Saturday, September 29, 2007

Just the Beginning...

This celebration was a little less restrained than the last one.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was outstanding, allowing only two runs in eight innings. Jonathan Papelbon retired the side in the ninth on only six pitches, for his 37th save. David Ortiz continued his hot streak, going 3 for 4, with his 35th home run. Daniel Malloy was flawless on the Extra Bases Blog. Just about everything went right for the Sox, in their 5-2 win over the visiting Minnesota Twins. Then, things got even better.

The Sox players, and reporters, retreated to the Sox clubhouse to watch the end of the Yankees-Orioles game. A Yankees loss would clinch the AL East for the Red Sox. But, with a 9-6 lead in the 9th inning, and Mariano Rivera in for the save, it looked like the Sox would have to wait another day to clinch the division. As the thousands of fans remaining in Fenway Park watched on the big screen, and Amalie Benjamin attempted to peer around a gajillion Japanese reporters to see the screens in the Sox clubhouse, the Orioles staged an unlikely game-tying rally. After dodging a bullet in the top of the 10th, with Tom Caron and Dennis Eckersley reporting on every batter, the Orioles sent former Sox hero Kevin Millar to the plate with the opportunity to give the Red Sox the AL East. And Millar... struck out. Then Melvin Mora shocked the world with a two-out, game-winning bunt. Cue: Pandemonium!

NESN really should have assigned a camera to follow Papelbon around during the celebration. (Well, at least his celebrations after he covered up his Papelbutt.) The uninhibited closer was spotted running around the field, dancing on the pitcher's mound, wearing an empty Bud Light box, and various other shenanigans. Alex Cora was DJ'ing, as Mike Lowell ran around the perimeter of field, spraying fans with champagne. Mike Timlin and Curt Schilling were on top of the dugout, communing with Red Sox Nation. Tina Cervasio and Kathryn Tappen were drenched in a delightful combination of champagne and Bud Light, as they interviewed everyone in sight. Terry Francona was hugging players, and Mike Timlin pecked Jason Varitek on the cheek, as Varitek was interviewed on NESN. The focused Captain seemed unmoved by Timlin's tender gesture, probably because his thoughts are already on Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels. Conspicuously absent from the interviewees was AL Cy Young Award winner Josh Beckett, but I am fairly certain that I heard him yell, "We did it, motherfuckers!" a few times in the background. It was awesome that the fans were allowed to stay in the ballpark and watch the last hour or so of the Orioles win, and then celebrate with the Sox players. Hopefully, they'll be celebrating the AL pennant that way in early Soxtober.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Without Hope?

Off the top of my head, I can come up with three reasons that Hope Solo should have started in goal for the U.S. Women in their semifinal match against Brazil on Thursday. First off, Solo had a 298 minute shutout streak. Secondly, backup keeper Briana Scurry had not played since June. Finally, Hope Solo was the keeper chosen to appear in the Nike commercials. (Featuring Dwight Schrute!) Jim Mike doesn't make player selection errors.

In a perfect world, the U.S. would have qualified for the Final against Germany based on the strength of their Nike commercials, and the match would not have been played until U.S. Defender Heather Mitts was ready to return to the starting lineup. But, alas, the world, and the USWNT are both imperfect. While the decision to start Scurry over Solo in the Semifinal was rather horrendous, having Solo in the lineup would likely have changed only the scoreline, and not the result. The Brazilians controlled the game, as the 4-0 score would indicate, and they made the U.S. players seem slow and unskilled.

The first goal was scored by the U.S. into their own goal, as Leslie Osborne tried to use her head to direct a cross over her own end line. Unfortunately, she headed the ball over the part of the endline located between the goalposts. She probably should have chosen a different body part to redirect the ball- her feet, perhaps? Brazil scored again on a shot that Scurry probably should have stopped. Shannon Boxx was shown a red card after a Brazilian player tripped over Boxx' feet from behind, a terrible call that reduced the U.S. to ten players for the rest of the match. U.S. Coach Greg Ryan chose to use his substitutions to bring on defensive players, in what seemed more of an effort to reduce the margin of loss, than an attempt to come from behind. However, he probably would have needed to bring on an Akers and a Foudy to have had a chance at a comeback with only ten players.

