Tim Wakefield is my all-time favorite Red Sox, for several reasons, but here are two:
1) I picked him up for my fantasy team when he came to the Red Sox in 1995, and he promptly had the season of his life (despite fading down the stretch). We might never see a knuckleballer have a season that great ever again (considering we only see a really good knuckleballer about once per generation).
2) He helped save the staff in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS when the Yankees were pounding all comers (including Tim) into the dirt en route to one of the most lopsided playoff victories ever. Wakefield threw over 3 innings and saved other good pitchers for Game 4 and the Sox’ historic and unique comeback.
Plus of course he’s one of the longest-tenured Sox (17 years!), pitched longer than most (he’s 45, one of the few players last season older than me), and seemed as dedicated to the team as anyone. While David Ortiz has been the face of the franchise this past decade, Wakefield has always been right there, usually an average starting pitcher, but never as flashy as some of the other players.
Wakefield retired from playing baseball today, which is the end of an era for the team as far as I’m concerned.
I saw him pitch in person a few times, but none more memorable than one game at Fenway in his magical 1995 season, against the Twins. As I recall, he somehow loaded the bases in the top of the first inning, and then got the next two hitters. Chuck Knoblauch was the Twins’ leadoff hitter (before he went to the Yankees he was a great player), and he spent much of the inning dancing around third base. From my vantage point in the bleachers it looked like Wakefield finally got frustrated with Knoblauch, looked at him, and waggled his head as if to say, “If you’re gonna go, then go.”
On the next pitch, Knoblauch broke for home plate, and he was tagged out at home. Side retired with no runs.
Kirby Puckett – still a great hitter, but in his last season, though no one (including him) knew it at the time – didn’t start, but he came in to pitch-hit with 2 outs in the ninth and the Red Sox leading. On – I think – the first pitch, Puckett hit a rocket to left field which was snagged by the shortstop to end the game.
Wakefield was a really fun player (“how the heck did he get that pitch anywhere near over the plate, never mind getting a called strike?”) and a class act. I’ll miss him a lot.
The first Red Sox/Yankees series of the year concluded, and it’s hard to imagine later series getting any better than this one!
Unless you’re, uh, a Yankees fan. Because the Red Sox swept the 3-game series at Fenway Park.
Friday’s game one was a 12-inning affair in which the Sox were down 4-2 in the bottom of the 9th, Jason Bay tied it with a 2-run homer, and then Kevin Youkilis hit a walk-off shot to win it. Joba Chamberlain and Jon Lester pitched well to start the game, but two of the better relievers on both teams (Mariano Rivera and Hideki Okajima) imploded later on.
Saturday’s game two was epic. I’d expected the Josh Beckett-A.J. Burnett matchup to be the series’ best chance for a pitcher’s duel, but it was anything but: Beckett imploded, giving up 8 runs in 5 innings. The Sox were down 6-0 in the 4th, but closed to 6-5 in the bottom half thanks to Jason Varitek’s grand slam. Burnett also ended up giving up 8 runs in 5 innings. The bullpens provided little relief (Okajima got hit hard again), but the Yankees’ bullpen completely melted down, leading to a 16-11 Sox win, in a little under 4-1/2 hours.
Game two included such plays as Johnny Damon being picked off base, Jorge Posada getting caught in a rundown heading for home plate and tagged out at third when two runners ended up at that base, and Jacoby Ellsbury reaching base on catcher’s interference.
Sunday’s game three will be remembered for some months for Ellsbury stealing home on Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, mainly because the Yankees had the shift on for J.D. Drew and Pettitte wasn’t really paying attention. (Video recap here.) It hardly mattered since Drew hit the next pitch for an automatic double, and the Sox won 4-1. Justin Masterson started for the Sox and pitched quite well against one of the better offenses in baseball, and then two rookie pitchers combined to shut down the Yankees the rest of the way, allowing just one hit over 3-2/3 innings. Ellsbury’s accomplishment is being overrated by fans and the media, but stealing home happens so rarely it’s quite a thing to see. Masterson was the true Sox MVP of the day.
