Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Nine by Nine, 04.20.04

1. It really is too bad they scheduled that funeral at the Sky Dome the same time as the baseball game. People were mourning the dead, others were watching a hockey game -- it was very distracting for the actual baseball fans. Oh wait, there were no actual baseball fans. Don't worry Blue Jays, I'm sure they exist, they were just otherwise occupied. Hey, at least you aren't the Expos. Go Maple Leafs!

2. Pedro was on top of his game last night, and so was Jerry Remy. In fact, the Remdog was so thorough in his analysis that there isn't much left for The Ninth to say. Martinez and Varitek clearly agreed on a different game plan, starting with many more fastballs, and then going to the offspeed stuff later in the game. This is something Pedro used to do consistently several years ago, not even touching the change up until the second time through the order. If your fastball has enough life, it's a dandy of a plan, and last night it did. He was most often at 88-89, but had a 90-91 every inning or so. And the ball was moving and hitting precise spots, so that's all you need. You could tell Pedey was working it after each inning, when he would walk simply and carelessly off the mound, without expression, as if he had just tired of that location and wanted to see what the dugout was like. "Yeah, I just shut you down, again, but really I am interested in those new cushions on the bench. Yawn." Great to see from Martinez, and great to hear Remy break it all down for the viewer. I'm not sure anyone could've called the game better.

3.Manny hasn't gotten a great deal of notice so far, as his numbers are typical Ramirez, but he is doing a lot of special things. There is a spirit, a joy, a pleasure in his play that Boston hasn't seen much. Without notice, his level of hustle has increased drastically, especially on the base paths. Watch him tonight -- he's running out every grounder hard, busting his tail from first to third, barreling in to break up double plays. He made one bone-head error this weekend, but he's made a couple of nice grabs too. And he's talking to the media, joking around more, showing his sense of humor. Maybe he was always like this and we never knew, or perhaps something's changed. Maybe after the waiver experiment Manny finally accepted that he's in Boston for good? Not sure, but Sox fans love a character, especially one who plays hard. Ramirez could be a big time favorite if he keeps this up. And the hitting is good too.

4.Oh Toronto Behind-Home-Plate Waitress, The Ninth loves you so. Your beauty resonates through cameras, across borders, and beyond expectation. You have a kind soul and a gentle spirit, I can see it in your every gesture. And you're attentive upon orders of food and drink. You, Behind-Home-Plate Waitress, are not just another pretty face, you are a skilled Customer Service Representative. May God smile kindly upon you. And you, in turn, upon The Ninth.

5. Roy Halladay had a great Ace performance last night. His stuff looked pretty good, but Boston was hitting him around. In six innings, he gave up 9 hits (3 for extra bases), one walk, made an error, balked in a run, and still only gave up three runs. The Sox threatened constantly, but were never able to break it open. That's big-time pitching. You're not particularly effective, but you don't let the other team finish you off. A lesser pitcher wouldn't have made it out of the third, but Halladay gave his team a chance to win.

6. Pedro's first real challenge came in the 6th when a Johnny Damon misplay put Reed Johnson on third with one out. Although Martinez had been excellent so far, he had not had to work out of trouble yet - and now a fly ball or grounder scores a run. So up walks Catalanotto, an established Red Sox killer. Pedro starts him off up and in with the fastball, strike one. Follows with the obvious and filthy low and away heat, strike two. Beautiful pitch, on the corner. 0-2, does he waste? Not with a pitch count. Martinez pounds Frank with another high fastball, and gets him to pop up. Runner can't advance, Catalanotto tosses his bat, Pedro wins again. Vernon Wells is next, sees nothing but low and away fastballs, and doesn't have a chance. Ground out to third. Inning over, the runner never moves. Pretty good stuff.

7. Remy and McDonough love getting on Manager Carlos Tosca for not moving his runners around more. It seems like every time Sean and Jerry do a Toronto game they point out how few stolen bases or bunts the Blue Jays have. Now especially they feel he should change things up, as his team is having trouble scoring runs. First of all, if you believe an idea is right, why would you change it just because it's not working at the moment? You research something thoroughly, come up with the best answer, and stick to it. Obviously "big ball" worked just fine for the Toronto offense all of last season, why abandon it after 12 games when your hitters are slumping? As The Ninth likes to say, it's not the idea's fault it isn't working. S&J went on to wonder if Tosca's static strategy might put his job security into question. Hey guys, whose idea do you think this stuff is? Carlos was a lifetime mediocrity as a minor league manager, and all of a sudden he has a long-term big league contract. Is that because Ricciardi loves the way he looks in a cap and stirrups, or because Carlos will do exactly what J.P. tells him, without a major-league ego getting in the way? If you think Tosca is calling the shots on the field for the Jays, you're crazy, and if you think Riccairdi has any intention of firing a guy just for doing what he tells him, then you're bald and crazy.

8. Again in the 7th, a bad play by Damon put a Toronto runner on 3rd with one out. Hey Johnny, that turf, it's bouncy. The ball bounces. Anyway, Phelps was on third, and Pedro had another challenge ahead of him. He nibbled to Erik Hinske and ended up walking him on a full count. Martinez's first freebee of the night. He got ahead of Kevin "Can I Get My Paycheck In" Cash 0-2, but wasn't looking too sharp. Pedro made the Toronto catcher look bad earlier with sharp heat and nasty curves, but here in the 7th, he seemed to be losing steam. He went to the cutter to save velocity, but Cash got it up and sac flied the run in. Not scorched, but got the job done. An over-zealous throw by Kapler moved Hinske to second, then Hudson blooped another 0-2 cutter into center for an RBI. Annoying. So Pedro was up to the first battle in the sixth, but didn't have quite enough to slip out of the second one. He got Reed Johnson to fly out and end the inning, resulting in two runs, one earned. One out of two ain't bad.

9. This series has the beloved Pedro, Wakefield, Schilling 1-2-3 punch for which Terry Francona was hoping. The Ninth will be looking closely for an indication that this makes any difference whatsoever. Not sure what that indication might, but I'll be ready. If any of you see anything, let me know.