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Home » Category Listing » June 2008 Game Comments

July 1, 2008

Catwalk

Game 85: June 30, 2008
Red Sox 4 L: Justin Masterson (4-2) 50-35, 3 game losing streak
WinRays 5 W: James Shields (6-5)
H: Grant Balfour (1)
H: Dan Wheeler (20)
H: Troy Percival (2)
S: J.P. Howell (2)
50-32, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Perhaps a bit of bad karma followed the Red Sox from the clubhouse to the field yesterday. Manny Ramirez uncharacteristically blew up at traveling secretary Jack McCormick Saturday afternoon in a row about tickets. McCormick was shoved to the ground as a result of the altercation over Ramirez’s request for 16 tickets for a game that evening. If Ramirez were a lesser player or McCormick a higher official, a closed-door apology probably wouldn’t cut the mustard. Just ask Shawn Chacon.

I am more than a little disappointed in Manny Ramirez’s behavior. The instant one person elevates himself over another just because of assumed superior position is the moment that person needs to be taken down a notch.

I harbored no illusions about Ramirez’s character being immaculate just because of prowess with the bat and his occasional flashes of brilliance on the field. Nor did I believe the portrayals of him by the knights of the keyboard who are all to quick to raise their lances against the spirited outfielder.

With this incident and his run-in with Kevin Youkilis in the dugout Ramirez has provided fodder for reporters and talking heads. He’ll be accused of everything from roid rage to cavalierness.

At first it was difficult for me to get behind the team last night because of Ramirez’s actions. But because of the threats made against African American and Latino players, I felt that despite one player’s undesirable behavior the team as a whole was targeted in a hateful, frightening way and should be supported more strongly than usual.

Justin Masterson turned in six innings but seems to have plateaued in his progress against major league hitters. He struck out five but also gave up the same number of free passes. Surrendering two homers against B.J. Upton and Gabe Gross is also troubling as Masterson is a pitcher is most successful when he is inducing ground ball outs.

Boston surged in the ninth with a gift double off the catwalk blasted by Brandon Moss, who really does seem to enjoy hitting indoors. The scuffling Jason Varitek (.222 BA, .304 OBP, .373 slugging percentage) followed up with a sacrifice fly to pull his squad within a run.

Troy Percival was yanked from the mound when the 38-year old exacerbated his ailing hamstring. The maneuver resulted in what was in theory a favorable match-up between southpaw J.P. Howell and right-handed Julio Lugo.

A lot of those theories don’t play out with Lugo in the box. The shortstop smack the ball into his counterpart’s glove for the final out of the game. The Red Sox have dropped the last three games and all of them have been one-run affairs.

June 30, 2008

Dogged

Game 84: June 29, 2008
Red Sox 2 L: David Aardsma (2-2) 50-34, 2 game losing streak
WinAstros 3 H: Wesley Wright (7)
BS: Oscar Villareal (1)
W: Doug Brocail (4-3)
S: Jose Valverde (21)
39-43, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Ruh roh, Rito! Rai rhope ru ron’t ret rired rike Rirrie Ranrolf! Eep opp ork ah-ah, that means I love you.

I don’t love interleague. Just too much of good (?) thing. I can’t tell the difference between the Astros and Diamondbacks’ uniforms any longer. In the words of George Jetson, “Stop this crazy thing!”

As with any game there was an instance of brilliance that should be remembered but won’t show up in the box score. Dustin Pedroia smacked a single to left field and then swiped second not on the basis of speed but by superior reaction time. As the infielder slid into second he avoided a sweep tag by raising his arm above the arc of the mitt and touching the second base sack at the end of his evasive maneuver.

It was a perfect example of what sets Pedroia apart from other hitters. He doesn’t need the stature of a power hitter as his hand-eye coordination compensates for his lack of muscle. Not that he can’t propel one to the stands, as he did to lead off the third inning, from time to time.

He should have done so more often yesterday. Josh Beckett was accosted by usually mediocre hitters such as Geoff Blum and Ty Wigginton and also walked pitcher Brian Moehler with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Moehler scored on a ground ball single up the middle by Lance Berkman.

The Red Sox seemed preoccupied knowing that two huge series against the Rays and the Yankees are in the offing. And I am, too, sweeping this last vestige of interleague play back into the dusty corners of my mind so that more important things, like series against other teams in the AL East.

June 29, 2008

Oscillate

Game 83: June 28, 2008
Red Sox 10 H: David Aardsma (4)
H: Craig Hansen (6)
BS, L: Manny Delcarmen (2, 0-2)
50-33, 1 game losing streak
WinAstros 11 BS: Geoff Geary (1)
W: Doug Brocail (3-3)
S: Jose Valverde (20)
38-43, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Michael Bourn time and again got the better of the Red Sox infield when at the dish by successfully executing two bunts for base hits. But when the speedy outfielder tried to come home on Carlos Lee’s single in the first the Boston Juggling Troupe of Pedroia, Varitek, Lowell, and Lugo stopped him from scoring. The home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski could have and should have called Bourn out for running outside of the basepath. Muchlinski appears to have been brought up from the minors as the replacement for Brian O’Nora, who was slashed by a shattered maple bat. Muchlinski and O’Nora are now on the same squad.

A brutal back-and-forth game, the antithesis of a pitchers’ duel. The Red Sox frittered away two massive leads to come up short in the middle game of the series.

Remarkable offensive performances by Dustin Pedroia (4-5, 1 RBI), Mike Lowell (4-4, 3 RBIs, solo HR), Kevin Youkilis (2-5, 3 RBIs), and Manny Ramirez (1-4, 2 RBIs) could not overcome the Astros’ power surge. Three Houston players homered (Mark Loretta, Carlos Lee, and Ty Wigginton) in the slugfest.

It was Lance Berkman’s breakthrough double in the bottom of the eighth to plate two runs that was the difference in the game, however. Berkman was stifled by Jon Lester in his three at bats; he struck out swinging twice and looking once.

One slip by Lester kept the Astros in the game. He hit pitcher Brandon Backe to lead off the third inning and Michael Bourn bunted to get on base. Both were driven in by Lee’s liner to center. Miguel Tejada (we know his name is really Tejeda, however) smashed the ball off Lester’s ankle to reach first and Loretta cleaned up the mess with a homer to the Crawford Boxes.

The Astros reciprocated in the sixth with Hunter Pence’s poor play on Jacoby Ellsbury’s fly ball. The lanky right fielder misread the ball’s flight and came in before retreating to the fence to attempt to correct his path. The ball clipped the tip of his glove, Julio Lugo scored, and Ellsbury stood safe at third. Cecil Cooper pulled Backe from the game and placed Geoff Geary on the mound. Four more runs would follow that inning.

They certainly do do things bigger in Texas.

June 28, 2008

Ippatsu [一発]

Game 82: June 27, 2008
WinRed Sox 6 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-1)
H: Craig Hansen (5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (24)
50-32, 3 game winning streak
Astros 1 L: Runelvys Hernandez (0-1) 37-43, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Matsuzaka looked more himself last night. The righty lasted the minimum innings for a decision while putting up a line of two hits, three walks, and four strikeouts. J.D. provided a three-run advantage with his shot that caromed off the facing of the second deck. In Japanese it would be called ippatsu, an absolute shot.

Minute Maid Park is one of the standout ballparks in the league. With Tal’s Hill and its attendant flagpole in center, a train with a cargo of oversize oranges in left, the Crawford Boxes in left field penned in by a 19-foot tall wall, and a retractable roof that enables the entire structure to be air conditioned, the field is instantly recognizable.

The placement of the stadium in relation to the sun’s path could probably be improved. Coco Crisp batted left-handed to lead off the game and seemed to be blinded by sunlight.

Unfortunately, the Astros organization is not as well put together as its venue. Baseball America has ranked the Astros’ minor league system no higher than 20th since 2001. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2005. Most recently starter Shawn Chacon and general manager Ed Wade exchanged words and reenacted the Latrell Sprewell/P.J. Carlesimo confrontation from 1997 for the benefit of the club.

Chacon was released and thus Runelvys Hernandez was granted to opportunity to start a major league game.

