Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Schilling From Heaven

Before posting the Schilling rumor yesterday, I was working on a piece about how boring this offseason was. I was bemoaning the crummy Celts, wishing for better local Patriot writers, and pontificating about the likelihood of Arod in Boston. Now it seems, dear readers, that you'll never see that article -- unless you buy the Top of the Ninth DVD available everywhere this Christmas. But for now, things have gotten very exciting. Indeed. Curt may be on his way to Fenway, and there's plenty for Daddy to discuss. Here are some thoughts:

  • What do the Sox get?: Schilling's numbers are fantastic, there's no arguing that. His age is a concern, but he had a great year in 2003 even with the hand injury. In only 168 IP, Curt managed to place 5th in the NL in K's and 10th in complete games (he had only two fewer than the entire Red Sox team). His K/9 ratio held solid, normally a reliable indicator of a pitcher's future performance. Breaking Schilling down to numbers though is sort of missing the point. The stats are there, but that's not all. Quite simply - what pitcher would you rather have for the next three years? Schilling combines dominant stuff with incredible durability, big game experience, and has a brilliant mind for baseball and clubhouse chemistry. He is perhaps the most complete pitcher in the game, and a great person as well. Throw out some comparative names...who do you want? Randy Johnson? Similar abilities, but he's already 40. Mark Prior? Equally dominant at a much younger age, but can he put a team on his back for a World Series? Pedro Martinez? He's great, but he hasn't gone 200 innings in 3 years. Pettitte? Mulder? Colon? Please. Simply not in Schilling's league. Great players all, but not the whole UPS. Curt has proven that he can pitch well, pitch long, and pitch big. Not sure what else you could ask for.
    Perhaps the biggest factor of all though, even larger than his skills as a player and person, is Schilling's dream for the Hall. Touched on by Peter Gammons on Monday, this pitcher has, in all likelihood, one chance at going to the Hall of Fame. Had he pitched his entire career like he has since 1998, Schilling would be a solid bet for Cooperstown. His motivation appeared late though, and so did his dominance. Were Curt to return to Philly, stay in Arizona, or even head over to the big N-Y, he wouldn't have a chance. He could finish a nice career and maybe get another ring, but his stats just wouldn't be good enough. Come to Boston, put the city on his back, and bring the city a Series though? He's in like flynn. Schilling is a devout baseball historian, he strongly believes in and understands the importance of the game's past. He knows that only the truly special careers get bronzed and hanged, and he's dying to get there. If Schilling can vanquish Boston's ghosts, he'll get the emotional vote in. In Fenway, he'd a man on a mission. Schilling wouldn't be pitching for a contract, he'd pitching for a career. That's something I want on my side.

  • What do the Sox give up? Frankly, who cares? I love Brandon Lyon, and I promise he will be a major league starter sooner rather than later, but it's tough to project him much beyond the back of the rotation. Fossum has had nothing but trouble adapting to the big league game, and he may not ever make it. Who's Michael Goss? Jorge De La Rosa though is Boston's top pitching propect, which is nothing to wiggle a twiggle at. He's left-handed and throws 95 mph, that's got value. But you don't get something for nothing. The Sox are losing three close-to-MLB arms, but how Arizona goes from asking the Yankees for Johnson and Soriano to getting this is hard to figure. But once again, who cares?

This move is huge. It's not just a hot stove thriller, it's a season-maker. Theo is probably over-spending and extending Boston somewhat beyond its means, but you dream of players like Schilling. As Bill Simmons says: perfect guy, perfect place, perfect time. This could really be it. Oh my.

Monday, November 24, 2003


WFAN in NYC, hardly known for its integrity, is reporting that Curt Schilling has been traded to the Boston Red Sox for Casey Fossum and a collection of prospects. It may entail a 2 year extension at BIG money. More details to follow. Here's more. Quick question -- why would they possibly trade for a 12 million pitcher who's real old when they could get a guy of similar quality (Colon, Pettite) for a similar price. Apparently Schilling has 72 hours to ok or reject the deal. Gammons is saying that this is actually part of 3-team deal that includes the Brewers and Richie Sexson. There is a lot of smoke here for there to not be fire.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Free Agent-rific, Numero Two

JP Ricciardi, loyal reader and noted financial supporter of The Ninth, wisely noted last week's free agent recommendations and spent the weekend making his move. 2.2 mil might be a little high for Hentgen, but he got a good arm - and hell, I can't negotiate the contracts too. I was intending to wait a few more days to put up my NL picks (things are heating up here at The Ninth Home Office), but JP kept calling my cell and sending fruit baskets to the house, so I figured I should just get it done. Hell hath no fury like JP Ricciardi with a redial button.

  • Arthur Rhodes (Seattle Mariners): I forgot him when I was doing the AL. A power lefty reliever, Rhodes would be somewhat redundant with Embree around, but can certainly get big outs. He may be on the decline, as last year marked the first time since 2000 his ERA was over 2.5. Rhodes can still throw in the mid 90's however, and was 9th in the league in Holds last year.

