Friday, May 28, 2004

Check

Look, it's easy to say the Red Sox are good when they're 5 of their last 6. Michael Silverman thinks it's time to stop and smell the roses. Sure, fine, sniff a flower, but this isn't the way it's supposed to work. You don't trash a team when they get swept and vaunt them when they sweep. Two weeks ago the Red Sox were being taken apart for lousy defense and mediocre hitting, and now, seven wins later (5 against Toronto and Tampa Bay) they're going to cruise to the playoffs? If there is any reaction more Bostonian, I'd love to know what it is. They're a team, folks. They will play badly and they will play well. If you're going to continually judge their ability by what happened in the last 5 days then you're going to continually be wrong. Our job as fans, writers, and, dare I say, thinkers, is to take a critical look at this club and try to establish the BIG PICTURE. How are they on the whole, how do we expect them to fare over the long haul, what standards can we reasonably hold them to? Look at the club, think about its strengths and weaknesses, and form a permanent friggin opinion. When they play badly, stick to it. Say, "You know, they stink right now, but they're better than this, they'll turn it around". When they're hot, be aware that they will cool off and eventually find their level. Unless you feel they're aces, and they'll beat everyone (not an unreasonable opinion). But don't just sway with the tides of talk show callers and anecdotal blowouts. That's simple, average, and frankly, sort of boring. If all else fails, remember the great words of one of this country's finest adjuticators, Judge Smails:

It's easy to grin
When your ship comes in
And you've got the stock market beat.
But the man worthwhile,
Is the man who can smile,
When his shorts are too tight in the seat.

Have a good Memorial Day. Go Sox.
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Thursday, May 27, 2004

May 13, 2004

Angela,

I am writing you from what seems to be a facilities closet here at Skydome. I'm not really a technical guy, so I couldn't say for certain, but it sure is noisy and there's a strange electrical box in the corner that is spewing a lot of smoke. It's hard to write without any light, so if my penmanship is a little messy, I apologize. If Mom could see me now!

So I'm sorry that I made a little bit of a scene back there. I really had no idea that the behind homeplate area is restricted to special ticket holders. I just wanted to say "Hi", and explain to you about the garbage thing in person. I really think the security guy was being a jerk, and while I agree that the word "Fascist" wasn't totally appropriate, it wasn't totally not appropriate either. I mean, you're a valued employee, you should be able to have friends visit you at your job, right? I just think someone should have your best interests in mind. If you want, I can talk to him again for you. Once I find a way out of this closet.

How funny was that second security guy who showed up! "Hey man, you can't be down here without a ticket!" Like we hadn't covered that already. And jeez buddy, I'm here with my friend Angela, so why doesn't everyone relax. I really did want to talk with you, but when the third and fourth security person showed up, I figured it was probably better to wait for another time. Don't have to tell me twice. I guess I have a lot to learn about Canadian culture, because I started running just to get back to my seat, but the guys seemed to think I had done something wrong, so they started chasing me. What a mix up! And if there's one thing I've learned it's that when someone starts chasing you, boy is it hard to get them to stop. So I looked and looked for a way to get back to my seat, but they started getting closer so I decided to just duck into this closet for a bit. But the door seems to have locked behind me. And that box is really smoking a lot. I'm sure I'll get out in no time though, and maybe we can grab those chicken fingers we were talking about?

Hey, I think I just found a light switch. Oh, gotta go now.

TN
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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Injury Train A Rollin'

Bill Mueller is getting his knee scoped, out 6 weeks. So, in typical Red Sox fashion, he should be back on the field just in time for Shrek 3. Andy Dominique has been called up. It will be interesting to see what Youkilis can do with consistent playing time, and a few scouts have rumbled about The Dominator having major league ability. Unfortunately, he's consistently left his glove in San Francisco. Not sure where he fits on a major league diamond other than at pitch hitter and DH. But, with Millar having only 12 more RBI's than I do, that might not be a bad thing. Guess we know now who sits between Bellhorn and Reese when Nomar comes back. Neither.
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Monday, May 24, 2004

Nine By Nine, 05.23.04

Sorry about Friday and the lateness today. Sometimes fake day jobs don't realize they are so.

1. Hey everybody, yesterday was Vermont Day at Fenway Park! Let's celebrate Vermont, the home of outlet stores (wait, that's Maine), Mount Washington (sorry, that's New Hampshire), and inbreeding (also New Hampshire). Syrup, maple syrup. That's Vermont. What goes better with several hours of athletic competition than some warm, sugary tree sap? Get those hotcakes ready boys, it's Vermont day! Why are we doing this again?

2. Ok, as we discussed, the Sox have already taken the first two, so we're going to be satisfied if they don't sweep, right? Sweeps are tough to pull off, and are above reasonable expectations, right? We're not gonna cry if we lose, agreed? Oh look, we won! Thank God.

3. Johnny Damon, a historically slow starter, has had a very nice beginning to the season. Not quite as good as his first year in Boston, but easily the second best start he's had since leaving the Royals. What happened to that Johnny Damon, the guy who sprayed line drives all over the park and had an OPS over .850, we may never know. But remember, that guy couldn't play much centerfield. This one can.

4. Kevin Youkilis' batting stance = Shea Hillenbrand's stance. I'm serious. It's creepy. Ok, maybe that doesn't really count as creepy.

