4.22.03 No word yet on
whether John Burkett will attend this year's All-Star Game if he's named
to the team.
Just kidding, J.B. We pretty much knew what
we were getting at the back of the rotation: lots of baserunners, lots of
rockets, lots of long relief. So it's never a surprise when Burkett or Casey
Fossum fails to go six or seven.
But there were certainly some pleasant
surprises on this 7-2 homestand. (Reader warning: Hench about to be positive.
Okay, largely positive.)
Weren't we all amazed at how good an ugly
uniform can look during a comeback win? When the Red Devils gathered at home
plate to welcome Nomar after his Saturday walk-off shot they looked positively
resplendent. Of course overcoming a 5-0 deficit against an All-Star ace could
make Padre mustard and brown look good. Sure, the red shirts look like batting
practice jerseys, but they're damn purty when the Sox start taking BP in the
Shea Hillenbrand is amazing. Can you imagine
how hard it is to hit Major League pitching when you lack the fundamental
ability to gauge the path of a pitched ball? When the ball leaves the pitcher's
hand, some hitters can tell immediately that that pitch will be in the dirt or
way outside. With Shea, it's like he picks the ball up ten feet from home plate
and reacts, which makes his hitting that much more phenomenal. This guy can go
down on one knee and drive the ball to a gap or dive out over the plate and slap
the ball down the right-field line. If the strike zone was the size of a soccer
goal, the former All-State striker would be the best player in the game this
side of Vlad Guerrero. Shea has been more patient this year, but not necessarily
more selective (if that makes any sense). He takes pitches for the sake of
taking pitches, not because they look like balls to him. As a result, he is
often down in the count, but it hardly matters because he is such a wizard when
it comes to hitting bad pitches hard. But more than his typical April offensive
output, I've been so impressed with his defense. He made several superior plays
at third this past week, including a dazzling 5-u-4 double play on which he made
a strong throw to second while fading away into foul territory. It was an
aggressive, confident play. Now, seriously, trade him for a pitcher already.
Though it is a confounding puzzlement why
Nomar's throws seem to be so much more accurate on spectacular plays than on the
routine ones, his play on Aubrey Huff in the Ice Bowl series against the D-Rays
belongs in his all-time top 10. To go that far to his right and make that strong
a throw in those conditions, well, you just have to tip your ski mask to him.
Now if we could only eliminate those nasty splitters he throws after scooping
balls hit right at him.
At the risk of calling attention to it,
jinxing it and bringing down the whole freakin' house of cards, have you noticed
that you're starting to expect Manny to make plays in left field? That you no
longer hold your breath on every ball hit his way? That you're not even that
shocked when he makes a running, lunging catch? Not enough was made of his
barehand snag, spin and throw that preserved the first win at Baltimore. Why am
I already regretting this paragraph?
Mike Timlin looks sharp. He's been
challenging hitters with the same moxie that a bumper sticker above his locker
taunts peaceniks. It describes the peace symbol as "The footprint of the
American chicken." I wonder if Jason Varitek is reluctant to call for a curve
for fear of misinterpretation. (Apparently glib comparisons between our
Committee and H.U.A.C. were more accurate than we'd thought.) Just keep getting
ahead in the count, Mike.
Tim Wakefield is a stud. If his stuff is
crap, he finds a way to keep us in the game. If his stuff is awesome, he spends
the whole day looking at the back of his catcher and he still finds a way to
keep us in the game. If you could teach mound demeanor, Wake 101 would be a
Kevin Millar announced himself with a
game-winning home run in the second game of the season, and despite a 1-for-14
slide to end the homestand, he is rightly the fan favorite of the moment. He is
a patient, professional hitter with power who also looks like our best fielder
in the first baseman starting rotation (faint praise, to be sure). And he is
clearly a great teammate. Watching him maul Nomar on Saturday was a joy.
And you can't love Millar without giving
Theo Epstein his due. He refused to let alienating other GMs or prohibitive
international long distance charges keep him from getting his man. The bullpen's
recent run of success probably hasn't calmed the palpitations across New England
- and beyond - and does anyone really believe Kevin Tolar and Jason Shiell are
longterm solutions? But Millar has justified the Kid's doggedness and the team's
offseason phone bill.
I would like to say something nice about
Trot Nixon's hot start, but the Leo Durocher in me won't let me until he goes a
whole week without airmailing the cutoff man.
Oh, and Grady... well, he didn't screw
anything up too bad.
Now, please Lord, for the love of dinosaurs
and moon landings, don't let Carl Everett beat us. In fact, for the sake of the
Nation, don't even let the reigning AL Player of the Week come up against the
Committee with the game on the line. Thanks.