August 2008

Yaz recovering after surgery; Ace ailing; shortstop controversy

This just in: Captain Carl Yastrzemski is resting comfortably after triple bypass surgery that his representative Dick Gordon has called “a complete success”.

Good news. Sounds like Yaz got off the operating at about 8 p.m. tonight.

Manager Terry Francona announced a little while ago that Josh Beckett will be pushed back three days and will pitch next on Tuesday in New York.

The righty has been dealing with numbness in his pinky and ring fingers, partially due to sleeping on top of his arm.

It doesn’t sound good. Any time you hear numbness, a red flag goes up. Hopefully Beckett is OK. All year I’ve suspected maybe there was something going on — nagging or otherwise — that has prevented him from being the complete ace he was a year ago.

Away from the medical news and on to the baseball field, Joe McDonald of Providence Journal fame asked Tito tonight what his plans are at shortstop once Lugo returns, which could be around Sept. 1. There was no definitive answer from Tito’s desk.

“Oh, oh, not today. we’re two weeks away. It just doesn’t
make sense for me to say on Aug. 19 who is going to be the shortstop on Sept.
1. It doesn’t make sense. Lowrie has done a great job. We’re thrilled to death.
It just doesn’t make to do something when we don’t need to.”

Can anyone read through the tea leaves on this one? I think you need to stick with Lowrie if he keeps hitting like he has.

Back in Baltimore

It feels a little strange to be back in Baltimore. Last time we were here — back in late May and early June — Manny Ramirez belted home run No. 500, a truly majestic shot.

That night, you couldn’t imagine Manny being happier anywhere than at that very moment, wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.

Back here tonight, his successor Jason Bay clocked two homers high and far into the Baltimore night.

Last time we were here, J.D. Drew had vertigo. The series ended with Drew embarking on his most torrid month as a member of the Red Sox.

Back here tonight, Drew’s back is the problem, as he had to miss the game. Maybe he will rebound as strongly from the back as he did vertigo.

Last time we were here, Jason Varitek was having a highly normal season offensively.

Back here tonight, the captain came in with truly horrific numbers. But tonight, he smoked a home run on to Eutaw Street that, who knows, maybe is the start of something.

Last time we were here, David Ortiz had just torn that tendon sheath in his left wrist and would be lost to the Red Sox for nearly two months.

Back here tonight, the big man is back in the saddle and perhaps very close to getting in a groove.

Last time we were here, Rob Bradford was a key member of the Boston Herald.

Back here tonight, Rob made his writing debut for WEEI.com, where he is not just a tireless reporter but also the site editor. I expect that website will be a must visit for Boston sports fans, considering that Rob has added writers like Michael Felger, Ron Borges and the highly-underrated Alex Speier, who made his debut with a terrific and extensive piece on the man of the hour — Jason Bay. Also, frequent MLB.com contributor Mike Petraglia will be blogging for the website, and Mike virtually covers every major sporting event in Boston.

Good luck to Rob and his crew. I’ve already bookmarked that sucker.

Also, the Red Sox continue to call Josh Beckett their ace but Jon Lester continues to pitch like the ace. What would your rotation be in a potential Division Series? I’m curious.

Aaannnnnnddddddddddd Good Afternoon Everybody!

That was the greeting of the now-defunct Mike and the Mad Dog Show, which had a 19-year run until ending abruptly on Thursday.

As a resident of New York City from April, 1998-March, 2002, I felt obligated to weigh in on the end of an era. True confession as a lifelong follower of Boston sports who was a New York transplant for four years: I loved listening to Mike and the Mad Dog. Those guys were, as Mad Dog himself might say, “twemendous”. Just a great listen.

They were passionate about their topics and had the pulse of NYC sports like nobody else. Dog had his dog-whistle screech and quintessential New York accent. Francessa, who came across as a little smug, was the big Yankees fan, and seemingly the voice of reason for the show when Dog would go on one of his emotional rants. I found Dog to be extremely endearing. As a listener, you felt like you knew him.

As everyone knows by now, they weren’t best friends off the air, though they were by no means enemies either. Did that really matter? It’s like the Bird and McHale thing. They were great teammates on the court.

They basically had me at hello with Russo’s  vintage opening. Then he’d break into, “How are you today Mikey?” And Mikey would always respond with, in that deep voice, “I’m fine, dawg.”

Then they’d quickly segue into the hot button issue of the day. “I mean, Mike, it’s just tewwwwible the way the Yankees keep giving away these games in the late innings.”; “Dawg, I know, Tohhhhrrrrre’s got to stick with his stahters longehhhh”.

When Dog really wanted to emphasize a point, he would start with, “Listen, Mike …”. And when Mike made a really astute piece of analysis, Dog would give him a tip of the cap by saying, “That’s a great point by you, Mike. Excellent point.”

You always knew when a really big game was about to be played, or had been played the night before, because Mike would refer to it in his very best New York accent as “Huuuuuggeeeeeee.”

