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Home » Monthly Archive » October 2007

October 29, 2007

Champions

World Series Game 4: October 28, 2007
WinRed Sox 4 W: Jon Lester (1-0)
H: Manny Delcarmen (1)
H: Mike Timlin (2)
H: Hideki Okajima (4)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (4)
ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 4-3
World Series: 4-0
Rockies 3 L: Aaron Cook (0-1) NLDS: 3-0
NLCS: 4-0
World Series: 0-4
Highlights: As much as I mocked them, the Rockies and their fans should be given credit. The club made a historic run to get into the postseason. Their fans came along for the ride when it became apparent the squad was something special, but perhaps for some of them watching this series will more than temporarily displace the Broncos in their hearts. This could be their 1967. But this is our 2007.

I wish I were the dancing Jonathan Papelbon sign. Somehow that masterwork made its way West and jounced joyously in the stands as the Boston Red Sox won their seventh World Series championship. If I were that sign swaying high above the crowd, I could at least see the on-field celebrations unfold. Because of my height the typical view for me is peoples’ shoulders and elbows.

If I were the dancing Papelbon sign I’d stand at attention as Trisha Yearwood sang the anthem. I would waggle with feigned laughter as thousands of purple, white, and black balloons lifted into the air as part of the pre-game ceremony, but would be awestruck by the accompanying fireworks (not to mention a bit frightened in case of a stray spark).

If I were the dancing Papelbon sign I’d sidle behind Fred Willard and Brad Garrett to disrupt the blatant promotion of Fox television shows (even though moving cardboard effigies greatly appreciate the work of Mr. Willard in the motion pictures of Christopher Guest).

But since I’m a struggling writer, not the dancing Papelbon sign, I was in my living room in Massachusetts watching Game 4 unfold.

When you write a story, the teachers tell you to make the characters likeable. With the 2007 Red Sox there is nary an unappealing personage around. Sure, Manny Ramirez was painted the villain and Curt Schilling never found a tape recorder, reporter’s notepad, or television camera he didn’t like, but the Red Sox’s foibles pale in comparison to, say, Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is the definition of unsympathetic. As rich as Croesus but trying to live by Willy Loman’s script, the third baseman wants to supplant his massive contract with one even more lucrative and wants America to adore him as he does so. The timing of his announcement was an obvious effort to derail the Fall Classic, one that Fox was only too happy to indulge.

In the end, however, Rodriguez and Scott Boras’s pronouncement will be to this World Series what Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction was to Super Bowl XXXVIII: a footnote to another magnificent Massachusetts championship that toppled its perpetrators rather than reviving their former glory.

The story, the instructors say, must also be believable. That a 23-year old pitcher could rebound from a cancer diagnosis in a little over a year and pitch five and two-thirds innings in a clinching game with a line of three hits, no earned runs, three walks, and three strikeouts strains credibility.

That his teammate, also a cancer survivor, could salvage his status as a salary dump in a deal and turn in such a performance as to garner the World Series MVP would render the story even more implausible. For kicks, have him leadoff the fifth with a double and make a superb slide at home to avoid the tag for run. Throw in a solo shot in the seventh, too.

You may as well have a September call-up unseat the incumbent center fielder score the first run of Game 4 after leading off with a double. Make sure to throw in a gutsy infielding sidekick that also happens to be a rookie. Together they would make a youthful dynamic duo to show that the team not only has veteran leadership but a foundation to repeat success year after year.

Not to forget the bench player released by his original team only to be signed as a free agent by the club to which he has family connections. The icing on the cake would be to have him launch the first pitch he saw in the eighth inning into the stands as the difference in the game.

Toss in a shutdown closer who was to be converted into a starter and suffered a dire injury just a season before, and there you have a work of fiction that would never sell.

Those sorts of things only happen to the real-life Red Sox.

October 28, 2007

Daten [打点]

World Series Game 3: October 27, 2007
WinRed Sox 10 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-1)
H: Mike Timlin (1)
H: Hideki Okajima (3)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (3)
ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 4-3
World Series: 3-0
Rockies 5 L: Josh Fogg (0-1) NLDS: 3-0
NLCS: 4-0
World Series: 0-3
Highlights: While watching the game I replaced the Rockies fans’ “Tulo” chant with “Lugo,” and I didn’t even need a Jumbotron to tell me when to do so. Not only did Lugo go 1-for-3 with two walks and two runs but he played a stellar game at short. In the fifth Colorado had the makings of a rally with men on first and second and one out. Lugo ranged to his right on Kazuo Matsui’s ground ball and snagged it in between hops, using his momentum towards third to shovel the ball to Mike Lowell to erase the lead runner. With two runs plated and more threatening, Lugo elevated on pinch hitter Jeff Baker’s line drive to end the inning and preserve the lead.

So far this series there has been a drubbing and a duel. Last night’s tilt became a nail-biter before devolving into another rout. The Rockies may not have delivered the highest quality of competition but at least the ways they proffer their defeats have been myriad.

Starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka earned the first RBIs (or daten, in Japanese) by a Japanese pitcher in the World Series. His poke between second and third in the third plated two runners. Clint Hurdle afforded Josh Fogg a small amount of pride by not pulling his starter after a hit by a pitcher, but did not hesitate in yanking the so-called Dragon Slayer when Jacoby Ellsbury doubled toward the futilely diving Cory Sullivan. At that point Matsuzaka had more World Series RBIs than the entire Rockies lineup.

“He Ichiro!” exclaimed Royce Clayton.

Matsuzaka also became the first hurler from his country to win a game in a Fall Classic, and did so with the most confident bearing seen from him during this postseason run. Jason Varitek at last eschewed using all five fingers to call pitches and had Matsuzaka pound the zone with precise fastballs.

Pitching to contact prompted a display of starter’s defensive aptitude. He knocked down Matt Holliday’s fierce grounder with his crimson glove then swiftly pivoted to the keystone sack. Matsui was trapped in a surgical rundown by Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell.

At end of five and one-third innings, it was clear Matsuzaka does indeed rise to the magnitude of the occasion and compiled his best October outing: three hits, two earned runs, three walks, and five strikeouts. The two runs were walks that Javier Lopez converted into runs into the sixth.

The balance that Matsuzaka showed amongst the realms of hitting, pitching, and fielding is in microcosm the balance of the Red Sox themselves. Where one reliever may come up short on the mound, another picks him up. If the heart of the lineup doesn’t produce, the top and bottom shore up the difference. This is why Terry Francona can weave through his roster with intricate double switches unconcerned that decisions would fray the symmetry of the whole.

Spurred on by the derivative towel spinning and formulaic Jumbotron-prompted cheers, the Rockies drew within a single run in the seventh. Mike Timlin salvaged the sixth but required the same of Hideki Okajima when the right-hander allowed a base hit bunt by Kazuo Matsui and a eighteen-hopper up the middle off the bat of Troy Tulowitzki.

Perhaps Okajima’s pickoff attempt with Holliday in the box enraged the slugger, reminding the left fielder of his ignominious performance in Game 2. Or perhaps at last the MVP candidate returned to his pre-World Series levels of production. Whatever the reason, not even these dabbling fans needed the scoreboard to tell them that a three-run homer to dead center was a good thing for their team and the stadium erupted into unrestrained exuberance.

While the crowd was agog to be so tantalizingly close to the lead, Okajima, with marked sang-froid, remained in the game. A center of calm in the maelstrom of towels and tumult, the southpaw struck out two batters and induced a lifeless ground out off the bat of Yorvit Torrealba for the final out of the inning.

