Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mosstastic

The New England Patriots have acquired Randy Moss, and all they had to give up was a 4th round draft pick.

I'm not entirely sure I like the move because I'm not sure how Moss will fit in, and I'm not sure the WR Corps needed him, but the fact that all they gave up was a 4th round draft pick makes acquiring Moss too good to pass up. What's the worst that can happen? He's a malcontent? The Patriots are one of the few teams in the league who could simply cut him and continue on.

If he works out, even for a year or two, Moss gives Brady another weapon, opposing defenses someone to worry about, and a 4th Super Bowl title is a real possibility for a franchise that, seven years ago, didn't have any Lombardis on the shelf.

The rumor is out there, of course, that Belichick is ready to take some time off or move on to another challenge after this season, so acquiring Moss might be a sign that Belichick is going all-out to win another title this season, but I don't buy it. Not that Belichick is thinking of leaving, which is a real possibility, but any inference that he's somehow damaging the future to win now doesn't work for me. If Belichick sent the Raiders a first or second round pick, then maybe. If he signed Adalius Thomas to a ridiculous contract, then maybe. But giving up a 4th and signing the most desirable free agent LB to a market or below-market deal doesn't sound like a guy damning the future for a run at a singluar season's glory.

There are clearly more moves to come, as the New England Wide Receiver Corps has gone from being too-thin to too-bloated since trading away Deion Branch to the Seahawks last year. Here's the current round-up of WRs under contract: Moss, Donte Stallworth, Kelly Washington, Wes Welker, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Bam Childress, Kelvin Kight, and Johnathan Smith. And that's not even counting the possible return of Troy Brown (whose a free agent).

I'd imagine that Moss and Stallworth will start (yes, I realize that is a brilliant observation on my part ...). Welker is likely the top slot WR, though I really like what Gaffney did for the team last season. He runs solid routes, knows how to find holes in zones, and catches the passes he should catch. That kind of reliability is big with Brady. Washington, just being signed, isn't likely to go anywhere. Chad Jackson, last year's first round pick, is recovering from an ACL injury and will likely start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

The real questions, I think, are what's going to happen with Reche Caldwell and Troy Brown. Caldwell led the team last season with 61 catches and 760 yards, but he made too many key drops for my liking, and it looked like Brady had lost confidence in him towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. He's got value, so I'd offer him around, but I wouldn't lose sleep over cutting him. As for Troy ... hard to see where he fits in with the team, though I wouldn't rule out his return.

I'd like to see the Patriots cut the active WRs down to Moss, Stallworth, Welker, Washington, and Gaffney, with Jackson put on the PUP list. If Childress, Kight, or Smith can of value on the practice roster, that's fine. If a sixth WR is needed, sign Brown.

All in all, I'd rather have seen the Patriots do something dramatic at the CB position and not WR, but they were able to get Moss for a song and not a symphony so it's an offer that's too good to let slide.

The Patriots might have already been Super Bowl favorites (given the loss of DBs in Indy and the loss of the coaching staff in San Diego) and the Moss move only strengthens that position.

Baloo on the First Half of the NFL Draft

Special to Bring the Crazy by Baloo

Overall, I thought the draft was very interesting. It's a shame that the early picks are valued so highly. It limits the ability to make a trade. The most interesting part of the draft was when the trading started. So here are my general thoughts on the draft:

Things I liked:

Raiders – I liked that the Raiders traded a 4th round pick for Josh McCown, QB and Mike Williams, WR. While I would've preferred Calvin Johnson, I can't complain that the Raiders took JaMarcus Russell. Zach Miller, TE was a need and they picked up a TE that can catch and block. He's not as fast as Olsen, but Olsen is one dimensional. Overall, the Raiders' draft looks solid. The Raiders have addressed their major needs and that's a good thing. I'm not sure that Mario Henderson, OT was a good idea (trading up to get a guy who wouldn't have been taken), but they need an OT. If they get a RB, OLB, DT, C, and/or OT later in the draft, the team is all set. Randy Moss is traded!! Randy Moss is traded!! Excellent news. (Editor's Note: More on the Moss trade later, obviously.)

Patriots – While some people may not like the idea of trading a pick in this year's draft for a pick in next year's draft, I think the Patriots made a great move here. This year's draft is pretty weak, overall, and the Patriots have addressed their major concerns through free agency. So getting a 1st round pick in next year's draft is excellent. Add in that they already had a 1st round pick (Brandon Merriweather), and they don't really lose anything. They also made a nice move by trading their 3rd round pick to the Raiders for a 7th (2007) and a 3rd (2008). So next year, they'll have two extra picks. This was the one move that didn't make sense to me for the Raiders. They traded up to get an OT project that probably wasn't going to get taken yet, if at all. So the Pats really robbed them here and look good for next year. And as it stands right now, the Patriots have just traded for Randy Moss for a 4th round pick. So the Pats now have a very strong WR corps.

Dallas – This team may have the best draft so far. They traded away their first pick (#22) to the Browns for the Browns 1st round pick in next year's draft. There's a 50-50 chance that'll be a top 5 pick and probably a 75% chance it'll be a top 10. The Browns gave up too much to move back into the 1st round. Especially when you look at what the Cowboys gave up to get back into the 1st round to Philly (2nd, 3rd, and 5th). In reality, it's only a 3rd and 5th, since the 2nd rounder was the Browns pick from the previous trade. Very nice work here. They also were able to get the guy they wanted, Anthony Spencer, DE. He looks like a great pick for the Cowboys. James Marten, OL, also looks very solid. He can play anywhere on the line and should be a solid player for the Cowboys.

Lions – No this isn't a typo. Getting Calvin Johnson and keeping him was smart. Then drafting Drew Stanton in the 2nd round was another smart move. This is what I suggested the Raiders do in my earlier post on the draft. So I think the Lions made the right move. They have the best player in the draft, got a QB for the future, and then grabbed a good DR (Alama-Francis). Of course, the Lions still have a lot of holes and a trade down would've helped them, but since it's so hard to trade down, they did the best they could do.

Bills – The Bills filled their needs, but unfortunately, those needs were caused by players leaving. So while I don't think the Bills will be better this year, they had little choice but to pick the positions they did. However, they did nicely picking Lynch. They got Trent Edwards in the 3rd round. Not too shabby. Losman should be worried if he continues to disappoint. In the 2nd round they got one of the best LBs in the draft (if not the best). They still need secondary help, but they've done very well so far.

Things that perplexed me:

Dolphins – I'm not going to trash the Dolphins for passing on Quinn. He may not have been their guy at QB. However, picking Ginn at that spot is insane. He's a great WR to have, but not worth the 9th pick. Besides, Justin Harrell, I think I'd rather have any other 1st round pick through Dwayne Bowe (#23). I realize trading down is tough, but this draft was so deep in WRs that the Dolphins could've picked from 1st round WR talent in the 2nd round and got an impact player in the 1st.

Packers – They didn't trade for Moss, which Favre wanted (it would've cost them a 4th rather than a conditional 4th) and they picked Justin Harrell. Harrell will be a good player, but he's a 2nd round talent. If they had picked him late in the 1st round, I'd give them a pass, but not at 16. Brandon Jackson and Aaron Rouse were both good picks that fit needs, but Jason Jones was a slight reach in the 3rd.

Jets – I realize the Jets wanted a CB and they got the guy (Darelle Revis) who may be the best CB (Leon Hall seemed to have trouble against the best WRs in college). The draft trade chart favors the Jets. However, there were plenty of 1st round quality CBs and the Jets could've kept their picks and still got a very good CB (but Revis was a very nice choice).

Brady Quinn's Girlfriend – I was reading the live blog at www.profootballtalk.com The readers at that site kept commenting on Brady Quinn's girlfriend. They asked if he was paying her by the hour, they commented on how she was seeing her alimony payments drop by the pick, and how she was now dating John Beck. It was very funny stuff. There's also a video of her rolling her eyes after Quinn kisses her. I felt bad for her, since she did nothing to deserve the abuse, but the stuff was damn funny.

Steve Young – That's some damn ugly plastic surgery. He wasn't an ugly man, why get the surgery? He looks terrible and it's distracting. Bad move.

Browns - They traded up to get Eric Wright, CB. Last I looked, this guy has the chance to be the next Pacman Jones. He's talented, but there's no reason to trade up for this guy. Most teams wouldn't touch him (at least not in that round). The guy was accused of giving a woman the date rape drug and was caught with over 100 ecstasy pills in his dorm room. Did the Browns read the memo from the new commish? You know, the one where a team can be fined and/or lose picks if a player does stuff wrong off the field. They can't argue that they didn't know he was trouble. The Browns better hope that Wright has turned things around. I'm not that surprised that he got picked, but that they traded up to do it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

What's the Difference Between Veteran & Old?

The Red Sox beat the Yankees again on Friday night, 11-4 in the first 2007 throwdown in the Bronx. I am not one of those Red Sox fans who gets more joy out of the Yankees losing than I derive from the Sox winning, yet I'm not so full of myself to deny that beating the Yankees is a bit more fun than beating anyone else. That's why it's a rivalry.

I don't like to get hung up on how far ahead the Sox are right now, but I do know that it's 6.5 games.

I know the Yankees will get better, but I also know that right now they don't just look beatable, they look like that toxic mix of being both too old and too young. Certainly, a lot of the "too old" is likely because the Northeast has stubbornly refused to get warm, and it's not like the Yanks are trotting out 40 year-olds, but they are 31+ at every position but 2B. Right now, they look old and a step slow. (So take your time in getting here, Summer.)

What I like most about the four games the Sox have taken from the Yankees so far is that the Sox have had at least a 2-run deficit in every one of the games and yet have won all of them. When the Yanks put 4 on the board in the 4th Friday night, the Sox came right back in the 5th to put up 3 runs and take back the lead.

It's encouraging, too, that while the Sox have the best record in baseball, their hitters haven't gotten all that warm, yet, either. Manny and Pedroia are still hitting below .200, Varitek and Crisp under .250. The only regular hitting over .300 is Mike Lowell. The Yankees, meanwhile, have produced the most runs in all of MLB (120), while the Sox are 8th (106). In fact, the Yanks are ranked higher than the Sox in every major offensive category except for doubles and triples.

