Archive for the ‘boston red sox’ Category

Jonathans Are Wild

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The season may have ended yesterday for two storied franchises. The Red Sox and the Dodgers both blew late-in-the-game leads (the Sox to the Blue Jays, the Dodgers to the Phillies) and lost on the road as they attempted to chase down a wild card slot in their respective divisions. The Nation, who are four games back in the Wild Card race, look to be in better shape than the Trolleys — who trail in the N.L West by six-and-a- half. But the similarity between the two teams, and the reason they both may be done, is their fate-crossed closers. Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers and Jonathan Papelbon of the Sox sport very similar lines, and they’re not pretty.  Both closers have four losses, both have ERAs over 3.0, and both have blown an inordinate number of saves (Papelbon has blown six; Broxton has blown five). And both closers also took the loss yesterday.

The Dodger implosion was the more bloody of the two, with the Torre squad blowing a seven run lead with six outs to go. The only reason I continued to watch the game into the late innings was that I don’t like the Phils –while I’ve got an unexplained affection for the Dodgers. Basically, I wanted to see the Ponies getting drubbed. But, I’d forgotten about the Dodger bullpen (though that’s not hard to do if you don’t have one). Torre looked absolutely gray in the last two innings (especially in the ninth), when Broxton hit the first batter and then walked the second. Torre trudged to the hill to tell his man to “trust [his] stuff.”  Actually, he said it twice (you could read his lips). Broxton promptly walked the next batter, and then it was only a matter of time.

The Sox weren’t much better: they led the Blue Jays 5-2 going into the final frame, but they couldn’t hold it. Starter John Lackey started off the ninth and gave up a solo dinger; he was pulled. That said, Lackey had pitched effectively, scattering seven hits over eight innings with only one walk. Then Papelbon came on: and the wheels fell off. In one-third of an inning Papelbon gave up four hits and walked one. Fireballer Daniel Bard then entered the fray, but it was too late. While Bard got his man to fly out to center by then the game had been tied and the winning run had tagged from third to score.

The Dodgers are certainly done. Broxton looks absolutely lost on the mound. It’s not clear how, in the wake of the Broxton disaster, the Trolleys can rebound from “the Philadelphia Massacre.” And the Sox? Well, we’ll see . . . but it doesn’t look good. And it’s because of their closer. Effective closers don’t blow six save opportunities and keep their team in contention. It’ll be a mammoth test of the Sox stick-to-it-iveness to continue the march to the Wild Card.  They’ve certainly showed their mettle thus far, particularly given the almost unbelievable number of key players they’ve had on the DL this season. But with Kevin Youkilis gone for the year with a thumb injury its just not certain they can come back from their collapse in Toronto.

“One Long, Losing Slog”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Nats 7-2 loss in Cincinnati on Monday night might have been averted — of only the Nats had hit, pitched and fielded like a major league team. The defeat stretched the Nats losing streak to three games and means that the Nats have now lost six of their last eight. Reaching the .500 mark, which might have been hoped for in April and even in May, now seems a distant and fantastical dream, as the team struggles to find its legs. The losing spiral sparked Washington Post sportswriter Adam Kilgore to describe the Nats season of hope as “one long, losing slog.” That seems about right. So too the team itself seems infected by frustration: “We do have a great lineup. We just can’t get everyone hot at the same time,” Adam Dunn said after he loss. “It seems like we haven’t had two guys hot at the same time. If Guzzie is hot, then me and Zim aren’t hot. And then if Zim is hot, we are not. It’s bad timing, really. I don’t know how else to put it.” Luis Atilano is set to face Cincinnati rookie sensation Mike Leake tonight at The Great American Ballpark.

It’s Not A Motorcycle Baby, It’s A Chopper: On this day in 1958, Tiger’s ace Jim Bunning threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox, clinching a victory in a 3-0 contest. Bunning seemed to have Boston’s number — he once struck out Ted Williams three times in one game (also in 1958), spurring “The Splendid Splinter” to rip off his jersey (buttons popping) and throw it to the clubhouse floor: “I’ll get you Bunning,” he said and began searching for a schedule to determine when he’d face him again. Baseball legend has it that Williams hated Bunning so much that he would use him as a foil during batting practice, leaning into the ball and swinging as he yelled “here comes Jim Bunning. Jim F — ing Bunning and that little shit slider of his.” Williams little trick didn’t seem to work: Bunning struck out Williams more than any other player.

