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Posts Tagged ‘Curt Schilling’

We played a two-game series against the Rays and got swept.

Tuesday’s game began auspiciously with us paying tribute to the 2004 team.  But it didn’t end well.  Buchholz pitched as decently as any of our other starters this year, but in terms of the way he’s been pitching lately, his start was mediocre at best.  He gave up five runs, four earned, on eight hits over six innings while walking two and striking out five.  In the second, he gave up two walks followed by a home run that score three.  And in the sixth, he gave up two straight singles and then another single two batters later that scored two runs, one of which was made possible by Nava’s fielding error, hence the unearned run.  Atchison pitched the seventh and to one batter in the eighth, Miller pitched the rest of the eighth, and Padilla pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second; we started the inning with two back-to-back singles followed by a flyout, and Valencia batted in our first run with a single.  We started the third with a strikeout and then hit two back-to-back singles again.  This inning possibly did us in, because if we’d been able to take full advantage of our opportunity there, it’s possible that perhaps we could have won in the end.  But a caught-stealing at third basically put a damper on things.  Pedroia doubled after that, and we scored on a balk.  And that was it.  The final score was 2-5.

On Wednesday, Lester pitched six innings and allowed three runs on four hits while walking one and striking out five.  He was solid for most of it but unraveled at the end.  All three runs were scored via the home run.  He gave up a single in the fifth followed by two consecutive home runs.  Mortensen came on for the seventh and gave up a single, and then Hill came on and gave up another single; three at-bats later, Hill gave up an RBI double.  Melancon finished the seventh and pitched the eighth, and Breslow pitched the ninth.

We had actually scored first; Salty walked and scored on a single by Nava in the second.  And then Pedroia walked to lead off the sixth, stole second, moved to third on a single by Ross, and scored on a sac fly by Loney.  The final score was 2-4.

Wednesday’s game actually began auspiciously as well with us announcing the All-Fenway team comprised of our greats throughout our long and illustrious history, with plenty of old faces and plenty of new.  The starting lineup included Carlton Fisk, Jimmie Foxx, Pedroia, Wade Boggs, Nomar, Ted Williams, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Jonathan Papelbon, Papi, and Terry Francona.  The first reserves included Jason Varitek, Mo Vaughn, Bobby Doerr, Mike Lowell, Johnny Pesky, Yaz, Dom DiMaggio, Trot Nixon, Roger Clemens, Luis Tiant, Tim Wakefield, Dennis Eckersley, Dick Radatz, and Joe Cronin.  The second reserves included Rich Gedman, George Scott, Jerry Remy, Frank Malzone, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Rice, Reggie Smith, Tony Conigliaro, Babe Ruth, Smoky Joe Wood, Curt Schilling, Bill Lee, Jim Lonborg, and Dick Williams.  And, last but not least, the pinch hitter was Bernie Carbo and the pinch runner was none other than Dave Roberts.

Why before Wednesday’s game? Because Wednesday’s game was our last home game of the year.  It would have been nice to win it.  Instead we will finish the season with our worst record at home since 1965 and our first losing record at home since 1997: 34-47.  Now Fenway will soon be covered with snow, silent in the long, cold winter that lies ahead with only the bitter memory of losing as an aftertaste.

Sports Then And Now

 

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Happy one hundredth birthday, Fenway Park! It really his America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, and for good reason.  No other ballpark is this old or – let’s face it – this totally awesome.  When you watch a game there, you really have this overwhelming sense of the history that’s gone down, and you wonder what the walls would say if they could talk.  That park saw everything.  For hundred years, most of them culminating in postseason disappointment so profoundly gut-wrenching that your first instinct would be to think that somebody had to have planned it that way, this park bore witness to the lives and times of the players who played, the managers who managed, and the fans who supported, day in and day out, no matter how good or bad it got.  Standing like a sentinel right in the middle of Boston, it has seen everything that’s happened, both in and out of baseball, in that city in the last hundred years.  Think about that for a minute.  If the walls could talk, what would they say? In addition to the regular lot, this park has seen Major League baseball players, minor league baseball players, National League baseball players, college baseball players, high school baseball players, football players, hockey players, basketball players, soccer players, boxers, musicians, soldiers, fans from every walk of life, wins, losses, World Series, no-hitters, a five-hundred-foot home run, more than ten thousand home runs total, the tallest wall in any ballpark in the United States, the first foul ball screen ever used, the only in-play ladder in Major League Baseball, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last political speech, and so much more.

This park is alive with character.  Every part of the park has a story: the Green Monster that now stands in place of Duffy’s Cliff, the Pesky Pole, the Fisk Pole, the retired numbers, Willamsburg, the bullpens.  Everything.  It’s small, and the seats don’t have cushions, and you can’t order gourmet food behind home plate.  But seriously, who wants to go to a baseball game just to feel like you’re watching the game on television or at a restaurant? No, you want to feel the park and to live the experience.  We’ve got the best fans in all of sport, I’d say, and we’ve got the best venue to match.

