Thursday, June 29, 2006

WHEELING AND DEALING:

It is not often that the NBA draft is going to upstage a pitching match-up like Pedro Martinez returning to Fenway Park for the first time since 2004 and facing new ace Josh Beckett. No one had any idea what was going to happen Wednesday night. Most people had no idea what happened after Wednesday night and are still trying to put it all together Thursday morning.

Randy Foye – selected at number seven and traded with PG Dan Dickau and PF Raef LaFrentz to Portland for PG Sebastian Telfair, C Theo Ratliff, and a second round pick. Portland then dealt Foye to Minnesota for number six pick Brandon Roy. The amazing thing was that the Celtics shed the LaFrentz albatross: no not the player, he was a decent big guy who played 20 feet from the basket, but rather his contract (35.4 million over the next three years). With Dickau thrown in and picking up the contracts of Telfair and Ratliff, the Celtics save about $13 million.

The Phoenix Suns, at number twenty-one, picked PG Rajon Rondo, who was clearly the favorite of Boston GM Danny Ainge, and traded him and the contract of Brian Grant to the Celtics with and traded the first round pick the Celtics got from Cleveland for Jiri Welsh (so much talent, so little ability to put it all together). So basically the Celtics bought their preferred point guard in the draft for the $2 it will cost to buy out Brian Grant.

Ainge, even without a pick, could not resist the siren song of the second round, as he traded a future number two for Cal forward Leon Powe. Powe, who I know absolutely nothing about, apparently played college basketball at Cal, who started all their games when I was freaking sleeping anyway. Apparently, Orien Greene, second round pick of much hullabaloo last year, is gone to make room.

Whispers persist of an Allen Iverson trade, though I wonder who the Celtics have to give up to get him. That $13 million in savings looks like it could be earmarked for the Answer about right now. The way I see it, a guard will have to go, one way or another. Likely Wally, although where talk centered on a three or four team trade, teams would be more likely to want a piece of the talented young core of the team. Iverson and Pierce: now that is a championship 1-2 punch!

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MAJOR MELTDOWN:

Pedro Martinez, like a king returning to his former territory, was treated with respect beforehand, but his former teammates and the Florida Marlins Northeast Edition disrespected him on the mound like he was a green rookie. Eight runs (six earned) and one strikeout over three innings was clearly not the Roger Clemens Luxury Booth pointing performance with 16 strikeouts over 8 innings that many expected to see from Pedro.

To be blunt, he had nothing. Darren Oliver, the former Sox lefty, had better stuff than Pedro when he came into the game in the fourth inning. Pedro had a curveball that just hung, a change-up that he could not keep down in the zone, and a fastball that barely hit 90 mph. Suffice to say, that is not going to beat anyone, especially a team as hot as the Red Sox are on their double-digit winning streak.

Granted, Pedro has not been that bad this season, but he is far from the pitcher he was back before the shoulder injury took away that dynamic fastball. Which begs the question, if Pedro is not good enough to dominate American League line-ups, and the 2004 Pedro was the real deal and the pitcher you were going to get (if the shoulder stays healthy, and remember he is only in year two of his deal), does it not make sense to not overpay or overextend his deal and take a shot on getting a young pitcher with that explosive fastball who can dominate the A.L. lineups?

On the other half of the inning, it is ridiculous not to pay attention to the job that Josh Beckett did on the mound last night. Beckett looked like an ace out there, mowing down the Mets in rapid succession during the first three innings as his team built up an eight run lead. Then, like smart pitchers are expected to do, he began pitching to contact and throwing his fastball more often. He was pitching to get outs quickly. The fact he gave up two solo home runs is immaterial. He did his job to near perfection. No team wants to be out in the field with a big lead watching their pitcher nibbling away and walking batters.

Beckett has now won his last three games in impressive fashion, and is now 10-3. Not bad for the former Marlin who had to listen to the Negativity Nervous Nellies trashing him and his Florida Marlins Northeast Edition buddies this spring when they were not perfect (and Mark Loretta who, as I recall perfectly, was, according to the idiots in the pressbox and on the rant radio: old, washed-up, had no power, and the Sox should have kept Tony Graffanino to play second base).

Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Alex Gonzalez have been rocks for the Sox this season. Gonzalez is (well I must say Pokey Reese was pretty awesome as well in the short time periods he has been healthy enough to play) the best defensive shortstop I have ever seen. Period. Better than Ozzie Smith. Yes, Ozzie had the flair, the personality, and the acrobatics, but his arm deserted him near the end. But late seventies/early eighties Ozzie, maybe a tie with Gonzalez and Pokey Reese. Surprise, surprise (well, not to me or anyone else who reads this site regularly) Gonzalez is a pretty fair hitter. Once he has gotten comfortable, he has been a solid bottom of the order hitter who is learning to work pitchers deep into counts and has a little pop in his bat.

Mike Lowell continues to be steady at third base. Just as a note for everyone that wanted to keep Bill Mueller at third base in Boston forever, he is out for the year as his knees failed on him once again, and I hear that this time it may be a career-ender as he is not improving. I wish no malice Bill Mueller. He was one of my favorite Red Sox players with steady defense at third and the sweetest swing in these parts by anyone not named Wade Boggs. But the Sox made the right move to let him go. I said it at the time and I think it bears out now that Theo and the gang absolutely made the right call.

I think the best way to summarize: Pedro, thanks for the memories. But anytime you step on this mound in a different uniform, our batters are going to smack you around like the junkball Frank Tanana you have become.

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