Saturday, April 23, 2005

Playoffs?!

Is anyone else unable to hear the word playoffs without thinking of the great Jim Mora "Playoffs!" reaction, and then, in celebration, mimicking his voice to yourself over and over until you've creeped out everyone in the grocery store? Yeah, me too.

So tonight the Celtics open their postseason the way they have opened many others, against the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately this series is battling the Seattle-Sacramento matchup for the "One that Nobody Cares About" trophy in the first round, and it's easy to see why. Without Ron Artest, the Pace are a somewhat uninspiring bunch, and while the Reggie Miller comeback has been a charming story, it has meant that we have to, you know, watch Reggie Miller again. He's a great shooter, but the coming off three picks - hoisting a jump shot - flailing to the ground like he just got electrocuted got old about 15 years ago. It's not bad basketball as much as it is bad television. The Boston papers want us to wonder if the young and inexperienced Tony Allen can guard him, but that's not much of a story. Athletically, he can stay with him all day, but Reggie's veteran savvy/cheating should get him 15 points or so. Not enough to swing the game. Wait - stop the presses - Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, and Bob Hoskins are all in a movie together. Who do you think had the funnier reaction when told they were expected to call a human being "Jet"? My money's on Hopkins, who seems like an inappropriate racial slur sort of guy. Anyhoo, back to the game. The real story of this series is going to be Jermaine O'Neal vs. Mark Blount. If totally healthy, O'Neal can be the one unanswerable force for Indy, and a real challenge for Boston big men. Blount has had a fascinating season so far, swinging wildly from corpse in sneakers to respectable big man on any given night. LaFrentz can't body Jermaine, and Perkins is a little too awkward to stick with him, so Blount will have to step up if O'Neal plays at 100%. And if Mark can reliably hit the 15 footer it'll pull Indiana's one shot blocker away from the basket. Should be interesting. The only way The Ninth sees Boston losing this series though is on a mental breakdown. If they play Doc's game, the Pacers are through - they just aren't athletic enough to run with the C's. But if things get hard for Boston I'm not convinced that Pierce and Walker will stay on message. They've won together in the playoffs before, and it wasn't by looking for a cutter under the basket. Who's to say that if down 10 points in the 4th quarter Paul and Antoine don't revert to the 1 on 1 show? Pierce is still vulnerable to such lapses, and Walker has already ominously noted that "things are different in the playoffs". I'm sure Rivers is concerned about a mutiny by his superstars, and has probably already talked with Gary Payton about how to keep them in the flow. The Celtics are certainly the better team, but unless they understand what it is that makes them so, Indy could make this thing a series. We'll find out tonight at 8.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sandy, Not Pedro

