Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Next-Best Theory. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes today of the provocative way Orioles skipper Lee Mazzilli is using his bullpen.

"For the last 25 years, and increasingly with time, bullpens have been built around specialists -- sometimes side-armers or one-pitch wonders -- who dominate hitters of the same hand, but are instantly vulnerable when the matchup goes against them. Now, thank heavens, the Orioles are trying to blow this whole over-managing tradition to smithereens. They're calling their best rested arm, then telling him to, "Go get 'em," until he's tired or it's time to wave for closer Jorge Julio to finish the show."

Boswell notes that the Orioles young and inexperienced starting rotation which was considered a liability entering the season simply hands the ball off to battle-tested relievers such as Rodrigo Lopez, B.J. Ryan, or Rick Bauer in the middle innings. Mazzilli employs a bullpen rotation, calling on the best available arm, match-ups be damned. The full article can be viewed here.

If the Red Sox don't resign Pedro or Lowe they will almost certainly enter 2005 with a weakened starting rotation. The free agent crop (excluding Martinez and Lowe) doesn't have many big name starters for Theo Epstein to lure and, last off-season excluded, it is always unlikely to acquire a top starter via trade. The bullpen, however, should remain strong. The "Next-Best" Theory of the Orioles is one method of maximizing the strength of a pitching staff, even if that strength lies in the bullpen.


Friday, May 07, 2004

Still, We Believe! What a fitting Red Sox victory for the night that the documentary chronicling last season premiered around Boston. As movie goers flocked to Still, We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie, this year's Sox won with gritty at bats (Damon to lead off the ninth) and clutch hitting (Bellhorn). The three-run ninth to win it was reminiscent of so many walk-off victories last season.

Still, We Believe is primarily about Sox fans, so it's appropriate that we give the fans down the right field line a little extra credit for tonight’s victory. With two outs and Manny at first with the score tied, pinch-hitter Jason Varitek ripped the first pitch he saw down the first base line. As the ball rolled around in the corner, fans in the front row could be seen keeping each other from reaching over the wall to cause a ground rule double by touching the ball. The ball was untouched, allowing Manny to score the winning run from first.

Fans in few other parks would have been knowledgeable enough to keep their hands off the ball or happy enough to forgo a souvenir to help their teams win. Red Sox Nation and the Red Sox can be proud tonight. Final score: Red Sox 7 Royals 6.

The most bizarre play I’ve seen this season occurred in the third inning of the Yankees-Mariners game tonight in Seattle. With none out and Hideki Matsui at first, Ruben Sierra launched a fly ball to very deep right-center. Ichiro had a beat on the ball and nearly made a terrific catch, but he collided with centerfielder Randy Winn and dropped the ball against the outfield wall. Sierra was running hard out of the batter’s box and accelerated around first on the deep fly, but Matsui realized that the ball was potentially going to be caught and stopped in the base path between first and second. As the ball dropped from Ichiro’s glove Sierra, still running hard, passed Matsui in the baseline and was called out.

On the play, Sierra was credited with a single and Matsui took second. Seattle second baseman Jolbert Cabrera was credited with the putout of Sierra even though Cabrera never touched the ball on the play.

Thus far, the game has also featured Edgar Martinez’s 500th career double and 299th career home run, not to mention a 5-0 Seattle lead at the moment.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

Winning streak, Base-gate, Gutsy Mets. What losing streak? The Sox have put together two wins in a row to close out the road trip, the latest a very satisfying 5-2 come from behind triumph over the Indians at Jacobs Field. Satisfying as it was to Red Sox Nation, it must have been even more so to Pedro Martinez. Six days after being roundly criticized in virtually every Boston newspaper, talk show, and blog for his silly I'm-as-good-as-gone rant during the Texas rain delay, Pedro settled down after a rocky first inning to look like the Petey of the '99 vintage. Martinez struck out eight and allowed just four hits over seven innings. He set down ten in a row at one point. Pedro be Pedro? He still must continue to perform like he did tonight if his contract posturing is going to fly with me. I don't for a moment think that Pedro is washed up, ineffective, or (gasp) in the twilight of his career, but I'd sure rather be talking about two runs over seven innings than about seventeen million over two years.

