Thursday, November 3, 2016

Root, Root, Root for the...


I was still on the fence at Midnight.

Game 7 was tied, 6-6, and in a rain delay. At Fenway Park, a rain delay means they pull out the tarp, which takes a coordinated effort from about 30 Canvas Alley grounds crew guys (there might be some women on the grounds crew, but I haven't noticed it). Then they wait for the rain to end. When it does, the grounds crew takes about 30 minutes to get the field in playable condition. Why would Wrigley be any different? It was, though. The delay was only 17 minutes.

Some people went to bed.

That includes my older brother Hugh and my younger brother Peter. We had been exchanging Theo or Tito emails for about a week, debating on which drought should end and which set of ex-Red Sox folks to root, root, root for.

We were all leaning toward the Tribe.

One brother gave up when it was 6-3 Cubs with two outs in the bottom of the 8th. My wife Kathy walked into the Man Cave and asked how it was going just as Rajai Davis tied it up with a tater (nod there to the late George Scott) off Aroldis Chapman. My friend Gay Vernon was rooting for the Indians, but that was an easy choice. Her father, Mickey Vernon, was a two-time AL Batting Champion who played for the Indians. Also the Senators and Red Sox.

You really couldn't write a better script.

Seriously, if you wrote a movie script about the Cubs trying to break the 108-year World Series drought and you had them winning 103 games, way more than any team in baseball, knocking off the Giants (3 WS championships in 5 years this decade) but not in a sweep, falling behind the Dodgers then knocking them off back at home, finally getting to the World Series for the first time since the end of World War II, getting shut out in four of their last eight games, finally having a game at Wrigley but losing the first one and the second one, almost getting swept at home and losing the series in front of all those long-suffering fans, having to win both Game 6 and Game 7 on the road, Cubs fans traveling to Cleveland and paying as much as $10,000 for a seat behind the Cubs dugout at Progressive Field, being four outs away from a championship and having your 102-mile-an-hour closer blow a 6-3 lead with two outs in the bottom of the 8th, having a rain delay at midnight with the game tied after 9 innings and possibly not be able to continue until the next night...if you wrote that script, critics would say you're stretching Willing Suspension of Disbelief a little too far.

Red Sox fans know how it feels.

In 2004 people went out after midnight and honked horns. All the neighbors understood. There was a Red Sox banner hanging on the front of the State House below the gold dome. People visited graves of their parents to share the news. In Chicago it will be the same, but the grave visiting will be grandparents or great-grandparents. Maybe even great-great. The UBS building in Chicago is already adorned.

Congrats to the legions of Cubs fans.

And to the Indians any Cubs fan will remind you...there's always next year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It's a good thing the Red Sox aren't in the World Series

This year, anyway.

Except for the 5-1/2 New England states, nobody would be rooting for the Sox. But I'm flummoxed. For whom do I root?

Not sure.

The Cubs, as pretty much everyone knows, have gone 108 years without winning, and have not even been to the World Series since 1945. 71 years. Most of us, including yours truly, were not even a twinkle in our father's eye. What you never hear anyone mention is that the Cubs had been in the World Series three straight years, 1906-1908, losing to the crosstown and much less popular White Sox in 6 games in 1906, then they were back-to-back winners in 1907 and 1908, defeating the Tigers both times. A sweep in 1907 and a win in 5 games in 1908. Both wins came at Navin Field, also known as Briggs Stadium and Tiger Stadium, which opened in 1912, the same year as Fenway Park. The Cubs have never clinched at home. When the Red Sox clinched at Fenway Park in 2013 for the first time in 95 years it was a record that will never be broken.

Then came the Cubs drought.

They lost to the Philadelphia A's in 1910, lost to the Red Sox in 1918, lost to the A's again in 1929, were swept by the Yankees in 1932, lost to the Tigers in 1935, swept by the Yankees again in 1938, lost to the Tigers again in 1945, and that's it until 2016. 2 and 8 in World Series play.

Bad, but not as bad.

I guess. Not as bad in World Series play, but probably worse overall. The Cleveland Indians, meanwhile, beat the Brooklyn Robins, now the LA Dodgers, in a 7-game series in 1920. Flash forward to 1948, when we almost had a Boston vs. Boston World Series. It could have been the Comm Ave Series. The Indians beat the Red Sox in a one-game AL playoff. Braves Field (which is still there, now known as BU's Nickerson Field) was the site of the Indians win in a 6-game Series. Someone at BU dug up a piece of the field on Monday and sent it to Cleveland for spirit.

