Saturday, May 28, 2005

RUMBLE IN THE BRONX

Red Sox versus the Yankees in Yankee Stadium on Memorial Day weekend the season after the Red Sox beat the Yankees four straight games in the greatest comeback ever in professional sports. The Sox come into the series in desperate need of a spark. They have been as lethargic as I get when there is laundry to be done for the last three weeks of the schedule and maybe the intensity of these games in New York is exactly what they need to pick them up as they head into June in the middle of a four team race for the American League East division crown.

Of course, the Yankees are going to be up for the series. They have turned around their fortunes after starting the season 10-19 and being swept by Tampa Bay. Regular Joe has shaken up his lineup and rotation and gotten much better performances in the interim. The questions remaining for the Yankees, however, include;

1. Is this the best that you can expect out of Randy Johnson?
2. Will Kevin Brown and Chieng Ming Wien continue to pitch as effectively as they have against the bottom-feeders in the A.L. West?
and
3. Will the inconsistent offense continue to keep piling on runs?

The Red Sox have their own series of questions to answer over the next few series, which include:

1. Will Kevin Millar, like last season, start hitting now that he has some competition for playing time?
2. Will the really Manny Ramirez and Edgar Renteria please stand up?
3. How long until Wade Miller and David Wells settle into that groove that starting pitchers get into?
and
4. When will Francona bench Bellhorn, play Mueller at second base, and put Youkilis at third base where he belongs everyday?

* * *

Friday, May 27, 2005

MILLAR TIME

I think this is the weekend that makes or breaks Kevin Millar and his future with the Boston Red Sox. Whether Millar will be sent to the purgatory that enveloped such Sox first basement like Jack Clark, Carlos Quintana (We still love the Q!), Todd Benzinger, and Sam Bam Horn, or if he breaks out and tears through this slump like Eddie Andelman tearing through the chili dawgs at his annual hot dog safari.

Millar started slowly last season, but finished with a bang; however, this season the pressure is mounting in the form of a first baseman with a sweet left-handed swing who wears a batting helmet while playing first base. John Olerud is hitting the cover off the ball in Pawtucket, and the allure of adding another left-handed bat to the middle of the Sox order has to be tempting. It will be interesting to see if Millar gets the support from the manager he received last season when his swing looked like a cross between a limping duck and mime pantomiming Sergio Garcia addressing the ball.

Millar, of course, is not to blame for the Sox struggles. In addition, I firmly believe that some players hit better when the weather is warm and they can get a little sweat going and get comfortable. But the Curt Schilling-less pitching staff has, much like the New England spring this year, weathered wave after wave of noreasters blasting them with the cold raindrops and gray skies in the form of injuries to Curt Schilling, David Wells, the Bronson Arroyo suspension, and the inconsistencies inherent in having a knuckleballer in the rotation.

The Sox need to start hitting, which will happen sooner or later. They need a couple of consistent starts, which will happen sooner or later. So much for the post-World Series honeymoon for the Red Sox; the anxious and testy fans and talk show hosts have allowed for a honeymoon the length of a Brittany Spears or J.Lo marriage.

* * *

PASSING CAMP:

The Patriots finished up passing camp this week, giving the team a chance to get together and evaluate where they are and what final pieces need to be gathered before training camp opens in July. A quick rundown position-by-position before the June 1 cut-downs, which likely will be negligible here:

OFFENSE:

QB: Tom Brady, with Doug Flutie as the veteran back-up, Riders of Rohan Davey as the young back-up, and Matt, not Sam, Cassell as the project. Expect no change here.

RB: Corey Dillon, with Patrick Pass at the barely used FB, with Kevin Faulk as the third down back, and Cedric Cobbs as the primary back-up to Dillon. There are some undrafted free-agents in camp (DeCori Birmingham and NFL Europe player Kory Chapman) who, if they impress on special teams, may stick around. The position centers on Cobbs and if he can show the inside running skills that got him drafted. If Cobbs is indeed the heir apparent to Dillon, then no changes are expected at RB.

TE: Daniel Graham is the blocking star, and if healthy, first round pick Ben Watson will be the receiving star out of the two tight end set that Belichick seems to favor. Jed Weaver is the back-up and Andy Stokes who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings is the project (wait, that was Andy Serkis, sorry. Well, he was obsessed with getting a ring. The Patriots are the team to be on for that).

WR: I touched on this position yesterday, so I refuse to bore everyone with the same drivel day after day (what do you mean why do I continue to write this blog everyday?).

OT OG C: Here is where the competition is thick. Matt Light is penciled in at left tackle, Dan Koppen is locked in at center, and, based on his play last season, Stephen Neal is a lock at one of the guard spots. The rest of the positions will be an elaborate game of musical chairs to see who ends up getting the seat in the starting line. The right tackle spot will be likely won by incumbent Brandon Gorin or first round pick Logan Mankins. Also in the mix will be Tom Ashworth. The other guard spot (whichever spot opens as Neal is not a lock to stay at right guard) will be fought out between Russ Hochstein and Gene Mruckowski (Mruckowski also is the back-up at center). Expect third round pick Nick Kaczur to get a look at guard, as he can play guard or tackle. The Patriots also have a plethora of undrafted free agents fighting for roster spots on the offensive line. Belichick likes having big bodies that line coach Dante Scarnecchia can mold like play-doh into shapes that hopefully come out better than my play-doh works of art, which always come out as the same thing: a rock. Some names to keep an ear open for are tackles Lance Nimmo and Victor Leyva, and at guard Billy Yates.

DEFENSE:

DT: Belichick cleared up a little cap room by sending the white puffs of smoke from the Gillette Stadium chimney to indicate his choice of young stud (I can call him a stud, he weighs as much as a horse) Vince Wilfork as the centerpiece of his defensive line. By releasing veteran Keith Traylor he either signaled his faith in back-up Ethan Kelley, or else he feels he can a veteran back-up nose tackle on the cheap after June 1. This position bears watching as it is an integral part of the 3-4 defense and there is no one else likely to play the position on the roster other than a couple of the defensive ends like Richard Seymour, Ty Warren or Jarvis Green. I doubt anyone on the coaching staff wants to see these ends fighting the centers and guards in the 3-4. There are a couple of future practice squad players in camp as well, but I have no idea who DeMarco DeNeil is other than to say dename is debest I have deheard of in some detime.

DE: This is the deepest position, with talented starters Seymour and Warren, and backups who would start on most any other team, Warren and Rodney Bailey. Also, the team has prospect Marquise Hill who is expected to show something this year out on the field.

ILB: Expected to be a weak spot with the likely loss of Tedy Bruschi, this spot is suddenly full of potential. Ted Johnson is expected to start alongside import Monty the Diesel Biesel. Expect Dan Klecko to get a number of reps in training camp and the exhibition games. Also, special teams ace Matt Chatham should get a significant look at the inside position. Fifth round pick Ryan Claridge can play inside as well, as can special teamers Wes Mallard and Larry Izzo. It is also not out of the realm of possibility to see Roman Phifer return and get some time inside.