Places like Coors and Jacobs augment the festivities with fireworks while Boston carries their own wherever they go. In response to the home team’s rally, Lugo took a free pass and Coco Crisp blooped a single over Tulowitzki’s glove into center field.

Fledgling players Pedroia and Ellsbury displayed dual pyrotechnics with consecutive doubles. When the smoke had cleared, three more runs for the visitors sparkled on the scoreboard.

Lowell, accompanied by Alex Cora and Lugo, then put on a clinic in National League ball for all gathered. He singled to center, advanced to second on a Cora’s bunt, swiped third, and cross home on Varitek’s sacrifice fly.

Versatile, balanced, motivated... and on their way to their second World Championship in four years. Not even the inevitable disparaging column by Dan Shaughnessy on Manny Ramirez’s bolt for and low-five of home in the third can yellow this postseason’s scrapbook.

October 26, 2007

Pickoff

World Series Game 2: October 25, 2007
Rockies 1 L: Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1) NLDS: 3-0
NLCS: 4-0
World Series: 0-2
WinRed Sox 2 W: Curt Schilling (3-0)
H: Hideki Okajima (2)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (2)
ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 4-3
World Series: 2-0
Highlights: The Terry Francona Special Postseason Limited Edition Action Figure with Quick Hook Action™ is a wonder to behold. In a regular season game Francona would have pressed his luck with his favored veteran pitcher and who knows what would have happened after Matt Holliday’s one-out single and Todd Helton’s eight-pitch base on balls. Instead, Schilling was pulled with two men on in the sixth and Okajima pitched to the next seven Rockies hitters flawlessly. Papelbon tallied his second multi-inning playoff save, striking out two and picking off Holliday while doing so.

Matt Holliday, the NL MVP candidate, smoked a liner so close to Jonathan Papelbon that it took all the closer’s dancing prowess to avoid the imprint of stitches on his torso. Dustin Pedroia doggedly tracked down the grounder and rolled his wrist while tumbling near the outer lip of the outfield dirt.

The second baseman came up with the ball too late; Julio Lugo’s voice above the din told his fellow middle infielder to eat the throw rather than rushing a relay to Kevin Youkilis and risk throwing it away.

Holliday, the tying run with two outs, wandered off first. He, like his team, was in the uncharted territories of the playoffs where one bad decision can alter the course of the series. The Rockies star drifted away even after Papelbon made one pickoff attempt.

On Papelbon’s second attempt, Holliday’s arms was intercepted by Youkilis’s tag. It wasn’t just Papelbon’s first pickoff of the series, it was the inaugural pickoff of his major league career.

Colorado got on the board in the first when Willy Tavares was lightly grazed by a pitch high and inside by Curt Schilling. The speedster’s baserunning excellence (commented upon ad infinitum by Messrs. Buck and McCarver) brought him within 90 feet of home on Holliday’s bounder off Mike Lowell’s glove. Tavares plated easily on Todd Helton’s ground out to first.

Lowell turned the tables in the bottom of the fourth by reaching on a base on balls and motoring to the hot corner on J.D. Drew’s rope to right. Jason Varitek sacrificed to center to tie the game.

Taco Bell at last eschewed the difficult-to-hit home run targets that, if hit, would score everyone in America a free taco. Instead, any stolen base would grant Americans this dubious prize. With Jacoby Ellsbury, he of the 100% success rate in base thievery in his major league career thus far, on first, a free pass to the wonders of dyspepsia was finally granted. The sponsors for the relief man award were likely thrilled by the marketing synergy.

The lauded prospect Ubaldo Jimenez pitched well enough for a rookie World Series starter, but the natural movement of his pitches which makes him the talent he is ultimately undid him. With two out in the fifth Jimenez walked David Ortiz.

Manny Ramirez then smashed a single past Garrett Atkins to left and Ortiz grimaced on his way to second. Clint Hurdle lacked Terry Francona’s foresight and left Jimenez to face Lowell.

Lowell had seen eight pitches from Jimenez through his first two at bats and by the fifth had calibrated his batting eye to detect the novice’s weaknesses. Shooting a double over the elevated Atkins, Lowell notched his 12th RBI of the playoffs, making him second amongst all batters in this postseason.

Kazuo Matsui is the highest-ranked Rockie with eight, respectably tying him with Ortiz. Holliday, the underdog’s darling, is second to his second baseman with seven.

Schilling was not his former big game self but pitched to the presented circumstances admirably. Whatever he lost on his fastball he recoups with his game thread run on SoSH. Soldiering through five and one-third innings with four hits, two walks, and four strikeouts, the veteran kept his team in the game long enough before handing it over to the lethal duo of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon.

Both relievers, tired of the din of the Black Pearl, took to the mound with a vengeance. Their performances inspired a new level of commotion as they shut down the visiting squad. A remarkable moving effigy of Papelbon jigged in the bleachers. The chants of their names ringing in their ears, the Red Sox take their two World Series wins into the hostile territory that is Coors Field this Saturday.

For their Jumbotron programming staff probably has prepared queues to their audience to inform them when to clap when they should be working on the lighting system to make sure it doesn’t go on the fritz in the middle of a game. Hopefully they hired more grounds crew members since, as nice as Red Sox players are, it’s unlikely they would be as helpful as the Phillies and assist with the tarp. Fox should probably revive Scooter for the next few days as Coloradans would find it quite informative. Lastly, as tempting as towel-waving would be, the Rockies’ fans should probably not follow Cleveland’s strategy for spurring their club.

October 25, 2007

Domination

World Series Game 1: October 24, 2007
Rockies 1 L: Jeff Francis (2-1) NLDS: 3-0
NLCS: 4-0
World Series: 0-1
WinRed Sox 13 W: Josh Beckett (4-0) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 4-3
World Series: 1-0
Highlights: Carl Yastrzemski throwing out the ceremonial pitch along with his 1967 teammates summoned the specter of that well-fought World Series. The warrior nonpareil from that year belonged to the enemy camp. I have only heard stories of Bob Gibson and his postseason dominance. Until I looked up his numbers I almost didn’t believe them, but those remarkable nine starts happened: seven complete games, one 10-inning tilt, and one eight-inning loss. Ninety-two strikeouts, 16 bases on balls, two World Series MVP awards. Gibson has six starts with a game score of 75 or more. Beckett has four, two each from 2003 and 2007. Last night Beckett’s game score was “only” 69 and the Rockies had many hard outs that fortuitously fell into defenders’ gloves. But the seven-inning, nine-strikeout win further solidified Beckett’s big game reputation, chiseling his name into a prestigious monument to playoff pitching excellence. This time, the chiefest combatant plays for the Red Sox.

Watching Dustin Pedroia launch a leadoff longball into the Monster seats in the first inning of the first game of the World Series, one couldn’t tell he was a rookie.

One can hardly tell he is a major league player at all. Not only is he a regular-looking guy, he’s even smaller than your average American male.

What is irregular is how his body type didn’t preclude him from climbing through the minor league ranks in the Red Sox organization. The organization stresses production and patience above all, placing a premium on these things where other clubs obsess over demographics.

Does height really matter when one has the reflexes to turn on a plus fastball, follow the break of a offspeed stuff, and field your position well enough so that you don’t give up as many runs as you produce?

The answer is, of course, no. Especially when you are the first rookie smack a leadoff four-bagger.

It wasn’t the undersized greenhorn who shrunk to the occasion but rather the entire roster of the NL Champion Rockies. As cozy as Fenway is, Colorado was overwhelmed by the spectacle. At full capacity Coors Field holds 50,445, but in Denver the stands are populated by dilettantes. Most of them have been pining away for John Elway and cursing Bill Belichick’s dominion over Mike Shanahan for years now.