Pitching tells the opposite story - the Sox are 3rd in MLB with a 3.21 ERA, while the Yankees are 25th at 4.83, and the Sox have the Yanks covered in every pitching category. The Yankees are the only team in baseball without a save, and their bullpen is already toast. And Mariano Rivera ... certainly the best closer of his generation hasn't become mortal. He's going to be dominant again, right? Right?

The Sox are 15-7. The Yanks are 8-13. It's early, but it's no longer close.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Baloo on the NFL Draft

Special to Bring the Crazy by Baloo

As a Raiders fan I have a lot of interest in the draft. Heck, I don't really care that there is a Yankees-Red Sox series this weekend (and I'm a big Yankees fan). I'm still not sure what I'd like the Raiders to do with the pick. I'm not sold on JaMarcus Russel, QB/LSU, but the draft is so deep at WR that I'm not sure the Raiders need to pick Calvin Johnson, WR/GT. You can get a really good WR well into the 3rd or 4th round, if not later. While there are some good second tier QBs, they all have bigger question marks than Russell. However, if I were in charge, this is what I'd probably do if I were the Raiders.

I'd draft Calvin Johnson with the hopes of trading him to the Falcons or another team in the top 10. The Falcons' owner, Arthur Blank, has said he wants Calvin Johnson on his team. According to Profootballtalk.com, he wants Calvin Johnson at any cost. Thus, the Raiders could receive a bunch of picks from the Falcons along with the 8th pick in the draft. With the 8th pick, you might still be able to get Brady Quinn, which solves your QB situation (hopefully) and gets you all the other picks you'd get from the Falcons (this would include 2 2nd round picks). Even if you couldn't trade Johnson, you'd have the best player in the draft.

So let's assume you can't trade Johnson, I might still pick him with the hopes of getting Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards, John Beck, or Kevin Kolb in the 2nd round. This way you get the best player in the draft and a QB that you can develop. Then I'd trade a late round pick to the Lions for Josh McCown and send Randy Moss to the Packers for a 4th and a conditional pick in 2008 (which is the current rumor). Heck, I'd be happy to trade Moss for McCown and Mike Williams, just to dump that piece of garbage, but I doubt the Lions would take the deal. If the Raiders can get Aaron Rodgers from the Packers for Moss, that would be even better. Then you can have Rodgers, Walter, and a rookie compete for the starting job.

However, I think the Raiders take JaMarcus Russell and I won't complain about the pick. It makes sense and if he's as good as his scouting reports the Raiders will have a franchise QB for as long as he's healthy. There's just something about picking on potential that bothers me. It seems too risky for a team that's so bad. Plus, if he's a bust, the Raiders will be paying for it for years to come. Missing on a 2nd round QB won't hurt that much. I generally prefer picking the guy who is more NFL ready, and this year, that would be Brady Quinn. However, Quinn is physically limited and that could be a killer for him as an NFL QB. Of course, he could be the next Rich Gannon, who was also physically limited as a QB (yes, he could scramble, but he had a weaker arm). However, as many misgivings as I may have with Russell, his collegiate record is fantastic, 25-4 with 8 fourth quarter/OT comeback wins. He's quiet, but his coaches and fellow players say he's a leader. Ultimately, that's what the Raiders need at QB. Though, Andrew Walter may be better than we saw last year. Walter was hurt his whole rookie season and then thrown to the dogs behind a poorly coached line in an ill-conceived offense. Just for the record, the Raiders didn't run a screen route in the first two games despite the heavy blitzing from the Chargers and Ravens. Isn't that the easiest way to attack a blitz? Nice coaching. Add in that Walter played better than Alex Smith did in his rookie year, and I'd say you might see similar improvement from Walter that we saw in Alex Smith last year. How many people said Alex Smith was done? They were all wrong.

Overall, I have confidence in whomever the Raiders choose. Normally, I wouldn't be that way, but with Lane Kiffin as the new coach, the Raiders have a coach that knows the college talent. As a recruiter/co-offensive coordinator at USC, he's seen all of these players and that makes me more confident in who we pick. Yes, Al has final say, but unlike past coaches, Kiffin got the job by saying what he thought was wrong with the team, not by saying what Al Davis wanted to hear. So unlike most Raiders coaches, I think Lane Kiffin will fight harder for what he wants than some of the past coaches.

If the Raiders do pick Russell, then the Lions make out nicely. They can trade the pick, most likely to the Falcons. Then fill holes as they see fit. The sad part is that they need Calvin Johnson (or at least a WR) and they are the one team that doesn't want to pick him. They don't want to pick him because of the public backlash of picking a WR once again in the 1st round. How sad is it that a team may determine their draft based on public perception? You want to make the fans happy? Fire Millen. Then the new guy could do whatever the hell he wants.

The whole draft really does hinge on whether or not the Raiders take Calvin Johnson. If they do, the Lions get screwed royally (or at least anyone that trades into that spot for Johnson). I'd love to see the Packers trade Rodgers to the Raiders for Moss just so the Lions can't trade out of the #2 spot. Of course, the Packers may not wish to play JaMarcus Russell twice a year.

I can't wait to watch the draft. Then the baseball season will start again on Monday. Hopefully, the Yankees won't be on a 9 game losing streak when I check back in. Of course, in Baseball Mogul 2008, my 1979 Yankees are doing pretty well.

View From the Houses of Pent and Out

It's early. Keep telling yourself that no matter which club you follow in Major League Baseball. (Unless that team is Kansas City or Washington, in which case, well, I hope the NFL Draft goes well for you on Saturday.) It's early, yes, roughly 20-22 games gone for each team, enough for us to get a flavor of each team but not enough to draw any conclusions. No reason to get excited or panic, yet.

Still, who would you rather be right now, division leading Boston or cellar-dwelling New York?

Exactly.

The second go-round between the Sox and Yankees starts tonight in the Bronx with the Red Sox baseball's best team (.667) and the Yankees one of only five teams with a winning percentage of .400 or below. It's even better for the Sox when you factor in they've got the best winning percentage and the largest margin over second place, with the Blue Jays sitting 3 games back. Since they parted ways on Sunday night, the Sox are 2-2 (swept by Toronto, swept Baltimore) and the Yankees are 0-3 (two losses to Tampa, one to Toronto).

Yet this weekend's series looks decidedly different. Where the Sox were able to throw their three aces (Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka) at the Highlanders last weekend, they're offering up the back-end of the rotation this time: Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Tavarez. And the Yankees are upgrading from Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright to Kei Igawa and Chien-Ming Wang to complement Andy Pettitte. Plus, the Bombers have Hideki Matsuki back on the offensive end, and despite being swept last weekend they didn't exactly struggle to score runs.

We likely won't learn a whole lot from the series. Last weekend all we really learned was that Hideki Okajima can pitch in high-pressure situations to both right-handed and left-handed hitters ... but he can't do it three days in a row.

The Pilgrims are 5.5 games up on the Yankees and while it's too early to be paying too much attention to the standings the Sox can stay the magic 4+ games ahead if they win one-of-three.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Sordid Saga of Schilling's Sock

During last night's Red Sox/Orioles broadcast, Orioles' broadcaster Gary Thorne alleged that Curt Schilling's famous bloody sock was, in fact, all a PR stunt.

According to Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe: "Thorne said on the air, while the Orioles were batting in the fifth, that he'd been told by Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli that was not blood, but paint, on the sock Schilling wore during Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. It was done for the public relations effect, Thorne said."

Of course, this became the post-game story everyone wanted to talk about. Not Schilling's once-again spectacular performance (7 innings, 5 hits, 1 ER, 3 K), but the sock from the moment that has always been too Hollywood to be true to some.

Mirabelli, of course, denies ever telling Thorne anything, including the somewhat hard-to-believe assertion that he doesn't even know who Gary Thorne is. Right. Thorne has done solid work on hundreds of games for ESPN over the years, covering baseball, college basketball, hockey, he's got a memorable voice, and he's like 5'1" which has to make him rather unique around the clubhouse, so I find it almost absurd that Mirabelli doesn't know who Thorne is.

Is it blood? Is it something else? Is it blood, but not authentically bled? Schilling brings a lot of these digs onto himself because he is a PR-savvy player. The discussion between Thorne and underwear model Jim Palmer (yes, that's a cheap shot) that led to Thorne's assertion apparently started during a discussion of Schilling's blog, which announcers seem to find irresistable as a topic. Jon Miller, once one of the best announcers in the game but has now lost about 5 MPH off his fastball, seems to find the whole idea unbelievable and curious. When Miller talks about Schill's blog on the air it's as if he has to say, "And on weekends, Curt sprouts wings and farts candy canes. Tasty candy canes. Joe, have you ever eaten candy canes that were farted out of a man's ass?"

I'm not saying Schill is above playing to the crowd or history, but the evidence here seems to be in his favor. Edes called up Dr. Bill Morgan, who performed all of the procedures on Schilling's foot, and who insists the bloody sock is the real deal: "I drilled a whole bunch of holes in the guy's ankle when we put the sutures in, we put a dressing on them, and the blood soaked through the dressing. The sock is like a sponge. It doesn't take a whole lot of blood, but there's like a capillary effect. Anyone who's ever had stitches knows there's going to be oozing from the wound. I put a bunch of stitches in the guy, and then he had to go out there and pitch at a professional level. The sutures were tugging at the skin, it opened up a little bit. The thing expanded right before our eyes."

Doesn't mean Morgan isn't lying, of course, and I imagine this story will have some legs (no pun intended) given that most people think Schilling is an asshole. FOX will certainly talk about it this weekend (not that I'll be able to watch the game because of the damn Cubs) because FOX loves running with these easy, cheap, non-stories that allows all of their horrid announcers to stay away from actually concentrating on the game.

And hey, they have to talk about something now that they can't talk about the bullshit Curse anymore.

