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Home » Monthly Archive » September 2008

September 29, 2008


Game 162: September 28, 2008 ∙ 10 innings
Yankees 3 L: Jose Veras (5-3) 89-73, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 4 BS: Justin Masterson (1)
BS: David Aardsma (1)
W: Devern Hansack (1-0)
95-67, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I didn’t realize the Pawtucket Red Sox and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees played this late into the year.

Dustin Pedroia had the night off after going 2-for-4 in the afternoon game, rendering his final batting average .326. Joe Mauer went 2-for-5 and compiled a .330 average for the season, but this figure is subject to change as the one-game playoff between the White Sox and the Twins will count towards regular season statistics.

So Pedroia (“The Destroia” as one sign at Rally Monday proclaimed) still has a chance to prevail for the batting title, which would be one more accomplishment to list in his application for MVP. Jayson Stark named the second baseman in his column on the year-end awards. If a player can be mentioned in the same breath as Lou Gehrig, his case for MVP would be difficult to dispute.

The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Pedroia’s 43 hits and 33 runs in 26 games in August marked the first month that any player has accumulated those numbers in that few games since Lou Gehrig’s 48-hit, 35-run June in 1936. When the Red Sox needed Pedroia to hit cleanup for four games, he did that (going 12-for-18, with two homers, four doubles and a 1.222 slugging percentage). When they needed him to steal a base, he did that (20-for-21).

Enhancing these offensive contributions is that they are coming from a position where teams would sacrifice production for defense. In Pedroia the Red Sox have both in one compact package.

The lineup missed his bat and his smack talk last night. The local nine cobbled together one run in the first by building on Coco Crisp’s leadoff double, but they did not tally another run until the eighth.

Darrell Rasner (and his brothers Darryl and Larry) walked the bases loaded and then relinquished a two-run single to Sean Casey. Rasner couldn’t help himself, Casey was just too friendly.

The Yankees knotted the game in the top of the ninth. They were desperate to add a sweep of a meaningless series to their season’s other empty accomplishments, like Derek Jeter getting more hits than Gehrig at Yankee Stadium and Mike Mussina’s 20 wins. Melky Cabrera bunted with none out and two on to advance the runners and reached first, aided by the slippery infield, Kevin Cash’s unfamiliarity at third, and David Aardsma’s panic in having to field the ball because Cash didn’t.

The more the Yankees wanted it the more the Red Sox wanted to deny them. Alex Cora tripled to center to start off the tenth but appeared in danger of being stranded there when call-up Chris Carter struck out on four pitches.

With one out and a man on third Joe Girardi had Jose Veras intentionally walk two batters to load the bases and play for the double play. Last season Veras sported a tidy ground out/fly out ratio of 1.10 but in 2008 the ratio dwindled to .89. But it wasn’t a liner or fly that plated Cora but rather a sharp grounder of the bat of Jonathan Van Every past first baseman Juan Miranda.

Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka may not like to be on the mound in the rain, but a guy like Devern Hansack only gets to see action because of such conditions.

Perhaps the Red Sox will bring the rain with them to California so that Beckett may recover from his oblique injury.

Roku [六]

Game 161: September 28, 2008
WinYankees 6 W: Mike Mussina (20-9)
H: Phil Coke (5)
H: Brian Bruney (12)
S: Mariano Rivera (39)
89-72, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox 2 L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3) 94-67, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Jonathan Papelbon’s performance on Sunday afternoon had better be him working out the kinks before the playoff season that begins this Wednesday. The closer allowed three runs to score in the ninth. The weather was terrible and he seemed as distressed by wet rosin bags as Joba Chamberlain was of midges. Speaking of, the rotund reliever pitched to two batters in the eighth, walking Jason Bay and allowing a ground-rule double to Mark Kotsay. The Yankees paid tribute to Johnny Pesky in their own way: the visitors scored six runs on the day that his number 6 (roku) was retired. In turn, I compliment Mussina on finally getting 20 wins in a season. In true Yankee fashion, he came up big when it mattered not a whit.

As Carlton Fisk lifted the green tarp that covered the number six on the facade of the Right Field Roof Johnny Pesky’s hands covered his eyes. Pesky could use the excuse of rain, but we really knew why his face was wet.

He had just heard Josh Beckett hurt himself and couldn’t start Game 1 of the ALDS over in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula.

Either that or his number was finally retired by the team to which he devoted his life. There were former players there to honor him, Bud Selig and Joe Torre had their letters read aloud, and Nomar Garciaparra and Curt Schilling taped congratulatory messages. Notably absent were Bobby Doerr (the oldest living player in the Hall of Fame) and Dom DiMaggio. Their health must have hindered them from traveling to Boston, for they would never intentionally miss such a celebration for their lifelong friend.

It was a long-overdue gift that came just one day after his 89th birthday. Pesky is expecting a more tangible reward come late October in the form of a third ring. He wasn’t shy in stating he wanted one (like everyone else who follows this team).

Not only did Pesky toss a ceremonial first pitch but also batted a ritual fungo to home plate. The odd reversal of direction was symbolic of the Red Sox’s reversal in their policy on retired numbers. Some purists envisage a day where a decommissioned Red Sox number loses its meaning, like the Yankees’ veritable bingo card of numerals, but I don’t think that’s a valid fear.

It’s the least they could do for Mr. Red Sox.

September 27, 2008


Game 160: September 26, 2008
WinYankees 19 W: David Robertson (4-0) 88-72, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 8 L: David Pauley (0-1) 94-66, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: The game was as ugly as the weather or John McCain’s rictus. Daisuke Matsuzaka was scratched as starter, shielded from the elements as Sarah Palin has been from the press. The difference between Matsuzaka and Palin, however, is that the pitcher doesn’t shy away from reporters.

Leave it to the Yankees: when the game doesn’t matter, when the chips aren’t on the line, they came up huge. The scored in every single inning but the sixth.

The lack of suspense in the game allowed me to turn my attention to the first presidential debate. The topic was supposed to be about foreign policy, but Jim Lehrer allowed tremendous leeway with the opening question by tying international relations in with the global economy.

Barack Obama scored hit after hit with his points to handle the economic crisis. While John McCain harped on his pet issue of earmarks, Obama emphasized that earmarks have a price tag of $18 billion. In comparison to the $300 billion in tax cuts for the nation’s upper crust that the Republicans are advocating, $18 billion is a red herring the GOP serves to the public to distract them on the favors they are granting to their wealthy friends.

When the debate turned to foreign policy, McCain appeared to gain some ground back, but not as much as someone whose momentum has been trending downwards for the past few weeks should have secured, especially since this is his alleged area of strength. McCain’s hawkish posture might appeal to those citizens who believe that the United States retains its former reputable international profile and that the flexing of military muscle is all that is needed to keep countries in line.

In contrast, Obama shared his vision of a country that leads through right, not might. He rebuffed McCain’s chidings that he was naïve and demonstrated that he did indeed know the difference between tactics and strategy.

The McCain campaign quickly picked up on the sound bites in which Obama said that McCain was right, but of course divorcing these statements from their context twisted their original meaning. Obama would often precede a statement showing McCain’s hypocrisy or lack of depth with an acknowledgment that McCain was right, but then followed up with how McCain was wrong or ignoring the rest of the issue:

  • I think Senator McCain's absolutely right that we need more responsibility, but we need it not just when there is a crisis.
  • And he's also right that oftentimes lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these kinds of requests, although that wasn't the case with me.
  • Now, John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right. Here's the problem: There are so many loopholes that have been written into the tax code, oftentimes with support of Senator McCain, that we actually see our businesses pay effectively one of the lowest tax rates in the world.
  • Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families. They have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war. And so John likes -- John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007.
  • And, John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is. I think this is the right strategy.

Obama’s tack was to use tact, as Mark Antony did in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We lent him our ears and we learned McCain was right, just as Brutus was an honorable man. I want to believe that Americans have longer attention spans than goldfish to attend to this distinction.

In the wake of Obama's positive showing in the debate, I was also happy to hear that Kim Ng, currently the assistant GM of the Dodgers, is being considered to take the helm as general manager of the Mariners. She absolutely needs to be freed from the shadow of the Dodgers nepotistic atmosphere into a new organization.

September 26, 2008


Game 159: September 25, 2008
Indians 1 L: Jeremy Sowers (4-9) 79-80, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 6 W: Jon Lester (16-6) 94-65, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Lester carried a no-hitter into the sixth. Right after Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy obliquely mentioned this and the cameraman panned the scoreboard Josh Barfield doubled into left field. It would have made a positional player sick to his stomach to fail on a close play, so at least Barfield got good wood on the ball and made it a no-doubt two-bagger.