OLB: An aging position, but it still remains a position of strength for the team. Willie McGinest, Rosie Colvin, Mike Vrabel, and Bad Chad Brown make up a strong rotation. Impressive youngster Tully Banta-Cain may get some reps in pass rushing situations. Also, if he returns, Phifer can get some time in on the outside. Special teamer Don Davis can fill in as well as could fifth round pick Ryan Claridge.

CB: With the loss of Ty Law, this too was expected to be a weak position. Ty Poole returns to fight for a starting position with imports Duane Starks and double first name Chad Scott and with hold-over starters from the Super Bowl, Randall Gay and Asante Samuel. That is not bad depth at all for a position that loses Law who with his salary cap number had a deathgrip on the flexibility of the team to make moves. Veterans Hank Poteat, Ike Charlton and rookie Ellis Hobbs are also expected to provide further depth at the position.

SS & FS: The starting positions are locked in with Rodney Harrison and the ever-impressive Eugene Wilson. The depth is not really an issue, with youngster Dexter Reid looking to build on his rookie season and fellow draft pick Guss Scott who, before being injured in training camp last year, looked very impressive. Added to the mix is fourth round pick James Sanders. A long shot in camp at safety is undrafted free agent from Catholic Division II powerhouse Villanova, Ray Ventrone.

So, all-in-all, not too many holes are left to be filled for the defending champions. There should be some competition for a few starting positions on the offensive line, cornerback and possibly at linebacker. As always with the Belichick and Pioli team, expect heated competition for back-up and special teams roles.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

HERE COMES THE BOOM

David Wells is finally rounding into form, as his second start of extended spring training once again counted in the record books. Shot of one bad inning, Boomer did not look too bad out here on the hill for the Sox. Again, Wells left a couple of meatballs up and over the plate and paid the price. Of course, the story was not Wells, but rather the dynamic duo, Mike Timlin and Alan Embree, being unable to hold a lead against the Blue Jays.

The buzz remains centered on the slumping bats in Boston. Kevin Millar, will he turn it around like last year after Memorial Day. Edgar Renteria, is he a $10 million a year bust? Bill Mueller, what happened to that inside out stroke that drove the ball off the Green Monster? Mark Bellhorn, will he swing at a pitch in any given at bat? Manny Ramirez, what happened to the batting average?

Also, the bullpen has been in flux as the Blaine Neal Experience did not go well, the Cla Meredith Experiment failed miserably, and Byung-Hyun Kim never contributed. John Halama and Jeremi Gonzalez contributed in the starting rotation, but their long relief work has been spotty. Alan Embree and Mike Timlin are starting to show some wear and tear on their rubber arms as they have been hittable this season in clutch situations. Matt Mantei has looked good after a shaky start. Closer Keith Foulke has had his mechanical mayhem this year that reappears every few years for him.

I have long been chanting the mantra wait for warm weather before going all haywire and into a full panic mode regarding the offensive output this year. The Sox are hanging in near the top of the division, bunched together with the surprising Blue Jays and the perpetually beating up on weaker opponents Yankees as Regular Joe Torre and Scotch and Soda Mel Stottlemeyer try to get this underachieving millionaires club to the top of the division (because my theory is that as long as Torre wins the AL East, Steinbrenner cannot fire him.).

Considering that Curt Schilling and David Wells have contributed squat this spring, the fact that the team is doing so well is a tribute to the depth the front office assembled; however, the fact remains that the bullpen is still unsettled and the hitters need to get hitting or get shuffled.

Two changes that should be forthcoming: 1. John Olerud inserted as the regular first baseman (we love Millar, but if he does not hit, he should not play); and 2. Kevin Youkilis inserted as the regular third baseman. Millar, Bellhorn, and Mueller (and Johnny Damon) are all in what is very likely the swan song of their Red Sox career. Next season, I expect that Youkilis is the full-time third baseman and that the Sox try to find a power-hitting first baseman. Second base has prospects aplenty to fill in, be it Henley Ramirez or Dustin Pedroia.

Right now, the Sox need to look to the Yankees to see what a little creative shuffling can do to jumpstart a struggling offense. Benching Bernie Williams and bringing up Robinson Cano has certainly caused the Yankees to speed around the corner after stumbling and almost falling like Afleet Alex in the Preakness.

* * *

TENNIS ANYONE?

Tennis is a great game. Good exercise, great cardio workout, builds arm strength, etc. Really, though, I do not care about professional tennis in the least. So why is the paper full of so much about the stinking sport? Has Boston become a city of racket slingers? Recent stories in one day included young tennis stars pushed by their parents, a kid loses a high school match because he has no coach at he game, and Andre Agassi was defeated in the first round. Whatever. If there is nothing else on, I have certainly flipped to a US Open or Wimbledon match and got dragged into the competition, but considering it rates below Arena League Football on my must-watch list, I certainly do not think I need page after page of coverage (except for Bud Collins articles. He could write about sandpaper and make it interesting.).

* * *

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

HOW CAN YOU ROOT AGAINST THE BLUE JAYS?

Toronto is the next road stop before the Yankees? That just is not fair. No one can dislike the Blue Jays. They are small market, have a charismatic, young, Theo-esqe General Manager in J.P. Riccardi, and the unheralded manager, John Gibbons, always has them ready to play. They are underdogs who play hard, play right, and have been winning. It is no fun rooting against the Jays because they are the kind of team you want to root for in baseball.

Now in the early nineties, they were easy to hate. Goody two-shoes Paul Molitor; Dave the Seagull Killer Winfield, George Jorge Bell, old Sox killers Jack Morris and Dave Stewart, and happy, happy, joy, joy Joe Carter liberated from San Diego. They played in the first dome with a retractable roof, drew over 3 million fans a season, and dominated the A.L. East. I detested those Blue Jays. I was stuck rooting for Butch Hobson and his motley crew of underachievers while Toronto turned into some baseball Mecca.

The Blue Jays of today are a young team on the rise. To say they have suffered growing pains is an understatement. They boast Roy Halliday at the top of their rotation, simply the best pitcher in the American League. The staff also has talented youngsters such as Orioles cast-off Josh Towers and rookie sensation Gustavo Chacin. Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson, Eric Hinske, and former Red Sox Shea Hillenbrand are young, exciting players. Riccardi, a former Billy Beane assistant in Oakland, has built a solid, inexpensive team based on the Moneyball concept that will compete for years to come. Too bad no one in Toronto is taking notice.

* * *

TROY BROWN WILL NOT GO DOWN:

The big news of Troy Brown returning to the Patriots has been, along with Doug Flutie, two very heartwarming stories. Of course, neither veteran is assured a roster spot and history has shown that Bill Belichick, despite his affection for a player, is not going to keep anyone for sentimental purposes. While I consider it very likely that Brown and Flutie will both make the roster, with the competition at their positions, I would not be shocked if both were released during roster cut-downs.

Flutie faces competition from a number of contenders for the back-up quarterback spot. Rohan Davey had a firm grip on the number two position last year, and is likely to retain that spot. Competing with Flutie for the number three position is seventh round draft pick Matt Cassell. While Cassell is likely to end up on the practice squad, there is a chance that if he and Davey both have an impressive pre-season the team would be reluctant to let Cassell go through waivers to the practice squad for fear of him being picked up by another team. In that case, it would come down to Davey, who they have invested three years in developing, and Flutie.