If April 20, 1912 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park got married, then April 20, 2012 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park renewed their vows.  I can’t even bear the thought that several years ago we almost lost Fenway Park forever, and I can bear the thought even less that there weren’t more people interested in saving it.  It’s truly a gem of a ballpark, and it’s one of every Red Sox fan’s favorite places in the whole world.

But what would a family affair be without a little token drama? Apparently all living uniformed personnel were invited, but apparently Theo wasn’t invited until Thursday and declined to go.  Curt Schilling, who has made no secret of his criticism of Bobby V., declined an invitation due to a commitment to his business.  It was speculated that Tito wouldn’t be there, but after all he was.  It’s really a shame that all this drama has to get in the way of such a great day in the history of what’s brought all these diverse people together.  I know it’s corny, but why can’t we all just get along, just for one day? Obviously we weren’t there for any of the drama, so we can’t really know how bad or not-so-bad it was, but anyway it would have been nice to have these individuals, who’ve been so crucial to bringing about what is (“is,” and hopefully not “was”) arguably a golden age in our club’s history.

Anyway, here are the details.  There was an introduction that basically said that the constant throughout history is baseball, and the constant throughout baseball is Fenway, and the constant throughout us disparate fans is this team.  Then John Williams conducted the Boston Pops in playing “Fanfare for Fenway,” his new composition.  There was the national anthem.  There was the flyover, which always gets me.  Then there was a steady stream of past players in their uniforms; they all congregated in the parts of the field that they played.  Most of the who’s-who as well as the unknowns of Red Sox history was there, those that could barely walk and those who recently retired.  It was really just beautiful to see generations of players represented before generations of fans.  You could acutely feel that you were witnessing history not only by bearing witness to the occasion but also by remembering that each and every one of those players had borne witness to Red Sox Nation.  (Incidentally, the whole procession received continuous applause and a standing ovation.  Terry Francona’s applause and name-chanting was deafeningly thunderous, as it should have been.  Nomar, Pedro, Yaz, and Pesky also received substantial thunder.  And also Wake, Tek, Bobby Doerr, Jerry Remy, Jim Rice, Kevin Millar, and a host of others too numerous to name.) Then there was a toast with grape juice, supplied at every seat for every fan of every age, led by Pedro and Millar, which as you can imagine was highly, highly entertaining and completely brought you back to 2004.  It was literally the largest toast in one venue, as in a new world record.  But hey, that’s the strength of Red Sox Nation for you.

The first pitch was thrown from the row of seats behind the first base dugout by the mayor of Boston, just like it was one hundred years ago.  This year, Thomas Menino was joined by Caroline Kennedy and Thomas Fitzgerald, two descendants of 1912 Boston’s Mayor John Fitzgerald.

I have to say, the throwback uniforms were a real treat.  How fortuitous that the schedule allowed us to play the exact same team, too.  I have to admit, even though the score a hundred years ago was 7-6 in eleven innings, I was hoping for a big more of a thrashing, as close as a close game would have been to the original may have been.  Ultimately, a win to preserve the history would have been very much appreciated and appropriate.

Sadly, a win was not to be.  Buchholz allowed home run after home run after home run.  Now that he and Beckett have both allowed five home runs in one game this season, the 2012 club becomes one of only three teams in Major League history to carry two starters who have given up five home runs each in one game in one season.  (Incidentally, one of the other two was the 2009 club, and Buchholz and Beckett were both at fault then too.) He gave up six runs, five earned (you can thank Pedroia for dropping a routine popup, a rare sight indeed), on nine hits, five of which were home runs.  All of the home runs were solo shots, and three of them led off innings.  He only allowed one other extra-base hit, a double.  He lasted six innings, walked two, and struck out two.

Buchholz used four pitches: a four-seam, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.  His four-seam got up to ninety-five miles per hour and was his most abundant and effective pitch; he threw it for strikes more than eighty percent of the time.  The others were thrown for strikes less than sixty percent of the time, which is unfortunate since the majority of his pitches category-wise were off-speeds.

Atchison pitched the seventh, Thomas and Tazawa teamed up for the eighth, and Tazawa pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second when Papi homered to the Green Monster.  The ball, a fastball, bounced off of the very top of the wall and was ruled a double before it came under review and was rightly overturned.  In the fifth, a pair of doubles by Ross and Aviles scored another run.  That was all we managed.  Don’t even think for  second that you weren’t thinking that the stage may have been set for something truly epic: a recreation of the original final score.  Our final score ended up being 6-2, but just imagine if we could have somehow scored four more runs to tie it, gone to the eleventh inning, and then scored one more run?

It seemed like every single one of our rallies was killed before it got started.  Aviles and Papi each had two hits for the only multi-hit performances of the day.  In addition to the home run and those two doubles, we hit two more, and that was it for extra bases.  Not one member of our lineup walked.  Repko made a decidedly Ellsbury-esque catch.  I hope Bobby V. paid attention to the “We Want Tito” chant in the ninth; we have the lowest team ERA in the Majors and are now on a four-game losing streak overall and a four-game home losing streak for the first time since 2010 with a record of four and nine.