Three hard-fought games, and the “right” team won them all (well, as far as I’m concerned!). What a great weekend of baseball!
Oh, and Sox manager Terry Francona seemed pretty happy, too:
These past two evenings have been taken up with two trips to Oakland to see my Boston Red Sox in their only trip to the area this year.
Monday night we took my friend Joar and his wife Karin to their first baseball game since they moved here from Sweden a couple of years ago. We’d meant to go last year, but it never happened (mainly, I think, due to my own sloth). I don’t think either of them are really sports people, but obviously they’ve heard about the game and Joar’s seen my own enthusiasm for it on display plenty.
I explained the basics of how baseball works, which is a bigger challenge than I’d expected: What innings are, what outs are, the fielders and the batting line-up, how balls and strikes work, what foul balls and home runs are, and how outs are actually made. That doesn’t even get to things like stolen bases or double plays or pitching changes or any of that. Never mind the Seventh Inning Stretch.
All this was much easier once the game began and I could point out how the umpire indicates balls and strikes, where the foul lines are, how the runners move around the bases, etc. It really brought home how I take the play of the game for granted, having absorbed it mostly through watching a whole bunch of games as a teenager.
I think they enjoyed the game more than they’d expected, especially Karin who was watching the game quite intently as it progressed – which is saying something because it was a pretty mediocre game, as the A’s clubbed the Sox’ pitching into submission and rolled to an 8-2 victory. But we had great seats in the second deck behind home plate (and Joar nearly got his head taken off by a foul ball, but it was deflected at the last second), and it was a fairly warm night. We even saw the Red Sox pick off not one but two runners from first base in the same inning, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
Next I’ll try to get them to a Giants game, hopefully for a weekend day game so they can appreciate Pac Bell Park.
Debbi and I went back last night for the second game of the series, which was considerably less fun, because the temperature was in the 40s and the wind was in the 20-30 MPH range, so it was goddamned freezing, even with the extra layers we wore. Hot cocoa and Irish coffee only staved off the chill for a few minutes.
Which is too bad because it was quite a good game: Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka melted down in the first inning (and went on the DL today), but Justin Masterson held the A’s scoreless for 4 innings, and the Sox came back to tie it 5-5. Finally we got too cold and left in the middle of the 8th, and the game was still going on by the time we got home and went to bed. I learned this morning that the A’s won 6-5 in 12 innings, so I’m rather glad we didn’t stay to the bitter end.
Of course, the Sox saved the best for today’s day game, which is a bummer, but at least they won one. I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to see it.
And even more sorry they won’t be back for another visit later in the summer. Darn the unbalanced schedule anyway!
The Red Sox almost did it again, having forced Game 7 after falling behind 3-1 in this year’s ALCS, but it came to an end last night when the Rays beat the Sox 3-1 in the decisive game.
Ultimately, the Sox just had too many injuries to overcome: David Ortiz hasn’t been the same since he hurt his wrist, Mike Lowell went out for the year at the end of the ALDS due to his hip problems, Josh Beckett wasn’t the same for whatever reason (whether his oblique injury or something else). The Sox had – and used – a lot of depth this year, but they just didn’t have enough to cover for all of that. Despite those problems, they nearly managed to pull it out and go to their third World Series in five years, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
The Tampa Bay Rays are young and talented, and most of their players are locked up at bargain prices for years to come, the product of years of drafting near the top of the amateur draft combined with a front office that finally knows what to do with all that talent. Reversals of fortune can happen suddenly in baseball, but as things stand the Rays could be the class of the American League for the next five years. The interesting question will be whether they can build a loyal fan base in Tampa, or whether Florida just isn’t a baseball state.
They’ll face the Phillies in the World Series starting on Wednesday. The Phillies are a pretty good team, but I think the Rays will dismantle them pretty handily. The National League’s teams just haven’t been as good as the American League’s in recent years, and I think the Rays will tee off the non-Cole Hamels pitchers in the Phils’ rotation, while Rays manager Joe Maddon will deploy his formidable bullpen to take advantage of the Phillies’ offensive weaknesses (expect to see David Price strike out Ryan Howard in close-and-late situations a couple of times).
