Thursday, October 28, 2004

It's Over

This happens. This is something that happens.
-Stanley Spector, "Magnolia"


Hard to believe, isn't it? There are teams that have been doing this all along. Going about their lives, building solid clubs, and every once in a while pulling out the Series. And it's no big deal. It happens every year in fact, sometimes even in Florida. And people don't remember. It's won and lost and two weeks later people forget, like it's a dentist appointment. But it never happened to us. We never got our chance, and after a while, we started to notice. There must have been some guy in the 1940's who said "Hey chaps," (that's how they talked) "the Bostons haven't won in 22 years!" , and nobody really cared. But after 10 or 20 more years, that became a force. A powerful being with its own momentum. And it started to weigh on the players, force management's hand, and ruin fans' lives. But it was bound to end. It had to. By shear random chance, sooner or later it would be Boston's turn. And last night, finally, after 86 years, it was.

But it's strange. When we envisioned it, I'm not sure we ever actually expected it to happen. We talked about the relief we'd feel and the final, resounding satisfaction, but I don't think we ever really thought the day would come. Hey, you wait 90 years once, what's another 90? Then, as it got really close, the utter nearness of it was startling. How could this be? And there were other questions. Sure, the initial rush of victory would be fantastic, but what about the moment to moment? How would it feel? Would beer taste colder? Would smiles seem brighter? Could Terry Bradshaw be more annoying? And it turned out, when it finally did happen, it was just like a lot of things. Fun, exciting, and not quite as good as you expected. Strange. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm as happy as the next clam, but I can't escape the overwhelming feeling that today is a lot like yesterday. And tomorrow probably will be too. Didn't see that coming. But it's ok, because while they were winning, people's dreams were coming true. The players, the fans, and the owners. And that's a lot to say about a silly baseball team.

It's funny when things happen that you've waited your whole life for, and you realize that the waiting for them is what it was really all about. The thing itself is just a thing that happens.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Realism

The Ninth has been preaching realism and objectivity for just about a year now (another unnoticed anniversary - sob), and there's no reason to stop now. Boston's up 3-0, and everyone's scared the world will explode. Guess what, it won't. They're going to win, enjoy it. Maybe they don't sweep, but they've got this thing in the bag. As we noted before, math and history won't keep St. Louis from coming back, their lack of ability will. Boston did it because they were at the very least New York's equal, the Cards have yet to prove they belong in the same building. The Red Sox are actually going to do it gang, and this team is going to be remembered forever. Names chiseled in stone on the side of Fenway Park. I'm serious.

I'm having a seizure.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The What Now?

This weekend The Ninth was kicking around ESPN.com, looking up some numbers. After doing a bit of research on the Cards and Sox, I decided to click on "Scores" and see how the other series were going. No other series. I looked around a bit. I actually did this. It took five minutes for my mind to accept that the Red Sox were in the World Series. And I was in Boston for the games. Demented, but I'm still not sure it's sunk in entirely. No other teams are playing. We're all that's left. But when you watch Games 1 and 2, they're just games. There's no special World Series fireworks or cavalcade. Whoever pitches better and hits in the clutch is going to win. It's just like the last 172 games. There are no tigers. Somehow I thought there'd be tigers. It's weird when you wait for something your whole life, and then finally get it. Nothing is as good as expectation.

Which is not to say The Ninth is complaining. No, this is quite wonderful. And if Boston can win 2 of the next 5, it will get a lot more wonderful. The first two games have left me with one very strong reaction: man, the Yankees are good. St. Louis is a fine team. Great hitting, and I'm certain we'll see more of it at home; nice defense, as Rolen looks like the last guy I would to hit a ball to in the late innings; and a solid bullpen. But these are not the Yankees. I'm sorry, they're just not as good. If you can beat New York in a playoff series, you can do anything. Boston is playing so effortlessly and confidently in the first games you can tell they feel it too. "We just beat the Yankees, and you bring this to us?". I for one could go for a little less confidence, as a bit more Manny Ramirez concentration and a little less Orlando Cabrera hot dogging could help, but how can you argue with the results? Be honest, have you been scared of the Cardinals once? Was there a single moment where you thought, "uh oh, they're gonna get us", the way you do every moment of every Yankee game? Nope. They're a good club. They could knock Pedro around tonight. They could win the Series. But they're not the Yankees.

