Friday, June 29, 2007

Commercial Interruptions

The Red Sox finally won again tonight, 2-1 at home over the Texas Rangers. After that forgettable sweep in Seattle, the Sox need to gorge themselves on Texas' woebegone pitching staff, and increase their AL East lead. There wasn't much gorging by the Sox' forgettable offense (2 runs scored or less in 9 of last 17 games) tonight, but the two markers they did scrape up proved sufficient. Barely.

The performances turned in by the Sox' pitching staff tonight were anything but forgettable. Red Sox SP Tim Wakefield permitted only one earned run in six and two-thirds innings, and Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima combined to prevent Texas from scoring further in the 7th and 8th innings. Jonathan Papelbon (0.00 ERA, 21 of 22 batters retired in games since I acquired his bobblehead) came in to secure the victory. Throwing mid-90s heat, he retired the first two Rangers batters without difficulty. Then he put an exclamation point on the win, by outracing the timelessly-speedy Kenny Lofton to 1st base for the game-ending putout.

Well, it would have been a swell exclamation point, if Lofton hadn't been called safe on the play. It was a close call, but Jonathan Robert Papelbon was rather convinced that the wrong verdict was rendered. He proceeded to make his opinion known both immediately and vociferously, as he violently entered 1st Base Umpire Mike Reilly's personal space. No expertise in lip-reading was necessary to realize that the enraged bullpenner was not using words he learned from his Official Scrabble Dictionary. Fortunately, Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia pulled Papelbon away from the scene of the alleged crime before there were any ejections. Or casualties. Papelbon plunked the next batter, but then whiffed slugging SS Michael Young (with 600 HR-man Sammy Sosa on deck) for the final out, securing his 19th save. The Sox had overcome Mr. Reilly's crime against Red Sox Nation.

The questionable umpiring in the 9th inning wasn't the only crime perpetuated against Red Sox Nation tonight, however. A much more disconcerting crime was the atrocity of a pre-game show. Usually, the Red Sox pre-game show on NESN is excellent. With knowledgeable insights from Eck, Edes, and Benjamin, and (usually) humorous shenanigans from Messrs. Remy and Orsillo, the pre-game is well worth watching.

Not tonight, however. Perhaps it is partially my fault. I have absolutely zero interest in car racing. On my list of television-viewing preferences, car racing would fall somewhere below watching CHB watch himself on TV. (Note: Papelbon on a duck hunt with Timlin is on the top of the list.) Then again, perhaps it is reasonable to expect the pre-game show for a Red Sox baseball game to feature content that is, at least primarily, baseball-related. Tonight's pre-game show was all about the car racing, however. Jerry Remy riding in some kind of race car. Different race car people being interviewed about different race car topics. Pretty much the only oasis of baseball content was 3rd-string Globie Neil Cafardo's report. After awhile, I was hoping for some Foxwoods commercials. Quite possibly the only thing that could have saved the pre-game show would have been if they had spent the last ten minutes televising the Papelbon-Tavarez-Matsuzaka Boggle Competition. But they didn't. They opted to show a race car driving around the hallowed ground of Fenway. Thankfully, 7pm finally came, and it was time for some baseball.

Baseball, preceded by more car racing people, that is. There was some kind of presentation with Don Orsillo saluting the car racing people and/or the Red Sox for their strategic partnership or whatever with the car racing people and/or the fact that the car driving on the field had some Red Sox logos on it. The crowd at Fenway looked like it shared my level of interest in the proceedings. Also troubling was the big car-racing banner draped over The Monster. The same wall that has oft-displayed the American Flag, as well as many a tribute to baseball memories and successes long past, was now covered in one, big commercial announcement. Almost blasphemous, that. Then some car-racing people were paraded out to throw out the first (three) pitch(es). Their uninspiring efforts paralleled that of the preceding presentation. But, finally, it was time for baseball.