After a string a low-scoring games against aces and unknowns alike, the Red Sox bats have come alive in the last three games games against Cleveland. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie singled, setting up an RBI opportunity for Dustin “Little Papi” Pedroia.

I can only imagine Pedroia in the clubhouse upon seeing the lineup sheet. At the end of August the second baseman batted clean-up and last night he supplanted David Ortiz in the three-hole. Papi threatened retirement last month, goodness knows what last night did to his psyche.

Pedroia arced a sacrifice fly to center to plate the first run. Sowers went sour, walking the bases loaded and allowing another run to tag up on Jason Varitek’s high fly to center. Mark Kotsay confounded Jhonny Peralta on a ground ball with english to tally a third run.

Ellsbury and Lowrie paired up again in the second, this time with running doubles. Lowrie advanced on Pedroia’s flyer to right and scored on Kevin Youkilis’s single to the left-center gap. Youkilis also scored the last run of the game in the seventh: a soaring homer to the third row of the Monster seats.

Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be funny, but Jason Bay made me laugh in the eighth inning. He made a play on Grady Sizemore facing the wall of the left field stands. He continued on to walk into the wall unnecessarily and then fell down. Perhaps it was an ironic comment on Sizemore’s theatrical catches in center.

The lineup is stringing together hits, the pitching rotation is giving opposing batters fits, the relief corps is not getting lit, and the defense is making skits: all essential cogs in a playoff machine.

September 25, 2008


Game 158: September 24, 2008
Indians 4 L: Rafael Perez (4-4) 79-79, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: David Aardsma (4-2)
S: Manny Delcarmen (2)
93-65, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: J.D. Drew returned to action for the first time since August 17. He went 1-for-2; he grounded into a fielder’s choice and led off the third with an infield single. The epidural did its work as the left fielder looked sharp at the plate and smooth running the bases.

Before the game I was talking to a friend who was worried that Paul Byrd was facing his former teammates. Familiarity breeds contempt, and possibly also insight into how best to hit Byrd’s predictable offerings.

I wasn’t as concerned. I pointed out that he didn’t hear that he was tipping his pitches from guys in his clubhouse or even from an Indians coach but rather from someone from an opposing team.

The lack of data about on one’s own players stunned me. I recall that Jerry Remy mentioned that the Rays have a staff member who scouts their own team. This scout observes the team as a competitor would and points out Tampa Bay players’ weaknesses and proclivities. I wonder if it something so simple as a specialized scout that has made the difference between a struggling team rife with talent to a playoff club poised to win a championship.

Dustin Pedroia started the the Red Sox hit parade early; his one-out double clanged off the left field wall and sparked an inning that would yield four runs and have the team bat around the order. Fausto Carmona has not yet recovered from Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS. The very sight of J.D. Drew in the on-deck circle had him pitching erratically to Kevin Youkilis; just four of five pitches to the corner infielder were strikes.

Unlike Joba Chamberlain, he can handle bugs. It’s just Boston batters and the unceasing green of Fenway Park that perturbs him.

Former first overall pick from 2002 Bryan Bullington came into the game with little expectations; he was only picked by the Pirates ahead of the likes of Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, and B.J. Upton because he wouldn’t demand a huge bonus.

With something to prove, Bullington hurled a remarkable five innings of shutout ball while striking out six and allowing just two hits. Meanwhile Cleveland plucked away at Byrd’s lead. When the fifth inning opened, Cleveland smacked three consecutive singles, capped by Victor Martinez’s game-tying rope to center. With two men on and none out, the disappointing Travis Hafner grounded into a double play and the streaky Ben Francisco grounded out to third.

The Red Sox had no response until the bottom of the eighth. Jeff Bailey eluded Grady Sizemore’s Gold Glove in center to triple with one out. Mark Kotsay followed up with a double down the right field line for what would be the game-winning score.

With Mike Lowell still out and Drew getting limited at bats, it was heartening to see the role players make a mark on the season. Although it is a longshot, the division title is not a mathematical impossibility, and Tampa Bay did lose to Detroit today....

September 24, 2008


Game 157: September 23, 2008
Indians 4 L: Cliff Lee (22-3) 79-78, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Tim Wakefield (10-11)
H: Manny Delcarmen (18)
H: Hideki Okajima (23)
H: Justin Masterson (3)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (41)
92-65, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I wanted this. Not as much as I want Barack Obama in the White House, but close. I had hoped the Red Sox would cinch a spot in the playoffs on the day that Yankee Stadium closed, but the two events were close enough in time that in my senility I will remember them as happening in tandem.

“Grandma, you’re wrong,” my know-it-all grandkids would whine. “I read it on your archived blog from that season. In 2008 the Red Sox clinched on September 23rd, but the last baseball game was played on September 21st!”

“Just a few days off!” I’d snap back. “It was great how they put that Cy Young award winner in his place that game. That entire season that Lee guy only gave up more than five runs in a game four times, and one of the times he did it was against the Red Sox.”

It’s 2038 and I drift into rhapsodic remembrances of the championship 2008 season. My grandchildren have become used to the Red Sox winning consecutive titles, but the ’07-’08 pair was the first since ’15-’16.

“Don’t take this success for granted!” I’d warn them. “Don’t become like those spoiled Yankee brats with their sense of entitlement.” You’d never see any of them wearing a “Do the math: 20 World Series Titles” Red Sox t-shirt, although they could. It would be terribly fun to taunt the few dwindling fans of the Bronx Bromides these days. They’ve been stuck on 27 since the millenium turned.

Kids these days think they know so much more about baseball then their elders. My nudnick granddaughter tacked on, “Also, Obāsan, Dustin Pedroia didn’t deserve to have his number retired. You said you never want the Red Sox to go the way of the Yankees, but I think they did with him.”

Her calling me the Japanese word for “grandmother” softened me at first, but I knew it was a ploy. “Oh, so you’re telling me that a guy who on Rookie of the Year and then followed up in his sophomore season with an MVP award doesn’t deserve to have 15 up on the Fenway’s facade? The kid went on to win two more MVPs, went to 11 All-Star games, and surpassed Bobby Doerr as the Red Sox’s greatest second baseman.”

Her younger sister chimed in, “He’s funny looking! With his hair plugs he has more hair now than he did when he played! I like him as an analyst, though.”

“Amazing he was ever able to tone down his language enough to be a broadcaster,” I smirked. Hearing Pedroia talk about the lasers he used to hit during the NESN broadcast sent me further into the musty but still accessible vault of my memories.

“That was an amazing week in an amazing season. Speaking of so-called undeserved numbers being retired, Red Sox ownership announced right before that very game that Johnny Pesky’s number was going to be retired.” I recalled how frail he looked but how happy and grateful he was. “He lost years of his playing career to fight in a meaningful war. If there’s anyone who earned that honor by his contributions both on and off the field, it was him.”

Using the word war sent me further back into the desperation of that year outside of baseball. My country had been fighting an unsustainable, unjustified war and the economy was in shambles. The election changed the course of the nation. I looked at my grandchildren, thankful that Barack Obama’s presidency ushered in a new era of a rejuvenated America, an America that was a moral leader on the international scene rather than morally bankrupt.

I tell them about the dark times whether it be about our favorite sports team or our country. Not to frighten them, but to ensure that they are glad for the good times they live in.

“We traded away a Hall of Famer for a solid player but still won it all. Jon Lester threw a no-hitter. Injury after injury: Lowell, J.D. Drew, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lugo... well, that last one wasn’t so bad. 2008.”

“Mom and Dad went to a 2008 retro party, that’s why you’re watching us. They said they were going to play a lot of Rock Band and Wii.”

I clucked my tongue and shook my head. “Seriously, they weren’t even born when that came out. I’m glad my memories are now fodder for a new generation.”

“Oh, Ba-chan, don’t get yourself grumpy. Look, Pedroia is ogling Violet Affleck in the booth.”

Almost There

Monday night’s game was frustrating in the bottom halves of the frames, but the bullpen at last has carried its drumming rhythms to the mound. Justin Masterson and Hideki Okajima pitched better than their Cleveland counterparts the Rafaels, but without runs their efforts fell just short of a win.

For the first I sat in a section where I could see a monitor. Comparing the results of home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman’s judgment and the Amica strike zone was enough to keep me warm on a brisk evening.

John Farrell declined to manage the Pirates last year. I wonder if he will decide similarly after this season?

Josh Beckett limbers up.

Something to raise our flagging spirits.

Beckett long tossing next to the warning track.

Jason Varitek begs for another four-year contract.