Is the bloody sock authentic or a hoax? In the end, it doesn't change the outcome, and that, ultimately, is what I give a crap about.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Baloo's Buzzmeter Runs Cold on CNNSI

SPECIAL TO BRING THE CRAZY BY BALOO

I used to really like the CNNSI webpage. Not because it was any better than other sports sites when it came to news. No, the reason I liked CNNSI was because of their Truth and Rumors page. It was fantastic. Daily tidbits about football and baseball. Some of it was off the wall and you knew the rumor was just someone writing something to fill their local paper or webpage. However, it was still a nice read. However, those days are gone. As of Monday of this week, the Truth and Rumors page at CNNSI is officially garbage. I'm not sure what happened, but it looks like it was outsourced to www.fannation.com. They may be a nice site, but their truth and rumors setup blows. You only get five stories per page (if you're lucky and don't click on the one single story at a time). While it's nice that you can comment on individual stories, they're fucking rumors people!!! What is there really to say? Oh my God, the Broncos are thinking of trading for Calvin Johnson!!! I've got to comment on something that's unlikely to happen!!!

Now I have nothing against fannation or the people running the site, but I do have to question how they run their Truth and Rumors page. The commenting on rumors is at least understandable, though probably unnecessary. But, heck, that's what talk radio does all day so I can't complain too much about a website doing the same. However, the part that flabbergasts (befuddles or bumfuzzles, if you prefer) me is the buzzmeter on the side of each rumor. At first, I thought a higher level meant the rumor was more likely to be true. Nope. The meter is simply fans voting on how "hot" the rumor is. So a hot rumor could be completely unfounded or never come to pass, while a "cold" rumor could be right on the money. Can someone, anyone, explain to me the point of voting on a rumor? I like it so I'll vote that it's hot. Tom Brady impregnated Billy B? That's hot!!! JaMarcus Russell might be taken by the Raiders? Heard it. Dull. That's cold. This may be the dumbest thing to hit sports (besides Michael Irvin) since the "Refuse to Lose" slogan. Not to be too mean about the stupid "Refuse to Lose" slogan, but the Mariners lost in the playoffs.

I'm begging CNNSI to bring back the old Truth and Rumors page. Please!!! Please!!! Well, at least Peter King's Monday Morning QB is still worth reading (at least until he hits the 10 things that have nothing to do with football). www.Profootballtalk.com better not outsource their stuff to another site. Hey, maybe they can put in a buzzmeter for their rumormill. It would add so much!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Champions League Show Stoppers

Every so often sports gives you exactly what you want to see. I'm not talking about the outcome, I'm talking about those rare moments that you want to see, hope to see, but rarely ever get to see because sports is so wildly unpredictable.

Yet it happens. Seven crowds got to watch Nolan Ryan throw a no-hitter. At some point, maybe after his second or third whiteout, you know that nearly every fan who went to whatever ballpark Ryan was pitching in went with the hopeful expectation they'd see Ryan do it again. That he did it seven times is one of the most (if not the most) remarkable athletic achievements to ever come down the pike. Even more when you think of all the crowds who've ever sat in the seats with that idea buzzing in somewhere in their brains when Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson or Walter Johnson or Sandy Koufax or any dominant pitcher toed that rubber in the middle of the field.

Fans went to the ballgame Monday night in St. Pete wondering if A-Rod could continue his amazing April - he did, hitting two homers - and then again Tuesday night - he didn't, going 0-for-3.

So when I sat down to watch Tuesday afternoon's UEFA Champions League semi-final match between Manchester United and AC Milan, I had the hopeful expectation of seeing the game's three acknowledged superstars - Man-U's Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and Milan's Kaka - act like superstars.

And they did. All three of them put on one of the most exciting matches of recent memory in United's 3-2 victory over Milan at Old Trafford in the first leg of the UEFA Semi-Final.

United's defense was the equivalent of what the Yankees are throwing out on the mound these days and Kaka treated them as the not-ready-for-primetime defenders they are. After Milan keeper Dada failed to control a Ronaldo header that deflected into the net, Kaka answered with two breathtaking goals.

The first was scored on a beautiful pass from Clarence Seedorf, who hit Kaka on the run. Kaka tapped the ball ahead then buried a low shot to the far post. The second was even more breathtaking as Kaka took on three United players, splitting the ball between them as Gabriel Heinze and Patrice Evra ran into each other, and then burying the ball in the back of the net.


Kaka's two goals had Milan up 2-1 and dominating the game (and thus, the series) until Wayne Rooney stepped up and not only saved the day by tying the game, but then unbelievably scored a second goal in extra time. The first goal was set up by a neat flick of the foot from Paul Scholes and the second by a run from Ryan Giggs.


Just an unreal game with three of the best players in the world coming up huge in one of the most exciting sporting events you'll see all year. Chelsea and Liverpool play today (2:30 PM, ESPN 2) and have a heck of an act to follow.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Live Blog: Red Sox v. Yankees 3 (of 18)

The Red Sox and Yankees are about to play their third of eighteen regular season games in tonight's ESPN Sunday Night Game o' the Week. The Sox have won the first two games in the series and are throwing Daisuke Matsuzaka out tonight to complete the broom cleaning. Matsuzaka is 1-2 but has pitched very well (2.70 ERA, 24 Ks in his last 20 innings). The Yanks counter with Chase "Not Jaret" Wright. Here we go ...

PRE-GAME: Gah. Jon Miller narrates a "Blue Collar" Boston vs. "Metropolis" New York opening that's complete shit. There's no blue collar workers in the Apple? Beantown's not a world class city? Unless it's the playoffs or some historic event, I can't stand these soft-music openings. Just get to the game. Joe Morgan informs us that A-Rod is playing better this year because he's relaxed. Apparently, he doesn't read the Goat, or he'd know it's all about the high socks.

Morgan then tells us tonight Matsuzaka will find out how good he really is ... I wonder if Daisuke knows all those years in Japan and the opening three starts were just warm-ups for tonight's final exam. Which, I needn't remind you, is taking place in April.

TOP of FIRST: Matsuzaka v. Damon: New #18 meet Old #18. Matsuzaka throws 3 sliders and fastballs and gets Damon to pop out to short. I was one of 5 Sox fans who was always anti-Damon (I never liked his approach at the plate though I did love the way he ran the bases and played CF - at least until he had to throw) so I take a certain joy in watching the rest of the Nation now bash him to get over their broken heart. And Damon ... Poster Boy of the Pink Hats, which should tell you everything.

After Jeter flies out to right and Abreu walks, we get Matsuzaka v. A-Rod I and Matsuzaka drills him high and tight. Two on, two out for Giambi who gaps one to the Wall in left center and two runs score. Good hitting by Giambi and bad pitching by Daisuke and Varitek. Why go outside to Giambi with the short LF when he's diving over the plate? Just dumb pitch selection. Bust him in, especially when you're ahead in the count. Just like yesterday, the Yanks end the top of the first with a 2-0 lead.

BOTTON of FIRST: Jon Miller keeps dropping in these Japanese phrases and then translates it for us. I give the Yankees credit for recognizing their pitching sucks - their offense has jumped out to early leads each game. And just like yesterday it doesn't take long to figure out why as Wright walks Lugo to open the game. And apparently Wright has a performance bonus for throwing to first, which doesn't stop Lugo from stealing second without a throw. Youk has to at least have a productive out here and move Lugo to third ... he works the count full, fouls off some pitches ... and walks. Good for the Sacred Cow.

With Papi walking to the plate Yanks' pitching coach Ron Guidry heads to the mound just so he can know what it feels like to get cheered at the Fens. Wright doesn't make the same mistake that Matsuzaka did by giving Papi something soft away that he can flip off the Wall, though he does get away with a bad pitch that Papi skies to short right. Runners remain at first and second.

Wright is the kind of pitcher that Manny should pummel - a soft tossing lefty without great command. And again, Wright gets away with a bad pitch and Manny pops out to Abreu. Manny's still playing like it's spring training.

It's up to JD Drew to pull this inning out of the suck file ... and he whiffs on a slider out of zone.

TOP of SECOND: "Hip Hip Jorge!" is one of the worst SportsCenter commercials ever. Doug Mientkiewicz comes up and gets booed and that's total crap. Mientkiewicz played a big role in the World Series victory and people boo him because Dougie had the audacity to keep the Series-clinching ball ... just like every single other person in the world would have done, including that piece of administrative garbage Larry Lucchino who acted like Mientkiewicz had ass-raped a child by not turning the ball over to the club.

BOTTOM of SECOND: ESPN does its first in-game promo for the NFL Draft, otherwise known as the annual "Chris Berman flaunts his friendships with NFL Coaches by telling us who's going to get picked right before it happens, but after all his colleagues have been discussing it for 15 minutes." I'm guessing that if Chris Mortensen or Mel Kiper ever decide to leave ESPN the last thing they'll do is punch Berman in the face during the Draft, yelling, "A cabbie told me I should slap the fatness off of you."

Lowell Ks, Varitek pops out, and then Wily Mo walks, which is huge because this way Pedroia can make the final out in the second and not the first out of the third. Wright throws one good pitch then two bad ones. Pedroia rips one of the bad ones down into the LF corner. Another chance goes by the wayside, though, as Lugo grounds out to short. At this point Daisuke has to wonder why his teammates don't score any runs when he pitches.

TOP of THIRD: Damon leads off with a single up the middle. Daisuke is making decent pitches off the plate and the Yanks are still hitting him. I wondery why Mats and Tek keep going away to lefties who dive over the plate. Jeter gets drilled as Daisuke tries to come up and in again to a right-handed hitter. He gets Abreu looking on a hanging slider, but Varitek was again set up low and away. I'm really not understanding this.

Matsuzaka v. A-Rod II: Ball, questionable strike low and in, A-Rod chases an up and away slider, A-Rod watches strike 3 go right by on the inside part of the plate.

