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Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Clemente’

Even this late in the game (pun intended), we’ve got more goodbyes to say.  This time, we’ve got to say goodbye to someone who’s been there for most of everything that’s happened in our most recent baseball memory: Tim Wakefield, who retired on Friday at Spring Training.  Here’s the tribute.

Obviously I’m one of the world’s biggest sabermetrics fans, but even with sabermetrics, it’s hard to determine how a signing will turn out, and of course it was even harder to do so before baseball professionals saw its light.  After what Wake has given us, it’s hard to believe that we picked him up in 1995 after he was released from a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him in 1988 as a first baseman, if you can believe it.  At the time, the signing was a low-risk move, and I doubt that anyone had the foresight to predict what would happen next.

In 1995, his first season with us, he won all but one of his decisions, and thus began one of the best relationships between a pitcher and a team in a long, long time.  He’s played all but two of his Major League seasons with us; his career spans nineteen years old, and he retires at the age of forty-five.  It’s hard to come by anyone else who embodies the term “veteran” so completely.  He has started 463 games and pitched in 627.  He has hurled 3,226.2 innings.  Those start and inning totals are the highest of any pitcher in club history.  He finishes his career with a 4.41 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP, and finally, both literally and figuratively as we all know, two hundred wins.  His two hundredth win was the last game he will ever have played: September 13, 2011 at home.  His 186 wins in a Boston uniform leave him seven shy of breaking the club record, currently held by both Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

But that’s what’s special about a guy like Wake.  He, like Mike Lowell, is the utmost of class and professionalism.  Seven wins and breaking the record mattered less to him than bowing out gracefully when his time had come.  To me, that demonstrates a heightened sense of self-awareness and self-security with what he accomplished.  He feels happy about what he’s done and who he has become; for him, baseball was both a game and a career.  And I think the club handled this one wisely.  The front office didn’t offer him a contract but also wouldn’t allow a pitcher of his standing and status to compete for a spot during Spring Training like some untested kid.  More than that, he was as active off the field as he was on the field.  On the field, his skills were always apparent; even on his bad days, you know the next time out he’d have a good day.  His knuckleball was second to none; he was a specialist to the utmost and executed his pitch as surgically as he could possibly have executed it (which doesn’t say much, since most of the mechanics of the knuckleball must be left up to chance, but still, if anyone could execute it surgically, he could).  He was a competitor, a leader, and a rock who always did what was best for the team, including moving to the bullpen when it became clear that the sun had set on his role as a regular starter.  And he took that in stride, and it says something that that was his attitude under five different managers.  His dependability and versatility in terms of his role made him absolutely invaluable throughout even the last moments of his career, and it’s rare to be able to make that statement.  It’s unclear whether anybody else in his position would have been able to do the same.  He was also a rock in the clubhouse who, at all times, exhibited sportsmanship, leadership, and friendship, but he was also a fixture in charity work in the Boston area and made a real difference in the lives of the less fortunate.  Nobody deserved the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award more than he did.

And of course we can’t forget what he gave to this city in October.  One of the lowest points of my entire baseball life was Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS when Wake gave up the you-know-what to you-know-who.  But he bounced all the way back during the following season and, as we know, carried that momentum right through to the finish.  We were losing Game Three of the 2004 ALCS, but if Wake hadn’t sacrificed his start during the following game by volunteering to take the mound in relief in order to preserve the bullpen, who knows what would have happened? We might still be without a championship, for all we know.  And that right there, that nondescript simple act in which there was nothing for Wake himself, exemplified what kind of a teammate and a man he really was.  Then of course those three shutout innings he delivered in Game Five were simply crucial; he won that fourteen-inning epic saga of a contest as a result.  And when we won the World Series three years later, Wake had himself seventeen wins that season and became an All-Star for the first time two years after that.

Throughout his career, it was always apparent that he loved it here, and this was where he was meant to play.  And he knew it and enjoyed every minute of it.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that, even though he had his fair share of doozies, we were behind him every step of the way.  Even when he was losing, you could always tell that he was trying and that he was just as disappointed in himself as we were in him.  He was a real ballplayer in every sense of the world, and he was with us every step of the way.  It was here that he started his success and here that he always wanted to finish it:

I just think the time is now.  I never wanted to pitch for another team.  I always said that I wanted to retire a Red Sox, and today I’m able to do that.

