Schilling throws an inside pitch at the Rocket
Curt Schilling has weighed in on the Mitchell Report and Roger Clemens. Posting a blog on his 38pitches.com, Schilling said "as a fan my thought is that Roger will find a way in short order to organize a legal team to guarantee a retraction of the allegations made, a public apology is made, and his name is completely cleared. If he doesn’t do that then there aren’t many options as a fan for me other than to believe his career 192 wins and 3 Cy Youngs he won prior to 1997 were the end. From that point on the numbers were attained through using PED’s (performance enhancing drugs.) Just like I stated about Jose (Canseco), if that is the case with Roger, the 4 Cy Youngs should go to the rightful winners and the numbers should go away if he cannot refute the accusations."
Schilling, of course, has never minced words. He had to retract last year's comments on Barry Bonds, apologizing for his statements on what he said about the allegations against the slugger.
Now, Schilling is saying Clemens and others named in the report have to clear their names, or pay consequences.
"I pray that ANYONE in this report that is innocent, steps up and clears their names, now, today," said Schilling. "No one has, and through today no one has done anything but issue a crafted statement in someone else’s words denying their guilt or association in any of this."
There will be many more statements to come on last week's report, but to hear it from a current player -- a player who has testified before Congress on the issue -- adds to the building noise for Clemens to prove his innocence.
The mailbag is back! We had a few letters fall between the cracks during the boston.com makeover (kudos to Eric Wilbur and the crew -- it looks great) but we're back up and running and will get to your letters every week during the off-season. We'll also post blogs with any news we have to pass along.
Before we open up the e-mailbag, a couple of notes:
--Red Sox Hot Stove will be coming to you live next week during the Winter Meetings (Mon-Wed) at 6 pm. Get the latest scoop on rumors coming out of Nashville!
--We will shortly have news to pass along on the NESN 2007 Red Sox film. Stay tuned.
--A shout out to long-time reader Harvey from NY, recovering from an Achilles injury but still fired up about the Yankees trying to get Santana from Minnesota. Rest up Harvey!
Now, to the e-mailbag...
Opinion Hi T.C.
Do you think the Sox will try to trade for Johan Santana?I think a
package of Coco Crisp,Jon Lester and a prospect(Justin Masterson,Micheal
Bowden or Craig Hansen)might look pretty good to the Twins.Of course the
Sox would have to have a long term deal with Santana in place for this to
happen.Am I way off base here or is this something that might be
feasible?Thanks ..... Ed
It's definitely feasible, but reports continue to say that the Twins are insisting on Jacoby Ellsbury. Several outlets yesterday reported that Minnesota was not interested in Crisp, and with the acquisition of Delmon Young yesterday they are much less in need of an outfielder. If the Yankees are really offering a package that includes Melky Cabrera and Phil Hughes it might be tough for the Sox to pry him away without including Ellsbury. That's a deal most Red Sox fans don't want the team to make.
Name Southie Sox Fan
Email South Boston, MA
Opinion There was a lot of jawing during the season b/w Pedroia and Youk
about who was faster. If I remember correctly, there was going to be a
race in the offseason to settle this. Any word on this and any odds as to
who would win the fleet feet extravaganza?
I think that argument ended when Youkilis hit his inside-the-park home run. Of course, Pedroia's got his Rookie of the Year Award as a pretty nice consolation prize.
Opinion Hey TC,
Love your work on NESN and 'EEI.
Do you know if the Sox will be releasing a dvd for 2007 a la "Faith
MLB Productions released their World Series film on DVD this week. NESN is still in production of its film, which will encompass the entire 2007 season. Stay tuned for an announcement in the coming days.
Name Roger Craft
Opinion In my opinion the Red Sox had the best bullpen in the majors this
year. Is there anyone spefic they are looking at to sign and will they
consider signing Eric Gagne?
I think the Sox will be looking for help in the bullpen, a little insurance to bolster the middle relief corps as Mike Timlin (like the rest of us) gets older. Timlin was still a key member of that set-up crew, and I think the Sox will try to bring him back if the two sides can meet.
I also think the Sox need left-handed relief help, even though Hideki Okajima was outstanding this season.
Finally, I can't see any circumstance that would bring Gagne back to Boston. The man has had an outstanding career but things could not have gone worse for him here. He'll get another opportunity with another team... but it won't be with the Red Sox.
Opinion T.C.- Now that the former Tampa Ray Devil Rays have a new name and
identity (Rays), do you think they'll have a new mascot who will bury
Raymond's gripes with Jerry Remy? It was getting old and stupid.
We can only hope. Raymond's been on the losing end of that feud for a long time now, the remnant of a simmering rivalry between the teams that goes back to the late 90's when the Sox and Rays always seemed to be throwing at each other and clearing the benches. Now, with Remy cleaning Raymond's clock regularly, it seems like that "feud" is just about over.
Email methuen, ma.
I keep hearing about another world series trophy tour with both trophies.
Where can I find information about it, and updates as to what cities it
will go to.
The "TTT" (Twin Trophies Tour) will undoubtedly be coming to a city of town near you soon. Information on trophy appearances will be available on redsox.com
Name Tanjee Mahdavi
Email Los Angeles, CA
Opinion TC: Would you ask the Boston writers what "they" look for when
voting for the Cy Young winner? While I am bummed that Beckett didn't win
this year, I understand that Sabathia pitched 40 more innings then the Sox
ace. However, Beckett won 1 more game than CC. What is the list of
importance, ERA, Innings Pitched, Wins, BB, SO, etc.
Each writer has his own criteria, but I was surprised the race wasn't closer. Obviously, Beckett proved in the post-season that he's the league's best pitcher, and he's got an ALCS MVP trophy to prove it. The upside to this is that it'll be one more thing motivating him next season when he anchors the Sox rotation.
Email Atlanta (formerly Randolph, MA)
Opinion Is there a reason the Sox won't be playing the Braves this year? I
figured the singular bright spot of having to move from MA to GA would be
getting to see the Sox play down here, as it seems they have ever since
interleague play started, though I could be wrong. I thought that the
Braves were the Sox' interleague rivals (like the Angels/Dodgers,
Yankees/Mets, etc). So, TC, do you have the scoop?
The Red Sox have no "natural rival" although it was once the Braves. They still play the Braves frequently in interleague play -- last year they faced them six times with series at home and on the road. This year the Sox are playing six different teams: the Reds, Phillies and Astros on the road and the Brewers, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks at home.
I've asked this question of ownership in the past, and they've explained that the Sox interleague formula changes from year to year, with the Braves and Phillies getting the most frequency of games as "rivals." This year, it's one with the Phils and none with the Braves.
I would think you'd get to see the Sox at Turner Field in 2009, if you can wait that long.
Name Dennis B.
Email Pittsfield, Ma.
Opinion Hey TC!
What do you think the Sox will do with Alex Cora? With Pedroia at second,
don't you think it would be a good idea to keep him as a utility player?
His experience on the field and in the clubhouse seem extremely valuable
from this seat. Thanks!
Yes. It is hard to find a player who can handle a reserve role, and Alex Cora does it as well as anyone in the game. He seems to make something happen whenever he's in the lineup, and has a mind for the game that will someday lead him to the manager's office if he so chooses.
There are very few spots open on the Sox roster, and Cora should be one of those players brought back to reprise his role from the 2007 championship season.
Opinion Hi TC!
Looking forward to the defense of the title next year and I'm wondering if
MLB will make tickets available to us living in the states for the games in
Japan next year. I'll be over there at the time and would love to go! Any
thoughts on how to score tickets?
Thanks! And I'm looking foward to watching the pre and post game coverage
with you and the gang.
I would contact the Oakland A's to find out about tickets -- those two games are technically Oakland home games.
Good luck -- we'll be looking for you in the crowd for those 6 am starts!
A few things to look for
So how hot will this off-season's Hot Stove be?
Right now, it's hard to tell. With Alex Rodriguez quickly off the market, crawling back to New York for less than he would've gotten had he dealt with the Yankees weeks ago, there hasn't been much of a free-agent flurry since the final pieces of confetti fell to the ground in the Rocky Mountains three weeks ago.
All eyes are on Mike Lowell, who spent some MVP time with his family at Disney World yesterday.
While Sox fans wait to see if the third baseman returns to Boston, here are a few things we're keeping an eye on as we stoke up the stove (shameless plug: NESN's Red Sox Hot Stove debuts this Monday at 5:30 pm. For the second straight year we'll be doing the show every Monday and doing it live during the week of the Winter Meetings in Nashville):
--Johan Santana. With one year left on his deal, it's hard to imagine the Twins won't move him for a package of prospects. Could the Red Sox land this phenomenal lefty? They could, but it will cost plenty (you can start with Jon Lester, Clay Buccholz, and Coco Crisp.)
