Monday, July 19, 2004

Nine by Nine; 07.18.04

Haven't done one of these in a while...

1. There are must win games and there are better win games, as in "you better win this friggin' game or I'm gonna punch a hole in the fan." Yesterday was the latter. Must wins are the kind of things that if you don't pull out, you're in serious danger of not getting where you want to be. Like mathematical danger. Although people talk about them as early as May and June, they really only exist in September. Before then, there are no musts. There's always time to correct whatever silliness you've created. But there sure are betters. Games that are important in the standings, but matter more for momentum, progress, and self-confidence. Had the Red Sox lost yesterday they would've dropped 3 of 4 to Anaheim and spoiled their first series of the 2nd half. Not the kind of thing that kills the postseason, but it certainly makes everyone feel a little worried. Talk shows rant, writers rave, and players are forced to tell us "hey, it's only July." And yeah, we know they're right, technically, but we also know they just lost a game they were supposed to win. And they sure as heck better win the next one. Luckily though, Schill pulled it out, and splitting on the road against Anaheim ain't so bad.

2. You know, people have a lot of bad things to say about Dan Duquette and a lot of good things to say about Theo Epstein, but Theo gets to spend at least 30 million more and he still has empty holes on the roster. Jimmy Anderson? Joe Nelson? Cesar Crespo? This is the best we can do with all that cash? Maybe I'm forgetting, but I don't remember too many guys like that getting serious time on a Duquette roster, and his clubs came up with a comparable amount of wins. The Ninth is speaking in generalities, and recognizes that if you look at DD's best teams their 1-25 were a bit suspect, but they did win. And they did it for a lot less bucks. That's all I'm saying.

3. The first five innings yesterday were just about as boring as baseball gets. Seems like there's been a lot of that this year.

4. But in the 6th, things perked up. Against pitchers that are motoring along, like John Lackey was for the first five, the important thing is to get them into the stretch. Anything that will disrupt their rhythm and mess with their focus is good. And because a lot of pitchers work better from the wind-up (especially young ones), you can usually get more hittable stuff. They keep runners off base because they're in the windup -- and they're in the windup because they keep runners off base. Hooray! A walk or an error or a bloop single can make the whole thing come undone. Yesterday, it was a walk. Damon got to first, and Lackey found himself in the stretch for only the third time of the day. And with a basestealer on to boot. What followed? Bellhorn single, Ortiz homer. Lackey was never the same. Somewhere, Earl Weaver is smiling. Or dead. Maybe he's just dead.

5. From balls and strikes to pitcher warnings to out and safe calls, that was easily the worst umpiring series I have seen. In the regular season of course (lest we forget ALCS, 1999, Superstar Tim Tchida). I think Lackey did hit Nomar on purpose, but if a warned Curt Schilling hitting the guy who homered against him doesn't warrant an ejection, what does? If he shot him? Would than be enough? What if he shot a fan? What is the warning for if you're not going to use it?

6. Francona is really dug in on this Manny issue, because there was a perfect chance to have him pinch hit yesterday and he didn't do it. In the 6th inning the bases were loaded and Dave McCarty was coming up. There were two outs, so it was make or break time, and because the bags were juiced, there was no way Anaheim could put Manny on. Up 3-1, it was still a tight game, but Boston had a chance to blow it open. Good time for your best hitter to pick up a bat. Where was Manny? Ritz Carlton'ing it up at the end of the bench. It's not totally clear what the issue is between Ramirez and Tito, but some serious stubbornness is involved.

7. Uh....Gabe Kapler? No, he shouldn't play more, but this sure is nice. All hot-dog-eating ladies in the monster seats, you are duly warned.

8. It almost, ALMOST, looks like the old Nomar is back. Yesterday he took a high and away fastball, normally the classic ingredient for a Garciapopup lunch special, and slammed it to right field. All the way to the wall and, thanks to an unpleasant play by Vladie, a triple. Impressive, Manny-like, going the other way stuff. Last year, his shoulder flies open and that ball is spinning to Erstad in foul ground before you can say "Fifteen Million".

9. Remember folks, the 2003 team didn't come together until Labor Day in Philadelphia. That's the beginning of September. Month and a half away. All it takes is two weeks of very good baseball to build a sustainable lead that can last the summer. Know how many road games Boston has left against teams with records above .500? 12. A dozen. All season. Not so bad, is it?