Rare indeed in this day and age of the game is the ballplayer who possesses any sort of special attachment to a particular team that is so deep that he’ll make a statement like this.  So here’s to you, Wake.  We doff our caps to you like you’ve done to us so many times over the years.  Here’s to the elation and grief that your knuckleball has caused, and here’s to what you’ve accomplished over the many years of your venerable career.  Here’s to the fact that you were happiest when you were playing here, in this city, for us.  We’ll never forget what you’ve done for us and for your team.  You’ll most certainly be missed, but the strength of your character shows even in the manner of your retirement.  So here’s to you.  Congratulations!

Wow.  Talk about close calls.  That, my friends, was a close call.  That was a really close call.  Hours before the arbitration hearing was scheduled to take place on Monday, Papi signed a one-year deal worth $14.575 million.  That figure is halfway between what he wanted and what we originally offered, and it’s still a raise up from the $12.5 million he earned last season.  And it’s still the highest salary ever intended for a DH.  It’s a fair deal.  He gets a raise, and we maintain our flexibility.  Plus, anytime you avoid arbitration, it’s automatically a win-win.  We avoided the mudslinging that was sure to come from both sides and, as Ben said, it’s better in the long run to have just resolved it.  The no-arbitration streak continues since 2002.

Beckett and Buchholz have reported; today is officially Pitchers and Catchers.  As is the case with any good, dedicated team that expects itself to vie seriously for a title, by the time Pitchers and Catchers has rolled around, most of the pitchers and catchers are already down there.  For everyone who’s down there, this year’s Spring Training is going to be a bucket of cold water.  Bobby V. is a demanding guy who doesn’t take no for an answer.  His regimens are strict.  He wants to lengthen some games and add others to the schedule.  It could be what the team needs, or it could be badness.  As always with the changes expected of Bobby V., we’ll see.

Crawford is expected to miss the first few weeks of the regular season as his recovery from wrist surgery continues.

In other news, the B’s lost to the Rangers and Jets but squeaked by the Habs in a 4-3 close one.

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I can not believe this.  We just whipped the Jays big time, and yesterday we couldn’t buy a run when we needed it most.  That’s the nature of the game, I guess.  But it’s brutal.

Lackey delivered one of his finer performances of the season.  He opened the sixth by allowing a single, which quickly turned into a man on third after a steal and a throwing error by Tek.  After he got his second batter to fly out, he was pulled in favor of Morales.  Lackey only gave up two runs on seven hits while walking only one and striking out four.  He threw 115 pitches, seventy-nine of which were strikes.  The velocity was up on his fastball, and his slider was especially deadly.  He also threw a decent curveball and a handful or so of changeups into the mix.

Meanwhile, the offense was more or less doing its job.  Lackey gave up his two runs in the first on thirty-one pitches; we tied the game at two in the second.  Two singles plus a fielding error yielded one run, and a groundout yielded the other.

We moved ahead in the third; Ellsbury led it off with a triple and scored on a sac fly by Scutaro.  We picked up some insurance in the sixth when Gonzalez led it off with a dinger into the bullpen on the first pitch he saw, a fastball.  He left the game in the next inning with a tight left calf.

Meanwhile, Morales had finished off a scoreless sixth, and Aceves finished off a scoreless seventh.  And then we had to give the ball to Bard, who is in the process of showing everyone why he may not be ready to close just yet.  I don’t know what’s going on with him.  I don’t know why he’s suddenly ruining ballgames.

It all started with a five-pitch walk.  Bard followed that with a four-pitch walk.  And right then and there I knew that something would go horribly wrong.  Any pitcher who starts an inning with nine pitches, only one of which is a strike, is in for a long night.  And any fastball pitcher who is clearly having trouble with mechanics on the mound is in for a really long night.

Anyway, he made a throwing error on a sac bunt that resulted in a bases-loaded situation with nobody out.  When he gave up his first run on a groundout, technically it was unearned, but it was unearned because he made the error, so it’s still his responsibility anyway.  He then gave up a single that scored two more runs.  After that, he induced a double play.  Paps pitched a scoreless ninth for naught, Frank Francisco for some reason saw fit not to give up a home run today, and we lost, 5-4.

At that point, of course, it didn’t matter that we saved a run at home in the sixth with a textbook play at the plate that Tek somehow completed despite a forceful collision.  This is the third straight appearance in which he’s given up at least one run.  Since September 5, so in just over one week, Bard’s ERA has inflated by a whole point.  Not a fraction of a point.  A whole point.  It went from 2.10 to 3.10.  Good things included Papi’s nomination for the 2011 Roberto Clemente Award and Wake being honored for his two hundredth win.  Bad things included Bard.