Of course, in a short series, anything can happen, but Rays in five games looks like a good prediction.
Obviously I think Sox/Phillies would have made for a more exciting series. Not least because I could’ve traded jabs with my boss’s boss all week!
Today the Red Sox traded Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. It’s actually a 3-way trade, also involving the Pirates, which works out like this:
- The Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez (LF, age 36) to the Dodgers.
- The Pirates trade Jason Bay (LF, age 29) to the Red Sox.
- The Dodgers trade Andy LaRoche (3B, age 24) and Bryan Morris (SP, age 21) to the Pirates.
- The Red Sox also trade Craig Hansen (RP, age 24) and Brandon Moss (OF, age 24) to the Pirates.
- Plus the Red Sox send $7M in cash to the Dodgers to cover the rest of Manny’s 2008 salary.
Overall I think this is a good trade for the Dodgers and Pirates. For the Red Sox, I think it’s not a good trade, but I think it’s not a bad one either given their stocked farm system, financial means, and the strange circumstances of the trade itself.
I don’t have a lot to say about the Dodgers and Pirates ends of the trade: The Dodgers traded a prospect they clearly had little confidence in plus a low-level pitcher for one of the best available hitters, and they don’t even have to pay him! Assuming the Diamondbacks don’t counter with their own trade, the Dodgers could be the favorites to win the NL West now. The Pirates had a pretty barren farm system and anything their new GM can inject into it is going to help. The Pirates are a long way from contending, and while it’s fun to wonder whether they could have gotten more for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte (and they probably could have), in their position I think that’s splitting hairs. Until they acquire some impact players – probably through the draft – they’re just trying to rebuild the organization.
The deal is a very interesting one from the Red Sox’ end. Reportedly Manny has been agitating to get out of Boston, saying he’d waive his no-trade clause if the Sox would decline their options to pick up his contract for 2009 and 2010 (at $20M per year). Why has he been agitating to get out? I have no idea, and I can’t tell whether anyone else does, either. Is he fed up with Boston? With Red Sox management? Is he feuding with other players? Did he just decide he’s done what he can do in Boston and he’d feel more comfortable playing for another team? Or did he just want to have his options declined so he can try to sign one more long-term deal, which might possibly net him even more money over the length of the deal? Beats me.
But Boston has apparently been very good to Manny, both in fan support for him and in management bending over backwards to accommodate his foibles. In other towns, on other teams, Manny could have ended up as Barry Bonds of the American League, a moody, private player who runs his team the way he wants to. Instead Manny was a star on a team of stars, which won two World Series during his tenure. If he caught some flak for “Manny being Manny” from time to time, I know the memories I have of him tend to involve him hitting home runs, or running on the field with a big smile on his face. Manny’s antics – such as they were – don’t come close to stacking up against those of Bill Lee, or Wade Boggs, or Ted Williams.
Assuming Manny was the driving force behind the trade, I think it’s to the Red Sox’ credit that they worked to accommodate his departure as well as they did his presence, trading him to a contending team in a deal which isn’t truly to their benefit, as they traded two prospects and cash along with him in order to get a player who’s younger, and maybe as good, but that’s hardly guaranteed.
Jason Bay is a good player, he hits a ton and seems to have a decent defensive reputation (Manny was not a good fielder). He’s also a lot cheaper, being signed for $7.5M next year, and of course he’s 7 years younger. In 2008, he might be as valuable as Manny. We’ll see. In 2009, he could provide similar value for a lot less money, which means the Sox will be players in the free agent market this off-season, not to mention having some money to throw around to help acquire players in trade.
And who did the Sox give up? Hansen is starting to look more suspect than prospect, and relief pitchers tend to be fungible anyway. Moss is a bit more of a loss, although he’s not looking like a star in the making.