At any rate, one hundred years of Fenway Park have come and gone, so here’s to the next hundred.  Here’s to a happy birthday to America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.  Fenway Park, all that you’ve seen and all that you mean, we forever salute you!

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Caps, 2-1.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Turns out it wasn’t too much to ask after all.

Home.  Home is where the heart is.  Home is also where the wins are.  Yesterday was the first day of the rest of our 2011 baseball lives.

The Opening Ceremonies, as always, were very well done.  From the team introductions to the national anthem to the F16 flyover to paying respects to Lou Gorman to watching Yaz throw out the first pitch, it really gave you a sense of how far our storied team has come, and it reminded you of why we love this game and this team in the first place.  It really did feel like we started the season yesterday and every game we played before that was still part of Spring Training.  By the way, we have won every game before which Yaz has thrown out the first pitch.  So maybe that’s something to keep in mind if we have another losing streak.  Either way, before the game even started, you could smell the win in the air.

We completed the Year X Improvements project this winter.  Offseason additions to the park include expanded concessions and souvenir options, three Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision high definition LED screens, more concourse TVS, a new ticket booth at Gate D, and general repairs in the seating area.  All of the construction and repairs were green, using recycled materials and such.  The bad news? One of the LED screens, which is absolutely huge, replaced the John Hancock jumbotron in center field.  That jumbotron may have been old, but that’s where multiple generations of Red Sox fans looked when they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  That jumbotron projected a world of badness and a world of greatness.  I guess the only solution is to inaugurate the new one with a World Series win.  I have to say that everything looks fantastic.  Major improvements have been made during the offseason for the last ten years, and yet every year it looks like nothing has changed at all.  They’ve done a brilliant job working with the park and integrating everything.  It looks awesome.

We entered the game after having made some changes.  Matt Albers is on the fifteen-day DL with a strained right lat muscle, so we recalled Alfredo Aceves.  We also designated Reyes for assignment and activated Felix Doubront.  We batted Crawford in leadoff, moved everyone up, and inserted Ellsbury into the eighth spot in the lineup.

So then the game starts.  Lackey’s first pitch was a strike to Brett Gardner in an at-bat that quickly turned into a leadoff walk.  And you could just tell that he wasn’t on.  Sure enough, with two out in the first, A-Rod walked, and when Cano doubled to center field, two runs were in.  The Evil Empire would score a run in each of the next four innings until Lackey was removed.  He failed to hold a single lead.

So he pitched five innings, gave up six runs on seven hits, walked two, and struck out two.  He gave up a home run to A-Rod of all people.  He threw ninety-one pitches, fifty-one for strikes.  He threw mostly curveballs and cutters, the former being more effective than the latter.  He threw all of his off-speed pitches for strikes at least fifty percent of the time.  His cut fastball was particularly nasty, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour.  But his straight-up fastballs were not effective.  Luckily, he got in on their hands and pitched inside, and he kept his per-inning pitch counts low, going up to twenty-two in the first and again in the fourth at the highest.  His last inning was also his best; he threw twelve pitches, eight for strikes.

Pedroia, as he is wont to do, got the entire team going.  He smacked a huge solo shot into the first two rows of the Monster about ten feet to the right of the Fisk pole in the first inning, cutting our deficit in half.  It was a curveball that didn’t curve.  He literally swung that bat with his entire body.  He did whatever it took to get that ball out, and Red Sox Nation sighed in relief as one.  After a losing streak like ours to begin the season, the longer you go without some sort of definitive offensive display, the harder it is to get one going.  I knew going into this game that if we didn’t do something, anything, early, it would be that much more difficult to do it in the later innings.  That home run was exactly what we needed.

After the Yankees tied it back up, we let loose with our best and biggest inning of the season to date.  Five runs in the second.  We tied our highest run total for an entire game so far in that single frame.  I was so unused to seeing hits being strung together, I almost felt like I was witnessing some sort of mythical feat.  Scutaro grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored one run.  Pedroia singled in two more and moved to second on a fielding error.  Gonzalez singled him in.  And Papi singled him in.  What you just witnessed was our first run manufacture of 2011.  And that, my friends, was the end of Phil Hughes.

Bartolo Colon came on after that and shut us down until the seventh.  By that time, the Yankees had tied the game.  And who should come through but Salty, who doubled in Youk after Papi failed to be called out thanks to another fielding error, and that established a lead that would stand permanently.

After that, Girardi lifted Colon in favor of Boone Logan because Papi and Drew, back-to-back lefties, were coming up.  In a fine display of hitting and reassurance that our lefty-heavy lineup can’t be shut down by a simple call to the bullpen, it made absolutely no difference.  They both came through.  Drew ended up singling in Gonzalez and Papi.