That the quaint Rockies from that antiquated sport have chanced upon success at last is an autumnal distraction to denizens of the Mile-High City until this Monday. Last night’s rout may have sent these ersatz followers scurrying to the football section of the Denver Post.

Fenway’s 38,805 mockingly chanting Jeff Francis’s name must have come as a shock. Who would think that hearing one’s name invoked by tens of thousands would conjure up exactly the wrong kind of shivers up one’s spine?

Until Wednesday evening, Francis had barely broken a sweat in his two playoff starts. Both were quality outings that anchored sweeps in their divisional and championship series sweeps. In one inning of the Fall Classic the young southpaw saw his earned run total double to six.

Francis lasted three innings more and the Red Sox scored in all but one of those frames. Boston batters broke the World Series record for two-baggers in a game with eight; five of the doubles drove in runs, two of them advanced runners on base, and the only double that came with the bases empty was Kevin Youkilis’s in the first, which followed Pedroia’s homer.

Those few days of warm-ups preceding the Worlds Series and the three games in June the Rockies visited did very little to familiarize the Rockies with their quarries’ domain. Whatever magic they had when they shellacked Josh Beckett on June 14 had evaporated into thin air even though they were making solid contact against the ace. Beckett bent but didn’t break, surrendering long and loud outs that caromed off the wall (with no one on with one exception) or into the gloves of his defenders.

The exception was Troy Tulowitzki in the second. The novice shortstop is the physical specimen that Pedroia isn’t, but he is not just tools bundled in a pleasing package. Tulowitzki matches the diminutive middle infielder’s keen plate awareness and might be the Rookie of the Year for the senior circuit. He doubled off the top of the scoreboard to plate Garrett Atkins. Atkins’s double missed bringing the ladder on the left field wall into play by feet.

In sharp contrast to Colorado’s spotty success, every Boston hitter except Jacoby Ellsbury had a hit and all of them had either an RBI or run to their credit.

The touted bullpen, featuring a terrible duo of Franklin Morales and Ryan Speier, put the game out of reach for their teammates in the fifth. The local nine batted around; Morales provided the meatballs for base hits and Speier the special sauce of three consecutive run-scoring walks. Clint Hurdle found reprieve at last in Matt Herges who induced a fly out off the bat of Youkilis.

Instead it was the less-heralded pair of Mike Timlin and Eric Gagne (whose name I can type without anger, for the moment) who pitched perfectly to ice the Rockies’ ten-game win streak.

Coco Crisp (now relegated to talking about tacos with Royce Clayton on the bench), Alex Cora, and Eric Hinske saw time in the blowout. Kyle Snyder, who replaced Tim Wakefield on the World Series roster, kept beat as usual in the home pen, known amongst relief crew as the Black Pearl.

And the beat goes on.

October 22, 2007

Uiningu Shotto [ウィニングショットƒˆ ]

ALCS Game 7: October 21, 2007
Indians 2 L: Jake Westbrook (1-2) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 3-4
WinRed Sox 11 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (1)
ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 4-3
Highlights: Matsuzaka broke through at last as a playoff-caliber major league pitcher last night. Although not entirely brilliant, he displayed flashes of that artistry that that so transfixed his opponents at Koshien, the Olympics, and the World Baseball Classic. Over five innings his 88 pitches produced a line of six hits, two earned runs, no walks, and three strikeouts. In his final inning he allowed a sac fly that brought Cleveland within a run. To get a decision he had to convert Asdrubal Cabrera to an out with a runner on first. Battling the pesky second baseman Matsuzaka refused to relent until he unleashed his uiningu shotto, a phrase from the English “€œwinning shot” but equivalent to “money pitch.” Cabrera flailed at Daisuke’s high two-seamer to end the inning and begin the next chapter in Matsuzaka’s baseball Bildungsroman.

Daisuke Matsuzaka showed that the Detroit pitchers’ fielding woes in last year’s Fall Classic were an isolated incident. The pitcher deftly knocked down Victor Martinez’s sharp grounder on one bounce with his glove, looked Travis Hafner back to second, and pounced on the orb to throw Cleveland’s backstop out at first with time to spare.

Not only deft of hand but shrewd of mind, Matsuzaka exhibited a subtle mastery of retaliation. In the third inning Grady Sizemore called time too late in Matsuzaka’s delivery to pull back. The next time the leadoff hitter was in the box in the fifth the Red Sox hurler took his time, even going so far as to fiddle with his shoelace as the center fielder impatiently stood at the dish.

For six and half innings the deciding game was a taut contest. In each of the first three innings the local nine came away with one run but left men on base to moulder. Two of three double plays by Red Sox batters ended potential game-breakers (J.D. Drew in the first and Dustin Pedroia in the fourth) while Julio Lugo’s scored a run in the second.

The abundance of pitchers’ best friends kept a hittable Jake Westbrook in the game far longer than he deserved to be, and with that time the hurler transformed into the invulnerable pitcher from Game 3. No Boston batters reached base in the fifth and sixth innings while the Tribe gained ground.

Hideki Okajima relieved his countryman in the sixth and was on his way to a his second runnerless inning in the seventh when Lugo inexplicably called off Manny Ramirez on a fly ball to shallow left that had him twisting to attempt the catch. The ball dropped between them and Kenny Lofton was poised at the top of the horn ready to tie the score.

Then, even more mysteriously, Joel Skinner held up Lofton on Franklin Gutierrez’s caroming single off the expanded camera wells just past third base. Casey Blake decided to take the axiom “when in Rome” to heart and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the top half of the frame.

Blake carried his ability to assimilate with him to the other side of the field in the bottom of the seventh: Jacoby Ellsbury’s grass-cutter clanked off his glove for a two-base error. Unlike Lugo’s, Blake’s gaffe proved costly when Pedroia launched a ball into a part of the Green Monster seats where only the big boys can go.

The pressure lifted from the collective chests of Red Sox fans and breathing became easier. By the time the sixth run in the eighth crossed the plate, the air had left everyone’s lungs from so much exaltation.

It was happening again: the Red Sox were going to the World Series.

I was never one who thought there was a pall of doom, spanning time, space, and innumerable personages, draped over this team because of the trading of George Herman Ruth. For that same reason I am loathe to make parallels between 2004 and 2007.

But for the seven players who remain from the 2004 team, there is little carryover. That clubhouse was possessed of a streak of wanton audacity, ragtag freewheelers who did naked chin-ups with locks aflutter. Gone are the likes of Kevin Millar, although he briefly defected from the Orioles to throw the first pitch at last night’€™s tilt. Millar was out of place mingling with the 2007 Red Sox, like John Blutarsky tarrying far too long in college.

They have replaced the idiots with a more thoughtful set. This year the team is more Bill Mueller (who delivered the ceremonial pitch for Game 6) than Millar. (An exception to this rule and every other is Jonathan Papelbon, who would have fit in well with the idiots as well as the next generation, what with his Scrabble prowess.)

The spirit of three years ago was the recklessness of James Dean, who didn’t know where to draw the line and was fated to die young. Today’s climate is that of Paul Newman, who smoldered when young and yet grew in intensity with his years, a sustainable success.

Veteran and Gold Glover Lowell exemplifies this new attitude. The clubhouse is more international, a diverse group that benefits from the bilingual third baseman and coaches like John Farrell who took Japanese lessons to better communicate with his staff.