As brilliant as Marta was when she appeared on Arrested Development, she's even better as a Brazilian soccer player. Quite possibly the best in the world. Abby Wambach, the best U.S. player, didn't see too much of the ball, as Brazil had possession of it for most of the game. (Well, except for when the U.S. players were retrieving the ball from the inside of their own net.) Wambach was credited with eight "hits" in the match. I'm not really sure what ESPN counts as a "hit", possibly elbows thrown by Wambach? Or Brazilian players barrelled over by the bulky U.S. Forward? Wambach really needed her teammates to get her the ball, so she could make an impact. But it didn't happen.

Hopefully, lessons will be learned from this defeat, and future player selection will infuse some more speed and creativity into the lineup. With Mitts, Wambach, and Heather O'Reilly, the U.S. has the foundation for a good squad. But the rest of the women's soccer world has caught up to them, and they'll need more than a few good players to continue to compete for championships. Of course, if the U.S. had started Nicole Barnhart in goal against Brazil on Thursday, they'd probably be preparing for the Final on Sunday. Instead of the 3rd Place game against Norway.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sox Clinch Playoff Berth

Terry Francona raised his glass and shared a calm, dignified toast with his ballclub behind closed doors in Tampa. The Red Sox had become the first MLB team to officially qualify for the postseason on Saturday night, with an 8-6 comeback victory against the Devil Rays. But this was just the first step on the path to AL supremacy.

The Sox trailed 6-5, as the game entered the 9th. The Rays had their closer, Al Reyes in to close out a Tampa win. It looked like the Sox' Magic Number would remain at 1. But Captain Jason Varitek had other ideas. He led off the inning by hitting a game-tying home run, his fifteen of the season. With one out, Eric Hinske doubled, and Julio Lugo followed with a two-run homer, his eighth of the season. Jonathan Papelbon retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth for his 36th save, and the Sox had an 8-6 win, and a spot in the playoffs. J.D. Drew (2 for 4, 10th homer, 3 RBI) and Eric Gagne (scoreless 8th, 2 K, 4th win) also contributed to the cause. If Drew and Gagne can produce like that in the playoffs, and Ramirez, Youkilis, and Benjamin (all unavailable for the Tampa series) do what they are capable of, the Sox shouldn't have a problem winning the division. And the pennant.

With the Yankees' loss on Monday to the Blue Jays (Thank you, Jesse Litsch!), the Sox are now two games ahead of the Yankees, with six to play. However, the Sox will need to finish with a better record than New York to win the division, as the Yankees won the tiebreaker. (I still think the Sox should have recalled Craig Breslow to compete in the tiebreaker-deciding Scrabble match against the Yankees' Mike Mussina, but Terry and Theo were confident in the abilities of closer Jonathan Papelbon in that discipline.) Boston has a two game series with Oakland, followed by a four game set with Minnesota. If the Sox can take four of the six games, at home, against two teams that are already eliminated from playoff consideration, their next toast will be made as Division Champions.

Monday, September 24, 2007

How do you like the claw?

Those god-awful uniforms are going to have to stay. Eagles 56, Lions 21. FIFTY-SIX POINTS! These aren't the good ol' crappy-ass Lions we are used to either. They were undefeated until they had to go to Philly. When was the last time you saw such domination on the football field? (Well, probably on Saturday when the U.S. Women's National Human Foosball team defeated Kelly Smith (of the Philadelphia Charge!) and the Brits, but that's not the correct "football.") I don't remember the Eagles scoring more than 50, since that playoff game where they scored 58 against... the Detroit Lions.

I was relegated to following the game on, and the updates I was seeing on the screen were somewhat unbelievable. Every time I checked, it seemed that the Eagles had another touchdown. They weren't wasting any time with field goals, incomplete passes, or anything like that. The box score indicated that the Eagles' only difficulty was in determining whether Westbrook or Curtis would be scoring their next TD. As the Eagles continued to score touchdown-after-touchdown in the second quarter, I was convinced I was being punk'd by Like that time when they had the Eagles losing 7-(-2). (I found the Eagles having NEGATIVE points rather disconcerting, but the error was, mercifully, corrected before I took any drastic measures.) Remember 1987, when the players were on strike, and the NFL played three games with replacement players? This first half had that kind of vibe. It was like the third game, when some of the real players had crossed the picket lines to play, with Kevin Curtis starring as Steve Largent. (Ugh. Guido Merkens flashback. I'm going to need a minute.)