Where Lackey failed, the bullpen didn’t.  Our relievers shut down the Yanks for the last four innings.  We had one effective shutout frame each, each worth a hold, from Aceves, Jenks, and even Bard.  Bard and Paps each threw eleven pitches, eight for strikes.  Paps registered his first save of the season in the ninth.  They mowed them down like grass, overgrown and overblown.

In total, we amassed twelve hits.  Double digits.  Five members of our lineup had multi-hit games; Salty, Drew, and Papi each went two for four while Gonzalez went two for five and Pedroia, the man of the hour, went three for five.  We left six on base and went six for ten with runners in scoring position, which means that we put runners in scoring position and then brought them home.  The best part? We scored nine runs.  Nine to their six.  That’s what it feels like to have the offense back the pitcher.  That’s what it feels like to score a sufficient amount of runs in order to deal with it if the pitcher has an off day.  Cue “Dirty Water.” Ladies and gentlemen, we are now one and six!

This was our hundredth home opener, and we have now won seven straight.  With the frustrating exception of Lackey, we were absolutely brilliant in every way.  The hitters were hitting.  The fielders were fielding.  (With the second frustrating exception being Crawford, who at one point looked just sad when he couldn’t have been in a worse position to play a ball off the Monster.  I can understand that; it’s his first season, and he has to get used to it.  It’s not an easy left field to play.  It’s just that historically, even as an opponent on a visiting team, he’s always played the wall well.  I was surprised.) And the relievers were relieving.  Hopefully tomorrow the starter will be starting.

Make no mistake, folks: you just witnessed one of the most satisfying wins we’re going to have this year.  I repeat: yesterday was the first day of the rest of our 2011 baseball lives.

One other thing.  Manny Ramirez announced his retirement today.  It came after he was told of “an issue” that came up under Major League Baseball’s drug policy.  This is not difficult to figure out.  He tested positive four years after testing went into effect, was suspended for fifty games, cleaned up, came back, and comparatively speaking he pretty much failed as a hitter.  Lately he’s been reduced to being happy with singles.  We’re talking a drop in average as well as on-base percentage of upwards of a hundred points.  Recently, he failed another drug test; the suspension for a second transgression doubles, so it would be a hundred games, which is two-thirds of a season.  Not wanting to deal with that suspension, he retired instead.  That’s why it’s always good when a baseball player knows when it’s time to call it quits in every sense.  He did wonderful things when he was here in Boston, but we were on the receiving end of some pretty bad ugliness from him as well.  He was often funny but never easy.  It’s just sad that rather than recognizing when his time was up, he felt so compelled to follow such a course of action.  When Curt Schilling started to age, he prolonged his career by converting power to finesse in an incredible show of integrity, strength, and discipline.  Manny Ramirez was known throughout baseball for his intense work ethic but inconsistent-at-best personality.  Since he first failed four years after testing went into effect, and during those years he still posted numbers worthy of the Hall of Fame, he probably eventually saw the beginnings of a decline due to age and wanted to try to avoid it the bad way.  He thought he could play the game by his own rules but got caught when those rules were at odds with everyone else’s.  For now that’s all we know, and we’ll just have to wait and see what else happens.  Thanks for good memories, good times, and good laughs, Manny.  We’ll remember you as you were.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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A word on this whole Johnny Damon episode.  We claimed Damon off waivers on Monday, and he had until yesterday to make a decision.  He ultimately vetoed.  Let’s parse.

There is some speculation about why we made that claim in the first place.  Some said it was to keep him from the Rays or Yankees because a player can’t move in a free trade unless he clears waivers.  That may be an added bonus to the outcome of the whole situation, but I doubt that was the real reason behind it, because that would’ve been a pretty substantial gamble that banked on him refusing.  Then, we would’ve been stuck with someone we didn’t really want if he said yes.  So I think the real reason the team claimed him was to obtain some sort of spark that would get us going.

A quote from Jason Varitek substantiates this view:

It would be a nice opportunity, but we’ll let him do what he needs to do.  Johnny, aside from being a great player, he makes athletic adjustments offensively.  He plays hurt, he doesn’t always play at 100 percent.  So much of it is how he plays the game.  He plays the game right.  It pushes the energy.  He’s definitely an exciting player.

Some have interpreted this as a very targeted dig at Ellsbury’s long recovery.  I would again like to remind those people that we’re not talking about a broken thumb here.  We’re talking about ribs.  I’ve never had broken ribs, and I intend to keep it that way, but if any of you would like to experiment with whether it’s possible to play baseball with that kind of injury not completely healed, go ahead and be my guest.  I will admit that the absence of Ellsbury’s skills may produce some tension or anxiety in the clubhouse, but I’m not entirely sure that that has solely to do with a judgment on the appropriateness of the timing of his recovery.  We have no way of knowing for sure what went on.

Anyway, the point is that this quote clearly shows that what the front office as well as the team itself saw in this guy was a spark.

Damon had a no-trade clause with the Tigers, but only for eight teams, one of which was us, the reason being his apparently sub-par interactions with the front office during free agent negotiations after the 2005 season that ultimately resulted in him walking all the way to New York.