At least until the 2nd inning, when one of the car racing people resurfaced in the broadcast booth. As play continued on the field, car racing topics were discussed. The game on the field was largely ignored. The car racing guy mentioned that he tried to throw the ball as hard as he could to Varitek on his first pitch. Brilliant. Varitek was neither wearing a mask, nor any equipment. The first pitch is not typically delivered at high velocity. It is fortunate that the Sox catcher did not get injured in any way. Fortunate because Sox fans would have to, likely, endure a duo of Mirabelli and Kottaras during any prolonged Varitek absence. Fortunate because the car racing guy would not have left the infield alive if he had beaned 'Tek. Even worse, the inevitable dismemberment would, likely, have delayed the baseball further. Next time Lugo and Clement need to be utilized for first pitch-catching duties.

Hopefully, there won't be any pre-game car racing shenanigans on Saturday. Unless it involves Dustin Pedroia and D'Angelo Ortiz on Big Wheels. That would be fine.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Yikes. That series in Seattle was not a fun time. (For Sox fans, at least. The Mariners' fans seemed rather pleased.) Three games, three Sox losses. When did the Mariners start being good anyways? They are nine games above .500 (42-33) these days, but besides Ichiro, Johjima, and Putz, who do they have? Apparently, they have a bunch of anonymous relievers with sparkling ERAs (though a bit on the WHIPpy side), and eight (!) players with at least twenty-eight RBIs. Nice. Their bullpen has lead them to a 3-0 record in extra innings, and a 13-9 record in one-run games. Yep, the Mariners have become good. But the Sox still should have been able to take at least one of the games in Seattle. (Note: Seattle is 24-15 at home, and 18-18 on the road. Very impressive.) Boston needs to do a lot better if these teams meet again in the first round of the playoffs. At least they aren't likely to be starting Batshit and Not Jason in the playoffs. Hopefully.

It has been a draining couple of weeks for this recently-infrequent blogger. Much working. Not much sleeping. Probably a similar schedule to Gordon Edes, actually. Except I don't have the magical properties of his Pad O' Stats to rely on. Curses. I might also be going through a "dead arm period", but I am not sure, as I have never actually worn a uniform. Perhaps I could take a page from the Baseball Desert playbook, and take a pre-game nap before the Sox' 10pm starts, but that would require missing exciting Phillies action. Besides, it's best to diversify, and have multiple favorite teams. (I learned the diversification lesson when I sunk my first million into Chris James rookie cards.) So, I do my best to stay awake until 1:30am watching the Sox, fueled by Aquafina and peanut M&Ms, and then get myself out of bed at 5am or so. Unfortunately, not unlike Julio Lugo, my best has not been good enough. Not by a long shot. I have missed many ABs due to intermittent napping, only to be jolted into consciousness by random low-flying airplanes, train horns, and rapping announcers. I consider myself fortunate that I have not been designated for assignment. Yet. (If J. C. Romero had been able to keep his WHIP under 1.9, Red Sox Nation may have cut ties with me first.) Fortunately, the Sox don't have another 10pm start time until August 3rd.

Boston really should have come up with the win on Wednesday. Monday night, with Batshit getting bombed (What was he doing throwing, instead of rolling, the ball to 1st base? Poor fundamentals!) and Tuesday night, when Not Jason seemed determined to walk as many opposing batters as possible in the time allotted, just didn't go well. But Wednesday did, at least pitching-wise. Matsuzaka was brilliant- eight innings, three hits, one earned run, one walk, eight K's- but wound up with a no decision. Benjamin turned in a strong effort on the Extra Bases Blog with frequent updates and subtle humor, though her use of the wrong form of the word "flare" cost Boston a run. I did not see CHB on the pre-game, which was also promising, as his appearance typically sends me into convulsions. (Somerville Hospital does NOT get NESN HD.) It is almost disconcerting having two such disparate entitities both writing for the Globe. Amalie, the Champion of all that is Righteous and Good. And CHB, who is well, not so much with the good. (Though, I must admit, every time Amalie writes a one sentence paragraph, I'm pretty sure an angel loses its' wings.)

