September 2009

Ode to Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, and Dice-K Matsuzaka

Over the past week, the Red Sox have been doing what they need to do to ensure themselves a spot in the playoffs (and the Rangers have been helping us out a bit). However, at the beginning of the week, we had a much bigger chance at maybe taking the division than we do at this point. If we had but swept the Royals (or even won the series), we would be in a much different position than we are now. 

What happened Monday night against the Royals was simply unacceptable. If that was the small hiccup before the big show, than that’s fine, but a solid bullpen is essential during the playoffs, and I think that Manny Delcarmen plays a very important role in our bullpen. This game was obviously not very enjoyable to watch, but it just wasn’t the Red Sox’s night. A bullpen, no matter how strong it is, always has a meltdown every now and then. 
As the playoffs approach, one has to start wondering what the starting rotation is going to look like, and I think it is getting more and more solidified with every quality start that Dice-K Matsuzaka makes. I think we would have a formidable four man rotation in Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and Matsuzaka. That is the more obvious part, the more obscure part is how, if at all, Tim Wakefield would fit into the postseason roster. 
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As of right now, I do not think that it would be a good idea to have him pitching into October. Every time he goes on the mound, he looks like he is in pain. Wakefield could be in the bullpen as a reserve, but I am not sure if I would put him on the roster. What would you do? 
The next night against the Royals, I almost didn’t want to watch. Zack Greinke pitching against anyone is scary, but against Paul Byrd? We might as well forfeit!! Greinke didn’t even have to throw a pitch and we were already behind thanks to a beyond shaky first inning by Paul Byrd. 
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Greinke pitched absolutely beautifully, so beautifully that he inspired me to write a poem. In my English class, we are learning about Romantic poetry (and we are really mutilating an already dead horse). William Wordsworth described Romantic poetry and the “spontaneous overflow of feelings”, so I’m pretty sure that the following poem can fit under that category: 
Ode to Zack Greinke
O how Zack Greinke colors the crowd, 

With his ethereal pitches, by which batters are wowed. 

A work of art whose exhibit is the mound, 

An artist as well–sculpting his pitches from the ground. 

A phenom in the making, 

A pitcher who is fragile, and not worth breaking. 

Knocking down the pins of every part of the strikezone, 

To an abundance of strikeouts, batters are inevitably prone. 

The fielders are lonely, for base runners are rare. 

Yet in Zack Greinke’s presence, they are honored to be there. 

Crossing home plate is an impossible feat, 

This is a man no one can defeat. 