--The Mitchell Report. With George Mitchell reportedly asking 11 free agents to speak to the commission, it's easy to understand why teams are treading lightly in signing available players. A team dedicating significant money to a free agent who gets suspended could set itself back for the better part of a whole season.
--Miguel Cabrera. Could the Marlins actually trade a man who hit .320 this season -- his lowest batting average in three years? For the right young players, absolutely. As usual, the Sox and Yankees will be in any conversations concerning this player.
--Coco Crisp. If the Jacoby Ellsbury era is to begin next spring, Crisp has more value to the Sox in trade than in a Red Sox uniform. He's still young, is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, and is locked up for a reasonable contract. Unless he's part of a megadeal (see Santana and Cabrera above) Crisp could really help the Sox retool their middle relief for 2008.
--Hank Steinbrenner. He's being quoted on everything from Alex Rodriguez to Global Warming. Suddenly, there is bluster in the Yankees front office again -- Hank seems determined to make up for his father's silence over the past three years. Steinbrenner's most recent quotes were about Mariano Rivera's wishes for a four-year contract. "If I didn't want him, we wouldn't have made that offer," said Steinbrenner.
So much for Brian Cashman running New York's baseball operations.
Just a few things to ponder when you're not wondering if the Patriots and Celtics can go a combined 98-0 this season. We'll be back next week with our first official Hot Stove mailbag.
Better late than never
Curt Schilling is staying in Boston. Reports have him agreeing to a one-year contract worth $8 million dollars with incentives (including a clause that he has to maintain a certain weight) that could bring the deal to $13 million.
Score this as another home run for GM Theo Epstein.
Last Spring, Epstein balked at Schilling's request for a one-year, $13 million extension, wanting to see how Schilling held up physically in 2007 before signing him for 2008.
During the regular season, they got a 9-8 pitcher who made 24 starts and battled shoulder tendonitis. In the post-season, they got a reminder just how good Schilling can still be. He won three post-season games and threw 24 innings, both the second most on the team. He continued to build on his eye-popping post-season resume (11-2, 1.68), a resume that may get him into Cooperstown even if his 215 career wins falls short.
On his website today, Schilling said he was excited about "a chance to finish our career as members of the Red Sox organization."
When the Red Sox declined to extend Schilling, they got plenty of criticism here in Boston as Schilling lobbied publicly for a deal. Both sides now get what they want. Schilling wanted to stay here, and can still earn his $13 million with a good season. The Sox get a very good pitcher who can win games and help mentor a crop of young arms.
Considering the dearth of free-agent pitchers available (do Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva get you excited) this was a no-brainer. Schilling can still pitch, and he wants to pitch in Boston. Now he will... and the Sox have once again built considerable depth in their starting rotation.
Now, the real fun begins. Who do you think will be playing third base for the Sox in 2008? There are plenty of suggestions in this week's e-mailbag...
What are the chances the Sox hold on to Lowell and pick up A-Rod to play SS? Lugo has been better in the post season, but struggled a bit during the regular season
Matt, Burlington VT
A: AI think you're asking the Red Sox to add some $45 - $50 million a year to a payroll that was already the second highest in baseball. Besides that, they'd probably have to eat part of Lugo's contract in order to move him. It would be a staggering lineup to say the least, but the staggering price tag will probably keep that from happening.
HEY CONGRATS to THE SOX!!!!! Perfect timing to email some thoughts!! I was looking for some stuff to paste and attach to my Yankee friend and cousin's email and came across the mailbag! Hey Tom, I met you with my mom on the last reg. game this year (we mentioned a show we didn’t care about!!) Anyway, want to chime in on what I just read here while looking for good stuff for the Yankee fans...It really was a great thing that Kevin Millar did the ceremonial first pitch before game 7, hey, I gotta add I was so psyched to be there!!!! anyway,...think of it as he was a major (major mainly for his spirit and game 4 of ALCS in 04) part of the miracle in 04 and will never be forgotten, and he would give us a good kick
off of the game 7 which we needed!! Which hey we did win!!!!! Also, he has the mascot personality for us. He just loves us and wishes he could retire here!! As I feel the same for him. Also, I think Orioles and fans would understand for he came to Orioles with a thankful attitude for he knew he didn’t do well in 05 and understood it was a blessing to be signed with someone else, although as I told him when I met him I would’ve kept him for another mascot!!! If he wasn’t part of the miracle in 04 I see your point, but I hope you see it in a more positive way, he will never be forgotten along with Miller and the others of 04,heck I would love to see the 04 old teammates follow in the parade!!! - They broke the curse!
Shoot, put the '67 team in the parade and make an even bigger partying parade!!!! Make sure Pesky is in the parade!!! See you at the parade and thank you so much for reading and I understand if you don’t have to the time to respond. I just had to throw out my support for Kevin Millar and that any 04 winner is welcome back to Fenway anytime even if they are still playing!!!! I thank them for such a special season and to make 07 an even more emotional win looking back at how '04 started it all! Thanks for chatting with my mom and me and also, I hope Don Orsillo feels better after Colorado, he didn’t look himself!!!! I guess the altitude etc!!!! Take care!
I exclude Johnny D out of the welcome back anytime statement. I wonder how he's spending his extra 3 mil right now!!!! Picking 3 extra mil a year over his buddies in the clubhouse, well I guess the comes around part has happened! Also, I guess that sums it up about Kevin Millar returning, he has class Johnny doesn’t!!! Thanks for reading!!!
Kathy M, E. Hartford, Conn.
A: D.O.'s fine -- you've got to remember that was his third trip up into the Rockies in the last five weeks.
I like the "Kevin Millar as Mascot" angle. Maybe he can join Wally and those two socks for home games at Fenway after he retires. He certainly remains a goodwill ambassador to Red Sox Nation -- even as he continues to play for an A.L. East opponent.
Hope you find plenty of material to forward to your pinstripe-wearing friends. Yes, they've still got those 26 championships... but the new millennium has not been very good to them.
I think it would be pretty tough for a Yankee to come throw out the first pitch at Fenway, don't you? Remember the time a few years back when Spike Lee threw out a first pitch and then put his NY hat back on in the seats? I still think we'll welcome Damon back into our hearts when his playing career is over... but not until he's through with his time in NYC.
Red Sox Nation must make it loud and clear they want the Red Sox
brass to re-sign Mike Lowell! Don't you think even CONSIDERING signing
A-Rod makes US look like the NEW Evil Empire?
Darren, Marlborough, Conn.
A: I think fans have done exactly that. "Re-sign Lo-well" was the loudest chant of the day at last week's Rolling Rally. As for making the Sox look like the Evil Empire, they've got a way to go. They are, however, a model franchise in today's baseball. A team with tremendous resources coming out of a tremendous fan base -- that drafts well and adds young players to the mix of high-end free agents. Nothing wrong with that.
I'm sure this is being discussed where any Red Sox fans are this morning. With A-Rod opting out of his contract, more effort should be made before Mike Lowell is signed by another team. Trying to get A-Rod would be the BIGGEST MISTAKE that Sox Management could make, especially if this goes along with losing MIKE LOWELL.
After Mike’s winning the MVP, there should be more demand for him on the open market, so there should be more done by Sox Management to scoop him up!!!
A: The Red Sox have made it clear that they set a certain value on a player and will not overspend to keep him (see Martinez, Pedro; Damon, Johnny; and Mueller, Bill.) Lowell could easily command four years, $60 million on the open market... and I'd be stunned if the Sox pony up that kind of long-term cash. If they can get him for three years and a little less per year (with, perhaps, a fourth-year option that vests automatically after two years) they'll get it done. Remember, though, that Lowell has never been a free agent, and is in line for his biggest payday ever. He has earned the right to exercise his options on the open market.
On potatoes, Fox, and Kevin Millar
It's Soxtober vs. Rocktober... unless we get to Game 7 on November 1.
With one more off-day to kill, let's open up the World Series edition of the e-mailbag...
Tom, I am from Northern Maine, where they farm a lot of potatoes. In our local newspaper, they featured a kid that has a potato that has grown to look exactly like a catcher's mitt. Many people feel it is good luck for the Red Sox. I have the picture and would like to send it to you, and you could possibly use it on the air.
Doug Cyr, Presque Isle, Maine
A: I know how important potatoes are in "the county," especially this time of year. Maybe we can feature it in a new NESN show -- "Sox A-Peel."
Why do all the critics speak of Gagne when they talk about the unraveling of game 2 pitching? When he was taken out was when things began to fall apart. He should be given more of a chance instead of being pulled early.
A: I'd have to believe you are in the vast minority of Red Sox fans holding that opinion. Gagne has been a great major-league closer, but he has not pitched well for the Sox. Francona had no choice but to pull him early in the 11th inning of that game, even though Javier Lopez and Jon Lester couldn't get out of the jam.