But, most incredible of all, was The Great Papelbon. He entered the game in the 9th inning, with the potential winning Seattle run on 3rd, and only one out. He left the game after the 10th, having fiercely overpowered all five batters he faced. Two strikeouts. Fourteen of seventeen pitches thrown for strikes. Those 4402 offseason ducks stood a better chance than those five Seattle batters. Pure ferocity. Papelbon has a 0.93 ERA in June, with a delightfully miniscule WHIP of .41. But that's just part of the story. Since I acquired a Limited Edition Jonathan Papelbon BIG Bobblehead, he has appeared in six games. In those six games, he has not been scored upon. Six and two/thirds innings, two hits allowed, ZERO walks allowed, EIGHT strikeouts. That's a 10.79 K/9 ratio, for those without a conveniently located calculator. Needless to say, I have already ordered my Lugo bobblehead. (It may be our pink-tie wearing SS's only hope. Well, that or vitaminwater.)

Unfortunately, Joel Pineiro was summoned from the bullpen, dragging a balky ankle and a 4.80 ERA in for the bottom of the 11th inning. One out later, his ERA was 5.04, and the Mariners had piled onto the field to celebrate their walk-off victory. Craphead.

The Sox return home this weekend to face Texas (they play those Texas dudes A LOT!) in a three-win series. (Yep. Three WIN!) They still boast the best record in the league, but the LA Angels have pulled to within .003. It's time to increase that margin, folks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Pleasant Shade of Gray

The skies were gray and overcast as I took a random walk through historic Somerville today. As I listened to the melodic metal stylings of Austria's Serenity, I pondered a matter of great importance. The matter, of course, being the Red Sox and their recent slumpy ways. What was once a twelve-game divisional lead has been reduced to a mere eight games by the streaking New York Yankees. With a challenging schedule awaiting the Sox in the near future, the mood of Red Sox Nation has become almost as gloomy as the foreboding sky. Would the Sox continue to flounder, perhaps even enough to allow the Yankees back into the divisional race? As I calculated that possibility in my head, I came to the obvious conclusion. No. Fucking. Way.

While I consider this conclusion to be unassailable, I would not present it to you, my reader(s), without some substantiation. The exculpation for the conclusion of inevitable Red Sox Superiority is mathematical, as well as, intangible in nature. While I am somewhat limited in my ability to explain the mathematics, due to proprietary concerns, the formulae (and their corresponding derivations) are available from Philly Fanatic, Inc. for a nominal fee.

It is not unusual for a team with a .650+ winning percentage to have periods with a winning percentage of less than .400, particularly over a long season. The Binomial Theorem tells us this. Considering the Binomial Theorem, in conjunction with the Central Limit Theorem, it is possible to determine the likely winning percentage of the Red Sox in 162 trials. (The proof of this is rather rigorous, and the keyboard I currently have at my disposal will not allow me to use the eight Greek letters necessary to provide a satisfactory explanation. However, I will be presenting on this topic in Stratham, NH in two weeks time, if anyone is interested in attending. For a nominal fee, of course.) I have had my calculations verified at The Math Shack, conveniently located in Somerville, MA, and will now reveal the 2007 Red Sox final regular season winning percentage. The Red Sox will finish with a .679 winning percentage, or 110 wins. The Yankees will finish with a .537 winning percentage, or 87 wins.

Not content with the above, I also statistically simulated the remainder of the MLB regular season. After a gajillion Monte Carlo simulations, the Red Sox had won the AL East 98.1% of the time. Once again, I can't really get into the mathematics behind this (unless you send a nominal fee my way. Sorry, no personal checks.) But, suffice it to say, the Red Sox are a near certainty to be AL East champs. (For a similar, but less rigorous analysis, click here. In this simulation, the Sox won the division only 91.078% of the time. Obviously, their math is a wee bit haywire, and they would be well-served to have The Math Shack check their figures.)

