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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Jon on Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bringing Down the House that Ruth Built

I'll never forget it.

On Sunday, everybody in Fenway Park knows he's stealing second. Then Dave Roberts scores the tying run on a Bill Mueller single with Mariano Rivera on the mound. Roberts slides feet-first into homeplate, pops up, and in one motion jumps, spins, lets out a triumphant scream, and pumps his fist.

It was the beginning of the end for the Yankees, and the beginning of something extraordinary for the Red Sox.

Who wasn't a Red Sox hero in this series? Ortiz carried the team through the streak. Belhorn and Damon, who stumbled through the beginning of the series, were the heroes of Games Six and Seven. Lowe pitched as well as I've ever seen him throw the ball. Schilling threw a bloody good game. Foulke threw 100 pitches in a span of three days and made five appearances. He saved game after game, but only recorded one save. Wakefield tossed three gutsy innings of his own to stave off the Game Five Yankees. Mueller's RBI single off Rivera. Cabrera getting on base wherever he hit in the lineup. There was no thunder to Manny's bat, but he was on base an average of about two times per game, time and time again on first with Ortiz at the plate. Varitek caught every inning of the long series, stabbing just enough of Wake's floaters, and bashing the Game Five-tying sacrifice fly -- not to mention his crucial and much-overlooked Game Six battle and eventual RBI single in the fourth inning to give Boston the lead. Arroyo came through from the pen. Millar with the Game Four walk. Roberts stole two games from New York. Nixon and Kapler patrolled left effortlessly. Leskanic and Embree shut down the big boppers in pinstripes when they had to. Timlin fought and bridged it to Foulke. Myers got the out that counted. Pedro was Pedro, terrific until the sixth inning. And it was Reese to Meintkiewicz, who's timely hits and gold glove at first cannot be understated, for the final out.

But the biggest surprise of them all: Francona managed a hell of a series. It takes a lot of luck and fantastic performances to accomplish what the Red Sox accomplished, but aside from Pedro's relief appearance, Terry made all the right moves from Game Four to Game Seven.

For Boston fans, baseball just reached an 86-year emotional climax.


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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Sixteen-Million Dollar Man

Is anybody else getting sick of being constantly reminded of the seemingly minimal sum of money that prevented Theo Epstein from bringing A-Rod to Boston? Yes, it was a huge disappointment for Boston fans, but lest we forget the Red Sox would have lost the best hitter in the American League and the best right-handed hitter in baseball if A-Rod had joined the Beantown Nine.

It would have been A-Rod for Manny Ramirez. Then we would have traded Nomar to fill the void left in the outfield, presumably for Magglio Ordonez. Both Nomar and Ordonez were lost due to injuries and, when they played, were not up to par. So let's look at the 2004 numbers for the two known commodities in the proposed deal:

Ramirez: .308/.397/.613 43 HR, 44 Doubles
Rodriguez: .286/.375/.512 36 HR, 24 Doubles

Yes, A-Rod is the better overall player because defensively, he's much better than Manny in the field. But with Cabrera's Gold Glove neatly nestled between Belhorn and Mueller in the Red Sox infield, there's no way the Red Sox can retrospectively question the lack of a deal based on this year's performances.

Manny had the better year and is more dominant at the plate that A-Rod. It's true that A-Rod is the better overall player and that Manny is a good four years older than Rodriguez, but these arguments can only be used to explain why the Red Sox would be better off with A-Rod in the future. The only possible argument that can be made by those who continue to harp on this issue is that the Yankees are better with A-Rod than they were with Soriano. This is true.

But for this season, Manny was the better hitter. So no more 'he could've been theirs for $16 mil' quotes, guys. You're forgetting who the Sox would have lost.


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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"Drive Him In" David Ortiz

Quick, answer these two questions:

1) Who's the best hitter on the Red Sox?
2) Who do you want at the plate in a clutch situation?

The answer for these two questions should be the same, right? Don't you always want your best hitter at the plate in a clutch situation?

