Sunday, July 26, 2009

Enough of this experiment

Future Hall of Famer
Almost every time someone mentions John Smoltz, they add "future Hall of Famer" to his name. The same thing used to happen with Roger Clemens. But when you hang around one year too many, your stats can drop below the unofficial line of demarcation between Hall members and those who don't make it in. Jim Rice was inducted today, making the cut in his final year of eligibility. Jim's career batting average was .298. In his final year he was a DH in 56 games and batted only .234, meaning if he had skipped 1989 he would have had a career batting average of .300. If Jim had played 15 years with a career BA of .300 instead of 16 with a career BA of .298 would he have been voted in earlier?

So let's look at John Smoltz.
Through 2008 he had a winning percentage of .588, ERA of 3.26 over 20 seasons. He had an ERA under 3.50 in 15 of those 20 seasons. After 6 starts in 2009 his ERA is 7.04, more than double that. His record is 1-4, meaning a 2009 winning percentage of .200. The team record is 1-5. He's had two good starts, although one of them was the game where the bullpen blew a 10-1 lead and they lost, 11-10. He's had four bad starts. In 30 innings he's given up 42 hits and 24 runs and been charged with 4 losses. Compare that with Eric Gagne's record in Boston: 18 innings pitched, 26 hits, 14 runs and 3 blown saves. Hits per inning, runs per inning, and winning percentage - or more accurately, losing percentage - are comparable.

There's a stage leaving town at 5.
They say that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. But is it? Eric Gagne was lights out as a closer for the Dodgers and won the Cy Young Award in 2003. Of course, that was when he was on The Juice. To get Gagne they gave up pitcher Kason Gabbard, who was 4-0 at the time, and outfielder David Murphy, who is presently batting about 50 points higher than JD Drew. I'd much rather see Murphy in right field for the Red Sox right now than Drew. He's a better player and much less expensive. Gagne blew three saves in the same weekend, and was so bad they couldn't wait to put him on the next stagecoach out of Dodge.

So what about Smoltz?
He won a Cy Young with the Braves in 2006, and they didn't have to give up any hot prospects to get him. But his numbers in Boston are as bad as
Gagne's. Smoltz, who is as well-spoken as any ballplayer, says that he's happy with the way he has pitched, but not happy with the results, and he'd like to have couple of pitches back. He needs more than a couple back.

Seriously, how long does this experiment last?
We have Michael
Bowden and Hunter Jones in Pawtucket, both with better numbers than Smoltz. We have Wakefield back in a week and a half or so, and we have Dice-K coming back sometime in August.

Boston is 2-1/2 games behind the Yankees, and they need to put a winning streak together just to keep pace. On August 4th the Sox open a four-game series in the Bronx. Yes, Boston is 8-0 against New York in 2009, and that home run-friendly short porch at Yankee Stadium can work nicely for both teams. But it's a scary scenario. The Red Sox could go in there down 2-1/2 games and leave down by 6-1/2. Or they could come out up by 1-1/2. If John Smoltz gets one of the starts there, I'm officially worried.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The opening of Big Papi's Grille

David Otriz is now a restaurateur. (Note, by the way, that the word restaurateur has no N in it.) Big Papi's Grille is on Route 9 eastbound in Framingham, across from Shopper's World.

Tonight was the press opening, by invite only. Ming Tsai was there to check out the competition. But the free food and drink were only the icing on the cake. The real fun was mingling with the Red Sox
players who were there. The team got home from their horrible road trip last night, and tonight was an off night.

Big Papi was in full bling, with a white coat that had black western-style piping, lapels and elbow patches. He worked the room, chatting with guys and hugging girls. I told him it the place looked great and it was an excellent opening and he thanked me and said he appreciated us coming.

Had a nice chat with Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Bay about their days playing in the Cape Cod League. Jacoby mentioned that the Cape League all-star game that was scheduled for Fenway
that night was probably rained out. They both told me they worked at summer camps on the Cape, and I mentioned that my daughter worked at a Yarmouth camp and two YD pitchers worked there as well. One is in the White Sox system. Jacoby guessed a name, but it was wrong. I told them about the 2003 YD-Wareham stat sheet with all those players now in the majors that I wrote about in an earlier blog, and they both knew them. Both of them - Jacoby in particular - were very good at friendly chat and looking you in the eye when they answered.

I met Nick Green, who sat with Kathy while he ate a slider, and told him he had to be the surprise of the year. He definitely enjoyed hearing that. I said, "Welcome back" to Jed Lowrie and he responded, "Thanks, it's good to be back." I told Jonathan Papelbon that I was the one who suggested to Tom Bergeron after the 2007 victory parade that they should have him on "Dancing with the Stars." Tom said they'd love to have Papelbon, and the producer contacted the Sox front office, but it didn't work out because they rehearse and shoot during the season.

I went up Mike Lowell and introduced myself, saying that my daughter is his favorite. He said, "Oh, yeah?" and I realized I'd said it backward. He's her favorite. He chuckled and said he appreciated it. On the way out we were handed a bottle of Big Papi En Fuego Hot Sauce (1st base version, meaning mild).

A fun night. They were all nice, and it was only ten minutes from home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Department of Corrections Department

It was a fun night at the old ballyard last night.
My daughter Caitlin and I drove up from the Cape and were in our seats for the first pitch. There was no scoring on either side until the bottom of the 8th, when Dustin Pedroia doubled in recent call-up Aaron Bates, who notched his first run in the majors. Click on the picture and you can see the view from Section 29 of the ball coming off of Pedroia's bat. The game lasted less than 2-1/2 hours, and Tim Wakefield wasn't pitching. It was John Lester, who no-hit these same Royals in May of last year. This time he threw 8 shutout innings.