The main problem with the Cardinals is their starting pitching. Not as much the quality of the arms, but the way they pitch. They're not swing and miss guys, they're not over-powering. They throw strikes, try to keep ball down, and hope for balls hit weakly. That's not a good approach against Boston. If you want to nibble, they'll wait. Go deep in the count and sooner or later you have to have a pitch to put a guy away. They don't have that. Not yet anyway. The best example was Jason Varitek's at-bat against Morris early in Game 2. Matt jumped ahead early with two nice strikes. Got Tek in the hole, and should have blown him away high and outside. That's the textbook approach. But Morris doesn't have that pitch. So he tried a low changeup, and Jason hit it into the triangle for a triple. Mediocre stuff will kill you against Boston, at some point. Unless you pull a Jon Leiber, and pitch the game of your life, they'll get you. If St. Louis can get a couple of those, they can jump back into this. Suppan can be electric, and has been recently. But if he's anything less, the Sox will rock him. No matter where they're playing. Same thing goes for Marquis. They're just not the kind of guys that give Boston fits. I gotta say, I don't love their chances.

Things to watch for tonight:

- Pedro making his first World Series start. You know he's going to want to leave his mark, and he probably deserves something special. Will all the extra rest hurt his control or help his fastball more?

- David Ortiz at 1st base. Deer on ice skates.

- Does Embree still have his electric Game 2 stuff? That was the best he's thrown in a full year.

- Do Rolen and Edmonds finally step up?

- Terry Francona continuing to out manage Tony LaRussa. Read that again.

- 3-0 will make this over. I don't care what just happened. The only thing less likely than the way Boston came back against New York is two teams doing it in consecutive series.
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Friday, October 22, 2004

The Ninth Heads To Boston

And you should too, if you're not there already. The Sox won't be in the Series too many times folks, and I would like to see it for myself.

The matchup, we now know, is the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with the best record in baseball. Do keep in mind however that the team with that distinction has not actually won the Series since 1998. In fact, Wild Cards have fared much better of late. But, just like the ALCS, the point isn't the past, it's what they're facing now, and the Cardinals are a good team. Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds - all in a row. Dangerous stuff. But their pitching -- Jason Marquis, Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan - all in a row. Not good. Hey open the window, it smells like Cardinal pitching in here. And the bullpen, which was a big strength, is banged up with Steve Kline and Julian Tavarez on the slab. Keep in mind as well, for all the hoop and la about their offense, the Sox scored 100 more runs this year. And I believe Edmonds and Walker can be pitched to. This team has flaws, and all season Pujols and Rolen have mashed their way out of it. Which they certainly could do again - but if Boston can pitch those guys tough, they will win. The one thing about St. Louis that is beyond reproach: defense. Rolen, Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, and Mike Matheny are all spectacular with the glove - and everyone else is solid. Easy runs will not happen.

Boston will not roll, but I do believe they'll . In 6 games. And no, I'm not typing that word, you think I'm insane?
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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Believe It Or Not

The most humiliating loss in the history of the greatest franchise in sports.

That's what it was. Plain and simple. And the Boston Red Sox caused it. Every second since has been Absolute Euphoria. So many forbidden joys, so little time. Do I rush home to watch Remy and Dennis Eck gush about finally beating New York - or head directly to the local sports bar and bask in all the sullen Yankee fan faces? Is it better to listen to celebratory Boston radio, or depressed, suicidal Yankee talk? Who to read first - Dan Shaughnessey or George King? The lilly is so ridiculously gilded it's almost sickening. Beat them, at their house, when it counted most. Finally. We finally got em. It's like punching Hitler in the mouth.

Were you ever less confident in a 7 run lead in your life? Red Sox fans are quite a sort. Having failed to enter the famed Riviera bar (the line started forming at 4:30pm), The Ninth and several Official Friends went to a quieter, more out of the way place. The hope was to avoid any and all Yankee fans, like that was possible. Yankee fans are like cockroaches, they make an appearance whenever you want them least. Fortunately though, they also fold like a crisp napkin, so the game quickly shut them up. We never felt confident though. After the contest had long passed the point where a New Yorker would've laughed at you, hit on your girlfriend, and thrown tic tacs at your head, Red Sox fans were still uncertain. It's not that we doubted our team, it's that we didn't think it could every actually happen. Could the Red Sox blow 7 runs in three outs? No. Could they ever win a decisive game against the Yankees in playoffs? Also no. So something's gotta give - but who knows what? There was the feeling that any undeserved or premature celebration would be paid back tenfold in the end. Cheer now, cry later. So you have to hang low, quietly hope, and believe it when you see it. The Ninth and Friends were knocking on wood until the very last pitch, gripping our lucky lighters, sipping our lucky drinks. And we were up 7 runs. In the 9th inning! And the thing is, every other Sox fan at the bar was doing the same thing. Something tells me every other Sox fan on the planet was. But it was all worth it in the end.