  • Mike Myers (Arizona Diamondbacks): Wait, this guy hasn't been good since '00. Screw it.

  • Steve Reed (Colorado Rockies): Reed has been one of the most reliable right-handed relievers in the game for a long time, but he gets zero press and always signs for less than a million dollars. No idea why. Lefties destroy him, but since 2000, righties have managed a sorry .192 average with 5 HR's in.....wait for it.....459 AB's. That's like pitching against Craig Grebeck for a full year. Ideal for situational use in the late innings (Chad Bradford anyone?), could be had for 700 g's.

  • Paul Quantrill (Los Angeles Dodgers): In 1994 the Red Sox traded Paul Quantrill and Billy "Tons of Fun" Hatcher to the Phillies for Wes Chamberlain and a minor-leaguer. Since becoming a reliever 2 years later, Quantrill has an ERA of 2.83 and 145 Holds over 7 seasons. Since becoming unemployed 2 years later, Wes Chamberlain has an EDH (Estimated Donuts an Hour) of 5.63 and 145 hours of community service. This was not one of Duke's best, and Quantrill could be brought back. Theo would need to spring for multiple years, but Paul is quite an asset. He likes to pitch everyday, and gets righties and lefties out.

  • Glendon Rusch (Milwaukee Brewers): OK, OK, I know what you're saying -- this guy stinks. Yes, his BAA last year was .331, and OK, he did allow 171 hits in 123 innings, and alright, his ERA was over 6. Not good. In fact, very bad. Agreed. BUT - he's 29, he's left-handed, and he's a Dave Wallace disciple. When Wallace was with the Mets in 2000 he made Rusch a major project and got a pretty fine season out of him. As a starter that year, Glendon had a 3.96 in 188 innings with 155 K's and only 43 walks. He was viewed as a major up-and-comer, and was asked for often in trades. After that season, Wallace left, Glendon started to waiver, and soon enough he was on the Brewers. It's a bit of stretch, I know, but why not give him a minor league deal and see what Wallace can do? Worth 500 grand, right?

  • Terry Adams (Philadelphia Phillies): A reliable sinkerball reliever who has been effective when not asked to start. Both Los Angeles and Philly have tried Adams in the rotation with little success, but when used exclusively in the 7th and 8th innings, he's succeeded. Had a 2.65 ERA in 2003, while allowing only 1 HR in 68 IP.

  • Turk Wendell (Philadelphia Phillies): Yet another tasty set-up option. Turk's been a solid late-innings guy for a while now, and has held righties to .209 over the last three years. He's on the wrong side of 35, which isn't ideal, but he compensates by being sort of crazy. Born and raised in Pittsfield, perhaps Turk would like to finish his career at home.

  • Chris Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals): After shoulder surgery, Carpenter did not pitch in 2003. Before getting hurt, Chris looked like he would finally become the top of the rotation starter everyone expected. Had some solid years in Toronto and was widely considered every bit as good as his counterpart, Roy Halliday. A New Hampshire native, Carpenter is still only 28 and has time to become a very good pitcher. Before the injury had a nasty curve.

  • Fernando Vina (St. Louis Cardinals): Apparently the Red Sox have expressed interest in Vina as a replacement for Walker at 2B. Once upon a time he was great defender with a reliable OBP. But, as Peter Gammons covered this weekend, his numbers have dropped greatly in the last few years. If his price tag drops too, Vina could be an interesting choice. Has had recurring knee troubles.

  • Rich Aurilia (San Francisco Giants): Shocked the world in 2001 with 37 HR's and 97 RBI. His OPS that season was a full 158 points higher than any other full season he's played however, and it was likely a fluke. Normally, he's a good defender with respectable power to the gaps. Not clear if Aurilia would be willing to shift to second, but would be a nice defensive upgrade if he did. Had a .927 OPS against lefties in '03.

So there it is. Plenty of guys for Hot Stove fodder, and none of them costing an arm and a leg. Once all the non-tenders hit the market, prices will sink even further, so don't expect many of these players to be snapped up soon. But in late December these names should be real popular, unless JP gets them all first.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Free Agent-rific

Here's a list of available players the might spark the interest of the Red Sox. They don't all necessarily fit their needs, but there are some good players here that wouldn't cost a fortune. Every addition doesn't have to be a Vlad Guerrero - you can get quality without breaking the bank. So here's who I like:

  • Pat Hentgen (Baltimore Orioles): Mentioned in Thursday's Boston Herald, Hentgen is coming off a very solid second-half of 2003. After the All-Star break, Pat was 6-3 with a 3.10 ERA and a .216 BAA. No longer a top of the rotation starter, Hentgen could add some depth to the 4-5 slots. A "bull-dog" type with good control.

