Ten thoughts on the Red Sox sweep
Apr. 23, 2007 | feedback
You have to love Yankee fans. Before Friday night's Yanks-Sox clash at Fenway, my buddy JackO left one of those taunting, "You don't want to pitch to A-Rod right now, you don't want this, just walk him every time!" messages. By the time the Sox had completed their sweep Sunday night, his cell phone had been mysteriously turned off. I had to leave my giggling, semi-euphoric, "Seriously, thanks for stopping by Fenway, that was great!" message on his voicemail.
Now, there's a chance JackO smashed his phone into 20 pieces during the back-to-back-to-back-to-back homer barrage that sent Chase Wright into permanent psychotherapy. But I doubt it. He didn't want to hear from me. In fact, Yankee fans don't want to hear it, period. They'll spend the day regrouping and playing the "Come on, it's April, you'll be hearing from us this summer" card and anxiously awaiting the rematch at Yankee Stadium this weekend. And they're right -- after all, it is April -- so every revelation from last weekend's series should be taken with a grain of salt.
Quick programming note:
With that said, I can't remember a more satisfying baseball weekend in April. Consider the following 10 things:
1. Boston came from behind to win every game, trailing by four in the eighth Friday, then rallying twice Saturday and twice more Sunday. I don't care what month it is -- this doesn't happen against the Yanks. They might blow two games in a series, but never all three. And that's the bigger point: Starting with the Arizona series in 2001, the Yankees have lost a little invincibility every year; now they're at the point where you always feel like your team has a chance against them: Even down 6-2 in the eighth.
2. By the end of the weekend, Boston pitchers finally cooled off A-Rod, who topped off at about 650 degrees with his second homer off Schilling on Friday -- taking a perfect pitch on the outside corner, going the other way with it, knocking it into the right-field bullpen and nearly killing a leaping Coco Crisp in the process. By Sunday, thanks to some careful pitching and Dice burying a fastball in his back, A-Rod had cooled down to 125 degrees. And thank God.
(Note: Watching A-Rod turn into the Dominican Roy Hobbs on the heels of Peyton Manning winning a Super Bowl was a little too freaky for me. Did you know global warming could turn the sports world upside down? Apparently it can. Being scared of A-Rod was one of the strangest sports feelings I can remember.)
3. Three struggling Boston players got untracked in this series: Varitek (waking up offensively), Crisp (a huge triple Friday night, followed by two manufactured old-school runs Saturday) and Pedroia (the game-saving defensive play Sunday). I was deeply, overwhelmingly worried about all three. Now I'm just worried.
4. Joe Torre completely blew Friday night's game, pinch-running for Giambi with a four-run lead (of course, his DH spot came up again with one on and two outs in the ninth, leading to the inevitable Kevin Thompson strikeout to end the game) and botching his bullpen (bringing in Proctor too early, yanking Myers too soon and asking Rivera to get five tough outs). Then, during Sunday's game, he made the ultimate panic move of bringing in Friday's starter (Andy Pettitte) to get three outs. Maybe you'd see that move in October, but April? It's impossible to say who's losing it faster: Torre or Paulie Walnuts.
(Note: The Giambi/Thompson debacle was right out of the Grady Little playbook. In fact, you might remember me complaining about this move during 2003 -- Grady made an art form out of removing one or more of his 3-4-5 guys with a lead, only to have their spot come up again in a tie game two innings later. Seriously, what's more likely ... the slight baserunning upgrade from Giambi to Thompson playing a factor in a four-run game, or Boston rallying against a shaky Yankees bullpen, then Giambi's spot coming up in the ninth?)
5. The Sox came back Friday night with Danny Ainge sitting in the dugout seats next to Boston's dugout. Sadly, I see Danny's face now and associate it with a hard-fought effort that falls just short, followed by a boatload of excuses and contract extensions for everyone involved. So it was nice to, um, win one with him there.
6. After watching that series, would you rather have Rivera with 190,000 miles on his odometer and a cutter that doesn't cut anymore ... or young Jonathan Papelbon? I thought so. Buster Olney did a nice job of breaking down Rivera's problems in Saturday's blog, with one point standing out above everything else: When's the last time you remember Rivera getting frustrated and throwing at someone's head, like he did with Julio Lugo during the tail end of that inning?