I don't think we'll be having this discussion again. I can't imagine any situation in which we'll see him in the World Series.
after watching Beckett's sizzling performance last night, I go back to early in the season right after spring training when Eck clearly said on more than one occasion that the person to watch this season was Beckett ... that he was coming in under the radar (Dice-K was in the limelight) and how that prediction has become spot on !!!! Eck was spot on wasn't he?! Thanks for another wonderful season .... I'll be sorry when Soxtober ends.
A: Eck nailed it... again. He was calling for a Beckett Cy Young Award just weeks into the season.
Remember, if this series goes a full seven games, we'll be turning the calendar to a new month before it ends. Soxvember, anyone?
How can FOX continue to keep audiences when they are so poor at directing, editing and broadcasting baseball games? Tim McCarver's idiotic rantings and continual mistakes have me diving for the remote to hit the MUTE button every time he talks. This would be a much more enjoyable series if we had the NESN staff on HD 851!
Joe Berry, Marion
A: I've suggested we make an audio channel of our "war room" available during the game, so fans could mute the national broadcast and listen to the running commentary we have during the game. Needless to say Eck, Jerry Remy, Jim Rice, our producers and I have plenty of interesting things to say as the game goes along... and, quite often, those comments are directed at the same broadcasters annoying you!
That idea was shot down. You'll just have to wait 'til after the game to get your NESN baseball fix.
With Lowell's impending free-agency, I have heard fan and media speculation about acquiring A-Rod for third base. Wouldn't it be really fun to keep Lowell and acquire A-Rod as shortstop?
David, San Mateo, Calif.
A: It would be fun... and expensive. I know it's easy to say "it's not my money," but there is a limit at which the Red Sox will stop spending money. Signing Lowell for $30-$40 million while adding $300 million or more for Alex Rodriguez (while, I assume, they'd have to eat a sizeable amount of Julio Lugo's contract in order to move him to another team) is way over the top. The Red Sox might add payroll this off-season, but they will not field a team with a $200 million payroll next season.
This is more of a commentary than question. I was very impressed to see Kevin Millar throw out the first pitch at Game 7. His fun, friendly (and dare I say classy?) approach to the game brings all of MLB up a notch.
David, San Mateo, Calif.
A: You wouldn't be saying that if you were a Baltimore Orioles fan. I'm still trying to think how Red Sox Nation would react if the Sox were knocked out of the playoffs and Manny Ramirez threw out the first pitch of a World Series game in Cleveland? My guess is we wouldn't say it was classy.
I like the Sox bringing back players from the 2004 team, but I can't help but wonder what the reaction will be from his Baltimore teammates. Or what the Indians will think of it next time he has to face Cleveland in a series.
Why not put Youkilis in Right Field at Coors and sit Drew?
Mark B, Shelburne, VT
A: Putting an infielder with very little outfield experience in right field for the World Series could lead to trouble. Just this week, Jerry Remy and Jim Rice were telling me about the time the Rem Dawg played outfield since no one else was available. He would up injuring his knee on the first ball hit out there.
I'm not suggesting Youk would get injured, but there's no point in experimenting with that move now. Besides, in case you haven't noticed, J.D. Drew has been hitting very well of late.
Just my thoughts on why Mike Lowell should be given every opportunity to be back in the hot corner for the 2008 season.
We don't need AROD and what he'll bring to the RED SOX organization - NOTHING that Lowell had done this season - a great clubhouse presence, a family man, he's a veteran who has played with spunk and fire, and a hometown favorite with no "ego" - yes, he's older and he would require lots of money and wants a long-term deal, so what, look what they gave J.D. Drew (although, he's coming around and next year should be better) - I say give Lowell the money and the years (3) - maybe he'll take a hometown discount if the years are offered.
Thanks for listening...
Paulette Russell, West Kingston, RI
A: You're not alone in your belief. It'll be very interesting to see what the Red Sox decide to do... especially if they win the World Series. After 2004, they showed the world they were willing to break up one of the most popular teams in franchise history. Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe were gone after the season, with players like Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and Bill Mueller soon to follow. Now they'll have to make a decision on Lowell... and, if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, what to do about the potential of adding A-Rod to the lineup.
Stats to ponder
Just some quick stats as the Sox return to Fenway Park for Game 6 tonight, and why I'm thinking we'll be back here for Game 7 tomorrow.
--Curt Schilling will be facing a team for the second time in a post-game series for the sixth time in his career. In the previous five starts, he is 3-0 with 22 hits allowed and a total of four earned runs. That translates to an ERA of 0.90.
--The Sox were 51-30 at home this season, 39-22 against right-handed pitches. They hit .297 at Fenway Park (vs. .262 on the road) and hit 30 more doubles at Fenway Park.
--Boston's slugging percentage was .041 better at home this season (.465 vs. .424), their on-base percentage was .035 better at Fenway (.379 vs. .344), leading to an .844 OPS at home (vs. .768.)
Add to that the fact that Fausto Carmona has a 1-2 record with a 6.23 ERA at Fenway Park, and it's clear that bringing this series back to Boston has brought this team back to life.
Enjoy the game. We'll see you post-game.
Now we've got a series.
Suddenly, we've got ourselves a series. Red Sox fans were starting to act like the team was the New England Patriots, expecting a win every time the Sox took the field. Now, after that heart-wrenching loss Saturday night (and Sunday morning) we've got a little angst to go along with our baseball viewing.
It's the playoffs, and that's the way it should be.
Now every decision is scrutinized, like the one to bring Tim Wakefield to the mound in Game 4 of what is now a best-of-five series with the first two games in Cleveland. During Sunday's off-day press conference, Terry Francona made it clear that he is not considering a move to bring Josh Beckett into that game.
Beckett would be pitching on three days' rest after throwing a mere 80 pitches on Friday night in Game 1. Pitching Tuesday night would allow him to come back for a possible Game 7 on a full four days' rest.
Instead, Terry Francona is sticking with his plan, and expecting the depth of the team's rotation to pay off. it worked during the season, as the Sox won their first division title in 12 years.
Tim Wakefield hasn't pitched in two weeks, and hasn't been dominant since Labor Day weekend, when he missed a start with a sore back. He's only won one game since. Now his shoulder is aching as well.
Red Sox fans believe the Sox have the best staff in baseball. After splitting a pair with each team's top two starters getting a shot, this series could come down to who has the deepest rotation. It's Daisuke Matsuzaka against Jake Westbrook tonight, and Wakefield against Paul Byrd tomorrow.
Cleveland showed incredible resiliency Saturday night, coming back to tie the game twice before becoming the first road team to win an extra-innings playoff game in the history of Fenway Park. Now, the Sox have to show the baseball world what kind of resiliency they have. And Matsuzaka and Wakefield will be called on to lead the way.
Let's open up the post-season e-mailbag....
Might sound dumb - but do we have the offense to get this done?
We're not going to get 7 walks every game, nor are we going to get to the BP every time. The SOX have a lot of problems with RISP and many one run games, and if you include the one run games (3-2) win or lose, this adds up to OFFENSE problems to me. And when they face DEEP SP they seem to lose, so, do they have what it takes?
Frankii & Sheri, Pasadena Calif.
A: Not quite sure what all the initials stand for, but I think I got the gist of it. Yes, I think the Sox have the offense to win it all, and I think you've seen it here in the post-season. They've scored 35 runs in five post-season games, an average of seven runs a game. And that's without seeing a fourth starter yet. They showed incredible patience and plate discipline against Carmona Saturday night, and may look back with regret on letting that game get away.
Any time a starter goes deep into the game there is trouble for the other team, not just for the Sox. It stands to reason if a starter goes deep, it's because he's pitching well. Again, this is where Boston's patient approach has been such a key: the Sox haven't seen a starter go beyond six innings in a game yet this post-season!
For every home game, there is a gentleman sitting in the first row, last seat on the right by the stairs, right behind the (right-handed) hitters. He is a nice looking man, round face, darkish hair... is he someone connected with the Red Sox? He is shown on TV more than ANYONE else during the Red Sox games! Just wondering who he was.... thanks!
Sue Eastford, Hadlyme, Conn.
A: His name is Jeremy Kapstein, and he holds the title of Senior Advisor/ Baseball Projects with the Red Sox. He was one of the first "super agents" in the game, and was once ranked as one of the two most powerful people in the world of sports by a national wire service. He worked with Larry Lucchino during their days in San Diego with the Padres, and has followed Lucchino here to Boston. As I've often told him, he gets more air time than I do!
Tom, Eric Gagne appears to extend his index finger when throwing a curveball. Doesn't this tip the batter as to what pitch is coming?
James Walker, Bow, NH
A: There has been talk of that, and it's something Gagne has supposedly worked on. Not sure it's worth losing much sleep over, though -- I can't imagine we'll see Gagne again this post-season (at least not in any meaningful innings.)
Did Youk guarantee himself the gold glove with an errorless season at first base?