The Red Sox signed Hernandez to a minor league deal in 2006 and he didn’t make the team coming out of spring training. In June of 2007 the Red Sox considered filing tampering charges against the Yankees because the Bronx front office contacted him while he was still under contract. But then Theo Epstein and company realized, hey, it’s just Runelvys Hernandez.

June 27, 2008

Harbinger

Game 81: June 25, 2008
Diamondbacks 0 L: Randy Johnson (4-6) 40-39, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Tim Wakefield (5-5)
H: Manny Delcarmen (11)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (23)
49-32, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Nerd alert! Kevin Youkilis manned first base with orange-tinted goggles. I only hope it doesn’t become a crutch like Rip Hamilton’s mask.

When you have a match-up between a veteran knuckleball pitcher and a youthful team that strikes out at an alarming rate, you get a game like last night. Looking over Tim Wakefield’s game log shows that despite having an unpredictable pitch he has turned in remarkably consistent starts: his five June starts have all lasted seven innings each, he has struck out at least three in the course of the game, and has not allowed more than three earned runs in each appearance.

Yet Wakefield only had one win to show for his efforts until Wednesday night’s game. Wakefield’s run support has ratcheted up to 5.1 runs a game. It wasn’t the guys whose names appear on the All-Star ballot who produced, but rather two role players came up big for their pitcher and their team. Brandon Moss plated the first two runs: an RBI ground out in the second and a sacrifice fly in the sixth. Kevin Cash homered in the eighth with two men on and none out.

The breathing room was appreciated even though everyone holds their breath when the mercurial Craig Hansen assumes the mound. The streaky reliever loaded the bases and left a mess for Jonathan Papelbon to clean up.

And clean up he did: Papelbon struck out hot-hitting Chad Tracy to seal the series and tally his 23rd save of the season.

Last year the Rockies visited Fenway and won the series in what would be a harbinger of the Fall Classic. The Diamondbacks have cooled since their scorching start but still lead the NL West. We may have well witnessed a standoff between the future pennant winners.

June 25, 2008

Presence

Game 80: June 24, 2008
Diamondbacks 4 BS, L: Chad Qualls (5, 1-6) 40-38, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Chris Smith (1-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (22)
48-32, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: After I watched the game in person I saw the midnight replay on NESN. Never had I so thoroughly enjoyed attending the game in person and watching a broadcast of a game for completely different reasons.

I left my office in Waltham on the early side to meet my friends at El Pelon Taqueria, a tiny but marvelous Mexican restaurant on Peterborough Street. The torrential thunderstorms impeded my driving progress, but the timing of my late arrival at the restaurant fortuitously allowed my friends and I to observe another cloudburst from a cozy table indoors while munching on taquitos and tamales.

We slogged our way to Fenway without getting drenched. The passing dashes of rainwater cleansed the area and imparted a lustrous cast on the procession of flamboyant new buildings that have mushroomed in the Fens. When I lived there in the late 90s it was not unusual to walk past questionable places of commerce with graffiti scrawled along blank walls. Now gleaming clean concrete greeted me at every turn and salesclerks in upscale shops and eateries peered disdainfully through haughtily wrought façades at the unintentionally washed masses making their way to the ballpark.

The bricks of Fenway always present a warm and welcoming no matter the weather or the mood of the gate attendant. The park stood stolidly at the corner of Brookline and Yawkey, impassive to the onslaught of multiple storms and the encroachment of the young upstart team from the West.

Former Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy was honored in pre-game festivities that included colleagues from on the field, like Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Rick Burleson, and Dwight Evans, and in the broadcast booth, such as Bob Kurtz and Sean McDonough. Clips from his 20-year broadcasting career flashed on the Jumbotron. Like Fenway, Remy’s appearance has changed over the decades: a little more off the top and larger capacity. But their hearts remain the same.

Fresh-faced Justin Masterson already has seven starts to his name and four wins under his belt, but the lanky sinkerballer did not figure into last night’s decision even though he pitched an adequate six innings with seven hits, four earned runs, four walks, and four strikeouts. Masterson pitched from behind early by surrendering a three-run home run to Chad Tracy. Despite the setback the rookie was not derailed; he shut down the Arizona lineup for the next three innings.

Masterson passed the ball to fellow greenhorn Chris Smith who baffled the visitors for two innings. The only problem was that the Red Sox batters were facing similar fits of futility against Doug Davis. Dustin Pedroia propelled a homer into the far left sign above the Monster seats in the first inning for the only extra base hit relinquished by Davis. Otherwise Boston hitters were only able to spray singles about the field and just twice did they do so in succession against the Arizona starter.

The second time it happened was the bottom of the eighth inning. Davis conceded a leadoff liner to Julio Lugo and then another to one-bagger to Jacoby Ellsbury.

The 1-2-3 innings and GIDPs made for quick bottom halves of innings. The lack of home action meant that 37,867 people had seven and a half innings of energy stored up. With no men out and speedsters on the basepaths, the crowd at Fenway suddenly unleashed its pent-up zeal.

By all accounts Chad Qualls is a serviceable middle reliever. Josh Byrnes thought enough of him to acquire him (along with Chris Burke and prospect Juan Gutierrez) from the Astros for Jose Valverde. But, as with most things that are a make-do solution, middle relievers can become undone. A rabid crowd, inherited runners, and a seven-pitch at bat against a pesky pipsqueak can do that to a person, especially when that pipsqueak halves the deficit between you and his team with an arcing single over the second baseman’s glove.

Even through J.D. Drew’s strikeout and Manny Ramirez’s ground out the grandstand did not sit down nor flag in its exuberance. The constant cheering intensified to pandemonium when Mike Lowell tied the game with clanging double.

And just when I thought I had seen an audience at its peak of exultation, Jeff Salazar badly played Jason Varitek’s liner to right. Lowell crossed the plate for the go-ahead run and 37,867 lost their collective minds.

The Fenway sound booth carried the spectators’ ardor into the top of the ninth. “Wild Thing” and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” blasted through the park and we head banged, air guitared, sang, or some combination of the three.

But when the song faded and Jonathan Papelbon stood on the mound and heaved a heavy exhale all bedlam ceased. It went from strident to still in an instant. Even though it felt as if we had just helped will the Red Sox into the lead we knew that the fate of the game rested in Papelbon’s palm. Which Papelbon toed the rubber tonight, we wondered.

His first pitch, a 96-mph heater, answered that galling question. The 27-year old record-holding relief ace was on the hill and on his way to his 22nd save, not the unsure pitcher who blew four saves.

Note: Photos from Monday and Tuesday games will be posted sometime this evening.

June 24, 2008

Nascent

Game 79: June 23, 2008
WinDiamondbacks 2 W: Dan Haren (8-4)
H: Tony Pena (13)
S: Brandon Lyon (16)
40-37, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 1 L: Josh Beckett (7-5) 47-32, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: A pitchers’ duel that reminded me of the showdown between Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez on June 8, 2002. Again the home team lost by a single run. A little girl I talked to at the T stop wearing a balloon animal monkey around her shoulders couldn’t have been happier despite the loss. She got to see her favorite players Manny Ramirez and “Coco Crisp Coco Puffs.”

Success breeds followers. The Diamondbacks snatched the title away from the Yankees in 2001 and when the team visited Fenway in 2002 quite a few fans were festooned in shades of teal and purple. But as quickly as they rocketed to a title (they were the fastest expansion team to win the World Series) they plummeted to irrelevance under the increasingly inept ownership of Jerry Colangelo.

When the Red Sox were drenching locker rooms across the country with champagne on their 2004 championship run, the Diamondbacks turned in a historically awful season, winning just 51 games. Bob Brenly was fired mid-season and Colangelo sold his stake in the club.

With the first pick of the 2005 draft, the Diamondbacks secured Justin Upton, a player whose name was uttered by scouts in the same breath as Ken Griffey, Jr. He joined another first rounder Stephen Drew from the 2004 draft and a bevy of other homegrown talents to return to the playoffs last year.