Troy Brown, who spent much of last season concentrating on defensive back, finds a bevy of new competitors for his slot receiver position. While David Patten struck the lottery in Washington DC, Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and restricted free agent David Givens presumably have the two starting spots nailed down. The Patriots brought in the Bears former number one pick David Terrell and the white Troy Brown clone Tim Dwight from San Diego. They also still have their developing speedster Bethel Johnson and their fourth round pick from last season, P.K. Sam. With Dwight able to return punts and kickoffs, that leaves Brown in a dogfight for the last receiver position, as it is likely the team will only carry six receivers and add special teams depth from the defensive backfield (I mean, they have to bring back Jerod Cherry, right?). Also, there is the possibility that one of the practice squad regulars from last season, Jake Schifino, Michael McGrew, or Ricky Bryant, will have a big pre-season and stick on the roster.

So while it is likely that both Flutie and Brown will still be with the Patriots on opening day against the Raiders, there is also reason to hold off on celebrating their return to the red, white and blue.

* * *

Monday, May 23, 2005

NO GAME

No, not what everyone says to me on the basketball court (Bent, you got no game!), but rather there was no Sox game to obsess over. It is always depressing when I have the Boston Globe Sports Plus section on Friday and the sports section is really two pages and then a bunch of articles about tennis and high school sports. Plus what exactly? Plus more filler that no one reads. Give me more Ron Borges Boxing Notes, put Bud Collins, the best sportswriter on the staff, on the Red Sox beat whether he likes it or not. Why is Jim McCabe limited to writing about golf on Thursday? Why is Mike Reiss stuck at the Boston Herald little sister-paper the MetroWest Daily News instead of being hired away? Even Michael Felger at the Herald manages to whip out a couple of Patriots articles during the off-season. More Chris Snow at the Globe, and make Ronald McDonald Shaughnessy write a few relevant columns.

* * *

HOME OF THE BRAVES:

Yes, our natural interleague rivals, the Braves, returned to Boson. The Braves. Yeah, I hate them. Damn you Ted Turner, you CNN loving, buffalo eating, Jane Fonda-ling, tomahawk chopping fool! Rivals? Maybe for anyone who was a Braves fan and watched them leave town in the late 1950s right when the team got good after half a decade of incompetence. I am sure my Dad and others of his generation might get a bit riled up, but other than the team once playing in Boston, how are they our rival national league team?

Really, interleague play kind of seems like a lame marketing idea, as the novelty just does not exist anymore. It is like the all-star game. When I was a kid, the only way to see Ozzie Smith was on This Week in Baseball, the NBC Saturday Game of the Week (which was ALWAYS the Yankees or the Dodgers), or at the all-star game. THAT WAS IT! This was the pre-ESPN dark ages of baseball. Interleague play would have been huge in the sixties, but now it barely makes a blip.

* * *

WARNING! THIS IS NOT REAL SPORTS NEWS:

Just have to report on the sad state of my performance for the Middleboro Methodists in the fast pitch softball league on Tuesday night. Due to some guys missing the game for personal reasons, yours truly for the first time in over five years donned the tools of ignorance and squatted behind the plate. Though I did not embarrass myself on the field, I can report that three days later the burning pain in my hamstrings has not subsided. Of course, I just sit here and think: Imagine what would have happened if I had not been going to the gym. They would have carted me off the field in a wheelbarrow! Not that anyone cares, but we won 13-2.

* * *

Friday, May 20, 2005

SMALL THOUGHTS & QUICK HITS

I have been nursing a horrid head cold, and am drugged up on Contact, Dayquil, and all those lovely decongestant, expectorant, pain relievers that do absolutely nothing to make me feel like getting work done, so how I can I logically expect to write anything relevant, coherent, or logical in this state? What? I do not write anything logical, relevant or coherent to begin with? Well, that is a relief. I will now go back to listening to that little voice in my head that sounds like Denis Leary shouting out vulgar phrases about NyQuil.

* * *

Fortunately, the Red Sox have an off day, which everyone needs to recover form the disaster that was the escape game from the West Coast. The good news is that the Sox are home for three games: the bad news is that they are against Atlanta, who historically beat the Sox to a pulp. My theory always was that Jimy Williams and Grady Little got so excited talking to a good old boy pal like Braves manager Bobby Cox that they reverted back to their drawl and for the next couple of games the team and coaches had no idea what they were talking about.

Or it could just be that the Braves are a consistently very good team.

* * *

So the NBA is prepping for a big lockout. Oh no, no hockey, no basketball. Whatever shall we poor sports deprived fans do? Umm, right. As long as baseball and football keep chugging along, I could care less if the NBA players play or not. The Celtics did not capture our imagination that fully did they?

* * *

It is interesting how Trot Nixon is hitting so well as soon as there is news about his knee being messed up and needing surgery. I know from my glorious Little League, Babe Ruth League, High School, and Softball career (want to hear the highlights of my great play? Come on, it will only take two seconds!), that some of my best games were when I was sick or injured. Not to compare Trot Nixon to Larry Bird or Michael Jordon, but I remember those guys having huge games while sick or injured. Sometimes the illness or injury may just make them focus that much more, or the opposite and make them relax and figure that anything they do is frosting on the cake since no one expects much, and it allows them to play loose and have a good game.

* * *

6-0-1. Is it time to jump on the New England Revolution bandwagon yet? I am soooooooooo ready. Saturday morning soccer at 8AM with my three year old son just does wonders for the appreciation of soccer. Of course, with the fanatical soccer dads I see every weekend running their three-year-olds through drills like a general at reveille before practice, how is it that this target audience is not a season ticket holder for the Revs? I can just see them at the games shouting at their poor kids, Look at Clint Dempsey, do you see him crying when he does not get a goal?

God, smite me down the day I turn into one of those parents.

* * *

Thursday, May 19, 2005

BOOMED

Great job, Boomer. Nothing like a 9-1 game in the third inning. At least I do not have to bother with worrying about missing the getaway afternoon game while at work. But, hey, Boomer does not need a rehab start. Jeez, who cares if the fatso gets ticked off, he is under contract, send his fat ass down to Pawtucket for a tune-up start.

* * *

KIELBASA TIME:

Poor Yaz. Bad enough his son died last year, but to find out after the fact that you are on the hook for thousands of dollars because the kid stole your identity to get credit cards and ran them up? That is sad.

Carl Yastremski, a.k.a. Yaz, was the man, the myth, the legend. When I remember him playing, he was so far past his prime that he was a shadow of the player he once was, but you still saw that long-striding swing and bat whipping around in a perfect follow-through as his hands finished near his ears every single swing. Whether he hit the ball or not was immaterial at the time; it was the swing of beauty that captured the eye.

Yaz was kind of a reluctant sports hero, and it is hard to fault him on that looking back through history. The job of replacing hall of fame hitter and currently a popsicle Ted Williams in left field and in the hearts of Sox fans was no easy task. Yaz did it the old-fashioned way: short of a five year run between 1967 and 1971, Yaz just went out and did his job and out-worked everyone else. Like Henry Aaron, he may not have been the most spectacular, but he was the most consistent.

