Monday, April 28, 2014

Good Weekend North of the Border

I'll take the positives from the weekend the Red Sox had into Toronto.

They took two of three from the Blue Jays. They played a near-perfect game on Friday, as the hitting, pitching and defense came together. The Sox scored early and often in a comfortable 8-1 win, probably their easiest win of 2014 so far. Jake Peavy pitched seven solid innings.

Saturday started out looking like another disaster in the making. Clay Buchholz got off to a miserable start, allowing three runs in the first, while walking two. But he settled in after that difficult start, and Jays starter Brandon Morrow simply couldn't find the plate, walking 8 in 2 2/3 innings (and didn't allow a hit), and was done for the day. The Sox hit into two DPs to get him off the hook early, but A.J. Pierzynski made Toronto pay with a grand slam and Will Middlebrooks hit one out following that to get the Sox on their way.

The pen was shaky on Saturday, especially Koji Uehara, who allowed a run on three hits in the ninth, but he held on to a 7-6. As spectacular as Koji has been, he's gets a pass on this one.

Sunday was a great pitcher's duel between Jon Lester and R.A. Dickey, with the score 2-1 Toronto heading into the seventh. The Jays scored two off Lester in the 7th, ending his day, and they tacked on three more in the 8th for a 7-1 win.

The loss kept the Sox from winning their third straight, something they have not done yet this season. But they took the series, and head back to Fenway for series with Tampa Bay and Oakland. They stand at 12-14, in fourth place, three and half behind New York.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can't Spell Pineda Without "Pine"

On April 10th, Michael Pineda of the Yankees (pictured above, well, not really, but perhaps a "sneak peek" of him in his next start) was clearly using pine tar on his pitching hand (dirt, yeah right) in the win against the Red Sox, and basically got away with it. The Sox didn't make a big deal about, MLB did nothing: no fine, no suspension. They basically told him and his team: be discreet about using pine tar.

So last night he's facing the Sox again, this time at Fenway. The Red Sox score two in the first inning, and on the mound for the second, there is Pineda with an obvious slop of pine tar on his neck.

Talk about flaunting it. John Farrell had no choice to ask home plate ump Gerry Davis to check him. The ump discovered the pine tar, and showed Pineda the door.

Listen, we all know that some pitchers will use every kind of advantage on the mound. Many use foreign substances, but the unwritten rule is: don't make it obvious. Pineda claimed after the April 10th game that no one on the Yankees discussed the matter with him, but he has been proven to be a liar, as both Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild spoke to Pineda on more than one occasion about flaunting the pine tar for all to see.

And where were the Yankees last night as that second inning was happening? Didn't ANYONE see the stuff on his neck in the dugout? Or did they take the "Sgt. Schultz" approach: "I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing..."

Pineda is now looking at a minimum of a 10-game suspension. Is he the dumbest player in the majors right now?

Maybe sitting for 10 games will wake this guy up. Or maybe not. Perhaps he should sit down with legendary Cleveland Indians hurler Eddie Harris about the finer points of hiding the foreign substances:

 And the Red Sox went on to a 5-1 win over New York without Pineda, as John Lackey struck out 10 in going 8 innings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Weird Logic In Wally's World

During last night's opening game travesty at Fenway Park between the Red Sox and the Evil Empire (less said about that the better), I saw this on Twitter from the infamous New York writer Wallace Matthews:

Instead of booing Ellsbury, Fenway should be booing whoever made the decision not to bring him back

I responded to that asinine comment with this:

@ESPNNYYankees Sox weren't going to get into bidding war with NY over Ellsbury. Weren't going to give him a bad contract. Do your homework.

I got back this very condescending reply from Matthews:

lighten up, son. it's only a game

I decided I wasn't going to get into any name-calling with this jerk on Twitter. I just shrugged my shoulders and turned Twitter off. (BTW, I don't follow Matthews on Twitter. A friend retweeted the original post.)

You may remember this guy from the hatchet job he did on Tim Wakefield a number of years ago, when he criticized the legendary knuckleballer for how long his games went, when as it turned out the reverse was true. Or here in 2008 when he defended Roger Clemens.