  • Tom Gordon (Chicago White Sox): Former Red Sox closer, Flash seemed to finally rebound from his shoulder surgery with the White Sox last year. The curveball isn't quite what it was, but he still throws in the mid-90's with solid control. A great option to set-up and occasionally close. Gordon struck out 91 in 72 IP in 2003.

  • Scott Sullivan (Chicago White Sox): Right-handed reliever who spent most of his career in Cincinnati before being traded to the White Sox last year. Can go long or set-up. Has pitched over 100 innings 4 times in his career and has 104 career Holds. Righties hit .187 against him.

  • Brian Anderson (Kansas City Royals): Left-handed starter/reliever who was 12th in the AL in ERA last year. In almost 200 IP, Anderson walked only 43 and compiled 14 wins for Cleveland and KC. Not a world-beater, but a nice lefty option for the back-end of the rotation. Sadly, might be better than Casey Fossum.

  • Raul Ibanez (Kansas City Royals): A solid corner outfielder who can hit the ball hard to the gaps. The last two years Ibanez has averaged 35 doubles, 21 HR's, 96 RBI, and an .841 OPS. Raul does most of his damage against righties, hitting .319 against them. A good option if Boston decides to move Trot or Damon.

  • Curtis Leskanic (Kansas City Royals): Don't panic, there's always Curtis Leskanic. It rhymes, you see. Hard-throwing set-up man who spent most of his career in the NL, Leskanic was the Royal's primary reliever down the stretch. At his best, Leskanic can throw in the mid 90's with biting movement. AL hitters went .180 against him in 2003.

  • LaTroy Hawkins (Minnesota Twins): Perhaps the best set-up man on the market, Hawkins finally showed what all the hype was about in 2003. Always a big "potential" guy, LaTroy figured something out, as he began throwing consistently in the high 90's with great precision. In 77 IP, Hawkins had a K/BB ratio of 5.0, and was third in the AL with 28 Holds. Watch the Yankees on this one.

  • Ricardo Rincon (Oakland A's): As long as he's not facing Todd Walker, he's just fine. Lefties hit only .200 against Rincon last year, with 1 HR in 80 AB's. Good slider/sinker stuff with respectable control. Not just a lefty specialist, Rincon can go multiple innings. Interesting option if Boston let's Sauerbeck walk.

  • John Thomson (Texas Rangers): Lots of innings, not lots of walks. 7th in the AL in IP last year (217), Thomson walked only 49. Might be a little too much John Burkett for the Sox, Thomson is the proverbial "professional pitcher". More times than not, he'll keep you in the game.

  • Kelvim Escobar (Toronto Blue Jays): Frankly, I've never liked the guy much. Has tried to start, close, and set-up and all he's proven is that he's not particularly good at any of them. He does however throw very hard and interested the Sox heavily at the trade deadline. In 2002 Escobar averaged 9.81 K/9 innings. So he's got that going for him.

Next, the NL......


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It's Started, Part 2.

Picking up where we left off, what's the Pitching Staff look like for the Red Sox in 2004?

Starting Pitchers:
  1. Pedro Martinez: 17.5 Million

  2. Derek Lowe: 5 Million

  3. Tim Wakefield: 4.35 Million

  4. Byung-Hyun Kim: Arbitration Eligible, Probably Around 5 Million

  5. Bronson Arroyo: Under 1 Million

That's basically how things will shake out. While it might make fantastic sense to try to trade Pedro now (see earlier article) it will be tough to do considering his 10-5 status. Lowe and Wake are solid bargains in the middle of the rotation, and it makes good sense to move BK back into the rotation. He doesn't want to close, the Sox have Williamson, and Kim has been a successful starter in the past. In 72 IP in the role last year, BK let up 27 runs, for an ERA of 3.38. That number would have put him 8th in the American League in 2003, and well ahead of free agent targets Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood, and Andy Pettitte. Nobody seems to particularly like or trust Kim in any role, perhaps because he continually flips us the bird, but his performance has been better than most realize. With a WHIP of 1.11, he's better than any free agent acquisition Boston could make, so slotting him in the rotation is a wise move. Bringing up the rear you have Bronson Arroyo, who gave reasons for optimism with his performance in Pawtucket and down the stretch in Boston. The chance of him being little more than a .500 pitcher is small, but that's what #5 starters are for. If the Red Sox could find the money, they would probably like to add a front line starter from the group of Colon, Millwood, Pettitte, Vazquez, Schilling etc. - but that will be difficult. With more pressing needs at 2B and in the pen, they will have to trade away some salary before moving on any of these players. But don't think Theo won't try - and possibly succeed.

