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Sveum Old Song and Dance

6.6.04: Despite salvaging the last two games, this road trip raised several concerns for the Red Sox. Is Pedro Martinez even a reliable No. 3 starter at this point in his career? Can the bridge to Keith Foulke hold up without Scott Williamson? Is Cesar Crespo really in the Major Leagues?

But the biggest bummer about the trip for me was the revelation that once again the team has gone out and found a guy who cannot coach third base.

By pretty much any measure Dale Sveum was an awful big leaguer. He finished his journeyman career with a .236 batting average, a .301 OBP and a .679 OPS. In 11 of his 12 seasons he earned a negative total player rating (Pete Palmer and John Thorn's statistical rendering of a player's overall contributions to his team). He was also a terrible defensive player who didn't get to that many balls but booted more than his share (a .960 fielding percentage and a -59 career fielding range). But none of that concerns me because, well, he never played for the Red Sox. He does, sadly, coach third base for the Red Sox, a perpetual problem spot for the team. Between Wendell Kim's chronic rally killing and Mike Cubbage's all-time boner on which he not only got Manny thrown out at home with nobody out but also injured, you would think the brain trust, which does such an outstanding job acquiring impact players, might be able to find a guy who understands the fundamental tenets of coaching third.

Here's a little primer for coaching third. At all times you must be aware of five things as you anticipate either sending a runner or holding a runner: 1) who's running 2) how many outs there are 3) what's the score 4) how's the outfielder's arm and 5) and who's on deck.

With that in mind, let's take a look at Sveum's week.

In the third inning of the opening game of the trip we had an event so revelatory that the two mistakes that followed only confirmed what had to be true. With Manny Ramirez on second and one out Kevin Millar lined a single to left. Okay, so the play is right in front of Sveum. As soon as the ball is hit, I know Ramirez can't score. The ball was hit too hard, Manny isn't fast and Jose Guillen has the best arm of any leftfielder in baseball. But to my horror Sveum had the windmill going. And going and going. Then a funny thing happened. Manny stopped at third. As if to say, "Dale, are you out of your mind?" Sure enough, Guillen threw a strike to the plate and Manny would have been out by, oh, 40 feet. When Manny Ramirez has better instincts on the bases than your third base coach you have a serious problem. (Especially given that Manny would contribute mightily to that one-run loss by getting picked off second by the catcher.)

Three nights later with the Sox trailing 5-1 in Kansas City, Sveum was presented a big challenge but not an unprecedented one for third base coaches. With one out and runners on first (Bellhorn) and second (Damon), David Ortiz hit a deep drive to right. Damon went to tag up while Bellhorn ran hard to second, so when the ball went over Matt Stairs' head both Damon and Bellhorn were bearing down on Sveum. Sveum was unable to send Damon and hold Bellhorn, though at that point Bellhorn must be anticipating a hastily expressed second signal from the coach since he knows he's running up Damon's back. In his mea culpa to the Globe's Bob Hohler - parantheticalized as "I brain-(cramped)" - Sveum as much as admitted he wasn't up to the task. The factor that made Sveum's cerebral flatulence so odious was the on-deck batter: Manny Ramirez. Oy.

In today's win Sveum gaffed in the other direction. With the bases loaded and one out, David Ortiz hit a ground ball single to right field. In Sveum's defense, the admittedly slow Kevin Millar was on second and the Sox were trailing 3-0. But here are the three reasons Sveum should have sent Millar: 1) the ball was on the ground forever, practically coming to a stop before it reached the rightfielder 2) who happened to be Matt Stairs, not exactly known for his gun and 3) the on-deck batter was Cesar Crespo with Pokey Reese in the hole. At that point you have to push that second run across on the Ortiz hit and assume that Crespo (one RBI in 74 at-bats to that point) won't get the job done. Sure enough Crespo hits a chopper to first base and only a freak play on which Ken Harvey's throw hit pitcher Jason Grimsley in the face prevented a force out at home. Either Dale Sveum doesn't understand the criteria for making a decision in the third base coaching box or he panics. Either way, once again, our third base coach is killing us. Where have you gone, Gene Lamont?


How complete is the brain-washing once you drink the Yankee Kool-Aid? When Alex Rodriguez returned to Texas and was roundly booed, announcer Ken Singleton was incredulous. He simply couldn't understand why the fans were booing a guy who had played so well for the Rangers. Really, Ken? You have no idea? A guy comes to town, usurps so much payroll that the team cannot field a contender, then demands to be traded because the team cannot afford to field a contender and Ken Singleton and Bobby Murcer just can't understand why the fans are booing. God, I hate everything about the Evil Empire, especially the YES men that bring us the games.


Given that he is physically incapable of pitching a complete game and usually gets roughed up a little as his fastball inches upward in the early going, what does Bill James think Pedro Martinez is worth at this stage in his career? And what did Terry Francona see in Anaheim that made him think Pedro should go back out for the sixth on Wednesday night? Even the pitch he struck out Kotchman with to end the fifth was in a bad spot.


Mike Timlin redeemed himself today with three perfect innings after that awful appearance in Anaheim (you've got to just bounce splits against Vlad when he's that hot), but we need Scott Williamson back. Keeping him was the silver lining to the A-Rod deal falling through. Interesting that three of the five guys in that deal (Nomar, Mags, Williamson) have been hurt.


With his RBI today on the freak play, Crespo moved ahead of Enzo Hernandez's RBI pace of 1971. Enzo had 12 RBIs in 549 ABs, an average of one RBI every 46 at-bats. Crespo jumped from one ribbie every 74 ABs to one every 37.5. Woo-hoo!


Just noticed that before B.K. Kim was demoted four of the Sox five starters were named to the 2002 All-Star game. Pete and D-Lowe in the A.L., Schill and Kim in the N.L. And yet only one of those guys seems likely to return this year.

Uh Oh, I Think I Love This Team

5.27.04: It is, as always, with great trepidation that I declare my love for this latest edition of the Boston Red Sox. I know in doing so I have almost certainly guaranteed a four-game losing streak. But damn it, what’s not to love?

The Sox are a beguiling and bizarre Frankensquad. They’ve got slow first basemen regularly patrolling the outfield. They’ve got a second baseman who can only do two things: get on base and drive in runs. They’ve got a closer with an 88-mph fastball who is somehow untouchable. They’ve sent more guys to the D.L. than any other team in baseball. Not just any guys either. Trot Nixon finished fifth in the A.L. in slugging percentage last year. Nomar Garciaparra and Bill Mueller have won three batting titles between them. Ramiro Mendoza… okay, not all the injuries have hurt the team.

Let’s start with the second baseman. Mark Bellhorn has been such an incredible find that it can now be reasonably suggested that the team will not necessarily be better with the return of the notoriously impatient Garciaparra. Assuming Pokey Reese moves to second and Bellhorn to the bench when Nomie finishes his second absurdly long convalescence in the last four seasons, won’t the team be weaker defensively at shortstop and quite likely have a lower on-base percentage? I haven’t seen Bellhorn pop up too many first pitches. I have, however, seen him hit for power to all fields, drilling a gap seemingly every time there are runners in scoring position. Sure, he fans a lot and has a certain je ne sais Todd Walker about him defensively, but it just seems like this guy helps you win. Yet another tip of the cap to Theo.

As for Kevin Millar’s regular stints and Brian Daubach’s occasional starts in the outfield, this would seem to be proof for the prevailing anti-defense sentiment among the new baseball cognoscenti. Shouldn’t this kill us every game? Apparently not. On the other hand, the whole point of playing a slow guy out of position is to enhance your lineup. This is clearly not happening. It’s almost June and Millar has two home runs and 13 RBIs in 160 ABs. By comparison, Bellhorn has six dingers and 32 RBIs in 161 ABs. If Millar isn’t hitting, hello Gabe Kapler. More speed, more range, better arm, fewer GIDPs. But seriously, Trot, hurry back… that is, if you can hurry back without hurting yourself again. One gets the feeling that for enduring baseball health the perfect offseason training regimen lies somewhere between what Trot does and what Nomar does.

For years I’ve been watching Keith Foulke handcuff the Sox and wondering, How the hell does this guy do it? I’m still as baffled as the hitters, but now I’m happily mystified. Mariano Rivera takes the hill to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Eric Gagne is accompanied by Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” Trevor Hoffman answers to AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.” Is it just me, or would Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” make a fitting intro for the low-key Foulke? Whatever, the dude is – as my buddy Jeff says – nails.

But far and away the most thrilling upgrade from last year is the presence of Curt Schilling. His fundamental understanding of the fans’ role in creating a baseball environment and his generosity in giving back to those fans have made him an instant icon in the best sports city in the world. We – and our fathers and grandfathers before us - have become so accustomed to bristly, angry, truculent superstars (think Ted Williams, Bill Russell, Yaz) that it is hard to believe this guy is for real. Intelligent, hard-working, super-prepared, good-humored… and he can pitch! Man, let’s win the World Series already so we can start designing the statue. (Still say he nibbled against Orlando Hudson before giving up that granny to Chris Gomez.)

So there it is, I love this team… and they’re already down 3-0 to the A’s. 5.27:

Can Anybody Around Here Count to Three?

4.21.04: Anybody remember the old Schoolhouse Rock tune “Three Is a Magic Number”? This peppy ditty should be piped into the Red Sox clubhouse 24 hours a day until every member of the team learns to count to three. I can understand losing track of the outs in a late August game between the Tigers and Indians at Comerica. But how the hell do the Red Sox repeatedly drift into vapor lock in critical games against the team we most need to beat? In the span of 11 months, just off the top of my head, the Sox have had four separate outfielders lose track of the number of outs. Two of them have done it twice. And it is always excused and laughed off as “just one of those things.” Well, it’s “just one of those things” that should never happen and might cost us the game that keeps us out of the playoffs. Let’s recap: Last May, Trot Nixon catches a pop fly against the Angels, thinks it’s the third out and flips the ball into the stands, allowing two runs to score. In a July series against the Yankees at Fenway, Manny Ramirez was off on the crack of the bat on a routine fly ball, mistakenly thinking there were two outs, and was doubled off to end the inning. Later last season, in a series at Yankee Stadium, Manny thought he had caught the third out and began jogging into the dugout, only to turn around when he saw his teammates laughing at him. Ha. Ha. Ha. This is hilarious.

Then, this past Saturday, Johnny Damon takes off from first on David Ortiz’s routine popup in front of the plate, making it all the way around to third before realizing that he was being doubled off to end the inning. Oh boy, that is funny. Great stuff. But this was all just preamble to Gabe Kapler’s unprecedented idiocy on the bases on Monday. During last night’s telecast, Jerry Remy said he’d never seen anything like it at any level, including schoolboy baseball. Unlike Trot, Manny and Johnny, all of whom thought there were two outs when there was only one, ol’ Gabe thought there was one out when in fact there were two. So when Pokey Reese sliced a hit toward the right-field corner Kapler played it halfway and was only able to move up to second. At which point first base coach Lynn Jones and third base coach Dale Sveum certainly alerted him to the situation, right? Or did they not know the number of outs either? I mean, seriously, what the hell were the base coaches doing between that brain cramp and the one that immediately followed it. Because, sure enough, when Johnny Damon lifted a routine fly ball to center, Kapler didn’t realize there were two outs until Reese reached him and passed along this rather pertinent piece of information. "If Pokey didn't tell me running by me I would still think there was one out," Kapler said. "Sometimes there are so many things clicking and running through your mind. I was thinking about the break I was trying to get off [Kevin] Brown. I was focusing on him and I wasn't thinking of anything else. I never figured out there were two outs. I got to the dugout and Tito [Francona] said it was going to take eight hits to score me. And he was probably right." Ha-ha-ha. Oh, this just gets funnier and funnier! How about fines for Kapler, Sveum and Jones? This Little League crap must stop. Now.


Was any Red Sox fan surprised that our fragile former ace got shelled in bad weather on four days rest against the Orioles or that our workload-loving sinkerballer got shelled on 10 days rest against the Yankees? When Mother Nature gave Terry Francona two rainouts with which to set his rotation, surely someone told him about Pedro’s record on five or more days rest. As a longtime baseball man surely Francona understands that sinkerballers thrive on work. Now the Benevolent Brotherhood of Dumb Manager Defenders – the same guys that loved Jimy and Grady – will no doubt bark that it’s unfair to point to the only two games the Sox have lost in their last six. But as far as I can tell these were the only games that were directly impacted by the manager’s handling of the rotation. The rest of the staff went more or less on schedule. Why the rush to bring Pedro back on four days rest? If, as has been suggested, it was to avoid the circus atmosphere of having Pete pitch against the Yankees, then we are still letting the Evil Empire dictate what we do. As stupid as it would be to move Pedro up to pitch against the Yankees, it is just as dumb to move him up to miss the Yankees.


I would like Derek Jeter to show us on a K-Zone diagram any location where a called third strike would not send him into a crying fit. Twice over the weekend he got punched out on pitches right down the middle and broke into his whining, head-shaking, supremely arrogant tantrum. Maybe he should sit down in the video room with Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown and see if they would expect to get those pitches. Or is Jeter implying that the double standard that applies to the Yankees in all other facets of Major League Baseball should also apply to the strike zone?