The key to Bunning’s success was a sidearm slider, a pitch he could control from nearly any angle. It fooled Williams, as it did nearly everyone else. Bunning led the league in strikeouts in 1959 and 1960 (with 201 each year), while gaining a reputation as one of the most durable pitchers around (he was regularly in the top five in the A.L in innings pitched). He never seemed to get injured. The oddest thing about Bunning’s career came after his greatest success: in 1963, the Tigers trades Bunning to the Philadelphia Phillies for veteran outfielder Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton, a fireballing reliever with a lot of promise. It was a forgettable trade, one of the worst in Detroit history. Demeter was just okay, while Hamilton was slowed by arm injuries. While never living up to his promise, Hamilton became a kind of legend: in 1967 he threw a pitch to Boston’s Tony Conigliaro that shattered the upper left side of Conigliaro’s face and ended his career. It also ended Hamilton’s. The fireballer lost his speed after the incident, as well as his willingness to pitch inside. He left baseball and now runs a restaurant in Missouri.

Bunning’s fate was quite different. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1964 as the great new hope — the pitcher who would put the perennial losers at the top of the National League. He damn near did. The Phillies had a great line-up in ’64, led by power hitters Dick Allen and Johnny Callison and a slick defense centered on catcher Clay Dalrymple, second sacker Tony Taylor and slap hitting expert Bobby Wine (another one of those obnoxious little “pepper pots”). Bunning was complemented by starter Chris Short (a pitcher of almost unbelievable promise), Art Mahaffey and Ray Culp. The Tigers might have gotten a hint of the mistake they’d made when Bunning pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets on June 21, and the big righty went on to notch a remarkable 19-8 record.

But if Bunning was a success, his team wasn’t. 1964 was the year of “The Foldin’ Phillies” — as the ponies lost ten in a row and a seven game lead with 17 games to play. Phillies manager Gene Mauch panicked in the midst of this debacle — pitching Bunning in three games in seven days: Bunning lost all of them. Philadelphia dog-paddled its way into second place, while St. Louis passed them at a full sprint. It was the worst fold in major league history, until the Mets eclipsed it in 2007. The Phillies ’64 cataclysm seemed to unhinge the team in the years that followed, haunting Dick Allen’s successors who struggled, and struggled and struggled. But “Big Jim” Bunning continued to thrive, accounting for 70 wins over the next four years. Never mind: the Phils sputtered along, never quite putting it together again until 1980 — when they won a World Series. Their first.

After his stint in Philly, Bunning went on to Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before ending up in the Hall of Fame (it was a vote of the veterans committee that finally confirmed his entry)  and the U.S. Senate, where he now serves as a controversial and conservative voice from Kentucky. He retains the reputation he gained from his years on the mound, as a head hunting foul-mouthed lug whose stock-in-trade was a quickie under the chin — he led the N.L. in hit batters all four of his years in Philadelphia and was widely loathed for his beanball habits. Bunning’s critics say he hasn’t changed: he remains a ramrod straight, if somewhat embarrassing figure. When asked to describe Bunning’s legislative prowess, the late Senator Robert Byrd thought for a minute before issuing his praise: “a great baseball man.” But the people of Kentucky seem to love him, voting him back to his Senate seat every six years. Then too, even if Bunning is as controversial now as he was in Detroit and Philly, there is little doubt that he once threw one of the best, if not the best, slider in the game. At least that’s what Ted Williams thought.

Nats Skid Now At Four

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Ian Desmond went 4-4 and Drew Storen made a solid debut, but the Washington Nationals fell to the Cardinals 6-2 on Monday night in St. Louis. The Nats were victimized by a tough first inning from starter Craig Stammen, who surrendered four runs against a hitting heavy Cards line-up.  Stammen pitched well the rest of the way, but Washington’s suddenly quiet bats could not get to the Redbirds. “He got settled in and pitched really good,” Riggleman said of Stammen after the game. “He really made a lot of great pitches and gave us a chance. He kept us in there. Their guy did a good job, too. Lohse did a nice job. He kind of kept us off.” Drew Storen came on in the 7th inning with a man on and one out to face former Nats infielder Felipe Lopez (who fouled out), Redbirds outfielder Ryan Ludwick (who he hit) and big bopper Matt Holliday, whom he struck out. It was an impressive first outing for the 22-year-old reliever. “He closed the inning. He did good. He threw strikes,” Ivan Rodriguez said. “He threw the three pitches out of four that he has. He threw the sinker, the breaking ball and the slider, and he did great. He did a great job.” The Nats losing streak now stands at four — with a second game against the Cardinals in St. Louis tonight.