Yaz was also a Polish superstar. That was big in my family. A baseball and cultural hero for my mom, an endless supply of mirth and a target for Polack jokes for my dad. For example, Yaz would crank a homer and my mom would shout out, “Polish power!” My dad would then respond, “I hope he remembers to run the bases the right way” or some other cutting remark like “of course he homered, they are up by six runs already. If it was a one-run game, he would pop out” (The pain of 1978 apparently still lingered).

Plus, he had that Hillshire Farms Kielbasa sign on route 24 heading to Brockton that, while unrecognizable today, is still there.

* * *

OTIS MY MAN:

It is official, but at least he went out with the only team that ever appreciated and embraced him: the Patriots. Yes, Otis Smith signed a one-day contract and retired as a New England Patriot. A fourteen year career for an undrafted free agent, that is not too bad of a legacy.

Smith will always be remembered by me for his huge interception in Super Bowl XXXVI in the third quarter which should have sealed the game (damned penalty call on McGinest during the Tebuckey Jones interception and the illegal pick by the Rams receivers that freed Ricky Proehl to get open - and yes I am still bitter about those calls four years later even though the Patriots still won the game).

Otis was a true pro, he kept his mouth shut, he made big plays, and he worked hard. What more can a fan ask for from a player?

* * *

DAMNED RAY MILLER:

The Orioles are being stubborn. They are settling into the top of the American League East and resisting any push to remove them. Red Sox win six of seven? The Orioles respond in kind. The Yankees reel off ten wins in a row, and the Orioles maintain the status quo, allowing New York to only gain three games in the standings. How are they doing it? One answer: It is one man, pitching coach Ray Miller. He has done it before with the Orioles in the eighties, and he is doing it again. Maximum results from minimal talent. I understand that he is not the most popular or easiest to get along with, but the results speak for themselves. Just imagine how good the Yankees could be if they had a real pitching coach like Miller.

* * *

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

ALL RED SOX ALL THE TIME

It is official: the NBA Playoffs are in their doldrums period (aka the second round), despite the Phoenix-Dallas series (80s flashback basketball-the first four games should be played on an endless loop on ESPN Classic so that we remember why we watched NBA basketball in the first place), training camp for the Patriots is two months away, the Revolution are barely able to make a blip on the local scene, and the only news in New England revolves around the Red Sox, the Yankees nine game winning streak, the Red Sox, Oil Can Boyd, the Red Sox, Chazer dropping from first place in fantasy baseball, and the Red Sox.

Unfortunately, the water cooler talk about the Sox is limited to recapping what Hazel Mae recapped on NESN this morning because no one with a job can stay up until 1AM to catch a west coast game (not including the playoffs, of course). In a way it is kind of exciting to wake up and flip on the tube to catch the score; I feel like a little kid, except of course, when I was a kid I could not watch TV so I had to turn on the radio for baseball scores and since I had no intention to listen to some chucklehead on AM680 ramble on about Mike Dukakis, I would leave the clock radio on the only sports radio station back in the early to mid eighties: AM660 WFAN in New York, home of the New York Mets. Yes, the 1986 World Series was twice as painful because I had sat through Don Imus blabbing about how great the Mets were all season long. What a wonderful vindication for me: Imus, Doc Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry, the banes of my existence in 1986, all lumped together now as past-their-primes, waste-of-talent, former cokeheads. Ahhh, the endorphins are releasing nineteen years of pent-up anger into one blissful mind orgasm.

Of course, nothing tells the story better than listening to WEEI this week. Apparently, there is nothing of value going on in sports, as all conversation has been dominated by Star Wars Episode Three: The Revenge of the Sith. Now, I am as big of a Star Wars/Star Trek/2001: A Space Odyssey/Lord of the Rings/etc geek out there who is obsessed with sports, but the last thing I need to hear is Gerry Callahan, who obviously never heard of Star Wars until the station director gave him the morning notes and topics for the show when he walked in the studio at 5 AM, babbling about losers lining up outside for tickets dressed in costumes. Umm, and that differs from the losers who line up outside for tickets dressed in team uniforms how exactly?

Get the Sox off the West Coast. Fire up the inter-league games, and get the season into full swing.

* * *

MANUFACTURED CONTROVERSY:

Tito and Theo have contracts that are either ending at the end of the season or else are woefully underpaid. Stop the presses. Start the controversy! I told you it was a slow news period right now. I think the coach and GM are ok right now, we do not need to be overly concerned with their movement. What, Tito wants to leave Boston for Kansas City? Is Theo eyeing that high-profile GM position Tampa Bay? What next, will we see a huge, in-depth story on Dale Sveum (last Sunday in the Globe magazine, whoops!)?

* * *

SOXUAL HEALING:

So let me get this straight. The Yankees have won nine in a row, and yet they are still five games out of first and two and a half behind the Sox? So, considering that once Tino returns to earth they will no longer be ripping off these streaks, where does it put them? Oh yeah, a .500 team. Nice to see that is all that $200 million buys nowadays; and Yankees fans wonder why they are so detested.

Of course, the Sox still have not had a chance to rip off a big win streak, and, considering how well they have done playing a majority of games on the road and without their number one and number two starters, they appear to be in the drivers seat right now as June starts creeping up.

* * *

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

QUICKIES:

GOING TO CALI:

The most dread words a Red Sox fan can hear are west coast road trip. The 10 PM starts, the failure historically associated with the Sox trips out west, the joy of the early edition of the Boston Globe having the game stories end with the Sox led 3-2 after four innings, and just the lethargy of staying up until 1 AM to watch the bullpen blow a late lead and then being tired at work as I try to sneak a peek at boston.com to read what was not in my morning paper about the game.

* * *

LOST WEEKEND:

All-in-all, it was an unimpressive weekend for the Sox. Dropping two of three to the lowly Mariners is inexcusable. Jeremi Gonzalez had a bit of a downer on the mound, but Halama-Llama did not exactly put out any fires coming in from the pen. Wakefield was not sharp, and was done in by some sloppy play in the field and not quite enough juice from the lineup.

Of course, the Red Sox are one of those teams that is dynamite at home and .500 on the road, not that there is anything wrong with that; however, this season the Sox have played more road games to date than any team in the major leagues. So should we panic so early as the losses mount on the west coast? Of course not. If I were told in March that the Sox would be without Wells and Schilling for basically the first two months of the season and still be right in the thick of the A.L. East lead, I would have gladly accepted that position.

* * *

CONFIDENCE IS A DANGEROUS THING:

The Yankees seem impervious to the loss column recently. As long as Tino Martinez stays on pace for 100 home runs the Yankees will be tough to beat.

* * *

AINGE SOUNDS OFF:

Mostly favorable review to Danny Ainge and his code of conduct he is implementing for the Celtics. That should cement the departure of Paul Pierce via trade and Antoine Walker and Gary Payton via free agency. Now if the Celtics could just find someone to take Mark Blount off their hands…

* * *

ALL THINGS MANNY:

I do not know what was worse, Manny hitting home run number four-hundred and the last Red Sox player to hit number four-hundred not present (The Hawk, Andre Dawson. Expos Power!), or the ridiculous Peter Gammons and Michael Felger fighting on WEEI over whether Manny or Albert Pujols is the best right-handed hitter in the game (Pujols #1, Manny #2, A-Rod #3, but that is just my opinion). Then, we learn that Manny is hitting .240 because his Mom has arthritis. Shoot, my Dad has had so many operations, symptoms, bypasses, etc, that has to be the reason I can not hit. The Manny excuse, I will ake it!