A: I think so. It's still amazing to think back to the start of last year, when the Sox brought in J.T. Snow as defensive insurance in case Youkilis couldn't handle the switch from first base. It hasn't been a problem, and this off-season Youk should have a nice, shiny new mitt for the trophy case.
Not a question, but just wanted to complement you and all the NESN folks on another great season of bringing the Sox into our homes. Hats off to you, Remy, Don, Tina and all the rest.
Michelle, Manchester, NH
A: Thanks, and we're not done yet. We're hoping to be here in studio until the end of the month at least!
The Sox to face the Tribe
They finished the season tied with 96 wins apiece, the two best teams in baseball. Now, the Red Sox and Indians will meet in the American League Championship Series.
The Sox will have had four full days of rest leading into Friday's Game 1 at Fenway Park. If there are any concerns here, it's that Boston will have had too much rest. Come Friday, they will have played a total of three games in the past 11 days.
Boston went 5-2 against Cleveland this season, taking two out of three at Fenway and three of four at Jacobs Field. Both teams will be able to go to their aces in Game One, with Josh Beckett undboutedly facing C.C. Sabathia to start the series. Fausto Carmona, who was fabulous in Game Two of the ALDS againstt the Yankees, will no doubt pitch Game Two. It remains to be seen if Terry Francona counters with Daisuke Matsuzaka, or if he shakes up the rotation before the second round.
Get ready for plenty of Trot Nixon talk in the coming days. He hit a homer off Roger Clemens in the only loss of the series for Cleveland and was back on the bench last night in Game 4. Former Red Sox backup Kelly Shoppach was behind the plate catching Paul Byrd.
There were plenty of Sox fans who wanted to see Boston face New York next week, but that will not be happening. Instead, it'll be the Indians, a team that features a tremendous one-two punch at the top of the rotation and a solid bullpen.
The Sox get back to work at Fenway on Tuesday after Monday's day off. We'll see what Terry Francona and the team says about the Indians at that point.
Sox put Dice-K on the Big Stage
Are you surprised that Daisuke Matsuzaka is getting the nod for Game 2 over Curt Schilling? Don't be. This is why the Red Sox invested more than $100 million to land Dice-K. If the righthander is known for anything, it's that he rises to the occasion when the stakes are biggest.
You know the history. As a 17-year old, Matsuzaka burst into the national consciousness in Japan when he threw a 250-pitch complete game in the quarterfinals of the Koshien, the national high school baseball tournament. These games are played in prime time and are televised to huge audiences nationally. Think of the tournament as Japan's version of March Madness. Or something even bigger.
"I don't think any pressure he could face in Boston could match his High School tournament," said Robert Whiting, author of such acclaimed books on Japan as You Gotta Have Wa. "It's as big as the Super Bowl over here."
Whiting said those words back in December, when Matsuzaka was arriving in Boston as a member of the Red Sox for the first time. Since then, we've seen Dice K win 15 games, battle through some late-season struggles, and post an ERA of 4.40.
Now, he is poised to be the middle man of a three-armed rotation that will face the Angels in the first round. The two teams go with their undisputed aces in Game One. Josh Beckett and John Lackey combined to win 39 games this year.
The outcome of this series could very well depend on what happens in Game Two and, if necessary, Game 5. Matsuzaka is currently scheduled to face Kelvim Escobar in both of those games. Escobar won 18 games this year, including a 7-1 mark down the stretch. He didn't pitch particularly well in that run, however, as the Anaheim bats posted double-digit run production in more than half of those starts.
The Red Sox never faced Escobar this season. The Angles have never seen Matsuzaka. A pitcher usually has the advantage in those situations, and the Sox are hoping their big investment of last fall pays big dividends this autumn.
Get ready for Angels in the (Fenway Park) outfield.
Barring a complete collapse by the Indians, the Red Sox should be playing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League Division Series next week. And, barring a complete collapse by the Red Sox, the series should begin at Fenway Park with the Sox having home-field advantage.
Anaheim (in the interests of brevity, we'll stick to calling them Anaheim from here on in rather than Los Angeles, California, Orange County, or Disneyland) has the night off before opening up a three-game series in Oakland against the A's tomorrow night. They were pounded by 16-2 by the Rangers yesterday, swept by Texas in a three-game set, and are dealing with mounting injuries.
With 92 wins and three games to play, the Angels would have to sweep the A's while the Indians went 0-4 down the stretch to finish ahead of Cleveland in the overall American League standings (the Indians hold the tie-breaker over Anaheim.) Doing this would be the only way the Angels could play New York in the first-round.
Otherwise, it'll be the Sox and Angels next week, whether or not the Sox finish with the best overall record in the league.
In order to lose home-field advantage in the ALDS, Boston would need to lose its final four games of the season (all against Minnesota) while the Angels went 3-0 this weekend.
The Sox won six of 10 games against the Angels this season, a series that would've been much tighter if not for Boston's three-game sweep at Fenway in April (it was a four-game series, but one game was rained out.) In that series, the Angels seemed thoroughly disinterested, struggling through a 1-8 stretch. They came to Boston after being swept by Cleveland in Milwaukee (waiting until the last minute to find out where those games would be played as Jacobs Field was stuck under a week-long snowstorm.) Seemed as though Vladimir Guerrero and the boys couldn't get back to sunny California fast enough.
Take away that stretch of baseball, and the Angels are 91-59, a .607 winning percentage.
In fact, they haven't had a stretch of bad baseball like that until the past week. They have suddenly lost five of six and are limping badly towards the finish line. Gary Matthews suffered another knee injury in yesterday's debacle. Guerrero has been playing DH with a triceps history and was hit by a pitch in Texas. Kelvim Escobar, a 17-game winner, was pushed back in the rotation to rest a sore shoulder.
This will be the second time Boston and Anaheim meet in the ALDS in the past four years. In 2004, David Ortiz hit a walk-off homer in the 11th inning of Game 3 at Fenway, eliminating the Halos and setting off a baseball celebration that culminated some three weeks later with Boston's first World Series championship since 1918.
It hasn't been nearly that long a drought for the Sox this time around. That hasn't lessened the hunger Red Sox Nation has for a championship. The next step towards that goal could come as early as tonight, when the Sox could celebrate their first Division title since 1995.
Then, it'll be onto the series with the Angels. Get ready for Josh Beckett and John Lackey in Game One.
What does a September stumble mean?
There are 10 games remaining in the 2007 season. The finish line is in sight, but suddenly the Red Sox are staggering to the end. They have lost four out of five, and the once-distant sound of the New York Yankees' footsteps is now a full-volume thunder that has Red Sox Nation in a full panic.
It isn't just the fact that the Sox are losing games, it's how they are losing those games. The bullpen, once the bedrock of October dreams, has given up 10 runs in 10 innings over the past six games. Relief pitchers have given up eighth-inning leads twice in the past five games, culminating in Eric Gagne's disastrous meltdown in Toronto last night.
Meanwhile, the Yankees might not lose another game, and are only two back in the loss column.
In the midst of all this gloom, I am here to provide a ray of hope. Yes, the Sox are stumbling. Yes, they may finish behind the Yankees once again. Yes, losing the division would be a crushing blow to the psyche of Sox fans.
And come October, it might not matter a lick.
You don't have to go far back to find an example of how a September collapse has little to do with postseason success. Last year, the Detroit Tigers had a brutal September, finishing the month just 12-16. They began September with a 5 ˝-game lead in the AL Central, a lead that was still five games on Sept. 7.
That's when the trouble began for Jim Leyland's team. Detroit lost its next three games, and the lead was down to two. It was still two games come Sept. 16. Even after alternating wins and losses over the next six games, the Tigers were 1 1/2 games up with five games to go.
Detroit lost all five of those games. Every single one. When they were beaten by Kansas City on Oct. 1 in 12 innings, Minnesota took over the division lead for the first time all season.
The Twins of 2006 were this year's Yankees, overcoming a double-digit deficit as late as Aug. 7. They never held a share of first place until the final weekend of the season. They went 19-11 in September, best in the game.
Then what happened? The Oakland A's swept them in the ALDS. So much for momentum.
The Tigers, in the meantime, eliminated the Yankees in four ALDS games, and then won four straight against Oakland to move into the World Series. Yes, they lost the Fall Classic, but they were able to put a horrendous September behind them and win seven of their first eight playoff games to become American League champions.
It might be hard to remain rational as the Yankees put on a full-court press for another division title, but let's remember that at least one Wild Card team has made it to the World Series in each of the past five years. You'd like to go into October on a roll, but last year the Tigers proved you don't have to. Detroit lost again last night, and the Sox magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now four.
You do, however, have to pitch well to win it all. Clay Buchholz will try to help the team take a step in that direction tonight.
The Magic Number is 4
The Magic Number is 4, not 9.
That is the combined number of Sox wins and Detroit losses needed for Boston to clinch its fourth postseason berth in the last five seasons. That is when the Sox punch their ticket to October, when they get to officially start thinking about their playoff rotation.