One final note: how many calls and emails have you received today from friends saying something like "You know, I'm really a Braves fan" or "I don't care much about baseball"..."but I was really rooting for you guys. Congratulations."? I've gotten at least ten. Everyone has. My point: you think a Yankee fan has ever gotten one? Ever? At any time in their history? No, me neither. That's how you know the good guys won.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Thank You Curt

Curt Schilling pitched 7 innings last night with a tendon being held taut by sutures. Doctors used stitches to bunch the skin around his ankle and hold it in place. He won Game 6, giving up one run, beating one of the best offensive teams in baseball. With blood leaking its way through his sock.

That is remarkable. It was one of the greatest athletic feats I have seen in my life, and there is no way to overstate the majesty of it. People are writing articles and calling him brave, but it's not enough. He deserves a building. Curt, you can have my apartment. Thank you, truly, for what you've done. Sorry about the bathroom.

Now, on to the game the Curt made: Game Seven. If you can point to one thing that has swung this series, it's the power of averages. In games 1-3, the 2, 3 and 4 hitters for New York (Arod, Sheffield, and Matsui) hit an unbelievable .510 (24/47). Their OPS in those games was in the neighborhood of 1.800. They are good players, but that's unworldly. God couldn't hit like that. The bad news was that those stats put the Yankees up 3-0, but the good news is sooner or later, math has its day. As posters have pointed out, given enough at bats, hitters will eventually perform in the playoffs as they do in the regular season. Players are who they are, if allowed enough time. So for ARod, Matsui, and Sheff to present a more accurate statistical picture of their true ability, they would have to balance out their unbelievable numbers with some pretty stinky ones -- and they have. In the last three contests, those players are hitting a robust .146 (6/41), with 9 strikeouts. Yes, they're being approached differently (a lot less strikes), and of course Boston pitching is simply performing better, but a lot of this is good old regressing to the mean. And for Boston it's coming at the perfect time. If it continues tonight, the Red Sox will win.

Otherwise, tonight is impossible to analyze, mostly because Torre refuses to announce his pitcher. Vazquez, Brown, El Duque, and Loaiza are all on the table, with KB running in front -- but they're all dubious. Francona has given the nod to DLowe, on all of two days rest, but it will be all hands on deck for both clubs. Wakefield, Arroyo, and Mendoza could go long, while a rested Leskanic, Timlin, and Embree will be the heavy hitters short. Foulke may or may not be available, but I would imagine he's got an out or two left in the arm. The real wild cards here are Pedro and Schill. Martinez is pitching in this game, I guarantee it. The question is when, how much can he do, and how will he react? The emotional boost of Cleveland '99 memories can not be ignored, as it will be quite a sight when those bullpen doors swing open. And how about Curt? Could he come in to get Sheffield with the bases loaded? Throw eight pitches and sit right down? I wouldn't be shocked.

You sort of feel like, deep down, however, this is Tim Wakefield's game. He's kept this team alive in so many ways for so many years, and what is tonight's contest about other than staying alive? He was on the mound when the last Game 7 was decided, and I have the feeling he's gonna be around when this one is. Tonight is going to be won by somebody's middle relief. Both starters will be mediocre and last only a few, the winner will be whomever pick up the pieces best. The way Timmy's ball was dancing on Monday night, I'll take my chances. Do it one more time Wake.

We tied it up and made it count. Now let's beat these fuckers.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

We Have A Series

Somewhere out there is a writer good enough to describe what's going on here, but I am not that man. Bill Simmons made a solid pass, but it feels a bit like traveled territory for him. Shaughnessey, who has lately been doing some of the best writing of his career, is solid, but Bob Ryan, as usual, does the best work on the matter. But still, there's something not quite grasped. The Red Sox have just played two of the most dramatic postseason games in history, on consecutive nights, in one of the most dramatic situations in postseason history. No one can write about it because we're all going insane. You have any idea how difficult it is to sit down in front of a keyboard and approach this team rationally right now? We fans, writers, and internet losers have just logged too many hours. We've drunk too many beers and smoked too many tobacco cigarettes. We're more cooked that Leskanic's right shoulder. I mean, this is a team that three days ago laid one of the biggest eggs of Octobers passed. That very night I had a serious discussion with an Official Friend about giving up on these jokers forever. Hell, I wrote an article about killing them with robots. Now they've ripped off two sensational wins in about as shocking a fashion as physically possible, and we're all thinking about it. Admit it, you are. I know I am. I promised they wouldn't pull me back in, but so did you, and then we got ropa-diggity-doped. Big time. What if they actually did it? What if Curt wins tonight and forces a game 7? All bets would be off, and if Arroyo could throw like he did last night, well, I mean, have you guys seen Scanners?