Now, when he was faced with the decision of whether to veto the clause or whether to veto the trade, he described his predicament this way:

I have to think about if once again I’ll be probably one of the nicest guys in baseball, but also the most hated guy in baseball.  That’s what it boils down to.

This tells me that it always has been and will be about him.  Not about us.  It was about what the team could do for him and his reputation, which he has thus acknowledged as damaged by his signing with New York.  I know the trend in baseball lately is to be cynical, but you and I both know that there have been plenty of guys who’ve come through here with a different attitude.  We pick them up during the season, and they say that they’re happy to play for Boston, that they’re psyched about offering their skills to the team, that they can’t wait to get in the batter’s box and on the field and show what they can do to help this storied franchise win.  I mean, this is a team for which players play for knowingly less money (Mike Lowell) and with which players sign for a day just so they can retire as a member of this particular team (Nomar).  So it’s not all as cynical as many people think.  But Damon represents a stark contrast to all of that.  The free agency negotiations weren’t to his liking so he walked to the Evil Empire.  If he can stand up there in good conscience and tell the world that they shouldn’t harp on him because baseball is a business and he has a right to go wherever he wants, then there is no way on this planet that he can also stand up there and berate the front office for not making enough of an effort to ensure his return, for the exact same reasons.  A player has a right to sign wherever he wants; a team has a right to sign whomever it wants.  And through an assessment of the team’s needs, the team decided that Damon wasn’t the answer for the amounts of money and years he was seeking.  This kind of thing happens all the time in baseball, but it looks like Damon took it personally.  So did Nomar.  But Nomar grew up and figured it out.

So the only way that Damon would’ve returned to Boston is if he thought it would make him a nice guy in baseball again.  There have been those who claim that Damon, if he had the exact same injury as Ellsbury, would have played more games through more pain.  His attitude during this whole proceeding suggests the exact opposite.  Damon would have approved a trade to come to Boston because that trade alone would’ve benefitted him exclusively on an individual level.  The amount of games and with what amount of hustle and heart he played them would have been completely irrelevant for the achievement of his ends.  All he would have needed is the trade by itself.   That would have made him the nice guy.  Not his performance once here.

Damon mentioned the importance of teammates.  He insisted that if his teammates want him to stay, he would most likely stay.  This is true now in Detroit, but it wasn’t true in Boston when he became a free agent.  Sure, his teammates wanted him to stay.  We know that from the disappointment expressed by Tek and Papi in the wake of Damon’s refusal of the trade.  But again, his issue with the front office made him want to walk.  That’s fine.  It happens with many baseball players.  All I’m saying is that, when it suits him, he puts all his stock in his teammates.  And when it suits him, he puts all his stock in his objection to the quality of interaction with the front office.

Damon also mentioned the importance of fans.  He said he loves playing for Detroit’s fans.  Just like he loved playing for us when he was here.  He said his broken relationship with us has scarred him, and approving the trade would eliminate that, especially if he took us into October.  So here we have him assuming that the addition of him and him alone would be the ultimate solution to the team’s woes and would instantly turn us around and get us to the playoffs.  But more significantly, the fact that he is not considering the fans is clear.  He wants the removal of his own scar, but he doesn’t really care about ours.  He has consistently been unapologetic about his decision to sign with New York.  But when David Wells signed with us, he blatantly acknowledged the weight of his decision in terms of the rivalry.  Baseball is not a perfect world because it’s a business, which we have already established.  But it’s not a perfect business either.  There are things you do and things you don’t do.  You don’t do what Damon did.  But if you do what Damon did, the least you should do is acknowledge the reality of the situation and its ramifications.  Damon played for us.  He was instrumental in our 2004 ALCS victory over the Yankees.  He was there before and after the curse was broken.  Our loyalty as fans suited him fine when he wasn’t on the other end of it.  As a result, he has no right to expect from us as fans to continue our relationship with him as if nothing has happened, and his resistance to acknowledging this fact is yet another reflection of his self-absorption.  I should also point out that another guy who played for us, who was instrumental in our 2004 road to glory, and who was there before and after the curse was broken was Schilling.  Schilling based his decision to sign with us partly on his interaction with us fans on Sons of Sam Horn.  In Boston, the fans matter.  A lot.

Furthermore, after Damon refused, Papelbon said that he was confident that Damon would do what’s right for him and his family.  Excuse me, but I don’t recall any mention of family in Damon’s consideration.  I recall it in Billy Wagner’s consideration, for example, and even in Mark Teixeira’s consideration, but I don’t recall hearing anything about anyone aside from himself over the past several days.  Papelbon was absolutely right in assuming that family should be a part of the consideration, but unless Damon for some reason kept it completely under wraps, we have no indication that that consideration took place.