There is no question that losing the AL East title to the Yankees over these final 10 games would be a crushing blow to the psyche of Red Sox Nation. Boston hasn't finished on top of the division since 1995, a dozen years of regular-season futility. The closest they came was in 2005, when they finished with 95 wins - the same number of wins as the Yankees. New York won the tiebreaker and was crowned AL East champs.
Do you remember what happened next? The Yankees and Red Sox were both eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Which goes to show you what a piece of the regular-season title gets you.
In fact, over the past five years there has been an incredibly wild run of Wild Card success in Major League Baseball. Since 2002, at least one of the teams playing in the World Series did not win its division. Three of those teams, including the 2004 Boston Red Sox, went from Wild Card to World Champions.
The Sox woke up this morning with their slimest lead since April. Still, it is not time to yell "May Day" just yet. The Magic Number is 4. Make no mistake, the Sox will celebrate when they've clinched a postseason berth, even if they haven't nailed down the division title yet. They will try to beat out the Yankees, but they won't blow out their staff to do it. It's all about making the playoffs... and the Sox are still in very good shape to do that.
Having lost four of their last five games, the Sox need to start playing better baseball if they want to play deep into October. They'll need Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis back in the lineup, and another solid start from Daisuke Matsuzaka this weekend.
But to play deep into October, you need to make it to October. And the magic number to do that is 4. Not 9.
Stretch run mailbag
Do you think Youk said something to A-Rod when he got called out on the base line? Maybe that's why Joba threw at him ?
Gary J Wescott, Sparks Nev.
A: I have not heard that one. I think Kevin Youkilis plays the game hard with a competitive fire that probably does get under opponents' skin from time to time. That's no excuse to throw at someone's head, however... and if Joba Chamberlain did that intentionally he's got a long way to go before he's a legitimate big league pitcher. It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out when the two teams meet again this Friday.
TC- A year ago Craig Hansen was the Sox's No. 1 minor league pitcher. Where is he now? What is his record? Where is he now rated? Was his future ruined by bringing him up too soon? What is his future predicted to be? Thanks!
Delabate, So Berwick, Maine
A: Craig Hansen certainly seems to have slipped off the team's radar screen. He spent the entire season with Pawtucket this season, with an ERA of 3.86 in 51 1/3 innings pitched. It was the first time in his three professional seasons that Hansen was not called up to the big club. Could the early call-ups have had an adverse effect on him? Hard to say. Bottom line is he's still only 23 years old and still has plenty of baseball in him. If it's not with the Red Sox, it'll be with someone else.
Do you think that the Red Sox have no passion? It seems to me like either they think theyâ€™re the best and they got this in the bag or they got no passion, they go to the ball park play when the are forced (and I say this seriously) itâ€™s just business and they are there to make there millions and championship is second if they make playoffs.
Kenny Robinson, Taunton
A: No, I don't. I think this is a professional team filled veterans who know how to keep their emotions in check. That's why the emotion of the group of rookies called up this month has been so contagious. It's an exciting bunch of young players, and they've made an immediate impact.
That said, they are still young players, and you can't expect them to play every day in a post-season series. Jacoby Ellsbury has been exciting, but he reminded us that rookies make mistakes. His first pitch swing into a fielder's choice after Varitek drew a lead-off walk hurt the team's chances to get an inning going.
With the impressive outings from Clay Buchholz, do you think there may be a chance that he takes over for Lester in the No. 5 spot in the rotation?
A: No. He's an unbelievable young talent, and the no-hitter was the exclamation mark on the team's late-season run, but he's getting very close to the hard cap on the number of innings he'll be able to pitch. He'll throw out of the bullpen a little more this month, but as good as he's been I'm not even sure if he makes the post-season roster.
Lester is starting to show us that his strength is returning, and his last two starts have been impressive. Both came against Baltimore, and now he's got to do it against someone else.
If the Sox win the AL East, is there a chance they could end up playing the LA Angels in the first round of the playoffs? What would have to happen for this to take place? Thanks, Go Sox.
Kathy Dirosario, Las Vegas
A: The division winner with the best record plays the wild card winner, unless those two teams are from the same division. Then, the division winner with the best record would play the division winner with the worst record. If you went by the current standings, the Sox would play the Indians in the first round, while the Angels (better record than Cleveland) would play the Yankees.
Under that scenario, the Sox and Angels would need to win their first-round series to face one another in the ALCS.
Division hangs in balance
This is where the AL East is won. There are four weeks left in the baseball season. Twenty-five games. The final sprint in a six-month long marathon.
With all due respect to the 2006 Blue Jays, the division has essentially been a two-horse race since the turn of the millenium. While the Sox haven't won it in the past 12 years, they have knocked on the door (actually tying the Yankees in 2005 with 95 wins.)
What we've learned in that time is that the division isn't won in the 18 or 19 games played between the two teams. This year, the Sox trail the Yankees 8-7 through 15 games. Since the start of 2002 New York leads the series 64-60 (including playoffs.)
Do the math. If the two teams are going to split just about all of their games, they'd better do well against the rest of the division and the rest of baseball. And that's exactly what the Sox and Yankees are trying to do right now.
By taking two of three from the Orioles, the Sox rebounded nicely from the three-game debacle at Yankee Stadium. They also added a game to their division lead when New York dropped two of three to Tampa Bay.
The Orioles appear to have given up the battle. They've lost 11 of the last 12 games, getting no hit by Clay Buchholz in one of those games and giving up a record 30 runs in another.
The same cannot be said for the other teams in the AL East. Toronoto has won seven of its last 10, and is coming off a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners (who are still hoping to edge the Yankees in the Wild Card race.)
Over the next three days, the Sox will face a Blue Jays team that is fighting to the end. Tonight, they'll face former Devil Rays clubhouse boy Jesse Litsch, who outpitched Josh Beckett in a 2-1 thriller back in July. Tomorrow night it will be ace vs. ace as Beckett goes up against Red Sox nemesis Roy Halladay. They'll wrap up the series against up-and-comer Shaun Marcum, who has won seven of eight.
There are three more with Toronto north of the border in two weeks. There are also six games with the Devil Rays... one of the hottest teams in baseball. That's right. The D-Rays have won eight of 10 -- no one has a better record in that span.
Yes, there are three to go with New York. Yes, we're keeping Joba Chamberlain's throws at Kevin Youkilis in mind and we're ready to welcome him to Fenway Park. Just remember, that weekend will probably not be where this thing is decided. It will be decided on nights like tonight, when Daisuke Matsuzaka tries to pitch his team to a win for the first time in his last four starts.
The Rivalry lives
For these three nights, let's forget about the standings. The Red Sox are in New York, and this is still about who's the best in the Super Heavyweight Division of the AL East.
Last night was a reminder that the road to a championship goes through New York. It was a grind-it-out affair, with the Sox staging two comebacks and a man who knows the rivalry better than anyone ending it with a seventh-inning homer.
Johnny Damon hasn't been at 100 percent this year. Not even close. But he's suddenly found a new home in left field and has that swing going again. His game-winning shot traveled about 315 feet. That's as far as it needed to go to instill a new dose of agita in The Nation. How many of those shots over the right-field fence did Damon hit in a Red Sox uniform? Some we'll never forget, like the grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. He helped the Sox get up off the mat then, and he's trying to do the same for the Yankees now.
We got our first look at Joba Chamberlain, the 21-year old phenom who started the year in Single A. Say what you will about J.D. Drew this season, but there isn't a hitter in this league that wouldn't have been baffled by a sequence of 98-mph paint on the corner followed by a 90-mph slider from hell.
Remember all the fun you had at Mariano Rivera's expense back in April? No one's laughing now. That cutter is as filthy as ever, shattering bats ... and dreams of a ninth-inning comeback.
In last night's pregame show, we asked if fans thought the Yankees would make the playoffs. The overwhelming majority of you said no.
I beg to differ. The Mariners have been the trendy pick, but they blew a 5-0 first-inning lead last night and are clinging to a one-game lead in the wild card. They've got a brutally tough schedule: after trying to avoid being swept in Anaheim tonight, they hit the road for a 10-game stretch through Toronto, Yankee Stadium, and Detroit.
Come October, the Yankees will be there. And there will be no more limits on Chamberlain. The bullpen, once a weakness, is becoming strong.
That's why these games are so important. For the Red Sox, the road to a championship goes through the Bronx. Always has. After last night, it's once again obvious that beating these Yankees in a postseason series won't be easy.
A rainy day mailbag
The Red Sox and White Sox were rained out in Chicago tonight. They'll play two at U.S. Cellular Field tomorrow, the first game beginning at 2 p.m. our time with the second game still planned for 8 pm Eastern time.
It was a long wait for no baseball, but it did give us a chance to open up the e-mailbag...