This isn't just about the Yankees though. Ron Borges nailed it on The Zone today: "if the Red Sox ever win it all, this is exactly how it will happen." I don't know what would be stranger, it actually happening, or Ron Borges being right about something. But we can feel it. Last night The Ninth was at "The Riviera", a sports bar in the West Village area of New York. It's long been famed as the only real Red Sox bar in The Apple, but every time I try to go it's packed. Seemed like a nice enough joint, but hell, I know Red Sox fans and I don't need to wait in line to eat a burger with them. But last night we arrived early, got a corner table, and it was well worth it. All the basics: solid food, cheap beer, fast service, tons of tv's - but unbelievable atmosphere. There's a dining area with tables and places to eat, and a rowdier standing room only bar section. When it gets rocking, a chant will get started in the bar and pass its way over to the dining room, get mutated, and then passed back. It's like a big demented game of telephone. They have odd support poles and steel panels everywhere, giving the place a little old Garden vibe. Amazing. Replace a few simple clap clap clapclapclap's with bang on steel bang on steel bangonsteelbangonsteelbangonsteel's, and you've really got something. A few Yankee fans would inadvertently wander in at times, but quickly realize they weren't welcome. It was either the subtle angry glances or the flaming bottles of lighter fluid. One of the two. But hey, they have a whole city, why can't we have one puny little bar? As the night progressed, I made friends with various factions around the bar: chubby cigarette guy, cell phone talk strategy dude, little Hispanic yell Big Papi even when he isn't up girl. We were a unit. Then, after the hours of battling, yelling and cheering together, the Red Sox won, and we congratulated each other on our good work. Did we have anything to do with it? Absolutely not. Did that bother us? Absolutely not. I trotted off to the bathroom before a long trip back to Brooklyn, and walked in on a guy facing away, oddly, from the urinal. He decided apparently that this would be the best position to put his, uh, Big Papi back in the dugout. If you know what I mean. Nothing freaky, just a guy who'd had a few. He looked down, apologized, and said "Hell, we're all family." And oddly enough, I agreed. We are family, creepy bathroom pants guy. That's how crazy things have been. You watch a comeback like this with some people you've never met, and all of a sudden you're calling them brother. With or without trousers. I don't know how to explain it. All I can say is that three days ago I hated this team and now I believe they'll pull off the biggest turn around in baseball history. Do I think they will? Nope, not it in a million years. But I do believe. And I think you do too.
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Monday, October 18, 2004

Not Hatched Yet

Until it gets to 7, this isn't about winning. The Red Sox haven't played well enough for that. For now, it's about pride, it's about fun, it's about making Yankee lives worse. Had Boston executed with even passable ability over the last six days, Sunday night could've been a lot more. It could've meant getting back into the series, or even, God forbid, pushing ahead. Instead, it was a battle for dignity. And they did it, they passed the lowest bar, and pathetically, we'll take it. What happened in the first three games shouldn't detract from what they pulled off in the fourth one, but think of how wonderful it would've been had it actually meant something. Right now Boston fans have their pride, but they still don't have a series. Which is not to say they won't, but 3-1 isn't it. Pedro wins tonight, and you officially have something. Legitimately frisky, worth taking seriously. Schilling wins in Yankee Stadium, then you've earned yourself a full-fledged, boy we might actually do this chance. But until then, you're just playing with chips. And don't you forget it. You don't think every hippy dippy 0-3 team that avoided the sweep thought they were back in it? They did. And they were wrong, every single one of them. So let's not get carried away. But hey buddy, it doesn't have to be all gloom and doom...