Those Are The Details And Now For The Headlines: It looks like one of those seasons for the Bosox, who are mired in fourth place in the AL East, a full 8.5 games behind the surging Tampa Bay Rays. The sound and fury from Boston is deafening, as fans of “the Nation” have begun to take themselves apart about the deplorable state of their lovable Yazstremskis. Over The Monster is particularly puzzled, pointing out the “surprising teams” that have better records than the heroes of Fenway: the Padres, Blue Jays, Reds, Nationals and Marlins. The head scratching in the Fens is interesting to watch, particularly for a franchise whose fans suffer from attention deficit disorder. If you had claimed back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that the Sox would one day be viewed as one of the game’s sure-to-win franchises, your claim would have been greeted with jaw-dropping disbelief.

While Sabermetric gurus are able to point to a welter of statistics reflecting the Red Sox woes, the simple truth is that the once proud pounders who thrilled the nation (and “The Nation”), with two world championships are an aging, punchless, poor-pitching and injured group of Back Bayers who play their worst against their deadliest foes. The Red Sox lost two of three in New York one week into the season, lost four in Tampa Bay a week later and two of three against the Yankees in New York in May. That doesn’t count losses to teams they should dominate. For instance, the over-confident Sox lost three to Baltimore’s wadda-we-gonna-do Triple-A Orioles . . .  for God’s Sake . (Spontaneous demonstrations broke out on Eutaw Street and Dave Trembley was given the keys to the city.)

The problem is pitching (ain’t it always). The Red Sox rank 27th in runs allowed and 27th in team ERA. While the Red Sox can put runs on the board (they’re near the top in runs scored), they can’t keep others from scoring even more: Clay Buchholz (with four wins) is their steadiest starter, Josh Beckett is a mess and Daisuke Matsuzaka (just back from the DL) can’t get anyone out. Their roster is a doctor’s dream. Beckett has back spasms, J.D. Drew suffers from vertigo (and an inability to hit an inside slider), Mike Cameron has kidney stones (the poor sot), Jacoby Ellsbury has a chest contusion, Dice-K had a neck strain (and probably still has), Jed Lowrie has suffered from mono and (OLAS) Justin Pedroia continues to battle wrist issues. And now (following last night’s game against the hated Yankees) the entire team probably needs scream therapy.

For those who like tragedy (and walk offs), last night’s Red Sox tilt against the Yankees was fun to watch (you could switch over, just in time to see this disaster, following the Nats post game wrap-up). With a man on in the bottom of the ninth and the Sox ahead 9-7, super reliever Jonathan Papelbon collapsed. He gave up a game-tying homer to Alex Rodriguez (who hit it wicked faaaaah …), then plunked Francisco Cervelli with a fastball. With Cervelli on first, Papelbon missed his spot with Marcus Thames, who cranked Mr. P’s wheelhouse fastball into the lower left field seats. As Papelbon walked from the field, it was hard to shake the feeling that the Yankees have Boston’s number. So here’s the deal: after a season of success at Fenway the current standings in the AL East are, in fact, an accurate reflection of Red Sox reality. We can be surprised by the early season success of the Padres, Blue Jays, Reds, Nationals and Marlins. But no one should be surprised by the Red Sox. It’s not that they’re a bad team, because they’re not. For Red Sox fans, it’s  worse. They’re mediocre.

Fish Fall, Nats Take Series

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals nudged out yet another victory against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Fish at Nats Park on Sunday, 3-2. The game clinched the series for the Nationals, who took two of three. The hero of the game was Josh Willingham, whose home run in the eighth inning was the difference in the win. Livan Hernandez, who is now the ace of the staff, pitched seven solid innings, giving up only one earned run. But Hernandez didn’t notch the win: reliever Tyler Clippard (usually perfect in such relief situations) gave up the tying run to the Marlins in the top of the eighth. So while Clippard was assessed a blown save (his fourth), he was credited with the win — bringing his record to an unlikely 6-0. After Willingham’s homer put the Nats ahead, Matt Capps came on (in the ninth), to get his 13th save in as many tries. The Nats are starting to learn how to win one-run games. “I think our players feel like if we’re close, we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We’ve got some real pros in there.”

