Sunday, October 02, 2005

Where Has The Season Gone?

Bright sides of accepting the wild card and not having to play a one game playoff:

- Being able to pitch Clement on full rest on Tuesday instead of Wells on short rest or possibly Arroyo.
- Having an off day to travel, get settled, have team meetings and prepare
- The fatigue factor of flying to New York for one game, then back to Chicago only if we win
- Playing the less dangerous White Sox in a shorter flight than going from Boston to LA like the Yankees

To sum it up, the wild card isn’t nearly as gratifying as winning the division and dethroning the Yankees, but I think we did a little of that last postseason. Our goal now is to continue the trend of wild card tradition over the last few years, repeat, and hopefully get a “second greatest Red Sox team ever assembled” toast from Schilling. Watching the guys pour champagne in the locker room brought back some great memories, and I have a good feeling this won’t be the last time in October.

The main reason why I’m confident in this years team- there is not one single clear cut team better than everyone else in either league. No team really sticks out as the fearsome bunch that has a loaded offense, amazing staff and nasty bullpen. The great thing about this years playoffs is the parity and how no team will be completely favored over the other. Would it surprise me if the Padres-Cardinals series goes to five games? Not at all. We could be seeing the majority of these series going the distance.

Today, the Red Sox got the job done with homeruns from Billy Mueller and another colossal shot from Manuel Aristides, along with Dougy chipping in with a three run dinger when the game was already put to sleep. The only players missing from that Yankee lineup late in the game were Clay Bellinger, Mike Figga and Homer Bush. Schilling held the fort strong with only one earned in six innings, as the Red Sox finished the season with the exact same record as the Yankees. I still consider us Co-American League East Champs, but whatever.

The bottom line? The playoffs will soon be with us. Constant analysis and second-guessing of every managerial move. Late night finishes and dramatic walk offs that could save seasons. Series going the distance and the real players stepping up in the spotlight. When the leaves start to change and the temperature drops, I’m only thinking about one thing: the big playoff game that night. Let’s hope and pray this Red Sox team can stay alive for as long as possible and bring us to the promised land once again. Nothing would make me happier than rubbing it in the Yankees faces once again. Believe!

And now some quick final regular season grades:

Damon-: A Set the table all year, and is the perfect fit for this dynamic lineup behind him.
Renteria: C- Struggled in big situations this season, and made way too many errors at short.
Ortiz: A+ The MVP of baseball is the number one reason we’re in the playoffs.
Ramirez: A- More outstanding power numbers for Ramirez- an A if not for off-the-field problems.
Nixon: B Another stellar year for Nixon both offensively and defensively.
Varitek: B+ Started off huge in April and May, then dipped, but still is the Captain.
Millar: D Worst season for Millar in a Red Sox uniform, probably won’t be here next season.
Mueller: B Flirted with .300 for a while and played tremendous defense at third- always hustling.
Graffanino: B Been a savior for us at second base after the dismantled Bellhorn left town.
Olerud: B+ Over .300 for most of the season in limited time, outstanding defensive player.
Mirabelli: B- Always a solid backup catcher, and shows power at times.
Bellhorn: D- Formally one of my favorite players constantly struck out and failed to deliver.
Cora: B Brings a spark to the lineup with his glove and bat, does all the little things to win.
Kapler: C Great clubhouse guy and a solid hitter, but was inconsistent at times and got hurt.

Wakefield: A- Completely carried this pitching rotation in the second half with great numbers.
Wells: B Wells won a lot of games this year, ERA too high but pitches well in big games (Friday).
Schilling: C Pretty much sacrificed this season for last year, and I think we’re fine with that.
Clement: B- Started off 10-2, but began to crumble in the second half and is prone to being hammered.
Arroyo: C+ Way too inconsistent for my liking, but always shows potential to be an All-Star.
Timlin: A He may have trouble with inherited runners, but posted the best season of his career.
Myers: A- Always stopped the big lefty late in the game.
Foulke: F Struggled during his time as closer and turned out to be a negative factor this year.
Embree: F Knocked around whenever he took the hill and continued that trend with the Yankees.
Papelbon: A- Has showed signs of being a future stud with a live fastball and curve.
Bradford: B- Done the job pretty well since coming here…been to the postseason before.
Gonzalez: B- Perfect mop up guy, and did OK in his few starts.

Francona: A- With all the changes to this roster, Francona kept the team happy and winning.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bye Bye Division Championship

The 2005 American League East Champions? The New York Yankees.