The Bullpen: Well, we've definitely got Alan Embree and Ramiro Mendoza. 2.75 and 3.6 (ouch) million respectively. Woohoo. Timlin will likely be back at around 2 million himself, and Williamson is arbitration eligible and will probably jump to around 3.5. That's a pretty expensive group of relievers, especially if you don't trust any of them. There has been discussion of adding Guardado or Foulke, which would hinge on finding a desirable deal for Williamson. The problem with that however, is that it makes no sense. Both of those pitchers would cost about twice what Scott does, and I'm not sure either are better. Williamson had his troubles last year, but it was clear once he got comfortable in both the city and his role that he could be dominant. A 27 year-old fireballer with 3 out pitches that can go multiple innings. Less proven than Foulke or Everyday Eddie, but a lot cheaper. Seems like a keeper to me.

The rest of the pen will probably feature Scott Sauerbeck, Brandon Lyon, and whatever Theo adds. Sauerbeck, alas, is also eligible for arbitration and could find his way to the 2 mil range. While he's a much better pitcher than he showed with Boston last year, 2 million is a lot for a left-handed specialist. How eager Theo is to non-tender him and create a "Freddie Sanchez For Absolutely Nothing" trade will be the real question here. Lyon's cheap and good and I refuse to hear otherwise. Without him the Red Sox aren't in playoffs last year, he deserves another chance.

The good news is, look at these names: Tom Gordon, Scott Sullivan, Curtis Leskanic, Arthur Rhodes, LaTroy Hawkins, Ricardo Rincon, Mike Myers, Steve Reed, Paul Quantrill, Terry Adams, and Turk Wendell. All of these players are available, and all of them can pitch. No, we're not talking about a bunch of Geese Gossages, but these guys can get outs. They're reliable arms, and with this many available, some will come cheap. Throw in Guardado and Foulke and you've got over a dozen dependable set-up/closer types that are there for the grabbing. This is very good news indeed.

Realistically, Epstein doesn't have to change all that much. He had the best offense in the league, and a solid crew of starters. The bullpen was a nightmare, but there are plenty of options to fix it. So he'll probably troll for a while looking for trades. Everyone is on the table, but he will probably talk most about Nomar, Manny, Trot, and Johnny Damon. If he can move some salary and get quality return, he'll do so, and put the saved money into a starter. Keep in mind though, Theo is usually very aggressive. While he could certainly grab a 2B, ink a few relievers, work on signing 2 or 3 of the Tek/Lowe/Pedro/Nomar/Mueller group, and call it an offseason - he probably won't. It's simply not his style. You get the feeling he'll try something big - maybe not ARod, but big. He's got chips to play with, and I don't see Theo letting them just walk out of town. It doesn't make good baseball sense, and Epstein does little that doesn't make sense. There is value to be had out of this group, and I think Red Sox Nation has every reason to believe that Theo will maximize it. So stay tuned, because I feel like something big is on the way...

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More on Trot...

Like clockwork, The Boston Herald's Steve Buckley posted this article today, declaring Trot Nixon too valuable for trade:

Oh, he may run through the wrong wall, just as he may forget how many outs there are, but that's OK. He is one of those rare guys whose hustle, whose desire, has never been questioned, and you never have to wonder where he's looking, as his eyes are forever fixed, perhaps obsessively, on the prize.

That is just idiotic. Thanks for making my point for me Steve. No mention here of Trot putting up brilliant numbers last season, which is the actual reason you should keep a player. No, Buckley zeroed in on the hard-hitting facts, praising Nixon for his hustle and desire. And you're allowed to forget how many outs there are now? I guarantee you that if I could read the entire article (bostonherald.com asks visitors to pay for the privilege) there would be mention of the mightiest of all baseball feats: the dirty uniform. Ah dirt, you do make players great. It's simple-minded analysis and it's disrespectful of all Trot can really do. How predictable. For more on this, see my article from yesterday -- and thanks to www.bostonsportsmedia.com for posting the passage.

Anyway, I'm working on the pitching staff stuff, hope to have it up soon. In the meanwhile, look at this. I'm telling you, it could happen.

Monday, November 10, 2003

It's Started.

The GM meetings are starting up today, and finally we're getting a few free agent rumblings around the league, so I figured I could begin talking hot stove - at last. It's not as good as actual baseball, but it's not so far off. Every year crazy names get dropped (Alex Rodriguez), drastic readjustments are proposed (Manny on waivers), and exciting new faces are brought in (Ramiro Mendoza, no wait..). So as this delightful season of gossip kicks into gear, let's take stock of where the Red Sox stand, what they're looking for, and who's out there.

Catcher: Varitek is signed through 2004, at a hefty 6.7 million. He will be coming up for contract at the end of the season along with Pedro, Nomar, Lowe, Tom Menino, and the guy who runs the Kowloon snack stand. Jason will prompt a very difficult decision as #1 prospect Kelly Shoppach is waiting in the wings and can play quality ball for little money. For 2004 though, Tek is almost certain to be in Boston. Doubling Doug Mirabelli, thank heavens, will also be kept around.

