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Wow.

I repeat: wow.

My first claim of the day: Victor Martinez should never catch Daisuke Matsuzaka ever again.  Make like Matsuzaka is Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek is Doug Mirabelli, and put Jason Varitek in there every fifth day.  I think that at this point we have more than established the fact that the disparity between Dice-K’s performances with V-Mart behind the dish and with Tek behind the dish is occurring for a reason.  Dice-K’s performances with Tek behind the dish are vastly superior, and when I say vastly I mean vastly.  So that’s the end of it.  That’s your answer right there.

As for the game itself last night, one more time: wow.  That’s the only word I’ve got to describe what I saw last night.  That entire game was absolutely incredible.  I’m not even sure I actually believe what I saw with my own eyes.  That was the best I’ve seen Dice-K pitch, ever.  Really, I was speechless.

To put it simply, Dice-K had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning.  You know you thought he had it in the bag when he somehow grabbed Werth’s would-be line drive in the seventh.  Tek even said that that was the hardest-hit ball caught by a pitcher he’d ever seen, ever.  I’m not really sure how he was able to snare that.  That was pure intuition right there; he just put his glove it in exactly the right position and the ball found it.  You know you thought there was no way it wasn’t going down when Beltre dove to catch Ruiz’s would-be line drive and fired to first in time for the out and the double-up of Ibanez in the eighth.  Because you know that most no-hitters are accompanied by at least one amazing play in the field.

And you saw Lester and Buchholz sitting there and knowing exactly what was going on inside Dice-K”s head.  You saw them sitting with Lackey and Beckett and thinking about what they were thinking when they were that deep into this same thing.

Dice-K was four outs away.  Only for outs away from the mobbing by the teammates; the mad cheering by Red Sox Nation, Philadelphia Chapter; the turning of a corner; and the making of history.  Only for outs away.

But Juan Castro ruined everything and dashed all hopes and convictions when he blooped a single over the reaching glove of Marco Scutaro with only one out left in the eighth inning.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this.  I am convinced that Scutaro could’ve caught that.  Technically, by the rules of baseball, that can’t be considered an error, but I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that it counts for the biggest unofficial error of his career.  He had that.  He just needed to time his leap better.  And we know that’s possible because several starters on our roster do it all the time like it’s a walk in the park (pun intended).  He needed to be maybe a foot more to the right and leap a few seconds later.  So, in short, yes, Marco Scutaro wrecked Dice-K’s no-hitter.

It was crushing.  It was absolutely crushing.  Dice-K has had his fair share of struggles, and with the entire country of Japan watching, it would’ve been magical to see him accomplish that feat.  It also would’ve been a great morale booster for the entire team; we’ve seen what no-hitters can do.  They put life in a team that’s just witnessed, like I said, the magic and the history of it all.  Of all the pitchers in Major League Baseball, he needed that no-hitter.  Of all the teams in Major League Baseball, we needed that no-hitter.

Sadly, and that’s the understatement of the century, it was not to be.  Crushing.

But all you can do is move on.  And that’s exactly what Dice-K did, and what impressed me immensely.  We know from personal experience that, after a pitcher gives up a no-no bid, they have the tendency to unravel completely; that’s when the opposing offense attacks and that’s when you might lose everything.  Dice-K ensured that that didn’t happen as simply and easily as getting Gload to fly out to right field.  But that says a lot about his composure on the mound.  If Dice-K can turn it around permanently, he’d have the potential to be an ideal pitcher for the postseason, where every pitch counts and you can’t afford to get skittish after one mistake.

It was kind of strange as no-no bids go because it was low on strikeouts and comparatively high on pitches.  He struck out only five, two looking, with a very even strike zone and threw 112 pitches, which again was more than Lester needed to get through an entire game.  But even during his best starts during stretches of brilliance, he’d pull this Houdini act and use this uncanny ability of his to remain perfectly calm with runners on base and get himself out of all kinds of jams that he’d personally cause.  Yet another fine quality of a postseason pitcher.  So historically we know that he’s not exactly the epitome of efficiency, but we also know from his career in Japan that throwing large amounts of pitches doesn’t scare him.  He doesn’t mind it.  And if it works, it works.

His mix of pitches was exquisite.  He threw mostly four-seams, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour.  He threw his two-seam at ninety-five.  He located his slider and curveball perfectly and mixed in some cutters and changeups at exactly the right moments.  His fastball, slider, and changeup were the best I’d ever seen them.  All of them had movement, and all of them had life.  A no-hitter is all about being crafty and keeping the lineup guessing.  That’s hard to do the third or fourth time around, but he did it, and it’s no small feat, especially against, as I said, an opponent like Philly.