Sadly, the Red Sox have faltered behind the ‘stripes once again, finishing in second place and continuing this disturbing trend in the divisions history. The eighth straight division title was made even more disturbing watching the Yankees celebrate in the center of the Fenway diamond. Torre crying and hugging his team. Sheffield pumping his chest and A-Rod slapping the ball out of Tino’s hand for a nice keepsake. But you have to give this team credit, as much as I despise the ground they walk on. People, including me, wrote off this team numerous times during the season, and yet they battle through the tough times with a little help from two journeymen and an offense that never stopped truckin’.

The game was not much of a contest, and was probably the most painful and miserable I’ve been all season watching the Red Sox. With every single second that ticked, the Yankees were getting closer and closer to winning the division once again. They made this perfectly clear with a three run first inning that quieted the crowd and caused Ben Affleck to have a short seizure near the Sox dugout. Manny countered with a big blast of his own, and my confident rose once again. It’s just one crappy inning for Wake, we’ll be fine.

Not so much. The Yankees made Manny’s homer irrelevant with two runs in the top of the second and later with Matsui and A-Rod homeruns. Wakefield’s knuckleball was completely flat that even when the Yankees recorded outs, they still creamed the ball. You can tell by the second inning whether Wakefield has his A stuff, and today it was pretty obvious it wasn’t there. He’s been great for us this season, so we’ll let this one slide. Or at least I’ll try.

There is some excellent news out of Cleveland, and that is the continuing slide of the Indians, as they lose again to the ChiSox 4-3 in a nail biter. This means that the Red Sox will be playing baseball past tomorrow no matter what happens. A Red Sox win tomorrow or an Indians loss means we take the wild card and ride that streak of four consecutive World Series champions being Wild Card winners. A Red Sox loss and a Cleveland win means there will be a one game playoff at Fenway on Monday night to decide who goes to the playoffs and who goes home. I imagine the Yankees will rest Mussina and pitch Jaret Wright tomorrow along with a group of subs, maybe Bellhorn, so we should be able to clinch a playoff berth. Let’s hope.

If the Red Sox do win or the Tribe falls, the Red Sox would play the White Sox in the first round. Tell you the truth, I’m ecstatic about this development. I would much, MUCH rather play the White Sox than the Angels in the first round. Sure the home field advantage would be nice, but the White Sox scare me about as much as Alan Embree. They do have the big basher in the middle of the lineup in Paul Konerko, but Konerko is no Sheffield, A-Rod or Vlad. The rest of their lineup is hitting about .270 as a group and really pose no threat. The only worry is the speed and defense, but you saw during their near choke job that that plan can go up in flames quickly.

The pitching of Chicago? Bah. If I was typing this in June, Buehrle and Garland would have scared me to death, but now Garland seems average and Buehrle has no playoff experience. They also have our personal boxing dummy Jose Contreras who is red hot but is Jose Contreras. The bullpen? Politte is nasty, Jenks throws in the high 90’s and Hermanson’s had a good year, but those guys are nothing compared to facing a Rivera or K-Rod.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The division would have been nice, yes, but the wild card isn’t a bad secondary option. Let’s just win tomorrow and make the playoffs. Just win tomorrow.

Friday, September 30, 2005

One Step Closer

Precise and timely moves from the manager. Clutch hitting from Mr. Clutch and Manny not being Manny in left field. Varitek hitting his first home run in almost a century. Timlin and Myers shutting the door late in the game. Just the ingredients for a big time victory in the first game of the biggest regular season series known to man. And of course, there’s Boomah, who did enough to win number 15.

The Red Sox really deserved this win. They pulled it out in front of the raucous home crowd in practically a playoff game, riding on emotion and the intensity that this rivalry brings every single time the players step on the field. The Yanks and Sox make up the single greatest rivalry in the history of sports, and it may be at an all-time high right now. Well maybe the Tek-Slappy fight or last years ALCS, but tonight seemed really special down in the Fens. And you know what makes it even better? A big fat W.

With the Yankees leading 1-0, they had their big opportunity to pounce on David Wells. Posada struck out in a desperation at-bat with the bases loaded, Sierra flied out, and the rest was pretty much butter for Wells. As for the Sox offense, it was MVPapi starting it off in the first with an RBI single, and accepting a key to the city as he rounded first base. The guy is already a legend. And yes, I’m saying this more over the course of his career than just a first inning single. It’s late.