* * *

NATS:

Washington Smoshington, I miss the Expos. Bring back the bleu, blanc, et rouge!

* * *

Thursday, May 12, 2005

ARE WE HOT YET?

Will the Sox get hot? They have won eight of ten, five of six, and are winning ugly, but they still have not broke out and really put together a couple of dominant series with hot hitting together with hot pitching. That is a good sign of course. The Sox have yet to hit their peak, while the 2004 Orioles, I mean, the 2005 Yankees have had their best week and picked up no games in the standings on the Sox. The Orioles also must be looking back at the Sox behind them thinking that if they have already played their best of the season and the Sox have been inconsistent and are right there in striking distance already, it is going to be a tough job to hold the Sox off or at least keep up with them.

* * *

PREDICTING THE END OF THE LINE:

Five game winning streaks against struggling West Coast teams notwithstanding, when are the Yankees going to reach the breaking point? Steinbrenner cannot sit silent much longer. My best guess is that he will not make it to the fourth of July. They just released (or will soon) Steve Karsay, eating over $5 million dollars in the process. The entire pitching staff, with its almost $100 million price tag has underachieved, and George will come down on someone. The likely suspect is Mel Stottlemeyer, who is there so Regular Joe Torre has someone to mix his drinks. In the ten years Stottlemeyer has coached the Yankees pitching staff, what pitcher has improved his performance as a Yankee? The only way Steinbrenner can get inside the head of Average Joe is through the firing of Mixing Mel. Fourth of July.

* * *

WILL THE CELTICS SAY GOOD-BYE TO PAUL PIERCE?

The Boston Herald finally got around to doing the work I was too lazy to do and sportswriter Mark Murphy identified seven potential trade partners for the Celtics if they decide to move Pierce. Quick synopsis with my thoughts:
Seattle, Ray Allen: In a heartbeat. Allen is a player who can shoot, pass, and run the floor. As a free agent, a sign-and-trade would benefit him (maximum dollars) and the Celtics (perfect cap match for Pierce).
Milwaukee, Michael Redd: Young, a shooter, and as a free agent, a sign-and-trade would benefit him (maximum dollars) and the Celtics (perfect cap match for Pierce).
Indiana, Ron Artest: I would be all for it, but I doubt Indiana would want Pierce.
L.A. Clippers, Elton Brand: With Big Al, we would do this for what reason?
L.A. Lakers, Lamar Odom: Uh, yeah. An underachieving pot-head who is an underachiever to boot. Just what the team needs. Yikes.
Washington, Larry Hughes: To quote bad porn actresses: Yes, YES, GOD YES!!!
Portland, Shareef Abdur-Raheem: Umm, see Elton Brand comment above.

* * *

THE ORIGINAL WHIZZINATOR:

Oh my God, I just about fell down I was laughing so hard on this one. For anyone who has not heard about it yet, Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith, already with two drug suspension in the NFL drug program, was busted for having vials of white powder in his bag at the airport. No, not the coke, it was dried urine for use in a device to beat urine tests for drugs called The Original Whizzinator that uses, among its supplies, a fake penis and a bladder to be hidden in an athletic cup.

See, and I was abusing the trademark when I was calling my son the original whizzinator back when he was potty-training. All I could think of was Austin Powers and his Swedish Penis Enlarger from the first (and only funny) movie in the spy-spoofs series.

* * *

WORDS THAT, JUST FIVE YEARS AGO, NO ONE WOULD EVER BELIEVE WERE WRITTEN WITHOUT SARCASM:

"Thank God for the New England Patriots. They just reconfirm everything we stand for at the University of Florida. It's accountability. It's taking care of one another. It's working harder than your opponent. There's no luck involved. It's (quarterback) Chris Leak getting that tailback to play harder." – Coach Urban Meyer, http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/tallahassee/sports/11624319.htm

* * *

WALK ON, WALK OFF

It was two dramatic victories in a row for the Red Sox. Did someone turn the clock back to 2004 and not mention it to anyone? Although both games had a dramatic ending, both games highlighted the ongoing struggle to drive in runners in scoring position. This aspect of the game must improve for the Red Sox offense. How to improve this problem is the burning question. The Sox need to keep working the pitchers to get deep in the count and have the pitcher make a mistake. If they do that, stay back, do not get overanxious, and get their pitches to hit, they will eventually get the job done.

* * *

ONE TWO BUCKLE MY SHOE:

Bronson Arroyo and Matt Clement: These guys would make a good one and two starter right now for about twenty other clubs. Here they are four and five. Both undefeated, both with low earned run averages, both looking dominant on the mound. The future looks bright as both are just entering their prime.

THREE FOUR SHUT THE DOOR:

Memo to Keith Foulke: Call the mechanic, because the fastball is up over the plate and he is throwing the change-up too hard. Without the major difference in speed (example: fastball 89 MPH and change-up 70 MPH, a 19 MPH difference for the hitter to try to adapt to), the batters have time to wait on the change-up and adjust to the fastball. Some change-ups were at 80 MPH: way too fast! The good thing with Foulke, is that once he adjusts and locks down, he will return to his unhittable self of 2004. Every year he has these uneasy stretches, it just so happens that this season it happened early. Have faith in Foulke, he will round into form.

* * *

I LOVE IT WHEN YOU CALL ME BIG PAPI:

Let us not forget to give credit to David Ortiz for his role in these walk-off wins. Without his drawing a walk in the ninth inning of both games and getting on base, we would be talking about extra inning games instead of walk-off victories. It still boggles my mind that Minnesota could give up on such a talented hitter. I know that no one in the organization expected the 40 HR and 120 RBI seasons from Ortiz, but it goes to show why to take flier on a hitter with power potential any time you can (see Robert Petegine, getting ready to rehab in Pawtucket for another example of the Sox trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice).

* * *

CELTICS, WHAT CELTICS?

I have never heard of them. Did they play basketball here in the eighties once upon a time? From all their goodwill and being the lead sports story to a smoldering pot of resentment. They are now that weird deranged Uncle that gets locked in the attic in bad movies; or, as my Dad told Joe Mills when we were kids, our Uncle Marald sits in his rocking chair in the attic and never leaves there. (What can I say, Joe Mills ate a goat turd when we told him it was a black jelly bean and believed that herring came from our gutters. I feel like I should be paying the poor kid a monthly per diem just for therapy).

Anyway, the Celtics are suddenly persona non grata as I have not yet talked to anyone who was not disgusted, humiliated, or ashamed to have viewed their performance Saturday night in the stinkfest against the undermanned, less talented, but obviously motivated Indiana Pacers.

The Celtics are quickly disappearing from the sports pages and public eye. The team blew a tremendous opportunity to pick up some fans with an extended playoff run by choking two games and not showing up for the other two. Fans are in no rush to forgive these veterans who packed it in and played one-on-one the whole game.

