Sveum Old Song and
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
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.
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
Uh Oh, I Think I Love
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
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:
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?
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
That would be
a great phone call.
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."
you were pro-union."
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
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
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.)
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.
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
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.
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
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
10.2.03: Well, at least that's
No more wondering about the fate of the
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
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
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
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
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.
9.24.03, 7:12pm EDT: Mr. Positive here, intrepidly risking optimism
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Need Him More Than He Needs Us
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
I mean, this was something out of the
1919 World Series. Only nothing this egregious happened in the 1919
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
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
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.)
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
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.
Rube, That Arm Has to Last Through October
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
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
It's like asking
Edward Scizzorhands to hold your hemophiliac baby.
twenty-eight pitches? For the second time in three starts?
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
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?
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
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?
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,
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
unofficially, Mueller leads the league in 10-pitch at-bats.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
in one of those funks now.
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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?
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
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
course. (But I would reserve the right to tell my wife that I was
doing it for her.)
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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,
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.
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.
(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.)