Not only did they change the team’s strategy for success on the field by forgoing the big free agent signings that formerly brought them triumph but retooled their front office as well. Red Sox alum Josh Byrnes was hired in October of 2005 as general manager and extended his contract with Arizona earlier this year; competition from the Sonoran Desert will continue to flourish until 2015.

So it was not surprising to see dozens of new Diamondback fans at Fenway in the updated sedona red and black color scheme. The team that defied baseball’s Pythagorean theorem last year spearheaded their attack on the American League with one of its former aces, Dan Haren.

Haren stifled the Red Sox lineup over seven innings, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out five. Jason Varitek was the only Boston hitter to muster an extra base hit. The backstop’s third inning leadoff double went to waste, however. Haren dashed to glove Coco Crisp’s arcing bunt attempt just before the orb touched the infield turf for the first out. Julio Lugo’s ground out was ill-placed in front of the runner, so Varitek was glued to second. Jacoby Ellsbury took the open base on a six-pitch base on balls, but Haren beguiled Dustin Pedroia to take an ill-advised swing on a fastball with a smidgen of heat taken off.

Josh Beckett matched and perhaps even surpassed Haren inning for inning until the seventh. Beckett began to lose the strike zone a tad on his curveball and switched over to his fastball. The Diamondbacks, being the young hitters they are, were sitting dead red. Chris Young smoked a heater into the wall on a shot that would have been a home run in most other parks, plating the first run of the evening.

The second run scored when Brandon Moss was unable to come up with Chris Snyder’s grounder. It was a play that Kevin Youkilis would have made; one can almost picture him coming up with the ball barehanded and quickly relaying to home to stop the run from scoring. Instead, the only thing Youkilis could picture was his rapidly swelling right eye due to a freak accident on a warm-up toss from Mike Lowell.

The home team would pull within a run in the eighth on J.D. Drew’ sacrifice fly to center. With two on and two out, Manny Ramirez smashed the ball on a rope that would have likely won the game had it not intersected with Reynolds’s glove. The Red Sox can consider that payback for Lowell’s third inning trammel of Snyder’s leadoff liner at the top of the third.

As I made my way home I happened to see Jackie MacMullan standing on a sidewalk near the Landmark Center. “You’re incredible, you really put Woody Paige in his place on “Around the Horn.” I miss reading you in the Boston Globe,” I gushed. “Wasn’t the Celtics’ run remarkable? It’s amazing to live in New England at this moment.”

That is what I wanted to say. Instead all that came out was a whispered “That’s Jackie MacMullan” that she heard anyway and a tentative “Hi” when I realized she made eye contact with me.

“Hi, how are you?” she replied, genuinely smiling. “Great,” I replied but continued on my way to the Fenway T stop.

I think (hope) she knows what I meant to say.

June 23, 2008

Atonement

Game 78: June 22, 2008 ∙ 13 innings
Cardinals 3 BS: Chris Perez (1)
L: Mike Parisi (0-3)
44-33, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 BS: Jonathan Papelbon (4)
W: Javier Lopez (2-0)
47-31, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: A baker’s dozen of innings to while away the hours on a sleepy Sunday. Craig Hansen was as much a hero as Kevin Youkilis; in his one and two-third innings of work not one base runner reached and three went down flailing at his now-restored slider.

Jon Lester notched his fourth quality start in a row, but by the end of the game any memories of his outing evaporated like the puddles on Lansdowne on a summer day. He only struck out three batters, but when you only allow one free pass and nine hits sprinkled over seven and one-third innings the damage can be contained.

It was a day of folly on the field. Yadier Molina expanded his horizons by manning first base instead taking his customary position behind home plate. Brian Barton tripped over Rick Ankiel in their dual pursuit of Jacoby Ellsbury’s fly ball to the left-center gap in the first inning.Coco Crisp clanged up against the garage door in center to rob Ankiel of a hit to lead off the fifth inning.

Ankiel’s unfamiliarity with Fenway’s center field seemed to have hindered him in the bottom of the eighth. As he backed up on Crisp’s deep fly ball he stumbled, allowing the ball to stray into the triangle. I thought Crisp would leg out an inside-the-parker, but the more prudent course of action would to stand at third and wait to be plated in a less dramatic but far more assured manner.

Julio Lugo lofted a sacrifice fly to right-center to tie the game. Dustin Pedroia singled to right and tallied the go-ahead run after Chris Perez walked three batters in succession. Kevin Youkilis stood in the box with the bases loaded and the chance to ice the game in that inning.

Youkilis has never hit a grand slam and as of last night still has yet to. Perhaps like Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek it will take time for the first baseman to accomplish such a feat. Youkilis had scored the first run of the game with his solo shot into the Monster seats in the bottom of the seventh. However, in the eighth inning he whiffed on a high fastball. He would have a chance to redeem himself, however.

Jonathan Papelbon came within one out of his 22nd save but granted a free pass to Chris Duncan. Duncan would score on pinch hitter Adam Kennedy’s fly ball over Crisp’s glove.

Mike O’Malley visited the NESN booth just long enough to plug his upcoming series with Christian Slater but left abruptly when Duncan (him, again!) doubled to center with one out in the top of the thirteenth (and they say ballplayers are superstitious). Right after his departure, Kennedy blooped the ball into right field. J.D. Drew deftly fielded it and threw it on target to Varitek’s glove.

Duncan tried to bowl over Varitek, but the Red Sox backstop clutched the sphere steadfastly. Varitek rolled with Duncan’s tackle and came up holding the second out of the inning. The final out of the inning settled in Crisp’s glove without fanfare thanks to O’Malley’s timely reversal of the jinx.

Hopefully O’Malley also visited the young fans in the left field boxes who interfered with Ellsbury’s hit in the tenth inning and taught them a thing or two about propoer baseball etiquette.

Youkilis’s shot at atonement came in the bottom of the thirteenth. Surfeit with the multitude of wasted opportunities, Youkilis unleashed his frustration on Chris Parisi’s unseasoned pitching, launching one into the Monster seats to secure the walk-off win.

This will inevitably become part of the highlight reel of 2008 when we meditate on those pivotal moments of the season.

June 22, 2008

Tatakitsubusu [叩き潰す]

Game 77: June 21, 2008
WinCardinals 9 W: Mitchell Boggs (2-0) 44-32, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox 3 L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (8-1) 46-31, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: The first symbol in the verb tatakitusbusu means strike, beat, hit, thrash, and criticize while the third ideogram stands for crush, smash, break, and dissipate. Such words almost encapsulate Matsuzaka’s return to the mound after his stint on the disabled list. It reminded me of David Wells’s return on July 31, 2006; the pitcher had declined to make rehab starts in the minors and turned in four and two-third innings of work with eight earned runs, which included two home runs. In that game the Red Sox squeaked out a victory in the bottom of the ninth with one out. David Ortiz wasn’t around to jack a three-run walk-off homer this time, however.

Chris Smith struck out Rick Ankiel, the first major league batter he faced. The bases were loaded and the score was 4-0. The recently called-up Smith sensed Ankiel’s hunger and whetted the slugger’s appetite with nibbling change-ups. Ankiel left the dish with an empty stomach.

Troy Glaus wasn’t falling for such ploys, however. The third baseman bellied up and devoured all of a hanging curveball for the fourth grand slam of his career.

J.D. Drew tacked on a solo home run in the sixth. It was a towering shot to right, high-flying and slow-falling. If runs were scored by hang time, this longball would have counted for at least five runs.

One of the few moments of levity was Dustin Pedroia falling down out of the box on his ground out to short. Perhaps he would have better balance if he took yoga as Tim McCarver suggested.

After witnessing the tremendous ceremonies at the opening game of this series I had predicted that the Red Sox would lose yesterday. I thought that a few of them might have been up late with the Celtics Friday night.

June 21, 2008

Setback

Game 76: June 20, 2008
WinCardinals 5 W: Kyle Lohse (9-2)
H: Russ Springer (5)
S: Ryan Franklin (10)
43-32, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 4 L: Tim Wakefield (4-5) 46-30, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Julio Lugo’s errors outstripped his runs produced last night, 2 to 1, but the two mistakes enabled the Cardinals to score. The shortstop slammed his first homer of the season in the sixth inning to knot the score at two runs.