Has Danny Ainge won everyone over to his side now? Fans are ready to embrace the vision. Any move he makes involving getting rid of Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, or Gary Payton will be roundly applauded by the remaining fans.

* * *

THE QUIT, I MEAN, QUIET ONE:

Johnny Ruiz, the Quiet Man from Chelsea, was finally shipped off to the sunset of retirement, finally beaten and humiliated enough to quit by former middleweight James Fat Toney. But wait, the drama has just begun. Fat Toney had a suspicious fight, in that, unlike New England Patriot LB Ted Johnson, Toney recovered remarkably fast from a torn biceps. In addition, he lost a ton of weight and had nothing but solid muscle on display and amazing stamina throughout the fight.

Poor Ruiz; even when he wins, he loses. When he loses, he wins, but still loses. No one wants to watch him fight: he has no knockout power and merely wears them down until he outpoints them. His strategy and style is very effective, but boring for the boxing audience. Also, Ruiz got knocked silly by mega-chump David Tua early on in his career and has never regained that credibility.

What hurts Ruiz now is that no one wants to fight him because there is no money to be made fighting him. A loss to him is disastrous, and every promoter in the sport wants him out of the way so that they can have some heavyweights fight for his title that someone may pay to watch (though I am hard-pressed to find any). The whole heavyweight division is desperate for a polarizing young champion to storm through the ranks and grab the public fancy. Unfortunately, until then, we are stuck with Klitschko, Ruiz, Rahman, and the rest of the chumps in the post-Lennox Lewis Era.

* * *

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

WEEKEND WRAP-UP

THE MELTDOWN:

They had no chance in round two against Detroit anyway, but still…

This was the chance to create some good will in the city of Boston with the Boston Celtics. A city desperate to expand their playoff hero roster, with a lull in the action between the Patriots Super Bowl victory and the Red Sox drive through the 162 game schedule, the Celtics had a chance to grab the headlines, sell playoff tickets, create a demand for their radio rights, and make themselves relevant again in a city in love with baseball and football.

But, like Antoine Walker in the low post, they were rejected. Repeatedly.

I think that I ranted and raved enough during the playoff series about the horror of this team returning again next season. I know that the officiating was a factor in the playoffs. Reggie Miller makes a better storyline to sell to the national audience and who in their non-biased mind does not want to see a Detroit-Indiana rematch? Heck, I will watch just to see if someone gets strangled or maimed or something. Anyone who does not believe that the NBA will massage a series to see the outcome that is best for television is naïve at best. From Patrick Ewing landing in New York with the first lottery, to Seattle getting jobbed to get a Barkley-Jordan final, to the Lakers being allowed to pass go and collect $200 against Sac-town, the David Stern led NBA will do whatever they can to dictate what is best for television dollars.

What the Celtics need to concern themselves with is, one, where was the team offense; and, two, how long can management allow the gruesome twosome infect the rest of the squad? Here are some more thoughts on the green:

ANTOINE:
I wanted no part of Antoine at first, was gradually was lulled into believing if he played right he could be a good fit, by the playoffs I believed that just maybe he had changed his spots, but by game three was convinced that my first instinct was correct and that the Antoine era desperately needs to end again. It was classic Antoine this playoff series, and that is by no means a compliment. The porous defense, the wild threes, the excessive fiddling and diddling, the numerous turnovers, and the one-on-one offense were just too much to endure again. The sooner he is gone, the better.

And to be honest, the real reason for his return had nothing to do with what Danny Ainge wants for the team. It finally clicked during the playoffs when I read in an unrelated article about the Boston media that the Celtics radio contract up for renewal. Cha-ching. The ownership group needed to drive up interest in the team to get a good radio deal, maybe get WEEI in on the bidding or something, because I am sure that they were in line to get nothing if the team continued to operate well below the radar.

So where will Antoine go? Who will pay him? Where would he fit? I say ship him off to the Lakers for a bucket of balls and let him play second banana to Kobe. Kobe needs a foil (the waggle of Kobe and the wiggle of Antoine, together for the first time), he can feel like a veteran mentor, he is used to being second banana to Pierce, and the Lakers are stupid enough to do it. Get started on the sign-and-trade, Danny.

GARY PAYTON
All about the Benjamins, baby. I can just see Payton screaming into his phone: SHOW ME THE MONEY! If Gary Payton cared about winning a championship ring, he would currently be the back-up point guard for the top-ranked Phoenix Suns. Payton, however, took the cash in Boston and played out the string. The Celtics have to decide if they are ready to let Delonte West and Marcus Banks handle the job at the point, draft yet another point guard, or try to find a veteran again to handle the load Heck, I am not even sure there will be a serviceable point guard available at eighteen in the draft, and I know the Celtics do not have the free agent cash available to sign a free agent of any acclaim. I say let the kids play.

PAUL PIERCE:
Can Paul Pierce ever adapt to the Doc Rivers system? I doubt it. He was ruined by the Obie laissez-faire offense that let him and Antoine bomb away wildly from wherever they desired. Though Pierce is a rare pure scorer, he seems to need a fresh start for his own sake. I put nothing past a General Manager who did not originally acquire a player when determining his fate. Of course, a big question is what can the Celtics receive in return on a trade of Pierce? Who out there would fit the Celtics running style better?
Will it make a difference without a running point guard? I do not know these answers, and since I rarely catch NBA fever outside of the green, I doubt I could identify who that player is who fits the Celtics. The important thing, however, is that Danny Ainge is able to do this.

* * *

MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS:

BRADY BUCKS:

What is up with Michael Felger and his artificially created controversy in the Boston Herald on Monday regarding Brady and the contract issue? I have been sounding the alarm for months that Richard Seymour will not be in New England much longer due to his contact demands. A huge sign to watch is if Jarvis Green gets resigned to a long-term deal. But for Felger to bring in Dan Koppen, Eugene Wilson, and Asante Samuel as players questioning why they do not have their deals renegotiated with two years remaining like Brady is idiotic. I doubt any player on the team would question that Tom Brady is the one player that the Patriots cannot operate long without. The won in the playoffs without Seymour, they won before Koppen and without Wilson and with Samuel on the bench. The all know that the engine does not run without Brady at the controls.

And give credit to Brady for following the Tedy Bruschi lead and not griming for every penny. What good is a huge contact if the team cannot sign players to complement the big contract player? Peyton Manning got his money and the team released six defensive players. Then, the team does not make the playoffs with the inferior defense on the field in the playoffs. My best guess is that this year is it for Peyton. The Colts have signed every offensive weapon to long-term deals save Edgerrin James, who they amazingly kept around for a year as the franchised player. Despite the major increase in cap spending coming soon (new TV deals), the Colts need to start building a defense that can keep an opposing offense off the field. Tony Dungy is a coach whose reputation was built on defense. He knows he needs a young Warren Sapp at defensive tackle, a young Derrick Brooks at linebacker, and a shutdown cornerback to remake the Colts defense into a playoff worthy unit. Those days are coming soon.