In addition to the mathematics, there is also a huge intangible reason that the Sox will win the division. The Influence and Power of the Triumvirate of Media Greatness. There is just no way the Sox lose the division lead with Caron, Benjamin, and Eckersley on the scene. In fact, even if the numbers didn't support the Sox, Eck would just kick the numbers' collective ass. So, no, I am not worried about the Red Sox.

Well, unless the Sox do something batshit and totally unpredictable. Like moving J.D. Drew to the leadoff spot, and batting Lugo, Crisp, and Drew in the 8-9-1 spots in the order. That would create an offensive void of sufficient gravitational pull to destroy objects of great mass. (For example, David Ortiz.) I am not certain that even Eck could save the Sox in that sort of scenario. But, hopefully, such a profane and unbelievable event will never occur.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Routine Expedition...

It seemed like a routine expedition for the Red Sox to Oakland this week. Hit the rapids a bit. Some spelunking, perhaps. Catcher/Chef Doug Mirabelli had a nice picnic spread planned for Thursday afternoon. They'd pick up a few W's to increase that MLB-best winning percentage. A good time was to be had by all.

At least until that pesky time vortex laid those plans to waste. Now the Sox are running for their lives. Hiding in temples, caves, and cavernous stadiums. Evading Dinosaurs and DiNardos. Fending off attacking Sleestacks and Casillas. It's a dangerous world, fraught with crystal matrix tables and GIDPs. Manager Terry Francona has been both ingenious and ferocious, otherwise the Red Sox may not even have survived to this point. Obviously, it's been a very draining trip for the Red Sox. There's no rest to be had when large green lizards could have their crossbows trained on you at any time. (Hmm. Tavarez's crossbow is very similar in design to that of the Sleestacks. Interesting, that.)

The Sox will send Curt Schilling to the pylon this afternoon. Surely, he will save them. Just like Uncle Jack saved the Marshall Family. (Uncle Jack DID save them, didn't he?)
Either way, I'm just glad the Sox don't play in the middle of the night this time. Because the Sleestack nightmares are back. Their hissing pierces my very soul...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Win on this (objective) blogger's scorecard...

Sometimes a win feels more like a loss. Perhaps the team's effort was uneven. Maybe the opponent's performance was just more craptacular. Or an injury to a key player rendered the victory almost meaningless. (See Phillies, 2007 Philadelphia.) Conversely, a team can fall short on the scoreboard, but still demonstrate characteristics that are much more significant when the big picture is considered. Monday night, the Red Sox exhibited the traits that make them a World Series contender. Though an 11th inning HR off the bat of A's 3B Eric Chavez sent Boston to a 5-4 loss, the Sox showed what they were made of Monday night (and Tuesday morning).

The Sox had enough readily available excuses for a poor performance to stock a spring training roster. After their four hour game ended after midnight on Sunday, they flew across the country, not getting into their hotel rooms into 5am. The pre-game buffet options were, at best, lackluster. Their two relief aces, Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, were not available for action, as they were representing the Sox in an MLB-sponsored trivia contest. Their starting pitcher, Julian Tavarez had an ERA more than 200% higher (with 200% less hair) than that of his A's counterpart, Danny Haren. Backups Doug Mirabelli, Eric Hinske, and Wily Mo Pena were all in the starting lineup. Boston's chances for a victory didn't look all that promising.

Going into the 9th inning, those chances looked even less promising. Much less. Danny Haren had pitched brilliantly, allowing only two runs (on solo HRs by David Ortiz and Wily Mo Pena) over his 7.2 innings. Haren permitted a mere four hits and one walk, while striking out nine Sox batters. Julian Tavarez, pitching on seven days rest, was not quite as effective. He gave up three runs on nine (!) hits over 5.2 innings. Tavarez managed to pack 107 pitches into those 5.2 innings, including an astounding 72 in the first three frames. The Sox trailed 4-2 as they batted in the 9th against A's (3rd-string) closer, Alan Embree. Embree had been perfect in all four of his 2007 save opportunities going into the game, and had a 2.45 ERA in May.