Or Coco Crisp, who never complained about being pulled from the lineup for the final two games of the ALCS. The center fielder slammed his body into the concrete wall of the bullpen to secure the final out of the series and his team’s place in the World Series.

It also has players whose only organizational affiliation has been the Red Sox looking to older players to be their mentors to ease their transition to the show. The 2004 team traded away homegrown talent to fix its fatal flaws while the 2007 roster has farmhands forming the foundation of its success. The influx of new talent mixed with the diligent veteran presence to cohere into the triumph seen today and hopefully for future seasons.

The strongest similarity binding these two teams is their devoted fan base and its ardent desire to see another championship trophy. Welcome back to the Fall Classic, all.

October 21, 2007

Diné

ALCS Game 6: October 20, 2007
Indians 2 L: Fausto Carmona (0-1) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 3-3
WinRed Sox 12 W: Curt Schilling (2-0) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 3-3
Highlights: “Diné” is what people that we call the Navajo call themselves. Jacoby Ellsbury represented his people proudly with a 1-for-5 showing accompanied by a run and an RBI. Take note, Cleveland fans: this is an authentic Native American. Not Chief Wahoo, who, as Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in The Christian Science Monitor, should go the way of Sambo.

The Red Sox loaded the bases in the first after Curt Schilling sat down the top of the order, one, two, three.

It seemed so easy, A, B, C. Dustin Pedroia bounced the ball towards his counterpart Asdrubal Cabrera, who rounded second base, barehanded the catch, and threw across his body. Unlike cribbage matches against his manager, Pedroia beat the throw. He also motored hard to second on Kevin Youkilis’s ground ball to short, unnerving Cabrera enough that he couldn’t hold onto Jhonny Peralta’s relay.

With none out, David Ortiz watched uno, dos, tres pitches from Fausto Carmona miss the zone. A generous Dana DeMuth called two strikes, the first less strikey than the second. But the fifth pitch was way outside and the bases were replete with baserunners.

Surprisingly, neither Manny Ramirez nor Mike Lowell drove in a run. So, with two out and three on, the much-maligned J.D. Drew serenely stepped into the box. Drew was as tranquil as Carmona was perturbed; the young pitcher fell behind 3-1 in the count and then threw a sinker down the pipe.

Drew’s effortless swing dropped the ball into the camera hut in center. A grand slam in an elimination game in the ALCS made a $70M price tag suddenly palatable, a vilified player immediately pleasing. The only expression of Drew’s emotion? A clenched fist as the ball disappeared at the feet of the cameramen.

With łáá'íí, naaki, táá', dįį' runs on the board, all that remained was for Curt Schilling, the paragon of postseason pitching, to turn in a quality start. He did that, and more: seven innings, six hits, two earned runs, no walks, and five strikeouts. Lack of a Cy Young award notwithstanding, on the basis of his performance in elimination games Schilling gets into the Hall of Fame.

For all the clamor over Ramirez’s grandstanding, the former World Series MVP with his Hall of Fame credentials and 14 years of experience took less time than Victor Martinez to round the bases on his home run trot. The Cleveland backstop took about five years, or the length of his major league service time, to complete the circuit for his second-inning homer.

The only other run plated by the Tribe was precipitated by Ryan Garko’s leadoff triple in the seventh that just eluded Jacoby Ellsbury’s glove. It wasn’t the only thing Garko instigated; he prompted unintentional motivation to the opposition with his words to Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram. “The champagne tastes just as good on the road as it does at home,” said the hardened veteran of 670 regular season at bats and a single playoff campaign.

Ortiz took his place in history with his second-inning double play; the 2007 Red Sox now have sole possession of the record for twin killings in a league championship series. Ramirez provided another historical footnote with his lack of hits, tying Pete Rose’s 15-game hitting streak in playoff games.

Unlike previous games in this series, hitters not named Ortiz or Ramirez provided the offense. Failing to get an out in the bottom of the third, Carmona was knocked out after surrendering consecutive walks to Ramirez and Mike Lowell and a gutshot RBI single by Drew.

Rafael Perez fared no better than Carmona and reprised his poor showings in this series. Ellsbury looped a single into left to plate his first postseason RBI and soon crossed the plate himself on Julio Lugo’s double down the third base line.

The Indians had less composure than Little Leaguers in Lamade Stadium the rest of the inning. With Pedroia at first on a free pass, Youkilis lined a shot off the wall to drive in Lugo. As Youkilis got caught up between first and second, Pedroia astutely observed events unravel.

And unravel they did. The overly lauded Cabrera teamed up with Garko for a shoddy rundown of the Red Sox first baseman. With a heads-up return slide and a relay that deflected off his helmet, Youkilis lay safe at first with a ground-level view of Pedroia crossing home.

Garko fielded a foul ball called fair by Randy Marsh and turned an ill-gained out at first only to throw galley-west to Cabrera. Again Youkilis flourished partially due to Cleveland’s ineptness.

But rather than being apt at baseball, Garko has crafted cleverer quotes for the media than Youkilis. And that is what the second season is all about, isn’t it? That, and spinning allegations about human growth hormone into homilies about being a good Christian as his teammate Paul Byrd did.

October 19, 2007

Upswing

ALCS Game 5: October 18, 2007
WinRed Sox 7 W: Josh Beckett (3-0) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 2-3
Indians 1 L: C.C. Sabathia (1-2) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 3-2
Highlights: The faces of Cleveland fans in warpaint and framed by fake feathers fell ashen as their darlings failed to put away the Red Sox last night. Their defeat was welcome not only because it extended the series but also because it put a halt to the unremitting towel waving, wanton bigotry, and pointless percussion that fills Jacobs Field. Also, congratulations for ranking tenth in the AL in attendance with an average attendance of 28,098 a game in 2007; the stadium’s capacity is 43,345. Fenway Park attendance was fourth with an average of 36,676 per game while carrying a capacity of just 38,805 (for night games; slightly less for day games).

Furthermore, the Jake’s ground rules are open to interpretation and misinterpretation:

Fair batted ball that travels over the yellow line on top of the outfield wall (on the fly): HOME RUN.

“Over” to me does imply lack of contact and the parenthetical comment affirms this. It seems that Manny Ramirez’s shot to right kissed the line before caroming into the field. If the rule didn’t state “on the fly” then the hit was indisputably a circuit clout.

What is ridiculous, however, is to have a line as wide as the one in question on top of that wall; no umpire can make a reasonable judgment as to area of impact. Perhaps this is why there isn’t a specific ground rule for the red line at the top of the Green Monster.

Boston scored first for the first time this series by virtue of Kevin Youkilis’s soaring shot into the left field stands. As the ball disturbed the scurrying crowd I felt roots of worry that had so long laid tangled in the pit of my stomach shrivel. I knew that this series would return to Boston.

Red Sox batters squandered many opportunities, but there were at least baserunners rankling C.C. Sabathia and his trio of relievers in every inning but the sixth. The visiting club ground into three double plays in four different games this postseason. That trend was reversed with “just” a pair of rally squelchers last night, but they still tied the 1997 Baltimore Orioles’ record for most double plays in a League Championship Series.

Even as Grady Sizemore looped a providential double in a Bermuda triangle of defenders in left field and came around to tie the score, Josh Beckett’s countenance betrayed nary a whisper of insecurity. Placidly, he applied toe to rubber and proceeded to strike out 11 batters over eight innings. He could have tallied more if home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom was more assiduous in his duties.