They won 111 games in 1954.

Then they were swept in the World Series by the New York Giants. This was the winningest team ever to wind up not winning the World Series.

Cleveland then went about 40 years without finishing within 14 games of 1st place. They made the movie "Major League" about moving the Indians out of Cleveland. Their old ballpark held 70,000 but only about 7,000 would show up. You'd see a home run shot and there was nobody in the bleachers except some guy reading a newspaper and the guy at the back row in center field pounding the drum.

Then suddenly it was 1995.

They had a brand new ballpark, "The Jake" (Jacobs Field, now known as Progressive Field), and a sellout crowd (a requirement by the city for funding "The Jake") for four years. 1995 was a rematch of the Indians-Braves 1948 series. Competing Native American mascots. This time the Braves won, Atlanta's only win ever.

Two years later...

...the Indians lost again, when Jose Mesa blew it in Game 7 and the Florida Marlins, in only their 5th season, won it all. Cleveland is 2 and 3 in World Series play.

So here we are in 2016.

Lots of Boston alum involved. Are we rooting for...Theo or Tito? Theo hired Tito for the 2004 season. Plus points for both. Theo signed Curt Schilling. He was the biggest difference in the 2004 win. Plus point for Theo, but also for Tito, because Schilling really liked working for Tito in Philly and that was a factor in signing him.

Theo traded for Mike Lowell, MVP of the 2007 Series win. Plus point. He signed Lugo. Minus point. Tito talked Theo into that, so he gets a minus point as well. He signed JD Drew, who failed the toothpick test. (Go ahead, ask.) Minus point. He traded highly-rated minor-leaguer Anthony Rizzo, now a Cubs star, for Adrian Gonzalez. Minus point. He signed Carl Crawford for way too much money. Another minus point.

Beer and chicken.

The Red Sox were in 1st place on September 1st, 2011 and failed to make the playoffs. Theo fled to Chicago, but Tito was pushed out. I give a plus point to Tito on that. Ben Cherington was a Theo guy, and he signed Bobby Valentine, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Not sure whom you blame for those bad signings, but it's not Tito.

The Curse?

Dan Shaughnessey's "Curse of the Bambino" made a lot of sense, and it was a big deal when it was finally broken in 2004. But the billygoat curse at Wrigley? A lame attempt at copying the Babe Ruth curse. Not even in the same ballpark.

So, as I watched Game 1 and start to watch Game 2, I'm still undecided. On one side you've got Theo, Lester, Lackey, Ross and Rizzo. On the other you have Tito, Napoli, Miller and Coco. It's a good thing the Red Sox are not in the Series this year.

Either way, a long drought for someone ends.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My week at Red Sox Spring Training. The highs, the lows, the maybes.

Just got back from a week in Ft. Myers.

Great weather, fun time, very relaxing.

Good for you, but how do they look?

Many pundits have predicted a real bounce-back year. USA Today predicts the Red Sox to win 88 games and finish 1st in the AL East. Didn't they predict that last year as well? Or maybe that was in 2014.

Who looked bad?

In a bad news-good news scenario I always prefer the bad news first so we get a nice finish. The pitching rotation was supposedly already set, with ace David Price, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez (please stop calling him E-Rod-he may like it, but Boston fans do not) and Henry Owens. Or maybe Steven Wright. Eduardo subfluxated his knee and hash't pitched, so there's a competition for a starting spot.

The pitching:

Sunday was not a quality start for Rick Porcello. 10 hits and 8 earned runs over three innings. On Monday Brian Johnson came in to face the Pirates with a 1-0 lead in the 6th and gave up four straight hits and got nobody out before being pulled. Thee runs across and he got the loss. I was rooting for Brian, because, like Joe Kelly, he's an alum of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, but that was a D performance.

On Tuesday Robbie Ross Jr. did himself no favors. He started the 8th inning against the Yankees. It was a 1-1 tie. He hit the first batter, got a K, then gave up a double, a single, one out later a guy reached on an error (by Ross), followed by a walk, a double, a single and another hit batter. Seven batters reached, five scored. He took the loss. And it was the 8th, so he wasn't even facing any Yankee starters.