Close-up of Beckett’s Phiten necklace and embroidered glove.

Zach Jackson, who came to Cleveland in the C.C. Sabathia deal, would secure his first major league win.

At the end of the evening this read “BECKKKʞKʞETT.”

September 23, 2008


Game 156: September 22, 2008
WinIndians 4 W: Zach Jackson (1-3)
H: Rafael Perez (25)
H: Rafael Betancourt (12)
S: Jensen Lewis (12)
79-77, 7 game winning streak
Red Sox 3 L: Josh Beckett (12-10) 91-65, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Losing these one-run games has been a vexing aspect of this season. While the Red Sox’s losing record on the road has been commented upon, this is true for all the teams in the AL East. I think the team’s 19-23 record in one-run contests stands in stark relief to the Rays’ 28-17 mark. A few runs here and there and you have the difference between the wild card and the division title.

Astronomically the calendar turned from summer to fall at 11:44 AM yesterday, making last night’s match-up the first official fall game of the season. It is this time of year, when the morning frost limns the landscape and apples ripen in the trees, that you want your team’s bats to warm up.

Other signs of autumnal baseball are chowder being sold in the stands (although with New England springs, that happens in April as well) and the constant meditation on the magic number.

The Indians seemed intent on ruining this series as the Red Sox scuttled their playoff hopes last year. Even though the game meant nothing to Cleveland, they still have their pride to maintain. When Hideki Okajima drifted over to talk to Masahide Kobayashi, an Indians coach made as if to keep them from talking. The coach did so in a light-hearted manner, but the incident did reveal an undercurrent of animus between the teams.

Josh Beckett’s comments on Ryan Garko’s body armor (“Maybe he has a doctor’s note or something”) has set the stage for furture conflict. Garko, you will recall, was the Indians player whose quote about championship champagne on the road tasting sweet incited Boston in last year’s ALCS.

Luis Tiant threw out the first pitch and the moment was being filmed by the Farrelly brothers for their upcoming biopic about the pitcher. Carl Beane exhorted the audience to chant Tiant’s first name, but his instructions were unclear most of the fans didn’t know when or how to cheer.

The film crew could have acquired some useful crowd noise in the seventh inning. Zach Jackson, who had out-pitched Beckett by a smidge, was relieved by Rafael Perez. The left-handed set-up man surrendered consecutive singles to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. If only David Ortiz homered as he did in the fifth, but it was not to be. Kevin Youkilis’s double off the wall just missed being a home run, but his RBI brought the local nine within a run.

With the bases loaded, one out, and a chance to clinch a playoff spot in the balance, it was as loud as I have heard Fenway. Rookie Jed Lowrie got jobbed by Bruce Dreckman with a called strikeout and Mark Kotsay flied out to left to staunch the rally.

The Red Sox will make the playoffs, but the nagging doubts I had about the 2005 team’s postseason chances because of their pitching has now flipped over to the other side of the ball. Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Jon Lester can go toe to toe with any other team’s rotation, but the run support that backs them is lacking. Red Sox fans went home disappointed, but I fear further disenchantment in October.

Pictures from Monday’s game to be posted later this evening.

September 22, 2008

Jūhachiban [十八番]

Game 155: September 21, 2008
WinRed Sox 3 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2)
H: Hideki Okajima (22)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (40)
91-64, 1 game winning streak
Blue Jays 0 L: Scott Richmond (0-3) 83-73, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Matsuzaka said that he wished to have as many wins as his jersey number 18. The Japanese world for eighteen is jūhachiban; the symbols translate literally as ten-eight-number, but the word also has another meaning as as one’s hobby, specialty, or shtick, which has its origins in the canon of 18 kabuki classics. After finally reaching his goal after ten years he said “it just feels like any other win.” I wonder if Matsuzaka used a daruma to track his progress; many Japanese purchase a daruma doll when undertaking a quest (or at the beginning of the new year for a resolution) and fill in one eye. When they have achieved their aim, the other eye is completed. Darumas are shaped so that when they are pushed over they right themselves, like a Weeble. It perfectly symbolizes Matsuzaka’s “bend but not break” mound approach.

When commenting on how one’s individual ambition means little when one is part of a team, Daisuke Matsuzaka echoed Dustin Pedroia’s sentiments from a recent USA Today feature by Bob Nightengale. “Who wants to put up big numbers on a lousy team? That’s got to be the worst feeling. I never want to experience that. Really, I don’t think I ever will.” With someone like Pedroia on a team, it’s hard to see how any team he’s on could underachieve. Pedroia’s bluster not only motivates himself but buoys his teammates.

Multiple-MVP awardee Alex “Never Been to the World Series” Rodriguez seems to have the opposite affect.

Yesterday the Red Sox sealed the series win and reduced their magic number for a playoff berth to one. They got on the board first, just as they did in the middle game of the series. Jacoby Ellsbury burned around the basepaths for a leadoff triple and was plated by Pedroia on a sac fly to left.

This time the visitors’ starting pitcher was up to the task of keeping the home team at bay. Over seven innings the Blue Jays had just four baserunners; Matsuzaka allowed a mere two hits and two walks. Toronto’s batters were kept off-balance, whiffing on the elusive pitches that kissed the edges of the black or buckled the knees of the unsuspecting for six strikeouts.

There are only a few men who can reach across the plate for a breaking pitch outside and with their own strength propel a ball over the fences for a home run to the opposite field. I saw Carlos Quentin take just such a swing earlier this season; David Ortiz duplicated the feat from the other side of the plate in the third inning.

If playoff success were based on brawn alone, Ortiz’s might could take his team to a consecutive title. But luck also is involved, and the inauspicious absence of both J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell from the lineup will make for an arduous slog through the last few games of the season needed to clinch a berth.

Tonight I’ll be at the game in Section 4 of the Right Field Grandstand. Perhaps by evening’s end we’ll be able to paint in daruma’s second eye.

Daruma doll image from David Bull’s modern woodblock print collection.

September 21, 2008


Game 154: September 20, 2008
Red Sox 3 L: Jon Lester (15-6) 90-64, 1 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays 6 W: Roy Halladay (19-11)
H: Jesse Carlson (19)
H: Brandon League (5)
S: B.J. Ryan (32)
83-72, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Happy birthday, Jason Bay. On his 30th, Bay gifted himself a two-run homer. The third-inning bomb kept his team within two runs of Halladay, but as with all physicians the Doc’s prescription is to “take two and call him in the morning.” With the roof open, it’s almost like real baseball in the sepulcher known as Rogers Centre. I am certain that the number of games Mike Lowell has to play on this field and on Tropicana Field’s less-than-ideal artificial surface has exacerbated his hip injury.

Two teams celebrated playoff berths yesterday, and one of the few similarities between the pair was that Lou Piniella managed them at some point.

For Northsiders, it is Anno Catuli (AC) 016399; that is, one year since their last division title, 63 since their last appearance in the World Series, and 99 years since their last title. The origins of the club reach back to 1870 and they were formally made part of the “National Base-Ball League” in 1876.

For the denizens of St. Petersburg, professional baseball has been a minor part of their lifestyle since 1998.

The Cubs’ opening day payroll was $118,345,833 and Forbes valued the franchise at $642,000,000.

At the start of this season, the Rays payroll was $43,745,597 and had a valuation of $290,000,000.

For the most part Chicago’s hitting has carried the day for them: they are fourth in team batting average (.277), second in on-base percentage (.354), and fifth in slugging (.443). Team ERA is fourth at 3.85, right after the Rays.

But Tampa Bay’s 3.78 ERA is stunning given that its staff has to battle through the American League East. As laudable as the Northsiders’ pitching staff has been, dominating the National League Central can hardly be compared. The Rays’ rank of 19 in team batting average with .262 is offset by an OBP of .340, which makes them 10th in the league. They slug along with the teams that are known for powerful hitting: their slugging percentage of .425 is just a sliver behind the Yankees’ .426, ties them with Cleveland, and puts them a hair in front of the Mets’ .424.

The Cubs must produce or face Piniella’s wrath. And even if they are supported by the irascible manager to the press, they must face the choler of their devoted adherents, who are loathe to work through the vagaries of their Y1C crisis. For if their team fails to win the World Series, is it mathematically or calendarically sound to represent 2009 as AC016400, or would it be AC0164100?

Meanwhile, the Rays play without fear of expectations from their Johnny-come-lately fans. For while they mindlessly clang their cowbells while in the stands of Tropicana Field, they would just as soon prefer to have tickets to the University of Florida Gators or even University of South Florida Bulls football game.

So, if the Red Sox do not make to the Fall Classic: EAMVS CATVLI.