Overall, I think this deal is a lose for the Red Sox, but not a large one. It’s too bad to see Manny head out this way, but in a way it seems fitting given his sometimes-baffling tenure with the team. Bay should be a solid addition for the next year-plus, and ought to help us win this year. The big win for the Sox is that Manny’s intermittent injuries are now the Dodgers’ problem, and they don’t have to figure out what to do when he gets hurt, since they don’t have a DH slot to place him in. Bay isn’t an iron man, but he’s also not 36 years old; I expect Manny to get more fragile over the next couple of years.
I’d have been happy to have kept Manny for this year, though. He’s still an asset, and one more run at the brass ring with this Red Sox team would have been fun to watch. Ah, well. I hope playing for the Dodgers gives him what he’s looking for, whatever that is.
The days have been just flying by, lately! I realized this weekend that I never wrote an entry about last weekend, partly because I’d been busy catching up on posting photos from my Dad’s visit!
The bittersweet part of last weekend was going to two Red Sox/Athletics games, which I’d been excited about since this is a rare year in which my Red Sox visited Oakland twice in the same season. Unfortunately, we ended up seeing two games of a three-game sweep by the A’s, with the Sox losing 8-3 on Friday, and then 3-0 on Saturday. The Saturday game was almost very exciting as Justin Duchscherer came two baserunners away from pitching a perfect game. But he hit Jason Varitek leading off the 6th, and David Ortiz singled in the 7th. Huston Street replaced Duchscherer for the 9th, and that was it. Bummer. On television we watched the A’s finish the sweep by winning 6-3 on Sunday. Alas.
On the bright side, the Sox have gone 4-2 since then, and they still have the second-best record in the American League (behind the Rays, who seem to finally be capitalizing on their substantial talent base).
Sunday we also had Subrata and Susan over for the day. We hadn’t heard from them for a few days and we’d figured they might be going stir crazy waiting for their child to arrive. (As I wrote over this past weekend, he arrived last Thursday.) We met at The Counter for lunch and then came back and played Magic (Subrata and me) and dominoes (all four of us) for the afternoon, winding up having dinner at Marie Callender’s.
The Magic session was interesting, my second time really playing Shadowmoor. We played a sealed deck game. Subrata had two viable builds from his cards, while I thought I had three or even four, but part-way through one game I realized I just didn’t have the right mix of stuff to make a white-blue deck work; it kept wanting to be write-green. So I did that instead and it worked quite well, better than the black-red deck did. The red-green version might have worked, too, but I didn’t try that. Anyway, it does feel like Shadowmoor is a slower format than Lorwyn or Time Spiral were. But since I enjoy creature-based decks, that’s not really a bad thing.
This weekend as I said we went to the hospital to visit Subrata, Susan and Ajay on Friday evening. Saturday we went out and did some shopping, including buying a new cat bush (half-height cat tree) for the downstairs. Even though it’s nearly identical to the old one, the cats still had to sniff it all over. But it seems to have passed muster!
I also went by a sale at Illusive Comics, an area store which I hadn’t visited before. (Well, I might have visited them years ago under their previous incarnation and previous owners, but I honestly don’t remember.) The owners are very enthusiastic, which is a great thing in anyone doing small retail! I’ll probably go back every so often, even though my I already have a regular shop I patronize (Comics Conspiracy). As most stores today do, Illusive seems to be focusing on new books and paperback collections. Unfortunately I’m an outlier among comics fans: the main thing that brings me back to a shop is a good and constantly-changing back issue selection, and the comics retailing biz has moved away from back issues over the last 15 years. And every store has pretty much the same set of paperback collections, so you don’t really need to go to multiple stores for those.
Anyway. Comics retailing is hard enough without listening to me moan about how comics shops aren’t like they were back when I was a teenager, so enough about that.
We spent a good chunk of Saturday doing chores around the house: We did a whole bunch of long-awaited cleaning, throwing away the little things which stack up on bookshelves and in the garage and in nooks and crannies elsewhere. I put up a bike hanger so we could reclaim some floor space by hanging Debbi’s bike above mine. Now Debbi wants to hang the step ladder and our spare folding chairs, so that may be another project soon! Debbi fixed up the shadowbox with my old Mardi Gras beads and coins, and it looks great!