Tyler Clippard’s sixth win without a loss (all in relief) reminded MASN baseball analyst Rob Dibble of the careers of two MLB relief specialists: Ahoy legend Elroy Face and Red Sox boxcar Dick Radatz. Though only time will tell, the comparison is fair for Face (spindly and bespectacled, like Clippard) much less so for Radatz. Face was 18-1 for the ’59 Pirates (the team finished only two games over .500), while Radatz (who lasted all of six years in the majors) was 15-6 for the ’63 Red Sox. Both were relief specialists, wracking up unlikely victories for average clubs. Otherwise the two were entirely different. Face was a legend, setting the standard for what a closer can be in fifteen stellar seasons for the Clementes. He led all of baseball in relief pitching numbers for nearly two decades. In 1960, Face saved three games in the Pirates series against the Yankees (won by the Pirates in a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski). “The Moose” Radatz’s short career was meteoric — he won two Fireman of the Year awards and was feared for his 95 mph fastball. In a game in 1963 he came in with the bases loaded and struck out (in order), Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. But in 1965 he injured his shoulder and lost the edge on his fastball. After retiring, Face became a carpenter in Pennsylvania. Radatz lived at his home in Easton, Massachusetts where, in 2005, he fell down a stairway and suffered a life-ending concussion.

What My Buddies Said During Friday Night’s Game: Me Droogs, Willy and Mikey (here they are), were my row-mates during the Nats Friday night loss to the Marlins, commenting on the team and baseball. “God, these guys  stink,” Willy said in the bottom of the third. I was offended: “what the hell are you talking about? They’re young, they’re tough, Stammen is a comer. For God Sakes Man, give-em-a-chance.” I tried to move away from him. He rolled his eyes: “No, not these guys,” he said. “Those guys . . .” and he gestured towards the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Yankees had just posted a nine-spot against his beloved Red Sox. I shrugged: “Oh yeah,” I said. “God, that’s awful. I feel terrible.” The Red Sox are 16-16 on the year. The Nats are 17-14. Enjoy it while you can . . . The scintillating conversation continued. “How many balls do you think they use during a game?” Mikey asked. I thought for a minute: “I hear they start with  72.” He nodded: “That’s six dozen.” Mikey’s no slouch: he graduated from college. After the game he sent me a link, which quoted a Pirates clubhouse assistant as saying the Pirates go through about 120 baseballs per game. The league office, I subsequently learned, asks each team to provide 90 new balls for each game. According to Major League Baseball, between five and six dozen balls are used during a game . . .

“Who’s this guy?” Willy asked during the 8th. I looked out at the Florida reliever. “Renyel Pinto,” I said. “Sneaky quick with a fastball that comes up in the zone. He’s not bad.” Willy nodded: “He looks like Sid Fernandez.” Mikey shook his head. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile.” Willy referenced The Book Of Bad Baseball Memories he keeps in his head: “He pitched the seventh game of the ’86 Series,” he said. “When the Red Sox lost to the Mets.” I harumphed: my God, these Sox fans. It’s like listening to a Believer talk about Lourdes. “I’m right,” he said. “Look it up.” I did. Charles Sidney Fernandez pitched ten years for the Apples, before moving on to Philadelphia, Houston and Baltimore. He developed arm problems after his stint in New York and, after a valiant effort spent at resuscitating his career, retired from the game in 1997. He posted a career 114-96 record — almost all of his games in New York. Fernandez pitched games five and seven of the ’86 Series (an afterthought for “The Nation,” which regularly relives Bill Buckner’s through-the-legs error of Game Six) but the game seven winner was Roger McDowell. Here was the Mets starting staff for the series: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Roger McDowell, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Don’t kid yourself, the Chokes wish they had them now . . .

From time to time I get seats in Section 128, just behind the Nats dugout and just to the right of the netting that protects the fans (or, “potential victims” as I all them) from foul balls. We were in the fourth row. Our usher says the same thing at the beginning of every game. “Pay attention Section 128, these foul balls come mighty fast. You have to watch every single pitch.” And then he adds: “Enjoy the game.” In the seventh inning a man and his son (who must have been about 13) moved down to the row in front of us. You could just tell, this kid was thrilled. I leaned forward: “If one of these balls comes streaking this way at about 125 mph, I expect you to catch it,” I said. “Because I’m not going to.” The boy looked at his father, who laughed. “He’s kidding,” he said.

No, actually, I wasn’t.