I am highly considering sending this to him. During the next two games, we were finally able to cool down the Royals, or at least score more runs than them. Beckett gave up 12 hits, but thanks to some well deserved run support, the Sox were able to pull through. Buchholz followed with a stellar outing, and I was getting a bit scared that the bullpen was going to meltdown again when Ram-Ram came in and gave up three runs. 
You know, there was really no better weekend for the Red Sox vs Yankees series than this one. Thanks to my lovely Jewish brothers and sisters, no homework was to be given this weekend since it is Yom Kippour. Yet somehow, I know that I still have to do stuff for English. 
Anyway, the only thing I could think about all of Friday was the game. Plans this weekend? I think not, it is the last regular season series!!! While it would not have decided the division winner if the Red Sox were to have won or swept the series (now we’re the ones trying not to get swept), it would have made it a much closer race. Regardless of what happens, this could very well be the preview of the ALCS. 
1999, 2003, and 2004. There couldn’t be a better matchup in postseason baseball. It is a series where all of my nails are bitten off by the end of the first inning of the first game. It is virtually impossible to multi-task and do homework. It is stressful, frustrating, exhilarating, and beautiful all at the same time. 
However, my confidence, as well as the Red Sox’s confidence was nearly shattered on Friday night in the bottom of the third inning. Melky Cabrera hit a sharp line drive just above Lester’s right knee cap. At first I didn’t realize what had happened. I wondered how the ball had returned so suddenly to the third base line, and then I saw Lester fall to his back. Horrific memories of an immobile Matt Clement came rushing back, and the stories of Bryce Florie as well (I was not yet a baseball fan when that happened). 
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I was almost as petrified as Jon Lester was. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of the potential consequences. The ball ricocheted off of what looked like his knee cap, and it did not sound pretty. It could have been a season ending second, and a season altering one. Lester was not carried off of the field, he limped into the clubhouse as the classy Yankee crowd stood for him, and he could barely make it down the stairs. 
The minutes following the accident were filled with agonizing hypothetical situations. It was impossible for me to imagine the Red Sox pitching staff without our consistent ace in Jon Lester. But when I heard the report that the x-rays were negative and that it was merely a right contusion, I truly breathed a sigh of relief. The fact that he wants to make his next start, albeit a bit unrealistically ambitious, is truly admirable. He is a soldier. The Red Sox may have lost that game, but I think we gained even more from the fact that Lester is okay, and will be able to pitch again this season. 
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Yesterday’s game truly embo
died what each and every Red Sox vs Yankee game is all about. It exemplified the notion of a true pitcher’s duel with absolutely stellar performances by both Daisuke Matsuzaka and CC Sabathia. Sabathia stymied the Red Sox offense for seven incredible innings of one hit ball. 
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Daisuke Matsuzaka somehow evaded the irrevocable damage of a bases loaded situation with no outs thanks in part to an absolutely stunning play by Victor Martinez. If giving up one run over seven innings is indicative of the type of pitcher that Dice-K has turned to, then I think he truly deserves a spot in the postseason rotation. If he wants to make up for what he has missed, this is the way to do it. 
In one hour, the last regular season of the game will take place. The Yankees can clinch the division with a win, but I think I speak on behalf of all Red Sox fans in the following understatement: I don’t want them to. We don’t give up here. Even if Paul Byrd is pitching, we can still win. We don’t go down with out one hell of a fight. Go Red Sox!! 

A Roll of the Dice

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It really was a roll of the dice–a gamble–when the Red Sox sent Dice-K out to the mound for the first time in three months. When someone rolls the dice, there are many possible outcomes, and it is almost impossible to guess which one they are going to end up with. But sometimes, when the game is on the line, you just have to take a chance and hope for the best. 