The happenings on the diamond were disappointing after not one but two appearances by the World Champion Boston Celtics. I was there but didn’t even see the shamrock mowed into center field; it’s odd to not to notice certain things despite one’s close perspective.

Manny Ramirez came up to bat with the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh but neither time did he add to career total of 20 grand slams. He leads all active players; the next three closest are Alex Rodriguez (16), Ken Griffey, Jr. (15), and Richie Sexson (14).

I was amused by Tim Wakefield waving off Kevin Youkilis to field Ryan Ludwick’s pop out to conclude the first. He did so impatiently, like an old man pushing his apprentice out of the way so that he accomplish a task quickly.

I give credit to the St. Louis fans who showed up in force last night. They support their team but not in an impolite way. They are truly excited by their team’s success, not revelers in others’ despair. We did have to drown them out when they started a “Let’s go Redbirds” chant, however.

One thing news reports won’t mention is that the Celtics weren’t the only ones who threw out the first pitch. Kids from Best Buddies trooped onto the field for their own attempt. One of youngsters sat in my section and had the tendency to yelp quite loudly at unexpected times. Clearly he wasn’t in control of this.

Not everyone in the area realized it was someone with an intellectual disability. In the eighth inning or someone from the next section over yelled, “Shut up!” It prompted jeering laughter and one guy in my row stood up and applauded the admonition. “Thank you!” he boomed drunkenly.

I watched him sit smugly with his friends clapping him on the back. Someone from the young kid’s group came over to him and explained to him why his charge acted they way he did.

Some people have real excuses for their “inconsiderate” hollering.

June 17, 2008

Wrenched

Game 73: June 16, 2008
Red Sox 2 L: Bartolo Colon (4-2) 44-29, 1 game losing streak
WinPhillies 8 W: Cole Hamels (7-4) 42-30, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I’m actually in agreement with Hank Steinbrenner about something: I wouldn’t mind seeing the designated hitter rule in the senior circuit. Except I'm not such an idiot as to say, “The National League needs to join the 21st century.... That was a rule from the 1800s.” The designated hitter rule (6.10) was instituted in 1973.

I love interleague play but it is ludicrous that the two leagues play under different rules. MLB has to make like East and West Germany in 1990 and partake in die Wende (“the turning point”) for themselves. No more turning ankles of pitchers ambling about the bases or the wrenching of their backs when taking awkward hacks at the dish.

At least Bartolo Colon had a laugh at his expense at his fourth-inning imitation of a member of the Mevlevi Order. Colon corkscrewed his body with such force his helmet spun off his head and continued to gyrate when it dropped to the ground. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a stiff lower back and Chris Smith was summoned from Pawtucket to provide an option in the bullpen.

A far worse loss befell the Yankees with Chien-Ming Wang’s partially torn tendon and Lisfranc ligament sprain. The New York ace will miss about two to three months of action. Millions of Yankee fans are now prepared to discredit the success of the Red Sox based on this key injury.

Perhaps if the New York club’s front office weren’t so occupied jackhammering the foundations of their new stadium or tending to the constant hype machine powering their prospects they would have been signing the likes of Colon, a cost-effective starting option who doesn’t tax an organization’s pockets nor playoff chances if he is unable to contribute.

Philadelphia is a quaint hamlet that fancies itself as a sports town entitled to success. Therefore, any slight by a person who is supposed to return them to their imagined former glory incites extreme enmity in them. Eleven years after he spurned them by not signing with the Phillies after being drafted in the first round of the 1997 draft, J.D. Drew is still the recipient of catcalls in the City of Brotherly Love. No reports of thrown batteries, but there are two more games.

The boos that accompanied Drew’s plate appearances were softer than the cheers that rang out when the right fielder bashed his 12th homer of the season in the fifth inning. Misery may love company, but happiness is easy to carry and travels well.

June 16, 2008

Rosy

Game 72: June 15, 2008
WinRed Sox 9 W: Josh Beckett (7-4) 44-28, 2 game winning streak
Reds 0 L: Homer Bailey (0-3) 33-38, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: A pitcher named Homer. A maid named Dusty. An election supervisor named Chad. A plastic surgeon named Nick. An therapist specializing in anorexia named Slim.

In the first inning Jacoby Ellsbury broke the rookie Red Sox stolen base record held by Ambrose (“Amby”) Moses McConnell. The record had stood since 1908. It is almost inevitable that Ellsbury will eclipse Tommy Harper’s 1973 mark of 54 swipes sometime this season.

McConnell was also the first player to ever ground into an unassisted triple play in a regular season major league game. The description from SABR’s site on triple plays described the events of July 19, 1909 succinctly:

Amby McConnell (BOS) is the batter with a ?-? count. On a hit-and-run play he hit a liner to the SS, Neal Ball (OUT 1)

SS then touched second to double up the runner from that base, Heinie Wagner, who had almost reached third on the play (OUT 2)

SS then tagged the runner from first, Jake Stahl, who was running toward him and had no chance to return to first (OUT 3)

NOTE: UNASSISTED TRIPLE PLAY - FIRST REGULAR SEASON TRIPLE PLAY IN MLB HISTORY

Perhaps the greatest impact the second baseman from yesteryear had was in his life after his playing career. He brought professional baseball back to Utica, New York, exciting and delighting thousands of fans.

By the end of the day yesterday not many of the remaining Cincinnati fans were enticed by their team’s performance. The bloom continued to fade off the rose of Homer Bailey, the once promising prospect who has yet to impress in the majors unlike his counterparts Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. Bailey served up three home runs: Coco Crisp, Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew. Dustin Pedroia also homered, but reliever Val Majewski was the victim.

The Queen City nine mustered nine baserunners total, but none crossed home plate.


Ambrose McConnell at Bat, 1909 T202 Hassan Triple Folders Card 6, courtesy of Vintage Card Traders.

June 15, 2008

Vermilion

Game 71: June 14, 2008
WinRed Sox 6 H: Hideki Okajima (13)
H: Manny Delcarmen (9)
BS, W: Jonathan Papelbon (3, 3-2)
S: Craig Hansen (1)
43-28, 1 game winning streak
Reds 4 L: Mike Lincoln (0-2) 33-37, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Sean Casey did the lineups better than Brandon Phillips and their teams followed suit. Tim Wakefield wasn’t part of the decision because of Papelbon’s blown save, but the knuckleballer went seven strong, walking just two while striking out six. Hansen, who signed a major league deal after being drafted in the first round of 2005 and was on the fast track to be the Red Sox closer, achieved his first save in the bigs.

It seems one of the traditions the Reds organization decided to promulgate is to set off fireworks when one of their players smacks a game-tying home run, which Edwin Encarnacion did in the bottom of the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon. I can see how obscuring the field with smoke can add to the experience: it’s something the Pirates or Mariners should consider doing as a hazy veil would spare attendees from the often ghastly play of such cellar-dwelling teams.

Three of the four runs the Reds tallied were homers: Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips also provided the crowd with a pair of souvenirs. The rate at which four-baggers are surrendered in Great American Ball Park is harrowing. But the visitors, still unaccustomed to their new surroundings, did not get on their longball stroke until late into the game.

Instead the Red Sox got acquainted with home plate thanks to miscues by the Reds. Jacoby Ellsbury scored in the first when Paul Bako’s throw to third clanged off Encarnacion’s glove. J.D. Drew crossed the dish with Edinson Volquez’s wild pitch to local product Kevin Youkilis in the fourth.

The Red Sox infield proved airtight in support of Tim Wakefield. The starter displayed his baseball awareness, skill, and versatility by covering third base in the bottom of the second for a key out. The shift was on for Adam Dunn and Phillips swiped second easily and then thought he could steal the vacated third base bag. Mike Lowell fielded Kevin Cash’s throw to second but then the third baseman hurled the relay to the wrong side of Wakefield. The pitcher had to stretch to his right to glove the ball and then spun to third to tag Phillips well short of the last stop before home. Ever the sportsman, Wakefield helped Phillips off the infield dirt The importance of erasing the runner was paramount as Dunn homered in that at bat.

No other Reds baserunner attempted a steal after that incident.