5. Mark The Ninth's Words: Bronson Arroyo's 8 inning shutout of Toronto will be viewed as a turning point for this team. Since then, Boston is 6-2, has outscored its opponents 50-20, and has made only two errors. Yeah they've played bad clubs, but they've been at a higher level. Slick, confident play. All started by Charles Bronson Arroyo.

6. In the bottom of the third, Miguel Batista had given up 6 runs, thrown 90 pitches, and still had a runner on 2nd -- a delicious deli sandwich known as the Wes Gardner. Good for him. But the crazy thing is, only after the sixth run score did Carlos Tosca get anyone up. The game is already over Carlos. You might as well leave Batista in there at this point. Why don't you pull him when you know he does have it and give yourself a chance to win the game? Managers don't do this enough. If you have a non-premier pitcher going, the kind of guy who can fight his way out of trouble, and he clearly has no stuff, pull him early and give your team a prayer. Sure it hurts your bullpen, but chances are you're gonna up yanking him before the sixth anyway. If you're gonna juice your long man, you might as well do it when it counts.

7. Timlin threw two changeups to Carlos Delgado yesterday, and I don't think I've ever seen him throw even one. Carlos, for the record, swung and missed at both.

8. In the 8th inning, with a 7-2 advantage, Francona went to Timlin for an 1.3 innings, which is otherwise known as "too much". As the 9th began, he had Foulke warming up. Why? In case Josh Phelps hit a 3 run homer with no one on? And why does Terry keep doing this? This is Jamie Brown, Everyday Lenny Dinardo territory. Big lead, bad team, closers no throw. Things got tight after Timlin retired Phelps to start the 9th, so Francs went to Embree to get the last two outs. Phew. At this rate Boston will have three different relievers with over sixty appearances. Not the end of the world, but quite strange.

9. The site has been going very well lately, and I want to thank all you regulars for the loyal traffic. Every little bit counts. We've had some great links and hits have been on the up and up. As always, any questions, reactions, or requests you might have, hit me with an email. And if you can drop the link to a few of your buddies, hey, that'd be great too. Seacrest out.
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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Blogger Sucks

Thanks for the free service Blogger, but you just ate my whole damn post. Gone. In the trash can, and it was good too. So don't change your interface until it works right you jerks.

Because there's no way I'm typing that again, here's a quick run down.

1. Pokey is a better fielder than Nomar. Sad but true.

2. Rob Bell = Chris Parnell, figure out why on your own.

3. Todd Walker Guy now heckles Mark Bellhorn. Sox fans aren't Classy, make own connection.

4. Zimmer lives 15 minutes from the ball park and 15 minutes from the track. How nice.

5. Schilling wanted a perfect game last night.

6. Foulke's the best Sox closer ever. Or is he? Mysterious, hu?

7. Wow Dick Radatz was good. Seriously, check out his stats. Write your own column about it. Just don't do it on Blogger, because they'll lose it.

8. Francona should've gone with DiNardo instead of Embree.

9. Oh I don't even remember.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

May 11, 2004

Dear Angela,

Please don't get angry. I know that it was weird of me to show up outside your building. Let me explain. I stopped by Skydome to pre-locate some good parking for the games, and I talked with Terry in custodial services (what a character!) who turned out to be really nice. I know people say that about Canada all the time, that everyone's really nice, but I have to say that everyone's really nice. And anyway, Terry seemed to have plenty of time to chat, so we got to talking about things, and eventually you came up. He told me your name, and said you were quite beautiful. I didn't think that was really appropriate of Terry to say, but at the same time I had to agree. We talked a little about concessions, the Blue Jays, even the custodial arts, but it turned out that Terry was sort of long-winded. I told him I had to get going then asked for your address, but he couldn't provide it, and we got into a bit of an argument. Turns out Terry isn't that nice.

But he did give me your name, which I thanked him for, and thought perhaps I would look you up. I went to the phone booth where I've been storing a few of my things and flipped through the Toronto phone book. There you were: Angela Worth -- 374 Dundas Street, 416-739-6272. Amazing to see you in black and white. I guess it's actually black and yellow. LOL. You live right near this great stationery store I wanted to check out, so I figure'd I'd just drive by and see your place. I wasn't going to honk or waive or anything, just wanted to get a feel for the neighborhood, but right as I passed by I noticed a little raccoon knock over one of your trash cans. What a rascal. So I figured I'd be a pal and pull over and tidy it up for you, which is, of course, what you saw when you drove up.

It was really great to finally come in contact with you, and I felt like even though we haven't officially met, there was a spark. I know I must have looked a little funny standing there messing with your garbage, and I could tell by the way you shouted "dirty hobo" that you got the joke too. Of course I'm not a hobo, I'm your pal-to-be, T.N.! I'm sorry if I wasn't able to pick up all of the rubbish, but your dog seemed really angry, so I thought it would be best to mosey on. Anyway, it was really exciting to see you and exchange words, and I'm looking even more forward to Thursday than before. Just send me that email (topofninth@yahoo.com) and we can figure out a place to meet before the game. This time, I'll bring the garbage! Just kidding. Ok Angela, talk soon.

Friends,

T.N.
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May 10, 2004

Dear Toronto Behind Home Plate Waitress,

Hey, it's T.N. again. Just wanted to let you know that I arrived in town a little earlier than expected. I got into a big fight with my Mom about the car, so I just had to bust out of there right away. Don't worry, it's no big deal, we can still drive around, we just shouldn't eat, or drink, or smoke in the car. Or carry heavy stuff. You know how it is. If you need to carry heavy stuff, we can figure something out.