September 20, 2008


Game 153: September 19, 2008
WinRed Sox 4 W: Manny Delcarmen (1-2)
H: Hideki Okajima (21)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (39)
90-63, 1 game winning streak
Blue Jays 3 L: Brian Tallet (1-2) 82-72, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Paul Byrd has been stuck in a pitching rotation loop like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. He was shelled in his September 13 outing, which prompted a SoSH poster to analyze and reveal that Byrd had been tipping his pitches.

Facing the final phase of this Sisyphean cycle, Paul Byrd stated that he had also been made aware of this tendency around the time of the All-Star Break by an opposing player. In the pre-game show Dennis Eckersley mentioned that it wasn’t odd for Byrd to be vocal about his idiosyncrasies and that he thought Byrd might be floating out this information to confound the Blue Jays’ lineup. Would he intentionally deploy a mannerism to stymie a batter? Or would he play it straight so that the opposition would have to respond to the pitch rather than to its prelude?

In the early innings it seemed that the Blue Jays would be able to decipher Byrd’s mechanisms no matter what his tactic. Scott Rolen, Gregg Zaun, and Travis Snider doubled consecutively in the second inning to put their team ahead by two runs.

A.J. Burnett responded with shutdown stuff until the fifth frame, which Jason Varitek led off with a ground ball double to left. The catcher advanced to third on Jacoby Ellsbury’s bunt single but was frozen there on Dustin Pedroia’s fielder’s choice and David Ortiz’s swinging strikeout.

Kevin Youkilis hung in against Burnett, who had been pitching like a man who planned to trigger the escape clause in his contract to pursue free agency. Youkilis singled on a fastball down the middle to plate Varitek.

A coaching visit by Brad Arnsberg didn’t set matters straight, or perhaps set them too straight: Sean Casey took a fat fastball to the left field wall, just missing a homer. Two runs scored and the Red Sox took the lead, albeit briefly.

As well as Byrd handled the meat of the lineup, it was the pesky top and bottom of the order that mustered runs against him. Joe Inglett singled up the middle and was driven in by Marco Scutaro’s gapper to left-center for the tie.

In a rare mental lapse, Ortiz was doubled off first on Youkilis’s fly ball to center in the seventh. It’s hard to keep those baserunning nuances in one’s head when your modus operandi is to put the ball over the fences.

The vaunted Blue Jays bullpen clunked through the top of the eighth. Not through spectacular offensive plays but rather through patience the Red Sox scored the go-ahead run. With one out Jason Bay ran out an infield single. Mark Kotsay and Jed Lowrie walked to load the bases and Varitek tallied an RBI with a fielder’s choice to second that could have been a double play.

The Rays defeated the Twins by a hefty 11-1, keeping the two teams lockstep in the standings. Each loss by the Blue Jays extends Yankee elimination day further into the future. In my mind I have combined this imminent event with the demise of Yankee Stadium; each feature eulogizing Stade Fasciste, whether it be on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, or MLB’s site, is opening another window on an ironic advent calendar. Yes, Virginia, there is retribution.

September 19, 2008


Game 152: September 17, 2008
Red Sox 3 L: Tim Wakefield (9-11) 89-63, 2 game losing streak
WinRays 10 W: Grant Balfour (5-2) 90-60, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Dissension abounded on and off the field. Thought and deed were divergent; the harder Wakefield tried to stymie the Rays lineup the more they hit, the more the visiting batters attempted to hit the less they made contact (except for David Ortiz), the less the defense endeavored to make errors the more they bungled plays.

For the past few games Jerry Remy has stated that the Red Sox have the best defense in the American League according to fielding percentage (a questionable statistic, to be sure, but seems to be the method the MLB uses to rate defensive skill). Last night was a blooper reel played out live, particularly by the pitchers. In the third Devern Hansack tossed the ball into center field when attempting to pick off Willie Aybar from second base.

Later in that inning Javier Lopez played Gabe Gross’s soft liner to the side and allowed Gross to get on base. Either homerism or sympathy took over in the fourth when David Aardsma and the entire infield failed to nab a high pop-up that landed behind the mound off the bat of Aybar. Initially tallied as an error, the scorer changed the call to a hit.

His team doing as badly as his shoulder, Curt Schilling entered the fray with criticisms of former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez. The pitcher spouted off on WEEI on September 17:

The guy got to dress in a locker away from the team for seven years. And then [when] he’s on this crusade to get out of here, all of a sudden he’s in the locker room every day, voicing his displeasure without even having to play the game that night.

The team could have done with the .390/.480/.720 and 14 home runs Ramirez has turned in thus far with the Dodgers. David Ortiz tried to do it on his own: Boston’s designated hitter was responsible for all three of his team’s runs, and he scored them dramatically with four-baggers.

But Tim Wakefield’s sluggish start in which he lasted just two and one-third innings while yielding six hits (three of them homers) proved too much to overcome, just as the Rays’ lead in the AL East may prove insurmountable with just 10 games remaining.

September 17, 2008


Game 151: September 16, 2008
Red Sox 1 L: Justin Masterson (6-5) 89-62, 1 game losing streak
WinRays 2 W: Dan Wheeler (5-5) 89-60, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Josh Beckett got Matt Cain-ed last night. A Cain-ing is defined as a pitcher turning in a stellar effort, such as Beckett’s eight innings of three-hit ball with seven strikeouts and a lone batter granted a free pass, but losing because of an impotent offense. Beckett’s margin for error was slim, and Carlos Peña’s game-tying solo shot in the seventh was the leverage the Rays needed to prevail at game’s end. The Rays are 28-17 in one-run games; the Red Sox are 18-22.

Just call these guys Raysputin.

Infuriatingly indefatigable, Tampa Bay’s backstop Dioner Navarro sent a 2-2 fastball out of the hand of Justin Masterson over Coco Crisp’s head to plate the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Masterson had faced a similar challenge in the Bronx against Alex Rodriguez, but with the bases loaded and one out the gangly reliever could not get the better of former Yankee farm product Navarro.

The visitors scraped up one run in the sixth. It was the second time in the game the Red Sox managed to get the leadoff hitter on base. The Jacoby Ellsbury Express advanced along the route in his usual manner: infield hit, advance to second thanks to jittery infielders muffing their fielding attempts because of Ellsbury’s speed, proceed to third on a ground out, and then tagging up on a sacrifice fly.

An alternate route was attempted in the eighth. Ellsbury had beaten out a throw by Jason Bartlett and tried to steal second. Although Akinori Iwamura didn’t seem to secure the ball when gloving Navarro’s cross-diamond missile, Ellsbury was called out by second base umpire Jerry Crawford.

Rubber game of the series tonight: time to find the equivalent of the Neva River in the St. Petersburg of Florida and rid ourselves of the Rays, once and for all.

September 16, 2008

Yakyūnetsu [野球熱]

Game 150: September 15, 2008
WinRed Sox 13 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (17-2) 89-61, 3 game winning streak
Rays 5 L: Scott Kazmir (11-7) 88-60, 3 game losing streak
Highlights: The crowd in Tropicana Field were absolute baseball crazed, or as the Japanese would say, inflicted with baseball fever (yakyūnetsu). The 29,772-contingent was spread sparsely through the stands that can hold 36,048. The Rays fans beamed proudly with their freshly-purchased Rays gear: pristine caps and crisp t-shirts that had the appearance of being recently removed from a clothes hanger . Even with their cowbells they were drowned out by the thunder of the Boston bats and the accompanying ruckus. Rays fans did attempt to drown out Dustin Pedroia’s MVP chants, which is more than can be said for the devotees in Texas, but Red Sox fans dominated in this rout.

If St. Petersburg were any closer to New England, the stands would have been engulfed in a sea of red. Fortunately for the Rays, their domicile is a 1,200 mile roadtrip from Fenway. The divide between the spirits of the respective teams after last night’s contest was probably wider.

The Rays had their vaunted ace on the mound, the southpaw pitcher they so deftly swiped from the Mets and who now anchors the rotation. Opposing him was the Japanese wunderkind whose surface statistics impress but whose methods underwhelm.

Kazmir lasted a mere three innings. During the debacle, the twirler was subject to whiplash as four home runs were shot hither and yon beyond the fences... except for Jason Bay’s, which was ruled a four-bagger in accordance with those inimitable Tropicana Field ground rules:

  • Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
    • Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: Home Run.
    • Batted ball that is not judged a home run and remains on a catwalk, light or suspended object: Two Bases.
    • Batted ball that is not judged a home run and strikes a catwalk, light or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground or is touched by a fielder. If caught by fielder, batter is out and runners advance at own risk.
  • Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over foul territory: DEAD BALL

Who are Fenway denizens to judge, however? The ladder on the left field wall is a pre-Monster seat relic that could, and should, be removed.