The Bruins’ vanishing act against the Canadiens really belongs right up there with the great chokes in Boston sports history. From the invisible men on the first line to Marty Lapointe’s moronic penalty with 3:37 left in Game 7, the B’s proved that they, too, know how to snatch defeat from the catching glove of victory. The sad thing is that we finally had a goalie who looked like he could carry a team to the Cup. But Hal Gill got walked by Alexei Kovalev and no one found Richard Zednick and no one could make a play and… well, that will be a bad taste to swish around throughout the lockout. 

They're No Angels (Too Bad)

4.7.04: As anyone who knows me can attest, I am prone to irrational overreaction immediately after Opening Day losses.

Which is why I waited two full days - and for a victory - before writing off this season.

Last year, when Chad Fox coughed up a lead in the bottom of the ninth on a three-run homer by Carl Crawford in a loss to the D-Rays, I went into full Chicken Little mode, telling anyone who would listen that we had no bullpen, our manager was an idiot and the season was over. In my defense, two of those three statements were true. The bullpen was awful and the manager, well, you know. In fact, isn't it ironic - or tragic - that when the bullpen became one of our strengths in the playoffs, the idiot refused to... okay, okay, breathe, Hench, breathe.

Two years ago, after a 12-11 loss to the Blue Jays at Fenway, I not only declared the season a bust, I insisted that Pedro's career was over. (He proceeded to go 34-8 over the next two years.)

But this year is different. You see, in 2002 and 2003 I had very high hopes that felt dashed on Opening Day. This year the opener just confirmed what I've suspected ever since The Deal not only fell through but became the The Tom Hicks Subsidizes the Yankees with the Blessing of Bud Selig Deal: the Sox are a flawed, fragile, petulant team that can't hang with either the Yankees or the Angels.

Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke are major upgrades, but everywhere else are ominous warning signs.

After a charmed year in the health department, that fluky, freaky injury pendulum is swinging back violently. Trot's back, Nomar's Achilles and B.K.'s arm have shelved two big bats and a member of the rotation. And as the radar readings sink, so, too, must the Sword of Damocles (Dr. Andrews' scalpel) that hovers by a thread over the most closely monitored rotator cuff in New England. Indeed, Pedro has a look of resignation that suggests his next trip to the DL may be more like 15 months than 15 days. Bill Mueller's elbow is bothering him, leading to a couple of throws at the end of spring training that evoked the traumatizing Summer of Hobson when Butchy made 43 errors in 1978. And Kevin Millar left today's game after being concussed by Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder.

Speaking of whom, does Johnny Damon look a step slow this year? And does anyone think Mueller can repeat his phenomenal 2003 season? Or Mike Timlin? Will Pokey Reese hit .200 and, if not, can we afford for him to get 400 ABs? Does Ellis Burks have anything left, even in a supporting role?

And what of the Toxic Twins and their anger? Nomar, perhaps rightfully, hasn't stopped seething since The Deal first came up, and one has to wonder as he nurses yet another tendon injury not only what Jack McDowell would say about Nomie but whether he'll be in a huge rush to come back. And Pedro - who ardently believes contracts should be based on past performance and not a realistic view of the future - will probably never be happy in Boston again. What do we do with these guys? I'll tell you this, that extra $5 million a year that made John Henry balk at The Deal is going to be the difference between joy and depression for our benevolent billionaire. Hope the savings was worth it. (Heck, leave the stress of another ALCS to Arte Moreno and Darth Steinbrenner.)

So, yes, I think that despite the addition of that uber-classy stud Schilling and a reliable closer, this season will ultimately be a big disappointment.

But I reserve the right to be wrong. Again. I mean, what if someone had told you on Opening Day last year that Chad Fox would earn a World Series ring?

"Hate is the heat that disinfects my soul." - Edmund Rostand
Cyrano de Bergerac

Meet the New Hate

2.22.04: I love baseball. I really, really love baseball. But my love of baseball is not an irrational, do-something-I'll-regret-later kind of love.

That kind of love I reserve specifically for the Red Sox.

For instance, the chair had not even impacted on the far wall of my apartment and I was already regretting it when I snapped during a regular-season game in 2001 after Pedro Martinez hit Steve Cox with a curveball with the bases loaded. (It wasn't forcing in the run so much as knowing Petey was about to go on the DL, though forcing in a run against the D-Rays was depressing in its own right.)

I also regretted it shortly after running down to the railing to scream at Jimy Williams as he walked back to the dugout after leaving Pedro in too long in a game in Anaheim - what is with these managers who know so much less about Pedro's limitations than we do? I didn't regret letting Williams know what I thought of his decision, but my scream was so blood-curtling that I actually injured my larynx and had to sit quietly for the rest of the game.

And speaking of Anaheim, though it is a great story and has added to Red Sox Nation's legend, I do regret piling into the Angels President's Suite with a bunch of Sox fans and chanting "Let's Go Red Sox" throughout a 14-inning win. Again, I was thrilled that we could salute our team, but bummed that our exuberance got one very nice PR lady yelled at by her boss.

Still, as worrisome as it can be, it is not my love of the Sox and the concomitant repercussions that have me worried. It's hate. Call it the New Hate, a lot like the old hate, only stronger, more violent. A serious strain, this new virus has spread beyond the Bronx, to the player union's office, the commissioner's office and deep into the heart of Texas.

I now feel perfectly capable of punching Gene Orza in the face if given the opportunity. Seriously. What did William Ligue get for attacking Tom Gamboa?

That would be a great phone call.

"Hi honey, could you come bail me out? My friend T.J. got me into this baseball dinner and I assaulted the head of the players' union."

"I thought you were pro-union."

"I am. Usually. Listen, that's not the point, can you bail me out or not?"Yes, my hate is even more irrational than my love. That's what I'm afraid of. Though, on a more rational point, I really would like to hear from Gene Orza how having A-Rod in New York is going to help his union in the long term. Is it good for the workers at Chevrolet if Ford gobbles up more market share? Won't a hyper-concentration of talent in one city reduce gate receipts among the competition and lead to fewer employers able to pay high wages?

But I'm probably being naive. Mr. Orza was in all likelihood "gotten to" by someone from the Empire. I mean once George Steinbrenner was convicted of a felony for illegal campaign contributions to his friend Richard Nixon - who, you may remember, was himself willing to go to extremes to subvert democracy - would anything surprise us? I wonder who George's Howard Spira is these days.

The New Hate is powerful and I only hope, if I'm ever in a room with Orza, I have the good sense to merely spill a drink on him and not break his nose.

And just when I thought it wouldn't be possible to hate Bud Selig anymore... I mean, seriously, why would he even sit down with that remorseless scumbag Pete Rose? But ol' Bud has outdone himself now, signing off on a deal that will have a last-place team paying $67 million of the salary of a player on a team that has finished first six years in a row. Anyone remember listening to that whiny brat Steinbrenner complain about having to subsidize teams for their own ineptitude? Well now he has one of those inept teams subsidizing his team so substantially that it will cover his luxury tax fees, meaning all the revenue from increased ticket sales is just more gravy for that fat felon to splash around in. And, by the way, doesn't the mere fact that the Yankees could actually double ticket sales upon acquiring A-Rod after finishing in first for six straight seasons say something about New York as a sports town?

As for that other venal billionaire, here's hoping that one of the many line drives Chan Ho Park gives up this year finds the owner's box and Tom Hicks's temple. If he avoids that fate, he will almost certainly be showered with obscenities for fielding yet another in a long line of last-place teams while bundling money off to New York to help the Yankees in their quest to end their three-year - heavens! - title drought. (Thumb to pages 164 and 165 of Joe Conason's book Big Lies for a quick primer on how handsomely Mr. Hick's campaign contributions to George W. Bush have paid off. Though he has not as yet been charged with or convicted of a felony for any of those contributions.)

The New Hate, of course, includes the old hate, which means I hate anyone in pinstripes. So, yes, I now hate Alex Rodriguez, the class act who did everything he could to get to Boston. Had Orza allowed the move, A-Rod would be wearing No. 3, the perfect fit for an all-encompassing exorcism. I would have loved him, irrationally so. But now I hate him irrationally. And whereas I used to draw the line at rooting for career-ending injuries, well, let's just say little would make me happier than penning Ode to a Sprinklerhead if A-Rod were to take a misstep and never be the same. I understand the karmic implications of this kind of thinking, especially with Pedro roughly 20 times as likely to break down, that's what makes it all so freakin' irrational.

This is the New Hate. I'm not proud of it.

The Idiot

10.16.03: Like poor Steve Bartman in Chicago, I hope no physical harm is done to Grady Little before he leaves town for good.

Which should be sometime around noon tomorrow.

I mean, even Antonio Scalia couldn't vote to execute someone this stupid.

Call him Gradio, the well-meaning, retarded man-child who would be nice to have around if he weren't actually making the decisions. Oh, but that's right, he didn't make the decision tonight. He left it up to his ebbing ace. What the hell does he think Pedro is going to say? If it's the pitcher's decision then the manager should just sit in the dugout until the pitcher signals him with a "no mas" wave of the arms above the head. When it mattered most, Grady pushed the biggest decision of his career onto the fragile shoulders of his little ace. Unforgivable.

Tonight Grady Little was Steinbeck's sweet Lennie Small, a confused half-wit squeezing the life out of our team as he tried to squeeze two more outs out of his half-dead starter. He was Billy Budd, stammering with apoplexy as the circumstances closed in around him. He was Faulkner's Benjy, telling his idiotic tale, full of sound and fury, signifying the end of our season. He was Charley clumsily stepping on Algernon's trachea.

He was, in the end, a tragic character, a pathetic ass who had no business being put into this spotlight or subjected to this pressure. If ever a guy was born to manage in Visalia, this is the dude. The players may love him for his chummy, pat-ya-on-the-back style, but it was their championship that he tossed away by not having the stuff when it was needed. That stuff, of course, was Alan Embree's 97 mph fastball, which sat idly in the pen until the score was tied before being brought in to explode Jason Giambi's bat. But you know all that.

The point is Grady wanted to win tonight, but he was just too damned stupid to figure out the best way - or the second best way - to make that happen. Should we condemn a man who doesn't know right from wrong? Should we crucify a slack-jawed huckleberry for being in over his head? Should we hunt the drooling goober down and stab him with our steely knives? No, firing him - or, rather, not picking up his option - will do.

So put away your torches and pitch forks, let the bewildered beast leave in peace.

We Shall Overcome (Our Manager)

10.11.03: There are many small minds in Red Sox Nation. But, sadly, none smaller than the one making the in-game decisions.

The financial genius who owns the team and the boy genius who put the team together - like us - must just sit and watch in horror as Grady drives this cherry sports car with all the care of a coked-up valet.

The irony, of course, is that as graduates of the Bill James-Sandy Alderson-Billy Beane Academy of Winning Baseball, the Sox' brain trust has done everything it can to remove almost all decision-making from the trembling hands of the manager. We have the greatest lineup in baseball history. Put it out there every day. Make their pitchers get 27 outs. Don't bunt. Don't run. This is the well-established formula. (Sure, it needs some tweaks here and there - like, don't pitch Scott Sauerbeck if the game is still within reach, for example.)

But all their efforts at idiot-proofing this wonderful team are often laid to waste by one of Grady's bizarre decisions.

When asked why he didn't bunt Gabe Kapler with runners on first and second and nobody out in the second inning Thursday night, Grady answered, "We didn't get to this point where we are now by moving runners that early in the ballgame. We're not going to start now."

That's right, Grady. Good, Grady. We don't move runners early in the game.

Perhaps Grady had forgotten that he did move a runner early in the game, sending Kapler on a 3-2 pitch to Bill Mueller despite the fact that Kapler had about a 14-inch lead against Andy Pettitte and couldn't break for second until the ball was about 20 feet out of Pettitte's hand. We all know what happened. Mueller took a borderline pitch for strike three, Kapler was thrown out by 20 feet, six of the next seven batters reached and we came away with one run. That's right, seven of the first nine Red Sox batters reached base and we scored one freakin' run!

Good going, Grady.

Here is why Grady's sending Kapler was so typically idiotic: The advantages of moving the runner are almost totally eliminated if the runner can't get a jump and the risks are magnified. Had Mueller hit a double-play ball, it was still going to be a double play. A line drive at somebody - double play. A strikeout - double play. Grady is so completely incapable of conducting the simplest risk-benefit analysis, it defies comprehension how this guy got to the Big Leagues. Sure, he's a great back-slapper, an avuncular chum, a perfect fourth for cards or a fishing trip. But I've never seen a worse strategist, particularly given how little strategy this team demands. Why can't the GM make the in-game decisions?

Grady is also the only guy in Red Sox Nation who has yet to realize that Damian Jackson is a terrible defensive player. Bad hands and bad instincts do not a defensive replacement make. Especially when the admittedly poor defensive player he's replacing is the team's hottest hitter. The three most notable things Damian Jackson has done in the playoffs are: botching a routine line drive, getting picked off first and almost killing our centerfielder. All Todd Walker has done is tie the postseason record for home runs by a second baseman. Todd Walker needs to play every game the rest of the way and should never be lifted in the sixth inning - the sixth inning! - for a player who may or may not be a defensive upgrade.