On a different note, next season’s schedule is out.  The theme? Division rivalry, as usual.  We start in Detroit on April 5 and play the Jays in Toronto before our home opener with the Rays, followed by the Rangers and Yanks.  We’ve got three days off scattered among those series before another road trip.  The first two weeks of May will be easy; we’re back home for the A’s and O’s, away for the Royals, and then back home for the Indians and Mariners before going on the road for the Rays and Phillies.  We get a break with the Orioles before one of two days off in May, and then we’re home for the Rays and Tigers.  We’ve got three days off in a pretty easy July, when Interleague is in full swing.  We play the Yanks at home before the All-Star Game that should obviously have been scheduled in Boston but is in Kansas City instead for some bizarre and unfathomable reason, and then we play the Rays on the road.  Then we’re back at home for about a week before dealing with the Rangers and Yanks on the road again.  We play the Rangers and Yanks again in August, but we also play the O’s and Royals.  We’ve got a series with the Yanks and two with the Rays in September, and we end the season in New York in October.  All in all, lots of division rival games, but they’re mixed in with some easier teams, there’s a nice balance of home and away.  And Fenway Park turns one hundred years old! Sounds pretty good to me!

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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We celebrated another anniversary this week, also epic, also on a Wednesday.  Six years ago this past Wednesday, we won Game Four of the 2004 World Series.  We swept the Cardinals right out of St. Louis, broke the Curse of the Bambino, vindicated one Nation under Sox, and ushered in a new era of dominance by Boston baseball.  The ALCS victory was the greatest comeback in sports history, but the World Series was the greatest win in sports history, period.  Never gets tired, never gets old, and never gets forgotten.  I still get chills when I think about Foulke to Mientkiewicz.

Meanwhile, we have a problem.  It’s a huge problem.  Congratulations to John Farrell, the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.  He’ll be missed.  He’ll be sorely missed.  That’s our problem.  Let’s temporarily forget about the fact that Jays pitching is known to give us trouble in September.  More importantly and urgently, we now need a new pitching coach.  Let’s not kid ourselves; Farrell was awesome.  He was great.  He was one of the best pitching coaches you could possibly have asked for.  He knew the staff inside-out, and he’d worked previously with V-Mart.

We’re looking inside and outside.  So far, we’ve interviewed former A’s pitching coach Curt Young.  We’re going to interview Ralph Truel, our minor league pitching coordinator, and Major League advance scout Mike Cather this week.  We also might be looking at Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson, who worked with Tito when he was in Oakland.  At this point, whether the guy comes from the outside or the inside is not the issue.  The guy just has to be good.  Only two of our starters are home-grown, so it’s not like Truel would have that much of an edge over the other three.  The guy also has to be hired as soon as possible so he can start, because he’s got a lot of work to do.

The front office will also be busy, and not just because the stove is about to get hot.  A new agreement between the players’ union and the owners has shortened the free agent exclusivity period from fifteen to five days after the conclusion of the World Series.  That moves up the deadline for teams to offer arbitration by about a week, and so has the deadline for players to accept.  The tender deadline has moved up by at least a week.  I have faith that Theo is totally on top of his game.  I’m just saying that, with our own, we’re going to have to act fast.  Five days.  That’s, like, no time at all.  So we need to get moving.  We’re also going to have to be very shrewd in managing our payroll so it doesn’t get out of hand.

Congratulations to Wakefield, who won the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award for his community service.  He does it all, from local hospitals to the Jimmy Fund to Wakefield’s Warriors, where he invites children from the Franciscan Hospital and the Jimmy Fund to Tuesday home games to meet him and watch batting practice.  If you ask me, he’s been due for a long time now.  This was his eighth nomination.  But, ultimately, he gets exactly what he deserves.  Nobody deserves that award more than he does because, not only does he do a lot in the community, he does all of it quietly and without any thought about recognition for it.

Peter Gammons is convinced it’s going to be Carl Crawford, not Jayson Werth.  Papi wants an extension rather than just an option pick-up; no surprise there.

Good news: ticket prices will basically stay the same for 2011.  Bad news: it doesn’t matter much since most of us don’t purchase our tickets at face value anyway.