Nobody ever said sportswriters were smart. But I will NOT criticize Red Sox management's decision to let Jacoby Ellsbury to walk away from the team. The Sox were not going to come anywhere near the bad contract the Yankees gave Ellsbury. (Is he REALLY worth 7 years at $22 million per?) Everyone knew he was leaving, with Jackie Bradley waiting in the wings. That is precisely the kind of deal that got the Red Sox in trouble three years ago. (Right now, the Sox have only ONE player on a long term deal, and that is Dustin Pedroia.) Ellsbury was going to get booed last night at Fenway. He put on the wrong laundry.

But Ellsbury never said he would never go to New York (like another center fielder who will remain nameless), and he made a business decision. So be it. The fans have every right to boo his return if they feel like it. Ellsbury had a good game last night. It was one game against his former club.

Let's see if Matthews still feels the same way the next time Ellsbury has to go for an MRI.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Believe In Easter Miracles

I think this game took about five years off my life.

It looked for sure the Red Sox were going to drop a Sunday night contest to the Orioles yesterday, as they fell behind 5-0 by the sixth inning, on a night when Jake Peavy didn't have it and the Sox were doing nothing yet again with runners in scoring position.

Jonny Gomes blasted a three-run shot into the Monster Seats to make it 5-3, and we had a game again.

The Sox added two in the seventh, one driven in my a David Ortiz single and an error at third on a grounder hit by Mike Napoli. But with the bases loaded and one out, they reverted to their old ways and left the runners stranded, and the game remained tied going into the bottom of the ninth.

With one out, Dustin Pedroia hit a ball off the top of the Monster that some fans touched leaning down, and after replay he had a double. He moved to third on a wild pitch and Papi was walked intentionally, Napoli was hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded, pinch hitter Mike Carp lined a shot to left that David Lough caught. He unwisely fired the ball way wide of home plate, as Pedroia went back to tag, but hesitated when the throw came in. He raced home as the Orioles scrambled to get the ball, and the Sox had an amazing come-from-behind win, 6-5.

This win reminded me of the never-say-die attitude of the 2013 championship team, something that seemed to be missing from this team so far. The Sox are now 9-10, and can get to back to .500 with a Patriots Day win to conclude the four-game series with the Orioles this morning.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

You Know What Happens When You Assume

John Farrell set a new record last night, one that will never be broken.

He challenged a call on the very first pitch of the game.

Nick Markakis hit a fly ball that landed just inches foul down the left field line. But ump Will Little called it fair. Farrell rightly called for the replay, and after a nearly four minute delay, the crew in NY upheld the decision.

From the still shot (courtesy of The Joy of Sox), it is clear the ball never touched the foul line. But it did kick up dirt that landed on the line. I can only guess they assumed the ball actually touched part of the line.

You know what happens when you assume. Ask Felix Unger:

And sure enough, Markakis scored on a single, and the Orioles went on to an 8-4 win.

MLB still has a serious problem with incompetent umpires, and now a replay system that can't get the calls correct. Very embarrassing.

The Red Sox continue to struggle with men in scoring position, leaving the bases loaded in the second, and left  two runners on in both the fourth and fifth innings. John Lackey was not sharp for a second straight outing, and the offense couldn't come to his rescue.

They are now 7-10. New York's loss in Tampa keeps the Sox three back.

Friday, April 18, 2014

At Least The Pitching Is Fun To Watch

The Red Sox concluded a 3-4 road trip in Chicago last night with another gritty win, 3-1 over the White Sox.

The Red Sox scoring runs is like trying to get blood from a stone these days, especially Wednesday night's 6-4, 14 inning win, when the Sox were given 15 walks by Chicago, and it took a position player giving up the final two runs for the Red Sox to claim victory.

The Red Sox are hitting .232 as a team in the first 16 games, and hit an anemic .183 on the seven-game road trip.