With his two-run shot in the fourth, Jason Varitek surpassed Carlton Fisk as the record-holder for Red Sox catcher with the most home runs. Fisk could have, and should have, the bulk of his homers for his first team, but again, that was in the archaic days before the Red Sox had competent front office leadership.

Home plate umpire Jerry Meals was tetchy and warned the dugouts when Kazmir hit Varitek with a pitch to open the top half of the second inning. Nothing came of the warning, however: Mike Lowell was plunked by Mitch Talbot and Matsuzaka grazed Evan Longoria with no repercussions.

Matsuzaka lasted the minimum for a decision while striking out seven, walking two, and allowing three hits (one a homer to Akinori Iwamura). With his extra time the starter was shown in a rapt conversation with Tim Wakefield without the aid of an interpreter. As with Sarah Palin, the time for an interview in English (not Japanese or politician-speak) with reporters is well overdue.

After all, it would be nice to heard Matsuzaka’s thoughts on being so close to the American League East Division title for the second year in the row, and nicer still to know if Palin does have any thoughts beyond the pre-made sound bites she dutifully parrots.

September 15, 2008


Game 149: September 14, 2008
Blue Jays 3 L: Roy Halladay (18-11) 80-70, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 4 W: Jon Lester (15-5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (38)
88-61, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: When Jose Bautista deposited a fastball into the Monster seats in the first inning, it seemed like it might be one of those days for Lester. That would be the only run he relinquished, however. Lester out-dueled and outlasted Roy Halladay in a pivotal game; while the Blue Jays’ ace gave up three runs over seven innings the Red Sox southpaw shut down Toronto for the remainder of his eight-inning outing.

Against a formidable hurler such as Roy Halladay the Red Sox resorted to small ball tactics early. Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the gut and swiped second on the first pitch to Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia sac bunted the swift outfielder over and David Ortiz grounded out to second to tie the game.

Jason Bay continued to wipe memories of Manny Ramirez away, this time with a deep double to lead off the second inning. The ball caromed off the left field wall oddly, making Vernon Wells look like a puppy chasing his tail as he pursued it. The backstop Jason pushed Bay along with a ground out to second.

With men in scoring position Halladay bears down, as witnessed by opponent’s batting average of .212. Alex Cora was easily dispatched via strikeout.

Not even Halladay could contain hot-hitting Coco Crisp, however. With two outs and runners in scoring position batters hit only .150 against Halladay. Crisp broke the trend with a seeing-eye single between first and second for the lead.

The Red Sox would not only maintain this lead deep into the game but added on what would be necessary insurance runs. Crisp drove in another RBI single in the seventh with two out, this time a ringing single to left drawn by the gravitational pull of Kevin Mench’s head.

Alex Rios, who so generously grants extra base hits to Boston players, misplayed Ortiz’s line shot to right in the eighth into a triple. Kevin Youkilis lofted a sacrifice fly to center as soon as practicable so that Ortiz could get into the dugout for oxygen.

Everyone in the park soon wished they had their own tanks of the life-giving gas with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound for yet another tenuous save. A double and two singles were smacked in succession; had the Red Sox not gotten a favorable call by second base umpire Doug Eddings on Lyle Overbay’s slide into second, the game would have gone into the bottom of the ninth and possibly beyond.

Boston accepted the gift out graciously and Toronto added to the generous gesture with meek ground outs by Scott Rolen (which did score a run) and Gregg Zaun.

We’ve leveled the score with the Blue Jays; the Rays and their vexing cowbell-toting devotees are next. I want to see more Red Sox fans than Raymonds-come-latelys in the Trop. Make it happen, Red Sox Nation.

September 14, 2008


Game 148: September 13, 2008
Blue Jays 5 H: Jesse Carlson (17)
H: Brandon League (4)
BS, L: Scott Downs (4, 0-3)
80-69, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Justin Masterson (6-4)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (37)
87-61, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Boston enjoyed their third eighth-inning comeback this season in the second game of yesterday’s day-night doubleheader. Tampa Bay also split their doubleheader with the Yankees, so this win was key in keeping the Red Sox within breathing distance of the AL East leaders.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who held their breath with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound even though he was facing the lower end of the Blue Jays’ lineup. Lyle Overbay turned over on the first fastball he saw and grounded out to Dustin Pedroia, so the first out came easily enough. Red Sox fans’ respiration was partially restored.

Sophomore Adam Lind proved to be a tougher out. Papelbon started him off with a couple of fastballs and then altered his approach with breaking pitches every two fastballs. Lind stubbornly fouled off five of the seven pitches he saw, but the variations undid Lind, who went down swinging.

Against Scott Rolen the closer went for brute force. Papelbon fed him cheese until the hoary third baseman took a nibble on a high pitch and dribbled it to Jed Lowrie for the final out.

Papelbon’s 1-2-3 inning sealed a comeback win that had his team trailing from the second inning forward. Bartolo Colon had a rough go of it early: he walked in a run, allowed the tying and go-ahead runs on a double by Joe Inglett, surrendered a sacrifice fly by Marco Scutaro, and ceded a bloop RBI single to Alex Rios.

After that inning, the Blue Jays seemed content to sit on their lead. If they didn’t go down 1-2-3 (as they four times), they were grounding into double plays (three times).

Boston’s defense played well behind Colon by turning these twin killings, errors by Lowrie and Kevin Youkilis aside. Colon helped himself in the fifth by gloving a grounder up the middle backhanded; he nonchalantly reached down as Rios’s batted ball hit the back of shin and ended up in his glove. Even before relaying to Youkilis he smiled Sphinx-like at his middle infielders. “Hey, Ma, look what I found!”

In the dugout Colon reclined, recounting his feat to Sean Casey and David Ortiz with blasé. Odd to think that the difference between the division title and wild card, or the wild card and playoffs, may rest on the shoulders of castoffs like Paul Byrd and Colon.

Lowrie must have been tired off seeing Travis Snider prowling right field. In the fourth Snider snatched away a homer on an impressive play at the bullpen wall, but Lowrie repaid him with a sacrifice fly to right in the sixth. That was the only run eked out of that inning despite having the bases juiced with none out.

Boston chipped away at the bedrock of Toronto’s team, their solid pitching staff. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the seventh with a double, but he would score on a ground out and a force out.

In the bottom of the eighth the local nine surged ahead. The crowd’s a cappella “Sweet Caroline” was particularly stirring and the team carried that passion to the plate. Ellsbury’s swinging bunt single to plate Lowrie notched the go-ahead run. Pedroia followed with a single, his 200th hit of the season, which allowed Ortiz to smack a double for an insurance run.

It was a, dare I say, Rays-like win, something Boston may need more of to keep pace.


Game 147: September 13, 2008
WinBlue Jays 8 W: A.J. Burnett (18-10) 80-68, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 1 L: Paul Byrd (11-12) 86-61, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Byrd seemed to be rookie Travis Snider’s personal batting practice pitcher. The rookie outfielder went 2-for-5 with a three-run homer in the fifth and and a two-run ground-rule double in the sixth. Hopefully the Blue Jays will stifle his development as they did with their other homegrown players and the AL East won’t have to be afflicted by his presence until he’s 23 or so, like Vernon Wells.

The only thing I got of value from this game were posts on Son of Sam Horn that may have explained how the Blue Jays were so preternaturally honed in on Paul Byrd’s pitches, aside from the fact that his pitches are so slow I can begin preparation of a chocolate soufflé when he winds up and be snacking on it by the time his pitch reaches the plate.

SoSHer ToeKneeArmAss compiled video from the game and demonstrated that Byrd taps his glove before a fastball or straight change. When throwing a breaking pitch, Byrd keeps the ball still in the glove.

Toronto’s expertise at sign stealing was mentioned by Jason Varitek in this article, which came out after Josh Beckett had accused Melvin Mora of this tactic last month.

“There are some teams that are very renowned for doing it in our league,” Varitek said. “Toronto is the most renowned for it. And New York. There are different teams throughout the league that are predictable, whether it’s location or change of speeds. It’s part of the game. But to defend against it, you have to use your coconut on the mound.”

Instead the Blue Jays batters went coconuts over Byrd’s stuff, as well as David Aardsma’s not quite ready for primetime heat. Only Devern Hansack suppressed the Blue Jays, but by that time the rosters looked like a spring training game.