Cincinnati overlooked Youkilis in the 2001 amateur draft. The All-Star and Gold Glove first baseman took out his resentment on a 2-2 fastball out of the hand of Mike Lincoln and sent a piece of memorabilia to Dunn territory in the right field stands; an impressive feat for a right-handed hitter. The 140-strong Youkilis clan celebrated in the function rooms of the Pilot House and cadres of his kith and kin sprinkled throughout the stands rejoiced.

Coco Crisp tacked on an insurance run with a homer of his own and Youkilis reveled just as boisterously as his relations did. I even spied Youkilis and Manny Ramirez sharing a moment, showing that any hard feelings from their run-in back in Fenway have dissipated.

June 14, 2008

Crimson

Game 70: June 13, 2008
Red Sox 1 L: Justin Masterson (3-1) 42-28, 1 game losing streak
WinReds 3 W: Aaron Harang (3-9)
H: Jared Burton (6)
S: Francisco Cordero (13)
33-36, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: The Red Sox played in Cincinnati for the first time since the 1975 World Series. That series alternated between Fenway Park and Riverfront Stadium. Although the Reds are the oldest club in the majors, the team broke with tradition and was the first home field using AstroTurf. It was disconcerting to watch replays of that fabled series as one venue was replete with oldtime baseball charm and the other was a sterile duplicate of many other multipurpose stadia erected in that era.

Great American Ball Park is a vast improvement over its generic predecessor, although its dimensions make it an all too cozy place for both established sluggers like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr. as well as the blossoming boomer Jay Bruce. Ballparks.com lists the following boundaries: left field foul pole: 328 feet; left field power alley: 379 feet; center field: 404 feet; right field power alley: 370 feet; right field foul pole: 325 feet; backstop: 55 feet.

The space couldn’t contain Bruce’s leadoff homer that cleared the eight-foot tall wall in right to settle a couple of rows into the stands. The park’s petite proportions definitely couldn’t hold Dunn’s line drive four-bagger in the fourth; a line shot that found the right-center stands with breathtaking speed. It didn’t take away the air from Dunn’s lungs, however: he nonchalantly blew a bubble as he rounded the bases.

Against the Reds’ ace by reputation if not results the Red Sox scrapped together just a single run. Jacoby Ellsbury legged out a double to start the fourth frame and was driven in by a Manny Ramirez single. There were no other extra base hits for Boston.

Another effective outing was turned in by unhyped rookie starter Justin Masterson while the supposed savior of the Yankees Joba Chamberlain finally pitched over the minimum for a decision:

  • Masterson: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 2 HR, L
  • Chamberlain: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 0 HR, ND

Not only do these teams share the history of being part of one of the greatest World Series, but they share name origins. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, unrelated to the present-day franchise, became the first openly professional baseball team in 1869. Owner John I. Taylor decreed the Boston club’s first official nickname in 1908, calling his team the Red Sox after the pioneering team based in Ohio. Oddly enough, the first professional team in Boston was started by Harry Wright, who owned the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team that would become the Boston Braves was originally known as the Boston Red Stockings.

June 13, 2008

Greatness

Game 69: June 12, 2008
Orioles 2 L: Jeremy Guthrie (3-7) 32-33, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 9 W: Jon Lester (5-3) 42-27, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: When a baseball game featuring a grand slam by the reigning World Series MVP, two home runs (one by the much-maligned free agent signing turned team pinnacle and the other by the homegrown All-Star), and a solid start by a pitcher with a no-hitter on his resume is but an appetizer to your town’s sports main course, you know you are blessed to live in the right place at the right time. When a beanie baby replica of one of your team’s mascots receives a mini championship trophy of his own, you know you are happy to share it with people as or more maniacal than you.

What is it that makes a team great?

One can recite examples from history, like Celtics of the 50s and 60s or the Cleveland Browns of the 40s and 50s, but such analogies often fall on unbelieving ears. Grainy footage of players unaided by modern, shall we say, nutrition and mega-contracts doesn’t impress the video game generation, a wave of kids who think they can take on a Scott Kazmir fastball because they did so on their PS3 and who are exposed to athletic feats 24/7.

So one proffers teams of more recent vintage that have gone on championship runs. Then the oldtimers respond by pounding their podiums about the gruff ruffians who played for love of the game way back when. No one can shake them from their belief that no team will ever topple their childhood idols.

Perhaps it is easier to define what greatness isn’t.

Greatness isn’t allowing a pop-up in foul territory fall between you and your teammate and making a face at them when neither of you executed. Just ask Ramon Hernandez how he feels when Melvin Mora flashed a sour expression at him when this happened in the second inning. Will either of them go all out for each other next time? Would they even bother to dash at full sprint as the Kevins, Cash and Youkilis, did in the fourth inning? The Red Sox pair also didn’t make the play, but I can guarantee the other seven men on the field appreciated the effort and the nine members of the opposition were granted a glimpse of what they are not.

Greatness isn’t walking off the court before the shot of your teammate even succumbs to gravity. Find out what Sasha Vujacic thought of Kobe Bryant exiting the parquet before every millisecond of the clock drained, the supposed leader of the team with his back to his teammates. Greatness isn’t having your maid dust off your Most Valuable Player trophy. Greatness isn’t running an exceptional player out of town because of your fragile ego.

Other examples? Leading a series 3-0 and losing it. Going on a historic undefeated run in the regular season and playoffs only to collapse in the title game. Building the biggest lead in NBA finals history and losing the game, 97-91.

I think I have an idea of what greatness isn’t, enough to know that am fortunate to be living in Boston right now. It’s great, from what I can see.

June 12, 2008

Citizenship

Game 68: June 11, 2008
Orioles 3 L: Garrett Olson (5-2) 32-32, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 6 W: Bartolo Colon (4-1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (19)
41-27, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Colon recovered from his prior poor showing to notch his fourth win of the season, going six innings with seven strikeouts and one base on balls. The only mar on his line was a solo shot by the seemingly unstoppable Luke Scott. The Red Sox’s first inning secured the early and last lead. Jason Varitek powered the rally with his three-run homer to the standing room only section of the Monster seats.

My retinas were seared by Don Orsillo’s buttercream jacket and matching (?) yellow and red striped tie. So vibrant was the ensemble that after seeing him on screen for a while when the shot would switch back to the on-field action the afterimage superimposed itself over the players. It was like watching the game with an old-fashioned test pattern overlaying the field.

Jerry Remy said that Terry Francona gave Orsillo the business when he saw the play by play man’s outfit. I can imagine the ribbing:

  • Can I have fries with that?
  • Is that inspired by a barber shop pole? I vaguely remember what those establishments were for.
  • The thrill of victory... and the agony of that jacket.
  • I downloaded your group’s latest MP3s. Man, I love your version of “Don’t Stop Believing.”
  • Since when did you get into real estate?

But Orsillo had the last laugh in the seventh inning when he made a play on hot-hitting Luke Scott’s foul ball. Announcer Boy and his jacket made last night’s SportsCenter Top Ten, not any play on the diamond. In that inning Scott eventually flied out to J.D. Drew who made yet another nimble play in right.

Carlton Fisk visited the booth in the second inning with a representative from the Museum of Science, which will be showcasing Baseball As America from June 15 to September 1. Along with the general themes of how the sport and America’s history are intertwined there will also be an exhibit of World Series memorabilia from last year.

David Americo Ortiz Arias became an American citizen yesterday, joining teammate Manny Ramirez who had done the same in 2004. Unlike Ramirez’s naturalization which happened with the Red Sox brass finding out by happenstance, Ortiz’s enfranchisement was attended by Larry Lucchino and filmed for posterity.

I love the ideals this country claims to be built upon if not the actual execution. Woody Guthrie penned “This Land is Your Land” but hardly anyone knows it in its entirety. Even though the first two uncontroversial verses of this hymnal are rote, these words have probably never been voiced by American schoolchildren:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

I try to be a patriot as Guthrie was, as unpopular as it is these days.