Jon Lester continues to be magnificent in April, as last night he allowed just 1 run over 8 innings. He retired the first 16 batters before giving up three hits and a 1-0 lead. (Which had been provided by Xander Bogaerts, who homered in the top of the sixth, the Red Sox first hit of the contest.) David Ross doubled in one run in the ninth, and Jonathan Herrera's bunt single with the bases loaded added on some insurance.

Koji Uehara returned after his short sabbatical with a stiff shoulder to get the save, allowing just a single in an uneventful ninth.

The pitching has kept the club afloat with this 7-9 start. Only one of the nine losses has been of the "blowout" variety (the 10-7 loss to Texas, which wasn't that close, as the Sox scored three in the ninth to make it cosmetically close), so there is cause for optimism.

There's just too much talent on this team to see them struggle this badly all season. They will also get Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks back shortly. They have also been playing mostly in colder weather, so the warmer temperatures should benefit the strugglers.

They return home to face Baltimore in a four-game series tonight that will conclude with the Patriot's Day game on Monday morning.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where Has All The Offense Gone?

The Red Sox offense continues to struggle, big time.

On a cold night in Chicago, Jake Peavy was terrific for six innings, just allowing an Adam Dunn home run. He was matched with somebody named Erik Johnson, who was even better, going seven innings and allowing just a Daniel Nava home run.

The Red Sox could get just three hits, and the few opportunities they had, they wasted yet again. 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. (Last I looked they were hitting less than .200 as team in RISP situations.) Right now, getting anyone home with a man on second or third is like pulling teeth.

Xander Bogaerts had probably the worst night of his career, striking out three times (including one with second and third and two outs), and bounced a grounder to first that allowed the winning run to score in the ninth for Chicago.

Another one of those nights that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Especially when not one but two umps blow a check-swing call on the last batter that should have ended the ninth inning.

And Mike Napoli dislocated his ring finger on his left hand sliding into second in the ninth inning. Brutal to watch, but fortunately, nothing was broken and he is day-to-day.

Just what the Red Sox need: more injuries.

They are now 5-9, and have lost 8 of their last 11. The road trip has been especially brutal, with just 12 runs scores in 5 games, and they are hitting .183 in those games.

The pitching continues to be rather good, both in the pen and rotation. In only 3 of those games were the starters hit hard, and the other games were close, winnable games.

Obviously, things will change when the offense starts to click.

Let's just hope it is sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Bad Weekend, Injuries & 149 To Play

Yeah, I know, it's just 13 games.

The Red Sox sit at 5-8 on this Monday, having lost three of four in the Bronx this past weekend. With the exception of John Lackey's four home runs allowed on Saturday, the starting pitchers acquitted themselves well. The bullpen was equally as good.

But Koji Uehara missed the series, as he felt tightness in his shoulder on Friday, and Edward Mujica closed out that night's win. Koji said he felt better on Sunday, and he will be further evaluated in Boston today. The DL is still a possibility, as Koji is 38 years old and the team will rightly not push this early.

But the offense continues to be a problem, especially with runners on base. The Red Sox are just 11th out of 15 in total runs scored in the AL so far, and managed just 11 runs in the four game series. The leadoff spot is a big problem, and split between four different players, are hitting a combined .188.  Dustin Pedroia sat out last night's game with a sore wrist, and will be evaluated today in Boston. He hurt the wrist during the Milwaukee series, and has struggled since.

Shane Victorino will be the third of the trio of players in Boston today seeing the doctors, and if he gets the OK, he starts his rehab tomorrow in Portland. He could be activated for the Baltimore series this weekend if the hamstring is good to go.

The AL East is right now a logjam, with three teams tied for first, and the Red Sox in fifth place but just two games back.

Step back and away from the ledge, folks. 149 games to play. The White Sox are up next in Chicago on Tuesday. It's time for the last year's best offensive team to come alive.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Three-Ring Circus At The Yale Club

I had a blast at the BLOHARDS meeting at the Yale Club on Friday, as I did Ted Williams trivia and gave away prizes to winners.

Ben Bradlee Jr., who wrote the terrific book "The Kid," the most comprehensive book on the life of the Splendid Splinter, was on hand and chatted about some of the high points of his book. (That was the reason I did Ted trivia.)