Remy pointed out that the Sox will face six lefthanders in the next couple of weeks. Get ready for a heavy dose of McCarty and Kapler and a bit less Damon and Ortiz. For this stretch, Kevin Millar will have to, well, Cowboy Up if the offense is to thrive. He did tonight, though it was an odd four-for-four (no runs, no RBIs, four singles up the middle).

MLB announced today that, in the wake of heavy criticism, ads for the upcoming Spiderman 2 movie will not appear on bases in major league stadiums this June. A guy named Geoffrey Ammer, the president of marketing for the Columbia-Tri-Star Motion Picture Group cited online polls "that said that 71 and 81 percent of the fans didn't approve" of the on-base advertising. Despite the fact that it’s ridiculous to cite these non-scientific polls, Ammer and MLB made the right decision. Advertising in and around major league parks is necessary and when done tastefully – the old Jimmy Fund sign or the Citgo sign, for example – it can by appealing and kind of folksy. However, the Spiderman scheme struck me as garish. Besides, who was going to be able to see the insignia on the bases? Oh yeah, those watching on TV at home – we would have gotten a heavy dose of gratuitous camera shots of the bases. Good on Selig for pulling the plug on this mockery and good on the fans who complained.

I missed the end of tonight’s Sox game, but got back home in time to catch the 11th inning of the Mets-Giants tilt at Shea. In the top of the inning, with the score tied at 1, Mets manager Art Howe instructed Mike Stanton to walk Barry Bonds with runners on first and second and two outs. I understand that conventional wisdom has shifted so wildly that loading the bases in extra-innings by walking Bonds hardly raises an eyebrow anymore, but it's a risky move still. Howe then summoned David Weathers from the bullpen to face Pedro Feliz. Weathers battled back from a 3-1 count to strike out Feliz on a borderline 3-2 slider that just caught the outside corner. In the bottom of the 11th, Piazza homered with two outs, Mets win. It was the best finish I've seen this year, and certainly a laudable and gutsy move by Howe.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Truth Brigade. Derek Lowe on last night's game: “Your job as a pitcher is to stop the bleeding, to make pitches so the inning doesn't continue," Lowe said. "When they had up to five and six hits in an inning, it's probably not going to end up too pretty, which it didn't." The Sox are banking on BK Kim to stop the bleeding tonight, but did you know: before his start last night, Lowe was 19-7 after a Sox loss since 2002.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Five-letter word. There's a five-letter word creeping in the Sox dugout and it's bitten most Red Sox hitters. No, the word isn't "Pedro". Thomas Boswell writes about slumps today in the Washington Post, amazingly not mentioning any current Sox slides.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Swept in Texas. The Sox fell to Texas again tonight, this time 4-1. Tim Wakefield was terrific, but the glaring inadequacies of the Sox offensive attack surfaced again. Much has been made about the team's inability to produce with runners in scoring, but it’s disconcerting how uncommon getting a key hit in any situation has become.

In the second, Mirabelli grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases-loaded.

In the third, Manny stranded Pokey Reese at third.

In the eight, Damon grounded into a fielders choice with Crespo on first and one out.

In the ninth, with the heart of the order coming up, Ortiz couldn't get on.

Texas nearly got a complete game shutout from R.A. Dickey. R.A. Dickey?

With the Sox heading on to Cleveland for four, and the suddenly resurgent Yankees breathing down their necks, what happens over the course of this week will reveal much about how the Sox respond to a losing streak. Turning it around in Cleveland will set a positive tone for the month ahead. Limping through the rest of the road trip would set the stage for a fall from first place.

Stay tuned.

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