Touching All the Bases

Sunday Mail: Red Sox keep the faith, the rise of Dodgers, Jake Ballard’s role …


(This is episode 2 of the new Sunday Mail column. Episode 1 and a primer can be found here.)


Can’t think of many more affirming victories the Red Sox have pulled out this season than Saturday’s 6-1 win over the Yankees.

Beloved Fan-Favorite John Lackey, so dependable in 2013, finally got some 2011-style run-support. Better, the Red Sox offense did it against Yankees ace Hiroki Kuroda, who is on the fringes of the American League Cy Young race.

Will Middlebrooks had a couple more Iglesian flares fall in, Mike Carp bolstered his already strong case for more playing time with couple of hits from the No. 5 spot in the order, David Ortiz hit his 24th home run and it felt like his 44th, scorching Jacoby Ellsbury contributed three hits, Koji Uehara added the punctuation mark …


It was pretty much a total team effort, in other words, which has been the formula for so many of their AL-best 73 wins through the season’s first 125 games. It’s a formula they particularly needed to work Saturday, because given their reason struggles, that 73d win ended up feeling more meaningful than most that came before.

The Sox returned from a 10-game road trip through Houston, Kansas City, and Toronto with a 4-6 mark, a two-game lead on the Rays in the AL East standings, and no advantage in the loss column. NESN spun the trip as a success — the Red Sox departed with a one-game lead — but it sure didn’t feel that way to anyone in possession of independent thought.

Then they promptly dropped Friday night’s opener to the weird, mishmashed Yankees, who somehow hover near the outskirts of the wild-card race with no Derek Jeter, an unwanted Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera blowing three straight recent save opportunities. (Alfonso Soriano‘s eight homers in 83 plate appearances probably has something to do with their recent revitalization.)

The lead was back down to a game over the Rays entering Saturday, and there was no denying it: It felt like one of those Gotta Have This One games that have occurred a handful of times this season, the most recent previously being Jon Lester‘s win over the Rays July 23 to keep the Sox in first place.


Once again, the Red Sox rose to the occasion, a trait familiar to this year’s crew and so unfamiliar in previous seasons. There are 37 games remaining, eight with the Yankees, including Sunday night’s rubber match. Then it’s off to the west coast.

It’s a grueling road toward October, and maybe the incurable Chicken Littles regarding this team will prove right. But I doubt it. When faith begins to wane, these Red Sox, as they showed Saturday, have a pretty convincing way of restoring it.



I think the series this weekend is big, but next weekend against the Dodgers is bigger. They’re the best team in MLB right now, and if the Sox go to L.A. clinging to a one-or two-game lead they could leave in second place. Personally, I’m more excited to see how they perform against the best team in the land than some has-been rivals.
— BostonBrahmin

Just wish they got to face Josh Beckett. Yeah, pretty tough to argue that there’s a better team in baseball than the Dodgers in recent seasons, let alone right now. They’re 42-8 since June 22, the best 50-game stretch since the ’42 Cardinals did the same thing. Clayton Kershaw (1.80 ERA) is actually underrated at this point. Yasiel Puig is ridiculous by every definition. Hanley Ramirez seems to play every other month, but he’s hitting .363 with a 1.063 OPS. And Carl Crawford has five homers and 11 steals! All right, suppose they don’t regret That Trade like we thought they would.


Why doesn’t WEEI have Mike Giardi and Tom E. Curran host a show? I’d listen to the two of them talk football, hockey or anything else to the exclusion of any other show on Boston sports radio. Think the new PD would consider them? Would they do it? Would this idea be nixed because it would mean too many Mikes in the Boston sports radio market?
— Pete S.