First Base: Kevin Millar will clock in at about 2.6 million next year, with a 3.5 mil mutual option for 2005. While he did finish the year with a more than respectable 25 HR's and 96 RBI, his second half was a disappointment. Kevin's slugging percentage dropped 90 points after the All-Star break, and he produced only 31 RBI. Either he tired during his first season with more than 450 AB's, or the league figured out how to pitch him. Either way, he's still a bargain - but his great personality and impressive first half kept him off the hook for sub-par play down the stretch. Oh, and World Series hero Dave McCarty will not be asked back.

Second Base: An interesting situation that probably warrants it's own article. Todd Walker was an offensive juggernaut in the playoffs, but was simply unacceptable with the glove. At least a dozen times during the season I comforted myself with the notion that, no matter what happened, I would only have to watch the ghost of Jose Offerman for one year. Now the season's over, Toddie Tin Hands wants back in, but Theo seems to be resisting. Sounds good, right? Problem is, I'm not so sure anymore. Everyone is all over Luis Castillo, but the guy slugs .350 for his career. You want a sampling of guys who slugged .350 last year? How 'bout Gary Matthews Jr., Endy Chavez, and Jack Wilson. Oh, you've never heard of them? I can't imagine why. Granted Luis does sport a career .367 OBP, which is good - but not spectacular. And yes, he's fast, but he got caught stealing 19 times last year (to 21 SB's), and the Sox don't figure to run much anyway. The major improvement with Castillo is his Gold Glove, but how much is that worth financially? With the Yankees interested, Castillo could run up into the 6-7 million range, and Walker could be brought back for maybe 4.5. I like Luis as a player, but I'm not sure I love him. And Walker is so darn handsome. Hmmmm. Other people to keep in mind: Fernando Vina, Kaz Matsui, and Rich Aurillia -- only one of which actually plays 2nd Base.

Shortstop: Nomar is here to stay for another 162 games, that's for sure. After that, who knows. I honestly believe the Red Sox view him as their most valuable all-around player, and would like to keep Nomar around for a long time. Problem is, no one really knows how much he likes Boston. Sometimes the media seems too much for Garciaparra, others he is thriving on the energy and spirit of the crowd. One thing Nomie should keep in mind: Over the last three years his OPS at home is .970, on the road it's .773. In Fenway he's a Hall of Famer, everywhere else he's John Valentin. Unless he wants to hear about Fred Lynn for the rest of his life, Nomar might want to find a way to stick around.

The Alex Rodriguez rumors are interesting, and not as ill-founded as they first seemed. ARod is the only player in baseball who might actually be worth over 20 million, and the Red Sox would love to have him. If they can ditch Manny, and Nomar is LA-bound. Worth watching I think.

Third Base: The Red Sox have the AL Batting Champion for another season at 2.1 million, with a team option for 2.5 in 2005. There is very little to complain about in Bill Mueller, even with an offensive decline expected for next year. Good hitter, good fielder, good guy. Wouldn't mind if he talked about God a little less, but you can't have it all. If third base proves an easier hole to fill, the Sox could move Mueller to second without losing much defensively, but unless you're dying to see Joe Randa in a Red Sox uniform, that probably won't happen.

Designated Hitter: .288 BA, 45 HR's, 146 RBI. That's what David Ortiz would have hit had he played 162 games. Wow. The Cookie Monster made 1.25 million in 2003 (shocking), and is going to arbitration this winter. He'll surely get a hefty raise for next season, and it's possible that Theo will try to lock him up long-term. Sounds good to me. David's HR to AB ratio was by far the best on the team (one every 14 AB's) and he drove in nearly as many runs as Ramirez in 100 less at-bats. His swing is ideal for Fenway, and his best years are still ahead of him. Add to all this a wonderful clubhouse presence, and you have someone who ought to be in Boston for a very long time. Sign him before he proves last year was no fluke.

Outfield: Let's talk a second about Trot Nixon. Trot is not my favorite player. He's the kind of gritty, hard-nosed Charlie Hustle that always gets big play in Boston, but rarely does much of tangible value. He's Tough with a capital 'T', and going into last season he was also Average with a capital 'A'. An adequate corner outfielder with forgettable numbers who for some reason Boston refused to package with Tomo Ohka to get Sammy Sosa. Couldn't hit a lefty to save his life, but boy was his uniform dirty. Whoopee. But then something happened. Last year Trot was 4th in the American League in OPS, 5th in slugging, and 7th in OBP. That's a sabermetricians dream, and for only 4 million dollars. The question is, what is it that happened? Nixon turned 29 in April, so perhaps he is entering his prime and 2003 is a reasonable sample of what he might produce in '04 and '05. Maybe that happened. Or maybe Nixon just got, well, lucky. Everybody has a career year sooner or later, and it could be that Trot's just passed. In that case, he should be traded immediately. No way of knowing until we see what he does in the next few years. Two things are for certain: 1) With the talent he displayed in 2003, Trot should be given the chance to hit lefties, and 2) He's more than just a Charlie Hustle. He's in his final year of arbitration, which could mean extended contract or trade out of town.
Other than that, you've got Manny and Damon. The Sox will try to move Ramirez, but won't eat a large portion of his contract in the process. That will make things difficult. Damon had an off year and finished the season with an iffy OBP of .345, but managed to score over 100 runs. He's owed 16.5 million over the next two years, and the Red Sox would certainly listen to offers. Damon's best skills, it seems, are in the field. If I had to make a guess I would say that Boston's starting outfield in 2004 will look a lot like it did in 2003.