Yes, that's right, the most important games of the season and our two hottest hitters - Tood Walker and Jason Varitek - are being platooned, each missing a start every four games, guaranteeing that this lineup that the brass put together so meticulously will only be on the field together in half the games. Why? For the love of God, why?

What's your least favorite Grady decision? Perpetually pinch-running for our best players when we're down one on the road? Yeah, that's a good one. Treating Bronson Arroyo as if he's pitched like Sauerbeck down the stretch? That one's pretty confusing. Sticking with Burkett four batters after his tank has emptied? Would have cost a less fortunate man his job.

If the Red Sox were to... let's see if I can bring myself... were to... were to win the World Series, I don't care if they bring Grady back, because they'll never have to win 80 games again in my lifetime. But should we fall short, here's hoping they offer to pick up his option, he insists on a new deal and the two sides part company. Because he's a bad manager.

And, as sure as I am that Nomar will pull off a pitch and pop it up weakly - even an 89-mph fastball in the dead center of K-Zone - I know that Grady will do something this weekend that will make us all scratch our heads, scream at the top of our lungs and reach out to our friends for commiseration. My advice to Grady is, like him, simple: If you're thinking of doing something - pinch-hitting David McCarty for Trot Nixon and then Adrian Brown for McCarty comes to mind - do nothing instead. In fact, if you feel yourself thinking at all, splash yourself with water, tell a joke to one of the non-roster guys and just let the players play. 

Goodnight, Grady

10.2.03: Well, at least that's settled.

No more wondering about the fate of the manager.

During the euphoria of last week everyone was insisting the Red Sox pick up Grady Little's option or even rip up his deal and give him a better one.  Once again, a toast to Theo Epstein and his level head.  Veteran players can be excused for getting caught up in the moment of clinching a playoff spot, but thank God the rookie GM and his bosses didn't.  Can you imagine how we'd be feeling right now if we had given Grady an extension?

Grady Little cannot return to manage the Boston Red Sox for the same reason that a guy who thinks Donovan McNabb (and Daunte Culpepper, Steve McNair and Michael Vick?) are overvalued because they are black can't be on an NFL studio show.  They are unqualified.

Hopefully Theo has already made up his mind, but if he hasn't, let the record show that the two most important plate appearances for the record-setting Red Sox this season were made by Adrian Brown and Damian Jackson.

If that is not enough, I hope Theo asks around to try to find another instance where a manager has elected to walk a batter with an 0-1 count to load the bases in a tie game.  This is incomprehensible.  Does Grady not know how precipitously a batter's OBP falls once the count is 0-1?  Does he not understand the statistical swing he's creating by walking a hitter facing an 0-1 count to bring up a hitter who now only needs to reach base to beat you?

With first base open and an 0-1 count, Derek Lowe could have made the free-swinging Terrence Long go after his pitch.  But once the bases are loaded - haven't we seen this the last two summers in the Bronx? - there is no margin for error.  Walking the bases loaded to pitch to Ramon Hernandez (.331 OBP) when you have Terrence Long (.293 OBP) down in the count is the worst managerial decision I have ever seen.  And, like you, I've seen some beauts.

Grady's final decision was by far his worst, but it was really the logical conclusion to a night of horribly inept mismanaging.  The sum total of everything Grady Little has learned in a lifetime in the game seems to be lefty-lefty, righty-righty.

Everyone who watches baseball is familiar with the sequence where sending up a pinch hitter sets in motion a pitching change by the opposition and the concomitant pinch hitter for the pinch hitter by the batting team.  So we all knew what was coming when Grady sent David McCarty up to pinch hit for Trot Nixon in the 8th, except for Grady apparently, who could not possibly have preferred to have Adrian Brown against Chad Bradford over Trot against Rincon, who had already been taken deep by a left-handed hitter.  This was an astounding managerial move.  I'd rather have Trot on a prosthetic leg against Rincon than Adrian Brown against the superior Bradford.  When Brown whiffed weakly, we all suspected - despite Mr. Henry's entreaty not to fret - that this stupid move would come back to bite us.  Oh, it did alright.  But not right away.

First, Grady inserted Damian Jackson for defense in the bottom of the ninth.  Now before I can condemn Grady for this move, I have to eat a little crow first.  No one has been a louder, more persistent critic of Todd Walker's defense than yours truly.  Heck, I was calling for Damian Jackson to start when Walker went into his mid-summer swoon.  But then a funny thing happened:  I got to watch Damian Jackson play the infield semi-regularly.  I watched him play third base in Baltimore.  Brutal.  I watched him play shortstop in the Bronx.  Brutal.  And I've been watching him play second - as a defensive sub - these last two months.  Brutal.  Worse than Walker, if you can believe it.  I can't believe Jackson was a starting shortstop in the Majors.  He has no idea how to field a ground ball.  Todd Walker led AL second baseman in errors with 16, posting a .975 fielding percentage.  Jackson, however, had a .960 fielding percentage at second and a Butch Hobson-esque .929 fielding percentage at second, short and third combined.  To put that in perspective, had Jackson accepted as many chances as Nomar, his fielding percentage projects to a 49-error season. But these numbers only confirm what our eyes have been telling us.  He's a poor defensive player, a negligible upgrade as it turns out, hardly worth the offensive drop-off.

Jackson's defense didn't factor into the ninth-inning blown save, though it would factor decisively into the game-losing run.  But before he could get to what he does poorly, he had to take care of what he does miserably.  Hit.

This, too, was Grady Little's fault.  You see, once Grady had sent Jackson in as a defensive replacement, there he was, in the three-hole between Nomar and Manny.  So when Johnny Damon wrangled a hard-earned walk off Keith Foulke, Jackson stood on deck with Nomar coming to the plate.  While Damon is undoubtedly on his own when it comes to stealing second, this was one instance where a sentient manager would absolutely have had to put out the red light.  If Damon steals second, Nomar will certainly be walked to bring up Jackson.  But Grady doesn't throw up the stop sign, Damon steals second, Nomar is walked and, like Adrian Brown before him, the overmatched Jackson whiffs weakly with two runners on.

Theo Epstein built this team with a singular sense of purpose: a 1-9 lineup with no easy outs.  But when it mattered most - the two biggest at-bats of the season - we had a guy who couldn't make the Devil Rays and a guy who couldn't make the Tigers at the plate.  Incredible.

Now I don't blame Grady for not bringing Mike Timlin out for the ninth.  Nor do I blame him for the fact that Byung-Hyun Kim has no idea where the ball is going to go.  Or that Alan Embree is a one-pitch pitcher and that pitch is not very good.  But the fiasco in the bottom of the 12th was all Grady.

With a runner on first and nobody out, Derek Lowe induced a routine double-play ball.  But as he has these last couple of months, Damian Jackson approached it like it was a grenade, cautiously secured it and slooooowly flipped it to Nomar who was left with no chance of doubling up the not-that-speedy Eric Chavez.  Chavez would score the winning run after Grady chose to walk the bases loaded despite his pitcher's - HIS PITCHER WANTED TO GO AFTER LONG - head-shaking protest.

I know most of these guys like Grady.  He's treated them with the respect and admiration they deserve.  But tonight he defiled the game.

Don't worry, guys, you'll learn to like Bobby Valentine, too.

Why Not Us?

9.24.03, 7:12pm EDT:  Mr. Positive here, intrepidly risking optimism once again.

Sure, every time I've said something nice about this team they've thumbed me in the eye. And, conversely, as long as I keep slamming them for their boneheaded plays and HIM for swinging at first pitches, they keep winning.

But something changed last night. Right? I mean, it just doesn't seem like our steely fatalism is any match for our team's rolling thunder. They just insist on bashing the pessimism out of us.

We've been hearing all our lives that you can't win it all with suspect pitching and defensive holes. One thing we haven't heard - because it went without saying - is that no team would ever challenge the '27 Yankees for sheer murderousness. But here we are, on the verge of breaking the Bombers' single-season record for slugging percentage. And while we may have no idea how we're going to get the last six to nine outs of a playoff game, no team can match the problems the Sox present in terms of getting outs 1-27.

Our strengths are more glorious than our weaknesses are glaring. You know the numbers. Nine guys in double figures in homers. Eight guys over 80 RBIs. Club record for homers. Major League record for extra-base hits. And all that with two of their boppers - Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Millar - doing nothing for almost a month.

But will the magic bats be enough to mask the Big Problem?

Two of the bullpen cures - Scott Williamson and Scott Saurebeck - have been worse than the original disease. And yes, that was the same Chad Fox continuing his awesome stretch for the Marlins with a huge punchout against the Phils yesterday. Williamson has been pitching with a "barking" arm and a heavy heart as his infant son was hospitalized with a high fever. But his child is home now and an MRI said his shoulder is sound. I like to think he's going to have two strong tune-up outings in these last five games and be his old dominant self in the playoffs.

Sauerbeck, meanwhile, has invented a whole new pitching category: the incredibly wild soft tosser. Have you ever seen a guy who can't throw 90 who was this wild. He has put up BB/IP numbers (16 in 14.2) that would make Steve Dalkowski proud. The difference, of course, is that guys like Dalkowski and young Mitch Williams were almost unhittable. Sauerbeck has also allowed 16 hits in his 14 and two-thirds. This is my question for the good people at Elias: what is the Major League record for most innings pitched allowing both more than a hit per inning and more than a walk per inning? It can't have happened that often. But maybe last night's escape job will give Sauerbeck some confidence, he'll start finding the strike zone with his curve and he'll not only make the playoff roster but actually contribute with memorable strikeouts of Eric Chavez and Jason Giambi. Hey, stop giggling, just two months ago this guy was the most coveted lefty setup man in baseball.

Byung-Hyun Kim is back. He has responded to getting pulled Friday night in Cleveland with three straight strong outings. True, he has very little idea where the ball is going and will fall behind 3-0 on a guy with a .285 OBP, but of the pending disasters in our pen, he's the one who's actually going real good right now.

Alan Embree giving up four hits to six batters Monday night (two on 0-2 fastballs) makes the nervous fan wish he had more than one pitch. But he's a gamer, capable of getting in a groove. Can't you see him blowing down Eurubiel Durazo in a tight spot?

And maybe Mike Timlin will keep being the rock he's been all season (except for all those home runs).

If these five embattled relievers can get hot for three weeks... well, why not us? We should be slight favorites against the A's, slight underdogs against the Yankees (sorry Twins fans, bad matchup for you) and slight home-field (thanks Hank Blalock) favorites in the World Series.

Why not us, indeed? (Damn, I knew this was a bad idea. Burkett has given up hits to two of the first three guys.)

Deep, Troubled, Thoughts

9.23.03: I'll never forget the high school basketball practice where Coach Hunnewell angrily asked a teammate of mine why he had tried to make a certain pass and the flustered kid said, "I thought he was open."

"You know what Thought did?" Coach asked the team accusatorily.

We shook our heads.

"He thought he farted and s--- his pants!" Coach screamed.

It gave me a whole new perspective on the dangers of thinking when playing sports. You can't think. You can only know. (Intimidated as we were by our former Marine coach, we mostly just soiled our shorts.)

Which brings us to the long list of high school level mental mistakes the Red
Sox have made this season.

Last night, in a two-run game with Manny Ramirez at the plate, Johnny Damon THOUGHT Manny had fouled off the pitch on which Damon had just stolen second. Johnny might have KNOWN that this was not the case had he asked the umpire standing a few feet away, but chose instead to trust his thoughts and began trotting back to first, only to be tagged out to end the inning.

If this were an isolated incident, it might be funny, especially given that the team won and looks to be steamrolling into the playoffs. But not only was tonight's brain cramp not the least bit unusual, it might not make the season's top five.

We all remember that sunny Saturday in May when Trot Nixon THOUGHT he'd just caught the third out of the inning against the Angels and flipped the ball into the stands, allowing a run to score from second. When he heard the panic in the ballpark, he KNEW he'd made a mistake. That ninth-inning narcolepsy completed quite a week for Trot. The previous Sunday against the Twins he'd gotten thrown out at second by 25 feet when he THOUGHT he could take an extra base on an error by Luis Rivera that was routinely backed up by catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The Sox lost, 9-8. On Friday, the eve of the Big Gaffe, Trot got caught between second and third and ended a rally when a throw to the plate was cut off. Maybe he THOUGHT - erroneously - that the throw home might go through despite its tardiness. Anyway, look it up and you'll KNOW that the Sox lost by a run, 6-5.

Manny Ramirez, of course, is the undisputed world champion of brain cramps. Like Trot, he THOUGHT he'd caught the third out of an inning at Yankee Stadium and flipped the ball into the stands. Since no one was on base, Pedro led the chuckles. Not as funny, perhaps, was the game in Fenway in late July against the Yankees when Manny THOUGHT there were two outs and began loping around the bases on a routine pop fly to right that became a double play in a one-run loss. Or the time Manny THOUGHT time had been called, wandered off second and got tagged out.

Todd Walker has had two astounding moments of vapor lock. Last month he broke into a home run trot when he THOUGHT the ball was gone, but it bounced off the wall and only a questionable call at second kept him from a long walk of shame back to the dugout. But that was nothing compared to May 25 against the Indians when he THOUGHT he could steal third base. About two thirds of the way there, he realized the flaw in his thinking: third base was already occupied. Again, he was bailed out, this time as Nomar lined a double to left with Walker otherwise hung out to dry.