Anyway, I haven't gotten any emails from you, so you probably sent a letter to my Boston house that's sitting there now, while I'm here. Uh oh! Don't worry, I'll read it when I get back, unless my Mom sees it and confiscates it. She's always confiscating my stuff. If you need it again, my email is topofninth@yahoo.com. It's a free account.

So I'll probably just spend a few days seeing the sights with my extra time. I understand Toronto has a great Aerospace museum, and that there is almost no chance of getting SARS, so I'm looking forward to having a look around. If you have any recommendations for cheap hotels, please let me know, because I'm high and dry for a few days. I didn't plan on coming this early, so I don't have much reserved. I'll have to really make those vacation dollars stretch!

I noticed the Blue Jays are on the road too, maybe you're off work? Or do you have a second job? Even if you don't have time to write a full response, just send me a quick email (address above) with your name so I'll know what to call you when we meet. Gotta run now, my blueberry is beeping, maybe it's you!!

Sincerely,

T.N.

p.s.: It wasn't you
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Monday, May 17, 2004

May 7, 2004

Dear Toronto Behind Home Plate Waitress,

Hello, how are you doing? I bet you're good. I am feeling pretty well myself. Although I am definitely looking forward to letting off a little steam this weekend. Are you? I hear that Toronto is kind of boring, but you probably know the hidden cool places that us out-of-towners have never heard of. Like where to get good chicken fingers and stuff. Do you like chicken fingers?

Before we get too personal, you're probably wondering who I am. My proper name is The Ninth, but you can call me T.N. which is a nickname a lot of my pals use. I know we aren't pals yet, but I think it's good to start on the right foot. My mom always said, "start off on the wrong foot, and you'll end on a worse one", which is weird because I think it means you have to have three feet, but it's been an important lesson all the same. So you can call me T.N., what should I call you?

Anyway, so much small talk! I have been a big fan of yours for a long time, and I felt like we probably would definitely hit it off, so I thought I should drop you a note. I know that sometimes people will just walk up to you and say "Hi!", or visit your house at weird hours, but I am not them and I wouldn't do that. I understand that being on TV a lot, you're in the public eye and can't just be nice to everyone. I'm that way too, and I think we would understand each other. You see, I write a popular internet webblog about sports, so I get a lot of letters too. I know it's not easy to answer all of them, so I'm not angry that you haven't written back to my other mailings. I know you read them, and that's what matters.

So I was planning on heading up to Toronto for next weekend's Red Sox series, and thought I would let you know in advance. I'm from Boston and I've always wanted to see the big Skydome, so I'm gonna borrow my Mom's Cutlass and do the drive. What a trip! I'll be getting in Wednesday night so if you want to maybe grab a drink or chicken fingers or something, that could be fun. But if you're busy I can just wait to meet you at the game. I'm really looking forward to seeing where you work and what that luxury box is like in person. I like how you have it set up, with drinks on your left and hot dogs on your right. I've thought about it and it's really the best way to do it. Anyway, these are things we can talk about it in person. If you want to get in touch with me, just email me at topofninth@yahoo.com. I'll be checking it on my blueberry every hour or so. I'm really looking forward to hearing from you, and I can't believe we're gonna see each other so soon.

Bye For Now, Your Pal (Soon)

TN
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Friday, May 14, 2004

Buffalo Springfield

Alright gang, what's going on here? In May, the Red Sox have 5 wins. In 14 games. That's 5-9, against teams that can be most generously described as "worse than we are". Texas, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Toronto -- they have handed Boston a .357 winning percentage this month. That's Tampa Bay baseball folks, and that's a lot what it's looked like. They've lost to Chad Durbin, Joaquin Benoit, and Erasmo Ramirez; they've given up homers to David Dellucci, Kelly Stinnett, and Tim Laker; they've made 13 errors. What makes that last fact particularly alarming is that it's not an aberration, it's part of a trend. The Sox have made 33 errors in 35 games this season, and that's been with an "improved" fielding roster. While defense winning championships has always been an over-mentioned credo (name me one team that did it in the last 20 years), it can make life awfully hard for your pitchers. What if the league suggested that Boston select one inning per game to give its opponent four outs instead of three? Just as a gift. They'd say nay nay of course, because that's, you know, ridiculous, but that's what their defense has amounted to. And the pitching has had to cover for it, which is now beginning to show. A sub-par outing from a starter here, an over-worked reliever there, and games get quickly out of hand. The offense is missing two stars and one crucial role player, which has resulted in far more AB's for McCarty, Bellhorn, Kapler, and Crespo than God ever intended, and the team just isn't able to come back like they used to. So what do they do now? Just wait.