* * *

PRESEASON DRAW:

Preseason tickets for the Patriots games will actually have value this season. It may be the last chance to see Doug Flutie in action. Heck, I plan on getting tickets just to see Flutie running the offense one more time.

* * *

BAD CHADS:

Chad Scott at cornerback. Chad Brown at linebacker. What ever happened to the depth problems in the secondary without Ty Law and at linebacker without Tedy Bruschi? It look like the secondary and linebacking corps are back to full strength.

* * *

GOOD-BYE AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH:

Another big body exits Route One: Keith Tractor Traylor. I would guess that this is more of an indication that Ethan Kelly is ready to assume the back-up spot at defensive tackle than strictly a cost-cutting measure, as Traylor had a fairly low cap number this year. With a first-round pick invested in the other nose tackle on the roster, Vince Wilfork, and his obvious talents at collapsing the pocket and growth at occupying blockers at the point of attack, it was clear that Wilfork would be taking on a load of the duties in the middle of the line. Also, the Patriots still have Jarvis Green, Ty Warren, and Richard Seymour who have in the past and still can fill in at the nose in a pinch.

* * *

WATCHING TY:
My latest landing place for Ty Law appears to be Miami. Yes, it makes no sense when you consider they just traded Patrick Surtain to Kansas City, but with their second round pick, Will Poole, (of Boston College), who they were expecting to step in and challenge for a starting position, out for the year with a torn ACL, the Dolphins must be looking for a replacement cornerback. Unless Bill Belichick scares off his old pal Nick Saban, Law is the best option out there. T-Buck, Terrell Buckley, is also a possibility if the Dolphins go for a cheap veteran replacement.

* * *

STARTING TO DO THE JOB:
The Red Sox starting rotation showed its strength and depth this past week with Jeremi Gonzalez and John Halama riding to the rescue. Factor in the impressive debut by Wade Miller, and all of a sudden, the much maligned (at least in the off-season and pre-season) rotation looks like it will be tough to remove the starters from when they get to full strength. Of course, as these things tend to do, it likely will be sorted out in due course. But it is encouraging that Halama and Gonzalez have been better than advertised and that Wade Miller looked healthy and strong in his first appearance. Eight quality starting pitchers (well, nine when you consider that Abe Alvarez is ready to go down in Pawtucket) is a good problem to have.

* * *

FINGERED:
It was nice to see Edgar Renteria finally shook off that bruised fingernail and made it back to the line-up. I guess it is a good idea to make sure he is fully healthy and does not get hurt further by altering his throwing style and getting his shoulder out of whack or something, but, geez, a bruised finger? They must have some way to make it sound like a more legitimate injury.

* * I*

2006 STARTING CENTER FIELDER:
Whatever happened to Adam Stern? Injury rehab should be starting soon and they kind of have to keep him around all year or send him back to Atlanta as a rule five player. On paper, he would be perfect to replace Damon.

COMPLAIN ABOUT BLAIN:
I guess it is no longer such a tough decision to try to sneak Blaine Neal through waivers to send him down to Pawtucket. He has been brutal! Of course, No-Y Cla Meredith is ably filling the role of middle reliever who can put a couple of runs on the board in a hurry.

What will be interesting to see is the development of the future bullpen as Mike Timlin and Alan Embree will not last forever. Meredith and Neal have not impressed much in their short runs in the pen, but Gonzalez and Halama could be long-term solutions there.

Friday, May 06, 2005

CINQO ARROYO

Happy cinqo de mayo, Bronson Arroyo. Too bad I was stuck at my desk sneaking glances at ESPN Gamecast while I was quote-unquote working. By all appearances it was a heck of a game. Bronson throwing a no-hitter for 6 and 1/3 innings certainly shows that his growth as a pitcher is proceeding. Just think, the Pirates did not have a place for Bronson. The stinking Pirates!

Arroyo and Wakefield have been remarkably consistent this spring, picking up the load expected to be carried by David Wells and Curt Schilling. Matt Clement, like Edgar Renteria, is adapting to a new team and new league, and should be given some time to get acclimated. Remember, Clement and Renteria are here for four years; it is unfair to judge them after only a month

John Halama and Jeremi Gonzalez both filled in well in spot starts, with Halama looking especially effective and as a possible long-term option at fifth starter should injuries continue in the rotation. Wade Miller will pitch Saturday, and the expectations for him are through the roof. Like Schilling and Wells, having dealt with health issues, Miller is still coming out of spring training, so hopefully the expectations will be tempered for a while.

The Sox offense has been inconsistent so far this spring, but most seasons they do take awhile to kick in. Johnny Damon has been better than expected this spring, ditto for Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon as they have done well, but Manny and Ortiz are struggling to be consistent, Edgar Renteria is having a tough adjustment to the American League, and Mueller and Bellhorn have had some health issues and inconsistency this spring. Will they turn it around? Without a doubt, but considering how uneven their offense has been, it is a good sign that they are hanging in with the Orioles.

PATRIOTS:

Days after signing a forty-two year old backup quarterback, the youth movement for the Patriots continues at the defensive front. Veteran Keith Traylor was released which gives the starting job to Vince Wilfork (who would have taken it anyway) and the backup job to unproven 2003 seventh round draft pick Ethan Kelley. Of course, with Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, and even Jarvis Green having played nose guard in the Patriots system, it is not as if there is no depth whatsoever.

Other recent happenings include having former Boston College offensive guard Dan Neil in for a visit. The Patriots will attempt to continue their tradition of having an obligatory veteran offensive guard come in and retire or get cut during training camp. Of course, there are also plenty of veteran stop-gap linebackers available in free agency, and there are likely more on the way to the open market after June 1.

* * *

GREYBEARD YANKEES:

The last-place New York Yankees are apparently preparing to make their move to shore up their pitching staff by...going after another forty-something pitcher? Rumors have them pursuing Roger Clemens as the Astros have stumbled out of the gate and would likely be looking to get anything back in return for dumping his salary if they are not in play-off contention. Before the New Yorkers begin the healing process for Clemens, they should realize that Houston will only give him away for half a season if they are out of contention in July, which is a long ways off.

Even if the Yankees pick up Clemens, they still have a bloated rotation with over-aged pitchers past their prime (Johnson, Mussina, Brown), over-priced under-achievers (Pavano and Wright), and unproven youngsters (Wang and who ever else they dig up for the rotation).

Of course, their line-up has gone from deep one through nine to spotty with proven production only at the two through five spots (Jeter, Sheffield, Matsui, and Rodriguez), which makes them just like every other team in the game, except that they are grossly overpaying every player on the team.

* * *

Thursday, May 05, 2005

HALAMA-LLAMA

I have been shouting into the darkness for months that John Halama-Llama should be in the starting rotation for the Red sox. Halama, against a slowly improving Tigers squad showed the value of a veteran lefty at the end of the rotation. Mixing speeds and location, mixing off-speed pitches with more off-speed pitches, throwing like a Jamie Moyer lite, Halama kept the Tigers off-balance enough to keep the Sox in the game until super-sub Doug Mirabelli grand-slammed the Sox to victory.