Unfortunately, no Red Sox player was on hand, and I believe that is the third straight luncheon that no Sox player was able to come.

The Fenway PA announcer and poet laureate of the Red Sox, Dick Flavin, was there to regale us with some poetic stories, which included a funny bit about an encounter he had many years ago with Tommy Lasorda. Dick is truly amazing for a man of his advanced years, and real gentleman as well.

The slideshow featured everything from pictures of last November's trophy presentation, Jeter, Ellsbury and A-Rod bashing, and the current state of Red Sox Nation (which is good).

The highlight of the day was with "the closer", Red Sox VP of Public Relations, Dr. Charles Steinberg. Dr. Steinberg took questions for the audience about all things Red Sox. He talked extensively about the ring ceremony and Boston Fire Department, among many other things. But he also came wearing all three of his Red Sox World Series rings, as you can see above. Everyone crowded around Dr. Steinberg, including myself, to get a snapshot of his left hand.

One of the BLOHARDS said to him, "I bet you never thought you'd end up being a hand model, eh?"

A good time was had by all, and the next meeting will be September 4th back at the Yale Club.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

0-For-5 With 5 Ks? No Problem.

It was looking like the Red Sox were going to drop another home series on Wednesday, as the offense disappeared and the Sox were down 2-1 in the 8th inning to the Texas Rangers.

But they had a threat going, with two on and one out. But this season has been exceptionally frustrating so far, as it seems the Red Sox have either been leaving those runners there or banging into double plays like they are going out of style.

But David Ortiz was having none of that.

Reliever Neal Cotts came in, a lefty that Papi has had no end of trouble with. In six career at-bats against him, Ortiz has six plate appearances, with one walk and five strikeouts. So had had never even put a ball in play against this guy.

As soon as NESN put up that stat, I thought, "OK, that only means he's due."

Papi blasted a 1-1 inside fastball (not a good idea as Cotts was pitching him away the first two pitches) right down the line and it landed just inside the Pesky Pole for a three-run homer. 4-2 Sox. The umps took a look on replay and confirmed their decision.

Koji Uehara made it look easy with a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save, and the Sox took the series, instead of losing it, thanks to the Large Father. Jake Peavy was terrific for 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one run and strikng out 7, but coming away with a no-decision.

Now it's off to New York for the latest War to End All Wars with the Yankees, and onetime Red Sox hero Jacoby Ellsbury.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"They Called Me God"

I recently finished the first autobiography of an umpire I have ever read, and it was by Doug Harvey (with Peter Golenbock) called "They Called Me God."

Doug Harvey was the legendary umpire who worked in the National League from 1962-1992, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, just the ninth umpire so honored. Harvey is now 84 years old, and has been suffering from cancer, and hooked up with Golenbock to tell his life story.

One thing you have to say about Harvey is is that he was a man who was confident in his abilities, and had an incredible ego. (The book is subtitled "The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived." That, of course, is a subject for debate. But he was the best ump of his generation.) Harvey is very blunt in this book, and doesn't beat around the bush as far who he likes and doesn't care for.

And there's plenty of salty language mixed in as well.

It's clear Harvey had an incredible passion for the game of baseball and his profession. And as an umpire, he always let the players know who was in charge. ("You refer to me as "sir" or "Mr. Umpire" he told young players.) He rose quickly through the ranks of the minor leagues and became a National League ump in 1962. He gives his take on players, managers, coaches, his fellow umpires, and baseball commissioners. (Bud Selig probably won't care much for this book.)

Harvey claims to have never made a mistake in his 31 years of umpiring. While I find that hard to believe, I did find his take on some of the controversial plays he was involved with interesting. He was the third base ump when Johnny Roseboro was attacked by Juan Marichal in the bat incident in 1965, and was the home plate ump who called Lou Brock out at home in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series that turned the tide of that series in the Detroit Tigers favor.