He needed a game low of eight pitches to clear an inning, and used as few twice, in the sixth and seventh.  He needed nineteen pitches to clear the eighth.  There’s been a general trend in his starts of improving as the game goes on.  And yet another reason why he’d pitch well in the postseason.  The whole outing was just a huge begging of the question of, “What if?”

Bard cleaned up the ninth.  Together they one-hit the Phillies through nine.

The final score was 5-0.  Papi scored on Hermida’s sac fly in the fourth, hustling hard to beat the tag by Ruiz at the plate.  Scutaro opened the fifth with a double, and Dice-K bunted him to third.  Ellsbury walked.  Drew singled in Scutaro, Papi doubled in Ellsbury, and Beltre doubled in Drew and Papi.  Drew and Beltre both went two for four.  Ellsbury started in center, which was a sight for sore eyes, and Papi started at first.

Ultimately, we just have to focus on the win.  We set out to win, and we won.  We won our way, with run prevention.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.  But a win is most definitely better than nothing; we need all the wins we can get.  On the other hand, we also need all the magic we can get.  But there are yet many games to be played.  Starting this afternoon with Wake taking on Halladay.

AP Photo

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Okay.  That didn’t exactly go as planned, and that’s putting it lightly.  We knew it had to happen sometime, but it would’ve been fine by me if it didn’t happen for an incredibly long time.  The New York Yankees won the 2009 World Series.  Wow, that was excruciatingly painful to say.  So basically the Angels wounded us and the Yankees finished us off.  Of all the bad things that could possibly have happened to Red Sox Nation this year, it had to be New York coming out on top at the end of the decade.  Suffice it to say that the region of New England and the city of Philadelphia are brothers in grief, but as I said, the region of New England isn’t very happy.  To be fair, the Phillies gave it their all and put up a good fight, forcing a Game Six and whatnot.  But to be completely honest with you, I’m still furious and bitter about the whole thing.  Words can not describe the anger and frustration I experienced.  I’m sure you can relate.  And don’t even get me started on what it felt like to see pictures of the victory parade.  Viscerally painful.

What does this mean for Red Sox Nation? Does it mean we’re back where we started? No.  Absolutely not.  The curse is long gone.  (Speaking of curses, so much for that valiant attempt to hex the new Yankee Stadium with that Ortiz jersey.) So we don’t have to worry about that anymore.  So what does it mean? Well, quite frankly, it means we’ll have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  It doesn’t mean we have something to prove because 2004 and 2007 have already taken care of that.  In its simplest terms, it literally means we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Alex Speier of WEEI ranked the World Series winners of the decade.  He put the 2004 Red Sox at third, the 2007 Red Sox at second, and the 2009 Yankees first.  This is something I’m having a very hard time believing.  The Yankees didn’t win the World Series.  They bought it.  Just like they bought their previous twenty-six World Series wins.  The Phillies were beaten, more than anything else, by the Yankees organization’s abnormally huge wallet.  Their 2009 payroll was $209 million.  That’s a full fifty percent more than the Red Sox, Tigers, and Mets, who were all more or less tied for second this past season.  (So to all the Yankee fans out there who favor the you’re-one-to-talk line, don’t even try it.)

To that end, in response to “Remember Who You Are,” Jeremy pointed out:

CC Sabathia made $3906 per pitch this season.  AJ Burnett made $4391 per pitch.  Mariano Rivera made $12,500 per pitch. I think I’m going to be sick.

Believe me, we share that sentiment.  Those figures are absolutely grotesque.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so disgustingly exorbitant in my baseball life.  This is what ruins the sport.  This is what alienates and disillusions.  It’s just sad and pathetic that New York has to go out and poach their talent in fiscally irresponsible ways.  Signing a pitcher for seven years for that amount of money is completely irresponsible.  The dude could snap his arm tomorrow and never be the same again.  Why would anyone ever sink that much capital into a less-than-stable investment? Similarly, why do you sign a pitcher for five years who’s known to make multiple trips to the DL? I don’t understand what they were thinking.  Burnett is a huge medical liability, not to mention the fact that his consistency isn’t worth his currently salary at all.  One of the reasons they locked Burnett was probably to keep him away from us, and that should never be the basis of any decision, but that’s just what they do.  As far as Mariano is concerned, he is especially not worth it.  For a team so worried about their archrival (remember when they acquired Mike Meyers for the explicit and sole purpose of pitching to David Ortiz?), they’re placing a premium on a closer whose only Achilles’ heel is that same team.  And to pay him that much at his age when other closers just as good and younger are making less should signal the lack of sensibility in their approach to the market.  That organization just does not make sense.  At all.  It’s stupefying.  Every time I read something about Brian Cashman and any Steinbrenner, I feel my powers of common sense drain out.

