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BLOGGING FROM THE FORT

Spring things: Notes and observations

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Let's go around the horn with some notes and observations from the last few days of Red Sox spring training.

Will the real Matt Clement please stand up?
For the second straight outing yesterday, Matt Clement made B.H. Kim look like Roger Clemens for the first 20 or so pitches. In each start, Clement settled down nicely after stumbling out of the gate.

Against the Twins yesterday, Clement couldn't retire any of the first three batters of the game. After giving up a long 0-2 home run to light-hitting leadoff hitter Luis Rivas (he averages less than 10 dingers a season), Clement gave up a long foul ball to Armando Rios on the fourth pitch of the game and the fans started grumbling. Clement then allowed Rios and the next batter, Lew Ford, to reach base to get himself in a second-and-third jam with no one out. He quickly recovered, however, retiring the next three in order to escape with only a 1-0 deficit. Clement pitched two perfect innings after the rocky first to complete his day's work.

It was a similar story in Boston's first spring training outing last Thursday, also against the Twins. Clement had control problems in the first, and after giving up a hit one old-timer behind me remarked, "I'm not impressed with him yet," after the Twins jumped out to a 1-0 lead.

In fact, mark it down that Clement was the man responsible for the first boos directed at the Red Sox since they won the World Series. It came at 7:10 p.m., exactly five minutes into the champs' spring campaign. But Clement again settled down after a loud beginning, pitching a quiet second inning.

He may not make anyone forget Pedro Martinez, but he is making us remember Martinez' shaky first-inning outings that were commonplace in 2004. It's not Matt's makeup you have to worry about; the trick seems to be getting him ready for the first pitch of the game.

'Mr. Concrete Feet'
On opening night, Kevin Youkilis smashed an early base hit to the outfield with Kevin Millar on second, but Millar failed to score. The baserunning boo-boo prompted one fan to remark, "only one run came in because Millar was running -- Mr. Concrete Feet."

Yesterday, Millar failed reach third from first after a long single to the right-center gap by Youkilis. I'm all for Millar's added muscle and power, but at this rate our quintessential first base-DH-type is going to be the poster boy for station-to-station baseball in 2005.

Welcome, Matt
Matt Mantei threw nothing but gas yesterday in his one inning of work. All you could hear was the "pop, pop, pop" of the catcher's glove while he was on the mound. He gave up one hard hit, but his velocity was impressive, especially in striking out yesterday's hot Twin hitter, Juan Castro.

Over his career, Mantei averages more than a strikeout per inning. Let's hope his shoulder holds up.

These kids are all right
Adam Hyzdu got Boston's four-run eighth-inning rally started yesterday after Twins first baseman Andy Fox dropped his pop-up, which put Hyzdu on second. George Lombard then walked. After Twins pitcher Boof Bonser walked David McCarty to load the bases with one out, Hanley Ramirez hit a hard ground ball single just to the right of second base, scoring Hyzdu to tie the game, 4-4.

Scott Tyler came in to pitch, and hit Shawn Wooten on the hands -- plating Lombard -- and the Sox took the lead, 5-4. Jeff Bailey subsequently walked -- scoring McCarty -- to make it 6-4 Red Sox, and Dave Berg hit a long sac fly, to send Ramirez home and complete the rally, and the 7-4 win for the good guys.

Playing pepper

  • Johnny Damon hit the wall hard on a ball he just missed hit by Eric Munson yesterday. His back crashed against the centerfield fence, but he seemed OK and stayed in the game, as he is wont to do.

  • Kim came undone quickly against the Phillies on Sunday. One fan was still getting on him for tossing the finger at Sox fans, which seems like ages ago, yelling: "only Ted Williams can flip of the Boston fans!" Let it go already. I know the weird injury diagnosis was frustrating last season, but let's just turn the page with BK and give him one last shot. As Terry Francona said last weekend, "his arm has a lot of life in it, but it's time for BK to pitch."

  • The vaunted Red Sox offense hasn't been able to string too many long innings together so far in spring training. Monday night it took a Trot Nixon solo home run in the fifth inning to get things going. Yesterday it was David Ortiz's solo shot that got the Sox rolling.

  • Seems like old times: Lou Gorman making the rounds to promote his new book on the '86 team that he's been working on since 1986.

  • In the old days at City of Palms, just like the old days at Fenway, if a seat was open in the lower perimeter, you could sit it in regardless of what assignment you had on your ticket. No more. Fort Myers ushers are cracking down like the old chowderheads at Fenway now, tossing seat squatters left and right, asking to see tickets, etc. Again, the innocence of spring training is lost.

    One softie usher was nice enough to let standing-room-only ticket-holders Peter Rein and his young son Peter J. from Marshfield stay in the front row of some empty seats during last Friday's afternoon game against Northeastern. As a result, Peter J. was able to get Ortiz to sign his baseball, which was a thrill he said he'll never forget.