McNabb ditched his knee brace, and had a perfect (PERFECT!) passer rating for the game. Perhaps he has a little left in his tank. Westbrook (111 yds. receiving, 110 yds. rushing, 3 TD) and Curtis (221 yds. receiving, 3 TD) were unstoppable, the defense had NINE sacks, The Great Tommy McDonald was running around the field carrying cheerleaders, what more can you want? Well, punter Sav Rocca could improve upon his 43.7 yd. avg., but that's about it. When I spoke to Sav this morning in our weekly performance review (I gave him a B for Sunday.), we spoke about his steps and his follow-through, and may have pinpointed an area of concern. He should be improved next week. Sav also indicated that those vintage uniforms were "better than some of the (Australian Rules) football unis he's worn in the past." I think those uniforms might be growing on me, as well. Those forty-two first half points may be affecting my opinion.

The Eagles face the Giants next Sunday night. Hopefully, the Eagles will put up at least 60.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Beckett Wins 20th, Gagne Dominant

Finally, we have a Red Sox win. It was only a four game losing streak, but it seemed much, much longer. Josh Beckett struggled a bit in the 1st inning, but escaped with only one run allowed. That was the only run he permitted in the six inning, nine strikeout performance that earned him his 20th win. With a 20-6 record, and a 3.14 ERA, he is certainly a frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award.

The Sox' offense scored eight runs, but five of the eight came in the last two innings against a reliever with a 5.18 ERA, one with an 8.34 ERA, and one with an ERA of infinity. The first three runs, off Rays ace Scott Kazmir, were assisted by two Rays errors. The Sox struck out seventeen (17!) times in the game, and left ten runners on base. Lineups that feature Bobby Kielty batting fifth, Eric Hinske batting ninth, and Julio Lugo batting anywhere tend to do these things. Hopefully, we won't see too much of Kielty and Hinske in the playoffs.

Eric Gagne pitched a scoreless ninth, retiring the side in order on twelve pitches (nine strikes). Gagne stuck out two of the three batters he faced, and displayed a nasty change-up. He is definitely ready for the 8th inning role in the playoffs now.

Jacoby Ellsbury made the defensive play of the game in left field, with a sliding catch in the Red Sox bullpen. The bullpens in Tampa are conveniently located ON THE FIELD (in foul territory), and Ellsbury was fortunate not to injure himself on any chairs, pirate gear, or relief pitchers. It would have been helpful if the Sox relievers had moved the chairs and/or the treasure chest out of Ellsbury's path. It is quite possible than Manny Ramirez does not make that play. Unless, of course, Manny was positioned in one of the chairs, which would also be quite possible.

The Yankees lost a five hour, fourteen inning game to the Blue Jays, so the Sox' division lead is back up to 2.5 games. Special thanks to Jays catcher Gregg Zaun for hitting the game-winning homer, and to Yankees reliever Brian Bruney (1:1 BB/K ratio) for sucking. The Sox should have their playoff spot clinched by the end of the weekend, if not on Saturday. The division clinching probably won't happen until the middle of next week. By this time next week, the Sox will be preparing to face Escobar, Lackey, and the Anaheim Angels.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sox Resting Up for Playoffs

Eric Serge Gagne retired the first two Blue Jay batters in the 8th inning with little difficulty. This was why the Red Sox had acquired him- to protect one-run leads, and setup saves for Jonathan Robert Papelbon. After walking slugger Frank Thomas, it all fell apart. A single, two more walks, and a two-run double followed, and Gagne had cost the Sox yet another victory.

Clay Buchholz fielded the ball, but didn't appear to have a play at any base. However, he decided to make a hurried backhand throw towards third base. The throw went into left field, allowing another run to score. Only a successful Lowell Ball Trick prevented further damage in the frame.

With the tying run on second, and two outs, Julio Lugo got jammed, and fisted the ball towards short. Thinking the Jays' shortstop would make the inning-ending force at second, Lugo failed to run the ball out all the way. The play was made to first, and Lugo was called out on a close play.

What did these plays have in common? They resulted in ferocious streams of expletives from this replacement-level blogger, profanity the likes of which Somerville has rarely seen. But the frustration wasn't simply a result of the game-altering plays.