Dick Bosman’s 1974 “No-No”

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Not every Nats game is a trip down memory lane, but damn near. Before the first pitch of last night’s Nats-Rockies tilt at Nationals Park, one of me droogs (here they are, for those of you who’ve forgotten), told me about watching a no-hitter pitched by fastballer Dick Bosman in Cleveland in 1974. “You’ve actually seen a no-hitter?” I asked. He nodded: “A great game,” he said. “Fantastic. It was back in the early 1970s, 1973-1974, something like that.” Being armed with one of those hand-held doohickies, I looked it up. The game in question came on July 19, 1974 at Cleveland’s Memorial Stadium, when the Naps faced off against Oakland’s White Elephants. The A’s would go on to take the World Series in ’74, but on that July day in Cleveland they looked helpless against Bosman.

Bosman had a more than serviceable career: his fastball carried him from sleepy Kenosha, Wisconsin into the Pirates organization, and then into the McCovey’s minor league system. He ended up in Washington, where he had his best years pitching for the Senators. His best year came in 1969, when he led the AL with the lowest ERA and went 14-5. He won 16 games in 1970. But even at the age of 27 — when Bosman should have been at his peak — he seemed to be running out of gas. Bosman went to Texas with the Senators, but then kicked around until 1974, when he landed a starting role in Cleveland, where the no-account Indians were doing what they have been doing throughout their long and painful franchise history: searching for pitching.

July 19, 1974 was a warm day in Cleveland, but it was not killer-hot like it can be in Cleveland and there had been showers in the morning. Bosman was slated to start against Oakland’s Dave Hamilton. With some 24,000 looking on (Cleveland Stadium — built in 1931 — held 78,000 for baseball), Bosman went to work, facing a line-up of Oakland bombers. In many ways, this was a typical Oakland team, a mix of speed and power complemented by a deep starting rotation: Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi were at the heart of the order, with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman and Dave Hamilton the primary hurlers. “Blue Moon” Odom added to the mix, though his best years were in the past. The Indians and A’s were locked up into the third, when Joe Lis gave the Naps a 2-0 lead. In the top of the 4th, Bosman fielded a swinging bunt from Bando, but his throw was wide of first, and scored as an error. As it turned out, Bando was the only A’s baserunner for the day — and the one baserunner that would keep Bosman from a perfect game. By the end of the 7th, Bosman had faced only one more than the minimum.

In the ninth inning, on the verge of putting himself in baseball’s record books, Bosman approached his catcher, John Ellis. “Catch me on your belly if you have to,” Bosman said, “but make me keep the ball down.” Ellis squatted behind the plate, flashing his glove on the ground, nodding at Bosman. “I told myself it was John and me now,” Bosman remembered, “and I concentrated on getting those last three hitters.” In the ninth, Bosman put the Elephants down in order, sealing his no-hitter and (as he hoped) resuscitating his career. [Here’s the boxscore] At the season’s beginning he had been on baseball’s junk pile and relegated to the bullpen. Now he was “in the books.” His teammates were ecstatic, and Cleveland fans chanted him off the field: “We want Bosman. We want Bosman.” He came out of the dugout after a time, and tipped his cap. “This is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for and dreamed about,” he said after the game. “I almost feel like I am dreaming.”

Bosman wasn’t long for baseball. In 1975, he was traded to the team he no-hit, with Jim Perry for Blue Moon Odom and cash. He had a good year with the A’s, pitching effectively and registering an 11-4 campaign. The A’s finished first in the AL West, seven games ahead of the Royals, and faced-off against the Red Sox for the AL pennant. The Red Sox crushed the A’s in three games, and went on to face the Reds in the World Series. Bosman saw little duty in the Red Sox post-season series, pitching to a single batter. The A’s released him in 1977 and he retired to his home in Florida. He spent the next twenty years in Florida, restoring antique cars — his obsession. He vowed to never look back. “When you shut the door on baseball, you have to keep it shut or it will never let you go.” Bosman has been a coach in the Tampa system since 2002.

The $8 Million Man . . .

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Diamond Nuggets for 3/07/10

Spit and Vinegar:  Grizzled veteran Jamie Moyer is in Phillies camp this spring after three surgeries since the end of last season. The 47 year old went under the knife to repair three torn muscles in his groin and abdomen — injured in a late September relief outing. The $8 million man will join just 14 other players to compete in four decades. Moyer began his career in 1986 with the same Cubbies team that featured Ryne Sandberg and Ron Cey. To give some indication of his toughness, assuming an average 100 pitches per start (since I’m not counting some 60 relief appearances), Moyer has thrown 60,000-plus pitches in his career. 

Trivia Time: Which of Moyer’s teammates on that 1986 club went on to win two World Series Championships with another team?   