Yet, my suspicion is that many Red Sox fans would answer Manny Ramirez for question one and David Ortiz for the second. After all, can anybody remember the last time Manny Ramirez had a real clutch hit? A remarkable game-tying or game-winning RBI? Quickly, David Ortiz is entrenching himself as the Sox best clutch hitter.

I've heard people say that Manny isn't a clutch hitter. Truth be told, these fans are correct. Manny Ramirez is not a clutch hitter. When he's at the plate with runners on in an important situation, he will usually not change the game with one swing of the bat.

He's just too good.

There's no way that, with the game in the balance, Manny will see anything remotely hittable. At least, that's what the plan should be -- and that's what it was for the Yankees during both games four and five. Ortiz came to the plate with Manny on first base eight times on Sunday and Monday, four via walks to Ramirez.

That shows the tremendous respect teams have for Manny. And that's why, while Manny is a great hitter with expectedly great career numbers with men in scoring position -- .361/.471/.667 in 2004 and .370/.575/.704 in 2003 with two outs and runners in scoring position (albeit, this is a small sample size, but my point should be clear) -- Ortiz is so often the hero of the game. He is blessed with better history-making opportunities.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with this situation for Bostonians, as long as there's somebody like Ortiz batting behind the best hitter on the Red Sox.


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Posted by Jon on Monday, October 18, 2004

More Delusions

Rarely does this sabermetric-oriented fan find himself itching to see the Sox try to steal a base. But something came over me with Roberts pinch running and Rivera on the mound.

Honestly, Francona would be kidding himself if he expected two hits against Rivera. My thinking was that at most, he'd allow one more baserunner. To score, the Red Sox needed all the help they could get.

Roberts barely beat the tag, and I found myself screaming two feet in the air. My long disdain for running, which in most cases, is self-defeating strategy, had made me forget how necessary it is in specific situations.

The same goes for bunting. I found myself in favor of Francona's move to have Mientkiewicz put down the bunt, all due to the microscopic chances of scoring against Rivera. I really hate to say it, but Tim McCarver is right. (No, there's no Brandon Arroyo on the Red Sox.) Mariano Rivera is the single most dominating player on any Major League team, with the possible exception of Barry "IBB" Bonds. When you're up against Mo, there's nowhere to go. You have to scratch and claw.

Normal strategies just don't apply against Rivera. Against another pitcher, I wouldn't have agreed.


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Posted by Jon on Monday, October 18, 2004

Back and Forth

My life as a Red Sox fan can be described with two emotions: unadulterated elation and resigned helplessness. Sox fans move from one extreme to the other at a moment's notice. The team never fails to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the citizens of the Nation. But there is always hope. And tonight was no exception.

Elation and helplessness plagued my evening. Lowe looked good, but the Red Sox couldn't score. Then the A-Rod blast and I was done. One helpless fan, wondering how he could have been so silly as to imagine that they would defeat the Evil Empire. The cycle repeated numerous times.

Back and forth and back and forth my emotions occilated, a pendulum you could set your watch to. That is, until the ninth inning, when my entire perspective as a Red Sox fan was altered.

When Mueller laced that hit into center field to tie the game against the world's best releiver, I came to the realization that no matter how the game and the season ended for my Sox, I would be a contented fan. That RBI single was representative of exactly why this team was so attractive to the average fan: they cared and they tried, and did those more than any other baseball team I've ever seen.

Nobody would give in. Not even against a team that had battered them three straight and left them for dead following an excruciating 19-8 game that should have been an embarrassment for any Red Sox player.

But the Red Sox weren't embarrassed at all. They just moved on. While the woefully pessimistic Sox fans had all but conceeded a demoralizing sweep, the players refused to give in. Even with three outs left against the best reliever in baseball history, there was no quitting.

Knowing the players care as much as I do may have permanently decreased the distance in the swing of my pendulum.

Either that, or the countless mood swings have made me delusional.


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