December 2009

Decade of Dominance

Sorry for the long hiatus on the blog. You know how the holidays are. At any rate, the first decade of the Millennium is about to come to a close and the Boston area has just lived out perhaps the most eventful and exciting 10 years any region could have.

When I think of this decade of 2000-2009 (and please spare me the controversy about how the decade is actually 2001-2010 because when I talk about the ’80s I talk about 1980-89 and when I talk about the ’90s I talk about 1990-99), what are the 10 things that come to mind first? Well, let’s give it a stab.

1. 2004 Red Sox come back from 3-0 against the Yankees, run the table for the rest of the postseason with an 8-0 run, win first World Series in 86 years. Surreal, even five years later. There are a collage of moments. Roberts gets his hand just in front of the tag. Mueller singles him in. Ortiz belts the walkoff homer. Then, Game 5, Pedro buzzes Matsui, Trot makes two great catches, Ortiz rips one off the Volvo sign against Flash, and later bloops in a single to send the series back to NY. Then you have Schilling’s bloody sock, Damon’s grand slam, and the rest, you see in history. The World Series was a mere formality, capped by Derek Lowe’s gem in the sweeping Game 4 in St. Louis.

2. 2001 Patriots shock the world, stifle the Greatest Show on Turf to win Super Bowl XXVI, 20-17. Just like the 2004 Red Sox coming back against NY, who could have seen this coming? You first knew it was possible when Ty Law, set up with Vrabel’s jarring hit on Warner, picked off the pass and took it to the house. But you didn’t really know it was possible until John Madden suggested the Pats run out the clock and play for overtime and Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis and a nerveless quarterback named Tom Brady thought otherwise, and Viniatieri drove hom a 48-yarder as time expired, setting off truckloads of confetti and the greatest moment in New England’s football history.

3. 2001 Patriots sift through a snowstorm, get a lucky call and down the Raiders. Without this, there never is a Super Bowl XXXVI for New England. The season had ended when Brady fumbled, and the Raiders were going to run out the clock. But the officials opted for a review and cited an obscure “tuck rule”, saying that Brady’s arm was moving forward and it was an incomplete pass. From elimination to euphoria, the man with the magic leg — Viniatieri — somehow muscles the game-tying field goal through the storm. He then wins it with another kick in OT. The whole game looked like a Winter Wonderland postcard.

4. Kevin Garnett after bringing the championship back to the parquet: “Anything is Possible”. Celtics fans were starting to think that nothing but misery was possible until Kevin McHale chose to trade KG to his friend Danny Ainge. Give Ainge credit for refusing to include Rajon Rondo in the deal. Give three future Hall of Famers — KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — credit for putting their egos aside and putting all their focus into bringing home banner 17. That happened by beating the Lakers in six games, a series remembered most for the Celtics stirring comeback from 20-plus points down in Game 4.

5. 2003 Patriots again play — and win — a Super Bowl for the ages. The ’01 Patriots would have gone down as one of the great feel-good stories of all-time no matter what followed. But by winning again in ’03, and another epic, they suddenly had momentum going as a powerhouse. Brady and Viniatieri again came through in the fourth quarter, again staved off OT, and this time the Pats beat Carolina in a wildly entertaining Super Bowl.

6. 2007 Red Sox are the comeback kings, rallying back from 3-1 against Cleveland and sweeping the Rockies in the World Series. The one indelible image from the ’07 postseason is the sneer of Josh Beckett. When the Sox trailed the ALCS 3-1, Beckett was not going to let them lose on his watch. He mastered the Indians at Jacobs Field in Game 5, and J.D. Drew hit a stunning grand slam in Game 6, followed by a Game 7 romp at Fenway.

7. 2004 Patriots make it back-to-back titles, and three in four years. As Gil Santos bellowed out to his listeners back home, “YES, IT’S A DYNASTY”. Who could argue? This Super Bowl victory didn’t have quite the same luster or late-game heroics as the other two. It is remembered most for Donovan McNabb inexplicably going into a slowdown offense with the Eagles down by 10 points with less than three minutes to play. Supposedly McNabb was woozy. Anyway, Brady came through with another big game, and coach Belichick celebrated in the final seconds with his father Steve, who would die in November, 2005.

8. A trio of Fenway no-hitters. From 1966-2001, there was not a single no-hitter by a Red Sox pitcher at Fenway Park. Derek Lowe changed that on April 27, 2002. Then it was Clay Buchholz no-hitting the Orioles on September 1, 2007. And Jon Lester made it a trio for the decade on May 19, 2008, against the Kansas City Royals. Lester’s story of course, was the most compelling, considering he had been stricken with cancer two years earlier.