As I said, Pedro wins tonight and you've got a series, and I truly believe that. The fact that there's never been a 3-0 comeback doesn't really bother me. If it wasn't for the fact that no one has done it, I'd say it's been done before. You don't need to win 4 games in a row, you need to win one game four times - and the Red Sox need look no further than Foxboro to learn that. And we all know that someone, sooner or later, will pull it off, so why not Boston? If there's a problem, it's not the distant past, it's the recent one. What's keeping the Red Sox from taking games 4-7 is that they got absolutely dismantled in the first 3, which does not suggest a team ready to run the table. If they don't win, it'll be because they didn't play well enough, not because no one else played well enough before them. But yes, I think it could happen. Do I think it will? Absolutely not. But I do believe it's possible. Every game is a 50-50 chance. Play great, get a little lucky, make some history. It'll happen sooner or later.

For now we have to satisfy ourselves with the little pleasures. Pedro, perhaps his last time in a Red Sox uniform, trying once and for all to vanquish the dreaded Yankees. Curt Schilling, returning to the mound after being written off, battling a weak ankle and a fierce crowd, trying to pull his team out of the fire. A present tense Willis Reed, a Larry Bird, an Air Bud Golden Receiver. Whatever works. This is dramatic stuff, and however far Boston gets, they've made sure it will be fun to watch. Sunday night did that. The pressure of humiliation is off. It a lot of ways, all the pressure is. They've already lost in everyone's minds, so how it be worse when they do it for real? They bottomed out, but they got our pride back with one win. If they take a couple more, we might get our hope too.
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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Typical Disgusting Display

If they were your girlfriend you'd break up with them. If they were your wife you'd seek counseling. If they were your children you'd sell them into slavery. Then you'd buy them yourself and make them do the chores they used to receive allowance for, but not pay them, because hell, they're slaves now. And they'd sleep in the barn. Then, once they accepted that life and decided that existence could get no worse, you'd buy some robots. The robots would start sleeping in their beds and hanging out with their friends. You'd love the robots as if they were your children and you'd treat your old kids as forgotten. Eventually you'd realize that even their work habits were unsatisfactory, and you'd give their responsibilities over to the robots, who of course would excel. It would then become clear that your offspring served no actual purpose and you would have the robots kill them. Quickly and without emotion. There would be no funeral. That's what you'd do if the Red Sox were your children.

The hot topic among Red Sox nation now is how they'll finish this out. A sweep, while seemingly poetic, is too easy. They lose game three and you know it's over, so you don't have to bother anymore. They won't make it that easy. On Friday, weather permitting, Boston will come out like gangbusters. They'll light up Kevin Brown and Arroyo will look like a star. 2-1 in the series, and most of us will jump back on. Wakefield will be just good enough on Saturday and they'll even the series. La di do, dance in the streets. Johnny Damon will say how tough they are and how they always battle back. The Ninth holds its nose. Curt Schilling will be valiant in Game 5, but won't have enough. He'll make it through a couple, but Lowe will need to relieve. The only relief he will provide of course is from needing to predict how the game will turn out. The Sox will lose, Pedro will return to Yankee Stadium in Game 6 and lose again. Because that's how it will hurt the most.

The Boston Red Sox: Where Pessimism and Realism Become Synonyms.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Rigoddamndiculous

There's no crying in baseball....there's no crying in baseball. F that, I'm crying in baseball. The Red Sox finally build the right team, they have the dominant starting pitcher, they're ready to rip through the playoffs -- and the guy gets hurt. He gets bleepin' hurt, pitching in a blowout in the ALDS. Not fighting to advance in a fifth game, not making a valiant play to save a run, not even in the course of the long and trying season. On a fluke ground ball in a game that was already over. I tell you what, it's not fair. This was the guy. Schilling was going to be the right man at the right time in the right place, and the Sox knew it. He knew it. Hell the Official Ninth Cats knew it, and they're always asleep. Curt was the one thing that finally gave Boston an advantage, the perennial underdog at last makes an unseeable raise to take all the Yankee chips....and the guy gets hurt. You tell me how that happens to any other team than the Red Sox and I'll...well, I'll probably tell you to stick it, but I'm in a pretty bad mood. It's just unfathomable. The Yankees have a starting pitcher be mediocre to lousy all year, and he almost throws a no-no in the playoffs - Boston has one put up Cy Young numbers for 162 and he twists his ankle. Of course he does, because God forbid we get one moment of actual pleasure from this ridiculous nonsense. "Would you like a glimpse of happiness, sir?"..."No no, I'll stick with the constant pain thank you. It's treated me quite well." It's no fair I tell you, and if Tom Hanks doesn't like it, he can blow it out his melodramatic rear.