Imagine they’d arrive at the expense of a Mike or two. Sign me up for that show, absolutely. I’ve mentioned this before, but some of my favorite Boston sports radio I’ve ever heard was Giardi, Michael Smith and Bill Simmons filling on 1510 during the raising-the-bar days in the early 2000s. He could definitely handle the host role. I’ve had radio people tell me they’re not sure how Curran’s quirky sense of humor would play over four hours a day, five days a week, but that sounds to me like an excuse to avoid taking a chance on someone who’s a little different. He was great with Mike Salk this week (rattling off all the obscure names on the Patriots roster who are better than Tim Tebow was hilarious and true), he doesn’t play the usual melodrama games — yes, an actual voice of reason who is entertaining — and he knows his stuff beyond football. The Giardi and Curran Show? I’d listen, and not just out of professional obligation.

When Bill Belichick snagged Jake Ballard away from the Giants, I thought it was a pretty slick move- and when Aaron Hernandez ceased to be on the team, I thought it was an even better move because the Pats already had some depth at TE. But I really haven’t heard much about him at camp and am wondering if he is going to be one of the surprise cuts at the end of the preseason. What do you think?
— T. Coughlin


I was wondering the same thing, but Belichick had fairly high praise for him (particularly his blocking) after the Bucs game, and it looks like he’s not in any danger. Remember, the only reason he was available is because he was seriously hurt in Super Bowl XLVI and the Giants tried to sneak him through waivers. He’s coming back from a torn ACL and microfracture surgery, and he was briefly on the physically-unable-to-perform list in camp. It’s been a long road. Remember noticing he still had a bit of a limp during those first few days of camp, but he’s progressing, he’s an asset now, and it sure looks like he’ll be on the field for the opener against Buffalo. By the way, “ceased to be on the team” is certainly a new and understated way of describing Aaron Hernandez’s situation.


Is the basketball player personnel system so different from baseball’s that the Celtics can’t rebuild on the fly like the Red Sox? Trying to stink on the chance you get the right ping-pong ball and the 18- or 19-year-old you pick develops seems like a horrible way of doing business.
— John

Well, yeah, it is, for several reasons. In baseball, there are so many different ways you can repair and improve a roster. In the NBA. you have just five players on a court at a time, and it’s a superstar-dependent sport. If you don’t have that star, you’re pretty much doomed. Plus, it’s much more difficult to get that star in the NBA — trading is difficult because of the salary-cap complexities, and the best free agents tend to form their own supergroups and flock to warm weather or New York-based markets. Plus, in baseball, you have a real chance to develop stars through savvy drafting and intelligent player development. In the NBA, if you’re getting a quality player in the 20s of the first round — a Jared Sullinger rather than a Fab Melo — you’re doing OK. And you have no farm system, just the luck or cruelty of the lottery after you stink it up effectively enough to put yourself in the position to hit a jackpot. It’s a bummer it’s that way, but I don’t see how it changes. It’s the nature of the sport and system.


Basing ones opinion of the fan base on the radio callers and comment clowns is the equivalent of basing an opinion of the Irish on the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
— Nomah

I don’t care that this is not in the form of a question. It’s wisdom, and I’m getting it carved in mahogany and bolting it to my desk, to remind myself not to make such judgments. One of the very few things that aggravates me about this gig is that since TATB has been around, the comments sections have morphed from a fun community into a cesspool. Used to enjoy the discourse — even found it magically delicious at times — but as the site as grown the comment section has become overrun with mean-spirited, reactionary nonsense. I get plenty of reminders, usually via email, that there is a very smart audience out there. I need to make sure I don’t forget that.


The guide: 1972-73 Chicago Blawkhawks


The discovery: Well, it wasn’t a reference to Stan Mikita‘s donuts, because there wasn’t one. Or the multiple references to the Blackhawks’ most eligible bachelors (Jerry Korab was apparently quite the ladies’ man and after-dinner speaker.) The Pit Martin comment made me laugh: “His slight French accent sets him off from everyone and gives his speech an individual quality.” You can almost hear him say, “Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.

Oh, but the discovery is this:



We’re two weeks into this thing, and this headshot and name may never be topped no matter how long we do it.

On behalf of Len Frig, Pit Martin, and Denis Lemieux, until next week.

No plane on Sunday/Check it again come Monday …


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