Come in on Giambi, I say. 1-1 and they come inside for a strike, the outside with the fastball for ball 2 and ball 3 ... full count (down and in down and in down and in) and Mats throws a cut fastball on the inside half of the plate but up and Giambi muscles it into right where Pedroia fails to catch it. Tough catch but one he (or Drew) needs to make. Yankees take a 3-0 lead and the difference so far is Giambi getting two key two-out hits. Work on that, Pilgrims.

BOTTOM of THIRD: Youk flies out to right, Ortiz pops out to left, and Manny drives one literally out of the ballpark for his 2nd homer of the season. Just a rocket shot. HRs like this are what I'll always remember about Manny, the way he just connects and sends these heavy moonshots to parts unknown.

Drew follows that up by hitting a dinger over the home bullpen in right on a hanging breaking ball.

Mike Lowell follows that with a moonshot over everything to left for back-to-back-to-back HRs. Change-up, middle-in and low, and Lowell golfs it out of the Fens.

Jason Varitek follows that with a fourth HR in a row that just gets out of the stadium to left. "Just gets out of the stadium." Sissy.

Wily Mo gives a swing that tells everyone he's trying to hit a ball further than the previous 4 shots put together and ultimately whiffs on a breaking pitch.

Wow, nice inning. I've never seen that from the Red Sox before. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Guys named Sully are high-fiving guys they were cursing at five minutes ago. Unreal. Sox 4, Yanks 3.

TOP of FOURTH: Miller tells us that's the first time in Red Sox history they've strung 4 HRs in a row and you can literally hear the crowd buzzing through the TV. My phone won't stop ringing.

Mientkiewicz (have I mentioned he gets unfairly booed at Fenway) hits a double to the triangle and Cabrera makes one of them productive outs getting Doug to third with only one out, and the Yanks are one fly-ball or grounder up the middle away from drawing even just like that. Nieves smacks a liner that Pedroia snags. Morgan had just got done telling us how Lowell's positioning was keeping Mientkiewicz close to the bag, which would make it tough to score on a ground ball, but he doesn't follow up by saying that same positioning likely cost the Sox a realistic shot at a double-play. Damon grounds out to first and the threat goes bye-bye. Good times.

BOTTOM of FOURTH: Wright is out and Colter Bean is in. He's a big guy that throws like a little guy, which defeats the point of being a big guy. Hello, I'm 6'7" and my hero is Jamie Moyer.

Ortiz comes up and he's wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, since the Sox game was rained out when everyone else was honoring Jackie. Here's something I haven't heard Miller or Morgan mention (though maybe they have) - Boston was the last MLB club to integrate. Seems like a big point that maybe should get mentioned. Also, it's a shame that Coco Crisp, the other player supposed to be wearing 42 tonight is sitting out. Ortiz rips a liner over Abreu's head that bounces into the stands and keeps Youk at third - I hate that rule because there's no way Youk doesn't score if that ball stays in the park.

Two in scoring position for Manny with two-out. This is a big spot. Despite the fireworks last inning it's still only a one-run lead. Manny doesn't extend it, check swinging and hitting a dribbler back to the mound.

TOP of FIFTH: They showed an ad for that stupid NEXT movie. I don't know which is more hilarious, Nick Cage's fake hair or Nick Cage's fake teeth.

BTW, the player who integrated the Red Sox was Pumpsie Green in 1959, TWELVE YEARS after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. Thanks for being a racist, Tom Yawkey.

Jeter hits a lead-off HR that just sneaks over the Wall, but Matsuzaka recovers striking out Abreu looking and A-Rod swinging and getting Giambi to pop out. The game is tied at 4 even though you get the feeling everyone thinks the Sox are up by 7 because of those four HRs.

BOTTOM of FIFTH: Drew works a lead-off walk and I'm still bothered by NEXT. Isn't Nick Cage too old to be casting Jessica Biel as his love interest? Shouldn't she be playing his kid? Then again, Elvis is his hero and Elvis liked 'em young, too. Man, I bet Yankees fans are wondering how a team with this much money to spend could end up with a guy like Colter Bean following Chase Wright. This guy is shooting frisbees towards the plate. Drew steals second and Tek walks and Wily Mo is ready to swing for the heavens again.

To the surprise of no one, Wily Mo strikes out badly on a frisbee that started out low and away and finished up lower and awayer. Good job, Wily, I hope you enjoy Kansas City or Colorado or San Francisco or wherever you end up in a couple months. Pedroia hits a weak-ass fielder's choice ground ball to Jeter and the Sox fail to take advantage of their opportunity yet again.

TOP of SIXTH: Robinson Cano leads off with a single and Daisuke can't be much longer for this game. I hope Francona doesn't leave him in a batter too long trying to get him a chance for his second win. The Yankees are doing a great job getting guys on base tonight; Mientkiewicz hits a bloop single to right that Drew is a step too late to catch and now there's guys on first and third with none out. Cabrera hits into a DP and the Yanks take a 5-4 lead.

BOTTOM of SIXTH: Andy Pettitte enters the game as a reliever. I know it's his day to throw on the side, but this is silly. Either Torre is panicking or Cashman isn't giving Torre the roster he needs to get the job done. I'm not opposed to starters coming in to pitch an inning on their throwing day but given the extreme lack of health in the Pinstripers starting rotation these days I wouldn't run the risk of sending him out there. Pettitte escapes unscarred.

TOP of SEVENTH: I'd have probably pulled Matsuzaka between innings - no real reason to run him through the line-up a fourth time. He Ks Damon, gets Jeter to ground out to short, and Ks Abreu. Like I said, he never should have come out for this inning ...

BOTTOM of SEVENTH: Pettitte out, Scott Proctor in. Manny welcomes him with an opposite field single. Drew hits a Fenway double, scraping it off the Wall, and now it's runners at second and third with no outs. Mike Lowell hits his second HR of the night, a sweet line shot that clears the Wall and hits the bottom of the light standard. Carmines 7, Pinstripes 5, Scott Proctor to the showers.

TOP of EIGHTH: Matsuzaka is still in the game. This is a mistake. He's thrown 103 pitches, he's gone seven, he's got the lead ... what's the point? There's no need to overuse the starters in April. Matsuzaka v. A-Rod IV: HBP, K, K, so far, but A-Rod pushes an opposite field single to right for his first hit. Francona comes out to pull Matsuzaka and this just confirms that he never should've come out to pitch the 8th in my mind.

New fan favorite Hideki Okajima relieves Matsuzaka. Okajima has pitched fantastic this season and he gets Giambi to pop out. Cano hits a soft bloop to right that Coco Crisp (in for Wily Mo) somehow lets drop in front of him. Runners on first and second with one out and Jorge Posada pinch hits for Mientkiewicz (who was 2-for-3 tonight). Okajima should be pulled right here because of his workloand, but he's not and Posada walks to load the bases. Okajima out, Donnelly in. Thankfully, Francona doesn't panic and go to Papelbon here. Save him for the 9th.

Donnelly induces a ground ball but the Sox can't turn two, so A-Rod is in and Matsuzaka's line is complete: 7 innings, 6 ER, 7 K, 1 BB. Not a great night, but he leaves his team with a lead and the mess on the bases is on Okajima, not him. PH Josh Phelps smashes a liner that Pedroia snags on a great lunging grab to his left out at second. Another foot and the game is all tied up.

BOTTOM of EIGHTH: Lefty Sean Henn is in and I've never heard of him, though he's pitched pretty effectively this season. He gets Papi to fly out, but then Manny singles to center after what seemed like a twenty-minute at-bat. With the top of the Highlanders' line-up looming in the next half-inning another run or two would be nice. Drew disagrees with me, however, and bounces out to A-Rod. He does advance Manny to second with Lowell coming to the plate. Lowell walks on 5 pitches, but Tek grounds out. Sox lead by one heading into the 9th. Here comes Papelbon.

TOP of NINTH: The Sox got to Rivera on Friday, so let's see if the Yanks can return the favor against Paps tonight. They play "Wild Thing" at Fenway now when Papelbon enters which is stupid. I bet that was a decision made in the marketing department.

Papelbon v. Damon: Damon hits a soft liner that Manny catches in left. One down.

Papelbon v. Jeter: Strike looking, ball outside, strike swinging, strike swinging (all fastballs). Two out.

Papelbon v. Abreu: Ball, ball, strike ... every one of his fastballs seems locked at 95 mph tonight ... ball up and away ... foul strike ... full count ... ball on a high and in fastball. Tying run is on first.

Papelbon v. A-Rod: Slider for strike one, fastball fouled away for strike two, high fastball that A-Rod grounds to third. Lowell to Pedroia for the force at second and that's the ballgame.

Fun game. Lots of homers and lead changes and Matsuzaka. Sox scored 7 in every game of the series. Nice sweep, though it's too early to get overly excited about it. The Yankees have a devastated rotation and the Sox rolled out their aces, but it's better to win a game then lose a game no matter how it's done.

Live blogging is fun but it sure does rob the night of any productivity ...

7s Wild at the Fens

A day after beating the Yankees 7-6, the Sox plugged away for a 7-5 victory on Saturday, guaranteeing another series won.

The key to Saturday's win (which I could only listen to on the radio because FOX hates me, and they'll do it again next Saturday the bastards) was an offense that bailed Josh Beckett out from two two-run holes in the first and second innings. After the offense did it the second time, Beckett found his rhythm and gave up only one more run over the next 4.2 innings. It was one of Beckett's more impressive wins since coming to Boston, but not because he had dominant stuff working. Rather, this was as much of a gut-check win as Beckett has produced when not having his best stuff. He could've folded after the first and second innings, but didn't, and when Papi hit a two-run HR to give the Sox a 3 run lead in the bottom of the fourth Beckett held it.

Ortiz was the offensive hero; he drove in 4 runs runs but it was the timeliness that mattered as much as the overall production. With the Sox down 2-0 in the first, Papi doubled, driving in Lugo and Youk and tieing the game. In the fourth, with the Sox up one, Ortiz hit a two-run HR. Clutch.

The Sox can go for the sweep tonight and while they shouldn't look at the game as a must-win, the fact is the Yanks are starting another unproven prospect and the Sox are sending Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound so the Sox are prohibitive favorites.