Well that was unpleasant. Not the carefully thought out analysis you (ahem) loyal readers have come to expect from The Ninth. I apologize. But man was that frustrating. Losing a game in New York is not a big problem, in fact, it's expected. Getting blown out, no major. Coming back but not coming back enough, could be worse. But maybe losing Schilling in the process, that's a doozy. There's no way of knowing what state his ankle is actually in. Clearly, as we suggested yesterday, the Sox were not being entirely honest with their injury updates. They won't be now either, so we won't know if Curt is pitching again until he actually steps on the mound. He only threw 58 pitches on Tuesday, so rest will not be a factor. If he's done though, they'll lose. Sorry folks, but it's the realistic truth. I hate it as much as you do, but if Curt can't pitch again, the Sox are in serious trouble. Derek Lowe is a nice substitute, but I think we all know how that song ends.

That being said, it's only been one game. Tonight's matchup is ridiculously lop-sided in Boston's favor. The Red Sox have four regulars with career OPS's of over 1.000 against Jon Lieber. Pedro Martinez might have paternity issues, but if there was one man grinning last night in Boston's dugout, it was Pedey. Yeah, he loves and respects Curt, but this is his team. His stuff doesn't back it up, but you know he believes he's still the #1 here. In his mind he's the go to guy, and I promise you he is delighted by the chance to prove it. Whether he'll be able to or not remains to be seen. But I would not bet against Pedro tonight. In fact, I expect his A game. And if you leave New York 1-1, that's a success. So there's that. It sounds real good in the head, but it's not helping so much in the heart.

Please hold me.
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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

What a Surprise

Two days ago The Ninth was honestly bemoaning another Yankee-Red Sox matchup. Seen it, done it, time for something new. Now I'm so excited I secretly inserted Red Sox player names into important work documents for good luck. And yes, I got caught. I tried to place a bet with The Official Ninth Boss (who owns a prominent national hotel chain) - he asked "how much?", I replied "all you can handle", he looked at me like a crazy person. These games do this to us. No matter how many times we've seen the matchup, we never get tired of it. A few days before, we think we've had enough, then it's upon us and we're lighting furniture on fire for luck. (Sorry mom). It's almost impossible to find an angle on the series. The two teams have played to a Virtual Stalemate (look for it at an arcade near you) over the last two seasons, even down to the last run. We know this is going seven because it always does. There'll be one blow out, one extra inning angioplasty, and one come-from-behind spectacular, because there always is. One starter will over achieve, another will surprisingly fail, because they always do. The events are not going to be new, but the particulars will. We've seen this before, but at the same time, we've never seen anything quite like it. I think somebody stole my pants.

These next two games are of vital importance. There are two things Boston has going for them: better starters and a belief they can win. You look bad the next two days and both of those are out the window. I was talking to a Friend of the Ninth last night and mentioned a common Boston concern: the Red Sox are favorites. Pundits, fans, and gamblers alike are picking the Sox to win, and we don't care for it. We prefer being the underdog. Friend of the Ninth asked a simple and beautiful question in return: "aren't you always the underdog and don't you always lose?". I thought for a second, and then felt like an idiot. Why are we afraid of having the advantage? Every year it's been the same: Red Sox fans believe, everyone else does not, everyone else is right. Now we have finally people standing with us, and all of a sudden we're concerned? This is a good thing. It's better when it looks like you're going to win, because that usually means you do. Of course not always, but take a break from the cross for a few minutes and think about. Isn't it nice when people who understand the sport think Boston is better. Shouldn't that help our chances instead of hurting them? And Sox players believe. This isn't the usual Johnny Damon "any day now we're gonna turn it on" nonsense, it's legitimate confidence and expectation. They don't just believe they can win, they're excited about the chance to do it. Curt Schilling's brilliant quote ("I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up") sums it up perfectly. They believe they can win, and they can't wait for it to happen. God forbid we as fans act the same way.

But as I said, that can all go out the window with a couple of bad starts. Mike Mussina has been deadly against Boston with three regulars posting under .100 BAs, but the most alarming stat is this: 38% of all Red Sox AB's against Mussina have resulted in strike out. That's in the neighborhood of 15 per 9 IP. Yeesh. If Curt's ankle is just a little bit off, and those injury reports are down right Belichickian, there could be a problem. Give New York 2 runs instead of 1, or 3 instead of 2, and Moose could make it hold up. We've seen it before. The first two matchups are distinctly in Boston's favor, but neither are going to be easy. The advantage is not so large that it can't be squandered, it never is against New York. So Schilling and Pedro need to come out and succeed. A little bit of flop and the rare upper hand can be gone with the wind. Damn you, wind. The Sox are fine leaving New York with only one win, but it's important that neither pitcher get clobbered. Their excellence is crucial not only to the outcome of the games but the consistency of the club's confidence. Right now they've got the world thinking they're better, but Tuesday and Wednesday they have to make them believe it.