Then Cap’n Tek launches a pitch to deep center, and Wang implodes to make the score 5-1 Sox. A bit of a scare following a two run shot from Jeter, but genius bullpen management by Francona put the nail in the coffin and Timlin ended a major Sox victory. Put this one in the books as the biggest win of the season. Folks, the AL East is tied between the Red Sox and Yankees with two games to play. Cleveland also loses to Chicago in 13 innings.

This is what baseball’s all about. Sickly entertaining pennant races like this. This is why the last week in baseball and the playoffs can be matched by no other sport. Watching Tim Wakefield pitch against RandyJohnson tomorrow with the season on the line will be a sight I’ll never forget.

And please Timmy, let that knuckler dance.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Season Saver

Seriously, where do I begin?

Those are the types of wins that make your season. In this case, it saved our season, gave us the burst of momentum we need for this Yankees series and potentially clinches the MVP for Ortiz. I don’t care if the Sox don’t make the playoffs, A-Rod hits all of his home runs up by 8 runs and Ortiz constantly delivers in the clutch like no hitter I’ve ever witnessed. The guy is simply phenomenal, and I haven’t thought that strongly about a single player since Pedro in his glory days. Right now, I feel so completely energized I could pull a Tom Cruise and start jumping on my couch. This is playoff baseball.

You could see the Sox inching closer to exploding. They were taking little baby steps, gradually building momentum and getting ready to pounce like Papi on a 2-0 fastball. The stage was set for a season-making win. On a night where the bullpen finally came through, and David Ortiz has a chance to win the game in the ninth, the stars were finally aligned. Our soldiers are still alive.

There were numerous times the Sox could have folded and ended their season tonight. How many times did they smoke line drive shots to the outfield that were caught? The Jays defense was unbelievable. Edgar smoked one that should’ve hit the Monster but was robbed by Gross (great last name, for real), then another picked by Hinske. Tek continues to get screwed over by web gems, and Trot hammered the ball to left that was caught by Wells. If Vernon Wells isn’t in the MVP discussion by July next season, I’ll be stunned.

But they didn’t turn their backs, didn’t hang their heads, but instead showed their real faith. Down 4-1 with Clement reeling, Manny provided the energy shake with the two run job, simply a piece of artwork watching that swing. The place was rockin and rollin with every single Papi at-bat. The MVP chants blaring loudly, the crowd on its feet, hoping, praying for more magic.

And with one swing of the bat- tie ball game. Believing is the key to success.

Actually, you could have a valid case for Jon Papelbon being the MVP of this game. The guy looked like a 13-year veteran on the mound. He was completely composed, throwing gas by hitter after hitter, keeping the Sox in the game- hell, if a nuclear bomb drops on Landsdowne, the guy wouldn’t be rattled. Just seeing him on the mound gets me giddy. He is the Kid. As I was watching the game, I wrote on my hand in pen PAPELBON for this article. I wanted to mention him even if the Sox lost. True story.

If they lose that game, the season is practically over. One win for the Yankees and they’re pouring champagne right on the Fenway diamond, with A-Rod and Jeter connecting purple lips and Bernie drowning in the bubbly. Now, both teams have momentum in what surely will be the biggest regular season series of our lifetimes. And, wouldn’t you know it, I’ll miss Friday nights game. Life sucks.

I’m still shaking as I type this sentence. Boomah stuffs it in the Yankees faces tomorrow night.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Not Getting It Done

It’s discouraging to let such a perfect opportunity slip away. An opportunity so large that this may be the game looked back on, causing Sox fans to shake their heads in disgust and wonder how 2005 got away. Last night, if the Red Sox just hold on to leads of 3-0 and 5-2, they’re sitting pretty in first place in the East with a one game lead. And I contemplate we all know how colossal one game is in the standings with only five to play. While the Yankees were being pounded and the Indians surprised, the Red Sox simply could not execute an easy game plan- win.

You can blame the loss on many things. The bullpen might be the correct way to go. Chad Harville and Craig Hansen pitching in their situations can come into question. Chad Bradford being used to face four batters, while Myers only faced one in an already thin bullpen. Where is Delcarmen, or does Tito know he is completely ineffective? Is Papelbon already way over his season limit? All of these questions are answered in the game thread from yesterday, so go ahead and check it out. I’m just here to point out the obvious in saying that this Red Sox bullpen will be the one and only factor that will A) keep the Sox out of the playoffs or B) knock them out of the playoffs early. Maybe Theo is to blame.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Mr. Red Sock Tim Wakefield proved once again that he is the most reliable pitcher on our staff. He is surely the ace, a knuckleballer that we have seen hammered and failed at during his long stint with Boston. Wakefield has been nothing short of a saint for the Sox since the All-Star Break. Actually, we’d probably be two or three games back without him. But having a knuckleballer as the ace of a staff heading into the playoffs doesn’t make me jump up and down. Unless it’s Hoyt Wilhelm.