I thought, and still do think, that the right move was made in bringing in Gagne. That was the situation that Gagne was acquired to handle. That's the situation the Sox need him to succeed in. It didn't work out on Tuesday night, but with a more competent home plate ump than Ed Rapuano, or if J. D. Drew catches that double (which I thought he should have had a play on), we'd be saluting Gagne's performance today. The difference between success and failure is sometimes as thin as the edge of the razor that shorn Gagne's once-unruly hair. But he's going to need more chances to pitch, in order to get the inside of his head under control. A confident Gagne might be the difference between a Sox loss to the Phillies in the World Series and an Angels loss to the Phillies in the World Series.

I'm not too concerned about Clay Buchholz making a rookie error occasionally. But I am concerned about Terry Francona and Theo Epstein making a major error in the deployment of one of their hottest pitchers. If Buchholz has a "hard cap of 155 innings" this season, a number that is rapidly approaching, why did Buchholz get the start on Wednesday night in Toronto? Shouldn't they be saving every possible Buchholz inning for when the would matter the most, in the playoffs? Why not have Batshit or Hansack start the Jays game, and use Buchholz sparingly during the remainder of the regular season? Buchholz is pitching extremely well, at a time when many of the Sox' pitchers are struggling, and he could be a force in the playoffs. Especially when you consider the fact that many of the Sox' likely playoff opponents (Yankees, Indians, Phillies) have never faced the young right-hander. I just hope Buchholz is on the playoff roster, and we don't see him pitch too many more innings before the playoffs start.
Because giving that start to Buchholz might be an indication that the Sox don't plan to include him on the postseason roster.

Julio Lugo? Well, he pretty much pisses me off every time he is in the lineup. (Or in the dugout, or on the roster, or walking around Boston wearing that goddamn pink tie.) The Sox are stuck with him as their starting SS for the rest of the season, so it's best to try to ignore him whenever possible. It is much easier to ignore him when Francona doesn't put his sub-.300 OBP anywhere near the top of the batting order. Hopefully, Theo can make Lugo go away in the offseason.

Right now, the only everyday players who are consistently producing are Gordon Edes and Amalie Benjamin. Without them, the Yankees AND the Tigers would have passed Boston by now. The Sox really need to get Ramirez, Youkilis, and Crisp back into the lineup for the playoffs. But, as for making the playoffs, that is pretty much a done deal. The Sox have a 99.98338% chance of making the postseason, as calculated by Baseball Prospectus. (Which, incidentally, is the same probability that the Papelbon-Beckett team will beat the Zumaya-Verlander team, in the event a NES Duck Hunt Wild Card Tiebreaker is necessary. I bet that dog makes Beckett go batshit!)

The Sox have the day off, as they travel to Tampa to face the Devil Rays. Go ahead and kick back tonight with the latest issue of Sports Weekly, the new Mind's Eye CD on the stereo, and some laid-back, relaxing National League action on the HD TV. Whether the Sox clinch a playoff berth on the field, or in Bud Selig's rec room, it's just a matter of time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eagles, Red Sox Lose.LOC Raised from "Green" to "Yellow"

Monday was not a good day to be a Red Sox/Eagles fan. The Eagles lost 20-12 to the Redskins, and did not look too good in the process. The Red Sox lost 6-1 in Toronto, and looked worse than the Eagles. The losses were disconcerting, but only cause for mild concern. Both teams are preparing for the playoffs, and doing what is necessary to ensure success in the postseason. The results of the last fourteen games of the regular season are much less important than getting things in order for extended playoff runs. (At least that is what I am telling myself, in an effort to avoid becoming disconsolate.)
The Eagles dropped to 0-2 with their MNF loss. They could easily be 2-0, with some better special teams play. That said, they have been pretty bad. Outside of the performances of Brian Westbrook, David Akers, and their outstanding cheerleading squad, there haven't been too many positives. But when I spoke to Punter Sav Rocca this morning to give him his weekly performance review (B grade for the Redskins game, B- this season), he indicated that the team was still "pretty confident." From the offensive play-calling of the first two games, it is obvious that Head Coach Andy Reid doesn't want to reveal too much to possible playoff opponents. He'll still have plenty left up his sleeve for the postseason. The Eagles will go 10-4 the rest of the way, picking up their first win of the season against the Lions next Sunday. I just hope the Eagles don't sustain too many key injuries before the real season starts.