As we look ahead - and you know you are - to Red Sox games next week, don't we have enough to worry about? Isn't the fact that we have no real exit strategy for recording outs 21-27 in a playoff game ample ulcer material? Why must we also be forced to fret over whether or not our guys know how many outs there are or if there is a runner on the base ahead of them?

I don't care if Grady Little or Mike Cubbage has to call time after every pitch and make a big announcement. We simply cannot have a Red Sox player cost us an out, or a game, or a championship by not KNOWING the situation.

We cannot risk these guys THINKING.

Please, Baby, Take a Pitch

9.18.03: It took Victor Zambrano 126 pitches to record 21 outs in the Devil Rays' 7-0 humiliation of the Red Sox last night that gave no indication of which team is actually in a pennant race.

That's exactly six pitches per out for the pitcher that leads the American League in walks. But two of those 21 outs came on first pitches. Which hitter - despite facing the starting pitcher with the worst control in the league - do you suppose did not change his approach at the plate?

The mere fact that everyone knows the answer to this question, that the question itself is rhetorical, is indicative of the depth of this problem.

Yes, Nomar Garciaparra's 9-for-64 (.141) nosedive at the worst time of the year is distressing, but it's the way he's making these outs, putting absolutely no strain on the pitcher, that is at once a recalcitrant adherence to his individual approach and a departure from what this team and organization are all about.

Including his lunging, flailing strikeout on a pitch in the dirt and a foot outside in the seventh, Nomar made three outs on six pitches for an average of 2.0 pitches per out. He was also hit by a pitch, which, to his credit, he didn't swing at. The rest of the team forced Zambrano to make an average of almost seven pitches per out.

NESN even rolled in a clip of D-Rays skipper Lou Piniella discussing the importance of Zambrano keeping his pitch count down. With a little help from Nomar, mission accomplished. Sure, a Bill Mueller or a David Ortiz might battle you, but you can always look forward to that respite when Nomar comes up. He may get a base hit or a double off the wall, but he will not fight you tooth and nail or participate in 21st century baseball's war of attrition. You don't have to ask Nomar if he's read Moneyball to know that he flatly rejects Billy Beane's (and Theo's perhaps) organization-wide edict to see a lot of pitches. On Tuesday night, he drew two walks, allowing me to dream that he had had some kind of epiphany. His early career trajectory seemed to suggest a player who might one day draw 100 walks as he went from the low 30s to 51 in 1999 to a career-high 61 in 2000. But then came the split longitudinal tendon and a return to the reckless, free-swinging days of his youth. Last year he walked only 41 times in almost 700 plate appearances. This season he has walked 37 times, again in almost 700 plate appearances. He has swung at more first pitches than any batter in the Majors.

Now Nomar will argue, "Hey man, I'm hitting .353 when I swing at the first pitch." That may sound great, but making a one-pitch out 65 percent of the time you swing at a first pitch is a total abandonment of your teammates in their efforts to wear down a starting pitcher. Trot Nixon (.492), Bill Mueller (.448) and Manny Ramirez (.425) are all hitting considerably higher than Nomar on first pitches. This is because they do so judiciously. If Nomar swung at fewer first pitches - which are almost never cookies given his reputation - his first-pitch BA would rise too, right along with his OBP.

Nomar has had an incredible season. His defense has never been better. His baserunning has won games. And, until his recent three-week slide, he was a legitimate MVP candidate. But you simply cannot approach Victor Zambrano the same way you'd approach Bob Tewksbury, who walked a guy every other month. You don't beat a guy like Zambrano by being aggressive. You beat him by being patient.

But Nomar, as you've noticed, does things his way. And he's given every indication that he'd probably prefer to play in a city where rabid jackasses like me aren't charting the pitch counts of his at-bats. A city where no one would notice that he's become a dead pull hitter who never stays back on the ball and never hits with authority to right (like he used to all the time). A city where he could fly off the ball and pop up to the right side (for the 200th time) and be greeted by a collective yawn on his way back to the dugout. A city where people believe there is something more important than baseball.

I live in that city. And if Nomar wants to be a .244 hitter year-round, instead of just on the road, he should bring his OCD and impatience to Los Angeles, where he can soak up the positive vibes and dream about what his Hall of Fame plaque might have looked like.

We Need Him More Than He Needs Us

9.03.03: Given the current hysteria gripping Red Sox Nation right now, I think I'd rather defend Cardinal Law, communism or cold sores than Manny Ramirez. But here goes.

Eyes on the prize, people, eyes on the prize. I know it's hard to stay focused when you're waking up in the middle of the night with hot flashes of hatred for the defending AL batting champ who hit 100 home runs for the Red Sox in fewer at-bats than Ted Williams (we hated him, too, apparently), Jimmie Foxx or Jim Rice.

You can make the personal decision that you'd rather see Manny Ramirez punished than see the Red Sox win a World Series, but don't delude yourself into thinking that the team can "cowboy up" and win this thing without him. Me, I don't care if the players respect Grady Little. I don't care if Johnny Damon's righteousness has been offended by his teammate's fecklessness. I don't care about sober interludes with Enrique Wilson. I care about one thing. See if you can guess what it is.

We all knew what we were getting with Manny Ramirez. We saw those stats with the Indians, salivated and agreed to look past all the reports out of Cleveland that he would drive us crazy. In fact, if you remember, part of the reason the Tribe front office wasn't broken-hearted to see him go was that Manny missed 44 games his last year on Lake Erie with a hamstring injury that no one else thought was bad enough to keep him sidelined. So now, in his third spectacular season in Boston, he misses four games with Pharyngitis - and is benched for a fifth - and the guy becomes Public Enemy No. 1. It's as if he didn't run out a one-hopper back to the mound. Mon Dieu!

The Sox score seven runs for Pedro Martinez on Saturday but lose, 10-7, to the Yankees. Blame Manny!

Tim Wakefield hits Nick Johnson with an 0-2 pitch then walks Jason Giambi after being ahead 0-2 in the disastrous first inning of an 8-4 loss. But Wakefield is a gamer so... Blame Manny!

The team wins a thriller in Philly on Trot Nixon's grand slam. Blame Manny!

The Orioles fall to 0-7 against the A's after being swept by the Mariners.

Blame Manny!

We have lost our minds. Everyone is piling on. From Peabody to Presque Isle, from Burlington to Burlington, the calls go out.

"Suspend him for the rest of the season!"

"Ship him out of town!"

That's right, burn all your possessions, lest the ex-wife get them in the settlement. Scorch the earth.

Everyone needs to calm down and accept a few facts:

1) Manny was sick. Maybe every single Red Sox fan would bounce back more quickly from a high fever and a sore throat and be back on the job the next day. I'm sure the hardhats on the Big Dig are furious at Manny and Pedro for being overpaid, budget-busting malingerers. "That's our job!" they scream over coffee and donuts. Manny should have pinch hit on Monday. He should have made his doctor's appointment, though why Dr. Morgan wasn't going to the hotel in the first place is beyond me. He should have stayed in his room Saturday night. But none of that changes the fact that the man had a nasty bug and deserved a little slack. Not as much as he took, maybe, but a little.

2) Manny is basically an autistic hitting savant. He may wander off the bag without calling time. He may forget the number of outs and get doubled off. He may throw to the wrong base, or, sometimes, no base at all. But the dude can rake. We need to understand that it doesn't matter if Manny misses a week because he's sick or misses a week to go chase butterflies. If the guy plays in 150 games, he improves your chances of winning considerably. Should there be a double-standard for Manny? Only if you seriously want to win a championship. (If this is too much for Johnny Damon to bear, he can take his mediocre OBP and his thalidomide throwing arm somewhere else.)

3) Manny was breast fed until he was almost four years old. Strict Freudians, of course, believe all behavior can be traced back to the mother. Milk was scarce in Santo Domingo so Manny was weaned late. Batting titles, RBI crowns and $160M contracts may never change the fact that, psychologically, Manny needs to be coddled. Who among us wouldn't hold the bottle and cradle the back of his head if it could guarantee a 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs?

I say, we accept that Manny is occasionally lazy, sometimes stupid and always goofy, then praise the heavens that none of those things have very much to do with hitting a baseball.

Eyes on the prize, eyes on the prize.

The Bad and the Ugly

8.27.03: Last night's 12-9 loss to the Blue Jays was a three-hour-and-38-minute desecration of everything that is holy and sacred about baseball.

How could so much ugly exist in one game? How could one horrible loss be made up of so many awful, nauseating moments? Atrocious umpiring, inept baserunning, spastic fielding, unconscionable basecoaching, daft managing... this game had it all!

There were, of course, plenty of physical mistakes, many of them served up by that tag-team duo of Sauerback and Williamson. From vaunted to haunted, these two acquisitions have been spectacularly bad. Sauerback (5.87 ERA) can't throw his curveball for a strike and Williamson (5.73 ERA) can't throw anything for a strike that doesn't get whacked. It's hard to believe how awful these guys have been. I suspect neither has ever had a stretch like this in his career. Nice timing, fellas.

But the killer for me, natch, is the raft of mental mistakes the team made.

Where to begin?

Bill Mueller getting doubled off second to squelch the fourth-inning rally on a routine liner to Orlando Hudson was at least uncharacteristic. He clearly got a bad read on the ball, thought it was hit harder than it was and was thinking about scoring. But in that situation - with Manny Ramirez on deck - he has to "see the line drive through." Even if he heads back to the bag and it turns out to be a base hit to center, we'll still have the bases loaded, one out and Manny up.

But it was the play before that that really infuriated me. Blue Jays starter Mark Hendrickson had allowed seven consecutive batters to reach base when Todd Walker came to the plate with runners on first and second and no one out. The guy simply could not get an out. So what do we do? We bunt the ball right back to him in a moment of tender mercy but terrible baseball. How long has Moneyball been in stores? How long has Bill James been publishing? Do we need more data on the sagacity of the fourth-inning sacrifice bunt in a slugfest with a pitcher on the ropes? Why would you ever hand that guy one of the three outs he needs to survive the inning? I don't know which rocket scientist decided to bunt - Walker or Grady Little - but it was a terrible play (and a terrible bunt) and plain stupid. (Editor's note: Walker was the rocket scientist.)

That said, Walker outdid himself in the seventh when he broke into his Cadillac trot on a ball that - surprise! - didn't leave the yard. Jays skipper Carlos Tosca and I both think Walker got thrown out at second despite his desperate post-jog dash. The question is, How can a guy who hasn't hit a home run in a 114 plate appearances be so sure a ball is gone? And what is the danger of running hard until you see the ump signal home run? Embarrassment? Not looking cool? In the name of Timo Perez (see 2000 World Series), why not run hard? Trust me, Todd, nothing could be as embarrassing as your defense, not even your .319 on-base percentage. Tell me again how this guy helps your team.

But the absolutely most unforgivable decision of the night was made by Mike Cubbage, who once again proved he has no idea what he's doing as our third base coach. Trailing 7-1 with runners on first and second and nobody out, Cubby sent Manny Ramirez on Doug Mirabelli's soft liner to center. Thankfully, Vernon Wells, too, was momentarily stunned by Cubbage's fundamental lack of understanding of how the bases should be run in certain situations. Manny made a deft slide, swiping his hand across the back of the plate as Greg Myers just missed him with a sweep tag. But how, oh how, can you send Manny there, down by six runs with nobody out? Go ahead, make the argument. Just because we got away with it, doesn't mean it was the right thing to do. If anything this will embolden Cubbage to make similarly bad decisions. Can you imagine if Wells comes up throwing right away? Manny gets gunned down at home plate - breaks a finger? - with nobody out and trailing by six runs. Cubby, please, I'm begging you. If there's nobody out - never mind the huge deficit - that guy has got to be able to score standing for you to send him.

In a season that has had this team's limited baseball I.Q. on full display - flipping balls into the stands with two outs, forgetting the outs on the bases, forgetting to call time before wandering off the base, rally-killing baserunning - last night stood out.

You can't always throw your curveball for a strike. You can't always hit a slider. But you can always make your first step back to the bag on a line drive with less then two out. You can always run hard until you're sure the ball has left the park. You can always know the number of outs (there are a bunch of guys obligated to tell you if you're not sure). The prospect of missing the playoffs for failing to follow these simple tenets of baseball is like losing a golf major for signing the wrong scorecard. It just cannot happen. Hardball

Dear Orioles: Thanks for Nothing

8.17.03: Remember those pesky Orioles who took five of seven from the Sox over two weekends, including three of four in Fenway? The team that made every play, every pitch and got every clutch hit? The team that was destined to blow past Toronto and disrupt the six years running 1-2-3-4-5 finish of the AL East?

One week later, you wouldn't recognize them.

All the O's have done since leaving their hearts and bats in Boston is get swept by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and lose the first three games of a four-game series to the Yankees despite leading in the seventh inning or later of all three games.

Last night's loss established a new low of laying down for the Yankees.

