead of Game 7 against these Cavs. Then again, if it goes to Game 7, they can finally avenge the Game 7 loss to Cleveland in 1992.

Ian.

Road Test

Tonight is truly Driver’s Ed for the Boston Celtics. It’s time, for once and for all, to see how this team handles the road.

They’ve driven off of it so far in these playoffs, nearly to a state of utter disaster and embarrassment against Atlanta.

Game 3 at Cleveland was so bad that my eight-year-old son was screaming for Doc Rivers to put Scalabrine in the game. When I reminded him that Scal was inactive, he still thought that Scalabrine — decked out in suit and tie — would be better than what was going on out there on the floor at the time.

Truth be told, the Celtics need to play with an attitude like they did during the regular season. They need to play like an attitude like they have at home in the playoffs.

Rondo needs to start being Rondo again. Garnett needs to take it strong to the basket. Paul Pierce needs to pretend this is the 2002 and 2003 playoffs and it is on him to will points for this team. Ray Allen needs to play with a pulse.

Mind you, the home team is taking care of business in just about every playoff series at the moment. But the Celtics need to at least get competitive on the road. Last game was an embarrassment.

We’ll see what they have in store tonight.

Meanwhile at the Metrodome, Buchholz takes the ball as the Sox try to salvage a split in Minny.

Ian.

Round 1 to the Celtics

You’re still on MLB.com, but I’m going to let a basketball blog break out here for a bit.

Forget about the seven-game series with Atlanta, which was a strange event in which the Celtics blew out the Hawks in all four games at home and looked like a lost bunch on the road.

For all intents and purposes, the NBA Playoffs for the Celtics began Tuesday night at the Garden in one of those rock em, sock em defensive tilts that marks true playoff basketball.

This was a battle of will on both sides and the difference was simply the two superstars. Kevin Garnett made all of his big shots. The King missed all of his — including a layup in which he had Kendrick Perkins backwards — that could have sent the game into Overtime.

It’s doubtful that you’ll ever see Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combine for four points in a basketball game ever again. And if it does somehow happen again, you can be sure the Celtics won’t win. Just as you can be sure the Cavs won’t win if LeBron goes 2-for-19 or whatever it was he shot last night yet they almost did anyway in this case. Strange, strange game. I’m not sure about you, but I’m feeling pretty good about Wally Szcerbiak (sp?) being on the other side of this matchup. Then again, I’d take Delonte West on my team any day.

One thing that drives me crazy is all the people that somehow think Doc Rivers is the reason whenever this team loses a basketball game or doesn’t play up to its capability. This is a veteran team that shouldn’t need a coach to put them over the top. I think Doc has had these guys prepared to play all year. The critics of Doc remind me a lot of the critics of Tito in post-October 2004. Francoma anyone? All those people who came up with that silly nickname must feel pretty idiotic if they are man or woman enough to own up to it. Those same people will be filling pretty silly if the Celtics win No. 17 this June.

While I think we’d all rather watch a more artistic game when the two teams are actually making shots, I did find last night’s game to be a thoroughly entertaining watch. Just two teams grinding and fighting and desperate to win.

I’m sure Game 2 will have a different personality. That’s just the way playoff basketball is.

Oh, by the way Manny belted No. 497 last night. Can anyone else in baseball besides Manny hit a lazy flyball that goes 420 feet? And it was the first time he had ever seen this kid pitcher and he rakes at the first pitch and puts it over the wall. I’ll say it again. What an unbelievable hitter this guy is.

Later,

 Ian.

Deep Drive

Mike Lowell celebrated tomorrow’s release of his book by hitting, yes, his first deep drive of 2008. I’m sure plenty more are on the way. And by the way, everyone should check out his work as an author.

Lowell’s book — co-authored by the blogtastic Rob Bradford of the Boston Herald — is a terrific read. I haven’t read the whole thing yet. I’ve gotten through 100 pages in about three days and loving it so far. The book will be available in stores tomorrow.

There is great insight from Lowell about his childhood, and how connected he was to his father, and how baseball was something they truly bonded over. I love the part about how on every Wednesday afternoon, Lowell and his dad and his brothers would go to a local ballfield with a bucket of balls and Papa Lowell would throw them BP. Carl Lowell was a very accomplished pitcher in his own day, representing Puerto Rico with some memorable performances, particularly when he beat Cuba.

Anyway, after BP and shagging and taking grounders, the boys would fetch all the balls and put them back in the bucket. The reward? Slurpies at 7/11. Lowell says in the book, “Wednesday is still my favorite day of the week.”

There’s also detailed information about the root of the Lowell family’s utter hatred for Fidel Castro.

There is in-depth stuff about how Lowell snapped out of the funk he was in during 2005 by enlisting his old hitting coach Gary Denbo, who was in Japan at the time. Lowell was so desperate for an answer that he talked to Denbo through some video device on the computer.

A few months later, Lowell met up with Denbo in Florida for some 1-on-1 work. But soon thereafter, Denbo was hired by the Yankees and therefore, could no longer help Lowell. By this time, Lowell had already gotten a good foundation again and was on his way to regaining his All-Star stroke.

Each chapter leads with an unfiltered journal entry — Bradford obviously didn’t touch these. Lowell talks a lot about his kids and his family life and it becomes clear how much he loves being a father.

I’ve already been impressed with the read, and I haven’t even gotten to the in-depth stuff yet on his successful fight against cancer or the championship rides of 2003 and 2007.

I highly recommend this book.

Ian.

State of Schilling

With Curt Schilling on a completely different program than the rest of the players — he gets here extremely early for his rehab work and leaves early also — we don’t see him that much in the clubhouse. Today was an exception, and the rehabbing right-hander was insightful — as he usually is when he speaks — on how things are going.