Sabathia was also a victim of the umpire’s capriciousness, but absent poor officiating the Cleveland ace’s postseason performance continues to fall below his regular season magnificence. He was knocked out in the seventh after the homegrown duo of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis doubled and tripled with no outs.

Cederstrom did well to quell the flareup between Beckett and Kenny Lofton in the fifth. The pair had tangoed when Beckett was on the Marlins and Lofton on the Phillies. Last night Lofton did shake his head vigorously after getting ahead in the count 3-0 as if to say, “Nuh uh, you ain’t got nothing.” The next pitch was a called strike that had Lofton preemptively laying his bat over the dish.

To question a pitcher’s stuff is like deriding a painter’s brushes. Except you can’t aim a sable size six Filbert at someone’s tender spots at 97 MPH.

If a near run-in with Lofton did not unhinge Beckett, the presence of ex-girlfriend Danielle Peck would not either. The waitstaff of the nearest three Hooters, contestants of the Miss Ohio contest (Ohio representatives have won Miss America six times, tying California and Oklahoma for most wins!), and Hugh Hefner’s entire entourage could not have deterred Beckett from his appointed mission.

Jonathan Papelbon showed more emotion about Peck’s presence, astoundingly relating that how ironic it was that Cleveland, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, could only conjure up a little-known country artist who just happened to have a prior history with the opposing team’s starting pitcher. Instructions for interpretation: imagine the italicized words accompanied by wide-eyed insinuation.

Papelbon may have worn his arms out while warming up to “YMCA” as his ninth inning did not go flawlessly. Unlike another reliever whose name I cannot bring myself to type without permanently damaging my MacBook, Papelbon did not wilt under pressure. If he gives up a double (as he did to Ryan Garko), he induces a ground out from a hot hitter such as Jhonny Peralta. Should he relinquish a walk to say, Lofton, he rebounds with a fly out to center to end the game off the likes of Franklin Gutierrez.

Tomorrow night the team returns to the Fens, back to welcoming fans with Bud Light boxes on their heads, hopes for a comeback in their hearts, and not a single piece of terry cloth mindlessly twisting.

October 17, 2007

Fallen

ALCS Game 4: October 16, 2007
Red Sox 3 L: Tim Wakefield (0-1) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 1-3
WinIndians 7 W: Paul Byrd (2-1) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 3-1
Highlights: Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez all crushed homers in the sixth inning. The rest of the team went 3-for-22... oh, wait, that’s not exactly a highlight. Well, Wakefield struck out seven... but he gave up five runs. Jon Lester pitched a brilliant three innings of relief... in a losing effort.

I feel like a pet owner who abandoned her charge.

Saturday morning I left for a conference in Toronto thinking all was well with my team. They had picked apart Cleveland’s pitching in a first-game, Gagne-proof lead. Boston’s postseason chances appeared hale and hearty. Just left them some dry food and water -- all should have been well.

Overnight their spirit transformed from that of an independent, self-confident cat to that of a fawning, needy sugar glider. Postseason success dies because of short outings by starts and lack of baserunners from all parts of the lineup; sugar gliders give up the ghost when they get too lonely.

Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramirez were companionless on their jaunts around the bags.

As I made my return to Boston and am dreading to find the corpse of the club’s World Series hopes curled and silent on the kitchen floor.

I saw signs of hope in the Massachusetts landscape. The verdure was stained here and there with rustles of crimson. I could have sworn I saw the shape of two socks somewhere near Ikea.

Try as I might, craning my neck as if I were in a right field grandstand seat, I still couldn’t see Fenway from my side of the plane.

Just as the Red Sox may not see Fenway again, at least not in ALCS action.

Win Thursday. Thursday’s child has far to go.

October 16, 2007

Gettotsū [ゲットツー]

ALCS Game 3: October 15, 2007
Red Sox 2 L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-1) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 1-2
WinIndians 4 W: Jake Westbrook (1-1)
H: Jensen Lewis (1)
H: Rafael Betancourt (2)
S: Joe Borowski (2)
ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 2-1
Highlights: The Red Sox grounded into three gettotsū, or double plays, last night. An example of English retrofitted for Japanese baseball, it comes from the phrase “get two.” The “o”€ sound is elided, just as the “u” in “Daisuke” is omitted.

The Indians executed the plan to exploit Jake Westbrook’€™s tendency to induce ground balls with near flawlessness. David Ortiz, Coco Crisp, and Manny Ramirez were the rally-killing culprits in the first, second, and sixth innings respectively.

In the first, Ortiz grounded sharply to Asdrubal Cabrera, who was camped to the right and behind of Ryan Garko at first. The wiry second baseman turned to the keystone sack where third baseman Casey Blake was stationed because of the shift and Blake then completed the circuit to first. The Red Sox outfielders’ twin killings were of a routine nature and hardly worth commenting on but for the increased consumption of Tums they precipitated.

When Boston wasn’t making more pitcher’s best friends than a high school senior with a fake ID they were finding odd ways to make outs. After Ortiz doubled with a shot off the Jake’s less formidable left field wall he was plunked by Ramirez’s grounder, erasing the designated hitter from the basepaths.

Home plate umpire Brian Gorman had neither a hitter’s or pitcher’s zone; it was roughly the shape of a four foot by one and one-half foot block of badly hacked Swiss cheese, with the holes representing Gorman’s missed calls.

Save for the second inning two-run home run to Kenny Lofton and the spate of singles in the sixth, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched well given the ever-shifting zone he was given to work with. He struck out six and walked two, resembling more his late-September resurgence than his August swoon.

Boston batters were not thrown by the thousands of twirling towels or interminable drumming but rather the protean zone. Force to protect the plate and working against a run deficit conspired to leave them hacking at Westbrook’s sinker. Only Jason Varitek lofted a pitch far enough to evade Cleveland’s outfield gloves; his four-bagger to center halved the gap in the seventh. No Red Sox player would reach base after the Tribe’s bullpen toed the rubber.

Even in Toronto, where I am at the moment, I couldn’t avoid hearing about the Red Sox. The guy who brought me my breakfast saw my Red Sox shirt and tried to commiserate. I changed the topic and blathered about Rogers Centre, which I had toured the day before.

At the conference I attended I heard a cluster of people babbling about the game. I assiduously avoided them, but did overheard these gems: “Once they hit that two-run homer....”€ “They’ve broken my heart too many times....”€

I guess the latter person conveniently forgot about 2004. It’s to the point I can’t talk with normal people about this team; I lurk on SoSH and Royal Rooters. Even when I’m in another country, I’m not alone in my misery.

October 14, 2007

Pact

ALCS Game 2: October 13, 2007 · 11 innings
WinIndians 13 W: Tom Mastny (1-0) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 1-1
Red Sox 6 L: Eric Gagne (0-1) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 1-1
Highlights: Manny Ramirez now has the most home runs in the postseason, although Fox would have you believe this is not a significant record since the postseason has more games than it did in the good ol’ days. I’m sure Fox broadcasters said the same as Bernie Williams compiled his 22 four-baggers. David Ortiz tied the postseason record of 10 for consecutive times reaching safely with the fielder’s choice in the fifth.

Just as they did in the first game of the series the Indians sprung to an early lead. Grady Sizemore led off with a double that dropped between Manny Ramirez and Coco Crisp for a double. The spry center fielder scored with Victor Martinez’s wall-scraping two-bagger.

And just as C.C. Sabathia proved more threatening in regular season play than the playoffs, Fausto Carmona faded in his ALCS debut. The former closer lasted just four innings, walking and striking out five. He began to sputter in the third, when the home team took the lead spurred by Crisp’s leadoff single to right.