Did you really like picking up Gagne? As far as I see....if it's not broken don't fix it. Okie in the 8th and JP in the 9th = victory. Don't change a thing. Perfect proof was on Friday night in the 6-5 loss to Baltimore. In the top of the 8th when Pena tied it up it looked like it would be the right atmosphere we needed to start that winning streak, only to be shot right down. The crowd where I was and the dugout had that feeling when we took the lead, like we had in 2004. When the Sox went after Gagne, I compare that to, if the Pats would go after another starting QB.....doesn't make sense. Oh Well...take care and keep up the great work. Loyal fan from RI.
Mark, Cranston, RI
A: I do like the Gagne addition. I'll always take more of a good thing, and Gagne should ultimately make a very good bullpen better. Yes, he has struggled, but I've seen signs of optimism over the last two appearances. Now, you have a guy like Gagne available for a situation like the one we saw Wednesday night in Tampa Bay. The Sox were down 2-1, and Gagne came in and shut the D-Rays down for an inning. That gave the Sox bats a chance to come back and win it, even through they didn't. To have a former Cy Young Award winner come in to keep a game close -- even when it's not in a save (or hold) situation -- shows just how much depth this bullpen now has.
How's that trade working out now TC? Even I knew we a bat and not bullpen help. And what do you suppose Okajima did to get demoted to 7th inning instead of 8th? ERA not low enough at .98 I guess. Tell it like it is. Gagne is in there so the front office doesn't look like fools. Well, guess what, they do! A longtime Red Sox fan who thinks finishing out of the playoffs will be the only way to get rid of fools running this asylum.
Jill E. Heisler, Charlestown, RI
A: Listen, I said all along I would've liked to see the Sox get a bat at the deadline, and I still wish they would've been able to land Jermaine Dye -- he's got the most extra-base hits in the AL since the All-Star Break and would make us all feel a lot better about this team right now.
Gagne has been a disappointment. Period. I don't think he'll be brutal for the rest of the season. If he is, it wasn't a good trade. If not, he makes the bullpen deeper. And deeper is better. Unlike most of the other AL contenders, the Sox made a move to improve their team at the deadline. If you believe the reports, they came very close to landing Dye. The White Sox ultimately decided to keep him, and have signed him to a contract decision since. Not much you can do about that.
Only wanted to say this is my first night to watch Red Sox on NESN thanks to Comcast finally listening to the need of the greatest fans in baseball - CT fans. Love the Red Sox.
Nancy, Seymour, Conn.
A: We're thrilled to be on in So. Connecticut! NESN has been added to Comcast in 12 towns in the Waterbury area. I was in Waterbury on Tuesday, and met with plenty of Sox fans there. Now, they can watch Sox games and keep cheering at the very battlefront of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.
There has been a lot of speculation about A-Rod coming to Boston. It is my impression he is not very popular with players as well as the fans. Since team chemistry is an important factor to team success, do you think this would this would be a good move?
Brenda L. Goodness, Wakefield, RI
A: Team chemistry is important, but talent still takes you to the top. The A-Rod possibility is intriguing, and is going to be one of the biggest topics of discussion when this baseball season ends. He is a polarizing figure, and while many fans hate him there is no denying he could be a heart-of-the-order hitter that could revitalize the Red Sox lineup. It's easy not to like A-Rod if you're a Sox fan, but you might like him a whole lot more if he was wearing a Red Sox uniform and hitting 60 homers a season.
I'm not saying I think the Sox are definitely going to sign A-Rod, but I do think they will give him a good, hard look. Love him or hate him, he's one of the best players in the game. It would certainly make this an interesting offseason, no?
TC, True or False: Was your first on-air sports assignment was covering a minor-league ping pong tournament in Essex Junction, Vt. in the spring of 1985?
Schubert Bodine, Camden, Maine
A: Yes, it was... and I quickly learned that it's called table tennis at that level. Ping pong is what you play near the beer fridge in your basement... table tennis is the competitive level of the sport.
Red Sox Nation featured in USA Today
The feature story in today's USA Today is on the Red Sox and their fans.
"America's New Home Team" is the line written above a full-color picture of a Sox fan holding up a poster (and, yes, the poster includes the obligatory "Hi Rem Dawg" mention.)
"Now, it really is a Red Sox Nation," proclaims the headline. The story goes on to call the Sox "baseball's top draw" and says the team is "the biggest attraction in baseball." It says the Yankees were once that attraction, but no longer.
The newspaper hits the stands today.
May Day again
Even on vacation -- even out of the country -- I heard the whispers. The Sox were fading. Their lead was evaporating. The Yankees were charging, and a seemingly insurmountable edge was suddenly surmountable.
I scoffed at the naysayers. After all, the Red Sox had the best pitching in the American League -- the best bullpen in all of baseball -- and had picked up Eric Gagne at the trade deadline while all the other AL contenders had remained relatively quiet.
I had kept track of the team from afar, reading the box scores while the Canadian sports pages spent key space covering the Doug McLean-led purchase of the Tampa Bay Lightning (you just can't get that kind of hockey coverage in the States during the season, let alone in August.)
All in all, the Red Sox seemed to be surviving the road trip, even after Friday's rare bullpen collapse in Baltimore. How bad could things get?
The answer to that question, of course, is very bad. Which is where we are right now. The Sox are home from a sub-.500 road trip, a 10-day stretch that saw their lead fall from eight games to four games, the smallest margin the Sox have had since May 1.
It was May Day then, it's mayday now.
In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Sam Allis wrote in his Observer column that "to finally win the damned division would be sublime." He suggests that it is a prize worthy of daydream, even at the expense of the usual dreams of a World Series win.
Obviously, winning the final game of October is much more important than winning the season finale on the first day of the month. Yet, after nine straight AL East championships for the Yankees, wouldn't it be nice to see the Sox celebrate a division title rather than the Wild Card. "We're number two" just doesn't seem as fulfilling, does it?
There will be no complaints in Red Sox Nation if the Sox take the fourth and final AL spot in the postseason party and parlay it into a championship, like they did in 2004. That said, it will be a hard September to swallow if we are forced to watch the Yankees storm past Boston to take the title for the 10th straight year.
The schedule has favored New York of late, with a steady diet of Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Toronto since the All-Star break. The Yankees have fattened up on that schedule to the tune of 23-8.
That's why New York's sweep of Cleveland at Jacobs Field over the weekend was a statement. The Indians consider themselves contenders, but they were pounded by the torrid New York offense three straight times.
There are eight games with Detroit and three with the Angels on the Yankees schedule before they host the Sox for three games at the end of the month. Those dates are suddenly looming as make-or-break games.
The Sox? They've got six games with the Devil Rays sandwiched around the four-game, three-day weekend with the Angels. Conventional wisdom says Boston should win most of those games.
Of course, that same wisdom said the Sox should've won the weekend series in Baltimore, and that Eric Gagne shouldn't have given up five runs in his last two appearances.
Like it or not, the race is on. There will be no coasting into the postseason. The Sox will have to earn their place at the table, and that won't be easy.
It never is, is it? Anyone who remembers baseball before 2004 can attest to that.
Sox staff about to get more experienced
The Red Sox told us they would be aggressive leading into the trade deadline, and they were. They landed the best relief pitcher to be traded prior to the 4 pm trade deadline on July 31, and reportedly made a full-court press to add an impact bat.
When the dust had settled, Eric Gagne was coming to Boston, ready to bolster a group of relievers that already had the best bullpen ERA in baseball. They didn't land Jermaine Dye, who may now sign a contract extension with the White Sox.
How much does Gagne help the Sox? He shortens the game to the extreme. The Sox bullpen stacks up with Jonathan Papelbon closing, Gagne and Hideki Okajima setting up, and Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen there for earlier work or to match up and get the Sox out of jams in the 7th and 8th. Javier Lopez is the situational lefty, and Julian Tavarez is the long-relief man.
It would appear that Kyle Snyder could be the odd-man out in this pitching staff, once Curt Schilling returns. He pitched seven shutout innings for the PawSox tonight in Columbus, and looked very sharp. Sixty of the 77 pitches he threw were strikes.
Schilling will make his return to the rotation on Sunday in Seattle. Gagne will be in uniform tomorrow night at Fenway. How about adding those two arms to your staff for the stretch run? Together, they've got 759 major-league appearances, a total of 29 years combined. They've combined for nine all-star appearances and have a Cy Young Award, an NLCS MVP Award, and a World Series MVP Award.
Experience won't win a championship, but it can't hurt. The Red Sox pitching staff will add a lot of it in the next few days. With the aforementioned bullpen backing up a rotation of Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester, the Sox have arguably the best pitching staff in baseball.
Do they have the bats to get it done? If they had added Dye, the answer would've been an unquestioned yes. With this pitching staff, it still might be good enough. And I'm willing to bet the team still adds a bat before Aug. 31 as names start to be put on waivers.