June 11, 2008

Pair

Game 67: June 10, 2008
WinOrioles
10 W: Dennis Sarfate (4-1)
H: Jamie Walker (5)
H: Chad Bradford (9)
H: Jim Johnson (9)
32-31, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 6 BS, L: Hideki Okajima (6, 1-2) 40-27, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: The Red Sox offense loved home cooking but the Orioles bats got fat on Okajima’s seventh-frame implosion. With David Ortiz on the mend the new super duo of J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez paired for a set of home runs, but the visitors’ firepower proved too formidable. Baltimore overcame Josh Beckett’s quality start to put themselves ahead of the other .500-ish teams in the AL East, the Blue Jays and Yankees. The defeat began a night of losing for teams from the Hub; the Celtics dropped their first game in the NBA Finals by a score of 87-81, rendering the series 2-1.

Eddie Murray is a great interview these days. He joked in the booth with Don and Jerry about his conversation with Manny Ramirez. “He already told me he was going to pass me,” he said, in reference to how both were tied at 504. (Indeed, Ramirez did launch his 505th in the fifth.) Murray asked Ramirez how much longer he was planning to play. “Six more years? You’ll pass me in RBIs, too!” he exclaimed in mock exasperation.

He appeared to have overcome his distrust of the media. In the ending years of his career at Baltimore, however, television and radio personalities painted him as a sullen man. He would turn down interviews because of an unsavory experience he had with Dick Young of the New York Daily News in October of 1979.

It went downhill from there. The more interviews a player of his stature turns down the more resentful reporters grow. Of course it’s not savvy to refuse those who could rehabilitate one’s public image, but Murray wasn’t about pleasing the media. He was about baseball, pure and simple.

Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun even opined that Murray was run out of Baltimore because of his race. Preston presented a portrait of a blue collar town that adored its white players but took their African American superstars for granted.

Sound familiar?

So it was apt that Murray presented Ramirez with a plaque commemorating Ramirez’s 500th home run last night. Ramirez, so mocked by the press when he refuses to speak with them but so fawned upon when he does grant newspeople precious seconds of footage or cherished sound bites, has much in common with Murray.

Including the fact that the destination that they made on their own was, for Murray, and will be, for Ramirez, Cooperstown.

June 9, 2008

Taut

Game 66: June 8, 2008
Mariners 1 L: Sean Green (1-2) 22-41, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 2 W: Justin Masterson (3-0)
H: Craig Hansen (4)
H: Hideki Okajima (12)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (18)
40-26, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Since they both started on the same day again, here’s a comparison of the Red Sox and Yankees starting pitchers.
Masterson: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 0 HR, W
Chamberlain: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, ND
I’ll pay a little more attention to the Yankees since their two wins against the last-place Royals have launched them into a tie with Toronto for third in the AL East.

This was the J.D. Drew Theo Epstein expected to get when he shook hands with Scott Boras in January of 2007. This sort of production and this level of defense may well be worth $14M annually.

Drew was responsible for all the runs his team put on the board. In the bottom of the third Coco Crisp led off with a single that was not only the first Boston hit of the game but Crisp’s first hit off Erik Bedard in his career (oddly enough in his 13th plate appearance against the lefty).

Crisp on the basepaths proved a distraction to Bedard who walked Brandon Moss and Dustin Pedroia to load the bases. Bedard then nicked Drew on the hand, forcing in the tying run of the game.

Actually, this was the new and improved Drew, who stayed in the game despite the plunking. His sixth inning homer that dropped right in front of the batter’s eye would be the offensive difference in the game.

Drew’s grab of Richie Sexson’s fly deep to the right-center gap was fluid as his swing. Unlike the cataclysmic dives and labored gallops of the likes of Jim Edmonds and Rick Ankiel, Drew simply maneuvered himself to the spot where the orbit of the ball intersected with the crux of his glove and made a faultlessly timed leap. Had the catch not been made the two men that Justin Masterson had walked to lead off the second inning would have scored.

On the relief pitching side Craig Hansen worked out of a self-created predicament in the seventh. The old Hansen, i.e., the Hansen of last May, likely would have collapsed and surrendered the lead.

Some returns to form are welcome, however, like Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon’s uneventful eigth and ninth innings.

The tightly contested Red Sox game was good preparation for what the nail-biting final few minutes of the Celtics game. Leon Powe had the night of his career: 6 of 7 shots made, 9 of 13 free throws completed, and forcing Lamar Odom to the bench early. The Eastern Conference champions went into the fourth quarter with a 22-point advantage but the Lakers stormed back in the final quarter with an onslaught of threes to get within two points with 22 seconds left on the clock. The home team regained their bearings to win 108-102 and take a 2-0 advantage to Los Angeles.

I thought Sundays were supposed to be relaxing.

June 8, 2008

Slammed

Game 65: June 7, 2008
Mariners 3 L: Miguel Batista (3-7) 22-40, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 11 W: Tim Wakefield (4-4) 39-26, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The baseball deities, unimpressed that an official scorer had attempted to avert the end of Kevin Youkilis’s errorless streak at first, ensured that the first baseman’s run came to end as it should have the game before. For 238 games and 2,002 attempts Youkilis was flawless, but the spell that had lasted since July 4, 2006 came to an abrupt end in the ninth when Alex Cora’s relay toss dropped from Youkilis’s glove to the red earth.

At some point in this series there should be a split screen comparison of Jacoby Ellsbury and Ichiro Suzuki. One sequence would juxtapose both speedsters coming out of the box and the other would time them from first to second on a steal. I think these sprinters would be within hundredths of a second of each other even though ten years separate them in age. They say speed is one of the first things to leave a player as they advance in years, but in this string of games Suzuki has shown nothing of the sort.

And that is why fielders panic when any ball off the Mariner center fielder’s bat wends its way to them. The milliseconds it took for Kevin Cash and Tim Wakefield to decide which of them should pounce on Suzuki’s first-inning dribbler was the slice of time needed for Ichiro to reach first to begin the game.

Suzuki bunted for an infield single to become the second baserunner in the third. Again Wakefield charged the ball to try to keep Suzuki off the basepaths but to no avail. The visitors tallied two runs that inning but would not score again until the ninth.

Four Red Sox players drove in two runs each; those eight runs were the difference in the teams’ score yesterday, just like in the first game of the series. Two of those runs stood out amongst the offensive orgy: Manny Ramirez’s and J.D. Drew’s homers.

Ramirez devoured Miguel Batista’s meaty slider in the first inning, sending the projectile over the left field wall and into the overpriced parking lot on Lansdowne. He improved upon Drew’s triple to left-center that escaped Suzuki’s glove and bounded about the warning track.

Drew’s homer was equally impressive even though stayed within Fenway’s boundaries. He caromed the ball off the wall to the right of the yellow line with his signature effortless swing.

Drew has slipped into the three-hole with surprising ease, turning in a scorching 10-for-17 since David Ortiz’s trip to the disabled list on June 3. Thus protected by Ramirez Drew has hit two bombs, walked five times, and has yet to strikeout. Perhaps pitchers and scouts will educate themselves and realize that Drew has adequately covered for Ortiz’s absence and pitch to him accordingly.

As for the Fox broadcast I have few complaints because Tim McCarver was not in the booth and no Red Sox fan could fault Mark Grace. Grace even mentioned that when the World Champion Diamondbacks visited Boston in 2002 every where they went the red carpet was unfurled for them.

Fox did miss some moments of on-field action and inexplicably cut away to the Royals-Yankees game. Since this was the most exciting battle between two last-place teams with records wavering around .500 ever contested and Fox wanted to be sure baseball fans across the country could witness it live.

June 7, 2008

Nonevent

Game 64: June 6, 2008
WinMariners 8 W: Felix Hernandez (4-5) 22-39, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 0 L: Bartolo Colon (3-1) 38-26, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: When Don Orsillo utters the phrase, “I think I’m going to put Rogaine on my chest” you know it’s been a terrible game. In Mariners-related trivia, Ryan Rowland-Smith is the first player in the major leagues with a hyphenated surname.

So much for a brawl firing up the team. The Red Sox batters came up flat against Felix Hernandez, but that is to be expected because, well, he’s Felix Hernandez. The pre-game show stated that Hernandez is third behind Dwight Gooden (892) and Fernando Valenzuela (584) in strikeouts before reaching the age of 23 since 1980. The 22-year old added five whiffs to bring his career total to 492.