This is the thing about baseball, and every year fans forget it: it's a long season. It's cliche and it's annoying and you've heard it a hundred times, but just once, you should listen: it's a long season. There are 162 games and the Red Sox have played 35 of them, which is about 1/5th. When you finish Monday, you're 1/5th of the way through the work week. Do you feel like you're almost done? Uh uh. On March 13th, we were 1/5th of the way through the year. When you chew one piece of gum, you're done with 1/5th of the pack. You see where I'm going with this, it's a small portion. As Rickey Henderson would say, 1/5th isn't nothing. And, all in all, it's been a successful portion. The Sox are still five games above .500 and have just fallen out of first place for the first time in a long while. A lot of hay has been made on the internet boards about removing Boston's impressive 6-1 record against New York and getting a .500 team. Well, that's a nice stat, and it's interesting to think about, but guess what, it doesn't mean anything. You can't just take away games, they happened, they count, and Boston won most of them. If you take away the first 5 games in May, they're tied for the best record in baseball. Does that mean anything? Nope. Now I'm not going to argue that they have been playing good ball or that there aren't several issues of legitimate concern. The defense, as we mentioned earlier, has been horrid. The inconsistent offense from Millar and Mueller doesn't look like it's going away, and the club as a whole does seem a bit lacking in the focus/energy department. These are problems that have lasted most of the season and would rightfully worry me if I ran the club. But, also under the somewhat ridiculous supposition that I were the GM, I would step back and say 1)these are not bad defenders, they should play better, 2)We expected Mueller to decline a bit, and Burks, Nomar, and Trot will return soon, and 3)Not much I can do about perception of intangibles like "focus/energy". These players are not playing well, that is absolutely true, and the Sox should have two or three more wins. But they are good players. Sooner or later, they'll show it. Every team will go through a down streak, and it's a heck of a lot better to do it in May than in August. We just have to hope that this is the only down streak, that they won't drop 5 unnecessary games each month, and we're not sure about that yet. Maybe they have odd fits of losing every now and again, and it ends up costing them a trip to somewhere better. Could be, and that would really stink. But right now, we don't know anything about that. We know that the Sox have had a lousy few weeks, and if we think about it long enough we realize that good teams always do. But it ain't fun. I hate watching them now, I hate writing notes about them, I hate giving them my time. I don't worry too much though, and neither should you. For now I just wait for the day when they play the way they can, which I know will come. And how do I know that? Because it's a long season.
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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Fasty Fast Nine by Nine, 05.19.04

Some quick hits for ya:

1. Daubach needs to be playing everyday. When he's hot, he's money in the bank, and right now he's swinging it. Lefties have hurt his playing time, but when he's going like this he can hit them. Get Dauber in there, Terry!

2. Have you ever seen the Red Sox attempt this many pickoffs at 2b in two weeks, must less a whole season? And is part of the design to have the ball fly into centerfield? Because that's happening a lot. How 'bout we work this one out in practice before we bring it to the field.

3. The Red Sox are really catching Cleveland at the wrong time. Mark The Ninth, in two months the Indians are going to stink and we'll be shocked about these games. This unbalanced schedule plays somewhat like that of the NFL, it's not just who you play, but when you play 'em. Just ask the Bills. In August some team is going to be real happy to see Cleveland on their schedule, but it's not gonna be the Sox.

4. Pokey Reese has changed his stance, but The Ninth can't totally pinpoint the difference. Any sharp eyes out there, please advise. I believe he's closed up a bit and is in less of a crouch, but I'm not certain. Hard to compare when I spent the first two weeks watching him with a bag over my head.

5. They don't call him Doubling Doug Mirabelli for nothing.

6. Bill Belichick was walking around Fenway last night, getting a standing O wherever he went. My, how things have changed. Imagine him walking around old Cleveland Stadium when he coached the Browns? They would've set him on fire.

7. Very interesting piece by Thomas Boswell on the Orioles bullpen strategy. Requires free registration, but it's worth a second. Baltimore is applauding themselves for a bold new initiative called "using your best reliever first." Their starter gets in trouble, they bring in Rodrigo Lopez. When he's tired, BJ Ryan. After him, maybe Rick Bauer, maybe Buddy Groom. Matchups and situations are ignored, it's simply the best guy who isn't tired pitches. Baltimore GM Mike Flanagan is proud of himself, and, to be fair, the Orioles are getting much better results out of a mediocre staff than you'd expect. Attention must be paid. The Ninth suggests however that this may have more to do with Lopez, Ryan, and closer Jorge Julio pitching far better than they ever have before, and, in all likelihood, ever will again. The O's have four relievers with ERA's under 2, and Lopez's is 0.36. Great numbers, but from pitchers like these, it seems more like a fluke than a brilliant new idea. Seems to ol' skeptical me that after a few months, their arms will be tired, their confidence will sink a bit, and they will, as the old song goes, regress to the mean. End of idea. But maybe, in fact hopefully, I'm wrong. New ideas are always a good thing, and it's nice to see people trying creative things.

8. I'm all out of love.

9. No, seriously, that's all I got. Oh, if you haven't read this already, Jackie MacMullan has a great piece on Bk Kim. Some interesting quotes here, especially from Damon.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

54-40 Or Fight

Why is that the title? No idea. Only saw the last few innings last night, so no 9x9, but boy was that a fun one. I actually woke up this morning forgetting that the Sox had rallied back, and had that annoying "oh great, the papers are going to stink today" feeling in my stomach. Then I remembered the wildly improbable Dave McCarty triple that won the game and hopped right out of bed. By hopped, I mean fell. And how about that Ortiz home run? Holy stromboli. The comeback win is by far the most exciting thing in sports, and baseball is the sport most prone to such a result. When football or basketball teams are separated by a few points, it's understood that either team could easily win, but not in baseball. If it's the 7th inning and you're down by two, chances are, you're losing. It's more akin to a 10 point 4th quarter rally, but even that's not as thrilling. Perhaps because an entire baseball comeback can be crystallized into one standing event - such as the McCarty triple - the return has more weight? We can watch an at-bat and say confidently "well, this is the game", and one way or the other, we're probably right. Unless of course we're watching Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and improbably the "game" at-bat happens over and over because Grady Little refuses to lift his starting pitcher. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, you don't really have that with the roundball or the footedball. Unless leads are huge, baseball comebacks aren't gradual, they're sudden. And wonderful. Sudden and wonderful.