On Wednesday Clay started an away game. He wasn't horrible but was shaky. Gave up 3 runs over 4 innings on 3 hits, 3 walks and 2 K's. A C+ outing. Clay likes to say that in spring training he's working on mechanics, not really trying to get guys out. Maybe. Trailing 3-1, Koji came in to pitch the 5th. Why so early, you ask? Because in spring training games the regulars are all replaced by wannabes by the 7th inning and they want to see him face real Major League hitters. Like Johnson and Ross, he didn't do himself any favors either. Koji got a quick out. Twins fans sitting behind me were asking how can do that when he's only throwing 82? I told them it was his very high spin rate. But wait. Uehara then gave up a single and a home run. One out later there was another single, a walk and a double. At this point the Sox were down 7-1. Out comes Koji. 2/3 of an inning, 4 hits, 4 runs, one walk, no strikeouts. ERA of 27.00. He was great in 2013, but this was a D.

Henry Owens, vying for that 5th starter's spot, faced the Orioles and didn't get through the 3rd inning. A leadoff single erased by a double-play in the 1st. A two-out single followed by a double then a 3-run homer in the second. It was his second straight bad outing.

Looking good:

At this point in spring training they like to see a starter get through four innings. On Monday Joe Kelly faced the Pirates and gave up a one-out single. The next batter hit a routine 4-6-3 double-play ball, but Xander bobbled it on the transfer. The out was recorded but the batter reached on a fielder's choice because you cannot assume a double-play. No no error and no hit. A walk and two singles in the 2nd produced nothing, the 3rd was 1-2-3, and the 4th saw a hit batter and an error by guess who? (we'll get to that) but nothing across. Four innings, 3 hits, no runs, 1 walk, 3 K's. An A outing.

In his first two appearances Price gave up four home runs: one on his very first pitch, then back-to-back in the 3rd. By his second start, on Tuesday night facing the Yankees, he scattered three hits over four innings. A leadoff home run by Aaron Hicks in the 3rd inning was the only damage. No walks, two strikeouts. I give him an A-.

New closer Craig Kimbrel had a 1-2-3 inning. Carson Smith and Tazawa did as well. So the pitching looks better than last year, but there are some pretty big question marks.

Defense. Really only two people worth mentioning here: Pablo and Hanley. Pablo has been charged with 4 errors, but official scorers are very generous in spring training and you could make a case for several more. The first shocker for me was when this guy on the Pirates hits a shot down the 3rd base line. Pablo dives to his right, picks it, then drops it, then picks it up and makes a low throw in the dirt to 1st. And woah...Hanley scoops it and the guy is out on a bang-bang. This sort of thing happened several times. A grounder to 3rd, Pablo bobbles it, makes a bad throw and Hanley pulls it in. There were several other "hits" toward 3rd that a nimbler guy than Youk, or Mike Lowell, or Bill Mueller or John Valentin or Wade Boggs or Frank Malzone or...Travis Shaw...would have likely handled. Hanley, though, is a surprise. The worst outfielder in the history of the Red Sox looks like he's a pretty good 1st baseman. Go figure. I should also mention Christian Vasquez. He says he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, but on the first attempted steal he threw high and wide to second. Dustin Pedroia had to leap to catch it. He also made several poor "comin' down" throws at the end of between-innings warmups so he's probably not quite all the way back.


Mookie Betts is looking great. So is Pedey. Xander is off to a slow start. So is JBJ. Travis Shaw is on fire. He's great at bat and defensively. So is Sam Travis. Travis S. and S. Travis. #47 and #74. Easily confused. A word of caution: hitters can light it up in spring training and then fall flat in April. Think Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2013, Grady Sizemore in 2014 and Mike Napoli in 2015. Maybe it's the pitchers not trying that hard in March. But the game is more fun when Travis and Travis are on the field. And Chris Young. I'm also rooting for David Murphy to make the team. A good guy they never should have traded.

Ortiz is going through the motions. Two at-bats in every other game. At the game against the Yankees a typical loud-mouth Yankee fan yells, "Come on, strike him out!" I'm thinking that will not happen. He'll swing at the 1st or second pitch and pop it up or whatever. Unlike Pablo, Papi has nothing to prove. He's the DH, and no one is challenging him.

One more thing.

This may sound trivial, but I think it's important. Many of the Red Sox were featuring red socks. In the game against the Yankees, the pitcher (Price), all the infielders (Hanley, Pedey, Xander and Pablo), all the outfielders (Rusney, David Murphy and Chris Young) and the catcher (Blake Swihart) all wore their socks high. It looked great. Like they're all ready to play, dammit. If these were the Arizona Diamondbacks I wouldn't even mention it, but there are the red Sox. Let's see those red socks!