Eight Mariner runs, eight suspensions doled out for Thursday’s fracas: an odd and sobering symmetry.

  • Coco Crisp: 7 games (appealed)
  • Jon Lester: 5 games (accepted)
  • Sean Casey: 3 games (pending)
  • James Shields: 6 games
  • Jonny Gomes: 5 games
  • Edwin Jackson: 5 games
  • Carl Crawford: 4 games
  • Akinori Iwamura: 3 games

Don’t ask me why Lester’s name is there, ask Bob Watson.

Bartolo Colon didn’t pitch as terribly as the final score seems to indicate. Instead he was the victim to and perpetrator of a pair of mistimed throws to second that dribbled into center field.

Most of the entertaining moments were peripheral to the game. Don and Jerry replayed their broadcasting booth brawl and carried on their tradition of ribbing of “Sox Appeal” contestants. The prime target was a bejeweled aspirant whose earrings rivaled those of Kevin Garnett’s or David Ortiz’s.

Lou Merloni and Dave McCarty debated the third-inning error that allowed Ichiro Suzuki to reach first. Mike Lowell’s throw reached Kevin Youkilis in the air but the ball slipped out of the first baseman’s glove. After the misplay Youkilis pounded the ball on the infield dirt and gestured towards pointed to himself, taking responsibility for the flub. However, the official scorer assigned blame to Lowell, much to Remy’s surprise.

In the NESN post-game point/counterpoint segment Merloni took the hot corner’s side while McCarty took the first bagman’s side, naturally. Merloni said it was clearly Youkilis’s error because the throw reached him on a line and he did not have to reach unnaturally for the ball. McCarty said the throw was up the line and  to Youkilis’s backhand, and the less than optimal end of the trajectory caused the mistake, not the dropping of the ball.

The on-screen chemistry between the pair was outstanding, and they sprinkled their insightful analysis for humor. “Will we get suspended if we brawl here?” quipped McCarty.

The conversation turned towards the subjective nature of assigning blame. Reputation and circumstance plays into a scorer’s judgment, contended Merloni: “If Omar Vizquel had something get by him, it was a hit. If the same thing happened to me, it was an error.”

McCarty retorted, “If you were playing out there that would be an error.”

How much was Ortiz missed? Tremendously, especially given his splits against Hernandez: .364 BA, .462 OBP, and .636 slugging. J.D. Drew was no slouch against the young southpaw, going 2-for-3 with a walk. Casey also came up big with a 3-for-4 night, but the local nine just didn’t string hits together.

Or perhaps John McLaren's public outburst actually did light a fire under his team.

June 6, 2008

Fisticuffs

Game 63: June 5, 2008
Rays 1 L: James Shields (4-4) 35-25, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Jon Lester (4-3) 38-25, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Tampa Bay Rays: first place talent, last place class. Only a team like the Rays could trade away Elijah Dukes (who allegedly threatened to kill his wife and children and allegedly impregnated a 17-year old foster child who was living with his relatives) and actually decrease the team character quotient. Lester kept his cool throughout his six and third innings, and evenly slyly got in a smattering of plunks as well as pitches inside and behind the knees while he was at it. To be sure some were off-speed stuff, but there may have been a measure of subtle reciprocity propelling his pitches.

The saga of Coco Crisp’s animus towards the Rays continued. The Rays stupidly retaliated in the second inning with the score 3-1 and one of their better pitchers on the mound. Whether it was Joe Maddon’s fiat or James Shields’s initiative, as a whole Tampa Bay obviously doesn’t think of the bigger picture, or at all.

The upstart team’s need to avenge themselves because of the chirpy center fielder superseded their desire to avoid a sweep in a still-winnable and keep pace with their nearest divisional competitors. To his credit Shields didn’t aim above the shoulders, unlike other Rays pitchers we could name: he hit Crisp in an acceptable anatomical area. But Shields had already hit Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. In the unwritten rulebook hitting a player in the same position as the one who was sinned against (in this case Akinori Iwamura) events the credits and debits between teams on the ledger on revenge.

Hitting Crisp escalated the eye for an eye exchange between the clubs, and Tampa Bay underestimated Crisp’s frustration. To be sure the incidents in these series have set him off, but Crisp is a player awaiting a reason to detonate. When he first arrived the town was abuzz: there were commercials devoted to him (one featured his father, a former boxer), he hit like a man possessed, and he made spectacular plays on the field. His momentum was abruptly halted when he injured himself in Baltimore back in April of 2006 and hasn't been quite the same since. The defensive prowess is there, but that is something that rookie Jacoby Ellsbury can match. With Ellsbury’s emergence, Crisp has found himself riding pine more often than he would like.

This is not a man who would take a plunking lightly.

Crisp feigned to take his base after he was hit in the hip but then charged the mound. He easily evaded Shields’s punch and landed a shot on the pitcher’s shoulder before being tackled by Dioner Navarro. Thus pinned, Jonny Gomes, Carl Crawford, and Akinori Iwamura saw fit to literally hit a man while he was down.

In a separate scrum DeMarlo Hale took down Shields and a horde of Red Sox players reached that pileup in time to pummel the pitcher a bit. The NESN camera crew didn’t linger as long on that throng, so the exact extent of Shields’s beatdown is difficult to discern, but Sean Casey and and Kevin Youkilis were there quickly to mete out punishment.

In the end, Crisp, Shields, and Gomes were immediately ejected. In the inevitable national coverage of the rumpus, Gomes, in my opinion the most egregious example of unsporting behavior, is referred to as “another Devil Rays player.” Despite all of Tampa’s efforts, the Today show didn’t even realize the franchise changed its nickname.

Incredibly, the skirmish wasn’t the only storyline of the evening. Chris Carter pinch ran for Crisp in the second and scored his first major league run. He singled up the middle in his first at bat in the bottom of the fourth and could not help but show his joy when he made it to first. Fenway stood as one to applaud him. Carter’s success at the dish apparently convinced Maddon that he was the second coming of David Ortiz as he put on the shift in the call-up’s second at bat. Carter cunningly aimed his second major league hit through the vacated left side of the infield.

Despite his showing, Carter will be optioned back to Pawtucket because of the sudden dearth of Red Sox outfielders. Ellsbury rolled his wrist in his fourth-inning effort to snare Evan Longoria’s fly to right-center. The center fielder held on to the ball but was pulled from the game. X-rays were negative and Ellsbury is day-to-day, but Brandon Moss will be recalled to shore up the outfield.

In the post-game show David McCarty mentioned how the testosterone was flowing. The aggression it brought about was not limited to opposing teams: in the dugout Manny Ramirez went after Youkilis after the two seemed to be congratulating each other.

Ramirez had launched a tape measure, three-run shot in the first and had just driven in two more runs in the fourth. Maybe “Nice job, Manny” sounds like “L’Montro has to fix those heinous dreads, Manny” in Spanish.

The Red Sox’s tumultuous evening along with the Celtics’ 98-88 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals (replete with a stomach-churning Paul Pierce injury and subsequent triumphant return) made for yet another sensational night that will go down Boston sports lore.

June 5, 2008

Primary

Game 62: June 4, 2008
Rays 1 L: Edwin Jackson (3-5) 35-24, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Josh Beckett (6-4)
H: Manny Delcarmen (8)
37-25, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: On the strength of the quality start by Beckett, the sterling performances by Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, and Craig Hansen, and the consistent hitting up and down the lineup, the Red Sox reassumed their rightful place as leader in the AL East last night.

It should have been 6-1 as Dustin Pedroia was swindled of a home run in the first inning. NESN’s replay from the camera on the left field façade showed Pedroia’s ball slip behind Pesky’s Pole for a four-bagger, but Paul Emmel, Jeff Kellogg, Rob Drake, and Rob Fairchild convened and ruled the shot foul. Were they blinded by the incessant mist that shrouded Fenway last night?

