Thursday, June 29, 2006

Return to Red Sox Nation

It began like this, at lunch, circa 1pm PST.... "This has gone on long enough. Maybe they'll lose tonight and I will be called to account as the jinx. So be it. One man can only give so much."

Since that beginning the Sox have won in spectacular fashion, twelve in a row. As I had already begun writing I will consider myself off the hook, jinx-wise. Thank you Schill, Papi, and of course Coco Crisp. If you have not seen The Catch, as it will be known for the rest of this season at least, go to mlb.com and check out the video highlights. Youngsters throughout Red Sox Nation will be out in their backyards tomorrow with their buddies, hoping to get that perfect toss so they can emulate their new favorite player, and old favorite cereal. Tonight's game was everything sport can be, and baseball in particular is at it's best: a multi-faceted contest with stories within stories, and to top it all off, a grand finale.

First off we have the pitching matchup of two of the mound's elder statesmen in Schilling versus a red-hot Tommy Glavine (sub-plot: Glavine is a Concord, Massachusetts native). Both showed why they are great; Glavine struggling with his command a little but pitching to contact brilliantly, and Schill looking a little like the power pitcher of yore, being aggressive and missing some bats (6 Ks). Glavine got his pitch count up a little high and left early, after five.

Next, we have the game within the game, as Crisp scores the go-ahead run in uncharacteristic fashion for the Sox. He bunts to get on, then steals second. AGon sac bunts him to third and he scores on a Youks sac fly. Those with more free time can check on this, but I'll wager that's the only run we score in that manner all season.

There is the sub-plot of two exciting rookies; the now-dominant closer Paps for the Sox, and the oddly-named and maybe a little nutty Lastings Milledge for the Mets. One assumes the day will come when they are on opposite sides of the All-Star diamond, but now the ride is still climbing, climbing. If Milledge keeps high-fiving the 'suits' in the box seats who don't know how to score games after he hits dingers, he could quickly become a fan favorite. Papelbon of course already is.

As counter-balance to the story of the two rookies, the Mets started Julio Franco today. Amazingly, after ruling Spain with an iron fist, Franco went on to play in the majors for 32 years. He is still catching up to the occasional fastball, and getting picked off. Good for him. Franco is one my favorite players, because he is so goddamn old that he's getting a pass on the whole performance-enhancing drugs thing. They're like "ah, leave him be, he'll be dead soon". Julio of course won't take this standing up, but he will take it wandering between second and short, wondering if he left the gas on.

Finally, we have the personal story, whereby my fantasy middle reliever Aaron Heilman comes in and takes the loss. This is why I always play my guys against the Sox: if they suck, I still like it. I am crafty.

No matter how you look at it tonight's game was a classic. Well worth the $3.75 to download from MLB.tv (no they don't give me money) and watch over and over again, while your wife makes annoying comments in the background, as if she hasn't seen every Friends episode 14 times. Ah, good times.

So...Twelve in a row. It seems like just a couple weeks ago I was wading through the nightmarish jungle of home buying, watching a Sox team that just wasn't putting it together, and writing that perhaps they weren't built to go deep this year after all. Caviat of course - they needed to replace Clement, who was clearly sucking the life out of every game he started, and causing me to hear angry voices in labrador-ese. Enter Jon Lester, who quite frankly has been better than I expected at this level. I wasn't sure he had the fire, but he looks like he has raised his game. Some guys do. Add Hansen and MDC as full-timers, and this club has an injection of energy and life. These guys have obviously put it together now, and this is as fun a ride as I've had since, oh, October 2004.

Going back a bit further, to the topic I started writing about....Last night was Pedro Martinez's not-so-long awaited, much-ballyhooed return to Fenway as a Met. There seemed to be a lot of debate over whether or not the Fenway Faithful would, or should, boo Pedro. This was a no-brainer. You cannot boo Pedro Martinez. Why not? Let's see:
  • He is the greatest pitcher to take the mound in a Red Sox uniform since Cy Young. Clemens will be greater, career-wise, but some of his Sox years were not his best. This can be debated, of course, but over my dead body will that fat horse's ass get more love than Petey.
  • He did not mail it in, ever (for reference on mailing it in, see Clemens, above).
  • He was entertaining, to the point of being insane (for reference, see Nelson the Good Luck Dwarf).
  • He considers boos to be just as good as cheers - at least we're paying attention to him.
That's the thing about Pedro; he doesn't care about anything except being on the mound, being the center of attention, and having his fans. His relationship with the FO soured because they weren't big enough Pedro fans, hence his angry description of them as "computer geeks". On the contrary though, his relationship to Sox fans will never sour, because of the heaping adulation we gave him during his tenure here. To Pedro, now, if you cheer for him, it's because you still love him, and if you boo him, it's because you are jealous he's gone, like a jilted lover. It's all good. So why not look back on all the tremendous performances he gave us, and cheer your lungs out for a slightly crazy primadonna who at least had the stuff to back it up?

Thankfully, that's exactly what Fenway did. It made me proud.

I should note here that Captain Cavechrist has some similar personality traits, and obviously was a great Sox player, and probably deserved a warmer welcome than he got. But he did two things that Pedro did not. One, he went to the Yankees. Two, he went to the Yankees scant months after stating categorically that could never play for the Yankees. That is considered bad form in polite company (although in drunken caveman company I suppose it's de rigeur).

At any rate, the Sox themselves were not quite so kind to our jheri-curled former ace, and slapped him around like a rented mule. I myself was hoping for Pedro to pitch well but lose, just for old times's sake. In the end though, I guess I'll take the rout.

Now, ome quick notes on the new guys, from the Small Sample Size Press:

Daniel Bard: Okay, he still isn't signed, but the kid pitched unbelievably in the College World Series, and was victimized by his inability to field his position and some truly retahded baserunning by his teammates. The only thing you need to know is this: he was hitting 98 MPH on the gun in the 8th inning of the game, and he threw nothing but fastballs after the 4th. That's right. Wow.

Zach Daeges: The left-handed hitter from Creighton showed up ready to play. He's hitting .300 in 30 ABs with 6 RBIs, and had his second game winning hit last night in the 12th inning. When you add to that the fact that his name is extremely awkward to spell or say, you've got to love this kid.

Aaron Bates: Another Spinner, Bates is getting on base at a .400 clip while hitting .346 to better Daeges. Amazingly, he's also struck out 9 times, a better than 25% rate. He's a tad too aggressive, but there seems to be little doubt that the kid can hit. And kill women in the shower. That's right - I'm going to beat that joke to death until he makes the Show. So suck it.

Travis Beazley: Beazley is looking very good on the mound thus far, giving up just 3 ER in 11 IP, and striking out 8. More importantly, his WHIP is 0.82. He's still waiting for a Win, of course, but he's doing it in style. It's true he was a D3 pitcher in college, but still, the kid struck out 108 guys in just 88 innings, and walked a mere 18 for a 6/1 K/BB ratio. He has some ability.

High-school pitcher Caleb Clay and JuCo shortstop Kris Negron signed this week, and reported to the GCL. Clay in particular seems to be worth watching, and I'll try to keep this site updated occasionally with his and some of the other young guns' progress.

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