Somewhat unnerved with speed at first, Carmona walked Dustin Pedroia and deflected David Ortiz’s grass-singing ball to short for an infield hit. Deja vu was the order of the evening: Manny Ramirez watched four pitches miss the zone by quite a bit to tally the tying run.

Mike Lowell remained incandescent and singled to the opposite field to plate Pedroia and Ortiz. If Curt Schilling could pitch how he typically did in such games, it should have been all the runs he would need.

As disappointing as Carmona’s efforts were to his team, so was Schilling in his start. A bleeder and bloop by Martinez and Ryan Garko respectively were the prelude to a bomb by Jhonny Peralta to the camera hut in center for the lead. Schilling dismissed the bottom of the order easily, perhaps giving Terry Francona too hale an assessment of his starter’s effectiveness.

It took a homer by Sizemore and back-to-back singles by Travis Hafner and Martinez to end Francona’s infatuation with with Schilling. Manny Delcarmen was brought in to bail out the veteran, and did so admirably with a groundball force out.

Eric Wedge had a quicker hook, pulling Carmona when Kevin Youkilis singled to left-center. Rafael Perez was lauded by Joe Buck as the best left-handed reliever in the game; I guess he didn’t see Hideki Okajima in the shadows of the bullpen.

Perez chewed at his glove laces as a dog gnaws at rawhide after Ortiz legged out a fielder’s choice that could have been a bases-clearing double play ball. He would have to face Ramirez with one out and one one.

The sound of the ball off Ramirez’s bat made Perez jump out of his skin; one can see him hop in the replay of the at bat. After Lowell’s homer, however, Perez had no reaction. He was clearly resigned to the fact that he had nothing, but Wedge stubbornly allowed him to face J.D. Drew.

After Drew lined to center, Wedge at last pulled Perez in favor of Jensen Lewis. At last a Cleveland pitcher lived up to his praise; this reliever threw perfectly for two and one-third innings.

This beastly game became tied 6-6 in the sixth when Peralta crossed the plate after leading off with a walk. Whatever unholy pact the Tribe entered helped knock down Crisp’s deep fly to right that was just feet away from breaking the tie in the sixth. It ensorcelled their bullpen to shutdown the Red Sox into extra innings. It bewitched their bats to notch seven runs in the eleventh inning off Eric Gagne, Javier Lopez, and Jon Lester. That is was pinch hitter Trot Nixon who drove in the tying run is further evidence for the extent of this profane covenant.

An anagram for “Cleveland Indians” is “Nine Devil Scandal.” Need I say more?

October 13, 2007

Scalped

ALCS Game 1: October 12, 2007
Indians 3 L: C.C. Sabathia (1-1) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 0-1
WinRed Sox 10 W: Josh Beckett (2-0) ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 1-0
Highlights: I do not play “Dirty Water” before a win is official. It is not a rallying song; it is the imprimatur of an official win. Any other use of it should be frowned upon. I’m looking your way, Fox. Manny Ramirez joined Jim Palmer in baseball history despite Fox’s worst intentions; they are the only two players to have walked with the bases loaded twice in a postseason game.

So, of course Fox played the buoyant ditty after Mike Lowell's inning-ending double play in the first. It took a mocking tone in that context, even though the local nine had managed to tie the game with an array of sharp grounders and smoking ropes up the middle. Dustin Pedroia, sparkplug that he is, began by spanking a pitch right back to C.C. Sabathia.

Perhaps the close brush unnerved him. Perhaps, despite the dominance Sabathia demonstrated in his regular season campaign, he wilts in the postseason (for he should have lost his start against the Yankees in the ALDS but the Bronx Bombers bombed their chances). Perhaps he is more of the ilk of Roger Clemens in big games rather than Curt Schilling.

Whatever the reason, Sabathia was knocked around early; even his outs were the outcome of solid contact.

Josh Beckett most definitely is an adherent of the Schilling school of playoff pitching. Travis Hafner lofted a wind-aided four-bagger in the first inning, one of the few blemishes marring the young ace’s six innings of work. He struck out seven while surrendering just four hits and two earned runs. When he wasn’t whiffing batters, the defense behind him and the other pitchers shined.

Not only did Manny Ramirez (along with the indispensable David Ortiz) reach base safely in each plate appearance last night, but the left fielder also flashed some leather. Since his hat comes off with nearly every attempt, I’m tempted to calling it “capping it off.” Hats off to Manny!

Ah, goofy puns. He makes me feel and write silliness just seeing his giddiness since his return. After he hawked Kenny Lofton’s fly ball for the final out of the second, the look on Beckett’s face transformed from concern to contentment. Ramirez’s response? A sly smile and a knowing point.

Ramirez gave chase to Asdrubal Cabrera’s fly ball in the eighth. The attempt was reminiscent of his eighth inning error in Game 1 of the 2004 World Series, except this time he did not trust the fate of the play to the vagaries of the intersection of Fenway’s surface with his cleats. Instead, Ramirez stooped low while dashing for the orb. With just the thickness of a blade of grass to spare, Ramirez made the second out of the inning.

On Grady Sizemore’s fly to right, J.D. Drew stood without trepidation at the wall right near Pesky’s Pole, positioned to cradle the ball. No fan reached over like Jeffrey Maier did; if anything, one man with his extra large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee overreacted when pulling away from the field of play, splattering java on the right fielder’s shoulder. Not that Drew would complain; he certainly prefers beverages, even hot ones, to rain down on him rather than boos. (That’s Eric Gagne’s cross to bear now.)

Both these key defensive plays came after Casey Blake’s leadoff double. The Cleveland corner infielder scored as Ramirez did a Pedroia-like tumble before recovering, but no men followed him along the base paths.

A seven-run lead was big enough for Terry Francona to permit Beckett to take the bench with 80 pitches. Francona turned to Mike Timlin and Javier Lopez to maintain the lead; Timlin struck out Lofton and Lopez allowed a single run. Yes, a big lead is indeed soothing -- save for the fact that it means the former closer from Canada would take the mound.

I’ve taken to wearing a Bud Light box, à la Papelbon and a few fans in last night’s audience, when Gagne takes the hill. Except mine doesn’t have eyeholes.

At least now that the stakes are higher Francona doesn’t set Gagne up for failure. Eric Wedge inexplicably gave Boston a few swipes at Joe Borowski. Unless the Tribe’s manager has scuttled the idea of Borowski throwing in high leverage situations and will opt for more reliable arms (read: any other pitcher in the pen), the move has likely neutralized their closer for the remainder of the ALCS.

October 10, 2007

One Billion Dollars

There has been a lot of talk lately about how the New York Yankees have blown over one billion dollars since their last championship. I did some research to discover that the Yankees are not alone; eight other teams have also spent upwards of ten digits in their respective quests to attain baseball’s crown. It took more than seven years for them to spend that billion dollars, of course.

Data for teams whose drought stretched into the Reserve Clause era were not readily available. My method for extrapolating team payrolls for the years prior to 1977 was to take the average player salary of $81,565 in 1965 (the earliest year in Michael J. Haupert’s The Economic History of Major League Baseball) and apply an inflation rate of 4%. That provided the basis for an average player salary from 1908 to 1964. I then multiplied the average player salary by 30 to represent a typical club’s payroll.