In closing, I'd like to do what Bill Simmons was too much of a wimp to:
Prediction: Red Sox in 7. Ha.
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Friday, October 08, 2004

Hershey Quick

The Ninth One Patriots vs. Miama: David Givens

No time to tell you why. Just imagine. Blitzing defense that stops the run pretty well. Go watch baseball!
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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Sweep the Leg

Is the Ninth so smart that he can actually see the future? Simply put, yes. I'm not sure I've ever been arrogant enough to quote myself, but last Thursday I wrote the following about Pedro: "wouldn't it make sense that a guy who tries to reserve his best for the late innings would do the same for late (season) games?". Wow. He predicts a revitalized Pedro, and we get a revitalized Pedro. I'm also crackerjack with horoscopes and dog racing. Anyhoots, it's impossible to know if Pedro was actively holding back energy in his late season starts, but Game 2's appearance against the Angels certainly suggests it. He hit 94 or above more times in one game than he seemingly has all year, and had a solid curve and change to match. The only difference between this Pedro and vintage was the drop off in precision. We learned once and for all last night that #45 still has the 95, but it isn't effortless. He was rearing back to get that juice, and his control suffered. The fastball he threw to Guerrero with the bases loaded had mid-90's heat, but he didn't have anything left to guide it to the corner of the plate. It sat fatly, and Vlad turned it around. But that's what MVP's do, and heck, Martinez shouldn't have been in that jam in the first place. The Red Sox are playing so free and loose right now, and with Pedro looking determined to show his mettle, I wouldn't bet against them. They're a confident club right now, and they're in a groove. Watch out.

Attention must be paid to Terry Francona's management last night. An absolutely deft, downright Torreian handling of a crucial game. Game 2, in that situation, was equal to a Game 7. Going up 2-0 with two games coming at Fenway is fat lady territory. Anything that could be done to pull away had to be tried. And to Terry's credit, that's exactly how he managed. In the 7th, with the score tied, Mueller reached on an infield hit. Almost before he can get to first, Roberts is there to pinch run. Would Terry do this so early in the game normally? Losing his best pinch runner, replacing his top 3rd baseman, weakening his defense -- all to try to squeeze one run out in a game that has three full innings left? I would say almost certainly not, but it was the right move here. The fact is, you don't know what's going to happen in the 8th or 9th. One run probably won't be enough and you'll likely regret losing Mueller, but you have to take that chance. The possibility that that one run could put you up by two games is worth the risk. It turned out the Sox scored in the inning, but Roberts wasn't involved. So Francona had spent his speedster and a starter for nothing -- but it was still the right move. As we like to say, just because it failed, doesn't make it wrong.

Terry also managed his bullpen expertly. When Pedro was tiring, he had people up. Once Boston got the lead, Martinez had guys warming behind him. How many times have we seen them wait to give up a baserunner before calling the pen? Not in a big game. Then, once Pedey had gassed his way out of the 7th, and every phone in New England was buzzing with the question of "he won't bring him back out, will he?", Terry made a gutsy call. Yes he would pull Pedro, because that was obvious, but he replaced him with Timlin instead of Myers. Camo Mike had gone two innings the night before, and a lefty seemed the more logical call against left-handed Erstad. But Francona checked his numbers, saw that Darren had a robust .375 OPS against Timlin, and went with it. He also knew that Garret Anderson, up two hitters later, had horrendous numbers against Myers and it was better to save him for that at-bat. So Francona made his moves, and they ended up working, thanks largely to a thrilling Timlin K of Vlad Guerrero (on the replay notice that he cuts the ball instead of sinking it, and that makes all the difference). It seems so obvious and clear now, but most managers wouldn't do that. The Ninth promises. So many skippers would've just defaulted and brought in a lefty for Erstad. Even though every stat they have tells them it's wrong, they would've done it anyway. They either don't have the guts or don't trust their own convictions, but I insist that at least two thirds of major league managers would've called Embree, even though Erstad is 3 for 4 with a home run against him. In the late innings, lefties pitch to lefties and righties pitch to righties, no matter what the stats show. And if Timlin had gotten clocked in the eighth, Terry would've been toasted for it. Why didn't he bring in the lefty, wasn't Timlin tired out, shouldn't he have saved him the night before, yada yada. Francona knew he'd get fired at, and went with his mind anyway. That takes guts, and he gets our kudos. Good work Tito.