The Red Sox are in the same situation as the Eagles. Just trying to get ready for the playoffs. Their 3.5 game lead over the Yankees is unassailable. (Note: The Yankees' 3.5 game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the Wild Card is in serious jeopardy.) Gordon Edes and Amalie Benjamin fared well Monday night, but the rest of the Sox, not so much. After a draining series against the Yankees, and a 4:30am arrival in Toronto, a bit of a letdown was almost to be expected. The rest of the regular season is about getting Matsuzaka, Okajima, and Gagne back on track, and getting Ramirez and Youkilis back in the lineup. With the way Edes, Ellsbury, Schilling, Benjamin, and Beckett are playing right now, they should be more than sufficient for the Sox to hold on to the division lead.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sox Division Lead at 4.5, Papelbon's Cellphone Found!

That was a draining series. For Red Sox players, Red Sox fans, and anyone having to endure the FOX and ESPN broadcasts on consecutive days. (Three hours of Joe Morgan really takes its toll.) On Friday night, the Phillies-Mets and Red Sox-Yankees started their respective battles at the same time. While the Phillies celebrated their ten-inning victory, the Sox and Yanks were still at it. IN THE TOP OF THE SIXTH INNING! The laws of space, time, and baseball don't necessarily apply when the Sox take on the Yanks. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

The Sox only managed to win the second of the three games, though they were only a bullpen meltdown and a little Papi Walk-Off Magic away from a series sweep. But, with the one win, the Sox go into the season's final twelve games with a four and a half game lead over second place New York. Baseball Prospectus gives the Sox a 107.2% chance of making the playoffs, and a 102.3% chance of winning the division. Despite the two losses, things are still looking pretty damn good for Boston.

With the playoffs in mind, the Sox have started to get their playoff rotation in order. Daisuke Matsuzaka will make his next start on Saturday, instead of on his regular fifth day (Wednesday), to slot him in behind 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner Josh Beckett. A week ago, I would have questioned that move. But, ever since Matsuzaka was ignominiously released from my eighth-place fantasy baseball team, he has been taking measures to return to his strong early-season form. It's possible that being released, and replaced by the esteemed Yovanni Gallardo, was the wake-up call the Japanese right-hander needed. He now seems more comfortable using all of his pitches, and more comfortable just being himself. After 150 games with the team, he's now relaxed enough to dress the way he used to dress in his days with the Seibu Lions. He's no longer concerned about being as well-dressed as a David Ortiz, or a Manny Delcarmen. He's going to throw quality inning-after-inning the rest of the season, and he's going to dress like Dipsy the Teletubbie when he's not throwing those quality innings. Matsuzaka has found his comfort zone, and the Red Sox will be a better team for it.

Jonathan Robert Papelbon probably hasn't ever had too much difficulty finding his comfort zone. In the eighth inning of Friday night's game, however, he seemed a bit out of sorts. Giving up hits? AND runs? Not very Papelbonian behavior. But, the next day, he indicated that his poor performance was a result of a "mental concern that only happens a few times a year." With his third loss, he is now officially done with this concern for the 2007 season. So, instead of a mere 99.6% chance that he'll convert a save opportunity, that percentage is now an even 100. In other Papelbon news, the invincible closer's missing cellphone was found in the back of a Boston cab. The cab driver who discovered it indicated that it "belonged to a Sox player with a long "P" name." Which raises an obvious question. How could this cabbie not know the name "Papelbon?" Unacceptable. Perhaps he should be sentenced to drive his cab in the Bronx?

The Sox travel to Toronto to face the Blue Jays tonight. The Sox have won 81 of the 110 games between the two clubs this season. Tim Wakefield goes to the mound, as he prepares to be the fourth starter in the playoff rotation. The Boston Globe is also getting their playoff rotation in order, with the Big Three of Edes, Benjamin, and Malloy primed and ready for a long playoff run. With Globe's Big Three and the Sox' Big Four in top form, Boston shouldn't have too much trouble in the postseason. At least until their inevitable World Series encounter with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Papi Walks Off

If there's one thing the Red Sox have showed us over the last couple of weeks, it's the ability to overcome adversity. By "adversity", I obviously mean "piss-poor starting pitching." Additionally, with Manny Ramirez (annual September vacation), Amalie Benjamin (giving lecture at M.I.T.), and Mike Lowell (intestinal turmoil) all out of the lineup, the Sox had to show some real, um, intestinal fortitude tonight. Especially after Jon Lester dug a Matsuzaka-sized hole in the first inning.