Tim Wakefield going tonight for the all-important 2 of 3. Wake, who is having a somewhat unheralded great year, is the focus of a New Yorker piece this week about the plight of the knuckleball. There is also mention of Sox prospect Charles Zink, who is quite a butterflier himself. It's not available on-line, so you'll have to buy the mag, but it's, you know, a pretty good magazine. Also, there's a solid Q&A on-line with the author.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Three by Nine, 05.11.04

We're only gonna talk about three things today, because there are a couple of issues of larger interest and I want to give them some room. Also, actual employment calls.

1. No one is saying this, but they are being hasty with Byung-Hyun Kim. It's not right to rush a guy back from the disabled list, skip one rehab start that is meant to get his velocity up, and then, after two bad performances, send him to the bullpen. Because his velocity isn't good enough! He had two bad starts, big deal. He did have one good one. Bronson Golden Boy Arroyo has had two bad ones and two good ones, and we're tripping over the ottoman to get him back into the rotation? Unless the Red Sox know something they aren't telling us, it's impossible to evaluate where Kim exactly is at at this point. There are bad signs: velocity, control, attitude, attention -- ok, that's a lot of things. But they've allowed him 11 innings. Is that a real chance? He's coming back from a shoulder injury, and his mechanics are obviously off. The pause The Ninth noted he added to his windup in his second start was gone last night, so he's trying some stuff out. But not, the Red Sox have said, on our watch. We've gotta win games, and we don't have time to mess around. That's understandable, and in certain instances, it's the way to go. But sometimes you have to make a present investment on future gains, and a 100% BK Kim is much more valuable than an optimized Arroyo. It just is. If this is wake-up call for Kim, then so be it, but if Boston just doesn't think he has it, then they're not really giving him a chance.

2. And while we're being wildly controversial, what about Manny? Ortiz claimed that the hardest thing about obtaining your citizenship is getting the appointment, and that when it's granted you better show up. If that's true, then giddy-up and go, Manny. Becoming a U.S. citizen is a very important thing for people and a day off is ok if absolutely necessary. Accent on the abs nes. The Ninth can't help but wonder however whether Manny couldn't have done this, say, over the All-Star break? Or in the offseason? Maybe he couldn't, and then, such is life. I don't really know. But my instinct says a little "I'm a professional baseball player and I hit home run far" phone call could've gotten this puppy pushed back.

3. In Yesterday's 9x9, we talked about swinging on 3-0. Check it out if you haven't already. Interestingly though, last night's game had some great examples of good and, well, mostly bad 3-0 approach. The Ninth estimates that about 50% of major leaguers never swing with three balls, no strikes. For Sox fans, probably most famous for this was Wade Boggs. He just wouldn't do it, and was quite proud of it (as he was of most things). It's not a bad idea, but once you put on that on your tomsbstone, pitchers know they can get away with a lot of nonsense. Throw the guy a batting practice fastball right down the chute, and he won't touch it. The reason you're at the plate in the first place is to find a ball to drive, so it's a little silly to just let one pass because of the count. But it made Wade uncomfortable, or he thought it was bad baseball, so he refused. Or, perhaps most likely, Boggs knew it was a slippery slope.

The key on swinging 3-0 is to do it only on a pitch you know you can hammer. As we said yesterday, because you're very close to getting a free walk to first, you need to feel like swinging will get you to second to make it worth the risk. That can be a reasonable assertion on certain pitches for certain hitters. But what Boggs and many other hitters understood is that once you open the door to a "perfect" hitter's pitch, it's a lot of easier to go after a "good" hitter's pitch. You see something nice, and yeah, it's a little up, and maybe its movement is a shade odd, but you can probably nail it, so why not give it a go? Then all of a sudden you've popped it up, you're out, and you've talked yourself out of a great hitter's count. If you're not very disciplined it's easy to convince yourself to swing away, and for some players it's better to just remove the option.

This is what we saw last night. Red Sox hitters, especially those with power have had the green light on 3-0 all season, and have done some damage. Both Mirabelli and Ramirez have homered on said count, and several others have gone for extra bases. Last night Brian Daubach had runners on second and third, one out, and a 3-0 count. Jeff D'Amico was still pitching, and Dauber had good reason to hope for something tasty. For him, that would likely be low and in, or right down broadway, and it would be reasonable for him to swing at either of those pitches. But he didn't. Daubach got a fastball away, perhaps even outside, and rifled it off the monster for two runs. Good result, bad idea. Sure, he was successful this time around, but he will not drive that pitch more often that not, and going for it shows he was too anxious in the count. Over the long haul, this approach will not suit him. Even worse, because he doubled now, he'll be even more eager in the future. Not good. Dave McCarty, in the same inning, displayed this exact problem. He took a hack 3-0 on a ball that wasn't even in the strike zone. McCarty shouldn't be swinging in the first place, he's just not that caliber of player, and to do it on a bad pitch exacerbates the problem. Some guys are just better off playing for the walk, Dave McCarty has "some guys" written all over him. The Red Sox have knocked the ball around this year on 3-0, and it's something they should keep after, but Francona needs to pick his spots. Manny, Nomar, Nixon, Ortiz, ok -- everyone else, prove you can handle it before you go slugging. Even though he was one looney tune, Wade Boggs knew his hitting.
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Monday, May 10, 2004