That’s what the Red Sox did. There are a bunch of Dice-Ks that the fans, as well as the organization are familiar with. There’s the 2007 Dice-K, who was synonymous with the Dice-K that the Red Sox saw and signed in Japan. There’s the 2008 Dice-K, who had a nice record on paper, and even a nice ERA, but the outings were messy. Then there’s the 2009 Dice-K, the one whose luck had finally run out. 
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At the beginning of the season, Dice-K was considered by most, including myself, an integral part of the rotation. It was hard to imagine a starting staff without Dice-K heart attacks, as long as we got out of those situations alive. Life without Dice-K not only became imaginable, it became a reality… pretty early on during the 2009 season. 
The Red Sox took an agonizing step this season: essentially sacrificing Dice-K’s expensive contract. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be when a player that is worth a lot of money isn’t performing up to the standards that are expected of them (hence the reason I prefer incentive contracts). However, it’s not like the Red Sox signed him for only one season–they really invested in him. I’ve never invested in anything really big before, so I’m probably not too qualified to speak on this, but I would think that if you invest in something, you don’t just want it for short term, you want it to last a long time. 
So even if the Red Sox sacrificed Dice-K’s season, perhaps it will benefit him, and in turn the Red Sox, in the long run. We could use a good Dice-K, the one we scouted in Japan, for the next couple of years. 
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When I think of DIce-K’s situation, I am subtly reminded of Clay Buchholz’s season last year. Clay Buchholz’s situation is a bit different because he had a lot of promise from his golden no-hitter in 2007, and a nice spring in 2008. He simply wasn’t ready yet, so he was sent back to the minors for some extra work, and as you all can see, it has really paid off during this season. Dice-K didn’t even start out on the right foot in 2009, but like Clay, he was sent down for some extra work, and thus far, it has paid off: we took a chance and rolled the dice, and the outcome was worth it. 
Taking a chance is pretty risky in September when the Red Sox are in the middle of what was a pretty tight Wild Card race. Luckily, not only did Dice-K pull through, but the rest of the offense has as well. Almost every single game, a more than sufficient amount of run support has come from a rejuvenated offense (considering everyone decided to go into a collective slump in August). 
Hopefully, this past series against the Angels is indicative of how the American League Division Series might be. Big come-from-behind rallies, and exhilarating ninth inning rallies. Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? Especially against the Angels. You all do remember how we won that series in 2008 don’t you? On a walk-off single, similar to Alex Gonzalez’s of this past week. 
‘Exhilarating’ doesn’t even begin to describe walk-off wins, it’s an entire atmosphere. You’re on the edge of your seat, biting your nails. Your head is pounding, and you’re instructing the batter as if he can hear you. And you’re hoping with all of your heart that he’ll get that little hit that will bring the runner home. And when it happens, it’s like Christmas morning. You gasp when the ball hits the bat, and then you jump up from your seat and start jumping around the room screaming like an idiot, but you don’t even care because you are so ecstatic. 
There are some teams out there who will clinch their playoff spot early on in September. No competition, no need to really play anymore because they already made it. But what kind of mentality is that to have going into the playoffs? It may be nerve racking, but it’s exciting when it goes down to the end. And I think that momentum is important when going into the playoffs. 
Before I end, I want to go back to Dice-K. When he left the mound in June, he left to a chorus of boos. Red Sox fans, and baseball fans, are ruthless, but normally, they aren’t wrong when they boo a player. Dice-K deserved the boos, he didn’t come into the season ready to play baseball. 
But I think that both Red Sox and baseball fans should appreciate his change in attitude, and obviously the change in the way he is pitching. Both are for the better. Dice-K wants to make up for letting his teammates and the fans down. He knows that he has a responsibility for this team, and he wants to make up for what he couldn’t provide early on. So when he left to the chorus of cheers, the complete opposite, it must have been one of the best feelings he had ever had as a baseball player. 

The Beauty of September Baseball

Right after Derek Jeter gets his historic hit, Ichiro takes the pen from Jeter to write his page in the eternal textbook of baseball, or maybe just continue his own chapter. Everyone knows who Ichiro Suzuki is, the hitting phenom from Japan, who happened to snag both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in his rookie season. It’s not that he is underrated; I think that everyone respects and acknowledges what he has done, and what he continues to do. However, I kind of see him as the unsung hero of Major League Baseball. A man who always shines, yet remains in the shadows. 