By the way, Bronx leaders are considering naming the soon-to-be-constructed the East 153rd Street bridge after Derek Jeter.  I’m sorry, but that’s just ridiculous.  We have the Ted Williams Tunnel because Ted William was the greatest hitter who ever lived, a soldier in combat for the United States in two major wars during the prime of his baseball career, and an avid supporter of the Jimmy Fund.  He was a local, regional, and national hero.  Derek Jeter is a shortstop.  There is a huge difference.

Now that the Yankees have, you know, won and all, I think we need to move forward constructively.  An instrumental part of that will be making peace with Jonathan Papelbon.  He may have disappointed us, and he may have humiliated us, and he may have been as porous in his pitching as a slice of Swiss cheese, but at the end of the day he’s still our closer.  And let’s face it: there’s nothing more dangerous than a closer with something to prove.  And I’d say that’s doubly true in Papelbon’s case.  Putting his last appearance aside, he’s a beast.  He’s one of the biggest competitors on the team.  Essentially, he was born to close.  He’s got the power, he’s got the movement, and he’s got the crazy attitude to get the job done.  In the past, when Papelbon got hungry, he went out and he sealed the deal.  And I fully expect him to be back to form this coming season.

Speaking of big competitors, here’s a story that’s been downplayed in light of other impending free agency filings: this coming season is a contract year for Beckett.  After that, he’ll be eligible to become a free agent for the first time in his career.  But if I were you, I wouldn’t expect him to walk away.  Free agency for this year has already begun; notable filings include John Lackey, Matt Holliday, and (you guessed it) Jason Bay.  Other filings included Carlos Delgado, Marlon Byrd, and Adrian Beltre.

Make no mistake: the stove is about to get hot for Theo Epstein.  In fact, he’s already started his move-making.  We acquired right fielder Jeremy Hermida from the Marlins for southpaws Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez.  This could obviously have implications for Rocco Baldelli’s future with us.

We still need a bench coach.  Tito wants to replace from within.  I know technically you’re supposed to take a few years off to transition from player to coach, but Jason Varitek wouldn’t be a bad idea.

So that’s where we’re at.  We have double the pain to conquer now: the experience of an extremely brief October and the surge of the Evil Empire.  Obviously, we’ll get through it.  We always do.  I’m just saying I wish I didn’t have to have this to get through.  It would’ve been so infinitely better if we won the World Series.  And that’s exactly what 2010 is for.

The Bruins aren’t exactly helping our cause.  We were shut out by the Rangers and Devils earlier this week, and being shut out twice in a row isn’t easy.  So that’s bad.  To make matters worse, we lost to the Habs in overtime.  But we ended the week on a high note when we defeated the division-leading Sabres, 4-2.  The problem is that we don’t have a goal-scorer because he’s off playing for the Leafs now.   That’s a problem.  Someone’s going to have to step up and start putting pucks in nets if we’re going to get anywhere this year.

 

Center Field

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We now have more to deal with this offseason than we bargained for.  We all expected Theo to have his hands full with fixing this team, which obviously has holes in it.  That’s hard enough.  But in addition to that the front office and coaching staff just took two huge hits.

Brad Mills is now the manager of the Houston Astros.  Congratulations and good wishes for success, though not at our expense.  To be honest, Mills achieving success at our expense isn’t likely.  Mills will have his hands full down there, because the Astros haven’t exactly been World Series material year in and year out.  But I will say that after spending time in the dugout with Tito, Mills will have learned from the best.  Still, I don’t expect the Astros to suddenly become some sort of threat.  Of course, now we have to find a new bench coach, one who’s as good or better than Mills.

It’s finally official: Jed Hoyer is now the general manager of the San Diego Padres.  Congratulations and good wishes for success, though not at our expense.  That leaves Ben Cherington as our sole assistant GM, but I think he can handle it.  More importantly, this has profoundly positive implications for a possible Adrian Gonzalez trade.