One night after Jorge Julio blew a ninth-inning lead by getting torched for four runs - three courtesy a home run by Aaron (.125 since the trade) Boone that plate ump and old Yankee ally Tim Tshida made sure stood by correctly overruling the third base ump - the Orioles suffered a loss that under different circumstances would trigger an investigation by the commissioner's office.

I mean, this was something out of the 1919 World Series. Only nothing this egregious happened in the 1919 World Series.

The O's were between five and 10 feet from tying the score in the bottom of the 12th inning when Jack Cust - an adult male who makes his living as a professional athlete - fell flat on his face, allowing Boone to tag him as he lay supine for the game's final out. This replay has to be seen to be believed. The Yankees had botched a rundown so completely that Cust was running home and no one was covering the plate. All he had to do was, well, not fall down. This isn't Zola Budd and Mary Decker getting tangled up. This isn't Kevin Dyson getting tackled on the one-yard line. This is a pro baseball player with nothing between him and the plate but humidity who simply fell down.

When last we saw Jack Cust, he was adding his name to the long list of American Leaguers who have extra base hits off Jeff Suppan since his return to the Sox.

(The list: Scott Spezio, Adam Kennedy, Garrett Anderson, Rob Quinlan, Jay Gibbons, Tony Batista, Jack Cust (2), Deivi Cruz, Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Winn, Mark McLemore (2), Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone. As incomprehensible as this sounds, Jeff Suppan has given up 15 extra-base hits in 16 and a third innings since we threw away next season's starting second baseman for him.)

Cust ripped two of those extra-base hits off Suppan - and homered off Mariano Rivera last night to make it interesting. True, the O's sure have found interesting ways to lose to the Yankees. None more interesting than last night.

Do you remember the woman who collapsed in the L.A. Coliseum at the end of the marathon at the '84 Olympics? Her body was failing, she became incontinent, totally disoriented and had to fight through a series of full-body seizures to drag herself across the finish line. That's what Cust looked like, except that he had run less than 300 feet and didn't make it to the finish line. Pathetic.

The loss dropped Mike Hargrove to 34-67 all-time against Joe Torre.

Thanks for nothing, Orioles. At the very least George Steinbrenner should send you some fine wine this offseason, since your Jeckyll and Hyde act against us and them will be the difference in the AL East.


8.10.03: While it's true I live in the densely populated Chicken Little section of Red Sox Nation, I don't think it's hysteria to say the sky is falling - or has fallen - after losing five of seven games to the still-below-.500 Orioles over two calamitous weekend series.

I won't break out the C-word because I don't think this bad patch has any real element of choking to it. Striking out on a Jorge Julio dive bomb one pitch after he's just hit 100 on the radar gun is not choking. Giving up hits to legit studs Luis Matos and Jay Gibbons is not choking. And running the bases with your head buried in your posterior is not choking, though it is inexplicably idiotic and totally unforgivable.

The most glaring revelation during these games has been the rather dire state of our pitching.

In Derek Lowe's last two starts the Orioles have finished with 11 and 10 runs, respectively. Some people are saying that Lowe has reverted to his 2001 form when he was driven from the closer role by a series of game-losing home runs (Paul O'Neill's and Joe Randa's come immediately to mind). But the fact is Derek Lowe has never been hit like this with the Red Sox. His ERA in 2001 was 3.53, over a run and a half lower than his atrocious 5.07 mark this season. Even in his woeful rookie season for the Mariners when he posted a 6.96 ERA in 53 innings his 1.49 WHIP was lower than the unsightly 1.50 number he's put up this year. This means that in an average nine-inning start Lowe would allow 13.5 baserunners. Do these numbers explain the long face or does the long face explain these numbers? While his pouting is hard to watch, Sir Sulk's mound demeanor is less worrisome than the simple fact that his command has been awful. His strikes look like strikes and his balls look like balls. His slump may be a mystery, his pitches are not.

Meet the new Jeff Suppan, same as the old Jeff Suppan. Ever wonder how a pitcher could give up 122 home runs over four seasons pitching in a big yard like Kansas City? Now you know. What is his out pitch? When he has a guy on his hip 0-2, what is he going to put him away with? Nothing. He'll just start nibbling. Welcome back, Mike Torrez. He's just another journeyman 4-5 starter who never makes a guy take an uncomfortable swing or an emergency hack. And the worse part is that he is a classic non-Bill James guy with terrible lifetime strikeout-to-walk numbers. From 1999-2002, in 134 appearances (132 starts) with the Royals, he struck out 460 and walked 288, a bright red flag in even the most basic Bill James analysis. Oh, and by the way, we don't have a second baseman for next season. (And don't have much of one for the stretch drive this year either.)

Despite his remarkable Faustian run over his last 10 starts, does anybody really have any confidence in John Burkett? Aren't we all waiting for the other shoe to drop? And by shoe, I mean eight runs in an inning and a third. Thank goodness he's turned it around or we wouldn't still be clinging to one-game lead in the Wild Card, but he's scheduled to match up against Barry Zito on Tuesday in Oakland. I'm guessing Vegas will have that at right about -200.

With Lowe, Suppan and Burkett comprising 60% of our starting rotation I can't see us catching the Yankees or Mariners or holding off the A's.

Things would look more optimistic if the pen that once held the promise of shortening games wasn't so shaky. Our great Scotts have been anything but as Williamson (9.82 ERA in 5 GP) has given up a string of hits and loud outs and Sauerback, it turns out, can't throw his curveball for a strike. Sauerback has been so bad (2.18 WHIP in 8 appearances) that he was passed over on Saturday in favor of Alan Embree, he of the original Bullpen by Committee disaster. Was it Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs that so grossly inflated Sauerback's value at the trade deadline?

And where oh where have the overmatched, bail-out swings against Byung-Hyun Kim's frisbee been? As mysterious as Lowe's struggles are, the sudden solving of B.K. may be even more disturbing. While he has been largely effective and a significant upgrade over the closer by kamikaze (Chad Fox, we hardly knew ye, thankfully), he has not been the lights-out, nail-in-the-coffin closer he was in Arizona.

As for Manny Ramirez getting caught stealing with one out, down by two runs and Kevin Millar at the plate or Trot Nixon getting thrown out down by three runs, it's just the latest canto in a divine comedy of horribly unfundamental baseball by these two great players. Both have forgotten the numbers of outs this season - Manny got doubled off in a game against the Yankees, Trot flipped a ball into the stands against the Angels - and both charge around the bases with a total disregard for the situation, a bad habit when you're not very fast. Today's how-not-to-run-the-bases clinic came the day after Johnny Damon cost the team a run (and Manny an RBI) by getting caught off third on a one-hopper back to the mound.

The sad fact is that the Red Sox are a big, mostly slow team of wallbangers with thin starting pitching and a questionable bullpen. A bit long for an epitaph, but I think you get the point.

Hey Rube, That Arm Has to Last Through October

8.7.03: Having Grady Little in charge of Pedro Martinez's well-being is like flipping a Stradivarius to Pete Townshend at the end of Won't Get Fooled Again.

Grady is the valet driver abusing Cameron's father's cherry sports car in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (henceforth pronounced Ferris Biller in New England).

It's like asking Edward Scizzorhands to hold your hemophiliac baby.

One hundred twenty-eight pitches? For the second time in three starts? Unconscionable.

We have two closers, one of whom has a rubber arm. How the hell does Pedro come out for the ninth after 108 pitches? Frickin' Tim Hudson wouldn't have pitched the ninth tonight and he throws 230+ innings every year and never misses a start.

Yes, I agree with the Big Dog, "pitch counts are for wussies," which is exactly why Petey needs to be on one every time out. In case you haven't noticed, Pedro is something of a wussy. He's our wussy, a beautiful, magical, once-in-a-lifetime wussy, but a wussy nonetheless. The only thing more fragile than his shoulder are his feelings. 

Sure, the 10 no-decisions in 19 starts were a drag, but word on the street was we'd solved our bullpen problems, though Scott Sauerback's 2.33 WHIP in six appearances is less than encouraging. With a three-run lead and the 6-7-8 spots of the Angels order due up, surely we could have spared Pedro those last 20 high-intensity pitches. And it's not like he was dominating. He had only two 1-2-3 innings. For the first five innings Aaron Sele was throwing harder than he was. He needed a spectacular catch from Johnny Damon on a drive to the wall in left center in the seventh and was twice taken high off the monster by David Eckstein.

Last year I got dressed down on TV by Bob Ryan for suggesting Pedro was hurt as he shut out the Angels in a game at Fenway Park. One aborted start later and Petey confirmed that he'd gotten hurt in the Angels came. (Still waiting on the apology, Bawb.)

I'm not saying he's hurt now, but he has definitely been in a funk, where he is forced to battle for every out. These funks are often followed by a trip to the DL, which is much more calamitous than a trip to the DR (though perhaps not in all quarters of Red Sox Nation).

Does anyone think Pedro has looked sharp lately? In the 128-pitch grind against the Empire? Against Shane Spencer in Arlington? During tonight's nifty 10-hitter? The guy has clearly been laboring. So why, why, why would you not lift him after eight?

We're in the middle of a 14-games-in-13-days stretch, no additional rest for Pedro between starts. I don't like it when he flies home between starts (not because he's abandoning his teammates but because I can't stop thinking about Roberto Clemente). I also don't like it that Petey has been doing the Steve Carlton thing with the media, because, unlike Lefty, Pedro is a great quote. I really don't like the fact that the bullpen has been tagged for seven losses in his starts.

But 128 pitches? Say it ain't so, Gump. In his last three starts Pedro has thrown 367 pitches. He has allowed 32 baserunners in 21 and two-thirds innings over that stretch, a disturbing 1.33 WHIP. On Monday he'll face Tim Hudson at Oakland. Hudson watched the ninth inning tonight after throwing 103 pitches through eight. 

Would Caring Less Mean More Wins?

8.4.03: Remember the scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams tells Matt Damon "It's not your fault" over and over?

Well, if the Red Sox fall short this season, let me be the first to say, "It's not your fault."

And it won't be my fault either. And no matter what Todd Jones thinks, it won't be the fault of Gordon Edes or Dan Shaughnessy or Tony Massarotti either. (There are members of the Red Sox who have such a hard time looking in the mirror you'd think they were sitting shivah for the entire season.)

My wife is of the opinion that the Red Sox are so weighed down by the fans' negativity that they simply can't perform under the pressure we put on them. Over the last couple of disappointing seasons, I was starting to think she might have a point. Then came The Lost Patrol nightmare of July 30-Aug. 2.

At a time when Sox fan optimism was the highest it's been since - I don't know, Tony Pena took Zane Smith deep in the 13th in '95 or Blistergate in '86 - the Red Sox promptly waded into the four-man buzz saw of Robert Ellis (18.00 ERA), Colby Lewis (8.33), Pat Hentgen (4.92) and Rodrigo Lopez (6.02) and got embarrassed. And no one - I mean, no one - in Red Sox Nation was saying, "This team stinks. They'll probably lose four straight to the Rangers and Orioles." But they did. Who knew these slugging Ubermen would find their Kryptonite in the form of an 87-mph fastball? You half-expected Grady to explain away the losing streak by saying, "We just ran into some bad pitching."

What the slide proved was that any journeyman or rebuilt veteran can beat the Sox if our boys are crazily pull-happy and trying to hit every pitch 500 feet. Overnight the entire team became Dave Kingman. They even slugged six home runs in the four losses. Six home runs that produced a grand total of eight runs because the team so resolutely refused to take a walk or bang a base hit to the opposite field. Everyone was flying open like a rollerblind, trying to jerk everything, particularly pitches down and away. Even Manny, who can usually be counted on to provide something resembling an "approach" at the plate, was expanding the zone in a frighteningly Nomar-esque stretch. Kevin Millar continued his sad patch that has seen him go from Pat Burrell '02 to Burrell '03. He's so backward right now that he's taking pitches on the inner half and trying to yank pitches that are in the dirt away. (Still, Grady benched David Ortiz against Hentgen in favor of Millar, ignoring the fact that they've been going in opposite directions for over a month when someone brought it to his attention that Ortiz was 1-for-15 lifetime against Hentgen. Only Gump could be swayed by such a small sample against the much more relevant evidence of the last six weeks.)

No, the Sox didn't lose these four games because our super-talented baseball columnists ask loaded questions or because we as fans boo and scream and throw chairs across our living rooms. They lost because they played like crap. They lost because their No. 2 hitter has been in a two-month funk without being demoted in the lineup. They lost because their No. 3 hitter has perfected the 0-for-4 in which he taxes the opposing pitcher to the tune of five pitches. They lost because Ramiro Mendoza's location is so bad it could be described as Love Canal adjacent. They lost because Todd Jones walked the lead man, nibbled his way around Hank Blalock and missed Jason Varitek's glove by 18 inches on the gopher ball to A-Rod. You could even say they lost two games because their best player's wisdom tooth got infected.

But you can't say they lost because we are so negative. Do you think the Orioles had their second-largest crowd of all-time at Camden Yards on Saturday because Red Sox fans are negative? So negative they'll drive through the night to see their team turn in a heartless effort, lowlighted by another slump-shouldered road loss for Sir Sulk.

No, the players can point fingers - Todd Jones certainly wasn't the first - but if they fade this year, it won't be the demanding fans or the probing writers that are to blame. Nor will it be the front office. Nor the idiot manager.