Money Spent During Championship Droughts
Team Founded and
World Series, if any
Most Recent Drought Payroll During Drought
Arizona Diamondbacks 1998
2001
6 years $427,338,687
Atlanta Braves
(Boston, Milwaukee)
1876
1914, 1957, 1995
12 years $961,489,711
Baltimore Orioles 1901
1966, 1970, 1983
24 years $1,046,357,141
Boston Red Sox 1901
1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004
3 years $386,631,163
Chicago Cubs 1876
1907, 1908
99 years $1,231,387,281
Chicago White Sox 1901
1906, 1917, 2005
2 years $211,422,500
Cincinnati Reds 1882
1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, 1990
17 years $767,345,316
Cleveland Indians 1901
1920, 1948
59 years $995,322,744
Colorado Rockies 1993 14 years $708,712,364
Detroit Tigers 1901
1935, 1945, 1968, 1984
23 years $854,274,547
Florida Marlins 1993
1997, 2003
4 years $148,057,376
Houston Astros 1962 45 years $1,037,322,914
Kansas City Royals 1969
1985
22 years $692,979,761
Los Angeles Angels 1961
2002
5 years $490,014,989
Los Angeles Dodgers
(Brooklyn)
1884
1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988
19 years $1,205,694,674
Milwaukee Brewers
(Seattle Pilots)
1969 38 years $757,729,207
Minnesota Twins
(Washington Senators)
1901
1987, 1991
16 years $549,612,77
New York Mets 1962
1969, 1986
21 years $1,223,870,695
New York Yankees
(Baltimore Orioles)
1901
1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000
7 years $1,167,768,431
Oakland Athletics
(Kansas City, Philadelphia)
1901
1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1989
18 years $696,452,534
Philadelphia Phillies 1883
1980
17 years $881,694,379
Pittsburgh Pirates 1882
1979
28 years $624,286,058
San Diego Padres 1969 38 years $836,264,287
San Francisco Giants
(New York)
1883
1905, 1921, 1922, 1933, 1954
53 years $1,141,895,138
Seattle Mariners 1977 30 years $1,041,126,766
St. Louis Cardinals 1882
1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006
1 year $90,286,823
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1998 9 years $357,305,111
Texas Rangers (Washington Senators) 1961 46 years $1,137,764,366
Toronto Blue Jays 1977
1992, 1993
14 years $698,954,506
Washington Nationals (Expos) 1969 38 years $644,907,269
Payroll data from 1988 to the present from USAToday, 1977 to 1987 from The Business of Baseball, and extrapolated payrolls from prior to 1977 from The Economic History of Major League Baseball.

October 7, 2007

Divine

ALDS Game 3: October 7, 2007
WinRed Sox 9 W: Curt Schilling (1-0) 3-0
Angels 1 L: Jered Weaver (0-1) 0-3
Highlights: No one on earth could feel like this
I’m thrown and overblown with bliss
There must be an angel
Playing with my heart

Because they certainly weren’t playing on the field.

Already down Gary Matthews, Jr. and Bartolo Colon for the series, regular first baseman Casey Kotchman was replaced by Kendry Morales about a half an hour before first pitch due to a non-baseball related illness. Garret Anderson left the game in the top of the third, at last conceding he couldn’t see out of his right eye because of conjunctivitis.

Even with a full and healthy complement the Angels would have been hard-pressed to defeat the Red Sox. Curt Schilling displayed his postseason virtuosity with seven innings of six-hit ball. He has made the transition from power to finesse as easily as Picasso ranged from realism to cubism, painting the black with painstaking precision. Four Angels struck out and only one got a free pass. Only Maicer Izturis managed an extra base hit and even that one could have been added to Coco Crisp’s highlight reel had the center fielder held onto the ball.

The first few innings amused Angels fans and spurred them to play with their newest bauble, the Rally Racket. The novelty was the only thing making noise in the park. The Red Sox failed to convert a leadoff walk by Manny Ramirez and double by Mike Lowell into a run in the second inning. Ramirez was surprisingly spry on his run from first to third; he ended his jaunt with his hand hooking the hot corner sack to halt his momentum and reach safely but was abandoned by J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, and Crisp.

The home team kept their fans sitting on their hands in the bottom of the third by stranding Chone Figgins at third base. Rookie Reggie Willits came to the dish with the bases loaded and two out in place of Anderson. Willits wouldn’t cherish his first postseason appearance as the ball he popped into foul territory was caught by a tripping Varitek.

Nostalgic for the Thunder Sticks, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez reminded the crowd of that bygone gadget in the fourth with back-to-back homers. Ramirez tied Bernie Williams for most postseason four-baggers with 22. Despite his greater talent, Jered Weaver, in times of hardship, reminds one of his older brother. Neither sibling maintains his composure in dire circumstances.

Justin Speier reversed the shutout innings of his bullpen mate Scot Shields in the eighth. Boston batted around and padded the lead enough to allow Eric Gagne to take the mound.

In the midst of the seven-run torrent, Jacoby Ellsbury pinch ran for Ramirez. He dashed from first to third on Lowell’s double down the left field line and slid head-first into home on a hit and run. Again the defensive swap paid immediate dividends as the rookie outfielder elevated to snag Orlando Cabrera’s rope in the bottom of the eighth.

The champagne bubbled once again, but no amount of inebriation will dull the five long days of anticipation before the first game of the American League Championship Series. Every angle, mundane to grandiose, will be explored. It will take at least a week for my brain to finally be purged of Frank Caliendo’s impersonations only to be to refilled with the unceasing promotion of the latest Fox fare.

Such is the price we pay for postseason play, and it is entirely worth it.

October 6, 2007

Sayonara Hōmuran [さよならホームラン]

ALDS Game 2: October 5, 2007
Angels 3 L: Justin Speier (0-1) 0-2
WinRed Sox 6 W: Jonathan Papelbon (1-0) 2-0
Highlights: Manny Ramirez launched his first postseason sayonara hōmuran, or walk-off home run, for the second win of this series. It was also his first game-ender as a Red Sox player. He looked uncomfortably constrained in his suit, like a schoolboy garbed in his dress code best. But Manny was still Manny, saying, “When you don’t feel good and you still get hits, that’s when you know you’re a bad man.”

Danny Vinik deserves a notation in the accounts of last night’s historic events. The 17-year old plucked a Manny Ramirez foul pop out of Jeff Mathis’s glove in the fifth inning, allowing the at bat to continue.

In the pantheon of fan interaction with the game that includes Steve Bartman and Jeffrey Maier, Vinik stands above them because he knew when to insert himself into the play and was within his rights to do so. His seat probably cost at least ten times more than Bartman or Maier’s, even adjusted for inflation. The son of a Red Sox limited partner, other members in his posh section requested autographs and Stephen King gave him an “atta boy” shoulder clapping.

Meanwhile, Ramirez walked to load the bases with one out and Mike Lowell lofted a sacrifice fly to center to tie the game. The fifth-inning run would be the first runs since the first inning. The local nine salvaged the lead early in Kelvim Escobar’s outing with a farrago of walks and singles, capped by J.D. Drew’s two-RBI single up the middle. It was his first multi-RBI playoff game as well as his first runners plated in the postseason as a member of the Red Sox.

The bottom of the fifth reversed the momentum that had been going the visitors’ way. In the top of the fifth with two out, starter Daisuke Matsuzaka was pulled after an inefficient 96-pitch effort. He left with a line of seven hits, three earned runs, three walks, and three strikeouts; neither good enough to win nor bad enough to lose.

Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon commandeered the listing Red Sox ship, combining for four and one-third innings of no-hit ball. Terry Francona deftly captained his crew while Mike Scioscia’s complement, already weakened, was one man short with Vladimir Guerrero’s desertion in the eighth.