Now the correction portion of our program.
When I wrote about the Red Sox blowing a huge lead (10-1) and losing to the Orioles, 11-10 a couple of weeks ago, I said that the last time they had blown a 10-run lead was in 1989 against the Blue Jays. My brother Hugh pointed out that the blown lead against the Orioles was 9 runs, not 10. Point taken. He also noted that he and I watched the Red Sox blow a 10-run lead just last year. That's true.

It was a hot August night.
The 12th, to be exact. Texas in town. Knuckleballer Charlie Zink was called up from Pawtucket for his 1st major league start. Boston jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the 1st. 5 of the 10 runs came on two Big Papi homers in the same inning. It was 12-2 after four, and looking like both a laugher and a quality start for Zink. It turned out to be neither. In the 5th the Rangers put up an 8 on the left-field scoreboard. Youk hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 5th, but Texas came back with 5 more in the 6th, making it 15-14. The 10-run lead of just 2 innings ago was now history.

Each team added a run in the 7th. Right after "Sweet CarolIne" played the Red Sox scored 4 times...3 coming on Youk's second homer of the game. Papelbon gave up a run in the 9th, but got the save as Boston won, 19-17.

They won, so it doesn't count.
I didn't include this game in the earlier post because they won it. In the 1989 Blue Jays game and 2009 Orioles game they lost. Or maybe I forgot.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nomah returns

July 6, 2009...Nomar is playing in a game at Fenway for the first time in almost five years.
The last time was July 25, 2004. It was a 9-6 victory over the Yankees. The day after the big brawl that started when Jason Varitek and A Rod got into it and ended after the benches cleared and Pedro had shoved Don Zimmer to the ground. Nomar, batting 5th behind Manny, went 1 for 5.

A major ovation.
Monday night Nomar lead off the second inning and got what must be the biggest ovation ever for a returning former player. A prolonged standing ovation that required multiple tips of the helmet. Then he stepped into the box, fiddled with his batting gloves, of course, and then did not swing at the first pitch. Probably due to the emotion of the moment.

But after that...
He came up three more times and swung at the first pitch each time. He wound up with two hits. Rocco Baldelli was in right field wearing Nomar's old #5. On Tuesday night Nomar wasn't in the lineup, and in the 7th the crowd was chanting "We want No-mar." He did come out to pinch hit in the 9th, but the guy ahead of him struck out to end the game. On Wednesday he pinch hit and again swung at the first pitch, popping up to Mark Kotsay.

A pitching matchup for the ages.
The other part of the story was the pitching. A's 22-year-old rookie Brett Anderson, making his major league debut, faced 42-year-old John Smoltz, who was making his Fenway debut as a member of the Red Sox. The A's shut out the Sox, 6-0. I suspect that by August the "...oltz" in the Sox rotation will start with "Buchh" instead of "Sm"

Blowing a 10-run lead.
Smoltz has had three starts and is 0 and 2, with an ERA of 6.60. The first and third starts were not good. The middle one was the game against the Orioles where Smoltz left after four innings with a 9-1 lead. It was 10-1 Boston in the 7th when the sky opened up, and Baltimore mounted a post-rain delay comeback to win the game, 11-10. The last time the Red Sox had blown a 10-run lead was 20 years ago...June 4, 1989 against the Blue Jays. Boston lead 5-0 after one inning, 8-0 after four, and 10-0 after 6. Toronto came up with 2 in the 7th, 4 more in the 8th and another one in the 9th when closer Lee Smith was summoned with the score 10-7. It was now a save situation. Smith, however, gave up a grand slam to catcher Ernie Whitt and suddenly the 10-run lead was history. Boston tied it in the bottom of the 9th, and it went to the 12th when Junior Felix hit a 2-run homer to put the Jays ahead for good.

How to empty the park in 12 seconds.
Two nights earlier, on Friday June 2nd, I had been at the game with my brother Hugh. Toronto was leading Boston 3-2 in the 9th when Bob Stanley loaded the bases and Junior Felix hit a ball into the triangle in center that turned into an inside-the-park grand slam. It only took Felix 12 seconds to round the bases. The place emptied quickly after that

But back to the future.
NESN showed a montage of former players being welcomed back. When Dwight Evans, after 19 years as #24 for the Red
Sox, returned to Fenway as an Oriole in 1991, he got a very warm reception - worthy of a tip of the cap. Johnny Damon, who left as a traitor defecting to the Evil Empire, got a major wag of the finger in 2006 (credit Stephen Colbert for the tip/wag lines). The wag of the finger actually it was a loud round of booing followed by a louder "Johnny sucks" chant when Carl Beane announced Damon over the PA. Even today, in every at bat when the Yankees are at Fenway, Damon still gets a booing that rivals A Rod's. Pedro returned as a Met and was so overwhelmed with emotion he didn't make it to the 3rd. Derek Lowe got an impressive reception. Bill Buckner came back to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day and got a long, standing O. Trot Nixon returned as a Cleveland Indian and got a very respectable ovation. Same for Kevin Millar and Derek Lowe. Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn returned as pinch-hitters and each got a nice applause. Every former player - as long as they didn't go to the Yankees - has been warmly welcomed back...but Nomar got the biggest and longest welcome of all. It was a great Fenway moment.