Swing and Miss? In the bottom of the second inning of a Cincinnati/Cleveland pre season game on Friday Redlegs right fielder Jay Bruce was called for a swinging third strike. Ordinarily that shouldn’t be a cause of dispute but Bruce’s wrists never broke and his hands hadn’t gone through the plane of the plate. But his bat did. In Bruce’s attempt to check his swing his bat broke in half and the top portion missed the pitch for strike three.  Bruce is a big kid, but I gotta believe it was the narrow bat handle that was the culprit. 

Say What? I guess the good ol days of players coining a phrase like “hit ‘em where they ain’t” or “give him some chin music” are long gone. The players are better educated than they’ve ever been and maybe the game’s gotten too sophisticated – or we have. But things may have hit a new low this week when a term best associated with Hegelian philosophy crept into the baseball lexicon. In response to a question about the growing trend of veteran players vying for a job as non-roster invitees outfielder Cory Sullivan told a USA Today scribe that it’s just part of the business now.  “It’s the zeitgeist of baseball,” he said.  Where’s Tom Hanks when you need him? 

“There’s no zeitgeist in baseball!”

Trivia Answer: Which of Moyer’s teammates on that 1986 club went on to win two World Series Championships with another team? Terry Francona, manager of the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox. C’mon. You knew there’d be one Red Sox reference here didn’t you?

Does Signing Pudge “Send A Message?”

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

We just can’t let the signing of “Pudge” Rodriguez go without a comment: not only is the all-around-good-guy winner of 13 Gold Gloves the newest Nats signing, Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson (speaking on the Nats website on one of those webcast doo-hickey thingies) says that the Nats are “sending a message” to their fans that his signing means “they want to contend now.” Here’s our reaction — if that’s the message they’re sending, they ought to send it again. It’s easy to be critical, but Pudge stopped being one of the game’s indispensible players long, long ago: which (obviously) Mike Rizzo and Company know.

The reason Rodriguez is here is not to make the Nats a contender now (because he won’t), but to keep the box behind the plate warm for Jesus Flores (whose tender mercies have yet to fully heal) and to keep a dugout of trembling young pitchers from wetting their pants. Pudge is as close as the Nats can get, just now, to a player-coach — a clubhouse presence who’s been through the wars and an unruffled and steadying player who, at the end of his career, knows pitchers not because of any inherent genius, but because he’s seen so many of them. There’s something to be said for having years of experience behind the plate.

There’s a little odor to the deal among some sportswriters, who say that the Nats overpaid (sniff, sniff). That seems particularly true now that it appears as if the Purples will re-sign Yorvit Torrealba for a near-song: $5.5 million over two years. But the Nats not only probably (probably) couldn’t get Pudge for two years, they didn’t need him for one: there’s no guarantee that Flores will heal that fast or, even if he did, that he’ll stay healed. Then too, Derek Norris is not just a few months away — if he works out at all. The deal maker in this was Jim Bowden: he complained that “this was another bad signing.” Yeah, well he oughta know. Thus was inaugurated “the Bowden rule”: if Jim hates it, Mike Rizzo should do it. If he doesn’t, flee.

The Board of Directors here at CFG (you remember them, right?) likes the deal and so do I: the signing of Rodriguez saves fans from having to watch Josh Bard gimp his way to first base, or gaze in wincing shame as Wil Nieves (Who? Wil Nieves!) slams his bat in disgust at striking out. Fun as that was. Then too, unless you’re the Boston Red Sox and you think you can just let catchers walk out the door — they’re damned hard to find and every team needs one. Yeah, so the signing of Pudge Rodriguez sends a message: the Nats desperately needed a catcher and now they have one. Or, if things work out for the very best, they might even have two.