Lester, who had allowed only two runs in his last thirteen innings of work (2 starts, 2 wins), continued the latest Sox tradition- starters being unable to pitch more than four innings. He survived only 3.2 innings, allowing four runs, on eight (!) hits, and four (!) walks. (His outing tonight was obviously part of the plan to fool teams scouting the Sox into thinking he is not good at baseball.) His line could have been worse, but Batshit Crazy stranded the two runners Lester put on in the 4th. The Sox bullpen, as usual, was extremely effective. Five and a third innings, one (!) hit allowed, no runs. Three of those scoreless innings were a Batshit Crazy Production. David Ortiz brought the Sox to within 4-3, with a three-run blast (30th) in the 3rd inning. But the Devil Rays shitacular bullpen managed to shut down the Sox bats, and the score remained 4-3 into the ninth inning.

Jonathan Robert Papelbon (1.52 ERA) pitched the top of the 9th, keeping the Sox deficit at a single run. Al Reyes came on for Tampa in the bottom of the frame with 24 saves in 26 save opportunities. When he was done for the night, he had 24 saves in 27 opportunities. With one on, and one out, the "greatest clutch hitter in history" came to the plate. There was no dispute about David Ortiz' clutch hitting ability tonight. His long fly to right field landed in the first row (31st homer), and the Sox had another incredible walk-off victory. Ortiz was enveloped at home plate by his teammates, with winning pitcher/Jedi Knight J. R. Papelbon leading the way. Papelbon's awestruck expression as the ball left the park, and his reaction (hoisting himself onto the field, with an assist from Coco Crisp), was caught by the NESN cameras. Nicely done, NESN. (Though they should probably have a camera on JP at all times, with JP's antics displayed continuously in the corner of the screen. But that's an argument for another blog post.)

The Sox will ride the momentum of another awe-inspiring win into their series with New York, after Thursday's off day. Hopefully, the Sox will have Benjamin and Lowell back for the series that could knock the Yanks back in the Wild Card race, and the Tigers back in. Unfortunately, the second game is on FOX, and the Sunday night finale is on ESPN, DURING THE PATS-CHARGERS GAME! (Shithell. Why do the schedulemakers do this to me?!) Anyways, I'll be watching the Sox Sunday night, as they go for a three-game sweep over the Yankees. (Hopefully.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sox 16, Rays 10

Ingenious. Tuesday night's 16-10 win over Tampa Bay went exactly according to a brilliant plan. Tim Wakefield used tremendous cunning to allow ten hits and seven runs in three innings. In his last two starts, Wakefield has pitched only 6.2 innings. He has allowed 19 hits and 13 runs in those two starts. In each start, he managed to avoid taxing himself too much, and he fooled the opposition into becoming complacent. The complacent opponents fell prey to the Red Sox offense both times, and potential playoff opponents have been fooled into thinking that Wakefield is not in top form. Those foolish enough to understimate Messrs. Wakefield and Matsuzaka will pay the price in the postseason.

With the Red Sox trailing 8-1, as play entered the bottom of the 4th, it was pretty obvious the Sox would come back. It was just a matter of how badly the Sox wanted to pummel the Rays. Apparently, they wanted to do quite a bit of pummeling. They outscored the Rays 15-2 the rest of the way. The Sox went an amazing 20 for 40 in the game, numbers that are rarely seen outside of Philadelphia. (Note: This statement is a reference to the vaunted Philadelphia Phillies offense, NOT the horrific Phillies pitching and/or their bandbox ballpark.) The Sox connected on four home runs, and eight of the nine starters had at least two hits. (Only catcher Kevin Cash, who belongs in AA, had less than two hits. But his 1 for 4 effort did increase his season average to from an unsightly .100 to a somewhat less unsightly .125. He is 3 for 24, with one extra-base hit, a double.)

It was a remarkable offensive explosion from a team that had been shut out on five hits the previous day. I totally saw it coming. I may have been reading The Hockey News as they began their inevitable comeback, but that was just a sign that I wasn't concerned about the deficit. AT ALL. If teams continue to underestimate the Sox, thinking a seven-run lead is sufficient, or that Wakefield and/or Cash are not good at baseball, those teams will continue to lose. Terry Francona and John Farrell know what they are doing...