David Ortiz started the inning with a double, but Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis were retired, both failing to score Ortiz. With two outs, Sox Manager Terry Francona opted to pinch-hit for gajillion dollar RF J.D. Drew, sending C Jason Varitek up to bat for the slumping outfielder. Varitek came through with an RBI single, and was replaced by pinch-runner Coco Crisp. Crisp then scored from 1st on a single by Wily Mo Pena, as the speedy Crisp was running on the pitch as Pena drove it into right-center. The game was tied.

While Papelbon and Okajima demonstrated the breadth of their knowledge in Alameda, Joel Pineiro attempted to demonstrate that he was a capable reliever in Oakland. He failed. Pineiro gave up a walk and a single, putting the go-ahead run on 3rd base, with no outs. Francona went to J. C. Romero, who walked the 1st batter he faced, loading the bases. But then Romero struck out Eric Chavez, and got Bobby Crosby to hit into an inning-ending 5-2-3 DP. Youkilis to Mirabelli to Hinske. Chavez redeeemed himself with the game-winning HR two innings later, off Kyle Snyder, but the Sox had almost won a game they had almost no business being in. Terry Francona deserves a lot of credit for that.

Tom Caron deserves a lot of credit for the strong pre-game performance. May Pitcher of the Month Amalie Benjamin had some updates on Jon Lester's rehab in her pre-game segment, and she allowed only one run in her six innings of work. With strong perfomances on the Extra Bases Blog, and in her game story for Sunday's night's game, she's off to an excellent start in June. However, she did tire a bit in the 6th, and was saved by a tumbling catch by Kathryn Tappen in CF, and a nifty play on a line drive by SS Eric Frede. Caron took note of the hard-hit outs in the 6th, and sent Gordon Edes out for the 7th inning. Edes pitched the 7th and 8th, and his MLB Notebook was as insightful as usual. 1B Don Orsillo helped get Edes out of trouble in the 8th, digging out a low throw from 2B Jerry Remy, completing a Frede-Remy-Orsillo twin killing. Eckersley shut the door in the 9th, punctuating yet another save with an unprovoked shot at the Yankees and their overall suckitude. Nice. The pre-game players performed well, but it was Caron who put them in position to win. SS Frede will have to content himself with his three Gold Gloves, and his .321 lifetime batting average, because he won't be taking the reins from Chessmaster Caron any time soon. The Sox send Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound against old pal Lenny DiNardo tonight, as they attempt to match the success of their pre-game crew.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Mighty Lowell ...

The Red Sox were not to be denied a win tonight. I was sure of it. With 8-0 Josh Beckett on the mound, there was no way the Sox would lose the rubber game of this three-game series. At home, against the overpaid, underperforming, injury-prone team formerly known as the "Bombers?" Not. Gonna. Happen. I was already figuring out how soon the Yankees, who would be trailing the Sox by 14.5 games after tonight's Boston win, would be eliminated from contention for the AL East crown.

The Yankees jumped to a 4-0 lead, with the four runs allowed by Beckett being the most he's allowed in a start this season. Yankee SP Andy Pettitte was pitching well, shutting out the Sox through the first four frames, but Boston got to him for five runs in the bottom of the 5th. Dustin Pedroia (.336 BA, hitting streak now at 13 games) had the big hit, a 2-run double. David Ortiz (.325) had a run-scoring single, with another run scoring when Yankee RF Bobby Abreu misplayed the ball. Kevin Youkilis (.350) hit a sacrifice fly, staking the Red Sox to a 5-4 lead. Pettitte only got one out in the inning, and all five runs were charged to him, raising his season ERA from 2.51 to 2.96. With a 5-4 lead, the only question was how Beckett and the Sox' invincible bullpen would divide up the remaining four scoreless innings they had ahead of them.