Nine By Nine, 05.09.04

1. Yesterday was one of those games where you finish up at about 5pm and you think, "I spent my Sunday watching that crap?". A good battle for a while, but when the Sox gave it up they gave it up big time, and it was never really fun after that. Yawn. But keep in mind, they were playing for a series sweep. It's not easy to sweep. The goal for every series should be 2 out of 3. You take 2 out of every 3 games, you go .667, you win 108 games, you make Yankees cry. They took their 2, so even though Sunday stunk, mission was accomplished.

2. Just for the record, this is exactly what Derek Lowe looked like last year. Messy mechanics leading to inconsistent control, causing mediocre outings. In 2003, it was supposedly residue from his skin cancer lay off, but this year he had a full spring. Lowe needs people to swing, he's not going to paint the corners and freeze the hitter. If he can't get his ball over reliably, batters won't take chances. It took him until after the all-star break last year to sort this out. What's the problem now, hu?

3. You know Jimy Williams sits Pokey Reese yesterday. "Hey kid, good game Saturday, you're getting hot, how 'bout a day off?"

4. The ol' neighborhood call. In the top of the third, Reese stepped off the bag too early and Umpire Joe West called the runner safe. Pokey insists he stayed on long enough, but he's wrong, he was definitely off. Of course this doesn't really matter 98% of the time, but today Joe decided to take the rule seriously. If a fielder is around the bag at the time of the throw the umpire usually allows them the out, and it's sort of unfair to pull the rug out on occasion. The Ninth is all for calling the rule book as written, but then you've got to do it all the time, Joseph. I can't say for certain, but something tells me you don't do that. The players need to know what to expect.

5. In the 6th inning, Carlos "Pinstripes" Beltran won the game for the Royals with a bases-loaded double. In the 3rd however, he made an odd choice. Trailing Boston 2-0, Beltran had runners on first and second, one out, and worked the count to 3-0. Carlos is by far the Royals best hitter, and sort of has to produce in such situations if Kansas City is going to win. Most often, hitters never swing 3-0, but that's sort of silly. If you see a pitch that you're likely to hit for extra bases, you might as well give it a hack, that is why you're carrying a bat after all. The Red Sox have been doing that lately, and The Ninth has been pleased (I'm sure they're comforted). But you should only swing if you see that fat pitch. 3-0 is so close to a walk, and you'll almost certainly get as good a pitch on 3-1, so unless you're gonna hit a double, hold up. Beltran however, perhaps feeling a sense responsibility, went a wandering on 3-0 and swung at a low and away sinker, grounding out to first. Moved the hitters over, but bases loaded with one out would've been a lot better than second and third and two. That's why some players don't swing 3-0. It's easy to get carried away.

6. With nobody out in the 6th, Tony Pena had Aaron Guiel bunt Joe Randa to second. Great way to kill a rally Tony. The cardinal sin here though is that Guiel was hitting 6th, so Pena was depending on the bottom of his order to drive the run in. Never bunt to the bottom of the order. It makes no sense. If you don't think Guiel is good enough to get a hit and advance the runner, why would you expect Santiago or Relaford to do it?

7. Again, in the 6th. Game's decisive at-bat: Beltran vs. Malaska, bases loaded, 2 out. Malaska battled to a full count, but got fastball happy. Either the pitcher or the catcher doesn't trust his offspeed stuff, because Mark had Beltran set up perfectly for his curve. A nice big looper would've caught him off balance, but someone wasn't confident he could throw it for a strike. Malaska stuck with the heat, Beltran doubled to left, and three Royal gentleman pranced home. TMQ writes the words "Game Over" in his notebook.

8. In the next half inning, the Sox had their chances. It can really soften the blow of falling behind big (in this case, 4 runs) if you can get one or two back the next inning. It seems to shift momentum back your way, even if you're still trailing. They had first and second with one out, bases loaded with two outs, but couldn't punch anything through. After failing there, the next three innings were sort of academic.

9. The Ninth has gotten on Pokey pretty hard, so it's only fair to offer up a hardy congratulations for a great weekend of both hitting and glove work. He's a lovable guy for sure, and if he can hit anywhere above .260, well both he and Papa Jack deserve a fine gift this holiday season.
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Friday, May 07, 2004

Missed It

Sorry gang, The Ninth was out socializing last night, missed the game. There seem to have been interesting developments however, the greatest of which is Millar and Bellhorn hitting. Any offense from the non-Ortizzle-Manny-Tek group will make a huge difference 'til this team is healthy. Every Pedro start from here on in isn't going to be viewed as a statement on his contract, is it? Yeah, it probably is. Oy.
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Thursday, May 06, 2004

Nine by Nine, 05.05.04

1. In Karen Guregian's editorial this morning, she suggests "as former talk show host Arsenio Hall might say, Pedro's got to 'get busy' ". Hu? You're allowed to quote Arsenio Hall? In a newspaper? I think this is Karen's idea of a little "personal flair", but I mean, come on. What was her editor thinking? "Oh, looks like Guregian made an Arsenio reference in her article. Again. Well... it doesn't really have anything to do with her argument, it's not very funny, and it feels altogether out of place. Yeah, I think I'll leave it in." The Ninth rubs its eyes wearily.