Next up, pitchers and potential free agents. Who looks good?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos: MNF Game Log

This seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. The Patriots on Monday Night Football, Thunder Dan Kanell starting for the pesky Broncos, John Madden kicking it, Madden-style, in the booth -- I just had to write a game log. Plus my "Everybody Loves Raymond" show log wasn't coming together quite as I hoped, so it seemed like fate. So then, without further adieu....

Two Hours Before Kickoff
John Madden notes on his website (bet that's a treat to put together) that the key factors for tonight's game will be the quality of the Patriots defense, the quality of the Broncos defense, aaaand the quality of the Broncos offense. Ballsy call, John. My question is, what happened to the Patriots offense? They're not a key factor? Apparently Mr. Madden's editors have insisted that he not list every attribute of a football game as a key factor. Tough break John.

Thirty Minutes Before Kickoff
It was just announced that Richard Seymour will not be playing tonight. Oh boy. I was worried about this game to begin with. It's very hard to go on long winning streaks in the NFL, and the Pats are coming off 4 W's in a row. Belichick eats up young QB's, and NE has been solid against the run all season. Seemed like a sure win, which is exactly what made me horribly afraid. Then I hear we're without Seymour, our best player, and I change my pick. I'm going with the Broncos, 17-13. Writing it down in pen.

5 Minutes Before Kickoff
Al Michaels bravely makes the night's first mention of Lawyer Milloy. Belichick waived the beloved safety four days before the season started, the team was destroyed by Lawyer's absence and blah blah blah. Does anyone in New England, including the team, care about this anymore? Don't we all recognize that his replacement, Rodney Harrison, is at least as good and far more entertaining? I think this might get annoying.

1 Minute Before Kickoff
John Madden makes Lawyer Milloy reference #2. Uh oh.

14:46, 1st Quarter
Broncos take the Patriots kickoff up to the 24 yard line, where Matt Chatham makes the tackle, and immediately hugs everyone in sight. No one can celebrate quite like a special-teamer, can they? Could you imagine going to one of these guy's birthday parties? Constantly high-fiving, singing Happy Birthday over and over again - even after the cake, taunting the broken pinata carcass on the ground. Ok, maybe not.

13:50, 1st Quarter
Denver goes a speedy 3 and out, complete with a terrifying, dead duck of a screen pass from Danny Kanell that almost gets picked off. Yikes. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of that.

13:04, 1st Quarter
The Patriots offensive starters are introduced, and lineman Damien Woody informs us that his nickname is Big Wood. How appropriate for television. Troy Brown is hurt, but will be on the field anyway. With Patten out, that makes Deion Branch the #2 receiver, Givens at #3, and at #4, Hartlee Dykes. Should be a lot of fun.

12:20, 1st Quarter
A disastrous snap from rookie Dan Koppen results in a fumble on the Patriots 28. Denver ball. Just like we drew it up. Hand the home team at least 3 easy points to start the game. Bad teams here don't score at all, decent teams get a field goal, and good teams go all the way for a touchdown. Turns out, Denver is a good team. Clinton Portis shoots through the line for a 15 yard run. Touchdown. Oh well.

Denver 7, Patriots 0

10:40, 1st Quarter
Patriots get the ball back and Antowain Smith runs up the middle like only he can. 1 yard gain, tackled by 5 Broncos. Boy, he can really make those defenders miss. Brady capitalizes on this opportunity by throwing deep to David Givens who, alas, is not open. Interception. This is becoming unpleasant fast, and I am becoming sour. 1 turnover every two minutes is not an ideal ratio. When Brady makes mistakes like this, the Patriots usually lose. His physical gifts are impressive, but his mental ones are outstanding. Tom must make smart plays for the Patriots to win. His last interception was against Washington, which, coincidentally, was the last time New England lost.

6:14, 1st Quarter
Denver puts up a decent drive off the turnover, but comes up empty when Jason Elam misses a 44 yard field goal. No points off the INT. A lucky break for the Pats, who are looking a little soggy. 10-0 early on the road would have been a tough hill to climb.