September 13, 2008


Game 146: September 12, 2008
Blue Jays 0 L: David Purcey (3-6) 79-68, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Tim Wakefield (9-10) 86-60, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: As the Toronto players slipped about the field their team slid in the standings. They came into Fenway as one of the hottest teams in baseball (they won nine of their last 10 games) but their fire was drenched by the autumnal rainfall.

The contest got under way after a 41-minute delay. Six other games were rained out, but the soggy show had to go on in the Fens because a day-night doubleheader is scheduled for today. Article V, Section C of the collective bargaining agreement has 17 points that arcanely lay out the requirements for rainouts and split doubleheders; I imagine somewhere in that morass of legalese there is a prohibition against split doubleheaders on consecutive days.

One thing to note is that the CBA explicitly states that scheduling a postponed game as part of a conventional doubleheader will not be considered a practical alternative for the Cubs or Red Sox. Since both clubs have low seating capacity, this provision is meant to maximumize revenue for these clubs. If a new ballpark for the Marlins is approved, which seems to be more likely given a recent ruling by the Miami-Dade County Circuity Court regarding the project’s public purpose, I wonder if their proposed capacity of 37,000 will qualify them for the same treatment that Cubs and Red Sox receive?

Just as the Florida Marlins (soon to be Miami Marlins?) benefited from a timely ruling so did the Red Sox from timely hitting. The base hits with runners on base that was absent from the series against the Rays returned in full force against the Blue Jays.

Jed Lowrie led the early charge with his sacrifice fly to plate Jason Bay in the second inning. With a run on the board, if the umpires decided to make the game official after five innings the Red Sox would be guaranteed the win. Instead the crew decided to allow the teams to slog through nine innings of precipitation.

The conditions were messy but Tim Wakefield’s line was neat as a pin: over eight innings the knuckleballer allowed just three hits, struck out four, allowed no bases on balls, and had no wild pitches. In fact, the only wild pitch of the game was David Purcey’s in the second, which allowed Bay to advance to second and score on Lowrie’s fly ball to center. Wakefield’s dazzling outing put his team in good stead for today’s day-night doubleheader.

Kevin Cash was dinged with a passed ball that allowed Kevin Mench and his size 8 1/4 hat size to advance to third, but that would be as far as any Jay was allowed to progress. In turn, Cash smacked a three-run dinger in the eighth to put away the game.

Lowrie drove in Bay again in the fourth, this time with a double that arced over the head of left fielder Brad Wilkerson. Ortiz tacked on two more runs in the seventh with a two-bagger that dropped in front of Alex Rios. Two years ago in September, Rios once helped Alex Cora get a home run by bobbling a can of corn into the stands. It was Cora’s only home run of the season.

Rios wasn’t as helpful this time, although his mishandling of the slick sphere allowed Coco Crisp leeway on his jaunt to home plate. Crisp has been on a tear of late; with the absence of J.D. Drew, the spottiness of Jacoby Ellsbury, and the cooling-off of Kevin Youkilis, Crisp has been an essential cog in Boston’s offense.

September 11, 2008


Game 145: September 10, 2008
WinRays 4 W: Trever Miller (2-0)
S: Jason Hammel (1)
87-57, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox 2 L: Mike Timlin (4-4) 85-60, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: I want Timlin on the mound in a close game like how I want John McCain and Sarah Palin in the White House.

It’s not just Mike Timlin’s fault.

Blame Jacoby Ellsbury for grounding into a 4-6-3 double play in the third after two baserunners had reached with none out. Or fault him for flying out in the fifth with Jed Lowrie on second. Or gripe about his ground out to third in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and two out.

Blame Kevin Youkilis for the twin killing of his own in the tenth with two on and none out.

Blame Jason Bay’s 0-for-7 showing.

Blame the dimwitted fan who interfered with Mike Lowell’s fly ball to left, or, better yet, Mark Wegner’s judgment on calling Lowell out on the play. Perhaps Wegner couldn’t help he given the way he was pelted with foul balls in Tuesday night’s game.

But most of all blame Tampa Bay for not only defying the meager expectations for this seasion but also for establishing themselves as the team to beat in the toughest division in baseball.

September 10, 2008

Gakkari [がっかり]

Game 144: September 9, 2008
WinRays 5 H: Grant Balfour (13)
BS, W: Dan Wheeler (4, 4-5)
S: Troy Percival (28)
86-57, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 4 BS, L: Jonathan Papelbon (5, 5-4) 85-59, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Jason Bay lined a go-ahead two-run shot into the first row of the Monster seats with two out in the bottom of the eighth. It wasn’t a moonshot but rather a four-bagger that seemed to be shot out of a particle accelerator. As it elevated Bay himself wondered if it would clear the wall, shouting “Get up!” as he ran down the first base line. Bay was summoned for a curtain call; take note, Yankee fans, this was an example of a meaningful moment in which a player deserves such an honor. Boston was three outs away from first place in the AL East, a position they hadn’t held since July 15.

The Rays provided the black hole to suck away the Red Sox players’ brief triumph in the top of the ninth.

Speaking of suck, why is Jonathan Papelbon doing so? He seems to have become a one-trick pony with his fastball, unable to draw on other pitches in his arsenal to keep hitters guessing. Dan Johnson (or as Heidi Watney calls him, Don Johnson), a player who hasn’t seen major league pitches since April 2, shouldn’t be able to sit dead red on Papelbon’ cheese and propel the tying run into the stands in his first at bat.

He was looking for a heartbeat, and that heartbeat came in the top of the ninth. Consecutive doubles by Fernando Perez and Dioner Navarro granted the visitors the lead. The new guy coming up big and rookie contributions--that’s the exultant storyline that is supposed to be written by the home team, not by the upstart Tampa Bay club.

From the spotty start by Daisuke Matsuzaka to the blown save by Papelbon, the game was letdown, or gakkari in Japanese. Given all the hits (eight) and walks (four) that Matsuzaka gave up, it’s a wonder this wasn’t a complete blowout.

The hitters did what they could against Rays ace Scott Kazmir: Kevin Youkilis doubled in a run in the first and Mike Lowell homered in the fourth.

This evening the Red Sox attempt to redeem themselves behind the potent arm of Josh Beckett. One more win and they’ll be half a game behind.

It could have been a game ahead.

September 9, 2008

Full House

I got to the park too late to be greeted by a Red Sox player, but I was handed a nifty over-sized ticket commemorating the breaking of the MLB record for consecutive sellouts by a Fenway Ambassador. Before heading up to my designated standing room only space in the left field pavilion I hung around the left field boxes hoping for a foul ball.

When Josh Kantor played “Day After Day,” a song that means a lot to me, I had a feeling that it was going to special day, not just for the history books but for the AL East standings. Jere came by and we chatted about the upcoming book he wrote with his mom, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Dirty Water), his birthday, and the horror of the John MacCain/Sarah Palin ticket.

As first pitch time drew near, I made my way up the many stairways to the top of the park. I think the staircases alternate between Fenway proper and the neighboring Gino building; they are a mishmash of brick and green steel that could only be a feature of our idiosyncratic park.

Every moment of the evening was near perfect, from the tributes to the game to the weather. If anyone wonders how a venue can fill to capacity for every ballgame it hosts, one only needed to be there last night. Thank you, Red Sox.

Now that Joe Maddon is a big time manager with a winning record he can afford (ugly) prescription sunglasses rather than fit-overs.

Newest member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and Rays fan, Dick Vitale.

The gap narrows.

Born on the day of the beginning of the streak, May 15, 2003, Kevin Pierro was one of the three fans that threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Kevin and the two other fans, Dora Giglio and Maurice Polite, mingle with David Ortiz, Mike Timlin, and Tim Wakefield after they made their pitches.

Most of the bullpen had the night off.

Jon Lester takes the mound.

One of the many notes of gratitude flashed on the Jumbotron.

If you attended any game in the streak and the Red Sox have your name, you will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Together we made history.

Maddon tries to ignore Vitale’s incessant yammering.

A much-needed win.

Speaking of sellouts....

The largest gathering of living Hall of Famers in history happened at Fenway, not at Yankee Stadium.


Game 143: September 8, 2008
Rays 0 L: Edwin Jackson (11-10) 85-57, 4 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 3 W: Jon Lester (14-5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (36)
85-58, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: The Red Sox are now a step away from assuming the lead in the AL East. The Rays, pretenders to the throne, were toppled last night on the strength of Lester’s superlative start, Papelbon’s near-faultless stop, and an early trio of runs (David Ortiz RBI double, Kevin Youkilis RBI single, Jason Bay homer to center). The weather was clear as the home team’s focus to win. I talked with Jere of “A Red Sox Fan from Pinstripe Territory” before the game and wished him a happy birthday. It is very fitting that this record-breaking day happened on the anniversary of his birth.