9. 2007 Pats run the table. Yes, they lost the Super Bowl. But not before an amazing 16-0 regular season, and playoff wins over Jacksonville and San Diego. The Super Bowl was so close within their grasp. Brady hit Randy Moss for what seemed the game-winning TD. But the Giants played the role of the 2001 Patriots, stepping up as the underdogs. To beat the mighthy Pats, it took one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history by a little-known receiver named David Tyree, who literally caught the ball with his helmet and his hands. Rodney Harrison tried in vain to snap the ball loose. But that Patriots team should still be remembered fondly, with or without the Super Bowl hardware. Only one other team has ever gone through an NFL season undefeated.

10. And to cap it, here are the 10 Boston-area sports figures who captivated our attention the most in the 2000s. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Tedy Bruschi, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Theo Epstein.

Brady and Belichick are self explanatory. Schilling came to Boston vowing to snap an 86-year curse and did so, winning countless big games and saying several memorable things along the way. Pedro was the most dominant pitcher in Red Sox history. KG brought excitement and energy back to the Celtics. Paul Pierce, who endured all those losing seasons, quickly learned how to be a champion once he played on a team good enough to win it. Bruschi was a strong figure who came back from a stroke and overcame a modest beginning to his career to become one of the best Patriots defenders ever. Manny was Manny, so manny — or many — memories. David Ortiz became a legend in Boston with one big wakoff hit after another. And Theo Epstein made baseball a 12-month sport in Boston, always capable of a big, bold move that would stir the masses and lead another championship run.

Lowell talks about thumb

For the first time since a trade to the Rangers fell through because of his right thumb issues, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell spoke about the situation.

This, in an interview with WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, who co-wrote the critically acclaimed Deep Drive with Lowell.

Lowell said he did not downplay the injury to the team’s medical staff at the end of the season.

“I was in constant and open communication about my thumb situation from the moment it happened to every week after,” Lowell said, indicating that the injury started when he fouled off a ball against Cleveland’s Jeremy Sowers in the final series of the regular season.

“I’ve had very open and honest communication with the training and medical staff,” Lowell added in his interview with Bradford. “The day this thing happened it was X-rayed and I told them about the pain, which was Oct. 2. That’s why I didn’t play the other two games. We taped it up in a way that we thought would help me in the postseason. They thought it might be a strain or a bone bruise. I don’t want to lay blame on anybody because in ’07 my other thumb got hurt and they thought it was a strain as well and it ended up being that way and everything settled down nice and easy.”

“I was in constant contact with the training staff and I told them at the two-week (mark) I didn’t feel a difference with my thumb and at the four-week mark it was the same thing and then at the seven-week mark Mike Reinold flew down to Miami to check it out and that’s when they decided to put me in the splint and keep it immobilized for a month. That’s when the thinking was that it might be something more than it was originally thought to be. The first day of the winter meetings was when I was ordered to get an MRI.

“I understand the business. That first day was to make sure the medicals could be sent to other teams. I have no problem in them shopping me around. But I would have preferred to have the surgery in October once the season was officially over. I don’t want to race to Spring Training.”

However, Lowell said that he didn’t expect it would require surgery either.

“Surgery? No,” Lowell said. “I was in a lot of pain in ’07 for a couple of weeks and the doctors told me it was going to get better and it did. I always defer to the medical staff. They know better than me, I’m not a doctor. So I did the same thing in this case, but I did mention concern as the weeks went by I wasn’t getting better.”

Does Lowell think he will still be traded? “I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea. That’s not my department.”

Wednesday is media day

The Red Sox have just announced that the Mike Cameron signing will be announced at 11:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, followed by John Lackey at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Should be an action-packed day for Theo and his crew, not to mention the Boston media.

There will be a whole lot to go over. In particular, I’m curious as to the Red Sox abandoning their usually conservative approach when it comes to free agent starters. Theo Epstein has long been against paying big money for free agent starters, with the exception of Daisuke Matsuzaka, which was a different situation altogether because of the international factor, and that it took a blind bid of $51.1 million just to secure the negotiating rights.

How exactly will Cameron fit in? I would imagine he will platoon with Hermida and rove all over the outfield. Does Epstein think he now has enough offense or does he need another impact bat to replace Jason Bay?

We will have updates aplenty from Fenway throughout Wednesday.

Mad Monday for Red Sox

Who could have predicted such an eventful day for Theo Epstein and his staff? First, reports circulated that John Lackey was in Boston for a physical. Not long after, there were rumblings of a five-year, $85 million deal that will soon be announced, assuming Lackey passed the physical.

Then, there was word that the Red Sox had agreed on a two-year deal with Mike Cameron, who figures to split time in left with Jeremy Hermida while also backing up Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew.