The Pilgrims are the hottest team in baseball with a 9-2 record in their last 11 games. Both losses are Matsuzaka's, though he pitched well enough to win both.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Well, That Was Exciting. And Green.

Sometimes wins come out of nowhere.

The Red Sox beat the Yankees 7-6 on Friday night on the strength of a five-run eighth inning and a save against the heart of the Yanks' line-up by Hideki Okajima. Not unexpected enough? Mariano Rivera blew the save, pitching .2 innings and giving up three hits, and two earned runs. Did I mention the three hits were by guys batting .167 (Coco Crisp), .189 (Jason Varitek), and named Alex Cora?

People will want to overreact to this Yanks' loss and say something like, "When do the Yankees ever lose a game like that?" Well, heck, when does anyone lose a game by giving up a single and a triple to guys batting under .200?

The 6-7-8 hitters were the stars of the night as Lowell, Tek, and Coco combined for seven RBIs, and the team needed them as Schilling had a poor outing, giving up five ER in seven innings, and two HRs to A-Rod.

The night was unfortunately fitting for A-Rod, who went 3-for-5, 3 R, 3 H, 4 RBI, and yet, in the 9th, when the Yanks were down by a run with a man on first he hits a soft liner to second. That's 2 HRs and 4 RBI off of Curt Schilling, and 0-for-1 against Hideki Okajima.

Francona's decision to leave Okajima for the entire 9th raised expectations of a disaster-to-be, as he had to get through Jeter, Abreu, A-Rod, and Giam- I mean, Kevin Thompson. Torre had pinch-ran Thompson for Giambi an inning earlier (not a bad move when you're up 6-2 in the 8th), which made that final at-bat a bit easier. Solid pitching by Okajima.

Just as questionable was Torre's decision to bring in Rivera when the Yanks were up 6-3 in the 8th with runners on first and third. Asking Mo to get the final five outs in a game in April just seems ridiculous to me. I know the tying run is at the plate, but why bring in Rivera to face the 7-8-9 batters? This was Torre at his worse - riding a bullpen horse because he doesn't trust the underlings to get the job done.

It's only one game, and the AL East certainly wasn't decided, but it was a nice comeback win.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Red Sox Take 2 of 3 From Bluebirds

It's hard to complain when you win two of three games from Toronto, and have won seven of the last nine overall, but the Sox really should've swept this series.

There are reasons for concern - Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia are each batting .167, Varitek is at .189, Manny's at .200, and Kevin Youkilis is hitting a whopping .235. That's not good. Only one of the regulars is hitting over .300: JD Drew at .333.

As bad as the hitting has been, the starting pitching has been outstanding. Josh Beckett's got 3 wins, a 1.50 ERA, and 18 Ks. Wakefield has 2 wins and a 1.35 ERA, Matsuzaka's ERA is at 2.70 with 24 strikeouts, and Schilling has pitched great in two starts and awful in one. Beckett, Wake, and Schill all have WHIPs under 1.05, and Beckett and Wake have .BAA under .167.

The Sox head into the first series against the Yankees a game up on the Highlanders. The Sox will send Schill, Beckett, and Matsuzaka against Pettitte, Karstens, and Wright, so the pitching tilts in Boston's favor. Expect a live blog or two this weekend.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pilgrims Sweep Angels

The Sox-Angels series over the weekend came off more like a football game than a baseball game where the team from the warm weather city wants no part of the cold. The Sox outscored the Angels 25-3 over four miserable days at the Fens that saw a rainout on Sunday.

The Sox are a good enough team that their hitting can occasionally overcome bad pitching, and their starting pitching can overcome bad hitting, but when the starting pitching and offense are both clicking this is a very dangerous team because they can keep their relief guys sitting in the pen.

Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, and Tim Wakefield combined to give up only two runs over 21 innings in the three games. Papi provided the biggest offensive punch, driving in eight runs, and Mike Lowell pitched in with four of his own over the course of the series.

Not everything is running smoothly - the bottom of the order (Varitek, Crisp, Pedroia) isn't contributing much of anything offensively. According to the AP, Crisp was 1-for-16 on the homestand and Varitek is now 3-for-26 when batting left-handed.

Pedroia is there for his glove and not his bat, and when Alex Cora is an offensive upgrade, you'd better play like that glove is made of gold. Pedroia's a mixed bag at the plate, so far. When you're batting ninth you're really not expected to drive anyone in, and what the team is really looking for is you getting on base anyway you can. Pedroia hit 1-for-5 over the series, but did pick up 3 walks. He's only hitting .222 for the season, which blows, but the .382 OBP is third among regulars (behind Drew's .450 and Lugo's .395).

The 3-game sweep has the Sox atop the AL East with a 7-4 record. Up next is a 3-game series starting tonight in Toronto, who are sitting in second at 7-5. Matsuzaka is up tonight, but there's no national TV coverage so no live blog, but I will be doing one for the Sunday night ESPN game against the Yankees. Unfortunately (for me anyway), I won't get the FOX game on Saturday because they'll beam the Cardinals/Cubs game into my living room. I hate that.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Oh My Stars and Bars: The Ol' Ball Coach is Not a Good Ol' Boy

Steve Spurrier doesn't want the Confederate flag to fly at the South Carolina Statehouse. According to the AP, Spurrier gave that opinion, unsolicited, at an awards banquet held by a volunteer organization. Spurrier was there to get an award from the group and relayed that he thought the flag ought to come down.

After today's spring game, Spurrier didn't back down from his comments: "My opinion is we don't need the Confederate flag at our Capitol."

The state of South Carolina has been boycotted by the NAACP since 2000 and, according to the AP, "the flag was removed from the dome in 2000, but placed at the Confederate Soldier Monument on Statehouse grounds." South Carolina was one of the strongest proponents of secession during the Civil War and has long resisted public pressure to remove the Confederate flag.

I have no reason to doubt the political sincerity of Steve Spurrier, but one does have to wonder if his stance has anything to do with recruiting; if South Carolina is losing potential African-American recruits because those players (or their parents) are uneasy about attending a state university in a state that still flies the stars and bars on state property. While this may not lead to the removal of the flag from the Confederate Soldier Monument, at the very least Spurrier scores some political points with potential recruits for taking an unsolicited stand against a remnant of the Confederacy.

And if Spurrier is sincere (and again, I have no reason to doubt him), all the better.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Drew Bledsoe Fades Away

Drew Bledsoe retired on Wednesday and the sports world yawned. As a lifelong Patriots fan I can attest that Bledsoe holds a special place in New England sports lore - we don't quite know what to do with him. In the hearts of fans he'll never be Tom Brady's equal, of course, but then he was never Steve Grogan's equal, either. Grogan was the blue collar QB surviving on guile and guts while this kid from Walla Walla was a rocket launcher - stiff, immobile, firing darts all over the field as he single-handedly tried to win games behind a shaky line that couldn't block for RBs or QBs. We loved him for awhile, but most could just never accept him - right QB, wrong town.

Bledsoe played 14 years in the NFL that began with him being the #1 overall pick in the 1993 draft for the Patriots and ends with him relegated to back-up status in Dallas. From franchise player to also-ran.

He lost his job to Tom Brady, JP Losman, and Tony Romo and at the time all three were nothing more than potential. None were established as NFL players - all three got their first starting job when they took over for Bledsoe.

And that's Bledsoe's real legacy. He's the guy who got knocked out of action, and lost his job to a sixth round pick who proceeded to lead his team - Bledsoe's team - to the franchise's first ever Super Bowl Championship. And then went out and won two more. It wasn't supposed to be that way, of course. It should have been Bledsoe who won the Pats their first championship. For all the talk of Brady being the Golden Boy, Bledsoe was the #1 pick, selected to lead the franchise to glory like so many #1 picks. For those who want to dump on Drew, remember that the clear-cut #1 and #2 picks that year were between Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer. The Pats picked first and took Bledsoe and went to the Super Bowl a few years down the line. The Seahawks picked next and took Mirer and didn't.

And Bledsoe almost delivered that championship. Almost.

Almost.

Super Bowl XXXI. New Orleans. Brett Favre's Super Bowl. Desmond Howard's Super Bowl. The Super Bowl where Bill Parcels was planning his exit and dreaming of shopping for his own groceries when he should've been thinking about the biggest game of the season. I hated FOX's coverage, which was so tilted to Green Bay as to be disgraceful. People seem to forget that the Patriots were up 14-10 in the second quarter. The Pack had taken a 10-0 lead, but Bledsoe led the Pats on two consecutive scoring drives, ending the first with a TD pass to Keith Byars and the second with a TD to his favorite all-time receiver, Ben Coates. The Packers put 17 straight on the board to lead 27-14 at the half, but Curtis Martin scored from 18 yards out and the Packers lead was only 6 points ...

And then Desmond Howard made history, taking the kick-off back 99 yards. Boston College grad Mark Chmura caught a 2-point conversion pass, the lead was 14, and that was the ballgame.

Thanks to the loss and his four interceptions, Bledsoe's star began to darken and the whispers started making the rounds soon thereafter. He doesn't have it. He'll never win a Super Bowl. Hey, it's not his fault Bob Kraft decided to replace one of the greatest coaches in NFL history with Petey Pom-Poms Carrol, an epicly disastrous move that sent the franchise into a slow downward spiral back to the dregs of the league. It's not his fault that there was a new offensive coordinator seemingly every year. Sure, there were lots of #11 jerseys still floating around Foxboro Stadium, but the whispers gave way to yelling and the truth is that by the time Mo Lewis hit Bledsoe so hard his lung reportedly collapsed he was already done. Bill Belicheck's efforts to revive the team were going nowhere and when Bledsoe was forced to sit it was like a switch had been flipped. The team was ready to listen to somebody new.

Enter Brady, Exit Bledsoe.