A couple of quick points:
1. How in the world did Theo Epstein talk Doug Mirabelli into staying on in Boston as a backup to Jason Varitek? Yes, I know he got a deal with escalator clauses in case Varitek left and he assumed full-time a catching role, but considering that no other team even made an offer to Varitek, Mirabelli would presumably have every reason to leave, rather than stay on a s a back-up.

What impresses most about Mirabelli is his growth as a hitter. When originally signed by Dan Duquette to transition Scott Cross-Eyed Hatteberg out of town, Mirabelli had a reputation as a good fielder with minimal hitting skills. At first, he showed that the initial profile fit him like a glove; however, over time, he has improved his hitting and slugging to a level which projects out to all-star numbers if he could keep up the pace for 140 games. A lot of credit should go to Papa Jack who has reportedly put in a lot of time with Mirabelli in the batting cage.

2. Bringing up Jamie Moyer still makes me think back to the great trade of giving Moyer away to the Mariners for back-up outfielder Darrin Bragg. I appreciated the hustle and gritty style of Bragg in his years at Fenway, but in no way would I believe that this trade did anything but rob the Sox of the soft-tossing left-handed Yankee killer they so desperately needed for the past five years. Moyer would have significantly narrowed the gap all those years as runner-up to the Regular Joe led Yankee squads.

* * *

YANKEES MAKE DRASTIC CHANGES, EXCEPT FOR WHERE IT TRULY MATTERS:

Speaking of the Yankees, I flipped between the Sox game, Yankees debacle against the Rays, the Celtics choke job (more on that later), and the Orioles-Blue Jays match-up, which was easily the best game: a well-pitched 1-0 Blue Jays victory. Kevin Brown had his usual horrible game for the Yankees, getting battered for 13 hits in 5 innings against the only team he could beat last year (he went 4-0 against Tampa).

The Yankees also unveiled their new and improved line-up last night. It appears that the Yankees cannot get enough second basemen in the lineup, as Womack moves to left field and soon to be traumatized rookie Robinson Canofilled in at second base. In the outfield, Bobblehead Matsui moved from left to center and the broken-down Bernie Willliams wil platoon at designated hitter with Roids Giambi. Giambi and Williams now make-up the $27 million dollar designated hitter platoon, or about the same amount as the Devil Rays or Royals payroll.

How this improves the Yankees, I do not know. Womack takes power away from a corner outfield position, which is always a no-no; Giambi and Williams become part-timers, A-Rod is still not at shortstop, and the pitching needs another overhaul just months after being the focal point of the off-season. But I am not complaining, just pointing out the obvious to George and company.

* * *

BIG GAME CELTICS:

Once again, the dynamic duo showed what got one of them run out of town last time: an unfailing ability to choke in the clutch. Be it Antoine firing up a wild three-pointer, or Paul Pierce trying to dribble behind his back and losing the ball rather than trying to pass the ball to an open teammate, the Celtics leaders coughed it up down the stretch for the second time on their home court - a huge no-no.

To be fair, Ricky Davis and Raef LaFrentz both had their moments down the stretch (what was that air-ball three-point attempt fired up by LaFrentz?) in game five, which begs the question: if the veterans are out their for their leadership and experience, and do not display such attributes, then why not play the energetic, aggressive on defense, always hustling young guns down the stretch? To say that the veterans are not getting it done down the stretch is an understatement.

The clichés are going to be pulled out for game six. It is a must-win. The Celtics have their backs against the wall. It is win or go home time. Game six will be the true test of the Celtics character. Can they gut out two wins in a row, including one on road? I hope so.

* * *

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

WILD WEEKEND:

I will tell you this: I am going to miss the Celtics this summer. They put the funk into dysfunctional.

1. CELTICS:

I was so exasperated with Doc Rivers and his erratic underachievers that I was ready to throw in the towel after game three. Of course, they had looked so good in game one, should have won game two, and had the inevitable meltdown and blowout loss in game three that every young team has to have at least once in the playoffs. Also, the suspension of Antoine Walker for a game did give me hope. Big Al on the court, so lock down the women and children because Big Al is hitting the boards hard!

I was glad to see that Rivers finally figured out that having Gary Payton guarding Reggie Miller was the perfect spot for him, because he was going to be wide open anyway, why waste Delonte West, Ricky Davis, or Tony Allen and sap their valuable energy on fighting through illegal screens and moving picks? Paul Pierce finally looked like Paul Pierce of the good old days, driving the lane, playing defense, sticking the open jumper, even running the break to the amazement of all. Now, if he could bottle this game and play like this every night…

So at 2-2, the Celtics and Pacers are in what is essentially a three game series while they wait for Detroit to finish off Philadelphia. The Celtics have to hope to finish this series in six and hope that Iverson and Webber can extend the Pistons to at least six, if not seven games so that Detroit is not fresh and prepared. The Celtics will need all the help they can muster against Detroit, if they do not somehow blow this series and end up at home.

2. RED SOX:

One bad inning is all that kept the Red Sox from having three starters at 3-0. Tim Wakefield, rolling right along against the Rangers, got taken deep and smacked around in one bad inning by Alfonso Soriano and the rest of the Texas Rangers wrecking crew. Like the Orioles, if the Rangers ever get pitching, they will be a load because their mashers can swing the lumber.

Bronson Arroyo, as Kathy would say, looked good as always. He also pitched well to pick up his third win in his sixth start. Arroyo has continued his roll from late last season and through the playoffs and into the regular season in 2005. Arroyo has that knee-buckling curveball that once again demonstrates that the most valuable weapon a pitcher can employ is to change the line of site for the batter and change speeds so as to disrupt the timing of the hitter. Arroyo, with his ability to throw his curveball for a strike at any time in the count, keeps opposing batters off-balance enough with the thought of that big looping curve coming soon that he can sneak his fastball past them when other pitchers who throw hard and straight would never get past a hitter.

Matt Clement struggled initially against the Rangers, giving up some runs early, walking a lot of batters, getting behind in the count, throwing a ton of pitches, and yet somehow left the bases loaded twice and showed a lot of poise in constantly working out of a jam. It was funny to note, as I switched back and forth to the Yankees game on at the same time, that Carl Pavano, who fell to 2-2, showed a complete lack of poise despite overpowering stuff, as he constantly got hit hard when he got into a situation where his teammates were begging for a big out. At the time this winter, I was firmly in the Pavano camp over Clement, but if Clement continues to show his growing maturity on the mound (last year he would have never made it past the third inning, instead he goes six to get the win), the Sox may have actually lucked into the right move (just like missing out on having Hamburger Helper at shortstop).

Now if there was just some way the Red Sox could trade for Javier Vazquez and then pry Nick Johnson away from the Nationals, my dream team would be ever so closer to fruition.

3. PATRIOTS:

We love Doug. What more can anyone say?

* * *

LOVE AFFAIR:

Finally, Brigs, I am so sorry to break it to you, but D-Lowe obviously loves me the most, as he salvaged a tie for me in fantasy baseball on Sunday afternoon with six solid innings to give me the needed win and lower my ERA & WHIP just enough to let me crawl back into the fray.

* * *

New England Patriots: On Vacation as Free Agency Begins - Full Press Coverage

The 2019 NFL year has begun with the advent of free agency and as usual the New England Patriots are one of the quietest teams. While teams ...