So ask yourself this: Who would help the Red Sox win more games in 2010? Jason Bay or John Lackey? I guess we won’t fully be able to answer this question until we see how the rest of the offseason shakes out.

Will the Red Sox turn around and trade Buchholz to get a star hitter? Adrian Gonzalez? Miguel Cabrera?

In other words, the offseason is still in full motion for Theo and the Red Sox.

I do like Lackey — a lot. He is one of those tough as nails competitors. The image of Lackey cussing out manager Mike Scioscia when he was given that hook in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Yankees speaks volumes about how much this guy wants to win. If that game was going to be lost, he wanted to be out there. He didn’t want his game decided by his bullpen.

So the Red Sox now have what could be a terrific rotation. Lester. Beckett. Lackey. Buchholz. Dice-K. And, of course, Wakefield.

If there are no more major moves with the offense, the lineup for 2010 could look something like this. Ellsbury-Pedroia-V.Mart-Youkilis-Ortiz-Drew-Cameron-Kotchman-Scutaro. I’m sure Theo has another bat or two up his sleeve, but that is how the tentative current roster would set up.

No official word yet on when the Lackey deal will be announced, but Tuesday seems like a logical guess.

Lowell deal still in holding pattern

There are still issues to be worked out on a trade that would send third baseman Mike Lowell to the Rangers for Max Ramirez.

Peter Gammons, who left ESPN last week and will soon be working for the MLB Network and MLB.com, speculated on Twitter that Lowell might need left thumb surgery. A source confirmed to MLB.com that left thumb surgery is indeed not out of the realm of possibility for Lowell. With that in mind, the Rangers will give Lowell a physical in Texas before signing off on the deal. If it turns out Lowell does need surgery, it will be up to the Rangers to decide if they still want to make the trade.

If not, both sides could go in other directions. Lowell’s physical has not been scheduled yet, as both teams continue to study up on medical reports for the two players involved in the deal.

In other words, we are in a holding pattern here.

Bye-bye, Bay?

It is starting to appear unlikely that All-Star slugger Jason Bay will re-sign with the Boston Red Sox.

Amid a report from Foxsports.com that Bay had rejected Boston’s latest offer, Joe Urbon, the left fielder’s lead representative, did not dispute that his client could be slipping away from the Sox.

“I’m just saying that the initial offers we’ve received from other clubs are just much more attractive to Jason then the last offer we received from the Red Sox,” Urbon said in a phone interview with MLB.com.

There were reports in November that the Red Sox had made a four-year, $60 million offer to Bay that was rejected. When was their latest offer?

“Recently, very recently,” said Urbon, who met with the Red sox multiple times during the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, which concluded Thursday morning.

The Mets made an offer to Bay near the conclusion of the Meetings. Multiple news outlets had that proposal at four years and roughly $65 million.

The Angels initially said they would make a push for Bay, but manager Mike Scioscia said it was unlikely they would land the left fielder.

The one possible suitor that has been coy throughout regarding its level of interest in Bay is the Seattle Mariners. That is a situation that bears watching. Bay and his family live in the Seattle area during the offseason.

How many offers does the 31-year-old Bay currently have?

“I don’t want to go there,” said Urbon. “Multiple is what I’ll confirm.”

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has a policy of not commenting on any free-agent negotiations until they are complete.

Urbon has not entirely ruled out Bay resurfacing with the Red Sox.

“I think the fact that Jason hasn’t signed with a club yet — every club has a chance to sign Jason Bay, including the Red Sox,” Urbon said. “We’ve just got better offers, better opportunities from other clubs.”

It remains to be seen what Boston’s best plan of attack will be should Bay go elsewhere. Matt Holliday is a free-agent left fielder with similar credentials as Bay. Agent Scott Boras has been comparing Holliday to Mark Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million deal last winter.

If the Red Sox deem Holliday’s price to be too high, they could find a right-handed bat to platoon with Jeremy Hermida in left field. Mark DeRosa and Mike Cameron are two right-handed hitting outfielders the Red Sox have been linked to this winter.

The Red Sox are also in flux at third base, as Mike Lowell is on the verge of being traded to the Rangers. Adrian Beltre, another Boras client, is viewed to be one of Boston’s top targets at that position. The Red Sox could also get a first baseman and move Kevin Youkilis to third base.

Flexibility at the corners

The Mike Lowell deal isn’t done just yet, but it will be within a matter of days. All that’s left is red tape and medical clearance.

So who plays third base for the Red Sox next season? Maybe Adrian Beltre. But don’t be surprised, either, if it’s Kevin Youkilis. Much like when it was floated out a couple of weeks ago that Dustin Pedroia could play shortstop, somehting that probably helped in leverage with Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox can take a similar road with Adrian Beltre. Yes, they could tell Scott Boras they’d really love Beltre to be their 2010 third baseman, but at a reasonable acquisition cost.