Beckett left the game in the 7th, with Javier Lopez (3.46 ERA), Brendan Donnelly (3.63 ERA), and Hideki Okajima (1.27 ERA) combining to get out of the inning with the lead intact. With a 5-4 lead in the 8th, and Okajima and Papelbon (1.77 ERA) ready to finish out the last two innings, it was just a matter of how low the opponents' batting averages against the two Sox relief aces would go. Except Okajima allowed a single to Hideki Matsui, followed by a triple to Robinson Cano, tying the game at 5. As the rain began to fall softly at Fenway, Okajima managed to retire the next three Yankee batters, without allowing the go-ahead run to score from 3rd. I guess you can't expect Okajima to never give up runs. (We only expect PAPELBON to never give up runs.) The run cost Beckett his 9th win, but it put Okajima in position to get his 2nd win, which seemed somehow deserved, considering how well the Japanese southpaw has pitched this year. Besides Beckett still has plenty of starts left, he'll get his 22 wins without too much difficulty.

The Sox should have gone ahead in the bottom of the 8th, but Yankee RF Bobby Abreu made a lucky catch in deep right-center on a blast from Dustin Pedroia. That would have plated two runs, and given Boston an unassailable 7-5 lead. No problem. Jonathan Papelbon would dominate the Yanks in the top of the 9th, and the Walk-Off Sox would win it in the bottom of the inning. Paps would pick up the win, and Mike Lowell would achieve redemption for his error earlier in the game, by knocking in the winning run. Three years from now, I'd be watching this game again on NESN, relishing the memories of another AL Championship season.

The Sox' indomitable closer stared through the now-pounding raindrops, grimacing in intense concentration as he received the sign from C Jason Varitek. Papelbon had retired the first two Yankee batters without any difficulty, as is his way. He had an 0-2 count on Yankee 3B Alex Rodriguez. Fenway Park was primed to erupt in the manner only Fenway can, as Papelbon whiffed Sox fans' least popular player, on their least popular team. Papelbon fired a 95 MPH fastball, putting an exclamation point on what was to be another scoreless inning for the Closer of the Millenium. It was just so perfectly scripted that the inning-ending strikeout would come at the expense of Rodriguez. Except Rodriguez drove the fastball back through the rain, over the short bullpen fence in right field, giving the Yankees a shocking 6-5 lead. Papelbon escaped the inning without any more damage, though his ERA was now an unsightly (for him) 2.11.

But that meaningless 9th inning run would just add a little suspense to the Sox' walk-off win. Now it would just be a come-from-behind walk-off win. Simply a matter of semantics. Still a W in the box score. Yankee closer Mariano Rivera dragged his unwieldy 5.30 ERA in from the bullpen to face the inevitable. Like the Yankees, Rivera was just a ghost of his former self. Rivera and the Yanks have only memories of past excellence to cling to, while the Red Sox are the team of the future. And, of course, the present.

The Sox let the excitement build, opting to start their rally with two outs. Leading off the inning, David Ortiz had battled Rivera in an intense eleven pitch at-bat, before driving a ball that found the glove of Abreu in deep RF. The Sox were not using the Papi script tonight. They had chosen a more exciting, more exhilarating path to victory. There would be no extra innings. There would be one single, mighty blow to secure the win over their hated rivals. A towering blast through the torrent from the skies, drowning the Yankees' hopes in a sea of utter despair. Sox fans would pour out onto the streets, their cumulative exuberance to be heard far above the thunder.

As the rain continued to pummel the players from the heavens, future All-Star Kevin Youkilis took one for the team, reaching 1st on a HBP. Youk, once again, was doing whatever it took to secure another win. Mike Lowell came to the plate as the go-ahead run. He let Rivera get to two strikes, possibly lulling the Yankees into believing that a win was still within their grasp. Making the Sox' pending victory all the more sweeter. The excitement reached a fever pitch. The stands at Fenway shook. The ESPN announcers were silent, as I had muted them long ago. The heavens poured. Red Sox Nation poised to express their jubilation. Then Lowell struck out to end the game. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5.