The Red Sox organization went out of their way to thank the fans for breaking the consecutive sellout streak record for a major league baseball team. During game intermissions the center field display would show highlights from May 15, 2003 to September 8, 2008 with a list of “thank yous” to the 37,622 in attendance. They expressed their gratitude to the team’s devotees for sitting through freezing evenings, blistering days, breathtaking wins, heartbreaking losses, for the loyalty of fans that spanned a little more than a half decade.

But as we were regaled with the team’s gratitude, I thought of the many ways I should be thanking them. Through them I learned that the desolation in a soul-wrenching loss can be filled with the comfort of a new spring and that in effective organizations incompetence is rewarded with near-immediate dismissal.

I learned that unbeatable odds are meant to be defied and that there is such a thing as clutch.

I learned not to grow content with success and to continually grow to address new challenges. However, if that success results in superstar egos that such personalities should be pruned from the family tree.

In Fenway I found a church that admits all races, colors, creeds, genders, and walks of life (if you can afford the ticket). We speak a common tongue and in this lexicon expletives are not condemned but part of the liturgy. When a particular player chases after the high heat heat that tempts him so or a hit and run inexplicably backfires or the umpire squeezes our pitchers, we murmur our oaths in tandem.

In our mosque we all turn towards home plate despite the direction our seats are pointing. Our faith is challenged by poles, angles, and walkway traffic, but we prove our allegiance with achy necks the morning after.

In the hymnal are “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a song we share with other flocks, and “Sweet Caroline,” which other sports teams also have as part of their services. I like to believe that it is our temple that sings it best.

In special services, such as last night, we adherents raise our voices to the psalms “Dirty Water” and “Tessie.”

Photos from last night’s game to be posted later on this evening.

September 8, 2008


Game 142: September 7, 2008
WinRed Sox 7 W: Paul Byrd (11-11) 84-58, 1 game winning streak
Rangers 2 L: Brandon McCarthy (1-1) 70-74, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Byrd’s archaic wind-up much delighted analyst Ken Macha and flummoxed the Rangers line-up to boot. Usually the throwback twirler will concede around five runs, but the Texas bats were antsy. They chased after Byrd’s poky pitches for six and two-third innings, walking three times and striking out four while notching only three hits.

Save for Javier Lopez, the Red Sox relievers did not have clean innings. Manny Delcarmen was particularly erratic: he struck out three but surrendered a homer to rookie catcher Taylor Teagarden.

Most troubling has been Jonathan Papelbon’s heart attack saves. When contact is made it is usually hard shots to the outfield. When the ball hawks can’t track them down, they result in extra base hits or yet another batter he has to attempt to blow away.

The outfield of Jason Bay, Coco Crisp, and Jacoby Ellsbury is astounding; very few hits slip by the trio. In the sixth Bay and Crisp both charged hard into shallow left-center for a fly ball off the bat of Joaquin Arias and either could have made the catch. Bay gloved the ball and had to acrobatically avoid the sliding Crisp.

Defensive humdingers weren’t just happening in the outfield. Dustin Pedroia and Alex Cora combined for a double play on Hank Blalock’s ground ball. Marlon Byrd (no relation) attempted to upend Cora but the Red Sox infielder stayed with the play for a brisk twin killing.

Offensively every Boston batter except seventh-inning replacement Jed Lowrie tallied a hit. David Ortiz powered a two-run homer in the fifth, his first since August 14. Bay launched a rather rare opposite field homer in the seventh. Not to slight Texas, which will eventually be a fine team, but the Red Sox seemed to be tuning up for the series against the Rays that begins tonight.

This evening the record for consecutive sellouts will be broken, and perhaps also the youthful spirit of the division-leading Rays will be as well. I’ll be there with a standing room ticket for the left field pavilion, being a part of history and hopefully a witness to the Red Sox securing a firmer hold on their playoff future.

September 7, 2008


Game 141: September 6, 2008
Red Sox 8 L: Tim Wakefield (8-10) 83-58, 1 game losing streak
WinRangers 15 W: Matt Harrison (7-3) 70-73, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Tired of getting beat down by the big bully Red Sox, the Rangers finally fixed the season-long wedgie afflicted upon them with an emphatic defeat. Wakefield began promisingly enough but buckled rather than knuckled in the second inning.

Avoiding the distasteful topic of the specifics of last night’s game, what I saw in the Rangers was a young, up-and-coming team that in a few years might be the Rays of today. Once they were freed from the burdens of Alex Rodriguez and Chan Ho Park’s massive contracts, the Texas ball club could focus on nurturing a youthful core of players.

Rather than hold on to Mark Teixeira they wisely moved him at the apex of his value to acquire a bevy of promising prospects: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison. They traded the electric Edinson Volquez for Josh Hamilton, but both teams profited from that transaction.

Hamilton joined a team with the emerging Ian Kinsler and the debuting Chris Davis to create one of the most prodigious offenses in the league. Their weakness, much like the Devil Rays of yore, is in pitching.

Key pitching prospects Eric Hurley (great name for a pitcher, unlike, say, Homer Bailey or Rocky Cherry), Neftali Perez, and Michael Main are a few years away from big league innings, so they will have to hoodwink a team for a Scott Kazmir of their own.

Cornell graduate and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has built a player development machine in the mold of Theo Epstein’s. Will Tony Reagins’s bankroll courtesy of Arte Moreno and Billy Beane’s reknown empirical techniques be able to keep up?

The American League West may have to contend with a Lone Star State powerhouse in the coming seasons. Last night was a sneak preview of what is in the offing.

September 6, 2008


Game 140: September 5, 2008
WinRed Sox 8 W: Josh Beckett (12-9) 83-57, 4 game winning streak
Rangers 1 L: Kevin Millwood (9-8) 69-73, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Dee el, shmee el. Beckett came back in fine fettle, handling the offensive powerhouse Rangers for five innings while allowing just four hits, walking none, and striking out seven. Mike Lowell picked up where he left off, and perhaps even stronger than the first half of the season because of the rest and recuperation.

The returning third baseman made a 3-for-5 statement that his job, unlike Julio Lugo’s, is not in jeopardy of being taken over by Jed Lowrie. In his first at bat Mike Lowell knocked a homer over the left field fence for his team’s first run.

I just knocked over a stack of knickknacks teetering precariously on a bookshelf and amongst the fragments of memorabilia was a 2004 wallet-sized Red Sox game schedule with Manny Ramirez on the cover, smiling and short-haired. I was briefly wistful, but these days Ramirez’s absence isn’t as saddening. He seems to be happier in Los Angeles (young players like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are like sponges soaking up his knowledge and experience) and the Red Sox have been fine without him (despite losing one of the top five right-handed hitters in the league and being hobbled by a spate of injuries).

The Rangers have had key injuries of their own; with Ian Kinsler out, the battle between the two MVP candidate second basemen was left to our own imagination. Only for a Red Sox player would there be MVP chants while on the road for a visiting player. If there were any competing chants for Josh Hamilton, NESN microphones did not pick up on them last night.

Texas is known for their big talkers, so Dustin Pedroia felt right at home. The sophomore infielder didn’t have a multi-hit game, but he doubled and walked to keep the pressure on the Rangers’ pitchers.

Just as essential as Josh Beckett’s successful return was the flawless two innings Manny Delcarmen turned in, replete with three strikeouts. Justin Masterson allowed two walks but kept the shutout intact. Hideki Okajima hasn’t been his 2007 self, and that trend continued in Arlington.

The lefty allowed a one-out walk to German Duran in the bottom of the ninth and then two singles plated the home team’s first and only run. Meanwhile, north of the border the Rays have dropped two consecutive games to the Blue Jays, and Boston goes into tonight’s contest a slim two games behind.

September 4, 2008

Morikaesu [盛り返す]

Game 139: September 3, 2008
Orioles 4 BS: Rocky Cherry (2)
L: Jim Miller (0-1)
63-76, 6 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Justin Masterson (5-4) 82-57, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: The Orioles love to provide Red Sox fans with memorable games. There’s Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter on April 4, 2001, the wild card-clinching game on September 25, 2003, the remarkable Mother’s Day comeback game on May 13, 2007, and Clay Buchholz’s no-no on September 1 later that year. Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched competent innings, but his teammates staged a comeback (morikaesu in Japanese) too late for him to secure his 17th victory.

Yesterday the Red Sox notched another late-inning victory against the ill-fated Orioles. The Boston bats seemed to be sleepwalking through six innings. The crowd of 37,373 responded to the lackluster effort with equally tepid acknowledgment of the goings-on on the field; they seemed like they would rather be sitting in a 6 by 8 cubicle in front of a LCD monitor that sucks out the soul of any who gaze into it.