(Astounding career numbers for Paps as a closer: 75.2 innings, 88 K's, 17 walks, 41 saves, six blown saves, seven earned runs, 0.85 ERA. Holy schnikes. My Papelboner has become priapismic.)
7. ESPN kept a particularly bizarre streak alive: networks briefly simulcasting the Japanese broadcast crew during Dice's starts in an ongoing effort to prove that, yes, baseball games can be announced in Japanese. We get it. Really, we get it. Unfortunately, none of us understand Japanese. We don't enjoy this segment for the same reason we'd never flick over to a Japanese channel and watch a program. And why is that? BECAUSE IT'S IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE!!!!!!!!! STOP IT! JUST STOP! I'M NOT KIDDING! STOP IT!!!!!!
8. Hideki Okajima (or as my dad calls him, "The Lefty Japanese Guy") emerged as a reliable reliever for Boston, which was crucial because the list of Reliable Boston Relievers heading into the series looked like this: "Papelbon." Now we have two. With Papelbon unavailable Friday night, Okajima's dramatic save (on the heels of the five-run bottom of the eighth) ranked among the most randomly exciting moments in recent Red Sox history. Hard to explain unless you watched it. During every baseball season, there are always fork-in-the-road moments when you learn about particular players on your team. Either they come through or they don't. Friday was a fork-in-the-road moment for Okajima and he came through. Now we have two reliable relievers. This is a good thing. By June, my dad might even remember his name.
9. The defining moment of the weekend: Back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers Sunday night (Manny, then Drew, then Lowell, then Varitek). Just a thrilling sequence that had to have been otherworldly to watch in person. My favorite part was Jon Miller and Joe Morgan not remembering for a couple minutes (and even then, they were probably reminded by a producer) that (A) the Dodgers did this last September during a pennant race, and (B) Drew was involved both times.
10. Maybe Dice wasn't dominating (seven innings, six earned runs) Sunday night, but he plunked A-Rod and Jeter and exposed a recent Yankee weakness from the past few seasons: You can throw inside on their guys, nail them with pitches, hit them two or three times in the same game and they never seem to retaliate because of Torre's whole "we're classier than that" mantra.
Along those same lines, who are the loose cannons on this particular Yankees team? It's a passionless group, isn't it? Torre, Mattingly, Jeter, Rivera, Abreu, Giambi, Pettitte, Posada, Mussina, Wang, Damon, Proctor, Igawa, all the glassy-eyed pitchers and no-name bench guys ... where's the fire? Who's kicking over chairs in the clubhouse after a sweep? Who's screaming at Dice from the dugout after his second HBP? It's a soft team. It really is. They might need to triple Kyle Farnsworth's caffeine intake before next weekend.
The bigger picture: The Red Sox haven't led the Yankees from wire to wire since I was in college, still a few years away from setting my Clemens jersey on fire. Everyone expects the Yanks will rally this summer -- after all, they always do -- but Boston plays them 12 times in the first two months, including next weekend, mid-May and the first weekend in June. If the Red Sox can go 9-3 or 8-4 in those games (and they're already 3-0), the Yanks will have an exceedingly hard time catching them down the road, especially if Rivera doesn't come around.
When my uncle Ricky sent me a preemptive e-mail this morning just to say, "As you should know by now I never worry until after the All-Star break, this is all just warm-ups," technically, he was right. But what if they're eight games back at the break? What then? Boston finishes the last month of the season with seven games against Baltimore (who will have imploded by then), six against Toronto (an absolute train wreck) and six against Tampa Bay (headed for another 65-win season). The Yanks aren't making up ground in September. It's not happening. So it would have to happen in August, a brutal month for the Sox with nine- and 10-game road trips (including three at Yankee Stadium).
Well, you know what? I don't think it's happening. Not this year. You can play possum too many times. In the big scheme of things, winning the division doesn't mean that much, but it means something, and it would be fun to watch the Yanks slumming it in the wild-card spot for once.
I'd tell JackO all of this, but his cell phone is still turned off. You have to love Yankee fans.