Sunday we had a quieter day. I spent a lot of the afternoon and evening up in the study paying bills, putting together some Magic decks, and doing some cleaning up (though not nearly enough). We also cooked dinner and watched Sunday night baseball.
So that about covers it. We have some more projects to take care of around the house (for instance, replace the long-broken kitchen dispose-all), and I hope we can get a bunch of it taken care of this summer. It ought to keep us busy!
Meanwhile, happy June, everyone!
So a month or so ago I bought some tickets to some baseball games, including to today’s Red Sox vs. A’s game, which was supposed to start at 7:35. But, uh, a few weeks later I received a phone call and a postcard informing me that the game had been moved to a 12:35 start time. You’ll notice that today is a Wednesday. Gah. To be fair, the time was moved so the Sox could fly back to the east coast before midnight. Fair enough. Fortunately, both Debbi and I were able to take the day off to go to the game. Whew! I only went to one ballgame all last year, and I want to make a better showing this year.
Debbi pointed out that we might have better luck parking at the Millbrae BART station with its huge parking garage than in the east bay, plus afterwards we could go to the excellent Brother’s Deli for dinner. Sold! So we drove up and caught BART to the Coliseum. Along the way we met a fellow who was in from Boston and was going to catch the game himself. Nice guy, we chatted about the Sox and gave him some advice on getting a ticket (which mostly consisted of “where the good seats are” and “where the ticket office is”).
We got there in plenty of time and found our seats in the second deck basically right behind home plate. In fact, we had a view like this:
It was a light and cloudy morning…
I do enjoy my ballpark food, but along with rising ticket prices, park food is getting more expensive, too. The Coliseum features Round Table Pizza, which I enjoy pretty well for chain pizza, but their pizzas seem to be getting smaller even as they get more expensive. So I may be switching to sausages soon.
The A’s are in a rebuilding period now, having traded Dan Haren and Nick Swisher in the off-season, so they’re not going to be very good (although not as bad as the Giants). Consequently, the stadium attendance resembled 1999, when I first moved here, when Red Sox fans seemed to outnumber A’s fans. Here’s a sample. Keep in mind that the Sox’ colors are red and dark blue, while the A’s colors are green and gold:
Sox fans are red, Sox fans are blue…
The game got under way just a couple of minutes late, and it was a pretty exciting game! Jon Lester – cancer survivor and World Series hero – pitched for the Sox, while the great but oft-injured Rich Harden pitched for the A’s. The Sox kept collecting baserunners, but just couldn’t bring them across the plate, and at the end of the 6th inning the game was still scoreless. (The ump’s strike zone seemed to be ridiculously wide, which had something to do with it.)
But Harden had been pulled at the start of the 6th, and the top of the 7th began with Kevin Youkilis rapping out a double (quite a heads-up play as he was running all the way and just barely beat the throw), and David Ortiz followed with a home run to right field. The Sox added 2 more in the 8th off 5 consecutive singles (4 to shallow left field), and Jason Varitek capped the scoring with a home run in the 9th. Meanwhile Lester cruised through 6-2/3 innings, and two relievers closed out the game, as the Red Sox held the A’s to 4 hits and shut them out 5-0.
The forecast was for rain today, but we never got more than a light drizzle – hardly even noticeable – and it was cool and pleasant. It also turned out to be “foul ball day” as dozens of the things peppered the infield stands, including this one which came right back at us as I was taking this photo, landing a few rows in front of us:
We were also amused that whenever the A’s brought in a reliever, the infielders and outfielders would each gather and stand around chatting. I guess they were just killing some dead time like anyone does, but I rarely see it happen so regularly.
“Do you think that curveball makes his butt look big?”
That photo’s also great because of the Sox baserunner in the background working out a problem with his laces during the dead time.