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I wonder why it is that Suzuki has only won one MVP award, even though he has had over 200 hits and batted above .300 in all nine of his Major League seasons. In a way, I think baseball fans take advantage of Ichiro’s consistent skill. When do we take advantage of things in everyday life? When we know that they’re always there. I for one take advantage of electricity. It is always there, I expect it to be there, and I am surprised and annoyed when it is not. Ichiro is the same way for Major League Baseball: He has been around for a while, he is always present, we expect him to be there, and I for one would be surprised and annoyed if he was not. When it comes to MVP voting, I understand that the voters look for outstanding years, it’s only natural. But I think that Ichiro needs to be recognized a bit more often for an outstanding career. 
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September: the grind of the baseball season. It is considered to be the time where teams really kick it into gear. They try to retain their playoff spot, or they play their hearts out for a spot. It may just be the most enjoyable month of the season. However, when people say, “these are the games that count”, that kind of throws me off. Every single game counts just as much as the next one, and they all lead to the one collective goal for every single team: playoff berth. 
Nonetheless, September provides very enjoyable baseball. One of my favorite parts of it is the September call-ups. This is when my projects are called up, I get to see if my scouting reports from way back in March were right. It really warms my heart to see them out there because I know they’re excited. This is their chance to prove to the speculative world of Major League Baseball that they are the future, and that they can perform in the demanding September atmosphere. They are playing a part in steering the ship into the harbor, the harbor being the playoffs. 
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A couple of my projects have already been called up: Josh Reddick and Michael Bowden. I am really proud of how much Josh Reddick has progressed. I don’t think he was one of the original spring training invitees, but he really proved himself when he joined the squad at the beautiful City of Palms Park. He gained confidence in his swing, and as you may have noticed, he’s a great hitter. 
I know that Michael Bowden had a pretty terrible outing against the Yankees, but I think he redeemed himself in his last outing of relief. I really enjoy his delivery, and I think he will really grow as a pitcher during this month because he has so much potential. I had such a great time talking to him a few months ago, but I would love to be able to talk to him again, after this experience. 
The Red Sox start their series against the Angels tonight, and Dice-K is on the mound for the first time since June. It has been a while, and I am really hoping that all of his training has paid off. I don’t know who to blame for his terrible start to the season. Certainly not the organization, I think that they were quite surprised as well. I think what happened was that Dice-K overestimated the amount of stamina he had. He had just gotten through a rigorous and demanding season with the Red Sox, which included his second year of appearing in the playoffs. However, he was not eased into the season like the rest of the pitchers were. He was thrown into the mix of yet another playoff like atmosphere. The World Baseball Classic may not seem like the playoffs for some fans, but it really is. It was not the way to go into the season. 
Dice-K has had extensive training, and the Red Sox are confident in his abilities. I’m a bit afraid that June Dice-K is going to show up and give up lots of hits and runs. I’m also afraid that 2008 Dice-K is going to show up and be like me when it comes to my homework: inefficient. I think I speak for all Red Sox fans (excluding the masochistic ones) when I say that I’m hoping for the Dice-K that the Red Sox somewhat blindly invested money on. 
After a delightful series against the Rays, I am hoping for a just as delightful one against the Angels. It is essential that the Red Sox use that positive momentum from that series, and carry it over against the Angels, who may be our opponent in the ALDS (again!). I was especially pleased with our pitching staff over the weekend, specifically back to back gems from Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Clay has really turned it around this season, and I hope that Dice-K can follow in a similar fashion. 

Why I cheered for Derek Jeter

As a Red Sox fan, I have been brought up to hate the Yankees. The timeless rivalry dates back to the beginnings of baseball, and has been augmented numerous times thanks to trades we want to forget, home runs we wish had never been hit, and bench clearing brawls. 