So what we can gather from all of this is that Johnny Damon is professionally selfish, arrogant, and opportunistic.  He goes with what works for him, takes things personally, and doesn’t look out for anyone except himself.  He’s a changed man.  And you know what? I’m not sure I would have wanted someone like that on our team.  I don’t know if I would have wanted to win that way.  Boston, both the players and the fans, have a certain integrity.  We have certain expectations, and we relate most to certain attitudes.  Damon really must have been scarred because he doesn’t have those things anymore.  These circumstances have exposed him in a way different than that in which we knew him.  So I hope he’s very happy in Detroit.  I hope he plays his heart out for the Detroit fans and for his Detroit teammates.  In the end, we’ll be alright.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Finally! The day we’ve all been waiting for! Ladies and gentlemen, Opening Day has finally arrived.  It’s been one long, hard winter, but winter is over, my friends.  Spring Training is done.  It goes down tonight at 8:00PM.  Get ready to welcome the 2010 Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park! Oh, and we’re playing the Yankees.  Basically, this is the greatest baseball day ever in the past half-year or so.

There’s only one minor snag: technically it’s Opening Night, not Opening Day.  I’m not calling it Opening Night.  When ESPN wants its ratings, ESPN gets its ratings.  Who cares about the fact that this is only the most important day in the daily lives of Red Sox Nation and an entire region of the United States, right? Ugh.  ESPN.  That’s all I’m saying.  And the worst part is that we can’t even make a statement by engaging in the TV boycott that so many are suggesting because, let’s face it, we’ve been baseball-starved for way too long and absolutely will not and can not miss Opening Day in Boston against the Yankees.  And don’t think ESPN doesn’t know that.  You just can’t win with them.  It’s infuriating.

Speaking of ESPN, they hired Curt Schilling to do analysis on Baseball Tonight.  Because apparently all former Sox stars must be employed immediately to do analysis on Baseball Tonight.  Hey, at least they have good taste in teams.

The lineup: Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Papi, Beltre, Drew, Cameron, Scutaro.  Boom.  Done.  And I have to say, I like it.  If Ellsbury can get going in the lead-off spot, we’re golden.  Can’t go wrong with the one-two-three punch of Pedroia, V-Mart, and Youk.  If Papi has a solid year, the first half of this lineup will be impenetrable.  I really like Beltre separating Papi and Drew; that way, the opposition can’t just throw a lefty in there.  Cameron in eighth; no surprise there.  And I like Scutaro in ninth because he’ll give some punch to the bottom half of the order.  When you have a decent hitter batting last, you lengthen your innings because there’s no guaranteed out at the bottom, and you force a turnover.

The roster is done.  Outfielders: Drew, Cameron, and Ellsbury, with Hermida as the spare man.  Infielders: Youk, Pedroia, Beltre, Scutaro, and Lowell, with Hall as the spare man.  Catchers are V-Mart and Tek, obviously.  We know the rotation is Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Wake, and Buchholz.  Beckett’s got the speed, Lester is the model southpaw, Lackey throws the first-pitch strike, Wake has the knuckleball, and Buchholz throws off-speeds like nobody’s business.  (Provided he’s on.)

The bullpen includes Ramon Ramirez, Paps, Bard, Okajima, and Delcarmen, with Schoeneweis and Atchison earning the final two spots.  Hey, if they earn them, they earn them.  And it hasn’t been easy.  Schoeneweis’s wife died last year, and Atchison returned from Japan to get better medical care for his daughter.  Good luck to both of them, and we salute you.

This was the last week of Spring Training, the last week of tune-ups, so any last-minute kinks had to have been worked out by today.  None of our arms disappointed.  Everyone looks primed and ready for actions, if you ask me.  I can’t wait to unleash this rotation on the rest of the league.  We’re talking epic domination this season.

Lester finished up on Wednesday.  One run on three hits in seven innings say he’s good to go.  V-Mart went hard twice, Frandsen (who knew?) blasted a grand slam, and Pedroia went three for five.

Lackey had his final tune-up on Thursday; one run on six hits over five.  That’s kind of a high hit total for Lackey, but one run makes it hard to argue.  Delcarmen struggled; Schoeneweis pitched a scoreless inning.  Scutaro, Tek, and Lowell all had a good day; it was the first time Lowell played in back-to-back games this spring, and he was actually pretty decent.

On Friday, Buchholz allayed concerns with a solid set of six innings; one run on two hits, and that was it.  Paps’s ninth was scoreless; Bard sent down his two batters in quick succession.  Tek smacked a three-run double; Ortiz smacked a double of his own.  Reddick’s Grapefruit League average is now .404.  Really, it’s a shame he’s back in the minors.  That kid’s got Major Leagues written all over him.

Wake pitched himself four shutout frames yesterday.  The only trouble he had was back-to-back singles with one out.  If that’s the only kind of trouble he has all season, I think we’re good.  He finishes Spring Training with a 3.04 ERA.  Surgery? What surgery? Dice-K relieved him for four solid frames.  That’s what I call encouraging.  I would’ve preferred that Dice-K not have walked three batters, but this is no time to be picky.  Youk and Drew went yard.