Speaking of player additions, I wouldn’t be too surprised if our front office attempts to do business with Ben Sheets.  As Theo said, it would be a low-price, low-risk move that could pay off big dividends down the road.  And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.  No harm done.  Besides, it’s not like Sheets can afford to be as proud as he used to be.  After all the injuries he’s had, he’d be lucky to be in uniform for a contender next year.

Dean Jones, Jr. of the Baltimore Sun says that John Henry is the best owner in Major League Baseball.  Can’t say I disagree.  Pedro Martinez and his ego took advantage of a second visit to the World Series stage when he revisited the Don Zimmer incident.  He agreed with Zimmer that it was Zimmer’s fault.  Also can’t say I disagree.  Speaking of the World Series, the Yanks lead it two to one.  Let me just say that the region of New England will not be very happy with the city of Philadelphia if the Phillies fail to decimate.

And that’s a perfect segue into some extremely disturbing developments.  On Wednesday, Red Sox Nation and I visited the Boston Globe to read Tony Massarotti’s column, just like we always do.  But we were in for a profoundly rude surprise.  Mazz urged Red Sox Nation to root for the Yankees in the World Series because apparently a Yankees win would reinstate New England’s competitive fire.  I literally had to do a double-take.  Tony Massarotti, one of New England’s most trusted sports writers, was recommending the ultimate crime.  The ultimate blasphemy.  The ultimate act of treachery and betrayal.  First of all, let me take this opportunity to affirm in writing that I will not, nor have I ever, nor will I ever, root for the New York Yankees.  It is impossible for me to do so.  I am a Red Sox fan.  I loathe the New York Yankees with every fiber of my being and will in no way and at no time even consider the possibility of remotely supporting their organization.  And I think I can safely say that Red Sox Nation wholeheartedly agrees with me on this one.  You should have seen the comments on this column.  There were hundreds of them.  I assure you that you would be hard-pressed to find one that agrees with him.  Secondly, I was not aware of the fact that we lacked competitive fire.  We’re Red Sox Nation.  We’re the greatest fans in all of baseball.  You don’t get much more competitive fire than that.  So Mazz insults us, he insults our history, and he insults our loyalty.  I’m not sure Red Sox Nation and I will be able to read his columns in quite the same way again.

Furthermore, an article appeared yesterday in the New York Times by lifelong Red Sox fan Joe Nocera.  Same story.  He urged Red Sox Nation to root for the Yankees because they’re the underdogs.  Let me say something right now.  The New York Yankees are never underdogs.  How can a team be an underdog if they attempt to buy a championship every single year? What, they don’t win a World Series in eight years and all of a sudden they’re the victims of the rest of the league? There is a huge difference between a drought of eight years and a drought of eighty-six years.  And this article offends me personally because the author is a Red Sox fan behind enemy lines.  The New York chapter of Red Sox Nation has more fight than any other, and now he’s suddenly okay with the Yankees winning a twenty-seventh title? This is incredibly insulting.  Remember where you come from.  Remember the Royal Rooters.  Remember those eighty-six years.  And never forget 2004.

Nico Savidge of the Daily Cardinal wrote an article with the headline, “Yankees represent everything wrong with baseball.” I couldn’t agree more.  I suggest that both Mazz and Nocera read this as a reality check.  Let’s not forget that the Yankees are the Evil Empire, a business crushing opponents with its oversized wallet.  And don’t even get me started on the steroids, the ticket prices, and the broadcasters.  Seriously.

And that brings us to Tuesday.  On Tuesday of this past week, we celebrated the five-year anniversary of the 2004 World Series victory of the Boston Red Sox.  That was the greatest day in the history of the franchise.  It vindicated a Nation and set an entire region of the United States of America free.  I can’t even begin to describe the elation of that victory.  There’s only one way to sum it up:

“Back to Foulke! Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: the Boston Red Sox are world champions!”

Red Sox fans around the world were glued to their television sets on the night of October 27, 2004.  Generations of diehards achieved peace with that final out.  No victory meant more to a fan base than this victory meant to us.  And that’s why, even though this October didn’t turn out as we’d planned, five years later we’re still on top of the world.

The Patriots defeated the Buccaneers, 35-7.  We get a bye this week.  The Bruins lost to the Devils and shut out the Oilers yesterday.  With Lucic and Savard both on the injured reserve, I’m just glad we’re still putting W’s on the board.

The Onion

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