Jon Lester goes for the Sox tonight, as they try to win the three-game series from Tampa. I expect another come-from-behind victory that will put the Sox' Baseball Prospectus odds of making the playoffs at over 110%. If we're lucky, we may even see Gagne and Papelbon close out the victory.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sox Lose, Nancy Joins U-Turn on Drive-By

Awesome MNF game tonight- another return TD from the Ravens' Ed Reed- ON A PUNT RETURN! A comeback by the Ravens that should have ended with a Boller-Heap TD strike, but instead ended with an INT when the ball bounced off the not-so-sure-handed TE's gut. Come-from-behind wins by the Phillies AND the Tigers (two of my three favorite MLB squads). Strong episodes from Weeds and Californication. It was tough keeping up with everything at once, but I am The King of Multi-Tasking! I've got an HD TV, a clunky desktop computer, a Bachelors in Remote (Control) Sensing, and great anticipation. And, like Jonathan Robert Papelbon, I've got talents that you just can't teach.

I anticipated a better result for the Red Sox, playing at home against woeful Tampa. Even with Devil Rays ace lefty Scott Kazmir getting the start, the Sox still should have won. Especially with Amalie Benjamin starring on the pre-game show, and Nick and CHB nowhere to be found. Curt Schilling pitched well, allowing only one run in six innings, but it was the only run of the game. The Sox' bats gave Curtis Montague a taste of what it would be like for him next year, if he joined the Devil Rays, by failing to score in an anemic five-hit effort. Besides the Sox' strong pitching, the only (non-Amalie) Sox highlight was probably the double play turned by Coco Crisp, Alex Cora, and Kevin Youkilis. With a runner on first, Crisp ranged deep to snare a fly ball, relayed the ball to Cora, who DRILLED it to Youkilis to double off the baserunner. Youkilis wound up almost in the first row from the momentum of Cora's throw. Good stuff. But the Sox couldn't score off Kazmir, Dan Wheeler, or Al Reyes, and went down meekly. The Sox ' lead over the idle Yanks, winners of five in a row, now stands at five games.

With D-Ray Killer Tim Wakefield starting Tuesday night, the Sox' one-game losing streak should come to an end. Only three baseball games I need to monitor Tuesday night. I promise I won't miss the only run of the Sox game flipping channels this time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Red Sox Continue Quest for World Domination

The Red Sox are HOT! How hot? Well, every bit as hot as the Three Musketeers Mint Fairy. With another series win in Baltimore the Sox have now lost about three of their previous forty-seven (or so) games. Jonathan Papelbon, currently averaging 1.2 pitches per strikeout, appeared in forty-three of those games, recording thirty-five saves. He has only allowed one hit during the lifetime of starting RF Jacoby Ellsbury. Josh Beckett now has eighteen wins, in what should certainly be a Cy Young season (not bad for a "Texas redneck"-Jonathan Robert's word choice), and rookie Clay Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in his 2nd career start. Yes, the Sox' (sixth? seventh?) starter pitched a no-hitter. Looking at the Sox' current 40-Man Roster, 86.8% of the team players currently receive a "kick-ass motherfucker" rating, or higher. It's simple to quantify the level hotness of the Sox. (See "Fairy, Three Musketeers Mint." See also "Mitts, Heather.") Determining how they managed to win so many games, seeing as how even the best teams in MLB history lose about 40% of the time, is a little more difficult.

In Probability, you can sometimes simplify matters by determining the probability of a complement event, rather than directly computing the probability of the event itself. (If you don't believe me, ask Craig Breslow.) So, when the Sox actually lose games, why do they lose them?
  • J.D. Drew. Since the All-star break, he has a .248 batting average, one home run, and a .708 OPS. Plus, after he screwed the Phillies when they drafted him, it was mathematically determined that he has no soul. His performance with the Sox has validated that conclusion.
  • Julian Tavarez. Yes, he needs just "two hours notice and a Red Bull" when asked to be an emergency starter. But one of those guys walking on stilts outside Fenway could produce similar results. Possibly without even requiring the Red Bull. Batshit has a 5.35 ERA since the All-Star break. He had a prime opportunity to bonk Daniel Cabrera on the head the other night with a Red Bull (or any other implement he had concealed on his person), but failed to convert. The Sox have better options for BC's innings.
  • NESN/The Boston Globe. NESN's over-reliance on W.B Mason commercials and non-Eck pre-game analysts, in combination with the numerous errors scrolling across the bottom of the screen on "The Edge" (spelling "Buchholz" with two "c's" on the night of the no-hitter? Unconscionable.), doesn't help. Don't even get me started on the horrors of "Sox Appeal." (Except for that contestant with the Sox tattoo. She's alright.) The Boston Globe's utilization of Red Sox writers not-named "Gordon" or "Amalie" is similarly unconscionable.
That's pretty much it. A few little tweaks, and the Sox won't be losing three out of every forty-seven games any more. Keep Batshit and Drew off the field, use Gordon and Amalie (with Daniel Malloy covering their days off on the Extra Bases Blog) as the Sox writers/pre-game interviewees, and spell-check all NESN graphics before they make it to the big screen. Simple. The Sox are not that far away from being a 1.000 team. (At least until their inevitable World Series loss to Philadelphia.)