Angel’s Stun, Sweep Sox

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

That glazed and puzzled look that has appeared on the faces of so many other post season teams (the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, and the Chicago Cubs last year, to name just two) is now being worn by the Boston Red Sox. The A.L.’s wild card entry was stunned by a ninth inning rally in Boston on Saturday, and swept in three games by the Los Angeles Angels to be eliminated from the playoffs. The Bosox appeared headed for a sure win in their head-to-head match-up against the Belinskis, leading the Halos 6-3 heading into the 9th inning at Fenway Park — with their ace closer, Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. But with two outs, Papelbon’s down-and-out or up-and-in stuff failed him: Erick Aybar singled, Chone Figgins walked and Bobby Abreu doubled to tighten the contest. Even then, the Red Sox remained a simple grounder or fly ball away from victory. To set up a force out at every base, Papelbon walked Torii Hunter intentionally. That brought Vladimir Guerrero to the plate. On the very first pitch to one of baseball’s beset bad-ball hitters, Papelbon gave up a single to center. Guerrero’s hit, a leaning over-the-plate smack of a low and outside fastball, scored Figgins and Abreu and gave the Angels the 7-6 victory.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The elimination of the Redbirds and Bosox now sets the wheels in motion for the offseason in both Boston and St. Louis. There’s a lot to do. Fans of “the Nation” face some big questions: about the future of David Ortiz and the cost of Jason Bay. The team is hardly in need of a major overhaul, yet the horses that have consistently put it into the off season are aging or hobbled. The entire left side of the Boston infield is in question: Mike Lowell can’t play third forever and the team has no ready answer at shortstop. “Phtttt . . . c’mon” — fans of the Nation say: what about Jed Lowrie? Well, what about him? Maybe Baseball Reference is lying, but their stats show him hitting .147 in 32 games. Hell, there’s a shortstop in Washington who hits a damn sight better than that and he’s no damn good at all . . .   

The Redbirds are younger, but the questions might be more pertinent: whether to pony up the big bucks it will take to keep Matt Holliday in left and (just like the Red Sox) what to do at third. Mark DeRosa is a free agent and while he likes St. Louis he will test the free agent market. Then too, while shortstop seems set for the River City Nine, rookie phenom Brendan Ryan hit a scorching .083 in the playoffs and looked shaky in the field. Redbird fans have the same reaction to this negativity as their Bosox buddies: “Oh yeah, well what about Troy Glaus?” Okay, right. Troy Glaus: who left his right shoulder somewhere in Toronto and hasn’t been the same since. Maybe he’ll return to his 2008 form (.270, 27 home runs), but it’s a pretty big maybe. Then too, number three starter Joel Pineiro is a free agent and would be a number one starter on most major league teams: including the Nats (now there’s an idea). Oddly, whether Holliday or DeRosa or Pineiro decide to stay in St. Louis might hinge more on the fate of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan than on how much money Billy DeWitt puts on the table. LaRussa and Duncan’s contracts are up and both are rumored headed to Cincinnati, to team up with their old St. Louis G.M. pal Walt Jocketty . . .

Twin Killings: Twinkies, Bosox On The Ropes

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

 

There have been 26 Yankee juggernauts in major league history — 27 if you count the 1960 team, that could have, might have and should have won a world title: were it not for the heroics of Bill Mazeroski. This team, the 2009 version, is even more formidable. The twin killers of the Twins on Friday night (that put the reeling Twinkies down by two games to zip) were Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, one of whom is headed to the hall and the other who might well be. It’s easy to see why Teixeira — offered an off-season gift basket from the Nationals — decided to play for the pinstripes: the New Yorkers know how to spend money, and they know how to win: a requirement for any ballplayer who prizes not only a large bank account, but a handful of rings.

What was billed as a pitchers’ duel turned out to be exactly that: as Yankee A.J. Burnett mixed four kinds of fastballs to put the Twins down through six innings. But Burnett, a puzzling mess at odd times, was pulled after six complete, with Yankee manager Joe Girardi suddenly dependent on a relief core that has often been shaky. And so it proved: even Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera were merely human, while former Ahoy fireballer and reclamation project Damaso Marte was a disaster. The often so-so Nick Blackburn, meanwhile, was brilliant — posting a 1.59 post season ERA and befuddling Yankee hitters through 5.2. So when Joe Nathan arrived with the Twins’ lead intact we could be forgiven for thinking the game was over. Not so: Alex Rodriguez’s ninth inning home run tied it, while Tex’s walk off against Jose Mijares in the 11th won it. “It’s really disappointing,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’ve been walked off enough times here. Some of the things that happened out there were pretty disappointing. It was a good baseball game. A lot of things could have went either way, but didn’t go our way again tonight.” 

The Boston Red Sox Are Being Eaten In Anaheim. After a not-even-close 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Belinskis on Thursday, “the Nation” sent ace Josh Beckett to the mound against Jered Weaver. It was a bookie’s fantasy: the lanky if talented Weaver brothers have “never quite” and have a tendency to implode (and what a sight it is!), while Beckett is calm to the point of perversity — and it’s downright weird. If Jered is Yosemite Sam (arms akimbo, fist slapping glove), then Josh is Mr. Magoo (calmly asking for another ball, as the one he just pitched sails into the night). So it was that — if you were to actually bet (and you wouldn’t would you?) — you would have been all-in on Beckett. And you’d have lost.