Then again, it might not be the players' fault either. It might just be that the Yankees, A's and Mariners are a little bit better, which would be a bummer but not a huge shock.

During today's rain delay I took advantage of The Package to watch the Mariners crush the white hot White Sox for the second day in a row and the A's and Yankees lock up in a brilliant duel. As we look ahead to 14 straight against the A's and Mariners and then a home-and-home with the Yankees, I can't say I feel real confident right now that we can win 10 of these 20 games.

Our rotation looks to be made up of a fragile ace, three Nos. 3-4 starters and a No. 5. The A's have three No. 1's, a No. 1-A in phenom Rich Harden and a No. 5. The M's would seem to have an ace (Pineiro), two No. 2's (Moyer and Meche), a slumping No. 3 (Garcia) and a No. 5 (Franklin). With Pettite's recent dominance, the Yanks appear to have two aces (Pettite and Mussina), two No. 2's (Wells and Clemens) and a No. 5 (Weaver) who dominated us and beat Barry Zito in back-to-back starts.

So maybe it'll be no one's fault if we come up short, just a very good team edged out by three slightly better teams and a system that rewards the mediocre AL Central winner with a playoff spot. But if it's no one's fault, whose name will I be cursing when I throw a chair across my living room if we don't make it?

OK, Seriously...

... Ramiro Mendoza's ERA is 6.89.

I didn't see his starts against the Yankees or Blue Jays that apparently earned him a second start against the Blue Jays (four earned runs) and a start against the D-Rays (seven earned runs) and a start against the Rangers (seven earned runs), but this guy clearly sucks.  He has a C- sinker and a D curve.  Try getting Major Leaguers out with that repertoire.  Jerry Remy keeps talking about this stiff "pitching like he pitched with the Yankees" like he was a perennial Cy Young/Rolaids Fireman of the Year candidate in the Bronx, but the sad fact is that he had a mediocre 1.32 career WHIP coming into this season.  The truth is that Mendoza has always been hit fairly hard except for a couple of double-play ground balls against the Red Sox in crucial spots.  So now we pay doubly by giving away games at the end of July in the feeble hope that he'll recapture some magic that only existed in a couple of isolated moments against us.  Not good, brain trust.

Byung-Hyun Kim, Todd Jones, Scott Sauerback and Scott Williamson arrive and human casualties result.  But somehow Mendoza remains on the roster.  Why?  After this season's disastrous 113 baserunners in 62 innings, Mendoza's career WHIP is now 1.36 over a very substantial sample of 760 innings.  Watching Mendoza pitch makes one wonder, what are the numbers when a position player is forced to the mound?  Could Jose Oquendo be worse than this guy?  Of Mendoza's pathetic tenure with the Townies, I will say only this:  His body language matches his performance.

Maybe it looks different from the on-deck circle or the dugout or the seats behind home plate, but on the centerfield TV camera it looks like Mendoza has nothing.  No bite, no pop, no drop, nothing.  All season.  Nothing.  Nobody ever takes an uncomfortable swing against this guy. Yet while Bobby Howry, Steve Woodard, Bruce Chen, Kevin Tolar, Rudy Seanez, Ryan Rupe, Hector Almonte, Matt White, Jason Shiell, Brandon Lyon and Chad Fox were all being demoted, traded or released, we stuck with Mendoza, hoping upon hope he would recapture something he never really had in the first place.

The margin here is razor thin.  If Ramiro "bet the over" Mendoza makes one more start for the Red Sox, they will not make the playoffs. 

Freddy Garcia would make us the best team in baseball. 

The gap between Mendoza and the Big Chief is why I can't sleep. 7.31.03

MVP: Mueller Vexes Pitchers

7.30.03: Has Shea Hillenbrand figured out why he was traded yet?

He will if he reads the morning papers. Right after he learns that he's been joined on the D-Backs by fellow free swinger Raul Mondesi, Hillenbrand will undoubtedly find a blurb about the history-making night of Bill Mueller.

Until tonight Mueller had perfected the art of playing as well as humanly possible without anyone seeming to notice. Even his manager still has him batting down in the order despite an OPS that is hundreds of points higher than Todd Walker's. And despite his phenomenal production some fans still subject his name to a cringe-inducing mispronunciation.

For the first 104 games of the season, Mueller had been content to nose ahead of fellow good guy Kevin Millar for the team's 10th Player Award. Tonight Mueller served notice that come October he may merit serious consideration for American League MVP.


He is fourth in the league in OPS, looking down at former AL MVPs Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi. Of course being fourth in the league is only good enough for third on the team, since Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon are 2-3 behind Carlos Delgado. Unlike Manny and Trot, however, Mueller has yet to forget how many outs there were in an inning. Fourth in the league in OPS! Sixty-six points ahead of A-Rod! It's just nuts.

Mueller has 52 extra-base hits in 327 at-bats, a staggering one-every-6.3-ABs ratio. Delgado goes for extra bases once every 6.5 ABs. And extra-base hits leader (and All-Star MVP) Garrett Anderson comes in at one every 6.6 ABs.

Mueller is second in the league in hitting, third in doubles and fifth in slugging.

Mueller has made nine errors on an infield voted the worst in the American League by the players.

And unofficially, Mueller leads the league in 10-pitch at-bats.

He is also last in the league in self-promotion. His reaction to making history tonight: "I'm humbled by it." How great is this guy?

Some questions:

1) Why is Todd Walker still hitting second with his .333 on-base percentage and an OPS 230 points lower than Mueller's?

Though this season is unlike anything Mueller has ever done in the big leagues, his OBP coming into this season was .370, compared to .349 for Walker. The answer may be that if Walker were hitting eighth and playing his typically brutal second base, it would force Grady to take a long look at Damian Jackson being the team's starting second baseman, a move the sinkerballers in the rotation would no doubt welcome.

With Walker hitting second and the wildly inconsistent Johnny Damon leading off, the Sox have the odd statistical quirk of having a team .363 OBP despite having .338 and .333 OBPs in the 1-2 spots. It doesn't really make sense, does it?

2) Theo knows we can't hold off Mulder-Zito-Hudson-Harden with John Burkett and Ramiro Mendoza getting forty percent of our starts, right? There's an announcement in the offing, right?

3) How the hell did the official scorer charge Soriano with an error when he's taking a one-hop throw as Damian Jackson's helmet smashes into his glove? The run charged to Benitez should have been earned and DJ should have had an SB not a CS.

4) How come Chad Fox can't get anyone out? The guy was hitting 95 on the gun tonight as he maintained his spectacularly bad 2.00 WHIP with another crappy outing.

5) How unbelievably remarkable is it that Theo has conducted an in-season overhaul of the bullpen that has seen it go from the worst in the league to one of the best? From Kevin Tolar and Matt White to Scott Sauerback. From Rudy Saenez and Robert Person to Scott Williamson. From Bobby Howry and Brandon Lyon to Byung-Hyun Kim. Amazing. Hardball

Wait, You Didn't Let Me Finish

7.11.03:  Every Red Sox fan goes through it: that eerie certainty that hitting, pitching and defense be damned, the only thing that has any bearing on the outcome of a game is whether or not you watch it. Watch and they lose.

I'm in one of those funks now.

On the road and away from my beloved MLB package, I've been largely reduced to following the team on the ESPN News ticker, on slow-speed dial-up Internet and in this quaint-but-fun-in-a-retro-way medium called a newspaper.

Last Friday when the Red Sox limped into Yankee Stadium after losing two of three to the Devil Rays I was in a rented Ford Taurus on my way to the Catskills for Wedding No. 4 of the 2003 Summer Nuptials Tour. So while the Sox were shellacking David Wells and the Evil Empire for seven home runs I was getting eaten by mosquitoes and making inane wedding small talk with my wife's not-into sports friends.

On Saturday - after going 5-for-5 against my wife's not-into-sports friends in the worst softball game I've ever participated in - I was driving back to New York City, the base of operations for the Summer of Love Tour, assuming I'd missed a thorough ass-kicking in the Bronx as Ramiro Mendoza made his return as a starter. But no, I'd missed my single favorite result in all of sports: Roger Clemens getting shelled.

I knew I'd be attending the game on Sunday and I knew John Burkett was pitching, but from the highlights I was seeing on Baseball Tonight I had reason for optimism, right? I mean, even if Burkett got slapped around, I'd still get to see the most fearsome lineup in baseball against the rather average Andy Pettitte. At this point I didn't yet realize that I was in the they-only-win-when-I-don't-watch funk. Well, you all know what happened. We turned Pettitte into Sandy Koufax and Curtis Pride hit a home run to dead center as we got crushed, 7-1.

As we filed out of the Stadium, the impressive number of Red Sox fans were all patting each other on the back and assuring one another that we'd take three of four with Pedro going on Monday (though privately we all knew what a freakin' struggle it always is to get a win for Petey against the Empire).

I watched Monday's game in its entirety on the YES network. With each inning the Yankees seemed to add a chubbier, older, more broken-down player to their defensive alignment and still the Sox could not scratch out a second run for Pedro. I was just about to rethink my whole position on the importance of defense when Todd Walker made his game-ending boot.

And that's when I fired off my "Losing Formula" tirade, in the throes of an agonizing loss, unmitigated by the warmer feelings I no doubt would have had for the team had I actually watched Friday and Saturday's games.

Tuesday night I watched with delight - though YES man Michael Kay is rough on the ears - as Indians pitcher Billy Traber one-hit the Yankees. I kept flipping back to the ESPN News ticker to check the Sox score. As it went to extras tied at 1-1, I realized this was precisely the kind of game that I had declared in my tirade the Red Sox never win. I was back in the familiar position of desperately wanting to be wrong, and - thanks to an incredible performance by the bullpen I had just ripped and some clutch hitting from Jason Varitek - I was not only wrong but spectacularly wrong. Still, I hadn't seen so much as one pitch as it happened.

That would change Wednesday night when the Sox and Jays squared off on ESPN 2. Trot Nixon led off with a double and Todd Walker and David Ortiz drove in runs as the boys jumped out to a 2-0 lead. I started to believe that I was actually going to get to see the Red Sox win a game for the first time since I left Los Angeles on June 10. Yes, the only other game I had seen since leaving L.A. was the nationally televised disaster against the Phillies the day before I got married (Wedding No. 2 on the tour).

But then Derek Lowe started doing his turf thing (1-2, 9.70) and his body-language thing and soon the Sox were down 5-3. My lovely bride is now suggesting we go to this Italian place up the street for dinner... and I'm looking at Derek Lowe's shoulders slump... and I'm thinking about gnocchi with pesto... and my own personal winless-when-watching streak... and I take the opportunity to look like a changed man and not the deranged lunatic she thought she married. I turn off the game and take my wife to dinner.

Oh cruel fate, why do you mock me so? I've barely touched down in front of the midnight Baseball Tonight when they show Ortiz driving in Manny and Kim freezing tormented Eric Hinske to cap the 8-7 comeback. Had I watched the entire game, perhaps I would have remembered all the other amazing comebacks this team has had this season. Despite all the jangled nerves and incredible gacks, hasn't this team been the most fun to watch in all of baseball? Doesn't it seem to be comprised of great guys? Millar? Mueller? Ortiz? Isn't our GM a sage?

But when your team has been outscored 14-5 in the last two-and-a-half games you've watched, sometimes it's hard to remember just how good they are.

And surely I wouldn't regret not being able to watch tonight's game: the sometimes-it-sinks sinkerballer Mendoza on the turf against the angry, hittin' Jays. Once again I did the YES thing - as the Indians took two of three - with frequent flips to the ticker to see if the Sox could complete their first road sweep of the season. With Mueller, Millar and Ortiz in the lineup and me not watching, was there any doubt?

Early this season a friend asked me if I would not watch a single pitch of the Red Sox season if it would guarantee them a World Series title.

Of course. (But I would reserve the right to tell my wife that I was doing it for her.)

As I've been trying to tell you all along, I love this team.

The Losing Formula

7.8.03  When the Red Sox miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season and finish second for the sixth consecutive season there will be so many moments to regret, so many opportunities squandered, so much talent wasted that the seemingly innumerable events that will make up this putrid miasma of failure will swim together and be difficult to distinguish from one another.

The individual images will blur. Was it Chad Fox who gave up a three-run game-losing homer on Opening Day? Was it Rudy Seanez who became the third Red Sox pitcher to blow a save in a spectacular 13-inning loss to the Phillies? Did Brandon Lyon really surrender a game-losing home run on an 0-2 pitch? Did we really lose to a lineup of Enrique Wilson, Curtis Pride, Karim Garcia, Ruben Sierra, Todd Zeile, John Flaherty and Robin Ventura at second base?

In the endless chronicle of Red Sox collapses, this season will stand out for the sheer volume of phenomenal, incomprehensible, inexcusable losses. This team is threatening to undo 30 years of exhaustive, compelling and heretofore useful research by Bill James. As the closer-by-committee philosophy was argued in spring training, Mr. James averred that a team leading by three runs in the ninth will win 98 percent of the time (though presumably that statistic was built on the arms of Messrs. Sutter, Eckersley, Hoffman, et al.) and that protecting a one-run lead in the seventh was a situation more demanding of a closer's stuff than a three-run lead in the ninth.