Because both teams have so much history, there are many stories that have been passed down, and players that are glorified by having their numbers retired. Hate and love may be considered opposite feelings, but they are felt with similar passions. I love the Red Sox with all my heart and soul. I indulge in their history, and I revel at the accomplishments that past players have made, I watch history in the making as the present players play, and I dream of the accomplishments that future players will make. 
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I hate the Yankees. I hate the fact that they lead the American League East by 9 games even though the Red Sox were in first place for the first half of the season. I hate that they are so good. I hate that they go out and buy the best players on the market every single year, and rub it in our faces, and I hate the fact that they cut the hair and shaved the beard of who used to be one of my favorite players. And when I continue to think about all of these things, I realize something: I love to hate them. 
Just because I hate the Yankees, it doesn’t mean I wish they didn’t exist. What fun would the AL East be if the Yankees weren’t in it? The Red Sox and the Yankees need each other in order to exist in the way that they do. Baseball would not be the same if the Yankees didn’t exist, it would be much, much worse. 
Furthermore, just because I hate the Yankees, that doesn’t mean that I can’t admire some of their players. There are many players that I dislike, such as Alex Rodriguez. But I dislike A-Rod because of how he has cheated the game. Baseball figures like Joe Dimaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Bera, and so many others remind us of the beauty of baseball that is sometimes overshadowed by the scandals that are so evident today. I don’t know if anyone is every going to be able to catch Dimaggio’s immortal 56 game hit streak. Lou Gehrig’s speech at Yankee Stadium is a classic piece of baseball history. 
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The fact of the matter is, in order to be a fan of the Red Sox, you have to be a fan of baseball, and this applies for any team. Baseball is a beautiful thing. There is something very tangible and very intangible about it at the same time. Regardless of whom you root for, at the end of the day, we are all baseball fans, and that is why we should admire and respect the great players of the game who write another page in the eternal textbook of baseball. 
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That is why I cheered for Derek Jeter when he tied, and broke Lou Gehrig’s all-time Yankees hit record. I cheered because I love baseball, and Derek Jeter is one of prototypical players of the game. He is someone that will be remembered forever in baseball history. 
When I think about some of the goals I want to accomplish in my life, there is one that is the most important to me. I want to bring a smile to people’s faces when I talk and write about baseball. I want to change the minds of those who find baseball boring, and show them how beautiful it really is. My goal is not to convert people to Red Sox fans, my goal is to convert people to baseball fans because that is the essential basis. 
Going further on this goal, I want to create a program for people with disabilities to get into baseball. I want people who are blind to be able to listen to and love the beauty of the game, and I want people who are deaf to see the beauty of the game. Our senses play such an important role in the way we experience the game, that we should give the gift of them to those who are not fortunate enough to experience the game in the same way that we do. We are lucky enough to see the beautiful ballparks, to see unbelievable plays being made, and to see the looks on players’ faces when they have won the World Series. We are lucky enough to hear the crack of a baseball bat, and the roar of the crowd after a walk-off shot has been hit. We can taste the different kinds of specialties that are made at each park, and taste the hotdogs that are a staple of every park. We are able to feel the lines and dirt on the foul ball we caught. And we can smell the dirt on the baseball field, and the fresh cut grass. We should share this experience with those who are not fortunate enough
I have a few things that I want to get to on my Red Sox agenda as well. It looks like we are going to be the wildcard team, if we can hold Texas back. The Rays are not as much of a problem considering they have been in a massive slump (and they lost a huge part of their lineup in Carlos Peña). 
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There are two main things that the Red Sox need to focus on right now: their starting pitching rotation, and the “best” starting lineup that they can put out there. If Josh Beckett can return to his dominant Cy Young like May-August form, that may just determine how long the Red Sox will last. He has such an impact on postseason teams when he is strong: the 2003 Marlins and the 2007 Red Sox. If Jon Lester can keep up his dominant lefty reputation, and if Clay Buchholz can remain the young phenom that he is, then a three man rotation will be fine for the playoffs. 
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However, there is one main lineup thing that I have been having a bit of an issue with as of late. Ever since the brilliant acquisition of Victor Martinez, both Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell’s playing time have been limited. Is it really fair that these two are the ones sitting when Big Papi is the one who isn’t even batting .230 on the season? I know the impact that Big Papi has had on our recent playoff runs, and I’m not asking anyone to forget that. But if we dwell on the past and hope that it can repeat itself for too long, it may be too late to focus on the problems of the present. I think that Mike Lowell deserves to be in the lineup everyday with the way that he has been hitting since the All-Star break, which is why I would have him as the designat
ed hitter, and have Martinez at first with Jason Varitek catching.I know that Varitek’s average is worse than Big Papi’s, but he has more of an impact on the game with his defense than Papi does. I think that would be the best offensive lineup that the Red Sox can put out there. 
I want to conclude this by going back to what I said before about Derek Jeter. I have told you that I cheer for him, but I want to know what you guys think. No matter who you root for, did you cheer for him, or didn’t you? Why or why not? If you are a Red Sox fan, and you wouldn’t cheer for him, do you think I am a bad Red Sox fan for appreciating his accomplishment? Please drop me a comment or an e-mail. 
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