5:55, 1st Quarter
NE takes possession, and out of nowhere, on the first play, Tom Brady goes 66 yards to Deion Branch for the touchdown! How do you like that? The rout is over baby. Hard to believe with how New England looks, but the score is tied. Branch uses pure speed to get by two Bronco defenders and Brady hit him in stride. Impressive throw. Maybe this will open the box up a bit for those silly 5 yard slants that Charlie Weis loves to call. In any case, the Pats are back in it...

New England 7, Denver 7

4:11, 1st Quarter
Danny Kanell misses an open receiver by 5 yards. John Madden suggests that the best way for Dan to win this game is to not lose it. Al Michaels laughs, agrees, and begins tightening the knot on his Monday Night Football commemorative noose.

1:04, 1st Quarter
Lisa Guerrero chimes in with Lawyer Milloy reference #3. It's the tedium hat trick!

0:02, 1st Quarter
Right before the quarter whistle, Michaels sneaks in Milloy ref #4. Now that's broadcasting, boys and girls.

Start of 2nd Quarter

12:25, 2nd Quarter
Shanahan is coaching it up, play-faking with Portis and then bootlegging the other way. Madden is analyzing left and right, and for a minute it feels like we're watching a real football game. How long do you think it takes Madden to stink up a booth? 15 minutes? 20? Elam caps a quick Denver drive with a 43 yard FG. But wait, he's pulled something in his leg! And he's hobbling off the field! And....he's the kicker on my fantasy team! That's terrific. Thanks Jason, didn't want to win this week anyway. Frig.

Denver 10, Patriots 7

7:57, 2nd Quarter
Another bomb from Brady, this time to David Givens, leads to Vinatieri field goal. Were it not for two big plays, New England would have almost no yardage, and zero points. Luck be a lady tonight.

Patriots 10, Denver 10

7:04, 2nd Quarter
Denver gets the ball and Thunder Dan begins picking the Patriots apart. He's got time in the pocket, open receivers, and he's making the throws. Then, on the rare occasion that he's backed into a corner, New England lets him off the hook with a penalty. The Broncos are storming down field and the Patriots are doing little to stop them. They get a first down inside the 5, and instead of going to Portis, which everyone expects, Shanahan goes to the throw. Brilliant call, as defenses always expect the run on 1st and goal. 7 minute drive, touchdown Broncos.

Denver 17, New England 10

0:43, 2nd Quarter
With the clock ticking down, rookie Bethel Johnson takes the kickoff deeeeep into Broncos territory. An unexpected development, and a great way to bring the Patriots into halftime with a little momentum. After a quick pass to Kevin Faulk, Vinatieri knocks in another field goal. All the Pats have going for them at this point is big plays. They have no business being in this game, but because of a few bombs and a run back, they're only down by a few. While I am not optimistic, I am a little excited.

Whew. Daddy's sleepy.

13:00, 3rd Quarter
After a stalled New England drive, Ken Walter breaks off a 20 yard punt. That's what I like to call.....a pass. Heyooooo.

12:11, 3rd Quarter
Realizing it's almost three full minutes into the second quarter, Lisa Guerrero makes the 5th Lawyer Milloy reference of the evening. Keep your eye on that girl, she's got what it takes.

9:33, 3rd Quarter
The Patriots get the ball on the 40, and quickly go underneath to Antowain for 14 yards. A great block by Daniel Graham (not his strong suit) to get some extra yards. After a quick 10 yard pass to Branch, Smith runs for 5! Watch out, 'twain thinks it's 2001. Fred The Inmate McCrary makes his annual catch for 6 yards and the Pats are really moving. Is anyone in the league better at halftime adjustments than Belichick? Then, defying all odds, Antowain runs for another 11 yards! Someone give this guy a parade. On 1st and goal, New England ignores Shanahan's example and runs the ball, getting nothing. Then, because it's wonderfully predictable, they throw on second, but it works. 6 yard pass to Daniel Graham in the end zone! Touchdown Pats, and now they're playing with some energy. The game is heating up, and I'm running out of cigarettes. You can't have it all. My 17-13 prediction is looking preeeetty sweet right now.

Patriots 20, Denver 17

3:15, 3rd Quarter
After some Danny Kanell magic, New England gets the ball back, but can't move much. Ken Walter fires away a decent punt, but it gets brought back on a Lonnie Paxton penalty. Could've done without that. Sure enough, on the re-kick, Deltha O'Neal runs for a touchdown. Not exactly a tackling clinic by the NE special team crew. Larry Izzo just whiffed like Preston Wilson and Deltha was off to the races. Terrific. Plenty of football left though....

Denver 24, Patriots 20

4th Quarter

14:02, 4th Quarter
The 4th Quarter opens with the Patriots driving. Givens makes a great catch over the middle to bring New England to Denver's 12. David is shaken up though, and with Bethel Johnson already out, Hartlee Dykes just might get into the game. Belichick is storming up and down the sidelines, loudly calling for Ray Crittenden's cell phone number. Because of MORE penalties, the Pats can't punch it into the end zone, but take a field goal.