Other news: we shut out the Leafs on Thursday, two-zip.  Thomas made twenty saves.  Then we shut out the Sens yesterday, four-zip.  Krejci had a goal and an assist, and Thomas made twenty-nine saves.  Love it.  And the Pats beat the Chargers with the same final score we used to beat the Ravens: 23-20.  It was close, but it was still a win.  We’ve got the Vikings today.

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Twelve days ago, I predicted that the last twelve days would be the deciding twelve days.  I said that if we dug ourselves into an even bigger hole, we’d fall victim to a math problem, but if we managed to climb out of our then-manageable hole, we’d have something to work with.  And all I can say is that the current standings were like a huge bucket of freezing cold water.  There are no words to adequately describe the fury and depression induced by the current state of affairs expressed by the standings.  We are a full nine games out of first place.  We are a full eight and a half games out of the Wild Card.  And it’s the middle of September.  Now, I’ll never say that anything is impossible for us until that becomes the stone-cold reality, but all I’m saying is that this is a completely unmitigated disaster.  It’s so wrong.  And the worst part is that there’s no single identifiable cause of it all.  It just is, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Between the injuries and, well, the injuries, it is what it is.  And that’s just about the worst possible situation you can be in at this time of year.

Let’s pick up where we left off.  What was supposed to be a booster for both standings and morale turned out to be a big disappointment.  We dropped the series opener to Baltimore, 2-5.  Beckett pitched a full seven innings, but he allowed three runs, two earned, on seven hits.  You can thank Scutaro for that unearned run; his sore right shoulder, specifically an inflamed rotator cuff, yielded a bad and costly throw.  Doubront allowed the final two Baltimore runes, both of them solo shots; turns out he had a strained pectoral muscle.  And anytime you lose to the worst team in the American League with a supposed ace on the mound, you know that’s a bad day right there.  We certainly had our opportunities, but we didn’t take advantage of any of them.  That loss made Beckett five and two lifetime in Camden Yards.  Also, Lowell got pretty incensed but somehow wasn’t ejected.  We won the second game, 9-6; it was conspicuously not Lester’s best work, but we’ll take any win we can get.  He gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings, but he walked only two while striking out ten.  He allowed four runs in the first inning alone, but you better believe we battled all the way back.  That game was all about the extra bases; three doubles and three well-hit home runs got the job done.  Home plate umpire Tom Hallion had to leave with one out left after sustaining an injury on a foul tip.  We won the series by taking the third game, 6-4.  Dice-K was mediocre at best but picked up the win anyway.  Paps made his thirty-fifth save, becoming the first closer to post thirty-five saves in each of his first five seasons.  The offense held up its end of the bargain as well; we scored five runs in the second inning and never looked back.  Beltre, of course, hit a home run.

Hurricane Earl postponed Manny Ramirez’s return to Fenway to Saturday, when we played a doubleheader against the Other Sox.  Ramirez apologized about the way he wrote his one-way ticket out of here, and Youk confirmed that he received an apology from him after their dugout tiff in June that year.  To put it simply, we got swept.  We lost both games of the twin bill by final scores of 1-3, and we lost the finale, 5-7.  The opener was just absolutely heartbreaking.  We took a two-run lead into the ninth only to have it evaporate completely in four walks.  He may have made history a few days before, but he blew this one big time, and that was not something we could afford to have done.  There was no way on this planet that we could possibly have afforded to have done that.  That was terrible and massively costly.  And what’s worse is that he threw forty-eight pitches in the process, which made him unavailable for the next few games.

The Rays came to town on Monday, when we gave off such a flash of brilliance that I’m convinced everyone forgot about the standings completely as they witnessed the performance of what is undoubtedly a team with the caliber of a World Series champion.  And that’s what makes the results of the last twelve days so hard to bear.  This is a team that could have won it all, but then we just didn’t.  Having about half your lineup out for the season makes it hard.  But Monday was awesome.  We did everything right in that game and won it by the fantastically lopsided score of 12-5.  Lester owned.  Papi went two for three with a double and a homer; Beltre and Kalish also homered.  It was simply awesome.  That’s all I can say about it.  In the midst of profound mediocrity and inconsistency, it was a very welcome breath of fresh air.  But the series that began with such promise didn’t end that way.  In fact, Tampa Bay would mete out almost exact revenge the following night while doing us two better as they whipped us, 5-14.  It was as devastating as the previous night was elating.  Seriously.  I am convinced that the outcomes of those two games, combined with the way the season’s been going, has made Red Sox Nation bipolar.  Dice-K was absolutely awful.  I can find nothing positive to say about his performance, or rather lack thereof.  He allowed eight runs on as many hits in less than five innings while walking four and striking out four.  He allowed two homers.  And the bullpen was no help at all.  So although we collected three doubles and a homer of our own, courtesy of McDonald, we ended up right back where we started the series.  It was like our own romp didn’t even happen at all.  Until the following night, when we reenacted our first romp, just to remind the Rays who they were dealing with and just to make us even more bipolar.  We won, 11-5.  Instead of pitching Buchholz on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, Wakefield started, picked up the win to become the oldest Red Sox player to do so, and incidentally is also the recipient of Boston’s nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award.  And rightly so.  We smashed five (count ‘em: five!) home runs, two by Scutaro, who also had a double to his credit.  Beltre batted in his 1,001st career run.  It was sensational.  And it made you think about what the season would have been like and where we would be now if we’d just played like that all along.