Hermida’s back in action as of Friday.  Ellsbury rested his throwing shoulder this past week, so I expect some serious firing from left.  Youk fouled a ball off his knee on Wednesday, but he’s fine.  Ortiz was scratched on Thursday with a stiff neck but came back on Friday.  Junichi Tazawa is out for the season; he needs Tommy John surgery.  We’re getting close to a contract extension with Beckett that would keep him here through 2014 for $68 million.

Basically, what it comes down to is the fact that we’re going to win tonight.  At least, we all hope so, and you know how it is in Boston.  You gotta believe.  But seriously, objectively speaking, I think we’re better.  Just take it position by position.  Our rotation is very obviously better.  Our bullpen is clearly better.  Our outfield is clearly better.  Most of our infield is better.  Our catchers are better.  We’re just better.  The great part is that that has nothing to do with keeping the faith; that’s just a verifiable fact.  Which will be proven tonight.  Let’s get this season started right.

Two wins and two losses this week for the Bruins.  We’re seventh in the conference, two behind the Habs and two above the Flyers.  It’s better than being seeded last, but let’s overtake the Habs if we can.

Brian Sullivan

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Finally, it starts to get interesting.

Pitching is Theo’s top priority at the Winter Meetings.  It looks like we’re shifting our focus from Roy Halladay to John Lackey.  That’s very good news.  I don’t want to give up both Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly for a pitcher who is, in all likelihood, past his prime.  Yes, it’s possible he could be another Randy Johnson, who won four straight Cy Youngs after turning thirty-five, or Curt Schilling, who was a Cy Young runner-up three times after turning thirty-three.  But it’s also possible that he just won’t deliver or that he’ll become a medical liability or, worse yet, the dreaded combination of both.  (See Randy Johnson in pinstripes.  Talk about disasters.) And if you compare the two, Roy Halladay doesn’t even enjoy a complete edge in the numbers.  In his career, he started and won more games, struck out more batters, and had a lower ERA, OPP AVG, and WHIP.  But Lackey’s gone the distance more often (which translates to durability, one of Lackey’s strongest assets) and has allowed fewer earned runs, home runs, bases on balls, and hit batters.  And we land Lackey this offseason, it would be through a signing, not a trade, so we wouldn’t have to mortgage our future.  Besides, we theoretically have some money left over from our decision to not pick up Alex Gonzalez’s option.

Supposedly, we’re also seriously pursuing Rich Harden.  I like that less.  He’s got a 3.39 career ERA with 783 strikeouts and a record of fifty and twenty-nine, but he’s never thrown two hundred innings in a season and has only made more than twenty-six starts once.  Durability? Not so much.  But he’d be a good bargain option, arguably a better one than Smoltz or Penny, because he’s pitched in the American League.

Speaking of pitching, the Braves cleaned out two of our peripheral relievers.  Wagner signed a one-year deal worth seven million dollars to close for them.  I would’ve liked to see him come back to Boston, but he did give us fair warning that he wanted to close, and we don’t exactly have a vacancy in that position.  One day later, the Braves signed Saito also, to a one year deal worth just over three million plus incentives.  I’m not too torn up about it.

Say hello to the latest shortstop to don a Boston uniform: Marco Scutaro.  If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.  He’s wearing Number 16; the last Boston shortstop to wear Number 16 was Edgar Renteria, so here’s hoping this time around will work out a little bit better.  Let’s not kid ourselves: he’s a veteran.  He’s a career .265 hitter with fifty home runs, 294 RBIs, and 297 walks to his credit.  But he’s thirty-four years old.  There’s a reason why the deal was only for two years.  It’s worth eleven million dollars plus a dual option.  Things that made this possible: the draft pick we’re getting from the Braves that will offset the one we have to give to the Jays, another undisclosed team pushing hard for Scutaro that forced the issue, and Scurato has reached that point in his career when he really wants a ring.  (Ironically, Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with the Jays earlier, worth close to three million plus an option.) Either way, we now have a shortstop who is not Dustin Pedroia.

That needs to be cleared up once and for all.  Dustin Pedroia said he would be willing to play shortstop if the team needed him to.  But the team wasn’t about to let that happen.  Trust me.  You don’t move a Gold Glove second baseman to short because you don’t want to spend some money.  You don’t do that for a number of reasons.  Not the least of which is the fact that it doesn’t solve anything.  Fine; you move your second baseman to short.  Now you need a second baseman.  Sure, the market for second basemen is more fluid than that for shortstops, but not when you’re talking about second basemen as good as Dustin Pedroia.  Also, the caliber of Pedroia’s defense at short would be comparable to, if not worse than, any career shortstop on the market, with the obvious exception of Julio Lugo.  Thirdly, shortstop is no defensive walk in the park.  It’s the most difficult infield position.  And that means it carries a higher probability of injury, especially for someone who’s not used to it.  So we would have lost valuable playing time from him, both in the field and at the plate, had he made the switch.  Would he have been capable of doing so? Absolutely.  If anyone could, Dustin Pedroia could.  If there’s one ballplayer who embodies the don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-‘cause-I’ll-show-you-I-can attitude, it’s him.  Not to mention the fact that in 2003 he was the NCAA National Defensive Player of the Year at short.  And he’s actually in a better position to play shortstop at the Major League level now than he was when he first came up, due to his offseason workouts and in-season conditioning that have made him lighter and faster.  But even though he’d use his baseball acumen to compensate, his range would leave much to be desired.  And sometimes, in pressure situations in that part of the field, the range of the shortstop is what it comes down to.  It would have put considerable pressure on Mike Lowell to improve his range as compensation, that’s for sure.  So while I’m not doubting Pedroia’s ability to make the switch, I don’t think it would be a good for him or the team in the long run.  The team wasn’t actually serious about that possibility anyway.  Ultimately, Theo never would have allowed it.  Thankfully, it’s a moot point now either way.