The arrival of the G-Men (Gagne and Kevin Garnett) make this a red-letter day for Boston sports fans. For baseball fans, watching the Sox make a move while the Yankees, Tigers, Indians and Angels all stayed relatively silent is the best news you could ask for on this given day.
Trade Deadline History Lesson
We are closing in on trade deadline 2007, and all eyes in Red Sox Nation are on the General Manager's office, waiting to see what (if anything) Theo Epstein will do to improve this team's chances for a World Series run.
Everyone knows Theo made all the right moves in 2004, engineering a four-team deal that moved Nomar Garciaparra to Chicago and brought Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to Boston (Dave Roberts came in a separate deal that day.
Last year, the Red Sox did not make any major moves at the July 31 deadline. The next day, Jason Varitek was placed on the D.L. and would miss more than a month with torn cartilage in his knee.
In 2005, the hot rumor was that Manny Ramirez would be traded, which never happened. That afternoon, with Jonathan Papelbon making his major league debut, Manny got the game-winning hit off Brad Radke in a win over the Minnesota Twins.
The 2004 trade of Nomar might have been the most glaring example of a "big deal" that sparked a team, but Epstein made key moves in 2003 to get the Sox within five outs of the World Series.
Over a series of trades, Epstein brought Scott Williamson and Scott Sauerbeck to Boston. (He also acquired Jeff Suppan from Pittsburgh, giving up future NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez.)
Williamson blossomed as the post-season closer, going 2-0 with three saves. As we all know by now, he was warmed up and ready to go in Game 7 of the ALCS in New York, but Grady Little opted to leave Pedro Martinez in the game just a little too long.
NESN producer Steve Garabedian, building a historical look at key Red Sox trades for our upcoming Trade Deadline Special (Tuesday at 3:30 pm), has put together this history lesson of other Sox deadline deals:
Interim GM Mike Port made headlines in 2002 with some trades that would impact the World Championship team of 2004. He acquired Alan Embree & Cliff Floyd in separate trades in late July. Embree was the lefthander bullpen specialist, while Floyd left the team as a free agent with the Red Sox receiving a compensation draft pick. The Sox drafted Matt Murton with that selection, who was involved in that Nomar trade in 2004. And Embree won game 6 of the 2003 ALCS.
The Dan Duquette era, that is from 1994-2002, was highlighted by some outstanding trades, and some not so good moves. In 1997, Red Sox closer Heathcliff Slocumb was a hot commodity, and Duquette dealt him to Seattle for Jason Varitek & Derek Lowe. Advantage: Red Sox.
Duquette acquired a closer in 1995 when he traded Frankie Rodriguez for Rick Aguilera, who saved 20 games for the Eastern Division winning Red Sox. A year later with the Sox being sellers, Duquette traded pitcher Jamie Moyer to Seattle for reserve outfielder Darren Bragg. Moyer has since won 158 games and Bragg developed into a journeyman. Advantage: Seattle.
The Lou Gorman era from 1984 to 1993 is unfortunately tarnished by the infamous Jeff Bagwell trade which happened on August 31st, 1990. A Hall of Fame candidate for a 22 inning pitcher, advantage: Astros.
Gorman had the nerves of a riverboat gambler. In 1988, he acquired pitcher Mike Boddicker, who was an integral part of two Eastern Division titles, for two young players that would develop in the future in Brady Anderson & Curt Schilling. Advatange: Red Sox. He also acquired Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver from the White Sox for Steve “Psycho” Lyons in 1986. Seaver solidified the pitching staff of the team that would be one strike away from ending the Curse.
Other noteworthy trades prior to 1986 include General Manager Dick O’Connell’s acquisitions in pennant winning years of 1975 & 1967. Before 1986 the trade deadline was on June 15th, making it more difficult to determine the sellers and buyers. But O’Connell was still able to acquire second baseman Denny Doyle, who sparked the Red Sox in ’75, and in ‘67 he traded for pitcher Gary Bell, who went on to win 12 games for the Impossible Dream team.
The race heats up
After watching the Red Sox lose two of three to the Kansas City Royals, Red Sox Nation has begun to feel the first real panic of the 2007 season. On Wednesday night, Boston's lead in the East was the smallest it's been in more than two months.
We all knew the Yankees would make a run at some point, and this could be that run. Looking at the upcoming schedule for the two teams over the next few weeks, that run might not be over next.
Both teams play the majority of their games against teams with sub-.500 records in the coming weeks, but a comparison makes it clear that the Yankees have the easier record between now and Aug. 9 (a mutual day off):
BOSTON RED SOX
7/19-7/20 White Sox
7/23-7/26 at Cleveland
7/27-7/29 at Tampa Bay
8/3-8/5 at Seattle
8/6-8/8 at Anaheim
NEW YORK YANKEES
7/20-7/22 Devil Rays
7/23-7/26 at Kansas City
7/27-7/29 at Baltimore
7/31-8/2 White Sox
8/6-8/8 at Toronto
Both teams play the White Sox, Devil Rays, and Orioles, but while the Sox play tough road series in Cleveland, Seattle, and Anaheim, the Yankees will be playing two series with Kansas City and another with Toronto.
(I realize the Royals just took a series at Fenway, but there's no question you'd rather be facing Kansas City than the Indians, Mariners, or Angels.)
After that, the strength of schedule turns in Boston's favor. In the 12 days before the Yankees host Boston for a three-game set beginning Aug. 28, they will play a stunning eight games with the Detroit Tigers and three with the Angels. The Sox will also play the Angels in that stretch, but will face the Devil Rays and White Sox in the other two series.
Will those three days at the end of August mean anything in the AL East? We're a long way from finding out. What we know right now is that the Yankees have hit better, pitched better, and won more games than the Red Sox over the past two weeks.
There will be changes in the coming weeks. The Sox appear to be looking for an outfielder that can spark the offense and re-energize the lineup. Both teams will be in the market for the top players available.
In New York, Phillip Hughes is close to making a return. Last time he was on the mound for the Yankees he was throwing a no hitter. He left that game with an injury, and has been trying to work his way back ever since.
In Boston, Curt Schilling will begin a rehab assignment in Pawtucket this weekend. He could wind up being the biggest single difference in all of this. If he returns anything close to the pitcher we know he can be, the Sox will once again have the best rotation in baseball.
Last July, the Red Sox chose not to make any moves of consequence at the trade deadline. The injuries piled up shortly thereafter, and the 2006 season was lost. This year, team officials have been saying they will aggressively look for players that can improve this team.
It's clear there is room for improvement. The Sox are still in first place, but the race is heating up.
We never thought it could be any other way, did we?
Bad news on the mound
Julian Tavarez continues to struggle. On Friday the 13th, he labored through 4+ innings, throwing 101 pitches to record 12 outs. The Blue Jays knocked in four runs on nine hits against Tavarez, who is winless (0-3) in his last four starts.
The numbers don't look good of late. He has now given up 16 earned runs in 18.1 innings over that four-game winless streak, and hasn't won a game since June 20. That ended a seven-game unbeaten streak (4-0, with two of those wins vs. National League teams.)
Tavarez has been one of the surprise stories of the first half of the season -- the mere fact that he was making his 17th start is proof that he has pitched well enough to get the ball every fifth day.
Still, the numbers don't lie. His ERA is now 5.15, and he is .500 against the AL East.
The problem here is that Jon Lester is not exactly blowing them away in Pawtucket. As Tavarez was struggling against Toronto, Lester was giving up five runs (four earned) over five innings at Syracuse. He walked four while striking out six. A solid performance in that game would've turned up the heat to bring Lester back to Boston.
In other minor-league pitching news, Brendan Donnelly was scratched from a rehab start in Lowell. That game was delayed by rain, and when Donnelly went to warm up he felt tightness in his right forearm and was shut down as a precaution. Donnelly will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
Let's open up the e-mailbag...
I've noticed that while Manny walks to the plate during home games, he always looks for a few seconds at the same spot in the field boxes by the visitor's on-deck circle. Do you know who, or what, he is looking at?
A: What Manny is doing is an eye-training exercise. He doesn't look at the same person or thing each time, rather, he focuses in on a particular object and then refocuses on his bat. He believes it helps keep his vision sharp... and with six RBI in his first two games back from the All-Star Break who are we to argue?
The NESN rebroadcast of the insulting National Anthem singer on Saturday boiled my blood again. No matter what spin is put on it...it was a disgrace to witness and rewatch. BIG MISTAKE to allow that to happen.
A: I could not disagree more. The young man (Peter) who sang the anthem suffered from autism and was asked to sing as part of Disabilities Awareness Night. He struggled through the anthem, nervously laughing, and the crowd began to sing and helped him finish the song. NESN's Tina Cervasio interviewed Peter and it was clear he was moved by the moment. Rather than a disgrace, I thought it was an extremely patriotic and emotional moment. For more, read the next email...