Scioscia’s micromanaging, replete with pinch runners and plundered bases, could not overcome his lineup’s fundamentally effete nature. Where he could have best interceded he didn’t. With two out and a man on second Scioscia intentionally walked David Ortiz but then opted to pitch to Ramirez.

The sample sizes of Ramirez and Lowell against Francisco Rodriguez were slight: Ramirez was 2-for-7 (.286 BA, .286 OBP, and .429 slugging) while Lowell was 1-for-4 (.400 BA, .500 OBP, and .800 slugging). Such splits superficially justify Scioscia’s course of action, but it was clear the Red Sox wanted to board their charter flight to the West Coast with a home sweep under their belts and nothing the former catcher could devise would halt them.

The Angel closer’s delivery to home is as barbarous as number 24’s swing is refined. As Rodriguez’s ferocious delivery left his body contorted on the mound, 60' 6" away Ramirez stood, resplendent. His arms were outstretched triumphantly and 37,706 mirrored his stance.

No one needed to see how the cannon shot cleared the left field wall nor where it landed on Lansdowne Street to know that the ball was annihilated. The crack off the bat and the crowd’s response tolled doom for the Angels.

October 4, 2007

Peerless

ALDS Game 1: October 3, 2007
Angels 0 L: John Lackey (0-1) 0-1
WinRed Sox 4 W: Josh Beckett (1-0) 1-0
Highlights: A virtuoso performance by Beckett on the mound kicked off the Red Sox postseason run. It was his third complete game shutout in his seven playoff appearances. When asked about his tendency to come through in big games by Sean McAdam in the postgame press conference and whether he would like to be put in the same category as Curt Schilling and David Wells, Beckett said, “I think those are all things you should worry about when you retire, not really worry too much about them [now].”

The 2007 American League East Division Champion banner presided over Yawkey Way, serene and confident. Unlike me, who throughout the day felt pangs of panic in the pit of my stomach. As I drove home I heard the low moan of a lighthouse carrying through the gloaming, making my gut shudder all the more.

Josh Beckett, of course, is made of sterner stuff even with his newly-found self-contemplation.

Who would have thought that “introspective” would ever be an adjective to describe the Texan fireballer? In McAdam’s Providence Journal article the young pitcher talked about how he doesn’t get wrapped up in trying to get strikeouts any longer. The misguided single-mindedness that eroded his pitch count and shortened his appearances in 2006 has been refocused to stretching his effectiveness across more innings.

He is not overly thoughtful or tarrying, however. Unlike Carlos Zambrano’s Hamlet-like deliberation about the mound, Beckett was persistent and steadfast over nine innings. Like a lighthouse on a lone, fog-enshrouded isle, he guided his team to its first postseason victory since October 27, 2004.

The Angels were lucky to get the four hits they did. Chone Figgins led off the game with a rope past Dustin Pedroia that was this close to being snared before skipping into the outfield. Vladimir Guerrero slapped two hits, one in the seventh and another in the ninth, and Howie Kendrick also reached in the eighth. All the hits were singles.

Kendrick is a sophomore player who has already attained a measure of veteran subtlety. He duped home plate umpire Gary Darling in the second into thinking he fouled the ball off his foot. Rather than getting peeved at the gaffe Beckett rebounded, inducing fly out to center to end the inning.

Second base official Ed Runge also bungled a call in the second when he called Julio Lugo out on the shortstop’s steal attempt. Replays showed that Orlando Cabrera’s tag followed the contours of Lugo’s descending form but did not actually touch the Red Sox infielder before his foot toed the sack.

Kevin Youkilis broke free of late-season doldrums and injuries with a first inning shot into the the Monster seats. The first baseman added to John Lackey’s litany of futility at Fenway; he’ll probably start a “I Hate Fenway” website with David Wells. Youkilis also doubled in the third to set up a two-RBI shot for the Red Sox designated hitter.

David Ortiz crushed a hanger into the right field stands with his first baseman at the keystone bag. Where other parks see fit to provide fireworks to accentuate the game, the sole celebration necessary at Fenway are two fingers pointed towards the heavens accompanied by the pandemonium in the stands.

Not only are offensive contributions noted by the crowd but defensive gems as well. Coco Crisp struggled at the dish but charged a dying quail off the bat of Figgins to close the sixth. Fellow speedster Jacoby Ellsbury took over for Manny Ramirez in the ninth just in time to pluck Figgins of another hit.

TBS is an improvement over Fox, to damn a network with faint praise. The first at bat by Mike Napoli was missed at the top of the third, but one could blame the catcher’s impatience and Mike Lowell’s expertise. The announcing tandem, so unimpressed by Maicer Izturis batting fifth and inured to the three double plays the Red Sox grounded into, called a double play on Izturis’s ground out to end the seventh even though there were already two out.

But I, and millions more, would watch hours of Frank Thomas gazing awkwardly at his notes and Ernie Johnson’s attempts to transform Cal Ripken, Jr. into someone with Charles Barkley’s charisma if the guaranteed result was a Boston win. We sat through Chris Berman, Joe Morgan, Joe Buck, and Tim McCarver in 2004; the TBS team is Vin Scully and Orel Hershiser in comparison.

October 1, 2007

Envoi

Game 162: September 30, 2007
WinTwins 3 W: Matt Garza (5-7)
H: Scott Baker (1)
S: Joe Nathan (37)
79-83, 1 game winning streak
20-24-8 series record
Red Sox 2 L: Julian Tavarez (7-11) 96-66, 1 game losing streak
33-14-6 series record
2007 AL East Champions
Highlights: Terry Francona made sure to pull Mike Lowell with two outs in the sixth so that he could be acknowledged by the fans in what could be his final regular season game as the Red Sox third baseman.

Descendants of the founders of the Royal Rooters threw out the first pitch on Sunday, including 96-year old Kitty Dooley, daughter of Jack Dooley. Peter Nash’s documentary Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation, presented Dooley, along with Michael “Nuf Ced” McGreevy and John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, as the founders of the Rooters.

These raffish fans didn’t pay for plastic cards and ticket perks. Their fervor derived from gambling as much as following the game itself. A Rooter named Sport Sullivan laid the groundwork for the 1919 Black Sox with Chick Gandil in a room in the Buckminster Hotel. The players didn’t make the millions they do today, so grafting was an inevitable way to supplement their income.

Just as the real seediness has been leached from Las Vegas and glossed over with a glimmering veneer of respectability, baseball fandom today can be mere pageantry. The first item on the agenda of the well-manicured masses is to unveil their gadget du jour to call every member of their contact list to make sure they are seen on every acquaintances’ plasma TV. It’s about being seen, not observing.

The row behind me unleashed a swarm of beach balls after the traditional rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” They claimed it was to celebrate one of their ilk’s birthday and all in the name of a good time. The thing they most enjoyed, however, was deriding people in another section who took issue with the tossing of the tchotchkes. A few folks took it upon themselves to rip the balls.

I am all for enjoying oneself at the game as one will, but just as the purposeful destruction of the toys was over the top, so the relentless yammering of the beach ball contingent (which included threats of throwing the discarded toys purposefully at the heads of their opposition) was excessive.

For me, there’s no choosing between the self-indulgence of drunkards and the self-righteousness of killjoys, so I occupied myself with trying to keep track of Terry Francona’s revolving lineup card. Following the likes of Kevin Cash, Eric Hinske, and Brandon Moss became tedious. I simply succumbed to the realm of the sensory: the touch of the sun, the caress of the breeze, the last strokes of summer before she yields to the fall.

Hail, October.

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