It was great that Dog was a SF Giants fan instead of a Yankees fan. It made the show a great listen. They both were always very objective when talking about the Mets.

Dog loved to talk about tennis and Mike loved every team his close friend Bill Parcells ever coached or was affiliated with.

I remember one specific time I was driving up to Boston from New York in my car and I wanted to tear Russo’s head off. It was during the 1999 Red Sox-Indians Division Series and the Dog was just attacking Pedro Martinez for coming out of Game 1 after four innings with an arm injury. He was questioning Pedro’s heart and guts and calling him soft for coming out.

Because I knew what type of competitor Pedro was, I was getting so annoyed. I wish I had Dog’s phone number handy when Pedro came out of the bullpen a few days later and fired six no-hit innings at the Indians in decisive Game 5 while throwing in the high 80s. But those guys were so strong with their opinions that you either agreed or wanted to shake your transistor radio in disgust. That’s what made them so great.

I lived in New York during a great time period for sports. The Yankees were in the World Series all four Octobers I lived there. The Mets were highly relevant in two out of the four years. The Knicks were having a strong run under Jeff Van Gundy. The Giants and Jets were also at solid points, the former going to the Super Bowl in 2000 and the latter becoming important again under Tuna. Mike and The Mad Dog had the words to describe all that was going on at this exciting time in New York sports.

It’s too bad for New Yorkers who defined their afternoons with the banter of these two guys that they won’t be around in tandem anymore.

But they had a great run — one that I’m sure they are both very proud of.

P.S. — Bill Simmons a few years back wrote this classic running diary of a Mike and the Mad Dog show that he covered live.

Going, going … for a few days

You guys and gals are on your own for a few days. I’m taking some annual summer family time. I will resume coverage of the Red Sox on Monday in Baltimore.

I won’t be seeing much baseball — if any. So feel free to use the comments section like you usually do — as a place to discuss all nine innings every night. Perhaps that is how I will keep up with the team while I’m on this break.

Talk to you in a few days.

Ian.

Field Trip

First, to the news of the day. Yes, one knuckleballer will replace another one when Charlie Zink makes his Major League debut on Tuesday and Tim Wakefield officially goes to the DL. Also, David Ortiz has some tenderness in his wrist today, so he’s getting the day off. J.D. Drew will DH. And Clay Buchholz is still in the rotation. He will start Friday night against Toronto.

So after covering Sunday afternoon’s Red Sox-White Sox game, what did I do? A)Went out for a nice dinner; B) Ordered room service; C) Filled out my expense reports; D) Went to another baseball game.

If you selected D, you are correct. Yes, I could not pass up a busman’s holiday at old Wrigley. It was definitely worth it. I had been there once before as a fan in 1986, when I was 14 years old. It happened to be the same day that the Celtics and Bulls staged that classic at the Garden when some guy named Jordan dropped 63 in double OT and still lost. Full confession. I spent most of the last few innings in the tunnel watching the basketball game on TV. That game was against the Pirates, and wound up being postponed due to darkness. Eck made the start for the Cubs.

Other than that, the only other Wrigley appearance for me was that three-game Sox-Cubs series in 2005, when it was about 120 degrees every game, and the national media contingent was so large that you couldn’t even move in the clubhouse.

I think, overall, last night was my most enjoyable Wrigley experience. I started in the press box, paying my respects to former Red Sox PR guru Peter Chase, who is now running the show for the Cubs and doing a great job of it. Also in the house was Godon Edes, formerly of the Globe and now of Yahoo! Gordon made his debut last night, spinning a couple of typically good stories.

Then, it was on to the stands, where a slice of pizza and a frosty cold beverage awaited. Joe Haggerty of Hacks with Haggs fame took in the scene with me. It was interesting to  see and feel how fired up Cubs fans are these days. It reminds me of what it was like at Fenway Park pre-2005. Yes, times have changed over there. Red Sox fans still love their team and love the game. But there isn’t the urgency and the over-the-top passion that once existed. That’s just human nature. The Cubs still haven’t been there.

 Wrigley is just a great spot. Is it any better than Fenway? Probably not. But it’s unique in it’s own great way. I recommend it to anyone and everyone who has never gone. It continues to strike me how big a difference there is between American and National League baseball. The NL just flies by with its sacrifice bunts, hit and runs and double switches. The AL is just more plodding, with every batter hoping for a 10 or 12-pitch at-bat. I saw two great catches last night — one by Edmonds and the other by Fukodome. All in all, good stuff, and a nice prelude to tonight — the last of this seven-game road trip.
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Wake to DL; Ellsbury back up top

Right shoulder injury for Tim Wakefield. Very similar to last year. They are trying to contain it before it gets worse. The plan now is for him to miss two starts. No word yet on who will start Tuesday. The top candidates are Michael Bowden (scheduled to pitch Monday), Devern Hansack (last pitched on Aug. 7) or Charlie Zink (who would have to pitch on three days rest).