All-in-all a great day at the park, and the Sox are now 3-1 on the season. We headed out to BART and took the train back to our car, looking forward to our dinner plans… only to find that Brother’s Deli closed sometime late last year! What a bummer! They’d moved from Burlingame a few years ago and although their new digs were nicer, they seemed to have a lot of trouble attracting customers, and I guess it caught up to them. Parking around downtown Millbrae could be a challenge sometimes, too. Alas, I’ll need to find somewhere new to order meat blintzes. I’m going to miss them.
Hard to believe that our bonus day off is over already! Back to work tomorrow. Fortunately it’s only for a 2-day week…!
Yesterday was opening day of baseball season. Yeah yeah, there was a game on Sunday, and the Red Sox and A’s played a two game series in Japan last week, but most teams opened the season yesterday. And thanks to that Japanese series, the Sox and A’s play the other two games of their season-opening “series” in Oakland this week.
The first of the two games was tonight, and I certainly was coming home to watch it; even with the Red Sox being the defending world champions, I don’t get to watch enough Red Sox baseball out here.
I came home around 6:40 and threw the TV onto the baseball channel just for the heck of it while I prepared dinner. After a minute I realized all I was hearing was crowd noise, so I went out to look at the TV, and realized that they were showing the entire pre-game ceremony without commentary or commercials! So they introduced the Red Sox, and introduced the A’s, and held a moment of silence for Joe Kennedy, who passed away due to heart disease last November, followed by the national anthem. I was impressed, it was almost like being there for opening night.
The game itself was excellent, with Sox pitching holding the A’s to only 3 hits, and A’s defense holding the Sox to only 2 runs despite 9 hits, and the Sox prevailed 2-1. There was even a botched call at the plate (giving the Sox a run) and a botched home run call (taking one away from the Sox).
The long dark time is over – baseball’s back!
The really fun thing about the World Series for me was watching the Red Sox’ young players have their own “coming out party”. While the veterans on the club (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and World Series MVP Mike Lowell) all had fine series, the younger players were equally impressive:
- Jacoby Ellsbury (CF, rookie, age 23) went from playing in AA to hitting 438/500/688 in the World Series, with 4 doubles and a stolen base. It would be a stretch to say that he won Game 3 all by himself, but he was certainly the highlight of the game.
- Dustin Pedroia (2B, rookie, age 23) hit 278/350/500 with a double and a home run. The potential 2007 Rookie of the Year was even better in the ALCS.
- Kevin Youkilis (1B, age 28) actually was a rookie back in 2004, but didn’t play in the 2004 World Series. He only batted 222/417/444 in the World Series and missed out on most of the games in Colorado because of the lack of a DH, but he was a total monster in the ALCS, batting 500/576/929 (!) with 3 (!!!) home runs. He also went the whole 2007 regular season without committing an error (and then committed 3 in the playoffs). He’ll probably never be a star, but he’s put to rest speculation that the “Greek God of Walks” wouldn’t be very valuable because of a lack of power. He might have a better career than John Kruk did, even if he is already 28.
- Jon Lester (SP, age 23) came all the way back from chemotherapy for cancer to pitch 5.2 shutout innings and become the winning pitcher in the series clincher. He’ll likely be the Red Sox’ 4th or 5th starter next year, assuming either or both of Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield head elsewhere.
- Jonathan Papelbon (RP, age 26) didn’t allow a run in the Series and saved 3 games.
- Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, rookie, age 26) isn’t a true rookie, as he was a big free agent pickup from Japan last off-season, but he was nearly the Sox’ “forgotten star” as he faded down the stretch, possibly because he threw more innings in 2007 than he ever had in Japan and just got tired. But he picked up his game in the ALCS and World Series, throwing two good games and getting a key base hit in Game 3 of the World Series. Japanese players often seem to do better in their second year in the Majors, so I fully expect Matsuzaka will be better next year than he was this year. Other than fatigue, I think there’s nothing to worry about here.
I love seeing young players do well, and it’s additionally encouraging that the Sox have a solid core of young players to build around for the next 2-3 years (if not longer). This doesn’t even count other “under-30-somethings” on the roster, like Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Manny Delcarmen.
The Red Sox’ future is already here, and it just won a World Series.