Enter the Patriots Dynasty for the first, exit to Buffalo for the latter. Bledsoe didn't even show up for the Super Bowl victory parade, if I recall correctly; as nice a guy as Bledsoe is, he's a proud guy, too. Didn't want to back-up Brady in New England so he got moved to Buffalo. Didn't want to back-up Losman in Buffalo so he got moved to Dallas. Didn't want to back-up Romo in Dallas so he retired. He probably realized there was no other franchise that was going to give him the keys and he either didn't want to wait around for someone else to get hurt, or earn a starting spot by beating someone in training camp.

I can't imagine Bledsoe will make the Hall of Fame, as much as I'd like to see him get in on a personal level. He just doesn't reek "Hall of Famer" and the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process is more likely to reward players who "feel" like Hall of Famers rather than looking at something as arcane as statistics - which is why supposedly smart people can leave Art Monk out year after year. If Monk can't get in, Bledsoe doesn't have a shot.

Make no mistake, if football was baseball, Drew Bledsoe's retirement might have pushed Matsuzaka v. Ichiro off the SportsCenter lead. Bledsoe is 5th all-time in pass attempts and completions, 7th all-time in passing yardage, and 13th in TD passes. Compare that to baseball - 5th all-time in plate appearances and hits are Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, 7th in Total Bases is Pete Rose, and 13th in RBIs is Ted Williams. The sports world did not yawn when they exited off the playing stage.

But football isn't baseball and it's better in football to have seven great years than fourteen mediocre years. In baseball, if you get 3,000 hits, or 500 HRs, you're in. (Or used to be - thanks steroids!) Football really has no equivalent stats.

Bledsoe fades away, unwilling to give it another go or serve as someone's tutor. It's just not in him to be anything but a starter.

I hope my fellow Patriots fans send a few kind thoughts Bledsoe's way today. After all is said and done his only Super Bowl ring comes compliments of Tom Brady, but Bledsoe was the guy pulling the trigger during the majority of the Bill Parcells Reclamation Project. He was a star player on a moribund franchise that had only been to the Super Bowl once. He got them there for their second appearance, and played a key role in the AFC Championship game to get them to their third appearance and first Lombardi.

His was not a golden career but it's not like anyone is regretting taking Bledsoe over Mirer. And yet he's something of an after-thought these days, answers to two trivia questions - who was the starting QB pre-Brady and who's house did Curt Schilling buy? His legacy has all been erased in New England and that's a shame.

So thanks, Drew, and good luck with whatever you do next.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Live Blog: Matsuzaka's Fenway Debut

Welcome to the debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka in Fenway. Your announers tonight's Mariners @ Red Sox game are Dan Schulman, Orel Herschiser, and Steve Phillips. Good squad.

TOP of FIRST - Ichiro steps in to the box for the most anticipated match-up in the history of Japanese baseball. Or something. Matsuzaka gets out 0-2 on Ichiro, then Ichiro takes 3 straight balls. Pitch 5 is low and Ichiro hits a one-hopper back to Matsuzaka, who throws him out. Everyone in Japan sits down and the Earth hops in place. Great sequence by Matsuzaka. He gives up a seeing eye single but in all it's an impressive inning - 4 ground balls.

BOTTOM OF FIRST - King Felix is pitching for the Mariners tonight, making this a great early season match-up. For all the talk about Matsuzaka vs. Ichiro, I'm just as excited to see Felix Hernandez pitch.

Lugo grounds to short and Richie Sexson makes a great pick at first to save the out. That's great for Sexson and all but I don't get any defensive fantasy points so thanks for nothing Richie. Lopez makes a great running catch over his shoulder on a flare by Youkilis. Papi grounds out to knock off the inning - great first inning for the King.

TOP of SECOND - Bonnie Bernstein is the sideline reporter for tonight and everywhere this game is being watched someone mentions how it sucks Erin Andrews isn't here. (Not that Bonnie's hard to look at.) Nothing against the most obsessed over reporter on tv out here in the blogosphere but at this point Andrews would have to be in Maxim, the SI Swimsuit issue, Playboy, and have a lesbian sex tape with Jessica Biel leaked to be worth all the obsession over her. Sure she's hot - hot enough to be subjected to ridiculously creepy YouTube tributes - but the blogosphere could stand to take a cold shower.

I'm just saying.

Kenji Johjima comes up. He's also from Japan. No one cares, but he hooks a double into the left field corner to put runners on second and third with one out. Sac fly to left and Manny unleashes a good throw home that's just a bit too much up the first base line. Plus, V-Tek drops the ball on the tag. 1-0 Seattle. Manny plays an under-rated LF - he really knows how to play the Monster, and he does a good job positioning himself.

BOTTOM of SECOND - Manny plays pinball - knocking a grounder off Felix and then getting thrown out by the third baseman. Drew strikes out, Lowell grounds out, and Hernandez is off to a really impressive start.

TOP of THIRD - Mats v. Ichiro, Round 2: Ichiro pops up to shallow center. This is disappointing - he's either got to hit doubles or strike out - this ground out, pop out stuff isn't nearly dramatic enough for SportsCenter to wring 20 minutes of highlights and stories out of. I mean, they still will, but it'll be impossible to watch. 1-2-3 inning in a quick moving game.

BOTTOM of THIRD - Varitek leads off and Schulman tells us its his 35th birthday. Happy Birthday to the team's future manager. Orel makes a great point about Felix being "effectively wild." Pedroia looks like a Little Leaguer but he gets on base, which is something no one else has done tonight for the Sox. Too bad Lugo grounds out to third to end the inning.

TOP of FOURTH - Strikeout, strikeout, then Matsuzaka hits Jose Guillen in the upper arm. Guillen was at the center of trouble yesterday, jawing with Brandon Donnelly after he struck out and causing dugouts to empty but no fight to ensue. Philips says he doesn't think it was intentional - but it seems too big a coincidence for it to not have been intentional. Johjima grouns out to end the inning.

BOTTOM OF FOURTH - Felix has gone through the Sox line-up without giving up a hit, but Youkilis walks to lead off the inning. Two of the last three batters have walked, so maybe the Sox are figuring the King out. Let's see what Papi and Manny can do in their second go-round.

Papi hits into a double play. Yeah, that didn't work out so hot. Manny grounds out and the Seattle OFs decide to not even bother to come out of the dugout next inning since they're getting no action.

TOP of FIFTH - A bloop hit by Lopez means there's a man on for Matsuzaka v. Ichiro III. Matsuzaka seems to have a long, slow delivery home, so I'd imagine people will start trying to steal on him before too long. I wonder (hope) that he's got a more compact move to mix in. Ichiro whiffs - Matsuzaka is definitely winning this contest. Adrian Beltre crushes one off the wall to pick up his teammate and it's 2-0 Mariners. Beltre advances to third on a bad throw home by Pedroia and is knocked in by Jose Vidro. 3-0 Mariners who are starting to jump on pitches early in the count. We'll see if that continues.

BOTTOM of FIFTH - Drew and Lowell both ground out to second. This is getting silly - the Sox still have not hit a ball out of the infield. Hernandez has major late breaking action on his pitches tonight - none of the Sox batters have been able to get under anything to drive it. V-Tek grounds out weakly and the King's got a no-no through 15 outs. If the game finishes like this and Stuart Scott is hosting SportsCenter tonight he's already written one of those fake anti-hype openings he loves: "All the attention was on Daisuke Matsuzaka, but Felix Hernandez was all, "Hey, what about me?" Forget the hype, Seattle' 21-year old fireballer made the Red Sox batters look foolish. Blah blah blah."

TOP of SIXTH - Matsuzaka starts off strong. It's early in the season, of course, but he appears to have the ability to put bad innings behind him immediately. That's key in the AL East where the Yanks and Jays can put up huge innings in a blink. Johjima hits his second double of the night - again hooking it down into the LF corner. I believe Johjima has the most at-bats of anyone (118 in Japan) against Matsuzaka and his approach is to get out ahead of the breaking ball and pull it. Seattle has generally pulled the breaking ball so far tonight and gone the other way with the fastball. That's solid strategy against a guy with this variety of pitches.

BOTTOM of SIXTH - Here's an idea, Red Sox - get a hit. Or at least a fly ball. Or work a walk. Coco Crisp doesn't want to listen to what I think is good advice and he strikes out badly on a pitch that never looked like it was going to end up in the strike zone. Dustin Pedroia grounds out, but Orel gets a bonus point for referencing Jody Reed, and Philips gets a bonus point for explaining that Pedroia needs to find an offensive niche to stay in this line-up. I know a lot of people (especially Mets fans) think Phillips is a douchebag, and ESPN does a lot of questionable things with him (like the fake press conferences they wasted our TV space with last year), but he's pretty solid as a game announcer, I think. King Felix is now 18 outs through a no-no.

TOP of SEVENTH - Matsuzaka v. Ichiro IV: Ground out on a force at second and Ichiro beats the throw to first. Wonder if he'll attempt a steal - if I was Seattle I'd have him try it. There's 1 out, Seattle's got a 3-0 lead - apply some pressure. He doesn't try and Daisuke walks Beltre to put runners on 1st and 2nd with one down and Vidro coming to the plate. Vidro bounces into a 3-6-1 double play as Matsuzaka makes a great pick at first to get Vidro. This is probably it for the night, so if he's going to get the win the Sox have to put up 4 against a guy they haven't taken out of the infield, yet.

BOTTOM of SEVENTH - Youk gets it out of the infield but still makes an out. Nineteen outs down. He's really been amazing tonight - it's not a dominant, Ryan-esque strikeout performance (he's only got 4), but the Sox can't do anything with his stuff. Hernandez is getting them all to pound the ball into the ground. Papi flies out - twenty in a row. Manny watches strike three sail past and he's got that "We're still in spring training, right?" look about him. Six outs to go, so he doesn't have to face Ortiz or Manny again. If Drew doesn't lead off next inning with a hit, Felix has to get through the the relatively easy stretch of Lowell, Varitek, Crisp, Pedroia, and Lugo to get his name in the papers and stuff.