And, originally, Jacoby Ellsbury was going to hit seventh today. But that changed two hours before game-time, when Kevin Youkilis was scratched with a left shoulder impingement — a product of lifting weights a few days ago.

So Ellsbury will lead off, J.D. Drew will hit cleanup and Sean Casey is hitting seventh.

The Cell

Here at U.S. Cellular Field, home of those first-place Chicago White Sox. Trust me though, these ChiSox are no tourist trap.

When colleague Mike Bauman and I took a cab to the ballpark this afternoon, the driver said it was the first time any customer had asked him to drive to “The Cell” all year. He then proceeded to tell us that the White Sox really weren’t any good and wouldn’t make the playoffs this year. And all this time, I thought Chicago was a more positive-thinking kind of town.

The Red Sox have their own problems at the moment, trailing those “we won’t go away Rays” by 3 1/2 games, the largest deficit Boston has faced since July 7. They were a season-high five games back on July 6.

Right now, the obvious problem is that two of the team’s biggest boppers — David Ortiz and Mike Lowell — have gone ice-cold. Lowell is 0-for-his last 15 and is batting .202 since July 1.

But you have to think both those guys will get hot, and when they do, the whole team has a chance to heat up with them.

It will be interesting to see when Jacoby Ellsbury goes back to the leadoff spot. Manager Terry Francona indicated that once he puts Ellsbury back up there, he wants it to be for good.

Tonight, Jason Varitek is hitting ninth. The last time the captain hit ninth in a game? You’d have to go back to those Cowboy Up days of Grady Little. It was Sept. 22,  2003. This was the first time Francona ever scribbled out a lineup with Varitek’s name at the bottom.

Did anyone notice that Mike Timlin has been unscored on in nine of his last 10 appearances? Joe Haggerty — a swiftly emerging multi-media presence in the Boston market — has some insight on the matter in a well-done piece that first appeared in Boston Metro and then the underrated Hacks with Haggs blog.

More later.

Ian.

Youkilis, Red Sox exhale

The last thing the Red Sox needed was for Kevin Youkilis to be belted on the right hand by a 92-mph heater and have to leave the game.

That’s what happened in the first inning on Wednesday, but everyone can breathe easy. It is just a contusion. X-rays were negative.

Youkilis has become perhaps the most well-rounded hitter on this team now that a certain someone doesn’t play on this team anymore. The guy has been an absolute machine this year.

He leads the team with a .317 average, and is second to Dustin Pedroia in hits, second to Pedroia in doubles, tied with Jacoby Ellsbury for the team lead in triples (four), tied with the former (and now Dodgers left fielder) in homers (20),  leads the club in RBIs with 76, third behind Drew and Manny in OBP, leads in slugging, and is just one point behind J.D. Drew for the team-lead in the tell-all category of OPS.

Yes, Kevin Youkilis is the current MVP of the 2008 Red Sox. I had Drew at the All-Star break, but Youkilis has definitely pulled in front.

It says something that Terry Francona thinks this is the guy who should hit cleanup in the wake of Manny leaving.

At any rate, they might have dodged a bullet on this one.

Did you see that Joba Chamberlain went on the DL with rotator cuff tendinitis today? The Yankees can not afford to lose him for any significant length of time. Thus far, they’ve been very hush-hush on what the report was from the highly-noted orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala.

Ian.

Boiler Room

Great movie by the way. And that’s also what walking into the streets of Kansas City feels like. I only wish my friend Rob Bradford was on this trip. Rob (formerly of the Boston Herald and now WEEI.com) had a wager with several players and others related to the club — with all proceeds going to charity it should be noted — that he could wear a suit and tie for every game he covered this season.

Rob would have either lost the bet or been drenched in disgusting sweat if he had been on this trip.

On to real news, David Ortiz appears to be OK in the wake of a report in the Boston Herald that he felt some sort of clicking in his wrist last night. As of three and a half hours before the game, Ortiz was in the lineup and batting third.

Mike Lowell is also back in there after getting a shot for his right hip on Monday. In an interesting development, J.D. Drew is again leading off. A day ago, manager Terry Francona indicated that the only reason Drew was leading off is that Lowell was out of the lineup and hitting cleanup. Well, here is tonight’s lineup:

Drew RF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Youkilis 1B
Lowell 3B
Bay LF
Lowrie SS
Varitek C
Ellsbury CF

Beckett SP

Live from scalding Kansas City

After a horrific travel day — I stepped out my front door at 4 a.m. and arrived in Kansas City shortly before 2 p.m. CST — I was positively shocked to feel the air when I exited the airport.

It was like stepping into an inferno. Just disgustingly hot. Gross, gross weather.

Lowell, as planned, is off. He got a shot on his right hip, so hopefully he’ll be in less pain when he takes the field again on Tuesday or Wednesday.

So Manny is crushing the ball in LA and running like the wind on the bases? There’s a shock. How long do we suspect the honeymoon will last?

I’ll blog more later when I have any energy to speak of.

Ian.

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