On Opening Day, Monday March 31st, leading the lowly Devil Rays 4-1 entering the ninth, Red Sox Nation learned once again what Professors Stanley and Schiraldi had already taught us, that it does, in fact, matter who exactly is attempting to record these last three outs. Alan Embree (a two-run gopher ball to Terry Shumpert) and Fox (a three-run walk-off to Carl Crawford) combined to cough up five runs and promptly account for one of those twice-in-a-hundred losses.

By James's account - and our own fan's intuition - that loss should have stood as the worst we would suffer all year. Oh that it were so. Instead, what we thought was a statistical rarity, a quirk, a glitch was just a taste of things to come.

Saturday April 5th - Squandering another superb outing by Pedro, the Sox bats go silent against a collection of mediocre Orioles pitchers and Grady Little has Chad Fox issue an intentional walk to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, setting up Tony Batista's walk-off walk in a 2-1 Sox loss. Walking Batista is only slightly less difficult than surrendering a home run to Carl Crawford, who wouldn't hit his second of the season until July. A quick glance at Fox's career BB/IP stats (94 BBs in 174 IP) would make one question the strategy of intentionally loading the bases, but, in fairness, Grady probably doesn't have access to this information.

Monday May 5th - Leading Kansas City 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Lyon gives up two hits and a walk to load the bases but still has a shot to preserve the win if he can retire Desi Relaford. Lyon drills Relaford to force in the tying run then watches as Nomar lets Brent Mayne's grounder nutmeg him for the game-losing error, his second of the game.

Sunday May 11th - This 9-8 loss at Minnesota is one of the few soul-crushing defeats not directly attributable to the bullpen. Rather, it is low-lighted by a baserunning gaffe by Trot Nixon and a spectacular error by Jeremy Giambi in left field with the bases loaded. After dropping a routine fly ball, Giambi proceeds to kick and bobble the ball across the Twinkiedome turf, assuring us in one long humiliating sequence that, no, he can't play that position either.

Friday May 16th - Robert Person and Embree help blow a 4-0 lead in this 6-5 heartbreaker to the Angels, though it can't be said Embree pitches poorly, since by allowing only one run in his inning of work his ERA holds steady at 9.00. The game is bookended by Todd Walker failing to cover second on a grounder to short in the first and Embree failing to get to first on a grounder to the right side during the game-winning rally.

Saturday May 17th - Though the final would be 6-2 thanks to a three-run ninth off Lyon, the Angels win this game off Mike Timlin in the eighth with a colossal two-run homer by Troy Glaus. The gopher ball spoils a terrific bounce-back outing by Derek Lowe.

Wednesday May 28th - Our annual gift to the Yankees. For the second straight year Grady opts to walk the bases loaded to bring up Jorge Posada (currently fifth in the AL in BBs), setting the stage for the inevitable and thrilling walk-off walk. This time Lyon does the honors on a close 3-2 pitch, undoing the incredible four-run comeback the team had mounted off Mariano Rivera in the top of the ninth. Of course the Yankees wouldn't have had a runner on third if not for a bizarre, halfhearted throw from Manny Ramirez to nobody in particular.

Thursday June 5th - A 5-4 loss to the lowly Pirates that began with an error by David Ortiz on a ball that was barely moving when it clanked off his glove and ended with Ramiro Mendoza giving up the winning run. The most remarkable thing about this game is that despite giving up a run in an inning and a third Mendoza lowered his ERA to 7.31.

Friday June 6th - Though a 9-3 loss to Milwaukee can hardly be considered a heartbreaker, it deserves mention for the amazing performance by call-up Hector Almonte, who enters a tie game and surrenders five earned runs before being pulled. After the game, Grady Little says he was "impressed" by Almonte. Gump must have been downright mesmerized to leave him in that long as a nailbiter became a laugher.

Tuesday June 10th - An incredible 9-7 loss to the Cardinals in which Seanez and Lyon continue the deflating trend - begun by Embree and Fox in the opener - of multiple Red Sox relievers each giving up multiple runs. This game also gives us new pitching coach Dave Wallace's first trip to the mound to settle down Byung-Hyun Kim, making his first start in Fenway. Wallace talks, Kim nods and J.D. Drew launches the next pitch for a three-run homer.

Thursday June 12th - Another strong nominee for loss of the year as the Sox bow 8-7 in 13 innings to the Cardinals. Embree, Lyon and Mendoza endure a meltdown progression as Embree is touched for a single run, Lyon surrenders his now-standard two-spot and Mendoza gets whacked around for three.

Monday June 16th - Yet another strong outing by Pedro goes by the boards as Ryan Rupe adds his name to a truly undistinguished list by giving up a game-winning three-run home run to Joe Crede. Rupe joins Fox, Mendoza, Timlin, Lyon, Almonte, Kim, Saenez, Matt White and Bruce Chen on an ever-growing roster (can you say Todd Jones?) of 2003 acquisitions who have suffered one kind of horrible loss or another for their new team. Bill James, what is the non-expansion Major League record for most pitchers in their first season with a team taking a loss? The Red Sox have had losses from 10 different pitchers in their first season with the team.

Saturday June 21st - The loss of the new millennium. Once again Pedro turns in an outstanding start and once, twice, thrice again the Red Sox bullpen throws it all away. Timlin yields a game-tying bomb to Thome in the eighth. Jason Shiell gives up a game-tying bomb to Thome in the 12th. And Seanez serves up Todd Pratt's first home run of the season to dead center, turning a 5-3 lead into a 6-5 loss.

Saturday June 28th - If teams - on average - blow a three-run ninth-inning lead only twice per 100 opportunities, then how often do they blow a seven-run eighth-inning lead? Again, this year's Red Sox bullpen has created entirely new columns for Bill James's actuarial tables. Leading 9-2 against the Marlins after seven, the Sox lose 10-9 as Lyon gives up four runs in the ninth, erasing that magical three-run "easy save" lead. Just by virtue of this team's efforts that 98 percent mark must be down to 97 percent by now. And, yes, Mike Lowell's game-winning three-run jack does come on an 0-2 pitch from Lyon who should be flown to Chicago by Manny to pitch in next week's Home Run Derby.

Tuesday July 1st - Lyon finds a new way to lose, this time bowing 4-3 to the D-Rays as his not-that-errant pickoff throw eludes Nomar and rolls into center field, allowing Rocco Baldelli to score from second. The Sox had Baldelli picked off and should have been headed for the bat rack, but Lyon's poor throw and Nomar's momentary lapse in concentration - a Major League shortstop has got to keep that ball on the infield - added up to another brutal one-run loss.

Thursday July 3rd - The latest chapter in their 1,001 Ways to Lose to the D-Rays series. For some inexplicable reason Lyon was left in to pitch to Al Martin in the eighth. Maybe Grady felt comfortable because Martin hadn't homered all season. He has now. Martin's two-run shot ties the game and sets the stage for Timlin to surrender the losing run in the bottom of the ninth.

Monday July 7th - Even the Yankees announcers - such inveterate yes men that they actually named the network YES - have to admit that the infield of Giambi and Zeile at the corners and Wilson and Ventura up the middle is probably the slowest in big league history. Throw in Karim Garcia in left and Hideki Matsui in center and one would think that the Red Sox could find a patch of grass somewhere to land a base hit. But these are the 2003 Red Sox, the kings of the 25-8 victory followed by a one-run loss. A team that could outscore the Cardinals 27-17 and lose two of three. A team that can blast you 20-5 over the first two games of a four-game series and only earn a split because they can't come up with one clutch hit, one good at-bat, one good swing when it matters. A team with a shortstop who could threaten 400 total bases but spends four days in New York grounding out and popping up first pitch after first pitch. And a team, of course, with a depressing collection of journeymen on the pitching staff. Kim, the proposed solution to the back end of the bullpen problem, takes the loss in this one, as he gives up an 0-2 base hit, a 1-2 base hit and hits a batter to set the stage for Walker's game-losing error, his 11th of the season, a staggering total for a second baseman with no range. And, yes, he's probably the only second baseman in the game who doesn't get a glove on Giambi's game-tying hit. And, yes, Giambi was struck out on that 2-2 pitch. And, no, the Red Sox never win these games.

And, no, teams stacked with hitters but lacking pitching depth and defense don't win anything significant. It's a losing formula. On this, we can all agree with Bill James. 

Would You Rather Be in Philadelphia?

6.6.03 Cheer up, Sox fans.  Sure, we just slipped out of first again as Jose Contreras won his second straight start and our ace is broken down and a certified paranoiac.

But it could be worse.

No, not worse than John Burkett or Ramiro Mendoza.  It doesn't get worse than these guys.  But it could be worse overall.

No, not worse than our defense on the right side. That doesn't get any worse. Not in the Majors anyway.

I mean, if it's possible to cost your team a win on the first batter of the game, David Ortiz did it.  Ortiz made a brutal error on just about the lowest-degree-of-difficulty ground ball that can possibly be hit to an infielder, not too hard, just a step off the bag.  It's the kind of ground ball a coach would hit at the start of infield, a soft little warmup before the harder stuff comes.  But Ortiz, who would also post a feeble oh-fer at the dish, managed to get handcuffed by the cuddly grounder, opening the door for two runs in what would be a one-run loss.  (Not that this play was any more aesthetically grotesque than Kevin Millar's "throw" behind Derek Lowe the previous evening.  Every time I watch one of these guys play first I wonder to myself, "Could Dick Stuart really have been this bad?")

But it could be worse.

We could be Phillies fans.  At least the Red Sox are right where they should be with this roster (maybe even a little better).  But the Phillies are somehow just three games over .500 despite a team ERA of 3.69, second-best in the bigs.  In a spectacular offseason the Phillies landed the Braves best pitcher, Kevin Millwood,  added Jim Thome (off a phenomenal 52-HR, 1122 OPS season) and signed the solid David Bell (20 HRs and only 12 E's) to play third base.

And where has this gotten them?  After tonight's cataclysmic choke against the Mariners, the Phillies are nine games behind the Braves, a team that lost three-fifths of its starting rotation in the winter.  You had to see tonight's loss to believe it.  (Will our children believe there was a world before the MLB package?) Jose Mesa turned a 4-2 lead in the ninth into a 5-4 deficit faster than you can say, "Chad Fox."  He gave up a ringing single to Bret Boone, walked John Olerud on four pitches and hung an 0-2 non-breaking ball that Mike Cameron launched over the fence in left.

And then the real fun began.  After Tomas Perez led off the bottom of the ninth with a base hit, Jason Michaels punched a ball down the right-field line that kicked toward the fence that juts out from the grandstand.  It looked like pinch runner Nick Punto had a good chance to score from first until a shrewd Philly fan reached down and touched the ball.  Still, with runners on second and third, no one out and the top of the order coming up, you had to like the Phils' chances.  Placido Polanco couldn't lift the ball, grounding out to third with the runners holding.  After a Jimmy Rollins walk - a minor miracle in itself, the underperforming Thome got ahead 2-0 then struck out on three straight pitches.  Bobby Abreu's pop fly to center ended it.  If ever a team deserved more than one loss in a game, this was it.  This was worse than our loss to the D-Rays on Opening Day, worse than Nomar's game-ending error at K.C., worse even than our annual IBB fiasco in the Bronx.

So why is this Philly team that is getting outstanding pitching and was projected to score runs in bunches closer to last than first? 

The culprits:

Pat Burrell has become Rob Deer.  He is hitting .197 and is on pace for about 200 strikeouts.  Very rare to see a guy regress this much in his prime, but 245 plate appearances is no small sample.  Burrell's numbers are actually strikingly similar to the ones posted by Deer in his 1993 stint with the Red Sox.  Burrell, 2003: .197 BA, .314 OBP, .418 SLG.  Deer, '93: .196, .303, 399. 

Rollins has a Johnny Damon-esque .313 OBP, has struck out 2.3 times for every walk and likes to take big uppercut hacks on 2-0 pitches even though he has little power and great speed.  Another huge, puzzling regression from a former All-Star who seems to get a little worse every month he's in the Majors.  Under former All-Star shortstop Larry Bowa's guiding eye, Rollins' OPS has dropped from 742 his rookie season, to 686 last year,  down to its current abysmal 678.

Thome's OPS is down a staggering 259 points from last year to 863, or 124 points below Bill Mueller's.

David Bell has emerged as the worst everyday player in baseball, hitting .205 with matching .287 marks in OBP and SLG.  Can you imagine a .574 OPS for a cornerinfielder?  And we thought Shea needed to get on base more and hit for more power. 

Phils centerfielder-of-the-future Marlon Byrd is the flop of the present, hitting .220 with a .294 OBP and .308 SLG.  He'll be 26 in August and is rapidly approaching that Michael Coleman, can-no-longer-be-considered-a-phenom territority. 

But the man responsible for the Phils most devastating defeats is, of course, their 37-year-old closer.  Mesa has a 5.63 ERA, a 1.71 WHIP (a mere 15.4 baserunners per 9 IP) and four of the most soul-sapping losses this side of our own Gasoline Alley. 