Whatever the case, the quartet most likely decided incorrectly. With the recent brouhaha over missed calls, I have to side with the anti-Luddites. Why can’t there be a fifth official in the booth ready rule on fair or foul balls in relation to the poles, homers in areas where the ground rules or lines of sight are difficult to judge, and plays at the plate? Those are the only situations I would enact instant replay, and I believe Jerry Remy was an advocate for the same. The traditionalists have to come out from behind their transistor radios and bifocals to see that the technology exists to improve the game.

If the stalwarts had their way unceasingly, players wouldn’t be wearing gloves, mitts would be left out on the field throughout play, and the game wouldn’t have integrated racial minorities.

One conflict that might carry over into today is the aftermath of Coco Crisp’s hard slide into second on his steal in the eighth. When Rays manager Joe Maddon came out for a pitching change he exchanged words with the center fielder.

Thus the real AL East rivalry, Boston against Tampa Bay, heats up.

June 4, 2008

Ovation

Game 61: June 3, 2008
Rays 4 L: Matt Garza (4-2) 35-23, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Justin Masterson (2-0)
H: Manny Delcarmen (7)
H: Craig Hansen (3)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (17)
36-25, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Masterson: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 2.95 ERA, W
Joba Chamberlain: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 2.42, ND

I felt the compelling need to write about the last place team in the AL East despite their lack of significance. Perhaps it is because throughout the day ESPN trumpeted Joba Chamberlain and his much-ballyhooed debut as a starter and compared his outing to that of Pedro Martinez, who returned to the rotation last night.

Meanwhile, the teams battling for first featured starts by Matt Garza, a 2005 first round draft pick, and Justin Masterson, second round pick from 2006. Both pitchers lasted more than five innings, unlike Chamberlain. While the Yankees claim to be refocusing their efforts to develop their homegrown talent, this is merely a superficial gesture. They threw their best-known name on the mound knowing he could not throw more than 70 pitches, while Garza and Masterson were stretched out and could at least contribute to the a game decision.

The only thing Chamberlain contributed to his team was empty publicity.

Masterson started off tenuously by surrendering a leadoff home run to Akinori Iwamura but soon found his groove. Carlos Peña coped well with Masterson’s sinker, launching a ground-rule double in the fourth to plate a run and a two-run double in the sixth. Later that evening he found out he was playing with a broken broken finger since the first inning. Instead of placing him on the disabled list the Rays should have cracked two more of fingers so he could reach 46 home runs again.

Manny Ramirez received a warm and resounding ovation upon his return. The home run-o-meter on the left field wall read 502 and the two-person crew was ready to flip the last digit if need be.

But it wasn’t Ramirez who would come up big for the Red Sox last night. Ramirez was on first when Mike Lowell blasted his eighth homer in the second. For the rest of the runs, J.D. Drew was in the middle of the action.

Drew spanked a shot to the left-center gap for a stand-up double in the second but was stranded. He decided to do the dirty work himself in the fourth by walloping a solo shot to the right field stands, landing in the vicinity of Peña’s double. He walked in the sixth to load the bases and scored the insurance run right after Ramirez crossed the plate for the go-ahead run on Coco Crisp’s high-flying double to the base of the wall.

The Red Sox right fielder also notched two exceptional defensive plays. He ran down rookie phenomenon Evan Longoria’s fly to curve in the right field wall, catching Peña in a lurch. The Rays first baseman assumed the ball would be caught and was between second and third; the lapse in judgment meant he could not tag up.

The camera between the bullpen served a finer purpose than catching Jonathan Papelbon’s warm-up windmils or sunflower seed tossing contests. It was perfectly placed to track Drew’s snare of Dioner Navarro’s deep fly in the fifth. I don’t think a similar shot can be captured anywhere in the majors; like the park itself the moment was singular.

June 3, 2008

Pinioned

Game 60: June 2, 2008
Red Sox 3 BS, L: Hideki Okajima (5, 1-1) 35-25, 1 game losing streak
WinOrioles 6 W: Jim Johnson (1-2)
S: George Sherrill (18)
27-29, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Tim Wakefield was in line for his fourth win of the season until Okajima folded in the eighth. I want to say it was uncharacteristic of the set-up man, but lately Okajima has been vulnerable, leaving his fastball up and lacking the bite on his oki doki. With the loss and the news of David Ortiz being placed on the disabled list because of a partially torn extensor carpi ulnaris (sheath surrounding a tendon) in his left wrist, the threadbare Red Sox trod home to face the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Chris Carter, the first baseman/designated hitter acquired from the Nationals with the Wily Mo Peña trade, was called up to take Ortiz’s spot and Justin Masterson replaced Jeff Bailey.

Nick Markakis, Melvin Mora, and Aubrey Huff singled consecutively in the eighth to load the bases. Miraculously Kevin Millar managed to loft a ball to the opposite field to knot the score at 3-3. Luke Scott grounded to Kevin Youkilis who thought about getting the out at first but instead bolted towards home and faked a throw to Kevin Cash, freezing Mora and making him the third Kevin mentioned in this paragraph.

Youkilis chased Mora down for the second out. The Red Sox were on the verge of escaping the inning without further damage, but Hideki Okajima was allergic to the strike zone and Ramon Hernandez was issued a base on balls to load the bases for the second time in the inning.

Adam Jones arced a ball just out the grasp of Jacoby Ellsbury, allowing the go-ahead runs and two insurance scores to cross the dish. Ellsbury seemed to mistime his leap; a better jump or route may have ended the inning.

The evening wasn’t a total loss. There was yet another Manny Ramirez home run to the opposite field in the sixth and Dave Trembley pulled an Earl Weaver in the bottom of the third. Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez had enough of Trembley’s chirping and dismissed the manager when he was caviling in his dugout, so Trembley came out to get his money’s worth, as they say.

He pointedly dragged his forefinger down the sides of the batter box. “This is not a strike.” Drag. “This is not a strike.” A fair showing, but the city of Baltimore has seen better.

Jerry Remy reminisced about Weaver’s tirades. Jim Palmer famously said, “The only thing that Earl knows about pitching is he couldn’t hit it.” Of course Weaver would have the temerity to come out and talk to Palmer in trouble spots; Remy said Palmer would stand on the rubber, forcing Weaver to be even further dwarfed by having to stand on the slope of the mound.

Don Orsillo had his own memories of Weaver, a frequent voyager on the Red Sox cruises. Even as a respected elder statesman of the game Weaver would kvetch about the calls made during the annual ping pong tournament.

June 2, 2008

Plucked

Game 59: June 1, 2008
WinRed Sox 9 W: Bartolo Colon (3-0) 35-24, 3 game winning streak
Orioles 4 L: Brian Burres (4-5) 26-29, 4 game losing streak
Highlights: Steve Trachsel turned what was a leisurely Sunday win into a long-drawn-out affair. His five innings of toil seemed to last twice as long as Burres’s four frames even though the latter ceded 12 hits and seven earned runs, including two taters.

It was a day of padding batting statistics against an ailing team. Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew homered and Ramirez and Lowell also doubled. The pressure lifted from Ramirez’s shoulders now that he met his milestone was palpable and timely given the sidelining of David Ortiz.

Bartolo Colon turned in another competent outing of six innings, seven hits, four earned runs, two walks, five strikeouts, and a home run to the surprising Luke Scott. The Red Sox were able to option Clay Buchholz to Pawtucket because Colon has been able to regain the posture of a passable major league pitcher, if not the physique of one.

Another sign of Boston fans’ domination at Camden Yards: not only do they foist Red Sox banners and tributes to Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy (including an ingenious one depicting the pair like they were Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame), but Celtic signs, too. The NESN camera crew found quite a few patches of green and a “Beat L.A.!” sign.

I have a quibble with NESN, however: why do they break into Red Sox broadcasts to give the audience updates on a second-to-last place team? I would have preferred some insight into the contest between the Rays and the White Sox, two clubs of significance as they lead their respective divisions.

I heard from a college friend today who still lives in Hawai‘i and whose father was from Dorchester. Back in those days the extent of my knowledge about Boston revolved around “Cheers” so it never occurred to me to ask about his devotion to the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots.

Now he has a family and hopes to someday bring them to Fenway and to naturalize them into the nation. The Hawaiian contingent of Red Sox fans continues to grow.

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