  • While waiting in the luggage screening line at Logan Airport before departing for Fort Myers, I heard the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent say "nice to see you Mr. Bucyk." Sure enough, it was old No. 9, Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk, taking off his shoes. When I asked him if was going to be taking in some spring baseball games, he replied, "No, I'm heading up to Halifax where it's cold."

    Turns out it was probably colder in Fort Myers when we landed last Thursday, but you don't need to be hearing that in Boston. While the TSA agent proceeded to scour my camera bag, she went off on a tangent about hockey players: "These guys should try working for a living. Some people here work like hell for $30,000 a year."

    When I told her I was heading to Florida to see some spring baseball, she chimed in out of the blue, "Do you think that Pedro is worth $30 million a year?" I didn't bother correcting her on the annual figure for Petey. And you can probably guess my answer.

  • Walking into City of Palms for the home opener was exciting. Even before the game you could hear yelling and screaming in the stands. Was the cheering for Manny Ramirez as he popped his head out of the dugout? No, the horrific sound was the Dropkick Murphy's version of "Tessie." It's back. They play it at every game. Sigh. And it's probably returning to a Fenway Park near you.

  • I went to get a haircut (yes both of them) at Cricket's in North Fort Myers. The woman cutting my hair, Jody, said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace was in for a trim earlier in the week. She said he couldn't have been a nicer and more interesting guy as he talked to her the whole time (which was much longer than my two-and-a-half-minute sit down). You have to like a pitching coach who treats the spring training stylist who cuts his hair like the major league professionals he interacts with daily.

  • There's a local sports radio station down here -- WWCN-AM 770 ESPN Radio. They will only broadcast about a half dozen Sox games (too bad for the Fort Myers fans), but they always broadcast a Sox pregame show that features some decent guests, including Peter Gammons, Francona, and other national guests. Even the Boston Herald's Tony Massarotti has been on airways down here.

    Dave Moulton, the 770 play-by-play guy, has an annoying signature call of "oh by the way." As in "oh by the way Dunwoody went 3-for-4 for the Twins today," and "David Ortiz is a good clubhouse guy and oh by the way he had a pretty good year for the Red Sox who oh by the way won the World Series last year." Yeesh. And "oh by the way," when you're not hearing the play-by-play on 770, you have to listen to 417 ads for Dr. Lewis Chaikin trying to be funny about erectile dysfunction. Must be a lot of that in Southwest Florida.

  • More evidence that the World Series champs haven't turned into a bunch of prima donnas: A group of the guys had dinner at Perkins Restaurant on Sunday night. Perkins is like the Ground Round of Florida, catering to your Average Joe on a budget.

  • It's good to be single and playing for the world champions. The Sox are getting nearly as many phone numbers tossed their way as signatures they can scrabble on baseballs.

  • The autograph and picture deal down here is simply too much. More fans seem much more interested in having a player sign something, or getting a good picture with their digital camera, than they are about watching the game or seeing the player's progress on the field.

  • Roberto Petagine looks like the real deal at the plate, albeit in small sample action, but he should lock up that first baseman reserve slot.

  • Working like the lefty-righty twins, both Mike Timlin and Alan Embree got hit hard yesterday. Embree heard a few boos after giving up a rocket home run to Juan Castro, the hardest ball I've seen hit so far, and that includes the bombs by Ramirez and Ortiz yesterday.

  • It's raining hard here in Fort Myers today, real hard ... but you don't need to hear that in Boston.

  • Not only does catcher Shawn Wooten get a hit (or get hit) in every game he plays, he also made a nifty play at first base on a ground ball and nailed Jacque Jones at the plate.

  • Best name on the Sox roster -- Dusty Brown -- came on to relieve Varitek behind the plate yesterday. He was also wearing Manny's No. 24, which caused some confusion with a few folks sitting behind the dish.

  • Non-roster invitee Scott Cassidy had a nice clean inning in the eighth yesterday, looking sharp in getting a punchout on Eric Munson. Cassidy, no relation to Shaun or David, bounced back nicely after getting tagged for three hits in one inning against the Reds on Saturday night.

  • Tried listening to the "Miller Time" morning sports talk on AM-770 down here when the talk came to the steroid scandal. Mark Miller and his female co-host were surprised that Curt Schilling was being accused of taking steroids because his name was on the congressional committee invite list. Click.

  • Pedro and Derek Lowe (who made the infamous Derek Lowe Face after a bad call in the second inning) both looked super sharp in their National League debuts last Friday. With apologies to Bob "why can't we get guys like that?" Lobel, I'm really going to miss having both Pedro and D-Lowe around town and on the Olde Towne Team. Unfortunately D is not expected to make the trip to the City of Palms tomorrow.


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