Maybe I'm the only one on this, but wasn't the ring ceremony a bit much? Dan Duquette and John Harrington got a lot bunk over the years for turning the Red Sox into the Great Team on the Hill. They seemed to actively desire the kind of organization that didn't have to call you back, didn't shake your hand, didn't really care about your opinion; not because they were jerks necessarily, but because you might not be worth their time. Or at least that's what they wanted you to think. And that was obnoxious, sure, but it was at least partly motivated by a sense of dignity. The Red Sox just simply did not do things like that. Their sound system was old, their advertisements were quaintly small, and their hands were kept by their side. They felt, and rightfully so, "we are the Red Sox, we are an institution, we do not go out of our way for anyone." It was an image they tried to manufacture, just as the Henry Boys have created one of best friends and boy scouts. And it has been a change for the good mostly, but sometimes they get a little carried away. Did there need to be war veterans on the field yesterday? What do they have to do with baseball? And was the man in the wheelchair included because they happened to have his number, or because a PR guy thought it would be a good move for the heart strings? For every wonderful moment like the monster-sized 2004 banner, there was a somewhat gosh one like the absurd "teddy ballgame" song. When they embrace Johnny Pesky with all their organizational might it feels as much about the expected reaction as it does genuine gratitude. They're manufacturing sentiment, and doing it at a time that's already ripe with plenty of its own. We don't need to be reminded of how special this whole thing is, we know. We've been here all along. Should there be celebration and fanfare, absolutely. But there is something to be said for letting a moment speak for itself. Harrington and Duquette would've put on a quieter day, a more simple affair without the James Taylors and the Bill Russells and the Bobby Orrs. And maybe, in the end, it would've felt a little lacking. Certainly Derek Lowe wouldn't have been around, as Duquette would've insulted him beyond proportion on his way out the door. That was a Duke specialty. And Dlowe was one of Monday's highlights. But it wouldn't have reeked of effort. It would've had dignity. The Red Sox used to be the beautiful girl sitting in the corner of the lunchroom daring you to come and speak to her. Now they're the smiley blonde running for student council who keeps handing you buttons and asking your name. And that certainly is better way to make money and influence people. Let's face it, the girl in the lunchroom usually ends up pretty lonely. But there was something to that, and at times, I miss it. There were two acts of great class at Fenway Park yesterday. One was sitting quietly at the top step of the visitors dugout, smiling and clapping his hands. He wasn't a winner, and he wasn't much fun, but he wasn't begging to be liked. The other was a noticeably absent General Manager, who decided it best to let his accomplishments speak for themselves. Behavior like Torre's and Theo's won't make headlines and won't sell baseball caps, but it has a place in every organization. Sometimes, with the Red Sox, it should be a bigger one.
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Monday, April 04, 2005

Yawn

You know what that was like? It was like showing up at the airport for
a big vacation and finding out you’re taking the bus. “Oh one of the
seats by the bathroom, yeah, I guess that’s ok.” Crumm-y. It’s not so
much that they lost, we saw that coming. It’s that it was precisely no
fun. No hitting, crummy pitching, uninspired defense. Anyone concerned
with the State of the Union at this point needs to get a grip, but we
all have a gripe about the nap we could’ve taken from the hours of 8-11
last night. Some points:

- David Wells looked distinctly unprepared. The first couple of innings
he was able to sneak his fastball by players, and that gave him a
chance. But after 50 pitches or so that zip was gone, and all he had
left was the lollipop curve. Obviously that’s a matter of conditioning.
He boasted and blubbered all spring long that he needed only a few
appearances to get ready for the season which sounded about as true as
his listed weight (225 lbs). Boomer ran out of gas early last night
because he wasn’t ready for baseball, and I’m sure Francona saw it
coming. That’s not acceptable. David will be fine in 3 or 4 starts when
his fastball can hold up over 6-7 innings, but those 3 or 4 starts
count too. Someone should’ve had the chutzpah to run Wells out a few
more times this spring though and get his arm strength up, no matter
what he thought he needed.

- Randy Johnson was, I would say, very good. Far from spectacular
however. The fastball had juice, but wasn’t overpowering, and the
sliders and splitters didn’t have much bite. It’s only fair that we
give him the David Wells benefit of the doubt and assume that in a few
starts he’ll be back to excellence, but The Ninth was unimpressed. Good
pitcher, absolutely. But a huge step up from Javier Vazquez? Not yet.
Especially against the Red Sox, a team with great fastball hitters.
Varitek, Millar, Nixon, Manny, Ortiz – they can all really turn one
around. Of course, they didn’t do much yesterday. But give it time…

- How bout that bullpen, hu?

- Did you know that every member of the Yankee starting lineup last
night has at one time been an All-Star? How can you not love a team
like that?

- If it wasn’t already obvious, the Sox have a real problem in Hideki
Matsui. They still haven’t figured a thing out. Up and in boys, up and
in.

- Expect something good from Matt Clement tomorrow. He’s had a very
good spring and is perhaps the most adept Boston pitcher at missing
bats. The Yanks will take their licks, and if you let them make good
contact, sooner or later you’ll pay. The Clement slider might be just
what the doctor steinberg ordered.
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