Here is a complete transcript of what was said:
 

Schilling, “I’m closer to throwing. I don’t know. We’re
getting close. I would argue that we’re close to throwing in the next week to
10 days probably. It’s a big day. I feel great. I feel strong. I feel
everything I’m supposed to feel.”

Compared to January, “There’s no comparison where I am,
physically, strength wise, any of it.”

Pleasantly surprised? “I’m past that part. I got past that
early and just kind of turned into the daily grind thing. Coming in and staying
focused on what I had to get done that day to get my goals met that day and
move on to the next thing.”

“It’s not hard. It never was. There’s a certain challenge to
it because I couldn’t be farther from being a part of the team. But I never
looked at it as hard. It was a necessary part of what was happening. I’ve done
it before. It’s not fun. But you don’t think about those aspects of it. Just
like when I’m pitching, I have a list of things I have on the day I pitch, I
have a list of things I have to do when I come to the park. I’m doing those as
hard as I can do them, as good as I can do them, is my daily thing.”

Strength testing? “We’ve done a bunch of them and we
continue to improve every single one and I think there’s a couple of last
things last things that Mike wants to see and be happy with to move to the next
step.”
 
Confident you’ll be able to take the next step? “I’ve never
thought otherwise. If I didn’t believe, absolutely, that I would have the ball
in a World Series game, I wouldn’t be doing this. There’s a lot of things that
have to happen between now and then. There’s an assumption, I think, for some people
that don’t really think about this, which most people probably don’t, but, this
is not about just me getting healthy and coming back. I have to be good. I’m
not just going to get the ball because I’m a starting pitcher. I’m going to have
to be good. Last I looked, this rotation didn’t have a hole in it. There’s a
lot of different scenarios that might come about with an innings limit for guys
but I’ve got to come back and be good. I can’t just can’t get healthy and
expect to come back and get a spot. That’s a challenge.”

Once you do start throwing, what happens from there? “Nice
try but no. I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t think we know. We have an
idea of a time-table but once we start throwing, like anything else, everything
goes out the window and you kind of go day by day on how you feel and what you’re
doing. ”

Starting to feel more connected to team? “Well, no, until I’m
on a schedule that keeps me at the ballpark out of necessity, I’m here and done
most days, usually by like, 2. And, it’s like, my day’s done. I’ve never gone
through this. It’s weird. It’s very odd, very uncomfortable. Like I said, I try
and impact the guys on this team that I’m close with at times when we have time
to talk away from everybody. Then I go do my thing. It’s weird. But, you know,
that’s part of it.”

 
Harder to leave, or would it be harder to stay once the game
starts, “Oh, it would be a lot harder to hang around the ballpark from 2 to midnight every night with nothing to
do. So there’s no comparison there.”

How close to picking up a ball? “I don’t know. Soon. Very
soon.”
 
Work right now? “Today is a light day. We’re alternating
heavy and light days. The heavy day just got immensely heavy so the light days
are much, much lighter, to allow … We’ve come to realize the whole way through
this that every time after I have like an off day, I’m immensely better the
following day. The workload on my heavy day is excessive. There’s no pain, no
stamina issues, no strength loss, no lingering effects, which is a huge plus. I’ve
said before and even through now, I haven’t thrown yet. That’s the big piece to
this. I might go, I don’t expect to, but there’s a chance I could go out and
throw next week and I’d just feel miserable and it would all be for naught. I
don’t envision with the amount of work that we’ve done and the things that we’re
doing that I’m going to come back and start throwing and be out. That’s not
going to work. I think that we’re set now to go for an extended period of time
with me throwing and getting more amped up on the throwing side of things to
see how far we can take it.”

Pain free? “Since the injection for the most part. I haven’t
had a day where I’ve had, on a scale of 1 to 10, pain in the two to three
neighborhood and if I had been uncomfortable any day, it’s never been carried
out after I left. I’ve never had any issues up to this point.”

The work of the rotation: “Obviously the last three or four
days have been phenomenal. That, to me, the personality make-up, starting with
John at the top as the pitching coach, is, it’s huge. It’s hard to convey this
without it sounding wrong but you get a competition that is a good thing. The
first piece of that is talented pitchers. You don’t have competition if guys
suck, unless you’re having a competition to see who sucks worse. These guys are
all very, very good to great. You get Josh setting a bar  … Obviously Dice-K wants to be a bar setter. And
then you have these kids who, you know, are kind of feeling their way. You’ve
got one who’s just a natural gifted kid and the other kid who is a grinder in
Jonny. They start to do things that maybe they haven’t done before. Then they
start to expect those things. Now you’ve got a whole rotation. Then you have
Wake, who every fifth day takes the ball and has a good chance to win. It’s
been fun to watch, really fun to watch.”

In other matters … Ellsbury is back in the lineup. Coco, sore left knee and sore right hamstring, is out. Drew still out. He’ll be back in there tomorrow. Bartolo Colon will get back on the rehab trail on Monday in Sarasota against a lower minors Orioles affiliate.

Without further ado, today’s lineup:

Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Ramirez LF
Lowell 3B
Youkilis 1B
Moss RF
Varitek C
Lugo SS

Buchholz SP

Nothing like 9:30 baseball on a Friday night. At least I got to watch the first half of the Celtics game during the rain delay. They need to play better interior defense in the second half.

Update: I also so most of the second half. What a choke job. Garnett made 2 or 3 turnovers in the fourth, Pierce fouled out — admittedly a bad call — with five minutes left. Nobody stepped up to do anything. I’m sure there will be speculation that Doc’s job is on the line in Game 7.

Ian.

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