The Sox start yet another series with the sad-sack Tampa Bay Devil Rays (in "NESN-speak", the "Devils Rays") tonight. I'm excited to see Tampa's AAA callups. How bad must those guys be, if they can't make the 25-Man Roster of a .420 team? But don't stay up too late celebrating the Sox win/watching Californication and the late MNF game. The U.S. Women's National Human Foosball Team starts their World Cup run tomorrow at 4:55am against North Korea. If you are not excited about human foosball, with Heather Mitts commentating, you might be tied with J.D. Drew in Soul Count (SC).

Sports of the Foot

A wild day in the sports of the foot on Sunday. The U.S. Men's National Human Foosball team gave a pretty good account of themselves, in a 4-2 loss to Brazil. With better luck on an own goal, and without a very questionable call by the ref that lead to another goal for the visiting Brazilians, the U.S. could have escaped with a draw. Props to U.S. keeper Tim Howard for responding to a painful finger injury by using his other fingers. If Homer Simpson had drawn the refereeing appointment for this match, the U.S. would have been victorious, and hilarity would surely have ensued.

The Philadelphia Eagles completed their preseason with a 16-13 loss at Lambeau Field to the Packers. Not much hilarity ensuing there. Unless you are a Green Bay fan. (Strangely, is counting this as an Eagles loss in the regular season standings. So, until that error is corrected, simply subtract one loss from the Eagles' record.) Obviously, if this was a game that really counted in the standings, the Eagles braintrust would not have experimented as much as the did. Would QB Donovan McNabb play the entire game with weights on each of his limbs? Would randoms like Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed be returning punts? No, certainly not. But, the real punt returners that the Eagles (obviously) have were protected from injury in a meaningless exhibition, and McNabb continues to build up his strength for the games that count. Postseason games. Regular season games. Neither of which occurred yesterday.

When the Eagles start their season, for real, against the Redskins next Monday night, Australian Punter Sav Rocca will make his NFL debut. ( has Rocca ranked 24th out of 27 NFL punters, after including yesterday's stats. Must be a computer glitch.) When the games count, Rocca will quickly rise to the top of the heap. It's been quite a while since the Eagles had one of the league's top punters. However, some NFL enthusiasts don't exactly hold punters in high regard. Despite my numerous electronic entreaties, most fantasy football leagues don't even include punting stats. (Crazy, that.) But when Rocca leads Philly to a Super Bowl win over New England this season, perhaps philosophies will change. I dream of a day when fantasy football includes a dizzying array of punting statistics. A day when athletes (ATHLETES!) named Rocca and Lechler are drafted ahead of the Tomlinsons and Westbrooks.

I guess I've always been a bit alone in my "kicker love." In neighborhood football games, the majority of the players would mimic quarterbacks with cool nicknames. Such as the Polish Rifle and the Polish Pistol. Or famous names from the Giants, like Simms and Brunner. I was always Tony Franklin. Or Paul McFadden. Or Sean Landeta and David Trout of Philadelphia Stars fame. When we scored a touchdown, I'd start counting off the steps for my PAT attempt, until I was told (again) that "we weren't playing with kicks." As our offense faced 4th and Goal, from the shadows of the trees behind our own goal line, I was reminded that we were playing with "throwing punts." I was met with a similar level of derision when I announced my candidacy for the Patriots' punting job a month ago. Even though I offered to punt, hold for kicks, kickoff, and DJ in the locker room, all at a very salary cap-friendly wage level, I was denied the opportunity for even a tryout. But when the Pats get Rocca'd in the Super Bowl, everything will change. The scoffing will come to an end. I'll be staying in kicking shape if the Patriots want to rethink their plans for next summer's training camp. I'm a much better DJ than that Hanson guy, to boot.