It happened in the seventh inning in Anaheim and it went something like this: Vlad Guerrero walked (Howie Kendrick runs for him), Kendry Morales lines out, Kendrick steals second, Juan Rivera grounds out to third (two outs), Maicer Izturis singles (Kendrick scores), Mike Napoli HBP, Erick Aybar triples, (Izturis and Napoli score), Chone Figgins strikes out for out number three. Score: 3-1 Angels.  What was most unusual was that Beckett seemed to lose his cool — complaining to homeplate umpire C.B. Bucknor that Mike Napoli hadn’t moved out of the way of a fastball that hit him in the back. Beckett seemed to come unhinged. “I wasn’t much [ticked] that he wouldn’t overturn the pitches, but show me a little bit of respect,” Beckett said. “He just straight-faced me and then walked away. I was just like, I went up to [catcher Victor Martinez]. I said, ‘Vic, he’d be [ticked] if I did that to him.’ I’m not asking him to even overturn it, just listen to what I have to say. Don’t like, take your mask off, straight-face me and then walk away. I can’t say anything to the point of getting thrown out.” 

The Red Sox, now down two games to none, must win three games in a row to advance to the league championship series. “We’ve just got to regroup,” Beckett said. “We know what we need to do now. We can’t lose another one. A lot of guys in here have been through this. It’s not an ideal situation, but we have to win.”

Playing Hunches — and Playing Favorites

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Tom Boswell and Dave Sheinin’s sobering dual articles (“everything-has-changed-now-that-we’re-in-the-playoffs”) in yesterday’s Washington Post hasn’t kept anyone from playing hunches — or favorites. We should scatter all pretensions of predicting the future by studying statistics (or counting on hot streaks) by scattering sabermetrics to the wind. And play our hunches. Or favorites. Or both. So it is that, at least before Wednesday’s trifecta, my hunch was that Redbird Chris Carpenter would prove to be unstoppable, that the Rockies would be too hot even for Cliff Lee and that the Twinkies — riding Tuesday’s Tectonic win over the sinking Kalines — would upset the empire, even in the heart of the death star.

But, since hunches are hopes, I have been humbled by October’s cheerless realities: Chris Carpenter never looked worse, Cliff Lee never looked better and the Twinkies looked like . . .  well, they looked the Twins. But while hope might be humbled, it also springs eternal, so I’ll stick by my original predictions (which I should have made yesterday, just to make them more official): the Purples are the team to beat in the N.L., the Cardinals have the best one-two pitching punch in the playoffs (Adam Wainwright — below — will win tonight), the Twins can be the surprise team of the junior circuit and (yet to be decided) “the nation” doesn’t have a prayer against the Belinskis.  

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Good news for Nats fans! The Phish have re-upped with manager Fredi Gonzalez. Actually, what’s shocking is that Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria was considering dumping Gonzalez for not making the playoffs, even though Gonzalez was managing a franchise with the lowest payroll in baseball . . . Even better news (and this time, seriously) – is that Mets G.M. Omar Minaya still has his job! though a source on the team says that were it not for his three year extension (signed in October 2008) he wouldn’t. Minaya is on a short string (or noose, as it were) and that, if he falls on his face, he’ll be gone. Clearly, patience is running out in New York, and most particularly among its most avid fans. Our buddy-buds at NL East Chatter are running a whole chatter on “What Happens to Omar Now?” The answer is: nothing. At least not yet . . . 73 percent of those responding to an NL East Chatter poll answer the question as follows: “we are having the same damn discussion next year” . . .

Connor Tapp (the voice at Braves Baseball Blog) has some interesting things to say about what the Tomahawks should do in the off-season. He doesn’t mince words, saying that if Frank Wren resigns Garret Anderson “I might become a Mets fan.” That seems awfully dramatic, but I know what he means: if Mike Rizzo resigns Austin Kearns I might become a Braves fan. We here at CFG note that there is a hole in Tapp’s entries between August 25 and October 6: corresponding (very roughly) to those dates during which which our beloved Nats swept the Braves in three. It is onto such thin reeds that drowning men (and fans of last place baseball teams) grasp . . . Meanwhile, our friends at Phillies Phandom are having a field day (so to speak). The Phuzzies should be confident: they haven’t lost a home playoff game in two seasons.