Denver 24, Patriots 23

10:33, 4th Quarter
On a charming shot of an historic cannon in downtown Denver, Madden asks "Say, do you think you would rather load that thing or fire it?". Michaels silently makes a pact with the devil.

10:00, 4th Quarter
The Broncos have the ball, and Portis is taking them down field. He's up near 100 yards, but hasn't been a major force up to this point. It's bad if Denver scores now, but if they take a long time to do it, it's very bad. A Bronco TD would mean the Pats need two scores, which is doable, but takes time. If Portis can consistently gain ground, New England will be up against it. After a few successful runs, Kanell airs one out to Rod Smith who is is nailed by Eugene Wilson. Helmet to helmet style, and he's not getting up. It's all hoots and hollers until I remember that Rod Smith is also on my fantasy team, and f-bombs are dropped. If I'm going to lose two of my starters, the Patriots better win this game. Right? On the next play, Kanell throws the ball away again and I'm starting to think that just might be in their playbook. Broncos punt.

6:12, Fourth Quarter
After the Patriots do nothing but amass more penalty yardage, Denver gets the ball back. This game now belongs to Portis. It is fully his to win. If the back can gain first downs and get his team into scoring position, there will not be enough clock left for the Patriots to score twice. Could put a nail in the Pats. Sure enough, Clinton guides the Broncos to the New England 35, with the clock down into 3 minutes. Killer stuff. It runs to 3rd and 4, and clearly Shanahan will just run Portis between the tackles. They're far enough into Pats' territory that they can safely go four downs, and they can certainly get 4 yards in two tries. Agreed? But wait, Thunder Dan is going to throw! Tries to find Sharpe over the middle, but Rodney Harrison knocks it away! 4th down. Big play by Rodney, and no one dares make Milloy reference #6. Bad move by Shanahan, Patriots get the ball back.

3:05, Fourth Quarter
Problem is.....they get it on their one yard line. Denver's punt pins them in, and New England is having trouble moving the ball out. Can Vinatieri hit a 113 yard field goal? Three failed passes and the Pats are looking at a very bad situation. A bad punter with only 10 yards of distance between himself and the rush. Yikes. All of a sudden, Al Michaels perks up, suggesting they give up a safety. 2 more points will still give New England a chance to tie with a field goal, and they'll get much better field position! Honestly, an impressive booth moment, as I don't think many announcers would have called this in advance. Sure enough Belichick goes with it! Paxton hikes it off the goal post and the safety is scored. Michaels looks like a genius and Madden is more than a little jealous.

2:95, Fourth Quarter
The Broncos allow the ensuing free kick (anytime a football game involves a free kick, you know you're having fun) to bounce all the way to the 15 for no apparent reason. Unbelievable. They'll use Portis now, right? This is no time to rest the game on the thin yet dashing shoulders of young Daniel Kanell, right? RIGHT?! Nope. After a killer penalty, Denver needs a first and they PASS! Shocker - it goes incomplete, Denver is forced to punt. Sorry guys, but you might have just lost. The little safety play gains the Pats 40 yards, as they receive the punt right around midfield. You can just see Brady sniffing victory. Tom throws a 5 yard check down to Kevin Faulk. On the next play, Brady narrowly avoids a sack then gets it out to Faulk again who squirms his way for 20 yards. Dodging defenders every which way, almost no blocks in sight, and amazingly, he doesn't fumble! Denver gets flagged on the play, clock stops. New England is now at the Broncos 34, which is just on the outer edge of field goal range. Another first down and they can tie this game up. Whew. With 1:48 left, Brady wastes two plays, and it runs down to 3rd and 10. Gotta get 10 more yards Tommy. Usually in this situation Brady looks for Troy Brown, but he's not 100% healthy right now, so he'll have to focus elsewhere. Brady drops back, looks around, and finds the hero of the drive, Kevin Faulk! Faulkin it up. Faulk's open over the middle again, and the Patriots grab another 16. Now they're in field goal range, which honestly is all we ever really wanted. Goal complete, we can relax. Let's just run the ball up the middle a few ti..... whoa Brady's going for the end zone! Oh boy, oh boy -- Givens is racing down the sideline, he's sort of open, perfect back shoulder pass....TOUCHDOWN. TOUCHDOWN! Patriots have come back! 30 seconds left, Elway's retired, this baby's over! We win on Monday Night! There is much yelling in the apartment, and briefly I am concerned for the neighbors. Much to my relief, I realize I don't like my neighbors, so the revelry continues. Denver gasps a bit in the last 30 seconds, but they really have no chance. This game is now New England's! What a win, Pats are 7-2. AFC East, anyone?

0:23, 4th Quarter
Feeling the stunning victory is somewhat complete, Al Michaels puts the perfect exclamation point on the most exciting win of the year: Lawyer Milloy reference #6. Thanks Al, you're the best. See ya next week.....