That’s where I was. I would have gladly traded places with any of them, even the guy in Section 23, Row 2, Seat 17.

I had Joe Castiglione and Dale Arnold to keep me company in my cozy quarters. Their virtual voices don’t take up any physical space, they just enlivened the parts of my brain that are deadened by the monotonous parts of my job.

Perhaps to the Red Sox hitters facing pitchers like Lance Cormier and Dennis Sarfate is like regular Joes such as us attending mind-numbing, unproductive meetings. “Ah, man, I’ve got the weekly Cormier thing today, better get an extra shot of espresso in my soy latte.” “Geez, the Sarfate lessons learned session is going to eat up my entire afternoon.”

But then that office renegade comes crashing through the halls. He’s brash, he’s bold, he’s got big ideas but backs up his ideals with results.

Never mind that Ozzie Guillen likened him to a jockey; on the baseball field, you don’t need to have freakish proportions to succeed.

What you need is for your eyes to transmit information to your brain to move hands such that the bat that they are holding intersects with a ball at the precise moment and angle to propel it away from the grasp of your opponents.

This is something Dustin Pedroia has been doing exceedingly well. He was the first member of the local nine to notch a hit (a single in the second inning) as well as the first to make a dent in the four-run lead the Orioles had built up (by virtue of his seventh-inning solo shot).

If Pedroia is the new kid on the block, mover and shaker type, Alex Cora is the worn about the edges veteran who is unappreciated by his colleagues but rolls up his sleeves to get the dirty work done. With the Jasons on the bases Cora bunted down the third base line, the ball so perfectly placed Castiglione gushed about it endlessly. With the bases thus loaded, Coco Crisp walked in five pitches to halve the deficit.

The new guy, Mark Kotsay, made a power play with his eighth inning triple to center that drove in David Ortiz and Pedroia to tie the score. Brown-noser, gomasuri as he would be called in Japan, which translates to someone who grinds sesame seeds for his superior in order to curry favor.

Cora showed he doesn’t hoard his expertise as Jacoby Ellsbury executed a fine bunt of his own in the bottom of the ninth. It was meant to be a sacrifice bunt, but Jim Miller’s attempt to erase Cora at third ended up bounding down the third base line.

The sweep was secured and, as a bonus, the Rays lost (it was to the Yankees, who are at this point non-entities)

September 3, 2008


Game 138: September 2, 2008
Orioles 2 L: Radhames Liz (5-4) 63-75, 5 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 14 W: Jon Lester (13-5) 81-57, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Two touchdowns beat a safety. Every Red Sox batter except David Ross added at least a hit to their stats last night. Dustin Pedroia blasted a rocket off the middle sign on the Monster and plated three runs. The second baseman is the current batting average leader for the AL and the chants of MVP that accompany his at bats are rivaling those for Kevin Garnett in the Garden. A visionary company simply must sign the two to pair up in an endorsement deal.

Operatic home plate umpire Jim Joyce missed a crucial call in the second. The Orioles threatened to score on Oscar Salazar’s fly ball to Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is not known for having a strong arm; indeed, his throw to the infield probably should have been cut off.

Instead it dribbled to home, losing all momentum but still on target for Jason Varitek’s mitt. Ramon Hernandez knows all the tricks backstops use to stop runners from scoring, so he likely wasn’t fooled by Varitek’s insouciant stance in front of the plate. The growing crescendo of the crowd’s roar as the ball bounded from left to home also clued Hernandez in to the fact that the play at home was going to be close.

Varitek block the dish effectively, but his tag didn’t brush Hernandez before he slapped home plate with his hand. Not only did Varitek’s bulk obstruct the plate but obscured Joyce’s view of the play.

Because of major league umpire’s egos, such plays will not be aided by the new video replay system. Instead, the incredible technology that powers cameras are used for closeups of Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo in the NESN booth.

It’s been a while since a game was such a laugher that New England audiences were entreated to Remy and Orsillo hijinks. I’d love to have over some baseball folks for a “Rock Band” party. Remy would play lead guitar (of course), Ed Montague would take bass guitar, Joyce would provide vocals (or perhaps Cowboy Joe West), and Orsillo would be the drummer. After three or four tries the quartet would finally get through “Say It Ain’t So” on easy.

September 2, 2008


Game 137: September 1, 2008
4 L: Garrett Olson (8-7) 63-74, 4 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Paul Byrd (10-11)
H: Javier Lopez (10)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (35)
80-57, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Dear old friend Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire for this game. He didn’t have to use his judgment much as Boston batters made solid contact on Olson’s offerings (Jason Varitek and Jeff Bailey in particular; they homered back-to-back in the second). Byrd’s pitches don’t meander far from the black out off Byrd’s hand, but they do tend to get tagged when hitters do make contact. A trio of Orioles, Adam Jones, Juan Castro, and Kevin Millar, launched the balls into the Monster seats.

Flashbulb flash takes up entire screen.

DON LaFONTAINE: In a world mired in scandal....

After the flashbulb pops, cut to close-up of PAUL BYRD in Cleveland Indians locker room fielding questions, many microphones arrayed before him.

CAPTION: October 22, 2007

FEMALE REPORTER: Paul, you claim you were taking HGH under a doctor’s care due to a medical condition. Do you think that in addition to the medical effects it may have improved your performance?

BYRD: Take a look at my stats. It’s not like I had a tremendous surge in strikeouts or innings pitched. I honestly believe taking those hormones didn’t impact my pitching.

MALE REPORTER: Nevertheless, you did turn 36 and pitched 13 more innings than you did a year prior

BYRD (looking exasperated): I’ve provided the name and contact information of my physician. He can attest to everything I’ve stated about my pituitary tumor and the required course of treatment. I am not a cheater.



CAPTION: September 1, 2008

LaFONTAINE: One man... takes his fate into his own hands... and finds redemption.

Opening strings from Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” are heard. Montage of Byrd on the mound in a Red Sox uniform in various emotional states: Sixth inning near-miss by Nick Markakis’s liner. Crestfallen at Kevin Milar’s seventh inning solo shot. Seventh inning snare of Jay Payton’s come-backer. Quietly confident when striking out Millar in the fifth. Intersplice with sequences of his unusual wind-up from various angles.

LaFONTAINE: This fall, experience the ride of a lifetime as the Red Sox take you through the joys, the pains, and the triumphs of baseball’s postseason.

FADE OUT to title card for Still, We Believed (Again).

September 1, 2008


Game 136: August 31, 2008
WinWhite Sox 4 W: Gavin Floyd (15-6)
H: Matt Thornton (16)
H: Octavio Dotel (20)
S: Bobby Jenks (27)
77-59, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 2 L: Tim Wakefield (8-9) 79-57, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Completing a series sweep is taxing for the Red Sox (unless it is the World Series). Runs were scarce for the Red Sox on Sunday. Even the hot bat wielded by Dustin Pedroia cooled off; his streak of reaching base safely ended at 11 in the third inning when he tapped back to Floyd. Pedroia represented the go-ahead run in the bottom of the ninth. Boston scraped back one run on Jed Lowrie’s ground out, and two men were poised to score with the 2007 Rookie of the Year in the box.

It would have been a storybook ending to a memorable series, but not every wish over the course of 162 games can be realized.

Tim Wakefield allowed two runs in the first inning on Jim Thome’s homer. The shot wasn’t one of Thome’s typical bombs to the bleachers or bullpen; instead, this one curved around Pesky’s Pole like a tetherball. Carlos Quentin had doubled to the left field corner right before Thome, so the early lead gave Gavin Floyd some cushion.

Not that I wanted to see the Red Sox lose, but I was amused that the Pale Hose succeeded based on a strong performance by Floyd whereas Mark Buehrle crumpled under the pressure in the middle game of the series. Buehrle stated that he thought Floyd would succumb to the strain of a playoff race while stating that he thought John Danks had a better attitude because he was “laid back.”

Three games into having video replay available it still hasn’t been used at Fenway, but the umpires applied their capricious judgments in the usual manner. In the third, David Ortiz took issue with third base official Eric Cooper’s call that he went around for the third strike. The decree caused so much animosity that DeMarlo Hale had to intercede, halting Cooper as he made his way up the third base line to confront Ortiz.

Home plate umpire Marty Foster applied the recent call-up rule to pinch-hitting Jon Van Every in the ninth, calling the first pitch he saw a strike despite it being outside. It will be amusing to see when these prima donna officials are entirely replaced by technology.

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