TOP of EIGHTH - Matsuzaka out and JC Romero in. Matsuzaka didn't pitch bad tonight - he gave up 8 hits but other than the fifth he really wasn't in any significant jam. His line: 7 innings, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. I'm very pleased with what I've seen out of him so far this season. Romero gets his two men out and gives way to Pineiro. (The in-game update says Mike Mussina just asked out of the Yanks' game in Minnesota. Red Sox fan that I am, I still take no joy in seeing anyone get hurt.) Pineiro gives up a hit and a walk and Theo is on the phone to Cincy: "Are you sure you want this guy?" Sox escape the inning as Betancourt flies out to center.

BOTTOM of EIGHTH - JD Drew singles up the middle and the crowd cheers. Drew is off to a really good start which might get the Nation on his side. Of course, the Nation was on Carl Everett's side at the beginning, too. Let's see if Lowell can drive the ball into a corner ... not a good looking start to the at-bat as he lets what should have been strike 3 sail by him, then swings at what should have been ball 2 way out of the zone ... counts 2-2 and Felix hangs a breaking ball but Lowell does nothing with it, lifting a soft flay ball to center. Varitek hits into what should be a weak-ass double-play, but Sexson drops the return throw. Crisp takes full advantage of the extra opportunity by hitting a check swing FC groundout. As Cartman would say, "Lame."

TOP of NINTH - The problem with the 2007 edition of the Sox is that they've got so many guys who can be such weak hitters (Lowell, Varitek, Crisp, Pedroia) that it's going to put too much pressure on Papi, Manny, and Drew to be on every night, and it's going to ask Lugo and Youkilis to do more than they're capable of doing. Trust me - the Todd Helton rumors are not going to go away.

BOTTOM of NINTH - I actually feel bad that Hernandez had his no-hitter broken up if the Sox aren't going to do anything. Hernandez has gotten 17 of his outs by ground ball with only 4 flyouts. That's outstanding. Pedroia and Lugo make outs and it's up to Youk to get something started. Youk strikes out on a monster curveball and that's that. A great pitching performance by Felix Hernandez. Orel refers to the final pitch as an "explosive curveball." A fitting description. This kid looks to be worth all the hype that was thrown at him last season.

A disappointing night but Matsuzaka pitched okay. Most nights, giving up three runs results in a win or no-decision, but not tonight. Matsuzaka won't panic - let's see if the Nation does.

Baloo on Baseball Mogul 2008

OK, I've now bought and played Baseball Mogul 2008. After 3 seasons of play, I'm leaning towards taking back my comment that the game is too easy (see my previous post – Baloo Goes Simming). Previous versions of the game were relatively easy. Though to be fair, you could make the game more difficult by running a small market team. However, you could usually pile up enough good prospects to offset the loss of expensive players and once you started winning, your budget increased enough to keep a core of good players.

Baseball Mogul 2008 fixes one big problem with older versions of the game. Salaries and budgets are now consistent with the time periods. This changes things drastically. Let me give you an example from BM 2007. I usually start the game with the 1978 Yankees. Now I know the owner of this blog is a Red Sox fan and he probably hates this team, but that's too bad, I love them. (Editor's Note - You're fired! What? We don't pay you anything? OK, continue ...) This is my favorite team of all-time. You've got Guidry, Jackson, Rivers, Randolph, and Goose Gossage (who should be in the Hall of Fame, you fuckers!). After the 1978 season in BM 2007, you'd see a lot of good free agents and as the Yankees you could afford to pay for them. Here's a sample of players that couldn't be afforded by their old teams: Fred Lynn, Gary Carter, Chet Lemon, and a few other great players (Eddie Murray would sometimes become available soon after as would Rickey Henderson). These guys would all ask for about $10-15 million. Smaller market teams simply couldn't fit them into their budget. Thus, you could easily build a monster team by 1980 and as you won more, your revenue went up. The Yankees were an easy team to run and build a dynasty. Now this is why I'd switch to a smaller market team once I got used to the small changes in the newest version of the game.

So what does this have to do with the salary/budget fix? Well this small change affects the whole game drastically. While the Yankees still have more revenue than other clubs, salaries are so low, that any team can keep its best players pretty easily. In fact, in the 3 seasons I've played, the best players in free agency have been the guys I released. After the 1978 season, the 4 best players in free agency were guys I released. Thus, you can't simply buy the best players anymore. You have to draft and trade. In this game, you generally have to give up more than you get in a trade (as most games do). So while I've traded for some potentially great players, I had to give up quite a bit to get them. I'm really digging this new version because it's so much more difficult. While this difficulty may disappear if you start with a 2007 team, I generally enjoy playing with an older team. As it stands right now, I've come in 3rd or 4th in the AL East for the 3 years I've played (100 wins in 1978, 95 wins in 1979, 87 in 1980). However, the team I've put together looks fantastic for the future. Here's the line-up (Current value/potential value):

LF: Tim Raines (89/94) – 21 years old

2B: Willie Randolph (91/91) – 26 years old

1B: Rod Carew (82/82) – 35 years old

RF: Reggie Jackson (83/83) – 34 years old

SS: Cal Ripken, Jr (84/90) – 20 years old

3B: Wade Boggs (83/87) – 22 years old

DH: Gary Gaetti (74/88) – 22 years old

C: Mike Heath (82/89) – 25 years old

CF: Chili Davis (66/90) – 20 years old

Rotation

SP: Ron Guidry (86/86) – 30 years old

SP: Catfish Hunter (82/82) - 34 years old

SP: Scott Sanderson (86/86) – 24 years old

SP Roger Clemens (78/90) – 18 years old (He went 8-14 at the age of 17 with a 5.47 ERA and will not spend a day in the minors)

SP: Fernando Valenzuela (73/93) or Mark Langston (71/89) – both 20 years old

CL: Dave Righetti (89/94) – 21years old

This team is pretty good and the minor league system is bottom loaded. The main problem is that the guys I've drafted and/or traded for haven't developed quickly enough. So if I have an injury I'm in trouble. Also, older players sometimes decline quickly in value, so I have to keep a close eye on Carew, Jackson, and Hunter. They may all drop significantly this year. If they do, I don't have very good replacements for Carew of Jackson. After this year, I will, but most likely I'd have to trade for a quality 1B or RF to fill the void.

However, this is what makes the game so much better this year. There's more randomness to the game. While it's harsh to think you have a position set and then find out the guy is starting to stink and you need to fill the spot. But, that's the way it works in real life. I signed Craig Nettles so I could play him at 3B to a 3 year contract while Boggs' fielding improved and it ended up that Nettles fielding and hitting went in the crapper by midseason and Boggs had to play 3B instead of DHing. So Nettles is now sitting in the minors and getting paid reasonably well for doing nothing.

The best trade I made was trading Roy Smalley, SS for Tim Raines, Gary Gaetti, and Scott Sanderson. They were all prospects and Smalley was one of the best SS in the league. Since Gaetti is now entering his rookie season and will start at DH, I've gotten 3 starters by trading Smalley and it opened up SS for Ripken (who has been on the DL twice in 2 ½ years in the majors).

I think this is easily the best version of the game, based on my initial 3 seasons. That's saying quite a bit since I've loved the earlier versions of this game. If you like baseball sims and/or Pursue the Pennant/Diamond Mind Baseball, then you should give this game a shot. You can manage the individual games (like PTP/DMB) or you can simply put the team together and see what happens. Also, if you get the game, set an injury contingency so that you can modify your rotation and/or line-up as injuries occur. I usually set mine to 14 days. That way if they'd go on the DL I can make a change. My friend sets the injury contingency to 6 days so he can bring up a minor leaguer to start if a starting pitcher will miss a start. Either way, it's important to do.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Bud Selig Defeats Weather

After a week of being ripped by nearly everyone for MLB's inane early season scheduling, a week that included the entire Seattle @ Cleveland series getting wiped out, Bud Selig has finally shown that he will not let Mother Nature continue to abuse him. The Indians' next series starts on Tuesday against the Warm Weather Angels and bad weather remains in the forecast for the Cleveland area.

Bud Selig is pro-active.

Bud Selig realizes something must be done.

Bud Selig will move the entire series to someplace they can actually play the games.

Bud Selig will move the entire series to Los Angeles. I mean Anaheim.

No, wait. Strike that. That would make too much sense. Bud Selig is moving the games ... TO MILWAUKEE.

Gah. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Everyone knows the only way to get people in Milwaukee to show up for an Indians game is to invite Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger to play and I haven't seen any indication they're doing that. Milwaukee is roughly 450 miles from Cleveland, so I'm guessing not a lot of Cleveland fans are going to make the trip. Maybe if they were playing the games someplace people actually wanted to go - like, I don't know, ANAHEIM - people might actually show up.

I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Selig used to own the Brewers. Nothing at all. I'm sure MLB will tell us later that Selig had nothing to do with this decision, that this isn't some kind of pork project to help out Milwaukee by adding a few drops of cake into the local economy, but this decision is just bad all around.

One of the talking points we've heard about why MLB can't start games in warm weather and domes in the opening weeks is because cold weather teams will lose fan interest if they don't have a home opener until 7 or 10 or 14 days into the season.

But moving a team's games to Milwaukee is sure to keep fan interest high. Right.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Live Blog: Red Sox v. Rangers

Welcome to tonight's live-blog of the Red Sox @ Rangers game. I've been blogging for over 6 months and have never done a live blog, so I thought tonight's Sox game was a good opportunity to give it a shot. I'll be updating at least every half-inning. Tonight's Easter Sunday starters are Curt Schilling, who sucked ass on opening day, and Vicente Padilla.

PREGAME
I hate Chris Berman and his stupid green jacket that he pulls out of mothballs every stupid year when they have the Crackers golf tournament. I don't give a crap about golf, especially when a bunch of elitist rednecks host the tournament.

TOP of FIRST INNING - Lugo grounds out. Padilla looks like he's about 53 years old instead of 30, but he's a quick worker, which helps keep things moving. Youkilis flies out to right. I am not Youkilis' biggest fan - more on that later.