Otherwise, general manager Theo Epstein could go in any number of directions. Would they make Casey Kotchman the primary first baseman, perhaps signing Mark DeRosa to form some sort of left-right platoon? Would they go after Nick Johnson?

In a side note, away from baseball, we should all wish a very happy retirement to Master Sergeant Michael Warren Baker, known on MLBlogs as shakenbake. Sgt. Baker — an avid Sox fan — retired today, and he should be recognized for his fine career.

Lowell to Rangers not done yet

The Red Sox and Rangers are deep in negotiations about a deal that would send Mike Lowell and cash — as in a substantial portion of Lowell’s $12 million salary — to Texas for Minor League catcher Max Ramirez. But Rangers general manager Jon Daniels emphasized several times Thursday morning that the deal has not been completed.

Here is a transcript from the discussion Daniels had with the media.

“Both clubs understand where the other one is and what we’re looking to do. At the same time, we’re also both looking at alternatives and what our options are as we kind of go through the process. “I don’t really have anything specific to give you guys but I think some of the reports of how close it is might be a little bit overstated.”

Specific obstacle to complete the deal, “I think there is always different layers to these things but both clubs are kind of evaluating. I think the general parameters are understood but both clubs need to decide whether it’s the right fit.”

Any chance of Lowell physical before deal is done? “Premature for me to say that.”

How long to decide? “I don’t know, I don’t want to put a time-table on it.”

Reports on money, six to total, “There’s a financial component to it but I’m not going to address that specifically.”

Agreement on how to handle finances, “I’ll just say that the general parameters of the deal are relatively understood. Both clubs know what’s on the table and we’ll continue to talk here and work through it.”

Holdup? “We’re not at that stage. But in any deal, a review of the medicals is part of it.”

“As Boston has, there’s a lot of moving parts. Sometimes it’s beneficial to take a half-step back and evaluate things.”

One team or another as further down the road? “Both clubs are looking at it.”

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein departed Indianapolis on Thursday morning and was unavailable for comment.

How arbitration decisions could impact Red Sox

When the clock struck midnight and Monday turned to Tuesday, the Red
Sox had some more clarity to the market. Lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez
declined arbitration from the Braves, which means he is certainly
someone Boston will continue to pursue in an effort to shore up the
bullpen.

Having another lefty is not a be-all, end-all for
manager Terry Francona, but the Sox have long liked Gonzalez, who could
fill the void left by Billy Wagner. In essence, Gonzalez and Wagner
could swap positions as power lefties in the Boston and Atlanta
bullpen.

The question, however, is whether Gonzalez would
rather close elsewhere, an opportunity he won’t get in Boston as long
as Jonathan Papelbon is performing last call. And just because Rafael
Soriano, Atlanta’s hard-throwing righty, accepted arbitration, doesnt’
mean he can’t wind up in Boston. The Braves expect that Soriano,
feeling squeezed out by the addition of Wagner and Takashi Saito, will
be of the mind to request a trade.

Another player who has been
linked to the Red Sox who declined arbitration is third baseman Adrian
Beltre, a superb defender, albeit one whose offensive numbers have
declined in recent years. So if Boston makes a run at Beltre, you can be sure they will only do so if they have a trade worked out for Mike Lowell. Beltre is a Type B free agent, meaning the Mariners would get compensation if he leaves, but the Red Sox would not have to provide it. Ditto for Mark DeRosa, another free agent the Red Sox have kicked the tires on.

The Yankees are also in on DeRosa, who declined arbitration from the Cardinals. However, the versatile right-handed hitter, who can play corner infield and outfield, is looking for a three-year deal and would probably go somewhere where he can have a steady job, rather than play the roving utility role.  

Casey on the mound

While the Red Sox eased their way into the Winter Meetings on Monday, they did have one formal announcement that could play a big role in their future. Casey Kelly, perhaps the top prospect in the organization, has officially decided to be a pitcher instead of a shortstop. The right-hander did both this past season and will put all his attention toward pitching in 2010. He will be invited to Major League camp.

“I think he saw himself more as a hitter coming into the Draft but again, I watched him pitch this year and he looks like a pitcher when he’s pitching,” said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. “He’s got a lot of ability as a position player too but I think once he saw what he’s capable of on the mound and what the organization thinks of him as a pitcher, there’s a lot of mutual trust in this relationship. The meeting was important – to exchange information, to see how we see things, how he sees things. he just took all that information and made a decision.”

Kelly was 7-5 with a 2.08 ERA on the mound in 2009.

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