A few bullets:

- Several fantastic AB's by Sox batters last night. Manny's sac fly against K-Rod was expertly earned, as was Millar's single before Tek's homer and Trot's RBI in the eighth. Really tough battles against great pitching. Bodes well I tell you.

- What a psychological lift for Boston that they were able to score off Anaheim's vaunted relievers. Should this series get frisky, that'll make a big diff down the road.

- I love that Terry was warming Arroyo in the 8th just in case. Get the W at all costs. This ain't 162.

- Sweep the leg Johnny, sweep the leg.
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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Last Minute Roster News

Williamson off the roster, Youkilis and Leskanic on. Millar hitting fifth at 1st, Kapler starting in right, batting 9th.
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Playoffs!

Remember how you felt last October 1st, the day the ALDS began in Oakland? Thrilled, excited, yes, but also vaguely terrified. The Sox had played a good September, and were ready for a climactic postseason, but there was a feeling of doom around the corner. Boston's flaws were obvious, and with a distinctly tenuous rotation and even less reliable bullpen, the Red Sox could be beat. Their job was to mash the ball, but against the A's that wasn't going to be easy. Fans talked with pride and confidence, but we knew this was no gimme. After Ramon Hernandez dropped a bases-loaded bunt at 2:30 in the morning, it was even less so. This whole wonderful thing really could end in a horribly unwonderful way, and we always sort of knew it. Sooner or later, Boston fans realize that their dreams have very little to do with the ability of their teams, and there isn't much you can do about it. You always fear that those parallel lines of expectation won't meet, and then, later, you understand that to be the unfortunate truth. In 2003, the fear started before Game 1, but the truth part didn't hit until Jorge Posada blooped a ball two weeks later. The question is, do we feel that fear now? Does anyone have that "oh no, how is it going to end this time" sensation? I'll be honest, I don't.

Several months ago The Ninth wrote about the New England Patriots: "It's hard to go all the way, and as we all know, the best team doesn't always win. But the point is, they should." Powerful stuff, I know. Goosebumbs, yes please. My honest evaluation of the Pats last winter was that they were the best football had to offer, and I feel the same way now about the Red Sox. We all know, however, that strange things happen. The Yankees had more juice than the Marlins last year, and they lost. And Boston's advantage on their competitors is a fraction of what New England's was in February. But they are the best. Their rotation is the most qualified (people complain about Wakefield and Arroyo - last year they had John Burkett), their offense is the best in the American League, their defense is reliable and potentially great, and their bullpen is solid. If there is one weakness, it's in that pen, but I'll believe their failure when I see it. Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke have had some problems, but you know what, I think they'll get it done. I can't give you numbers or offer stats (do I ever?), I've just watched them all year and believe in them. The Red Sox have the best team in the league fans, like it or not. We are who we are, so we never stop being afraid, but let's try to enjoy this one. I have a feeling it might be worth it.

Some bullets:

- It's being said everywhere, but the way to beat is Anaheim is by getting ahead early. It makes it harder for them to run, minimalizes the effect of their bullpen, and eases the job on our starters. Boston swept Anaheim in September by taking quick leads. Their starters are bad - do it up.

- Johnny Damon hits Bartolo Colon and no one else. His OPS against Barty Tubs is 1.019, but his number against Escobar, Lackey and Washburn COMBINED is only 1.140. He's 1 of 19 against today's starter. This could be a problem.

- Speaking of Washburn, he's not particularly tough against lefties, but he's gotten ours pretty well. Neither Ortiz, Damon, nor Nixon hit him very well. He is the flyballiest of all pitchers, featuring a heavy reliance on high fastballs. This is not a great matchup for Boston, as most Sox like the ball down. Bill Mueller however could have a field day. Also, Washburn is curiously much worse at home than on the road.

- Vladimir Guerrero can be pitched to - don't listen to what people say. He'll swing at unhittable pitches if you get him in the right count. This is not Barry Bonds.

- Every good postseason team features the unexpected contributions of an unheralded player. Last year it was Todd Walker for the Sox. Who will do it in '04? A lot of people lack creativity and are picking Mark Bellhorn. The Ninth's Choice: Also Mark Bellhorn.

- Manny Ramirez Career, Regular Season: .316/.411/.599
Manny Ramirez Career, Postseason: .232/.332/.473
Ouch.

- We have Curt Schilling, they don't.
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