Whenever a read a baseball history/biography book like this, I always look for factual errors, and I found a few here. Golenbock, who co-wrote that sloppy Johnny Damon book "Idiot" in 2005 (which had numerous embarrassing errors in it), made few here. The ones that jump out are when he wrote that the Mets won the 1969 NLCS in five games, when in fact they won in a three-game sweep; said that Doc Gooden faced Pete Rose when Pete was in Philadelphia, which is not possible, as Gooden came up to the Mets in 1984, and Rose was playing for the Expos that year; and stated that Jocko Conlan was the home plate ump for Don Larsen's prefect game in 1956, when it was in fact Babe Pinelli, who was umping his final game.

The book comes off as a series of loosely written anecdotes, without a meaningful structure. Harvey has certainly lived an interesting life as an ump in a crucial period of baseball history, but comes off as a bit of an egomaniac. He clearly wanted to air out some old grudges, with a few axes to grind with many he dealt with in the game.

If you are a fan of MLB in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, I'm sure you will find something to like in "They Called Me God." Doug Harvey lets the world know in no uncertain terms who he liked and didn't care much for. He probably wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

An Emotional Flag Raising at Fenway

I had the pleasure of being at Fenway on Friday for my first championship flag-raising and ring ceremony. (I love the fact that I have to use the term "first" in that sentence. Of three this past ten years.) I went up with the BLOHARDS on their bus trip, for the fourth time in the last five years. We sat in the right field grandstand, just to the foul side of the Pesky Pole.

It was cold, but everyone was really enjoying the ceremonies. The Boston Fire Department's Ladder 15 and Engine 33 members came out and assisted the Red Sox players, coaches and front people in raising the championship flag.It was quite an emotional moment.

Members of all four of Boston's sports teams came out of left field and assisted Mayor Marty Walsh in throwing out the first ball. Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell represented the other Red Sox title teams.

The biggest ovations of the day went to Dustin Pedroia, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, Jon Lester and David Ortiz, who got the last ring in the ceremony.

It was a good opener until the ninth inning, when Edward Mujica had absolutely nothing and gave up four runs and turned the day into a 6-2 loss to Milwaukee.

And last night wasn't much better. I was away all day but got home in time for the bottom of the 11th, as the pitcher once known as K-Rod struck the Red Sox out in order to give Milwaukee a second straight win, 7-6. Clay Buchholz was horrific, allowing 13 hits and 6 runs in less than 5 innings work.

Now they have to win today in order to salvage the series. That's no way for a team that raised a World Series championship flag this weekend to begin their home schedule.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

First of Many Wins To Come

David Ortiz and Mike Napoli powered home runs at Camden Yards last night, and John Lackey pitched six strong innings as the Red Sox cruised to a 6-2 win over Baltimore.

The bullpen pitched a solid three innings. Napoli had four RBI in the win. He also had a great response to President Obama screwing up his name at the White House ceremony on Tuesday, calling him "Na-po-li" instead of "Nap-o-li":

"I'll give him a mulligan. He'll get it right next year."

The Sox conclude their first series of the year tonight with Felix Doubront taking the mound.

And I'll be at Fenway for the opener on Friday, my fourth opener in five years.

Pictures will follow later in the weekend.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lester & Sizemore Were Sharp, But Waste Was Everywhere

There goes another undefeated season.

The Red Sox opened the defense of their 2013 World Series championship with a 2-1 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon.

Jon Lester was very good, allowing both runs in seven innings while striking out eight. The first pitch of the 7th inning to Nelson Cruz was lined into the left seats to break a 1-1 tie.

It was a frustrating day for the Red Sox, as they left runners everywhere: 12 in all. They 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

But it sure wasn't frustrating for Grady Sizemore, who got hits in first two at-bats, including a home run that tied the game in the fourth. Not bad for a guy who hadn't played in an MLB game since September 22, 2011.

The Sox had chances all day to score runs, especially in the 8th and 9th, and left two on in both innings, with Jackie Bradley looking at called third strike with first and second to end it.

The Red Sox do the obligatory thing that championship teams do and go to the White House today to meet the guy that runs the country. It's an off day today, and John Lackey faces the Orioles tomorrow night in Game 2 of the 2014 season.