But that would explain our earlier interest in Placido Polanco.  After the Tigers declined to offer him arbitration, we made a call or two.  But like I said, we don’t need a second baseman, and even if we did, he was all but off-limits.  The Phillies have since closed the deal.  So much for Chone Figgins, who ended up signing a four-year deal with Seattle.

Last but not least, we extended arbitration to Bay earlier this week.  (We declined offers to Baldelli and Byrd.) That means that, even if he signs with someone else, we get compensatory draft picks.  So the saga continues.

Congratulations to Joe Castiglione, Dave O’Brien, and Jerry Remy for landing on the ballot for the Hall of Fame’s Frick Award, honoring the baseball’s best announcers.  They definitely deserve it.

We beat the Lightning and the Leafs.  Not so much the Habs.  We lost, 1-5, to Montreal.  Ugh.  That was just an awful game to watch.  Even with that loss, though, we’re in first place in the Northeast! Finally! One point ahead of the Sabres, but I’ll take it.  But the most significant B’s news this week has nothing to do with wins and losses.  Marc Savard signed a seven-year extension.  Ladies and gentlemen, that could very well be the highlight of the regular season.  It’s going to have a hugely positive impact it’s going to have on our future.  There is arguably no other center in the league who is as multi-faceted and deeply talented as Marc Savard.  Things aren’t as cheerful on the football front.  Talk about awful games to watch.  The Saints defeated us, 38-17.  Yeah.  Awful.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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How many times this year have we seen one inning, just one inning, ruin an entire night.  How many times.  My guess would be way too many.  But what can you do? Especially if it’s your starter and it’s early in the game? You can’t exactly take him out in the middle of the first; that would be a complete and total disaster.  You have to back him, for better or for worse.  So even though he allowed five runs in the first inning, we were sticking with Paul Byrd.

Turns out those were the only runs he would allow all night.  The rest of his outing was spectacular.  Six and two-thirds innings’ worth of work produced five runs on nine hits with four walks and no strikeouts, but believe me, that’s spectacular for Paul Byrd.  Delcarmen pitched the last out of the seventh, and it took him just two pitches to retire the batter.  Bowden had himself a good eighth inning.

Five runs isn’t terrible.  It seems like a lot when someone scores that many runs early in the game in a single inning, but really five runs isn’t that bad.  If we scored about half the runs last night that we did in either of our last two games with Baltimore, we would’ve at least tied it up.  But no.  We scored one run when V-Mart grounded out to first to plate Ellsbury in the eighth.  That was it.  Thank you, Zack Greinke.  Notice the sarcasm.

Pedroia doubled and stole, and Ellsbury stole.  And V-Mart did have a hit, extending his very quiet hitting streak to twenty-one games, during which he’s just been on fire.  He’s currently batting .299.  That’s it for highlights from last night.

Curt Schilling has officially decided not to run for senate.  To be honest, I didn’t think he would.

So what does it all mean.  Well, first of all, it means that we’re six games behind the Yankees, who just became the first team to clinch a playoff spot.  And that means that winning the division will be that much more difficult.  Not, as the New York Daily News says, impossible, but just more difficult.  Think about it.  Aside from our series in the Bronx, we have eight games left to play.  There is no way the Yankees are winning all eight, and there is no way we’re losing all eight.  And there is no way the Yankees will not lose at least once when we win.  But even if we don’t end up winning the division, we’re still in great shape.  Teams that sit back, relax, and count the days until October don’t perform nearly as well as the teams that actually have something to continue to play for.  Last night also means that Tito is going to have to ramp up his usual managerial genius to configure our starting rotation for the playoffs.  It’ll probably be Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Dice-K, though not necessarily in that order.  Last night means that we reduce our magic number! We are now that much closer to officially clinch what was unofficially clinched for a very long time: a playoff spot.  It doesn’t matter whether you win the Wild Card or the division.  As long as you get to October, the second season, you’re gold.  And finally, last night obviously means that we need to step it up against Zack Greinke.  But we can table that issue until next season.  Zack Greinke will be watching us from the comfort of his television, so we have plenty of time to think about how to light him up.

AP Photo

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