2. It seems like there is a small difference in Byung-Hyun Kim's windup. After he brings his hands down to his belt, he has added a pause. If he makes it too long it would be balk, but now it's just sort of a delay. Is it meant to throw off a hitter's timing, or give a second chance to focus in on the strike zone? Frankly, no idea. Interesting to note however. At least to me.

3. It is very important to play with confidence. It's a truism for life, but in this case, it works for baseball. When players believe they will be successful, things tend to go better. Not because of some psychological, metaphysical jumbo mumbo, but because they can let their own talent take over. When you're worried about screwing up, you're stiff. You don't want to make a mistake, you're cautious, and you play conservatively. It sounds like blabber, but think about it in your own life. Say you're trying to talk to a fine lady, do you succeed when you're worried about saying something dumb, or when you don't really give a care? Fine ladies like those who don't give cares. When players trust their own abilities and believe that eventually, much like a fine lady, the game will come to them, they're usually right. It's not a stat, or even a fact, just a belief. BK Kim, very often, lacks confidence. You can see it in his face. You can almost tell when he's going to implode because he just looks like failure. His face has this "rather be hiding" thing going on, and his pitches are coming out stiff and underthrown. He believes that sooner or later he's going to screw up, or he's afraid that he will, and it brings his play down. Kim is still very young, and when things aren't going his way, that's clear to see. He's 24, pitching in a weird country with a very demanding team. That's a concern. Unless he can address things mentally, The Ninth fears the worst.

4. Indians second baseman Ronnie Belliard plays an alarmingly deep second base, which is more akin to a short right field, being about 10-15 paces behind the standard position. He claims to have learned this from former Indian Robbie Alomar. Did he also learn how to decline in skill long before expected? Or maybe Robbie taught him how to spit on umpires? How about having Hall of Fame talent but being passed around the league like a stinky potato? Just wondering.

That was oddly caustic.

5. Bill Mueller got moved back to the eight hole two days ago, and he's had a couple of good days. Billy of course spent the majority of his batting title season in the same slot, and had great success. Could it be that he actually hits better when his name appears lower on a piece of paper? Rob Neyer, noted columnist and skeptic, is fond of saying that offense is more a question of who is in a batting order than where they are, and that certainly seems logical. Other than higher hitters receiving more at-bats, it's difficult to mathematically explain how a hitter's place in a lineup could directly effect their performance in any way. But it does seem to happen with some players. Curious. Let's see how Mueller does if left at 8 for a prolonged period.

6. If you can't bust your slump against Jeff D'Amico, then you can't bust your slump. The Ninth bets dollars to donuts however that the o-ffense looks weak again this eve. Hope I'm wrong, but one bad pitcher is still just one bad pitcher.

7. In the bottom of the eighth, Jerry Remy, for some odd reason, decided to man the tv camera that had been in he and Doughnuts' booth for the series. It was a funny enough bit, complete with screw ups, mis-haps, and witty banter. It was a little annoying when actual events happened in the game and Jerry was expected to capture them on camera, but it was a good time in all. Throughout the experience, Orsillo was getting on Jerry pretty good, offering unwelcome critiques and analysis, but Remy was oddly quiet, apparently concentrating on his task. When Remy got off the camera however, oh did things change. "You know I've never done this before, Don!". "You were busting on me hard for a full half inning!". "I'd like to see you try to zoom in!". It had that awkward tone of sort of joking, and Orsillo tried to laugh over it, but Jerry wasn't doing any joking. It's that kind of thing where you happen to accidentally find something your buddy is really sensitive about and it's sort creepy..."hey man, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were so serious about tuna fish. I won't bring it up again." And you try to laugh, and they try to seem not angry, but you both know that really, they're angry. And it's weird. That's what it was like. On national tv. Awesome.

8. Tony Cloninger has been BK Kim's roaving pitching instructor throughout his rehabilitation. A 400 pound Southerner and a tiny Korean man driving around the northeast in a rental car, going from ballpark to ballpark. How do you explain that at a road block? NBC, I know you have an opening in your schedule....

9. Eh, the ninth note is overrated anyway.
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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Nope.

I'm not writing about this crap.
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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Uch