Most likely, the Sox and Yanks will be tied heading into the weekend series. This is how the great one above intended it to be, to quote Johnny Damon. Do I think we can go up a game before that monster series? No, I don’t. That’s the best we’re going to see out of the Orioles for the rest of the season, and the Sox failed to capitalize on a great situation and may pay the price. Missing a golden opportunity like that is almost more frustrating than losing by a blowout and the Yankees winning, if that’s possible.

Then there’s the wild card. Any way the Sox can reach the playoffs is dandy to me, but the Wild Card is like kissing your sister in this case. This is the biggest chance the Sox have of ending this dynasty of Yankee domination in the East for over a decade, so it would pretty much put icing on the cake. Complete the comeback and overtake those devils last year, and now win the division the following season. Let’s make this happen, boys.

As for Curt Schilling…well, he was on the hill battling for too long. You could see the passion and fierceness in his eyes when he pitched, but the Cy Young caliber stuff just isn’t there this season. He sacrificed his body for the ultimate goal last year, and now we’re paying the dues. That little voice inside of me still says he’ll be the Schilling of old and dominate if we reach the playoffs, but it’s uncertain. Right now, he looks like a number 3 starter.

The biggest week of our lives continues tonight. Let’s go Cornroyo.

Monday, September 26, 2005

One Huge Week

This is the week. The week of judgement and decision. The week where the warriors step up to the plate and the losers take a seat on the bench. The week where the playoff seedings are decided. This is the biggest week of the regular season. The biggest week of our lives as diehard Red Sox fans, or at least we should view it that way.

So put down the books and the papers. Put down the electric bills and unplug the phones. Just sit back, relax and watch some Red Sox baseball. This is the season riding on a single week, a special week culminating in a three game series at the Pahk against the Yankees, who just happen to be tied with the Sox for first place. Could this get any better? Would a possible one game playoff just completely end the world altogether?

So fire up the grill, thrown on some dogs and grab a cold one, because this is quite frankly, as good as it gets. The home field is a great advantage to have, because playing at Fenway Park is like discovering a gold mine. We BASH up in our hizzouse. The Yanks then come into town so we can put them out of their misery and send them home packing. October, please welcome the defending World Champs.

Oh yeah, and it’s official, there really is a Fenway Park South. I couldn’t believe the amount of Red Sox fans at Camden Yards this weekend. It’s got to be downright embarrassing for the Orioles management and players to see David Wells leave to a standing ovation. Every single camera angle NESN presented had at least one Red Sox hat, jersey, or Johnny Damon beard. Really astounding.

One more thing: How bout those Pats! Is Tom Brady unbelievable or what?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Putting It Away Early

Two outs? Not a problem. Show those pitchers not to ignore Manny Ramirez. Maybe they’ll pay some attention to John Olerud and Billy Mueller. A little love for Jason Varitek? How about some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for head dirt dog Trot? Nah, just don’t pitch to Ortiz and you can beat this team. Damon can’t hit it out with two sore shoulders, not a chance.

This is the best lineup in baseball from top to bottom. Sure it can prove to have some off nights, you know, month long slumps and late night book tours, forgivable stuff like that. But when these guys get on track, preferably facing a rookie, the ball is flying around the park. John Maine looked puzzled and completely stunned after the first inning, like the Derek Lowe Face had just taken over. Two quick outs and our bottom guys explode for five early runs, putting the game away with big Boomah on the hill.

Did the Yanks win? Unfortunately, yes, but it was tough. For a while. Sheffield hit a game-ending bomb in the seventh, but Toronto did lead that game 3-1. The Indians did lose to the RoyAAAls, meaning the Sox/Yanks are only a half game back in the wild card. It’s a nice second option knowing that if someway somehow the Yankees win this division, the Sox can still make the playoffs. Good feeling.

Short post tonight, I got a ton of work to do. Spent the last eight hours flipping channels between football and baseball, it really drains on you for a while. Tough day at the office. But really, can’t wait till tomorrow with Schilling taking the hill as we return to Fenway on our route to the playoffs.