Throw in two losses on dropped fly balls - one by Burrell in left, one by Ricky Ledee in center - and you've got to feel some sense of relief that this is not your beloved nine.

Bowa seems to be getting steadily less out of his team from week to week with his grinding intensity.  If ever a team could benefit from a near-comatose skipper like Grady Little, this veteran bunch is it.

So the next time the Committee blows up or the Sox defense kicks away a game, just remember, it could be worse.  We could be Philly fans.

Staff Infection

5.31.03: Players, managers and (former) GMs lie. But the numbers don't. These pitchers suck.

Gump has been Alibi Ike for his crappy staff, but the sad truth is these guys just aren't very good. It's not about "mis-locating" or "bad breaks" or "questionable calls." It's about not having the stuff to make Major Leaguers take uncomfortable swings.

(As I rant, the Cubs and Astros have gone to the 15th inning of a scoreless game. It seems like every pitcher in both of these bullpens throws over 96. Talk about uncomfortable swings. Nobody digs in against Farnsworth or Wagner.)

But back to our staff infections.

6.28? 5.86? 5.34? These numbers are almost as ugly as some of the blood-alcohol levels Burkett and Lowe have allegedly posted on the eve of their starts.

Let's take them in descending order of their horrible ERAs. What are the odds that John Burkett has yet another late-career renaissance in him? Ever since this jerk boycotted an All-Star game he wasn't invited to he has been awful. How excited would you be to see our lineup face Burkett? There would be a stampede to the bat rack. What say we release this guy before he can no longer throw twice as hard as his age?

(Another flamethrower - Wellemeyer - has come in for the Cubs. He's blown away the first two hitters. Chip Caray just announced that Dotel, Farnsworth and Wagner struck out 14 in seven innings of relief work.)

Casey Fossum is 25. Not 19. Not 21. In the Bill James model for projecting upside, he's basically a middle-aged prospect. When Dave Berg and Mike Bordick take you deep in the same game, I mean, c'mon, you've got no stuff. You could snap a chalk line on Casey Fossum's fastball, it's so frickin' straight. And it's not 97 and straight. It's 90 and straight. The curve would be a lot better if he had a third pitch. But he just seems so easy to lock in on with his limited repertoire. You can just sit straight, mediocre fastball until you have two strikes. Other than the magical, sacred, blessed (and irrelevant) fact that he's left-handed, I don't see what makes this guy special. Keep in mind Fossum went 3-10 in his last 13 decisions in the minors.

(Wellemeyer just blew away Jeff Kent to send the game scoreless to the bottom of the 16th. Think about the electric stuff on these two staffs: Prior, Wood, Cruz, Zambrano, Farnsworth, Wellemeyer; Oswalt, Redding, Miller, Dotel, Wagner.)

But back to our collection of crafty sinkerballers.

Derek Lowe belongs in a slightly different category than Burkett and Fossum, in part because he's won 20 games within the last 10 seasons. (Burkett did it in 1993.) Other than having only one above-average pitch and the worst psychological makeup this side of Roger Moret, D-Lowe's woes are worse than could have been expected even given his one-year-on, one-year-off career trend. No one misses Rey Sanchez as much as D-Lowe. All those extra outs are magnified when you've got a pouty, sulky pitcher who is easily thrown into a funk. I'm with Cloninger that he'll turn it around, but bet the over and the opponent's money line when he pitches in the Twinkiedome or Skydome.

The frickin' Rangers have more live arms than we do. We've raised "contact pitching" to a new level. Ramiro Mendoza? 50 hits in 30 innings? Not possible. Alan Embree (5.65 ERA), Robert Person (5.59), Matt White (ERA withheld to protect the guilty)? Poor Rudy Seanez. This is the pitching equivalent of getting rejected by the ugly girl at the dance. Seriously, picking the names of ML pitchers out of a hat, you could not have stockpiled more guys with WHIPs over 1.40, an astounding 14 by last count. How did we end up with the Devil Rays staff? The team ERA is 5.19, team WHIP is 1.45. These numbers are beyond unacceptable for a team with this payroll.

And still there are morons out there lamenting the Hillenbrand trade. The move looks better with every shelling. But after allowing 40 runs in their first four-game losing streak of the year, it's obvious the Sox cannot be saved by one transaction. The pitching and defense problems are so deep and so severe that I cannot imagine a scenario in which we could rectify these problems over the course of a single season.

Much is made of the opening of Fenway Park being pushed off the front page by the sinking of the Titanic. Welcome aboard, Mr. Kim.

(Sosa just delivered the game-winning base hit. Cubs win a 16-inning shutout. Can you imagine? We can't string two scoreless innings together when it matters.)

B.K. Deal a Whopper

5.30.03: Before I hear any more references to "All-Star" third baseman Shea Hillenbrand I would like to point out the American League third basemen who posted better OPS numbers last season.

Shea finished at .789 (.330 OBP + .459 SLUG%)

Eric Chavez - .863
Eric Hinske - .846
Robin Ventura - .826
Corey Koskie - .815
Troy Glaus - .805
Jose Valentin - .790

Shea's numbers more closely resembled Joe Randa's (.767) and Mike Lamb's (.765) than the best players in the league at his position.

As for RBIs, Glaus (111), Chavez (109), Ventura (93), Tony Batista (87) and Hinske (84) all drove in more runs. Nobody, however, made more errors at third base than Shea. So while it's true that he was voted to start an All-Star game, the truth is that he was no better than middle of the pack at his position.

We tend to overvalue Shea because A) he's clearly had to work very hard to make himself a Major Leaguer and B) he seems much more productive than he's actually been.

Though it sounds odd saying this, Kim is likely undervalued because of his mainstage meltdown in the 2001 Series. Two things to remember about that nightmare: he was 22 years old and the Diamondbacks, as I recall, won that series. Nobody seems to remember his lights-out five hitless innings over three appearances in the NLCS against the Braves. (I didn't remember it either.)

In his brief, brilliant career opponents have hit .197 off BK. And with the defensive statues we've imported this season - Walker, Ortiz, Millar - don't underestimate the importance of Kim's high K/IP ratio, 10.1/9IP. (I defy any sinkerballer to thrive with a right side of Walker and Ortiz/Millar.)

So ask yourself, are we closer to contending for a championship than we were yesterday? Of course. Did Theo get top of market value for Shea? Absolutely. Do you hate the device of using rhetorical questions? Me too.

I suspect Shea will thrive in Arizona in the so-called fastball league. And our hopes are still day-to-day, hinged on an over-extended (by $17.5M?) lat muscle. But while their cackling is deafening, even Yankee fans know we just got better.

Rally Caps Yes, Thinking Caps No

5.28.03: We've learned a lot about our beloved first-place team in the first two months of the season.

They can hit.

They are somewhere between poor and atrocious defensively.

They can hit.

Their pitching is razor thin (Guapo, where art thou).

They can hit.

But besides the alarming one-dimensionality of the team, there is another area of concern. I mean, at what point can we just flat out say this is a dumb team?

After a second baseman and pitcher both forget to cover bases in the same game? After an outfielder tosses the ball into the stands with two outs? After a pinch runner gets picked off standing up? After the aforementioned second baseman takes off to steal third with a teammate already occupying the bag? Or how about after all of the above happen... on one frickin' homestand?

Todd Walker and Trot Nixon have established themselves as the co-captains of Team Brain Cramp.

In what eventually would be a one-run loss to the Angels, Walker forgot to cover second base on a ground ball to Nomar with two outs in the first inning. Nomar bobbled the ball, necessitating Walker's presence at the bag. But he was nowhere to be found. In fairness, second base is in the opposite direction of the home dugout, and when your range is as limited as Walker's, you need to get a good jump lest you miss a turn at bat. Still, even that brain freeze couldn't prepare us for the eighth inning of the final game of the homestand. This was the stuff of legend, of a different era when players couldn't read and signed their names with an X. This was Rube Waddell running off the field in the middle of a game to chase a fire engine. With two outs and trailing 6-1, Todd Walker saw the Cleveland pitcher go into the windup and took off for third, believing it was the opposing hurler experiencing brainlock by not going from the stretch. Presumably, third base coach Mike Cubbage began screaming and flashing the "no vacancy" sign. (Wendell Kim probably would have waived Walker in.) Nomar - who had been left hung out to dry by Walker's forgetfulness nine days earlier - saved Walker some serious ignominy by ripping the pitch into the corner for a two-run double.

To me, forgetting that there is a runner on the base in front of you is much more mind-boggling than forgetting the number of outs. But what makes Trot's vapor lock so disturbing is that it was in some ways the logical extension of a month of mental mistakes for the outfielder.

ESPN's Tim Kurkjian was very generous in forgiving Trot his momentary lapse, saying, "He's always been a heady player." Really? Like most national broadcasters, Mr. Kurkjian doesn't watch the Red Sox every day. So he may not have seen Trot round first and take off for second on a wild throw by Twins second baseman Luis Rivas on that Black Sunday in the Twinkiedome (though it was an ESPN game). Trot was thrown out by a mile because Twins catcher A.J. Piersynski was right where he was supposed to be - right where Major League catchers always are -running down the line, backing up the play. First base coach Dallas Williams was futilely pointing to the bag, trying to keep Trot at first, but, Trot being Trot, he had ideas of his own. The Sox ended up losing by one run, 9-8. Less than a week later, Trot would run the Sox out of a potential big inning when - with the play right in front of him - he made the final out on the bases, getting caught in a rundown between second and third after a base hit to left. (Jeremy Giambi would lead off the next inning with a home run and the Sox would end up losing to the Angels by a run.) On an earlier homestand, Trot made an ill-advised dive for a two-out sinking liner by Carlos Beltran. The "heady" play would have been to field the ball on a hop and take your chances with two outs and a guy on first, but Trot sprawled onto his belly and failed to get a glove on the ball, which bounced over him for an inside-the-pak home run. All of this was just prologue to the Mother of All Brain Cramps. After this spectacular gaffe, someone suggested, "Everyone forgets the outs at some point." Well, Jose Offerman did. But does everyone? Cal Ripken?

Alan Embree - who would like us to believe he broke off the mound immediately in that five-extra-out loss to the Angels on the 16th - and Damian Jackson (you gotta get dirty there, fella) also let their minds wander in the late innings of close games during the homestand. It has to be asked, Does anyone around here know how to play this game?

Oh yeah, one guy seems to. And what does it say when your headiest player is Manny Ramirez?

The Henchmen's Housekeeping 5.19.03

Extra! Extra! Extra Outs Kill Sox 5.16.03

These Buyers are Wary, Weary 5.13.03

Smell the Gloves: They Stink 5.04.03

OCD and OBP 5.03.03

Premature Exasperation: Homestand Rekindles Hope 4.22.03

By Any Acronym, These Guys Stink 4.09.03

Panic Now Beat the Rush 4.07.03

BBC is DOA 4.3.03

 Hench's Hardball 2002

Post Mortems from New York City 9-25-02

Put a Fork in 'Em, Bring on the Pats 9-5

Even Cubby Can't Keep Sox Down 8-27

They're Not All Chokers 8-25

This Broad is Bad News 8-21

The Road to Nowhere 8-20

None Worse Than July 23 8-15

Home Cooking Leftovers 8-12

The End of an Error 8-1

Grading Grady:  F in One-Run Games 7-24

Offy Runs Himself Off Team (Please) 7.22

All-Star Sox One Game Better Than Lansing and Co. 7.16

So Manny More Problems 6-21

You Down with OPS? 6-20

Of Mystery and Misery 6-15

The Honeymoon is Over 5-27

Suddenly Awful Again 5-22

Ugly Loss 5-12

Lowe and Behold 4.27

U-u-u-unbelievable 4-12

Giving the Dog His Due 4-8

Open and Shut 4-2

Opening Way 4-1

A Telling Sign 2-28

Absolute Joy 2-05

Pressure Cooker; Pressure Kicker 2-4

 Hench's Hardball 2001

Happy Holidays 12-13

Hench: Mellow Fellow? 10-13

Just When It Couldn't Get Any Worse... 9-08

Who is the Duke?  9-04

Over and Out  8-31

Dear Joe Letter  8-30

Who Am I  8-29

Running Ourselves into the Ground 8-27

The Texas Mess: Easygoing Hard to Take; One Fan's Fantasy; Can't Shake This One; Kill the Bums 8-26

Chugging Along 8-25

G. Edes:  He Brings Good Things To Life 8-24

Lowe and Beck Show, Playing All Season 8-23

Pulled Back In 8-22

How It Was Meant To Be 8-21

The Dirt Dog Oath 8-20

New Boss... Same as the Old Boss? 8-18

Requiem for a Kind, Gentle Imbecile 8-17

A Dream That Don't Come True 8-16

One Loss, So Many Questions 8-15

The Butcher of Worcester 8-13

Darkness at Noon 8-10

Grim Realizations 8-8

Jimy, Jose Can't Contain Sox 8-7

Yankees suck? No such luck. 8-5

Rage, Pain, Anger, and Hurt 8-4

Ridiculous to the Sublime 7-31

Everett Comeback: Seamless, Unseemly 7-29

Derek and the Domino Effect 7-27

First Half Over, Glass Half Empty 7-09

Pappas Smear 6-28

Opening Nightmare 4-02

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