I dont have a question just wanted to answer one. I work for HMEA a program based in Franklin that supports people with Disabilities. The Red Sox asked us to participate on the night of the 30th. My team felt Peter was perfect for the part. That night I picked up the phone to tell one of my staff that they where showing it -- oh god he's laughing -- then I sat back and felt what a better way to fell what it was to be "American". Our favorite past time, letting someone be all he can be in one of his greatest moments and everyone reaching out to support him in a time of need........THAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF BEING AMERICAN!!!!!!! THANKS TO THE RED SOX AND ALL THIER FANS!!Cindy Ridolfi, Franklin
Big Papi was recently called out after a third strike and a passed ball because, as the announcer said, "first base was occupied". Could you explan this rule? Thanks.
Marion K., West Hartford, Conn.
A: Simply put, a batter is allowed to go to first base after a third strike gets away from the catcher... unless there is already a runner on first base. In that case, he cannot go to first (although the runner or runners can advance on the passed ball.)
Last year Big Papi set the team record for home runs in a single season. But his average was below .300. This year the home runs have been slow in coming. But the average is over .300. That shift must cost him 20-25 points off his average each year. But he still is able to get hits. He just isn't getting extra-base hits. Do you think there is something physical going on with david that we are not being told about.
Scott Murphy, Scarborough, Maine
A: We now know that Ortiz has been playing with a torn miniscus in his right knee. It happened in June, 2006... so it's clearly something he has been able to play with -- especially as a Designated Hitter who doesn't have to play the field. A Red Sox source has told me the team's medical staff (and Ortiz) decided he could play through it, as he has, which is why he never had off-season surgery.
When are they going to cut their losses with Wily Mo? Watching for about a year now does not seem to instill any confidence in his improving either offensively or defensively! Does money talk loudest or are the evaluating personel blind?
Fran, Middletown, R.I.
A: There are still plenty of baseball people who think there is a lot of upside to Pena. Most fans forget that he's still only 25 years old -- very young in baseball terms.
If he's ever going to improve, Pena has to play every day.... and that's the Catch-22. He won't get that chance in Boston. You can't start him over the current three outfielders, the Sox already have a DH, and you can't use him as a pinch runner or a defensive replacement. He needs to go somewhere that would use him as a DH and give him 400-plus at bats over the course of a season. That place is not here.
Clay Buchholz is absolutely tearing up AA. Why don't the Sox move him up AAA. This would definitely challenge him more, and if he performs well, it could give them an arm later in the season, and he would be well-positioned to possibly make the big league team out of spring training.
A: He is, and they are... Buccholz will be making his AAA debut for Pawtucket this Monday. There is a very real chance he could wind up pitching for the big club (undoubtedly out of the bullpen) by the end of the season. We'll see how he handles this next jump.
Three more to go
Hope you had a great 4th of July, and are logging some time on the beach this week. Three more to go with the Tigers before the All-Star Break, when players (and broadcasters) get a few days away and regroup for the unofficial second half.
Time to open up the e-mailbag and rip through a few questions before Julian Tavarez takes the mound in Motown.
How come you folks don't talk about any of the negatives surrounding the red sox and only focus on the possitives. We would appreciate candid feedback such as the significant mistake the sox made in signing julio lugo. Candor and honesty should be a part of your job as a reported and not as a red sox employee.
Jim, Madison, Conn.
A: Candidly, there hasn't been a lot of negative news to cover, but you clearly haven't been watching when we've talked about Alex Cora needing to step in for Lugo more often, or whether J.D. Drew was playing up to his potential.
We pride ourselves in having a nightly honest discussion about the team's performance... but, when the team is sitting 11.5 games ahead of the rest of the AL East, there's only so much negative we can say.
What do you think is the fate of Julio Lugo by the end of July?
Erik Fraunfelter, Mansfield
A: I can't see him playing anywhere else. The Sox have gone through a shortstop a season... and I can't imagine the team trading away another shortstop now. If anything, the team should've learned its lesson by now that you can't give up on a shortstop too quickly. They did it with Edgar Renteria two years ago and Orlando Cabrera before that. I'm not saying Lugo is going to hit .400 the rest of the season, I'm just saying the Sox will most likely have to see this through. Terry Francona has been trying to do his best to get Lugo's bat on track, and will use Alex Cora to do that until he feels he can go to Lugo regularly.
Red Sox Nation has been incredibly supportive of Lugo so far this season, even through his 0-for-33 slump. The ovation from the crowd after his hit in the second inning Tuesday night was incredible.
We'll see what happens... but I wouldn't expect Lugo to go anywhere soon.
Why, in the opening defensive lineup, do some players have a (1) or (1,) after their names? On the 6/30 Texas game, Lowell had (1) after his name and Veritek had (1,). What does that mean?
A: It represents the number of Gold Gloves won by that player.
Why were RedSox management so worried about the #5 spot? Wouldn't 3 & 4 have to be hitting to worry about #5 producing?
Pam Wolfe, Shelton, Conn.
A: Last year, the Sox got a .231 average from the #5 spot last year, the worst in baseball, and wanted to improve on it this year. That's why they paid a high premium for J.D. Drew this past off-season. Even though Drew struggled in May, he's hitting .261 -- a decent improvement over last year.
My husband, and our 2 children had the pleasure of attending the game on Saturday - the 5-4 loss to the Rangers. We had great seats in back of home plate, the FW WEBB seats. Even though the SOX didn't win the game, I just have to tell you that the RED SOX Organization should be proud for the way they handled Handicap Awareness Day. From the introducing the TEAM on the field and getting to meet the players to the gentleman who sang the National Anthem, was a very moving experience for me and my family. We too have a "special needs" young gentleman and although nothing physical, there is no way he would be able to perform in such a way due to anxiety attacks.
The crowd certainly could tell he was having some difficulty so we all stepped in to help him.
KUDOS to the RED SOX Organization for a job well done.
Paulette E. Russell, West Kingston, RI
A: It was a tremendous moment, as some 37,000 fans stepped in to help the anthem singer (a young man named Peter Rometti who suffers from autism) finish the Star Spangled Banner. We replayed the entire anthem earlier this week and featured him on the show this Wednesday (the fourth of July.)
I spoke with Tom Werner about the moment yesterday, and he said it was "another reminder that Red Sox fans really are the best fans in the world." Hard to argue after a moment like that.
On June 30 a man named Peter Rometti sang the national anthem before the game, and NESN did not go to commercial, so that the home viewers could listen. I, unfortunately, did not catch his introduction, so I am in the dark about who he is. I was touched that the fans in attendance pitched in to sing when he had a little trouble with the words near the end. Can you tell me who Peter is and why he was selected to have the honor of singing the Star Spangled Banner? Thanks.
A: As I replied in the previous email, he is a young man who suffers from autism and was chosen to sing the anthem as part of Disabilities Awareness Night at the ballpark. The rest of the story will live on in Red Sox history forever.
Winding up for the second half
They've made the turn and are headed for home.
While most fans point to the All-Star Break as the mid-way point of the baseball season, the Red Sox have in reality made it to the half. With 81 games down and 81 more to go, the Sox have set themselves up for a terrific second half.
For the second straight year, the team has a 50-31 record. The biggest difference -- and the biggest story of the 2007 season for Boston -- is that every other team in the American League has a losing record. A year ago, those 50 wins gave the Sox a four game lead. Today, that leads sits at 10 1/2 games.
The most remarkable thing about this start is that the Sox have jumped out to this lead without getting significant power numbers from David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the best one-two offensive punch in the game. Together, they have hit for 26 fewer home runs and have driven in 46 fewer runs than they had at this point a year ago.
Needless to say, the pitching has led the way so far. A year ago, Jason Johnson was starting game #82 for Boston, already the 22nd pitcher to take the mound for the Sox. We all know the season was lost when the rash of injuries set in over July and August (Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Jon Lester, and Jonathan Papelbon were all on the shelf by early September) the seeds of trouble were already sprouting as the team tried to cobble together a rotation.
This year, the rotation is a major strength. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are a combined 20-7, and each is on pace to win 20 games. The Sox haven't had two 20-game winners on the same team since 2002 (Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.) That was the only time it's happened in the past 58 years.
During the pre-season, we admitted there were a lot of ifs surrounding this team, and there are still plenty. Every team has to live up to its potential. If Schilling can return anywhere close to his normal form, if Lester can return to help the club, if Ortiz and Ramirez begin to produce at their normal pace, this team will be better than good.
The Sox are set up for their fourth playoff run in five years. Thanks to a good first half -- and a terrible first half by the rest of the division -- they should be playing baseball in October. They've got the next three months to figure out how to turn a playoff contender into a championship contender.
Beginning tonight, the Sox play 22% of their games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The D-Rays have the worst ERA in baseball. Playing all those games against Tampa can only help get the offense on track. And that can only help build excitement for the "second season."
Baseball is a marathon, and Heartbreak Hill awaits. But the Sox are well out in front of the pack, and are in a good position to assure an assault over the final 13.1 miles.