We took that momentum right through our day off and squandered it during our first game against Oakland.  That’s pretty much the story of the entire season: we’d win a game, or maybe two in a row, and we’d build some momentum but then we’d drop it like a hot potato.  That’s corny, but that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing since April.  The A’s shut us out.  Then the A’s beat us by a run.  Tonight the A’s will try to sweep us, and I really don’t think we should let that happen.  (Note the sarcasm.)

Odds and ends: Hermida was released from the PawSox, and we traded Delcarmen to the Rockies because, even though he’s great and has a lot of potential, it never comes to fruition consistently.  You can have a guy with all the potential in the world, but if he doesn’t convert it on a regular basis, you’d be better off with a guy who’s at least consistently decent.  And it wasn’t like Delcarmen was that amazing anyway.  Doubront eclipsed him and became Tito’s go-to man in high-pressure middle-inning situations.  We picked up cash considerations and minor league righty Chris Balcom-Miller.  Pedroia has officially undergone surgery, so his season is officially over.  No surprise there.  Lowell is committed to playing through a fractured rib.  That’s a big deal.  This guy is tough as nails.  That and he’s retiring at the end of the year, so he doesn’t have an entire career to jeopardize.  We moved Cameron to the sixty-day DL to make room for righty Matt Fox, who we claimed off waivers from the Twins.  Buchholz was August’s American League Pitcher of the Month.  Tek is back in action.

So that’s it.  That’s that.  It’s cruel.  It’s just cruel.  Nobody played with more heart and hustle this year than we did, considering the fact that we spent the entire season as the walking wounded.  Technically, we’re not eliminated yet.  But you know it’s a bad sign when you’re down to technicalities and magic numbers.  A really bad sign.  It’s painful.  It’s really painful.  It’s really, really painful.  And it feels like a second version of 2006, only a lot worse.  It’s terrible and horrible and I really just can’t even talk about it.  Seriously.

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Another close call lost. That’s two in a row, and now we’re going to Tropicana Field in second place. Only half a game behind, but not necessarily where you want to start out against the Rays. Josh Beckett certainly did his part, no question. He pitched seven innings and allowed only two runs on eight hits. With the exception of the fact that one of those runs came on a solo home run, it sounds like Beckett’s his old self again. He struck out four and walked one. Welcome back, buddy!

The offense did a nice job of answering opposing runs. Dustin Pedroia, who is now batting .304, hit a solo homer in the third to tie it at 1-1. Manny Ramirez hit a solo homer in the seventh to tie it at 2-2. The difference was Mark Loretta’s RBI, which came while David Aardsma was on the mound and which put the Astros ahead, 3-2. The hits column was also close; Houston out-hit us, 10-9. And the speed was going, too; Lugo and Pedroia both recorded thefts, making Pedroia 9 for 9 on the season so far.

There’s no reason to deny that these next two series are very important. With the All-Star break coming up, we should conclude the first half of the season on a high note for us and on a low note for the Rays, who could be on their way to dropping out. They’re a young team; they can’t keep this up for all of 2008. And the Yankees of course should be put in their place. So we’ve got some work to do.

In other news, the Red Sox received a threat by mail from Memphis, Tennessee. The suspect is believed to have come originally from Baltimore, and the threat targets African-American and Latino players, mentioning at least two by name. That’s just a disgrace. It’s been 61 years since Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut, and 53 years since Roberto Clemente’s. Grow up and be a man. Enough already.

Dustin Pedroia, 6/29/2008

AP Photo

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