Big Papi knocks his first homer of the season out to right. It's a line shot into the bleachers. Padilla just laid a 93 MPH fastball in over the middle of the plate with a little tail action and Ortiz connected. Manny lines out to left. Good start. Let's see what Baloo's Favorite Fat Ass does in the bottom half of the inning.

Bottom of First - Schilling makes Kenny Lofton look like Kenny Lofton. Schil's got a pop on his fastball tonight. And Frank Catalanato does, too - HR down the line and we're all tied up at 1. Young lines it to right - nice job of hitting. Teixeira strikes out looking - Schil keeps working away to Tiexeira.

And now Sammy Sosa is up, looking less steroidy than the last time we saw him. Takes a nice swing but doesn't make great contact and he flies out to left.

Top of Second - JD Drew goes down swinging. Peter Gammons tells us that Papi is protective of Drew because of all the criticism he received over the 7 months it took to sign him - yeah, that'll end the "Nancy Drew" nickname. Mike Lowell grounds out. Thrilling interplay between Jon Miller and Joe Morgan over birthdays. Morgan wants to know how Miller knows everyone's birthday, but it's just a cover for Joe's next question: "Where's all the cakes?" Joe Morgan doesn't want to wish you a happy birthday, but he does want to eat a piece of your cake.

Varitek walks. Morgan recovers by pointing out that Miller shouldn't sound surprised by the Yankees' pitching staff struggles because they've been terrible. Coco Crisp pops out because he's been terrible.

Bottom of Second - Hank Blalok whiffs badly as Joe Morgan makes fun of Jon Miller for doing research. Schil strikes out Wilkerson. Miller and ESPN quote Schil's blog for his take on his opening day performance. Seriouslty, do we even need reporters anymore?

Morgan explains the difference between "command" and "throwing strikes." This is why Morgan is a 100x better than Tim McCarver - he says things that are useful.

TOP of THIRD - Alex Cora lets himself get hit and goes to first. I hate that shit. If you don't make an effort to move out of the way, you shouldn't get a base. If I was an unpire, that would be "my thing." Lugo bunts Cora over to first and now Youk is up with a guy in scoring position. I can't believe the Sox still have Youk and Lowell at the corners.

Miller, Morgan, and Gammons are all stroking Ron Washington big time, which is fine because I'm sure he'll make a fine manager ... too bad the Rangers don't believe in getting quality pitchers.

Youk pops up to short center. Nice job. If that was Drew who did that, people would already be calling WEEI to be the first to rip him tomorrow morning. But Youk is sacred, for some reason.

Wow, Papi hits his second home run of the night, a long fly-ball that just gets over the fence. Good thing "just over" still counts. 3-1 Carmines, as Hawk would say.

BOTTOM of THIRD - Good thing this game is entertaining because I'm about to start missing DRESDEN FILES, which just keeps getting better. Lofton walks on a close pitch - Miller and Morgan (hereafter referred to as M&M) are wondering why Lofton has moved around so much in his career. They are the only people wondering this; it's not that Lofton is a bad player, it's just that he's one of those players who has skills teams want more when he's playing on another team. He doesn't get kept because teams don't worry about replacing him.

Oh, this is beautiful. Lofton, who's been stroked big-time tonight, gets doubled off first on a long fly ball to center. Nothing against Lofton, but I love it when a player getting praised way to much makes a boneheaded move that costs his team. Good job, Kenny.

TOP of FOURTH - Because I'm now in a mood to rip Lofton a little more, here's an article from Tom Verducci talking about why teams should steer clear of Lofton. The article starts out kinda tonuge-in-cheek: "Baseball's bad penny brought down his sixth franchise in October, with the Dodgers joining the Indians, Braves, Giants, Cubs and Yankees as victims of the Curse of Kenny. Lofton has been to the postseason 10 times and never won a World Series, usually losing in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable," but then it gets a bit more serious: "Lofton often has contributed to the defeats by playing poorly himself. He is far worse in his 84 postseason games (.244/.314/.344) than in his regular season career (.299/.372/.423)."

Mike Lowell grounds into a DP. Varitek comes up. V-Tek is starting to hit like an old man - slow swing, no sense of the strike zone. I can't believe we're going yet another season with Doug Mirabelli as a back-up catcher. Tek needs help and Mirabelli ain't it.

BOTTOM of FOURTH - The dreaded in-game interview with Francona. I hate hate HATE in-game interviews with managers. We only learn anything with these things once or twice a season. Managers don't want to do it, either, so what's the point? From this in-depth interview, we learn that Schilling didn't pitch good on opening day, that Papelbon is the closer, and that Francona wants Schil to pitch 12 innings tonight. Hilarious. Captivating. Magical.

Teixeira hits into a shift and Morgan is as disgusted by the shift as I am about in-game interviews. Sosa strikes out - what are the odds Sosa is done by June? I'll be a dollar with anyone who thinks he'll hit over .225 in May.

M&M and Gammons are talking about Hank Blalock's .OPS going down every year and they don't bring up steroids but everyone at home watching thinks it.

TOP of FIFTH - The interview with Ron Washington. Just as useless. Crisp slaps a pitch to left, which is what he should do more of this season. He doesn't need to do anything but get on base. The Sox bunt for the second time tonight and Morgan tells us "this is a new Red Sox team." It's an obvious point but he backs it up with actual statistics, then quickly drops it to break down the replay of Cora getting hit with his own bunt. Morgan first wanted to make the point that Cora was running out of the baseline, then recovers when he sees what the real contention is, and points out that Cora's foot was outside of the batting box when he made contact. The umps circle-jerk and decide Cora needs to bat again because it was a foul ball, and then Cora strikes out on a close pitch. So that sucked all around. Sucks even more when Youk lifts a weak fly ball to right.

BOTTOM of FIFTH - Ian Kinsler is up, which is notable because I cut him from my fantasy team today and this is the first time I've ever seen him play live. Now M&M are talking about Schil's contract situation and how he asked for an extension that the team didn't give him, then Gammons tells us Schil didn't put in his usual effort in the off-season because of time devoted to his video game company. Joe Morgan's take? "I still believe athletes today stay in great shape year round." Um ...

TOP of SIXTH - Papi grounds out. Manny flies out to deep center for the second at-bat in a row. Padilla's best inning.

BOTTOM of SIXTH - M&M talk about how every player has the right to wear #42 this week on Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson's number is retired throughout baseball, which is a fitting tribute to the first acknowledged African-American to play in the Major Leagues. M&M are worried announcers won't recognize some players, which is who we should be concerned about on Jackie Robinson Day, the announcers who are worried they won't be able to tell players apart because they'll all look the same if they've got the same number on. Uh ...

TOP of SEVENTH - Joe Morgan: "I have to tell you that Padilla is pitching well tonight." One, you don't have to. Two, you don't have to justify it. Telling us about what's going on tonight is why you're there. Nice play by Blalock to get Crisp on a close play at first. The Sox are batting like they think this game is over.

BOTTOM of SEVENTH - Wow, that new Nick Cage NEXT movie looks like a piece of shit. I've seen the ad four or five times and I have the same reaction each time: Jessica Biel is hot. Julianne Moore is slumming. Nick Cage needs a better toupee.

Peter Gammons tells us one of the reasons the Rangers are comfortable signing Sosa is that "he never tested positive for steroids." Neither have I. Can I have a job?

TOP of EIGHTH - Another 1-2-3 inning. Apparently, new eps of DRESDEN FILES are now on at 10 PM and not 9, which probably means I have to wait an extra hour to watch the re-airing later on tonight.

BOTTOM of EIGHTH - Schilling's done for the night and he pitched effectively: 7 Innings, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. Pineiro is now pitching and he walks the first two batters. This ain't Seattle, Jo-El. Lofton drops a bunt down and the Sox decide covering first would be a mistake, so now the bases are loaded, there are zero outs, and Schilling is creating a villain in his video game that looks like Pineiro.

Sacred Cow Youkilis drops a line drive which would've been a double play and a run comes in. Good job, dummy. Now it's 3-2 and Francona goes to Papelbon to get 5 outs with runners on first and third. If you're going to bring him in now to get 5 outs you might as well have started the inning and asked him to get 6 outs with no one on - which would be a mistake but its better that than this. Now it just takes a fly ball and it's a tie game and you've wasted your closer. This feels like a panic move for the 6th game of the year. This is exactly the kind of move that Joe Torre has made the past few years that have gotten the Yanks in trouble - relying on one or two select guys too much.

Paps v. Michael Young: 94 MPH Fastball for a swinging strike, 87 MPH splitter for a ball, 95 MPH fastball for a swinging strike, 96 MPH fastball for strike 3 looking on the outside corner. Impressive. Teixeira follows by popping out on one pitch. Nice pitching from Paps, but he can't do this every time the team gets in trouble in the eighth inning.

TOP OF NINTH - Papi and Manny ground out to different pitchers then Drew follows with a single. Drew is talented and he puts up good numbers but he's a zero on presence. He doesn't appear to have a personality and he just sort of plays without causing any ripples. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. He's a better player than Trot Nixon, but Nixon will be a big addition for the Indians this season just through sheer force of will. Lowell gets a squib hit. Drew gets thrown out at third, which saves Varitek from hitting another pop fly out.

BOTTOM of NINTH - Paps v. Sosa. I'm going to predict Sosa is completely overmatched right here. 93 MPH fastball fouled back, pop-up on a 94 MPH fastball to Sacred Cow.

Paps v. Blalock. Blalock swings and misses on a splitter; splitter outside for a ball; splitter down low for a ball; splitter fouled off; 96 MPH fastball that just explodes for strike 3. What a pitch.

Morgan says if you're a hitter, ignore the splitter early in the count and sit on the fastball. He's exactly right. Paps throwing a splitter early works to the hitter's favor.

Paps v. Wilkerson. 94 MPH up and in and Wilkerson misses it; another 94 MPH fastball up and out of the zone and Wilk whiffs again on a weak swing; 96 MPH bullet fastball in the middle of the zone and Wilerson just watches the end of the game go right by him.

All in all, a good win. Good pitching all around and it was Ortiz's two home runs tht proved the difference.