Look, I don't want to write about them anymore than you want to read it. Remember what the Red Sox were like before they signed Manny Ramirez? Two full seasons of Scott Hatteberg, Troy O'Leary, and Bernard Gilkey swinging and missing with men on base. Familiar, hu? Remember when Rico Brogna was a big addition to the offense? The thing about not being able to hit is you're okay until you realize it. Hitters have good stretches and bad ones, and they'll essentially work themselves out unless they get in their own way. The trouble comes when a player figures out he's in a bad stretch and decides to go about fixing it. That's when people start pressing, and boy are the Red Sox pressing right now. The patient at-bats are disappearing, no one is going the other way, and productive outs are few and far between. Obviously this a group capable of hitting with runners on base, but recently they've been striking out, popping out, grounding out, seemingly whatever result will assure them of not advancing a teammate. When was it more evident than last night, where nearly every inning if a fly ball would've scored a run they'd grounded out, or if an infield hit was needed they'd K? When a hitter decides he MUST stop the slump at that moment, he often only slumps further. He has trouble taking what a pitcher offers, and tries to force his skills onto the at-bat. Watch Kevin Millar tonight. He's a pull hitter for certain, but nothing gets him into more trouble than trying to pull. Right now he's opening up his front side and jerking everything over with him. He's not hitting so he goes up there thinking "maybe if I can just homer once, I'll get myself out of this." So Kevin sees an outside slider, thinks maybe he can flip it out, and flies open. Groundball to third. If he just relaxed and let himself be, he'd push the ball over the second baseman's head for a single. But at the moment he's having trouble with it. As are most of the Red Sox. So for a few more days at least, we'll have to endure stellar performances from mediocre opponents. There will be no trades and Trot and Nomar are still a bit away, so this group will have to fix its own problems. They'll do it, but for the sake of those who have to watch this every night, let it be soon.
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Monday, May 03, 2004

Nine by Nine, 05.02.04

1. I don't blame Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, I really don't. They do a lot of games, both locally and nationally, and are expected to know a great deal about many players. Why however some producer, director, or silly intern can't write down and hand them a note that says "Tim Wakefield throws a curveball", I will never know. How many times do they have to remark "wow, that knuckler really looked a curve" before they consider the earth-shattering possibility than it actually is a curve? It's in the scouting report, I promise you. Seriously though, Jon and Joe are expected to know a lot, somebody help 'em out a bit.

2. In the 4th, Johnny Damon played an uncatchable, no-out single into a shutout-busting, soon-to-be-run-scoring triple. This is, for you fans calculating disappointment at home, the third time he's done that this season. To be fair, the other two were in Toronto and came largely due to the turf bounce, but this one was inexcusable. As Joe Morgan rightfully pointed out (it could happen), a single with nobody out is no biggy, but a triple is a disaster. When Damon dove he was several feet from the ball. It was a dumb play -- a problem for a player who is increasingly more valuable in the field than at the plate.

3. The Ninth's opinions on Pedro and his contract status are fairly well documented, but he brought it up again, so we'll say a quick word. It's a lot harder to hold a team hostage with your salary demands when the general public trusts the people running the show. Martinez's goal in going to the press with his contract frustration, no doubt, was to initiate a campaign of public outrage. The hope was that Sox fans would feel he was being cheated, turn on Theo and Larry, and put on the heat for more money. Problem is, we're on their side. Much like Bill Belichick, Epstein has made a lot of good moves lately, and we'll happily defer to his opinion. Were this a ladder-day Dan Duquette or a happily-lunching Lou Gorman, it might've worked. But Theo has New England's ear, and he's likely to keep it.

4. R.A. Dickey was sharp, no question. His stuff was good and his control was better, and that can make life difficult. But the Red Sox have faced better pitchers this year and still come up with runs. The problem here? Pitch count. Boston has been expert this season at getting starters deep into the 50's and 60's early in the game. Last night however, they were too anxious, and let Dickey play his game. In the 5th, 6th, and 7th they saw a total of 27 pitches. That's no way to get a guy out of the game.

5. I don't like to be crass, but judging by the quantity of Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis commercials last night, there
may be a causative relationship between baseball and uncooperative genitalia.

6. Johnny Damon did it again, in the 8th inning. Down 2-0, with only one three more outs on their side, Damon misplayed a carom of a Michael Young double and overthrew the cut-off man, putting Young at third with, say it with me, nobody out. Essentially hands Texas another run and puts the game pretty far out on the windowsill. Since when does Damon overthrow anything? He makes a baseball look like shotput, and now he's chucking balls over Pokey's head? Once again, if you don't hit, you can't do stuff like this.

7. It's amazing that Brian Daubach can be released, sent down to Pawtucket, recalled, and still hit 5th in the batting order. Not sure if that says more about him or the state of Boston's offense. He had bad luck last night though, three scorches, all right at people. Remember when he used to get hot? Sox could use some of that.

8. Last night almost looked like one of those Cowboy Up comebacks, didn't it? Boston loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th against Dickey and Cordero and had Jason Varitek good to go. Francisco Cordero, the Ranger closer, was throwing gas, but Tek is a pure fastball hitter, and if given chance could've ripped one. But when Cordero got behind 2-1, he stayed away from the fastball, and eventually walked him on what, despite all indications to the contrary, were sliders. One run in. The Sox then had the winning run coming to the plate, but had no good players left. Crespo was scheduled, but Kapler should've gotten the call. Had the Sox tied the game, Gabe could've played third and moved either Mueller or Bellhorn to short. It's not a good solution, but you never want your worst hitter making the decisive out in the game.

9.Is it really worth it to bring a broom with you to a game? Ok, best case scenario your team wins and you get to waive it around for a few minutes and yell sweep. That's nice. But brooms are big and awfully annoying to carry. You sit down in your chair, and what, have it sticking up in your face? What do you do when you have to go the bathroom? Do you leave it at your seat or bring it with you? And if you do bring it, do people in the bathroom think you're a janitor and ask for more papertowels? What happens when you lose -- do you have to throw it away or can you bring it home and use it to clean up messes and refuse? Sounds like a lot more trouble than it's worth to me.
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